The 4th day began at 4am. Not the sort of time I really like things to begin, but when Machu Picchu is the goal then I guess you have to make some exceptions.
I made my way through the rain and dark and the small town of Aguas Calientes to meet up with everyone else. The accommodation where we had been due to stay for night had not had enough space for all of us, so along with some others I’d had to stay somewhere a little further away.
I met with Grace, and as not everyone was ready we decided to set off by ourselves. We were able to leave our baggage at the hostel and carry just the drinks, snacks and waterproofs that we would need for the day. Walking without my heavy-ish bag felt like a wonderful relief, although perhaps not enough so to make up for the earliness of the start!
We retraced our steps along the route of the river, back towards the railway line we had followed the previous day. We arrived at the bridge over the river in time to be not too far back in the queue, and waited out turn to get through the check point. Showing passports and tickets, we were let through and we started to follow the path.
The path was obviously very clearly marked and very easy to find. Unfortunately it was also very steep! As the road for the bus snakes its way up the mountainside making switchback after switchback, the footpath cuts right though heading straight up in a series of stone steps. The steps lead up through cloud forest, and every time you reach a section of road you emerge into the open in order to cross the road. As the morning gradually lightened, these breaks in the trees began to afford mist-veiled views of the surrounding area.
|'Happy Mountain', with the river running around it.|
Grace led the way up, and stayed hot on her heals for several sections of path. We steamed past other walkers, legs pumping like pistons to carry us onwards and upwards. All of a sudden my body decided it couldn’t keep the pace any more, and no matter how hard I tried I could no longer keep with Grace. My legs didn’t hurt too much, but they just wouldn’t respond to my demands to go faster, and after a little while longer my breathing couldn’t handle the thin atmosphere either and I had to take a break.
It was so frustrating to watch people who we had cruised past earlier, now cruise past me. I’m used to being reasonably fit, and I found it really difficult to face up to how unfit I was right then. My rest stops had to get more and more frequent, and I got more and more frustrated. There were other people on the track going at my pace though, and we would end up leapfrogging each other – I would pass them as they rested at one road crossing, then they would pass me on the next. I got talking to a few people who I kept encountering, and the banter cheered me up a bit.
The steps up just seemed never ending, and I began to wonder if I would have any energy left at the top for looking around Machu Picchu! Finally though I made it to the entrance. Despite being the last of our small group to arrive, there were few other people around and we got through the entrance checkpoint quickly.
There was yet more walking to be done from here to get to the site, along a path and then up more steps. Then all of a sudden there it was, on our right hand side, shrouded in mists but still one of the most famous and instantly recognisable views there is.
Clouds of mist came and went all around us, and the sun rise was a mere gradual lightening of the sky thanks to the thick veil over the sun, though we were assured that it is spectacular during the dry season.
|The sun rising above the Incan Sun Gate|
The Urubamba river, where we began our ascent earlier, was a brown ribbon far far below us, testament to how far we had come that morning.
When the mists allowed, you could see snowcapped mountains from the ranges around us.
We stood in awe for a while, trying to soak it all in. Still relatively few people were there and we were able to contemplate this magnificent site in peace. Our reward was that the mists cleared briefly, allowing us to get some better photos.
It was mind-blowing to think of people building this almost 600 years ago, without machinery as we know it, and without the use of the wheel. it has undergone substantial restoration, but the reason it was so much better preserved than other areas is equally amazing - the Incan people, knowing that the Spanish were on their way, went to work destroying the paths that led here and destroying path junctions so that as many paths as possible would not be found. So successful was this plan that the Conquistadors never found Machu Picchu, and it wasn't discovered by outsiders until American historian Hiram Bingham came across it and brought it to World attention in 1911.
We did have a long tour of the site, with a few things pointed out, but I confess I was so tired and there was so much to take in that I can't remember too much. However, you can read all about Machu Picchu in lots of places, for example here.
After many hours of exploring the site, we were so tired that we felt it was time to leave. We had met up with my husband after he had arrived from the 'real' Inca Trail, and the three of us headed off. I was delighted to find that the bus was running again afterall, although we had to get out to walk around the areas of landslides, and then re-embark on a new bus!
Back at Aguas Calientes, the final thing to do was to shop at the handicraft market while we waited for our train back to Quito. What an amazing day :)
I will put up more photos of Machu Picchu in a separate post, but for now here's my favourite: