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Inca Trail / Camino Inca, Day 4 – we arrive!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 4 – I couldn’t believe it had arrived!  Somehow at 3:45 we stumbled out of our tents for our final hike to Machu Picchu.  After one final hot breakfast, we packed up camp and parted ways with our porter team.  They headed directly down to Aguas Calientes, the village at the base of Machu Picchu, while our guides and fellow trekkers continued on to Machu Picchu.

It was strange starting out in the dark, around 4:45am.  We turned on our headlamps and set off single file, excited to reach our destination.  Step, step, step, step, STOP.  We found ourselves in a line of trekkers, at about 5:10am.  Fredy explained that we had to go through another checkpoint (there are a lot of checkpoints on the trail – they strictly regulate the number of hikers on the trail each day) and that the ranger wouldn’t be there until 5:30.  Tired and bored, we had no choice but to wait and watch other groups pile up behind us.  Finally the ranger arrived, we passed the gate, and set off again along the trail.

Waiting for the ranger

Final Inca Trail checkpoint

Trail of trekkers

It was a cloudy morning.  We hiked silently, the only sounds that of insects singing out, focused on getting to the sun gate of Machu Picchu in time to see the sunrise.  It got lighter and lighter, but no less cloudy.

Clouds, please lift!!

This portion of the trail was fairly easy, “Undulating,” as Fredy would say, up and down to the Inti Punku – the sun gate.  After a couple of hours we reached a series of stone columns.  Fredy gave us all high fives.  “You made it!” he announced.  Made it… where??  We couldn’t see anything!

no... more... steps! (heading up to the sun gate)

Entering the sun gate

Happy to be at the sun gate... not so happy about the (lack of a) view

Llama chilling with the crowds at the sun gate

Totally cloudy.  From this point, supposedly you have your first great view of Machu Picchu.  “Family, we had 3 beautiful days,” Fredy rationalized.  “You never see a postcard taken at the Sun Gate.  Don’t worry about the view.  Machu Picchu is beautiful whether sun or clouds.  Let’s not waste time here and get to Machu Picchu before the crowds come.”  It was another 1/2 hr from the sun gate to the main citadel of Machu Picchu, and Fredy was understandably anxious to show us some of the main sites before the hordes arrived from the train & bus.

Fredy consoles us about the lack of a view

After the sun gate we passed this sacred stone.  You can leave an offering for the area of your life you would like to work on: the lower level is the past, the middle level is the present, and the top level is the future.  Archeologists found offerings here from areas of Peru that are thousands of miles away – proof that pilgrims from distant regions of the ancient Incan kingdom came to Machu Picchu on a sacred journey.

Offering stone

Before I knew it, we had reached the main level of Machu Picchu.  Though still very foggy, elements of the site began to emerge.

Machu PIcchu emerges from the fog

Machu Picchu emerges from the fog

We ran down to the main entrance to Machu Picchu from the road and dropped off our bags so we could more easily explore the site.  Here we said goodbye to our second guide, Alvin.  Alvin has done the trail 67 times in the last 2 years as a guide.  We often ended up finishing up our hikes with Alvin calmly walking behind us, not caring how slowly we took the steps.  Thank you, Alvin!

Saying goodbye to Alvin

Back inside the gates, Fredy gave us an excellent tour of the key sites of Machu Picchu:

Reflecting pools used to study the stars

Another example of organic architecture, incorporating boulders into the city

The king's sitting area

The 3 temples, all around the same plaza, made by 3 different rulers in 3 different styles

Temple at Machu Picchu

Rock carved like a condor, Andean sacred animal of the future; the boulder behind it represents the wings

Two examples of different architectural styles at MP (the different wall constructions)

After an hour or so, the clouds very very slowly started to lift, and the infamous views began to reveal themselves.  I loved the look on Seth’s face when we could finally see some of the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu.

First look at the views

The clouds finally lift! View from Machu Picchu

The clouds lift!

The sun gate - up in the little dip between the mountains - finally clear 3 hrs after we passed it!

Before I knew it, Fredy’s guided tour was over and he dismissed us all so we could have our own time to explore the citadel.  Most of the group was going down to Aguas Calientes that afternoon to catch a train, so they made plans to have lunch together.  Seth and I were staying at the hotel at Machu Picchu (not going down to the village), so we found ourselves saying a hasty goodbye to Fredy and the rest of our group.  4 days together… and over just like that.  It was a strange feeling to suddenly be on our own, no more campsites to reach or meals in a tent.

So, after 4 days of walking, 48km, 3 mountain passes, and more incredible views than I can count, we had made it.  As I stated in the beginning of this series, I don’t know why but something in me needed to go to Machu Picchu and needed to walk there.  After the experience, I know why.  It is the most incredible place I have ever been.  It was a sacred journey for pilgrims hundreds of years ago, and it was the same for me.

I have more pictures to share of Machu Picchu in its glory – we spent almost 2 full days exploring  – but I’ll leave you with this one for now, taken later in the afternoon once the clouds had fully cleared.

Clouds gone, there she is - Machu Picchu!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ted permalink
    Monday, May 30, 2011 9:03 am

    A truly inspiring experience! I can’t believe something so beautiful still exists so untouched and surrounded by so much nature. I can see how this place has called to you for so long. Seems like real-life magic to me!

  2. Wednesday, June 15, 2011 8:57 am

    I love the photo of you at the sungate. So happy! 🙂 Looks beautiful! Makes me remember what it felt like to visit Guatemala.

  3. Satur and Kara permalink
    Sunday, June 19, 2011 10:25 am

    You are the best guys!!! It was a pleasure to do the trip together!!!!! We could not find better company… I really hope the rest of the trip in South America is great!!!!! Take care!!!!
    Satur and Kara!!!!!!

    • Kristen permalink*
      Sunday, June 26, 2011 10:20 am

      Thank you guys! It was so great to meet you and have you as trail companions. 🙂

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