Machu Picchu at last!

The hotel had been very noisy last night so it was quite some time before I fell asleep. Also, as is so often the case when you have to get up early, I kept waking up, so still felt very tired when the alarm went off at 3.45am. I dressed and packed up and met Lisa and Russell downstairs, where Erik was also waiting. We walked along the road, said goodbye to Erik and continued on to the bridge and checkpoint at the foot of the Inca stairs that lead up to Machu Picchu. The bridge, we soon found out, didn’t open until 5am so we had to wait for 20 minutes. By the time it did, though, there was quite a queue of walkers building up behind us. Getting through took a little while as tickets and passports were checked by the light of a powerful torch, and then we were off!

The steps go straight up. There is little variation in the degree of steepness, just in the size of the steps. The path criss crosses the zig zags in the road several times and eventually reaches the entrance. Lisa and Russell went ahead as I had to go at my own speed but, as it turned out, they weren’t that far ahead. Lots of people overtook me but I was just concentrating on reaching the top. I arrived at 6am just before the entrance gates opened. There was a mass of people already there and the first buses had started arriving. I felt quite emotional at the top with the thought that I had actually done it. The last four days have felt like a major achievement.

Early morning at Machu Picchu
Early morning at Machu Picchu

We went through the barriers and waited until 6.15am to see if the others arrived. When there was no sign of them, we climbed up yet more steps to the Guard House where Erik had told us to meet them if they weren’t there on time. Once there, I marvelled at the sight before me which, at that time, was relatively free of people. It was unbelievable, with the city being almost dwarfed by the mountains towering above on all sides. Lisa got out her yoga mat and started her yoga practice and Russell set up his camera for a time lapse photo of the sun rising over the mountain tops. They seemed oblivious of the mounting crowds surrounding them!

The mountains in the early morning
The mountains in the early morning

Our group arrived and Erik led us over to a spot where I, for one, had a magnificent view over the city where, as he gave us some excellent information, clouds drifted across the ruins and Wayna Picchu, creating a very mystical effect. I always thought that I would never visit Machu Picchu because too many people would have spoilt it. Words cannot describe how superb it was though and this was the best time of the entire day.

Admiring the view!
Admiring the view!

Erik gave us a 4 hour tour of the ruins. During this time, more and more people arrived until we were almost fighting our way along the paths. The tour guides, though, appeared very professional and waited for each other to finish before moving into a particular spot to give their explanations. It is a huge site with much to see and Erik is extremely knowledgeable about the history and customs of the Incas.

Afterwards, some people had tickets to climb Wayna Picchu (the famous mountain alongside Machu Picchu) and the rest of us had tickets to go up Machu Picchu mountain, which is much higher with steps all the way. Only 200 tickets are issued for Wayna Picchu each day and they tend to sell out very quickly. However, having seen the track from a distance, I don’t know how anyone can go up there. Of the 7 people who had tickets in our group, only 3 went. They all said it was the most scary thing they have done in their lives. The track is on a ridge with a sheer drop and is extremely steep. People are ascending and descending on the same path, which is very narrow. Ben went to the top and wished he hadn’t, Rebecca froze and couldn’t move without Mark encouraging her to come down. Other people were descending on their hands and knees. Why would anyone want to do that? Having said that, it is unbelievable that the Incas went up there and actually built terraces on the side of the mountain.

I set off with John, Eileen and Jennifer to climb part way up Machu Picchu. Somehow, along the way, we got separated, so it was just John and I that went up. I had had no intention of climbing to the top and don’t think I would have had the energy to do so even if I had wanted to. The whole way is on Inca steps and takes nearly 2 hours to reach the summit. I decided I had climbed enough mountains for one week! We found a spot, almost on a level with the top of Wayna Picchu, and sat for a while admiring the view of the city and of Aguas Calientes far below. It was very relaxing before we descended into the hordes of tourists once again.

Roofless buildings
Roofless buildings

At the bottom, after climbing the highest point of the city, John set off to walk back down to Aguas Calientes and I ambled a bit further around the ruins, sitting on some steps away from the people, at one point, just so that I could look and admire. By this time, though, I was under time pressure as I had to be back in the hotel for lunch at 2pm and needed to allow time to return to the entrance and queue for a bus. Getting back to the entrance though required yet more climbing up and down of steps so I was almost relieved to be back.

Shelters on the terraces
Shelters on the terraces

With perfect timing, I arrived just before 2pm. Some people were still missing as we started lunch but most of them appeared, with the exception of Ben, who was still walking down. Erik was catching a train at 2.45pm (for some reason, the guides go on a different train) and Ben had the money we needed to tip him! (I had managed to leave the cash I withdrew for the purpose, in my handbag, which was in my backpack in Cusco.) We had to say goodbye and arrange to meet him later as Ben wasn’t back.

Llamas kissing at Machu Picchu
Llamas kissing at Machu Picchu

We then had some time to wait before making our way to the train station for our 4.20pm train to Ollantayambo. It was bedlam at the station with so many tourists trying to get on the trains. We had our tickets and had to fight our way through the crowds to reach the platform. After that, it was a relaxing 2 hour ride to our destination, where we were met once again by Erik. There were several SAS tour groups on the train and we were divided between buses for our 2 hour trip back to Cusco through the Sacred Valley. Unfortunately, it was dark by this stage so we didn’t see much of the countryside. I was sitting next to Mark so had quite a chat to him.

We arrived back in Cusco at 8.30pm and, having arranged for whoever wanted to, to meet for lunch tomorrow, we all went our separate ways after an excellent trip.

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