Machu Picchu, day 4 of the Inca Trail

Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
Trip End Dec 03, 2009

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Monday, November 16, 2009

So our last (fourth) day of hiking the Inca Trail… we got up super early (4am!) and had to pack and eat very quickly in order to get in line near the end of the campsite for entrance to the walk to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu. Our group made it earlier than most, but after the checkpoint it was another 6km hike uphill to the Sun Gate and our first glimpse of Machu Picchu.

After the checkpoint most of the groups started a very quick walk (almost a sprint!) to get to the top and be first to see Machu Picchu and also a lot of people were running past to try to get tickets to Waynapicchu, which is the mountain on the other side of Machu Picchu that also has great views of the Inca site. There are only 400 tickets available and they're available to day-trippers (those who take the train up for the day) as well as those of us who have hiked the Inca Trail. So those tickets go quickly and if you want to do it from the Inca Trail you have to sprint the last part of the trail.

Well after a very quick 6km we finally reached the Sun Gate! And we had a mostly clear view of Machu Picchu. There were already some groups taking group photos, so we sat and caught our breath and took in the amazing view. After 15 minutes we all took a group photo in front of the view of Machu Picchu and started our 10 minute descent to the site.

We first came across some of the agricultural terraces that the Incas had built, that had llamas grazing on it. Quite a sight! Then we got a little further and had a close up view of the city of Machu Picchu. We took a million photos! Then we went and had our passports stamped with a Machu Picchu stamp and started a tour of the site with Efrain (our Inca Trail guide). He told us about when the site was discovered and what they found. He also explained some of the building remains and some of the temple sites. The site is very well maintained and preserved, so you can really imagine what the city would have looked like when the Incas were living there. It also helped that the Spanish never discovered this site, so a lot of artifacts and stone-work remained.

David and I had been offered one ticket to climb Waynapicchu and another ticket was offered to the "Chris’s" (girl-Chris and boy-Chris are two of our friends in our group). We were told that we might have to make up a story as to why four of us only have two tickets… but we were very excited to all go up, so after an hour or so of the tour of Machu Picchu the four of us went to line up for Waynapicchu. While we were in line, trying to think of excuses as to why we only had two tickets another couple came by and asked if we needed two tickets as their friends had gotten the tickets early in the morning, but now were too tired to climb. We eagerly accepted and were relieved, it was all going to work and we could all do the climb!

The rest of the group finished the tour of Machu Picchu and then had time to discover the site before heading down by bus to the town of Aguas Caliente for lunch together. But the four of us decided instead to hike up the steepest mountain path ever (much steeper than any day on the Inca Trail!), this is AFTER doing three other days of heavy hiking. Yeah, I know, great idea! Not only that, but it started raining quite heavily and by the time we got to the top Machu Picchu was covered in clouds… although every so often we’d catch a glimpse. Still, it was the most challenging, and most fun hiking we’d done in the whole Inca Trail and we had a blast. At the top we had to push through a cave that the Incas had carved stone steps into (it was TINY!). We called that part “the birth canal” as you literally had to be pushed through by the person behind you! Very funny! We also had to slide down a huge rock to get to another lower level and clamber up and over other rocks and stairs to get around the top of the mountain. It was VERY dangerous, especially with the slippery steps, but the four of us had a great time!

After getting to the bottom safely we walked back through Machu Picchu site to the entrance and took the bus to Aguas Caliente to meet the rest of the group. I am sure we must have smelled horribly, especially compared to the clean and well-rested day-trippers who were also on the bus!

After meeting us with everyone in Aguas Caliente and having a quick lunch, we headed to the train station for our train back to Ollantaytambo. I wouldn’t have given you a description of our train journey, but it was the most interesting and strangest train journey we’ve ever had! First off we were given a snack (very nice) and then some music started and we were given a fashion show by the stewards who were showing off some local alpaca wool clothing, and THEN we had a man dressed as some kind of Cusco puppet or something dancing up and down the aisle with a stuffed llama toy… AND the train driver had to keep stopping and jumping out of the train to change the train tracks (we were at the front of the train and could see this). The strangest train journey we’ve had. We were all laughing the whole way at the absurdity of it!

When we arrived at Ollantaytambo we immediately got into our private bus for a two hour ride back to our hotel in Cusco. Dave and I (and probably half the group) slept the whole way back, exhausted.

Machu Picchu was amazing and we’re so glad of the whole experience, but it sure was good to come back to a hot shower, clean clothes and a warm bed. We had a free day the next day to sleep in, get some laundry done, use the internet and go shopping. Then we’re heading to Arequipa the next day.
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