We were up and out of the hotel at 0530 after a great breakfast prepared by the daughter of Sara. We hopped on one of the first buses to drive us up the 8km switchbacked dirt road to Machu Picchu. The weather was thick fog and a light mist that we hoped would burn off later in the day.
Machu Picchu is one of the only intact Incan ruins that did not suffer any destruction by the Spanish conquistadors simply because they did not know it existed. It was virtually forgotten about and left to the jungle until it was stumbled upon and “rediscovered” by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Bingham was searching for another lost city that was the last stronghold of the Incas when he was told by a local about Machu Picchu, deep in the jungle, atop a mountain with practically unhikable steep slopes. Bingham was guided to the location, and found there to be two families farming the now famous terraces of Machu Picchu. Surveys and archaeological digs unearthed an immense area of ruins. Little is known about the purpose of the city and several popular theories abound. Due to the high level of skill displayed in
the masonry and ornamental work, it is obvious that it was a significant ceremonial center.
We arrived just minutes after the gates opened, and were immediately awe struck at the location where Machu Picchu sits. No amount of photographs could have prepared me for what I saw. Everything completely surpassed my expectations, which I thought was impossible being as I have been dreaming of visiting for over 10 years. My mother and I had talked about visiting, but sadly we waited too long and she felt the altitude would not be agreeable to her physical ability and respiratory problems.
There is a small herd of Alpaca that live and graze amongst the dozens of terraces throughout the complex. Alpacas are the ideal landscaper here in an otherwise impossible place to mow. We hiked up the hut of the caretaker of the funerary rock to take the iconic postcard photograph of the entire area. We could only see half the ruins, and nothing of the peak of Huayna Picchu that looms in the background.
We took advantage of the early morning and hiked to the Inca drawbridge and Intipunku (Sun Gate), where the Incan trail leads into Machu
Picchu. We had the trails almost completely to ourselves being as the tour groups don’t descend until after 1000 when the trains arrive.
The mist turned into a steady rain, which ended up lasting our entire stay but not before the fog broke for a few minutes to unveil incredible views of the ruins and valley below. We snapped some quick photos and then headed to the Huayna Picchu trail. I had purchased tickets to hike Huayna Picchu at 1000, and was afraid that they may close the trail due to treacherous conditions. Happily safety does not seem to be of any concern as noted by the total lack of any guard rails here and we were able to hike the trail to the top of the peak. They only allow 200 people per day to hike the trail to cut down on the impact, and to also keep the crowds down as bottlenecking could become an issue.
The trail is a narrow, insanely steep, and slippery rock trail that was created by the Incans to access their other temple complexes throughout the area. We huffed and puffed harder than we both agreed ever had, to include ascents
out of the Grand Canyon. Think Stairmaster level 10, with slippery uneven steps in the pouring rain, 2,000 ft. drop-offs, some ropes , ladders and a shimmy through a narrow cave, at an altitude around 10,000 feet. We reached the top in the pouring rain in half the time stated, so we decided to continue down the backside to the Temple of the Moon, which is a temple set inside of a cave. We did not have any views of Machu Picchu due to the weather, but nevertheless the hike and temples were amazing and we felt as though we were hiking in the completely wild reaches of the jungle that were barely accessible. I spread some remaining ashes of Dad and Grandpop at the peak, and watched as they were blown through the mystical landscape.
We finished touring the ruins and headed back to Agua Calientes in order to catch our train to Ollyantantambo, and then a bus to Cusco. We were soaking wet, muddy, and thoroughly exhausted by the end of the day, and could barely process all that we had seen . Machu Picchu is well deserved to be named one of the new wonders of
the world. It was truly the most amazing place I have ever visited.
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