It is hard to believe, but after 2 months in Peru, we have finally visited Machu Picchu.
Hoping to be the first through the gates, we woke up at 3:45 AM (15 minutes after some disco had turned off its music). We hurriedly ate a breakfast of yogurt, crackers, and cheese and walked into the dark streets. There were a few people drinking in the early morning. After we got out of town, we had a 20 minute walk down the dark dirt road and past the bus depot (with 21 buses solely for carting tourists to and from the ruins). The path from the road to the ruins is steep and long--especially for 4 AM.
We began climbing the stairs hoping we could do it in an hour. The road which the bus takes is 8 km and zigzags back and forth up the mountain. The path is mostly rough stone steps which also zigzag up the mountain side but in a more direct manner. As we crossed the street we saw bobbing flashlights behind us. We sped up only to be overtaken by a different person who sped up the path in front of us. As we panted our way upwards, several more people passed us while we mananged to overtake one couple. Below we could hear the sounds of buses, so my goal changed from being first into the ruins to at least beating the bus which leaves town at 5:30. The sun had risen though it remained behind thick clouds. Eventually we managed to see some ruins which still weren't as close as we would have liked. I tried to enjoy the view. Though the clouds were still low, the mountains were beginning to become more apparent and the birds had started singing.
Finally we reached the entrance to the ruins. Between 10-15 people were already waiting on the steps. It was around 5:30. Tired but excited, we waited hoping we'd be let in early. A little before 6, not 1 but 5 busloas of people joined the line.
When we were let in, we all rushed toward the ruins hoping to be able to see them before they were filled by the masses. It was like Disneyland except for adults. We were trying to figure out where to go first. Waynu Picchu? Stroll around the ruins? Pirates of the Caribbean or Space Mountain? Which was the best option before those 5 busloads of people made it in.
Our little crowd had stopped at a guard. There was some confusion as the guard explained Waynu Picchu was the other direction, but Machu Picchu Mountain, the path we were at the foot of, was where many postcards were taken from. As the people in front of us hesitated, Rowshan and I slipped ahead up Machu Picchu Mountain.
The clouds were rising and covered the ruins as we ascended the mountain. Four people passed us but we realized as long as we kept on climbing, we'd always have the rising clouds between us and the ruins. Rowshan and I stopped at what looked like a view point. There was a peak and to the right was an area concealed by clouds. Further off, tall mountains rose up, their true height only becoming visible as the clouds slowly floated upward.
At one point the clouds thinned enough to see some of the ruins but quickly a bank of clouds from the valley on the other side, flowed in and concealed them again. The sun struggled to burn through the thick clouds. I watched the white area, seeking silhouettes of walls and peaked roofs. Shapes flitted enticingly and I thought how peaceful and magical everything looked--high steep mountains, an ancient city appearing and disappearing in the cluods. We were so high above the world and no one else was around. Finally the clouds lifted and all the ruins became visible with just a thin layer of mist. The sun managed to catch some walls and grass adding brighter color to the scene. Waynu Picchu was still conealed at the top but it was unbelievably beautiful. There are a lot of ruins but I think what really makes the site incredible is the location: high above a deep valley, surrounded by the tops of mountains. Watching the clouds shift over the mountains and ruins made getting up at 4 AM and walking up who knows how many steps, completely worth it. The ruins weren't empty, but from where we were it felt like we were the only people there.
We headed back down to the ruins and walked across them, past grazing llamas, to the gate to Waynu Picchu.
Since they only allow 400 people a day up the mountain, we figured we'd better get signed up. We were numbers 103 and 104 and it was still quite early. From the ruins, Waynu Picchu looks impossible to climb.
It is steep and there doesn't look like there is much of a path anywhere. The path is mostly rock stairs. I guess the Incas were big on stairs. At some parts the stairs were so narrow and steep they had to add metal cables to give people something to keep them attached to the mountain. (apparently a couple people in the past had fallen off) After much panting (and coca chewing for me) we reached the structures at the top. Some more stairs and a squeeze through a tunnel in the rock led us to a group of boulders at the very top, draped with hikers.
One guy, while jumping from one boulder to another, let out a cry of dismay as his camera flew out of his open bag and tumbled to the rocks below.
After sitting for a while admiring the view of the mountains and ruins, Rowshan and I decided to head back by a different longer way which led to the Temple of the Moon.
This path was steeper than the one we took up and at several points involved climbing down ladders fastened to the rock face. We seemed to keep going down and I wondered if we'd end up on the valley floor. Finally the path ran into a small stone structure. Walking around it revealed a cave created by a large outcropping of rock. Inside the cave were built in stone walls and niches. A guard sat in the middle on a rock, playing video games on his cell phone.
Aside from that, it was a tranquil, secret feeling place. Descending the mountain had rased the temperature a bit and we could feel a bit of warm humidity.
Now we had to ascend back up to the main ruins. Tired, hungry and running low on water, we started up the stairs on the other side of the cave. They kept going-- up and around the mountain. Finally we came around the side of the mountain and could see the ruins. The stairs led steeply back down only to turn and climb steeply back up to the level we were currently at. We signed and continued down... then back up until we finally met up with the path we'd first taken to the summit.
The ruins had gotten a lot more crowded by the time we reached them. We wandered around a bit more and saw a strange animal sitting on a ledge. It looked like a rabbit with a squirrel's tail and ears a bit smaller than a rabbit's.
Around 1 it started to rain so we decided it was about time to leave. After a snack, we headed back down the path to the valley. Several times we were overtaken by boys (Chaskies) wearing traditional costumes. They'd run down the footpath and at each intersection with the road would wave and shout ADIOS!, then rush down the path to catch the bus at the next intersection. At the bottom of the hill, the bus would pick them up and after dropping off a load of tourists in town, would drive them back up the hill.