Peru: Machu Picchu (Day 4)
4 a.m. The earliest train to Aguas Calientes required a 4:30 a.m. arrival time at the station. The hotel provided us boxed lunches since we left before breakfast opened. At the train we found out, pleasantly, that we had first class seats in a heated dome car with a large windows and partial glass roof. We spent 45 minutes riding in darkness, but once dawn broke the scenery was beautiful. The tracks were laid in the crevasses, alongside the Urubamba River, which snakes around the mountain plateau Machu Picchu resides on. The night before had rained, which does not happen often in the dry season and creates the setting for very dynamic photography as clouds roll over and around the peaks.
We arrived in Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu town) at the foot of the hill, and crossed the street to the bus that takes the Hiram Bingham road to the lodge at the top. Checking the price of the lodge rooms, I can see why it wasnâ€™t even considered by our tour agent (would have doubled our total trip costs per person for the cheapest room!). We took the thirteen switchbacks, made a rest stop (no bathroom inside, and no food allowed) before entering the official monument park.
The forest was so thick we could not see much as we huffed and puffed up the newly constructed stone stairs. At the top of that pathway, however, was the Inca Trail. Go left to visit Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) and turn right to go to Machu Picchu. Before we descended into the ruins, Edwin brought us to the southwest corner terraces, where we took picture after picture, watching the clouds hide parts of the city, the river wrapping around Macchu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, the much taller peak with the Moon Gate that is more restrictive (200 visitors daily) and much more dangerous.
We followed the terraces past the cemetery with its large ritual stone and to a lone house, a lookout and the place where Hiram Bingham set up camp as it had the most expansive views including the three then-known of the nine now-known paths into the ruins. A large portion of the area has yet to be excavated, and new caves are still being unearthed. From this vantage point many of the terraces were visible. A few llamas roam them, although they do not enjoy the climate.
Entering the ruins, Edwin took us on a tour focusing on the varying degrees of stonework quality. We walked all of it, taking about three hours to see all the temples, soldiersâ€™ and royalsâ€™ residences, and other unexplainable items like the twin â€œmirrorsâ€ (two stones carved to possibly hold enough water to create a reflection). Afterwards we got our passports stamped at the exit and parted ways with Edwin for part of the day. We had a brief lunch then went back inside to walk to the Sun Gate. Halfway up we all felt like we couldnâ€™t go any farther but ran into a German in the same situation and so buoyed each other the rest of the way. And what a view! So we made it to the Sun Gate, walked the Inca Trail, and saw all of Machu Picchu before we took the bus back down to town. We were too pooped to do more.
Back in town we putzed around the market a while then had a late â€œsecondâ€ lunch. Itâ€™s amazing how much food is necessary to fuel the body when walking so much in high elevation steep uneven terrainsâ€¦ we caught the last train back to Cusco around 4:30 p.m. and spent four hours looking at photos and playing Citadels. A van picked us up at Poroy (the train doesnâ€™t go all the way to Cusco), said our farewells to Edwin, and returned to Tika Wasi to crash and sleep in. A well deserved sleeping in!
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