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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Peruvian Adventure 2016 - Inca Trail Day 4 (Winaywayna to Machu Picchu)

A little before 3am, I awoke and began to wake Kari. We had a goal to break camp and be in line to enter as one of the first groups, obtaining a bench seat under the shelter while waiting for the doors to open at 5:30am. Everyone worked quickly to pack up and drink our hot drinks. Mariano packed us sack breakfasts to eat while waiting in line.

By golly, we made it! We got a seat and dropped our bags before going back to brush our teeth and use the bathroom. Super pumped! Especially as we saw groups arriving later standing or sitting in the dirt for the 1.5 hours of waiting.

Finally, the gate opened at 5:30am, and we approached the control. Christian signed us in, and we began our hour long hike to the sun gate, Intipunku. It was still a little dark at the start, so we walked with our headlamps.

Before long, we caught the group in front of us, creating a long single file line weaving through the cloud forest on our way to Machu Picchu. During the Inca times, Machu Picchu was considered the most sacred place in all of the Inca empire and territory. People from all over the world made the pilgrimage at least once in their life. Now, we were following in their footsteps! Pretty cool!

As we arrived at Intipunku, the sun gate, the clouds were so thick that we could not see anything in the valley below. We waited with the other groups until the sun rose to see it shine through the sun gate before hiking the remaining 20 minutes down to Machu Picchu. Along the way, Christian stopped us at a couple spots that were sacred to explain some of the history.

When we arrived at Machu Picchu, the crowds were already growing. We took a few photos before checking most of our bags. I kept mine to carry water and snacks for the group. We also took some time to use the toilet services before heading back in to tour Machu Picchu. These were the best since we left Cusco by far!

Words cannot really do Machu Picchu justice. It was much larger than any other Inca site we had seen and in remarkable condition. What is even more remarkable is that not only was it lost to the world for about 400 years, but it survived two major earthquakes in Peru while staying intact. Incredible!

Even with the cloud cover, we were in awe of the beauty of Machu Picchu. Having Christian as a guide was a real blessing. He showed us around the Temple of the Sun, the king's house, and a few sacred areas while explaining how Machu Picchu was created, the purpose it served, and how it was discovered. You could really hear the passion in his voice as he taught us about the Inca people.

We toured Machu Picchu with Christian for about 2 hours as he guided us to the entrance of Huayna Picchu Mountain for our hike up at 10am. Before he left us, he gave us our bus tickets to Aguas Calientes and instruction on how to meet him for lunch. Then we just waited at the gate to Montaña Wayna Picchu until we were allowed to begin.

The rangers only allow 400 people to climb Wayna Picchu on a daily basis. We had heard stories of how dangerous it was, especially when wet, so we were all a little nervous. Our plan was to approach it like all other aspects of the Inca Trail and tackle it together.

For the first half or so of the climb, we were really questioning why people thought it was treacherous. It seemed like any other part of the Inca Trail. Then we hit it. The climb pitched steeply up, with some very narrow sections. We had to pause occasionally to let traffic come down as we were going up. Thankfully, there were some cables to use to help pull yourself up and small areas to stand out of the way of other hikers.

In about 45 minutes, we made it up the 250m of elevation gain and were at the top. The clouds occasionally parted, so we could see Machu Picchu and the valley below. It was really pretty; a spectacular view. As we continued to explore the top, we found a really small cave that I struggled to wedge myself through. I had to take off my backpack and camera to hand up to Kari, since this was the only way and the only way I was going to fit. Yikes! Yet another reminder that the Incas were not a large people!

We hung out at the top for a bit taking photos, enjoying a snack, and the views, before heading down. Down was a little sketchy, compared to up. Thankfully, we all managed to make it down safely.

Back in Machu Picchu, we explored the remaining parts Christian mentioned but ran out of time to show us. In particular, we explored Tres Portadas and Tempulo de Condor, the Three Doorways and the Temple of the Condor, respectively. We posed as condors in the Temple of the Condor. At that time, the rain started to pick up from a slight drizzle to more of a down pour. We joined the mass exodus out of Machu Picchu, reclaimed our bags, stamped our passports, and got in line for the bus.

After about 30 minutes of waiting in the rain, we finally boarded the bus to Aguas Calientes, where we met Christian for lunch at El Chasqui. Lunch was ok; we were more pumped about getting dry and warm.

When it was close to the time our train was boarding, we headed over to the train station, passing a beautiful statue of Pachacuti, a puma, and a condor. The train ride was nice as we chatted with Hannah and Brenna for the 1.5 hour ride to Ollantaytambo to meet our transport back to Cusco.

We were dropped off at our hotel in Cusco, the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, and said our goodbyes. The first thing we did when we got in the room was shower. Boy, did that feel good!

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