Sitting on a rock by a Incan built stone wall, sneaking bites of a sticky raisin pastry, whispy clouds moving quickly, sunlight tickling the back of my neck, straining eyes to see distant people climbing Huayna Picchu, peace and quiet at the wonder.
Let's rewind for just a second. Getting to Machu Picchu was a little bit of a trial. Obviously not compared to taking one of the many multi-day treks in the area but as mentioned in a previous journal entry, we decided against a trek as the cons outweighed the pros for us. But at least by taking the Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek you get bragging rights and a sense of accomplishment. We endured hours upon hours in a minivan teetering on the edge of sheer cliff faces and then a two and a half hour walk along uncomfortable stones and railway track in a downpour to reach Aguas Calientes. Dripping all over the hotel reception floor we had finally arrived at the town in the valley below Machu Picchu tired and with sore feet. We set our bags down in the damp room and peeled off our sodden clothes, our luminous plastic rain macs clung to our skin. After warming showers and dressing in dry clothes we ventured out for dinner where we ate the best veggie burgers of our entire trip so far. Why we've never thought to top burgers with refried beans before we don't know.
The next morning we awoke before sunrise. We had made a last minute decision the night before and decided to take a shuttle up the winding roads to Machu Picchu rather than walk the hundreds of steps. Craig joined the already long queue for bus tickets while I joined the even longer queue for the shuttle bus itself. The sun rose and illuminated the street, valley and Urubamba river. The excitement was palpable, many had endured days of walking to be here, some had simply jumped on a train but everyone was eager to get to the wonder.
Eventually the buses began to run, we were lucky enough to be on the second or third of the morning, each came in quick succession. We were driven along the side of the river and had to disembark to cross a metal bridge and then swiftly boarded the bus waiting on the other side. We zig-zagged our way up and up, Aguas Calientes became smaller as we ventured closer to the clouds. I couldn't help but feel awe at the location, in Incan times this place would have been completely isolated. The road appeared to have been cut into the landscape but besides that all that could be seen were trees.
We reached the top and joined the queue to scan our pre-bought tickets. We then waited for our tour guide to materialise, I was becoming increasingly impatient. The Incan citadel was out of sight but mere metres away and we were stood waiting outside with hoards of people, crammed together. Finally our English speaking guide appeared and led us through. We passed a straw thatched building and squeezed by the crowd to see Machu Picchu before us.
Iconic Huayna Picchu stood firm behind the citadel, perfectly preened terraces of grass cascaded down the steep valley walls and an ominous mist hung in the air giving Machu Picchu a haze of mystery. Smooth stone structures sat ripe for exploring and the surrounding mountains provided the most incredible setting for the Incan stronghold. We had donned our rain macs but the weather held out, the clouds which at first had collected to form an overcast sky started to dissipate. Slithers of blue appeared and as the sun broke free the intense heat could be felt immediately.
Our guide ushered us around the site, stopping to point out local animals in his book and show us photographs taken when American explorer Hiram Bingham brought the ruins to attention in 1911 after being shown the site by a young local guide. Our senses were overwhelmed and we regularly fell behind the group taking photographs from every available angle. Each time the shutter clicked a cloud moved and the light changed, no two photographs were the same and in our eyes everything had to be captured.
Once our tour had finished we left the complex briefly due to the one way system layout and used the opportunity to stamp a passport page with the souvenir stamp provided. We walked through the gates for a second time, our ticket was valid for three entries in a day to allow for food and bathroom breaks. We shot straight up the terraces to snap a photo of the view from the Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock which has had its thatched roof restored. A handy flat green area lies just behind the hut and is a perfect place to sit on the grass and look. Look at the expertly carved stones, the people posing, the children running and the light changing.
We took ourselves off to see the Inca Bridge, a walk which you are required to sign in and out of for safety. The path hugs the cliff and on the other side a small wall creates a barrier between you and a huge drop into the valley below. The short walk with wonderful views was highly enjoyable and the narrow Incan Bridge was fascinating to see. On close inspection the line of greenery along the cliff reveals a trail used by the Inca's. The bridge and trail are closed to the public for obvious safety reasons.
We returned along the same trail and made our way to the Sun Gate which was a longer walk uphill. In the baking heat of the midday sun this proved a little challenging but regular shady rest stops were ample respite. We reached the Sun Gate, rewarded with panoramic views over the valley and now distant citadel we sat and listened to birds, dozing for a few minutes and taking the opportunity to drink it all in. The Inca Trail comes through the Sun Gate so I snuck down the path a little and walked back through to see what would be the first view for the trekkers, knowing their efforts would be more than rewarded.
We made our way back down the trail which was much easier going down and stopped for one last look before descending the terraces and walking to the shuttle bus. We'd spent nine hours at Machu Picchu, quietly observing all there was to see and feeling like no other place could ever live up to its magic.
High on the adventure of the previous day the walk back along the railway track was much easier and the rain only graced us for a few minutes leaving us dry enough for the long drive back to Cusco.
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