We arrive at Machu Picchu!
Machu Picchu Travel Blog› entry 6 of 12 › view all entries
August 15th, 2009 – by: Linqueen
By 4:40 in the morning, we were following Wilfredo down the dark path, flashlights guiding our cautious steps, towards the checkpoint. We arrived at the checkpoint at 4:50, and a long line of fellow hikers formed behind us as we patiently waited in the dark for the doors to open and let us through at 5:30.
At this point, the whole of Machu Picchu was supposed to be spread out before our very eyes.
After soaking up the atmosphere, we descended to the main entrance to enter the ruins and begin a two hour guided tour with Juan. We sat along a stone terrace wall as Juan began an informative, twenty minute lecture on the history of Machu Picchu. The famous ruins were rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American archaeologist from Yale, with help from a local farmer who was aware of its existence. It is now commonly believed that Machu Picchu was a royal retreat for the Inca leaders. Other evidence suggests that it was both a ceremonial and agricultural center. What is truly amazing about the site is that it escaped destruction by the empire-raiding Spaniards, who never found the structure, most likely because it is hidden so high in the clouds.
We spent a couple hours exploring the ruins with Juan. We visited the room of the high priest and a few temples, both of which were constructed with near perfect stonework in contrast to the secular buildings on the compound. We also went up a few flights of stairs, passing by llamas who also wander through the ruins, to see the Inithuatana, which looks like a sundial and functioned as an astronomical and agricultural calendar. This stone structure survived in perfect form for nearly five centuries until 2001. A film company shooting a commercial for a Peruvian beer sneaked camera equipment into the site and irreparably damaged the stone Inithuatana when a 1,000 pound crane fell and chipped off its corner.
After the tour ended and we had a chance to explore the ruins on our own, the three of us took the twenty five minute bus ride to the small town of Aguas Calientes, where we were to meet our group for lunch. As the bus careened its way down the mountain I realized that if I were meant to die in Peru, it was going to be on this very bus. The driver sped down the mountain, which offered no protective railings to prevent the bus from plummeting to the valley floor. I decided to close my eyes for the remainder of the ride because I could not bear to witness how close the wheels came to the edge of the cliff any longer.
Luckily, we made it to Aguas Calientes, a small tourist town dominated by sellers of cheap souvenirs and weary backpackers celebrating their treks along the Inca Trail. We enjoyed a nice lunch with our fellow travelers, received our "I Survived the Inca Trail" certificates, and then were required to spend four more hours in the town, longing for showers and beds to sleep in. We passed the time by finding a two-hour laundry service, which restored our hiking attire after being covered in layers of dirt, sweat, and filth. We also visited an Internet cafe and chronicled our decline in physical appearance as the days passed on the trail through photos on my camera.
We noticed a rather peculiar practice the town employs for collecting garbage.
At 6:00, we boarded a train to Ollantaytambo, where we then hopped aboard a bus to Cusco. We finally arrived at our hostel around 9:30, where we enjoyed the most amazing showers of our lives, climbed into our warm, cozy beds, and fell fast asleep dreaming about our Machu Picchu adventure!
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