October 30, 2005
This was the earliest morning of the trip. We had to get up at 3:45, while it was still dark. Eating breakfast was a chore, but everyone was in a good mood because they were finally going to get to see Machu Picchu.
After getting everything ready to go, we began our hike. Walking through the campground, I was surprised to see that almost every other group had already left. I thought that we had gotten up too late and would miss seeing the sanctuary before it was crowded with tourists. Then I noticed the other campers standing in line. The entrance of the last part of the trail didn't open until 5:30, and we got there at 5:15. I guess our guide actually woke us up at the right time.
We had a long two hour walk ahead of us. Everyone was in a much bigger hurry today. Previously, we only had to worry about getting to camp before dark, but today was different. The faster we walked, the sooner we would get to Machu Picchu. The trail went up and down small hills through the forest the entire way. People sometimes stopped to catch their breath, and everyone else continued past them. An every-man-for-himself attitude had surfaced.
Finally, we reached the Sun Gate, from which Machu Picchu is supposed to be visible. Our guide informed us that on the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Sun Gate and shines directly into a window in Machu Picchu. It all seemed very interesting, but there was a problem: we couldn't see anything because of the thick fog that surrounded us. The weather had been great until that point, but I thought the fog would ruin the last and most important day of the trek.
Suddenly, the fog began to lift and something became visible in the distance. It was Machu Picchu! It became clearer and clearer for the next fifteen minutes or so until the fog was all but gone. All of the work I had done for the last four days had built up to that moment, and that's when I knew that the trek had been worthwhile.
As we began walking closer to the complex, I noticed a lot of people walking toward the Sun Gate. I knew they hadn't done the Inca Trail because they were clean-shaven and dressed in nice clothes. They must have stayed in Aguas Calientes the night before and taken the bus to Machu Picchu before anyone else could get there. I felt a little bit cheated. I had hiked over 40 KM through the mountains and learned about countless other Inca sites to get to that point, and they just showed up on a bus. I guess it was their loss. The amount of culture I experienced on the way to Machu Picchu was priceless.
When we got to the start of Machu Picchu, we took a group photo and began our tour. I was immediately surprised at how big the complex was. I had seen it in pictures, but I never realized that the pictures were shot at very wide angles. Machu Picchu is as big as a modern day city. There are so many different areas to look at, it can be overwhelming. Edwin gave us a tour of the site for two hours. I then walked around for two more hours before leaving. From the time I got to the Sun Gate, I had been looking at Machu Picchu for six hours, which seemed about right.
To leave Machu Picchu, I took a bus down a long dirt road with hairpin curves galore to Aguas Calientes. I walked around town for awhile, didn't see anything that interested me, and went to the restaurant my group agreed to meet at. Several other members of my group were there, including my guide. We chatted for a few hours before the train left town.
The train ride back to Cusco was long and slow. It was too bumpy and crowded to sleep in, so I had to sit around and do nothing for four hours. A few people on the train started taking pictures of the scenery that surrounded us, but it wasn't necessary for me because I had already walked past it all. One of the advantages of taking the Inca Trail, I guess.
When I finally made it back to Cusco, I began catching up on the news and my website. I also turned in most of my filthy clothes to be washed. I fell way behind on my blog and pictures from being gone so long, so it will take a few days to catch back up.
The photo album for this entry is here.