Published: January 16th 2012January 10th 2012
Although I'd asked for a wake up call before I turned in last night, I was wide awake before the phone even rang. It was more to do with the rather uncomfortable I had attempted to sleep in rather than the excitement of finally getting to see Machu Picchu. Thankfully Keith reached over for the phone with a groan, clearly as happy to be getting up at 4.50am as I was. Having washed my face in cold water and grabbed my duffel bag and day pack, I headed downstairs to join the rest of the team for breakfast. Everyone looked dead on their feet as I took my seat next to Henk-Jan and began to gulp down my breakfast. Few words were exchanged and we sat eating, apart from to say how pleased we were that we didn't have to wake up in the rain this morning.
The excitement finally kicked in as Smithy eventually joined us, and with those now enigmatic words said 'We move?'. We walked through town as a group to the bus queue, as cafe owners and souvenir vendors had just begun to open up shop for the day. Although Smithy had warned us there was likely to be a queue for the buses, we got on almost straight away and began the twenty minute drive up the slopes to Machu Picchu. The bus made it's way up the half paved switch back trail which wound it's way back and forth along the East side of the mountain. We passed heaps of people had obviously chosen to walk up to the summit from Aguascalientes, and I couldn't help but wonder if we should have done the same.
When we reached the top however, I was glad to have taken the bus, as my poor boots would never have made it. I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed as we made our way up to the viewing point near the 'Hut of the Caretaker', because the thick cloud cover meant we couldn't see a thing. Smithy began his explanation of Machu Picchu and the many buildings that lay beneath the blanket of cloud as we stood clad once again in our ponchos and wet weather gear. We walked down to the 'Temple of the Sun' through the 'Ceremonial Baths' trying to take as many photos as we could through the intermittent cloud. It was fascinating to learn that the Incas had bought many of the stones used to build it up the mountain, something which would have been a phenomenal task at the time.
Once we reached the 'Temple of the Three Windows' Smithy at last told us we had free time to explore the rest of the site for ourselves. Our only obligation was to meet at the restaurant with our bags at 1pm so we had time to eat before catching the train back to 'Kilometre 82'. Smithy also explained that due to the landslide, we wouldn't be able to access the 'Sun Gate' at Intipunku. As the rest of the group debated what to do given the thick cloud cover, I wasted no time in retracing my steps to the 'Hut of the Caretaker'. I was determined to see Machu Picchu from the Intipunku as we were meant to, and wasn't willing to take no for an answer.
I raced past the crowds of people that had clearly just arrived, and began the climb up the Inca Trail to the 'Sun Gate'. I was conscious of my limited time on the mountain, so began to walk as quickly as I could. I expected to find people with shovels at every turn in the path, clearing fallen debris in an effort to re-open it, but thankfully they never came. The higher and faster I climbed the hotter I got, until I had started to get so sweaty I had to take my top off. I galloped past workers who were clearing the path of vegetation with machetes and my mind was visited with repeats of Villa Fatima. Determined to reach my goal I soldiered on to the top, picking up speed the higher I climbed.
When I eventually reached the 'Sun Gate' I was met by puzzled looks on the faces of everyone there, as if to say 'Why hasn't this guy got a top on, it's cold'. It had taken me only forty-five minutes to scale the path, and as I caught my breath I was asked what my hurry was. Once I had explained the troubles we had run into on the Inca Trail my determination to see the site from our original route became clear. I was congratulated for my perseverance and received many offers to take a picture for me; one visitor even wanting his picture taken with me! I felt more vindicated for having reached the top, and although the cloud covered still swirled over the ancient site I got snap happy at every possible opportunity.
Having spent a little over half-an-hour waiting for that perfect shot over the valley, I began to make my way back down. As I retraced my steps back down the uneven path, the cloud began to clear and I got so many great photos it was unreal. Both of my boots had now fallen almost completely apart, but I couldn't help taking my eyes off the path to soak up the breathtaking view. The view just continued to improve all the way back down to the 'Hut of the Caretaker', where I was able to get the classic tourist photo I had hoped for.
I finished exploring the 'Intihuatana' and the 'Residential Sector' on my own before making my way to the exit. Much to my surprise I caught up with Keith, Lil, Henk-Jan and Matt who had hung around to take photos now the cloud had cleared. When asked where I had disappeared to, I played it extremely cool and simply said 'Well I thought one of us ought to take photos from the 'Sun Gate'. Amazed I had managed to get up there, they were all eager to see the pictures and I was more than happy to share. Once we had got the 'must-have' passport stamp, we all hopped aboard the next bus back to Aguascalientes. I was so pleased that I had caught up with the gang, because I didn't really feel like catching the bus back down on my own - I wanted to share the entire experience with these guys who had grown to be more like family than travel companions.
Arriving back at our hotel, I washed my feet and changed into my Vibrams. I was glad that I could finally put some comfy footwear on, and that I needn't worry about my boots having to last just one more day. Once I had ceremonially thrown my boots into the bin we walked through town to the meeting point for lunch. I was ravenous after my scramble up the Inca Trail, and was exceptionally pleased when I was bought my thin crust pizza which was heavily laden with cheese. Eating the rich, heavy meal after three days of eating light was unbelievable welcome and left me feeling unbelievably satiated.
Sadly it was now time to leave the picturesque town of Aguascalientes behind, and catch the train back to Ollantaytambo. We collected our things and made our way through the tiny streets to the railway station. It seemed that everywhere I looked as we walked I saw the semi-familiar faces of people I had passed on the trail, who were all now headed back to civilisation. I climbed aboard the very airy train and slumped into my seat next to Keith, exhausted by the last few days.
Once back in Ollantaytambo we boarded our minibus back to Cusco to have a much awaited hot shower. The minibus had a definite worn in odour to it once we had all climbed aboard, and we wasted no time in opening as many of the windows as we could. True to form, I fell asleep almost the second we had left Ollantaytambo and stayed that way until we reached Cusco just after sunset. It had been an amazing couple of days, and it seemed only fitting that we went out as a group one final time before we parted company. On the recommendation of Mike and Ross we decided to eat at Marcelo Batara, which offered a fusion of foods from around the globe as well as the odd Peruvian dish. A little underwhelmed by the lack of local dishes, I opted for the Alpaca steak and was pleasantly surprised. Having ordered it rare, much to the surprise of our waiter, I was presented with a neat little steak that had a rich gamey flavour to it, not dissimilar to venison.
I returned to the hotel and went almost straight to bed to try and catch up on some much needed sleep before my coach trip to Nasca the next day.