Day 61 (a.m.): Machu Picchu

Sat. 13th October 2012

DSC02460Its a long wait at the checkpointIt is 3am and even though I feel like I have just got to sleep there is a cry of ‘good morning’ from outside of the tent. Fortunately we pretty much packed the night before, so we struggle into our clothes, give our teeth a quick scrub and wash our face in the warm water provided by the porters and head for a quick bite of breakfast. Then it is straight down to the checkpoint and we are there by 3:30 am.

Nearly 5:30 and we are keen to get goingThe good news is that we are first in the queue – the bad news is that we still have 2 hours to wait before the checkpoint opens. The anticipation grows – as does the queue of people behind us. We have awoken to a very misty morning and Percy tells us that we aren’t going to see the sun rise today. Even so, when eventually we are allowed through we hustle along at a cracking pace and are almost the first to the Sun Gate.

At the Sun Gate, in the cloud and mistAt this point we should be able to see Machu Picchu laid out below us. Sadly, all that we can see is the mist and so after a few photos to mark our arrival, we move on down the hill now. As we get lower, we meet Shiry who has come with Jes and Anthony to meet us and there are hugs all round. Even better, visibility is improving though we aren’t yet sure as to whether it is because we are below the cloud. We have to go all the way to the main entrance (for those people who haven’t done the trek) and go through a final checkpoint.

The cloud starts to liftBy 8am we are finally ready to go and explore. The sun is starting to come out and we can really start to appreciate the magnificent spectacle that is Machu Picchu. We have a final 2hr guided tour of the site with Percy,  and he talks us through some of the key buildings such as the Sun Temple (on the summer solstice – Dec. 21st here – the rising sun shines through the Sun Gate and in through one of the windows in the Sun Temple).

Sun Temple - built into the original rockFor once though, our attention is not on Percy. Its not that his talks are less interesting, it is more that it is impossible to compete with the majesty of Machu Picchu and its mountain setting. We are all nervous and fiddly. We look around and sneak glances at the buildings and the mountains. It is simply awe inspiring. I would hate to have to compete for attention.

Still, we are all sad when it is time to say goodbye to Percy. He has been a fantastic guide and has explained so much in a manner that was always passionate and engaging. Thanks and hugs all round and then we are off to explore by ourselves. We have a deadline of 1pm to be in the town of Aguas Calientes (or 12 noon if we want lunch) so that gives us at best a couple of hours of exploration.

As the mist clears, your breath is taken awayTwo very lucky peopleIn the end though, whilst we enjoy walking round and there are many different areas to explore and appreciate, it is Machu Picchu as a whole that will be my abiding memory. We climbed a little way back up the hill to the Sun Gate and sat on the edge of a terrace gazing out over the city below us and the mountains all around us. We spent 20 minutes just completely entranced, feeling that we knew a little of the lives of the 500 citizens of Machu Picchu (100 royalty and astronomer/priests and 400 servants) but mainly in awe of the effort that went in to creating this extraordinary place.

Sometimes, I sit and think. Sometimes, I just sit...Our advice to others is:

  1. Come and visit Machu Picchu, it is absolutely worthwhile;
  2. Come sooner rather than later as access is only going to get more restricted; and
  3. If you possibly can, walk the Inca Trail. You will appreciate Machu Picchu so much more.

To summarise my feelings, I can only repeat a part of my speech to the porters where I talked about what our experience of the Inca Trail meant to us:

We have seen the cloud capped mountains, the deep valleys, the forests and the legacy of the Incas.

We have listened to Percy explain their culture; and have heard the rivers, the birds and the silence.

We have felt Pacha Mama – and not just when climbing up to Dead Woman’s Pass. Whilst we would have preferred it to be less steep and less high, we understand this is how it is meant to be. We have built our own offering to Pacha  Mama and we were moved beyond words.

In our minds we know so much more about the Incas than before we started – but we understand that this is but a part of their riches.

Our hearts have been touched.

We have been enriched. We are truly the lucky ones.

Just as it is in the postcards

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