Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Inca Trail Day 4: On June 21st, That Cloud Looks Like a Puma

3:30am came not so bright, but plenty early.  Sadly, there was no daybreak tea served in our tents on the last day, it was all business.  We had 20 minutes to get dressed and pack up, and then breakfast was served.  It was sort of weird feeling—both to use a flashlight to go to the dining tent, as well as turning over our sleeping bags and mats to the porters, since we wouldn’t need them for the night and wouldn’t be carrying them that day. 

By 4:30am, we had finished eating, and we were on our way, flashlights in hand and packs on.  We walked a whole five minutes…and then we stopped.  We were the fifth group in line for the trail to Machu Picchu, and we sat and waited at the entrance for an hour until it opened at 5:30am. 

Promptly at 5:30, they began allowing people through.  We showed our passports and trail tickets, and began the still dark walk along the mountain side to get to the Sun Gate—what would be our first glimpse of the ancient city. 

Contrary to previous mornings, our entire group stayed mainly together, picking a medium-fast pace.  We all wanted to get there before the crowds.  (On the Inca Trail, there is a limit of 250 people and 250 porters allowed each day.  At Machu Picchu itself, there is no limit, and the site sees thousands of tourists each day). 

At 6:30am, we climbed the final stairs to the Sun Gate, excited to be there to watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu. 

We were greeted with this view:

Our guides assured us that we could wait as long as we wished, and that the fog would eventually burn off.  One guide guessed, though, that it would probably be 8:30 or 9:00am before the clouds cleared completely.  At around 7:20, our group made the decision to begin a very leisurely walk down towards Machu Picchu, stopping at the vista points along the way.

At our first vista point, just a few steps down the trail, our guide Cocamon told us, “Now, just imagine…to your right, the smaller mountain.  To the left, Wayna Picchu.  And below that, there are some buildings.  You see it?”  Several of us looked at each other, in complete disappointment to have come this far, only to see…clouds…and just started laughing.  What else do you do? 

Now, over here, you see...

At the third vista point, we camped out, dropping our packs and some of us taking seats on the rocks, and we waited for perhaps half an hour.  And, wouldn’t you know it…the clouds began to clear. 

After our first glimpses of half the mountain, we continued down to the actual site.  By the time we had reached Cocamon’s favorite vista point (away from the crowds, but with a great view of Machu Picchu) the clouds were almost completely gone, making for great photo opportunities. 

"We made it! We are condors!"

Cocaman's explanation

Mach Picchu

After ample time for distance photos, we dropped off our backpacks, had the luxurious opportunity to use the first western toilets we’d seen in four days, and embarked on a 2 hour tour of the city with Cocaman. 

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Condor

Through parts of the tour, I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering.  I was hungry, the sun was beating down, and both my calves felt like fire every time I walked up or down the cursed Inca steps.  That’s not to say I wasn’t happy; I was ecstatic.  I just had the attention span of a two year old.  However, I did catch some of what Cocaman was saying—explaining the various temples and styles of architecture, showing off sculptures and certain rock formations that, on the winter or summer solstice, would cast shadows just so.  After all these explanations of symbolism, one of the members of our group murmered, “Did you know?  On June 21st, that cloud looks like a puma!” 

After the tour, we were given  about an hour of free time to either return to town or further explore Machu Picchu.  G-Money and I chose to find a spot on one of the terraces and just sit and enjoy the view.  We didn’t have the energy for much more exploring.  And how often do you get the chance to enjoy the view at Machu Picchu, really?? 

Then, it was the bus back to town…a meal with everyone from our group…a few hours exploring the small tourist town of Aguas Calientes…then a train followed by a bus back to Cusco.  We arrived back at our hostel at about 11:00pm.  We opted to hold off on a shower until the morning, and collapsed into bed, hoping our exhaustion from the trek would enable us to sleep through the hostel’s parties (it didn’t work, of course…but for $8 a night, what are you going to do?) 

On the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo

We spent our last half day in Cusco the next morning meandering up and down the streets, visiting markets and tourist shopping, and having one last delicious meal.  A fantastic end to a fantastic trip!! 

My time in Peru was absolutely amazing, and I would do the entire trip again in a heartbeat.  (Of course, if given the option, I would probably choose a different trek the second time—but only because I want to experience more of the Andes rather than seeing the same views again).  

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