The ominous dark clouds obscuring the tops of the hills above Aguas Calientes
the afternoon before didn´t give me high hopes for a sunny dawn at Machu Picchu
. I was prepared to take the bus with the others after we discussed meeting at 5:15 the next morning, but when I went to have a nightcap with some of the others from the other group, they told me that they were all going to climb to Machu Picchu in the morning, and I thought, "I´ve walked for four days and how many miles, I can surely climb up to the peak with them in the morning!" Besides, I didn´t have a ticket for the bus, and even though it only costs $6 for the ride, it was more the principal of the thing that made me change my mind.
Mysterious in the fog
So when I got up at 4 am and went to the restaurant where the other group was having breakfast, I told the second guide who was going to take the bus with a few stragglers from his group to tell my guide that I had climbed.
The streets were eerily silent and it was still very dark when I set out. It turned out that the group had left some minutes before I got to the restaurant and so I walked down the street and into the darkness, but with my lantern that I had the foresight to bring with me. Otherwise the pitch black darkness would have turned me back. I latched on to a few walkers who were heading in that direction and by the time we made it to the base of the Inca steps, I had caught up to the other group. It was probably better climbing in the dark and not knowing how high we had to go.
Ruins in the mist
The pre-dawn air was muggy and I was shedding layers quickly but to no avail as my tshirt was stuck to my skin after a short time. We followed the steps of the person in front and enough light was given off by the flashlights to at least see the steps in front. As we crossed the road again and again, I started to tire, as did the young Asian-American girl in front of me that I had seen the day before at the basket crossing of the river by Santa Teresa. She had cuts on her face and chin and bruises on both arms and I finally got a chance to ask her what happened. She had fallen from her bike on the jungle trek and hurt herself but it looked worse than it felt she told me. She was a cute little thing, only 19 years old, and ending her first year at Berkeley where she is studying English lit.
Llamas and ruins
I felt bad for her not only because of her cuts and bruises, but because her breathing was labored and the majority of the group ahead was taking no pauses in their climb. I noticed as she took out an inhaler and took some puffs. I told her I would taken frequent rests with her since I had a flashlight and there was a chance of not finding the path or not being able to see when climbing, and that besides, I wanted some rests too. So we climbed more slowly, step by step, and then resting on the switchbacks. I had a feeling that there would be no dawn at the top and so it didn´t matter that we made it there in a hurry. As we climbed higher I was looking back across the valley at another peak which was visible from time to time through the swirling mist.
Andrew in Inca doorway
It gave me goosebumps to see the fog in the valley and to be climbing up on steps hewed by the Incas more than 500 years ago through dense vegetation. The muggy and humid air made it feel like I was on an expedition to some lost city in the upper jungle. Well, in effect that´s what it was, only not lost anymore. Machu Picchu was rediscovered in the early 1900s by a Yale archeologist who came back several times to excavate the ruins. He knew he was onto something important. But what is fascinating to me is that there is still disagreement on the use and meaning of the city. Was it a defensive mountaintop fortress? Was it a training city for new agricultural ideas? Was it a place of rest and relax for the Incas? Or was it a religious site used mainly for enacting rituals? No one seems to be convinced of the purpose of Machu Picchu and the mystery remains.
Mark & Djana
The night gave way to hesitant feeble light as we climbed higher and higher, and it seemed that an end was near. I was having trouble on the Inca steps and kept cursing them for putting in steps when just climbing a gradual slope is so much easier. The Inca stonemasons were my nemesis this morning. But finally we emerged above the treeline and suddenly there was a group of people and buses lined up at the entrance to the site. We had done it. 1,300 feet in an hour of climbing. I was pretty impressed by that figure and the others from my group who had just stepped off the bus congratulated me for being "the only one who walked ALL the way." My skin was clammy and my breathing a bit heavy, but I felt wonderful, even if tired from the intense quick climb.
Inca water channel
The fog was swirling all around us and it was difficult to see very far. But I wasn´t disappointed in not having a brilliant sun. I felt the same way I had when I visited the ruins of Kuelap in northern Peru. I sensed the mystery and eerieness of being in the midst of fog with glimpses of ruins and surrounding peaks but nothing fully revealed. Juan didn´t seem to want to guide us around the site, and I suspected he hadn´t had much sleep since the previous night he talked about meeting an "amiga" that he knew in Aguas Calientes. Later he told me that he didn´t sleep at all, and that accounted for his reticence on doing a thorough job of explaining Machu Picchu to us. His tour at the beginning was pathetic and I was getting upset and wondering how to find out something about where we were, rather than having him repeat, "so guys, what do you think this is all about?" We have no idea, Juan, so tell us! After some time he started to catch his stride and warm up and talk and explain more to us.
Which was a good thing because he had some rather unhappy trekkers on his hands who were about to mutiny. We took the back way and were able to avoid the more crowded areas and Juan was able to talk to us without a crowd and noise. I was appreciating the the amazing feeling of being in such a magical place, a fabled place. I had heard so much about it. There was so much build-up. I had traveled all around Peru for almost five months and only now was I finally in the most famous archeological site in South America, recently named one of the seven wonders of the world. I was afraid of having too many expectations, as so often happens, and being let down by the reality. But I felt nothing of that. I was simply overwhelmed and that feeling was not diminished as the day went on and the sun rose to burn off the fog and reveal the entire site and breathtaking surroundings.
Mark in front of "palace"
We explored the religious area with its temple of the Condor and the priests tower where there is a mystical opening in the wall where the first rays of the sun enter precisely on the winter solstice to light up the area. I was thining of Indiana Jones in the first movie when he is in the temple in Egypt with the staff. Something like this occured at that moment in this ancient astronomical observatory.