12 Magical Hours
01.05.2008 - 01.05.2008 26 °C
Really, words cannot begin to illustrate Machu Picchu well enough, but I will try. We arrived from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes by day the day before and rested in the overpriced, good for nothing town. In the morning, if you can call it that, Frank and I got out of bed and started up the path the Machu Picchu. We hoped to arrive before the first busses arrived at the top at 545am for the opening of the gates at 600am, so we started at 430am. It was still pitch black out, and we were only guided by a handheld flashlight. Already when we got to the trailhead around 500am, we could see flickers of light like fireflies on the hillside of early trekkers attempting to do the same feat we did, only getting a better start than us. With a wad of coca leaves in our mouths, we did climbed the trail in half the time estimated by the information desk. But when we were only minutes upon getting to the gate when we heard the motors and breaks of the first buses arriving. We couldn't believe it. We were maybe two minutes from beating the barely awake bus travelers. In line, maybe 300 back, we noticed all the laws broken pertaining to maintenance of the archeological ruins, people bringing in food, walking sticks, you name it. We abided by the rules, but for seemingly no reason, and it's a shame we did, because we really could have used food for fuel and water to rehydrate us for the long morning still ahead of us. One of the reasons why we wanted to get out early was to get in line to climb Huayna Picchu, which only allows 400 people into the limited access part. Upon entering, we spead around the slow, unfit, and still stiff visitors to the park and managed to get 9th and 10th in line. As we waited th sun peaked over the mountains around Macchu Picchu. It was stunning, minus the already hundreds of people crowding into the park. It is amazing to think that this is the "off season." When we finally got to pass through the gates to get up to Huayna Picchu, it was a repeat of getting to the gate, we passed the struggling and stiff climbers on our way to joining a pair of Canadians to be the first on top of Huayna Picchu. As we got to the top, the sky started to break. Earlier there was a fog that covered the landscape, but when we arrived to the top, we had a clear view of everything around us. It was magical. Alone on the peak, having scaled the high stairs and boulders, we just sat silently soaking it all in. As the day continued, we friended our Canadian hiking partners, and treked around the rest of Huayna Picchu to see the Temple of the Moon and the Great Cave on the back side. The entire time we were completely alone in the great wilderness on the outskirts of Machu Picchu. It was awesome. But the climb back up to the regular park wasn't. I was dehydrated by that point and it seemed like the stairs never ceased to end. We would finally come down, only to come right back up. Around the outside of Huayna Picchu, the stairs hugged a cliff that had at least a 1000ft fall below. When we got back to Machu Picchu we went straight to the entrance to get drinks in celebration. We had hiked all that there was to hike around Huayna Picchu in 90 minutes, when the estimated time was more than twice that. Again, I felt like a champ. But instead of a free cold beer as my reward, it was a steep price of S/16 a piece. Water was something like S/12. But I needed it, badly. After a nice leisurely break, we hiked but again up to the sun gate where those climbing up the Inca Trail would first see Machu Picchu. It was a stunning sight from there. Frank and I sat for nearly an hour soaking it in in complete silence. From there we travelled back down to see the ruins of Machu Picchu when finally the crowds started to thin. We were there almost of magic hour as the sun set, but had to get back down by foot to make it to our train to Ollantaytambo or else take the $24 bus ride down. We decided to walk. By the end of the day my legs felt like jelly. We walked for twelve hours that day, in a continuous climb and decent. But the experience was worth every burnt calorie and more. I am still shaken by the awesome construction of Machu Picchu in the middle of some of the steepest mountains I have seen.