Far from the highlight of today was the need to wake up at 3:30 a.m. To make matters worse neither of us had slept well thanks to our British friends’ incessant need to talk through the night coupled with a very heavy rain storm that had blown through. It’s OK though because today would be our easiest hiking day, we’d finally see Machu Picchu, and (most importantly) we’d get to shower!
It was dark when we woke up and ate breakfast before donning our bags. There was more good news here: no need to carry our mattress and sleeping bag since the chaskis would be taking them back that morning. Needless to say, our bags felt like we were carrying air.
After breakfast we all proceed 5 minutes downhill where we would wait for 1 hour for the trail to open. None of us appreciated needing to wake up so early just to wait around in the cold and dark, but we figured it was because the chaskis needed to be on their way by 5:30 themselves with all our tents, bags, etc. OK, we can tough out an hour, or so we thought. Maybe we can sleep if we use our bags as pillows. Unfortunately to our utter dismay, our guitar-weilding Australian friend was two groups behind and chose to serenade the line of trekkers with horrendous versions of The Greatest Song in the World and Teenage Dirtbag, along with enough tunes (if you could call them that) to fill the entire hour. Doug did his best to get him to stop by yelling a very polite “You suck!” but Mr. Australia must have the ego of Donald Trump because that didn’t stop him.
Thankfully it was only an hour before we were let through the gates and on our way to Machu Picchu. It was 7 km on a cliff’s edge, mostly flat or slightly downhill but with some steep uphill thrown in. We were able to put our normal strides to good use and pass a few groups. This resulted in a few snide comments such as “Why is everyone in such a hurry?” We aren’t, lady. We just happen to walk faster than you. We also were able to take in the views of the clouds nestled in the valley and hear the roar of the Urubamba River as we slowly descended.
After some very steep stairs we made it to Intipunku, the Sun Gate, which served as the entry point to the city of Machu Picchu. Typically this is where you capture your first glimpse of the city below you and take memorable photos. In our case the city was covered in a very thick layer of clouds so we waited a bit in hopes that it would burn off and to regroup the family before giving up and proceeding on to the city.
It was all downhill from here past various ruins from the city such as sacred rocks and a guard house before ::drumroll, please:: we arrived at Machu Picchu! And my goodness, was it well worth it. Below us stood the remains of the forgotten Inca city of Machu Picchu, nestled on the top of a mountain surrounded by even more higher peaks. The clouds were still blowing through but this only added to the mysticism of the whole thing. So. Very. Cool. It is still so amazing that such a large area was forgotten to the jungle for 400+ years. Who knows what else lies in these hills.
We waited to everyone to take their initial photos before heading down to the entrance where we would use the facilities, drop off our bags, and have a much needed snack. When everyone was once again collected we proceeded back into the Machu Picchu complex to begin our 2-hour tour given by Aldo.
On we went learning about the terraces used to feed the population, the storehouses for keeping food during the low season, the various temples used for both llama and, on special occasions, women sacrifices. We toured the royal palace where we visualized the king’s bed made from alpaca wool and his own private bathroom. We were also introduced to the various construction types used throughout. Tighter fit/smoother stone was reserved for the most important buildings: temples and the palace. The size and shape of the walls across the complex also varied. This was due to the builders being from different backgrounds and having learned their trades during different times or in different parts of the continent.
When the 2 hours were up we all parted ways to explore on our own. We would be reconvening for lunch in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes in a few hours. Until then the 5 of us did our own site seeing, taking much needed leg breaks as necessary (we were so sore!). We visited the Inca Drawbridge which required us to sign in and out to ensure you returned alive and then toured the grounds once more before deciding the sun was too much.
From here we hopped on a bus to Aguas Calientes that took us down a one-lane switchback road cutting through quite the steep slope. After getting slightly lost we found our way to the Viajeros Hostel where we checked in, took quick but glorious showers, before meeting the rest of our SAS family for a mediocre lunch.
By the afternoon it was back to being the 5 of us and we were set on exploring what Aguas Calientes naturally offers: the hot spring. To our general disgruntlement, this required that we walk uphill (our poor legs!!) for a good 10 minutes before reaching the entry booth where we paid our 10 soles. Then we climbed uphill for another 10 minutes (longer than it was probably meant to take because we spent a lot of time whining about our legs and taking necessary breaks) until we reached the hot springs, a 2-story building overlooking 5 brackish colored pools full of people, spring break style. Oooooh. It was one of those places. We made the best of it after Lynn begrudgingly gave 1 sole for a required locker and witnessed a small child using the tile next to one of the pools as a bathroom (yeah…), ultimately spending 40 minutes soaking while helping Jennie and Jon plan their honeymoon to either Australia or New Zealand or perhaps both.
The remainder of the evening was spent taking another shower to get the sulfur smell off of us followed by a delicious pre-fix meal at a pirate/French/Peruvian-themed restaurant in the center of town. Not ashamedly, we were in bed by 8 p.m.
Daily Walking Mileage: 11.4
Vertical Descent: 160 m
- Despite feeling like the top of the world, Machu Picchu is at 2430 m above sea level, 870 m less than Cusco.
- Machu Picchu was mysteriously abandoned in the second half of the sixteenth century, but not quite lost as local farmers took it over. When Hiram Bingham visited in 1911, there were two families working the site’s grounds.
- Machu Picchu is sinking. It is evident by the effects it is having on the walls of the area. The government of Peru already has a visitor cap, but is debating implementing a time constraint to limit the damage contributed by tourists.
- The Incas had three principles: Knowledge (Yachay), Work (Llankay), and Love (Munay). We can get behind those.