Machu Picchu is my choice for spending the first day of year 41! The mystical, lost Inca city perched in the Andes is a place I've always wanted to see. Hidden from the Spanish during their conquest and thus intact. Machu Picchu remained hidden from the outside world until 1911. Nobody is really sure what purpose the city served, but it's well preserved ruins give any visitor a glimpse of the magnificence of the Inca builders.
We caught the 5:30 a.m. bus from Aguas Calientes and rode twenty five minutes up the winding road to the entrance of the city. Some more enthusiastic travelers hiked from the town up the mountain. They were easily spotted as steam rose off of them in the morning mist. Our Inca trek included a tour of Machu Picchu, so just after sunrise, we entered the complex with our guide, Miguel. I have seen many pictures of the ruin, but the actual experience of standing in it, surpasses and expectation I might have developed.
Miguel took us through the ruin pointing out ceremonial areas, temples, the sacred plaza and a "sacrificial rock," allegedly only used for Llamas (Miguel claimed that the Incas did not sacrifce humans.) We toured nearly all the areas of the city and after an hour, and a quick lecture on the relevance of Coca leaves in Machu Picchu, Miguel released us to wander the ruin and appreciate it in private. We spent a good amount of time perched below the hut of the caretaker just looking down on the city and the surrounding valleys.
Accross from Machu Picchu and up a steep mountain trail, we could see Wayna Picchu and the Temple of the Moon. Only 400 people are allowed up the trail each day to visit this part of the ruin. Pitched as a technically easy hike in Lonely Planet, we signed up and set out to climb the mountain. Permanent cables embedded into the rock provided assistance for the near vertical sections of the trailwhile narrow Inca stairs provided the trail for the rest of the climb. Incas were supposed to be tall, but I speculate they had small feet as many of the stairs were smaller than one of my shoes. While ropes and climbing harnesses were not needed, I would bill the hike as requiring extreme caution rather than technically easy. However, the view from the top of Wayna Picchu is unmatched! Set below and accross the gorge is the entire city of Machu Picchu surrounded by deep canyons and steep granite mountains.
At the end of a near perfect day, we left Machu Picchu and caught our train back to Cusco.
After our adventure through the sacred valley, we arrive via train in Aguas Calientes, the launch point for a day in Machu Picchu. There really isn't much to say about Aguas Calientes. It serves as an access point for Machu Picchu and that's really it.