Saturday, November 3, 2007

Inca Trail, day four. The Big Show

Bleary eyed hikers in line

A rainy 3:30am start did not make for an exuberant campsite. We were up at this time (giving new meaning to the term 'ungodly hour') to be the first in line when the track re-opened at 5:30. Thankfully, Pachamama stopped the rain during breakfast, and we ended up being first in chattering line for the final walk to Machu Picchu. The excited walk to the Sun Gate, and the first glimpse of the ancient city was the scene of some intense competition. The chance to be the first to see the site is apparently very important to some people, and, with her walking stick converted into baton, Angie actually struck one over-eager Norwegian who made a cheeky attempt at passing our single-file group.

Machu Picchu is in there somewhere

Breathlessly, we arrived at the Sun Gate to find Machu Picchu enveloped in a thick fog, impenetrable even to the rising sun, let alone our sleep-deprived eyes. There was a tense fifteen minute wait on the ever-filling viewing platforms as nature performed an excruciating stripshow, constantly revealing snippets of stoneflesh but never disrobing completely. Our group continued on to the site, but even there the fog was thick. We spent an hour or so watching the beautiful spectacle of the terraces and temples being constantly revealed and recovered under a subdued morning sun.

Curtains parting

By mid-morning the cloud had dispered and was being replaced by a fog of overweight tourists (lazy train riding cheaters....ummm...we were taught on the tour that we must loathe them). Anyway, Machu Picchu was in full sun and Puma took us on a walk through the massive site, explaining the significance of various temples, houses and stonework.

The llamas are actually government workers employedtokeepthe grass short and photogenic

This is the most beautiful of the Incan stonework. Such precision was reserved for the most holyof sites.

A group of left the tour to climb Wanyu-Picchu, a small collection of platforms and houses built in the most impossible location, clinging to the cliffs overlooking Machu Picchu. When you look at photos of Machu Picchu, Wanyu Picchu is hidden at the top of the pointy mountain in the background, I'd never even realised it was there until someone pointed it out for me. The hour plus climb up was the hardest of the trip, but seeing the elderly Catholic nuns descending in their sandals put a stop to any lame complaining. The view from the top of the mountain was amazing. Sitting on the peak was the first time I could really comprehend that we were actually on a mountain surrounded by a valley. We could see the entire network of the Incas in the valley; the paths, the watchtowers, the farming terraces and the city itself, prostrated on the mountainside in a huge X shape. Seeing everything from this angle made it clear that it wasn't just an amazing society that had been destroyed, it was an amazing empire.

A cave on the way to the top of Waynu Picchu.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around Machu Picchu, laying like lizards on the rocks of the quarry, exploring the city and it’s surrounds and generally soaking up the energy of the place. A short walk away was The Inca Bridge, another cliff-face construction of stone and wood. The bridge allowed access to the city from another angle, but these days it’s off limits to all. Marc and I caused a minor uproar by walking around shoeless until a janitor on a power trip insisted we re-cover our aching hooves.

We left in the late afternoon, and while we were waiting outside for the bus back to our hotel, experienced some rock-star treatment courtesy of a Peruvian school group. Each of the twenty or so schoolgirls who were also waiting insisted on having photos with each of us, and then the mothers and teachers got involved as well. Despite all the attention, we still felt about as unglamorous as anyone would after not showering for four days. Nobody mentioned anything about how we smelt, which was nice, and the schoolgroup promoted us to the head of the bus line, which was nicer.

We made it back to our hotel, and headed straight for the local hot springs. The opaque brown water smelt a little too earthy to be considered cleansing, and the high density of bobbing heads and shoulders made the pools resemble a stinky human soup. It felt good on our aching muscles though, and once the smell got to be too much, we braved the local restaurant touts. We found a nice Mexican restaurant that immediately lost electricity and overcharged us when the time came to pay. It was obvious the night was heading downhill, and we were all at the point of absolute exhaustion anyway. We returned to the hotel, and had our first, glorious sleep on a mattress since leaving Cusco.

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