Our last day started very very early. I never did get to see this last camp, Winay Wayna, in the daylight since we took a detour on our way in to see the terraces (worth it!) and ended up arriving by our headlamp lights. It was hard to sleep too, not only because of excitement but because of the obvious difference in the altitude – a relatively low 8800 feet (2700m). It was so warm I didn’t even sleep in my sleeping bag, just on top, it was just too humid and eventually rained during the night. Since our wake up call was for 3 am I slept in my cleanest outfit to be ready for photos at Machu Picchu in the morning. Our bags were packed with everything we weren’t using at the moment so that we could spring out of bed and be ready to go. Even with a 3am start we were the second or third group in line by the time we had eaten. Crazy. Some people napped leaning on their bags in line, others had saved things like brushing their teeth for wait, the rest of us yawned and chatted.
It was explained to us that the early start was literally just so we could get up in time to get a good spot in line. I don’t know how many people this camp sleeps but it is the last camp before Machu Picchu and there are many groups here. There is a checkpoint that opens at 5:30am that we must all go through before hiking our last 3 miles (5K). The trail at this point is not very wide but we were assured that if we did not keep a fast enough pace that other groups would try to pass us. So with our headlamps on in the glimmering twilight of dawn, full packs on, we pretty much jogged through the jungle as fast as we could. There came the “Monkey Stairs” which were so incredibly steep it was easier to climb them like they were a stone ladder. I have no photos of this (and wish I did) but both hands were needed to not fall. I’m not really afraid of heights but I am afraid of falling…luckily there was pressure to just do it so I did. Seriously don’t look down! We all scrambled up safely and made it to the gate well before the sun fell on Machu Picchu.
This gate is called the Sun Gate or Inti Punku because it was built so that during the summer solstice the rising sun would shine through the arch. It was once the main entrance to the sacred Machu Picchu and offers stunning views of Machu Picchu below. Our group made it there in one piece and secured places to sit and stand to wait for the rising sun to peek over the mountains and shine on Machu Picchu. There was some fog that hid Machu Picchu from us from time to time but once the sun was over the crest the fog burned up and Machu Picchu was lit up with a beautiful glow. It was truly breathtaking. We sat and marveled at the view for a while, took some photos together and then began a slow final descent down to Machu Picchu, about an hour more. FYI this gate is accessible from the general MP ticket if you want to hike up to it. The architecture was amazing. This area has frequent earthquakes and the Incan people had built the walls of Machu Picchu to withstand that. It was amazing not only the engineering that went into the stone but how straight the blocks of rock had been carved. How did they do that and also bring them this far into the jungle? They also carved the stone to fit one into the other with cones and depressions almost like dovetailing with wood. Incredible.
We were given a tour by Pappa Freddy, saw more wild llamas grazing on the terraces of Machu Picchu and got to see a guy propose to a shocked woman who turned out to be from Santa Cruz Ca! Lots of us congratulated her and admired the ring her boyfriend had carried through the whole hike without her knowing. After Freddy was done with his tour we were left to explore the ruins on our own. A little rain came down but honestly, we were so dirty and smelly that the rain was welcome. Eventually Daniel and I got on one of the busses to get down to the town of Aquas Caliente at the base of the mountain. We met back up with our group, and our chasquis who had been waiting for us with our gear, and had some food and drinks with Pappa Freddy and Jimmy. We were loud, other hiking groups were there too and every time a new person came through the door, one group or another began cheering for their returned friends. Our friends had chosen to also hike up Huayna Picchu immediately after finishing Machu Picchu (we were going to but were too exhausted to do another hike) so they were the last to join us. When they arrived I think the entire restaurant began cheering and we ordered them drinks and food and had a great time. Then I had the sketchiest but most appreciated shower I’ve ever had.
Some people had touted the place next door as having cheap massages and showers available so we decided that sounded GREAT. So it was lost in the translation that we wanted to shower and they put us in a common room for massage separated just by curtains. When it was done we asked about our showers and after much confusion were given a single towel and ushered into the bathroom adjoining the curtained massage tables. Even though the drain didn’t work and the water was ankle-deep before we were done and we had to use the communal bar of soap left there and share a towel..it still felt amazing. I highly appreciated being able to be clean for the train ride and several hour bus ride back to Cusco. We arrived late back to our hotel but since we were clean, just crashed into bed to sleep for more than 12 hours straight. The next morning we woke up ravenous. Hello Hotel Buffet!
Our original plan was to be flying back to Lima this afternoon but had decided that we might need a day to recover before traveling again and changed that before leaving on the hike. That was a good call. We were so hungry and so tired that dealing with packing up and doing the airport thing would have been miserable. So that day we just ate and slept. By dinner time we were able to function enough to pack up and had one last hurrah meal with our friends. Then the NEXT day we got up refreshed and ready to go back to Lima. At breakfast we got to say goodbye to several people from our hike who were staying in the same hotel and headed out.
We spent a few hours in the Lima airport hotel just waiting out the half-day until our flight home, slept some more and got a nice dinner out before getting on the last leg home. I’m honestly not at all disappointed to have missed seeing more of Lima. I’m just not a big city girl. If I had to do it again I wouldn’t stop in Lima for anything but to change planes to get to Cusco. That’s just me though, I’m sure there is plenty to do for people who don’t mind a busy city.
Today, the day I write this last post is exactly 1 year to the day of our finishing our hike to Machu Picchu. Sounds like we need to plan our next trip!