Aguas Calientes, Peru is a town that most people haven't heard of but it's the one you stay in or at least pass through on your way to Machu Picchu if you take the train, from Cusco, which is by far the way most people get there. Your other option is to hike the Inca Trail but there are limits on how many people can do it at a time and it's fairly rigorous. The vast majority opt to be driven to the top by bus once they reach Auguas Calientes. It can be one of the most taxing things you've ever done or it can be a trip to the mall. A long trip to the mall, involving four planes, two trains, 20 taxis and a lot of "no, gracias" to street vendors calling themselves Barack Obama and George Washington, but a trip to the mall nonetheless.
When I visited Machu Picchu in March of 2009 I chose to take the train to Aguas Calientes and stay the night in a hostel with an open hallway, you know, the kind with no fourth wall and no guard rail, just a sheer drop from the fourth floor. I then hiked up the mountain via the steps at 5AM the next morning. I made it to the top just as the buses were arriving with the first load of tourists and then climbed countless more steps up Huanupicchu (that mountain you see looming above the ruins in every Machu Picchu photo) with no guard rail and a much steeper drop to the valley below.
Looking at the January 26th flood damage photos that are beginning to appear online I was prompted to go back through my photos to see if any made a good before example as compared to what is currently the after. And so below are three examples:
Take a look at the bench, telephone pole and street light to the left of the men pushing the cart up the hill. (There are no cars in this town so everything is carried or pushed in this manner. Buses are the exception but their sole job is to run tourists and employees up and down Machu Picchu's switch back dirt roads, they don't actually run through Aguas Calientes proper.)
I believe that the bench which hangs precariously to the top of the separated mound in this photo was the one opposite the bench in my photo.
Here's a side view to give a better perspective on the extent of the road damage. (These roads had just been laid by stone cutters when I arrived.)
I just found an even better view from above showing the bench, telephone pole sinking into the river and street light broken off onto what's left of the road.
Juxtapose that with this sunny day in March when these two children were washing an uncooperative dog on a section of road that no longer exists.
If you're walking back up from the base of Machu Picchu, this is the view of the town above the river during my visit. Note the red building with yellow trim in the middle.
Here's the view now. You'll note the red building with yellow trim is clearly visible at the bottom left of the photo as the trees and the road have washed into the Urumbamba below.
And to lighten the mood, here is a video I put together of my travels in Peru. The train at the end is just below the base of Machu Picchu.
I also volunteered building homes with a group called Pisco Sin Fronteras in Pisco, Peru which suffered a devastating earthquake two years ago. Visit their site via the hyperlink above and donate if you can.