Day 4 July 15, 2019
Sorry for the Blurry pictures; they are all that I have
I woke up at 3am on the dot. It was really amazing how easy it was to get out of bed considering how tired I was from the past several days. We gathered our things as quickly as we could, and we were given one last opportunity to say goodbye to our porters. For the last leg of the trail the porters would not come with us. They were scheduled to catch a train in Aguas calientes to take them back to their communities. We thanked them one more time for everything they had done for us. We gathered under the starry morning and we were told that we needed to hurry to the trail head. We hiked for about 10 minutes passing other campers along the way who were just waking up or still having breakfast. We did not have breakfast that morning because Jose wanted to be one of the first ones to enter the park. We lined up at a large metal entrance. The first 50 feet was covered and we were able to line up toward the end. There were two other groups in front of us. We were told that the park would not open for about another hour. It was freezing cold and dark as we stood there waiting to get in. After about 20 minutes, several porters showed up and gave us sacked breakfasts as well as some coca tea to warm us up (they were awesome). We spent the next hour chatting about our experiences with only our headlamps to light our conversations. With about 20 minutes left, Alisa and I decided to head to the restroom one last time. We had to walk back towards our campsite. Upon walking back, I realized why Jose wanted to get a early start. There was a huge line to get onto the trail. If they only allowed 500 people per day on the trail, it looked like they were all in that one line. The line stretched forever.
When it was time to enter the park, we gathered our gear and proceed. It was still pitch dark, and we had to use our headlamps to light our way. Before we could enter the park, we had to pass through a check point. There were several check points we had to pass through the past several days, so we knew the routine. A security guard (or park ranger) checked all of our passports to make sure that we were on the guest list to enter. Once we had that behind us, we were off. The trail was pitch dark, but I was keenly aware that we were walking next to a cliff. The drop must have been 500 or 600 feet. It was a little creepy to be doing this at night but at that point, we were ready to have it over with. It was silent and peaceful. About 30 minutes into the hike, we could start to make out the morning light. We were greeted with beautiful mountains in the distance–some of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen in my life. It was still cold, but we were moving at an excellent pace.
About 5k into the hike we finally made it to the Sun Gate (more info). The sun gate is about 9,000ft above sea level and gives you your first view of Machu Picchu. We stopped there for about 20 minutes and took some pictures. I could not believe that we were face to face with Machu Picchu–one of the new 7 wonders of the world. I wish that I could describe what I saw, but I am afraid that I lack the writing ability to paint a picture in your mind of the beauty, the architecture, and the thousands of hours of work that must have gone into building such and amazing structure. I stood at the Sun Gate and just admired what people were capable of doing without modern equipment. It is truly breath taking and very humbling.
We stopped several times down the trail to take photos at some of Jose’s favorite spots. On the descent down, we noticed a lot of people starting to head the opposite direction. They were dressed really nicely and many of the were wearing sandals. It was at that point that we noticed how dirty we were. We had not taken a proper shower in several days, and I was wearing the same clothes from when we began the hike several days prior.
One of the advantages of doing the Inca hike, is that you are let right into the park. You do not have to wait in line; you just walk right onto the site of the ruins. We walked on to a cliff where we were able to take some more pictures. The pictures were from the vantage point of many iconic shots taken from this amazing place.
Jose gave us a tour around the ruins for about an hour. He explained small details that he said most tourists miss while just walking around. After his tour was finished, he told us that we would be free to walk around the site but that we would all meet in a small restaurant in Aguas Calientes. Once we arrived there, we would be reunited with our small green bags and would be free to hang out for the rest of the day in the city.
I am really sad that I did not keep a field guide while we were traveling to the different ruins because being so far removed from the day of the trip, my memory of everything we saw on that day is really fuzzy. I do remember that much of the site was dedicated to the very wealthy at the time and each section had a specific use even though much of it is still up for debate to this day.
Machu Picchu was amazing. I am glad that we spent the time and the money to do this trip. There is an old saying that the journey is the destination and that is true. When I think back on this expedition, Machu Picchu is the pinicale of the trip, but it was just the goal. It loomed over us as only something we were headed toward. We talked about it a lot during the trip. We new it would be breathtaking, and we knew that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. What I did not expect is that when I think about that trip, I don’t think about the ruins, I think about the days we spent outside in the Andes. I think about how miserable and happy I was that we climbed up to 14,000 feet and back down in one day. I think about all the awesome trips that Alisa and I have taken to Latin America and how this one, is something else that we can share with our friends and family. I can honestly say that just going to Machu Picchu would not have been even half as eventful if we did not walk there. We walked 27 miles in the Andes; that is something that I will always cherish.
We were not at the ruins as long as I thought we would be (about 3 hours). At that point in the trip we were all very tired. We decided that it was time to head back. We exited the ruins and were greeted with a large crowd that was waiting in line to enter the site. It was amazing; there must have been thousands of people there. The line to get on the bus back to Aguas Calientes was just as long to get into the park. We waited in line for about 40 minutes are were off. Our trip had ended. All of the research paid off; we did it. It is an amazing experience to put a trip like this together and actually see it through. For much of my life I have been the type of person that makes plans and said I would do something; that person no longer exists. It all started when I called up my friend in Guatemala a while ago and asked him if we could stay a for a month and a half at his home. I was scared when we first boarded the plane and was even more scared when we landed. Now if I want to go somewhere in Latin America, we just go without thinking twice. It is surreal but worth every second.
It took us about 20 minutes to get to Aguas Calientes. This was our first time seeing this little city. It is a mix of old and modern all at once. The majority of the town looks like it has been retrofitted for young travelers and there is certainly no shortage of them. There are restaurants on every corner and large markets with every type of souvenir you can imagine. People try to hand you flyers at every corner. There is a mix of modern buildings with ones that look like there were there when the town was discovered. We quickly found the restaurant and to our surprise, most of our group was already seated. We took our seats next to them and ordered some pisco sours. We also had lunch and took that opportunity to pass some time with our new friends.
When I purchased the Inca trail hike, I elected to spend one night in Aguas Calientes, so after lunch we said our goodbyes to our group and headed deeper into the city. We did not have reservations, so we walked around for about 30 minutes looking for affordable lodging. We decided that since we spent the past several days outside, it would be nice to stay at a nice place for only one night. Up to this point in our trip we had been saving money with low cost AirBnb rentals. They were nice, but they were very hit or miss. That night we ended up paying about 100 dollars for one room. It was great. It had been about 2 weeks since we had a hot shower.
We ended up having lunch at a small restaurant down the street from our hotel. The food was a little disappointing and lacked a lot of flavor that was found in Lima and Cusco. We found out that there was a thermal pool near by and it only cost about 7 dollars to enter. We decided that we would wake up early in the morning at visit the pools first thing before exploring the city.