Trek day 4: Machu Picchu

Trip Start Sep 28, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  , Huanuco,
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Getting up early in the morning has never been easy for me.  Even during the festive season when my sister would leap about the house, jump on everyones beds and generally make a nuisance of herself at some horrible hour, while in spite of the call of gifts, I rolled over and closed my eyes.  Today I'm awake before my alarm clock goes off; dare I say dressed before it's beeped once.  This is my Christmas.

It's pitch dark as you start the hour long slog up steep steps to the top.  We're joined by a fair amount of folk, only discernible by the flickering flashlights and head torches that smack of the seven dwarfs marching to work.  It's 30 Minutes to the park entrance, then you begin the accent up, stomping up each flight like a line of ants.  Some unfortunate souls have not been told you need your passport and are turned away before they can even begin to attempt the climb.  I breath a thankful sigh of relief as I start on up, but it isn't long before I don't have any breath left.

The higher you climb, as if on cue, the darkness subsides, the torches are switched off and the dawn beings to peak over the surrounding mountains.  You can feel the energy and power rubbing off on the adventures as they rise ever up.  It might be taking it out of a lot of them, heavy wheezing on all sides, sweating like it was twelve midday, but everyone knows what's in store, what's at stake, and by god they're going to push themselves to the limit to see it.  I make it in 45 minutes, to be one of the first waiting outside the main gates, people shaking hands, catching the air in their lungs, grinning from ear to ear.

No sooner had we arrived at the top than the first coaches pull up carrying middle-aged white people who have bought thousands of pounds worth of trek gear and the only steps they climbs was that to board the vehicle.  I can appreciate the elderly and infirm needing the support, but it still holds a sour taste in my mouth that we've earned this over 4 or more days, and they will still be allowed in before many of the die hard trekkers.  It doesn't seem right.  We were here first, get your North Face jacket and ski poles to the back of the queue.

Yet not much was going to dampen this day for me and eventually the gates open and we file in.  Paddy and myself make a bee line for the top of the site, whereall the famous photographs are taken, so we still have some way to go before the grandeur is unveiled.  Then just as I'm almost done in without an ounce of energy left, Machu Picchu takes every remaining breath I have away.  There it is, and I can't even begin to explain how I felt.  The sun still had not come up over the hills, so the site was still bathed in a cloudy hue.  Then I spot Frauline Eins and Zwei, and we're all elated they made it in with only a little trouble.  Shortly after, we watch as the sun peels across the stones from left to right, changing the colour and impact of the place.  As I always said I would, I was fighting back the tears.  To date, I have never seen or done anything better in my life. 

We decide not to go on the tour, and instead just simply wander though the ancient stones, it's geometry is fascinating.  Remember when you were a kid and you made dens, tents and fortresses from your mums bedsheets?  This is what you wished you could have created.  It would make for one amazing game of paintball.  I was always a big fan of castles and the dark ages when growing up, my dad often taking me to see two or three in a day on holidays to Scotland.  Yet I have never seen anything that captures the imagination as much as this.  It was glorious, a childhood dream, a once in a lifetime journey.  I only wish he could have seen it.

It's not long before the tourists arrive.  Now I've said before I'm trying to establish myself as a traveler and not a tourist, and eventually they come in their droves.  Every language is spoken, every make of camera clicking, massive parties being guided around by little Peruvians holding up an umbrella.  If you go, make sure you go at the crack of dawn and see it almost unspoilt.  By lunchtime, you won't be able to get the shot you want because of the little old lady wearing a bright yellow Gortex.  Still, bless her for seeing it too.

Paddy and I spend far too long trying to take funny Llama photo's, and I get to spend a lovely time with Frauline Eins.  Her companion has decided to climb Whinu Picchu, which is the famous pokey looking rock in all the pictures.  Tickets were booked out so we didn't get to do it, but apparently it's a bit hair raising anyway, climbing for an hour on a ledge.  I'm not bothered I missed it, because that isn't the photo you want framed on the wall.  "So if that's Whinu Picchu, where's Machu Picchu?" quotes an American to his group of college friends.  I weep for the future of mankind.  Then again, bless him for seeing it too.  Even if he didn't know he was on it.

The sun is getting hot as the day wears on, and you are totally exposed up there, save for ducking into the stone buildings to find shelter from the rays.  With more people than scenery available to photograph, we decide to call it a day some five or six hours after we arrived and jump one of the many buses taking folk back to town every few minutes.  I did consider heading to the Sun Gate, but it's another hours walk away, and I think we we're all Machu Picchu'd out if you can be such at thing.  Before long we're back at base, but we can't change our train tickets to the earlier departure.  We're left to our own devices for the rest of the day, falling asleep, visiting the hot springs, contemplating what we've just seen.

Early evening comes and Paddy, myself and the two Germans decide it's only fit to have a few celebratory drinks.  After the day we've had at this altitude, it's no surprise that it doesn't take us too long to be well and truly hammered, playing Ultimate Uno outside a local bar.  We manage to stagger up the road in time to gather our belongings and make the nine train home.  It's then that Frauline Eins asks if it's ok that we all swap seats.  As we settle down sharing the speakers to her iPod, listening to good music and falling asleep on each other in the warm carriage, I really can't help but think this weekend has been the best of my life.  Everything falling into place, and for once, nothing going wrong.  Except maybe my soaking wet, stinking trainers, which I would endure a thousand times again to see what I saw today.  Powerful, moving, magical.  Now all you have to do is go. 

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