Peru, May 2, 2013: Machu Picchu
Our final day on the trail began with a 3:30am wakeup and a 4:00am breakfast of banana crepes drizzled with caramel, toast and tea – our last meal prepared by the porters/culinary wizards who had fed us and kept us comfortable for the last three days. By 4:45am we were lined up along the trail in the dark, awaiting our turn to pass through the final checkpoint before the last stretch of the trail to Machu Picchu. We were not alone! All of the hiking groups near our campsite were also lined up, and it was a slow trudge to get through the checkpoint, followed by a mad dash to reach Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate, which overlooks Machu Picchu. Danny eventually left me behind as we got close to the gate, which was fine – I made pretty good time myself. It was refreshing and exciting to be out in nature as the sun rose and the world became visible around us. The hike itself took about an hour, maybe a bit less. By the time we got to the top, around 6:30am, the world was fully lit, and we gazed down on the spectacle below. After years of dreaming, months of planning and days of hiking, I had made. It was amazing and a bit surreal to take it all in with my own eyes. After some picture taking, we began heading down toward the entrance to the ruins, stopping along the way numerous times for many more photo opps. The site was so entrancing that it was difficult to not want a shot from every angle, every perspective, every viewpoint.
View from the Sun Gate and from closer to the ruins
Once we reached the entrance we had to exit and reenter in order to actually tour the ruins – thems the rules. Edgar gave us a detailed two-hour tour of the site, walking from room to room and explaining their significances and uses. The Incas were incredibly advanced in their understanding of astronomy and use of the sun and the moon in the construction of their buildings. Lunar and solar patterns were integral in the placement of windows, buildings, etc. The sun’s rays create specifically shaped shadows thanks to specially carved rocks, and during the solstice, light shines through specific windows, casting rays of light and shadows on predetermined places – truly amazing. It’s interesting to think about what Hiram Bingham must have felt when he was first brought to this site by local farmers. Setting eyes on it from above is amazing this day in age, despite knowing what to expect. I’m sure that seeing it without introduction or expectation must have been something else entirely. Apparently Bingham served as inspiration for the character Indiana Jones. Discovering ancient worlds strikes me as a brand of adventuring that no longer exists in today’s world.
After Edgar’s tour concluded we were given some free time to wander the ruins and were told to meet in Aguas Calientes, the nearest town, within the next couple of hours. Buses left the ruins every ten minutes or so, so this left us with some options. Edgar’s tour had been quite thorough, and I’d be lying if I said the ruins weren’t crowded, so we opted to head down sooner instead of later and grab some lunch in town. I felt conflicted about leaving the ruins, however. Should I have sat there longer, attempting to take it all in? A part of me felt that the site deserved more of my time, while another part felt satisfied and knew that 30 additional minutes would not change the site’s impact. All the same, as the bus zigzagged down the switchback trail toward Aguas Calientes, and Machu Picchu disappeared from site, I felt an odd sadness. Vising this wonder of the world had been a dream of mine for as long as I could remember, and now it had come and gone. It was no longer out there, mysterious, waiting for me. Machu Picchu is truly a special place, and it was amazing to see with my own eyes what I had admired in pictures for so long. I feel proud to have completed the hike and to have had the privilege to visit such an incredible site, built by amazing people.
For anyone out there entertaining the idea of hiking the Inca Trail: do it. You will be treating yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is both humbling and awe-inspiring. As someone who dreamed of making this trek for years, I can say without a doubt that the experience of it exceeded my expectations.