The final day of the hike- Machu Picchu! I want to say that Machu Picchu was a little anti-climatic, but that doesn't really explain how I feel about it, because it's... well, it's Machu Picchu for goodness sake! How could that be anti-climatic? I think what I really felt was that the hike itself was the Big Deal, and ending a Machu Picchu, after days of spectacular views and impressive Inca ruins, was perfectly fitting. It wasn't a momentous Aha! moment, even though it was our final destination, but that might have been because by that point in the hike, our knees were sore, our camera memory sticks were brimming, and we had been up since three in the morning. No joke. Three o'clock A.M. Hiking. In the dark.
The brochures and guides like to imply that the reason the last day starts so early is so that we could arrive at the famous Sun Gate to see... the sun... or something. I never was sure exactly what the pay off was going to be. I think in reality, the porters have to catch the five A.M. train home, so they wake us up at three, hand us a breakfast biscuit and some snacks, and start taking down the tents before we've fully emerged.
We had a short walk to the official check-in point, where we had to wait on a bench until five-thirty A.M. so we could sign in and begin the last leg of our hike. Other groups straggled in behind us, and we all waited together. While waiting, we noticed the little guy in the photo above - a scorpion! I was very grateful that I didn't see a scorpion until I was finished sleeping on the ground!
One of our group used his phone each day to keep track of our hiking distance and elevation. No wonder Day 2 was so hard! But look at the end of the graph, on Day 4. See that steep climb? I believe that is the section referred to as the gringo killer staircase. No one warned me about that until we were there. It was an ascent that required both hands.
Once we got through the check-in point, we had a fast hike in the dark, which despite the previous nights warning about four-thousand foot killer drops, was conducted at a breakneck speed. Our group kept the lead for a while, and despite the race, I enjoyed the darkness and the sounds of insect and frogs, which gave way to the sound of birds waking up the sun.
We had a short break at the sun gate, with our first early morning views of Machu Picchu, and then we watched the sunlight creep down the mountains toward the ruins while we hiked toward them.
You can't tell from these photos, but there is a crowd of people standing around me. As soon as we neared the ruins, we were mixed with the crowds of tourists who come to see the archaeological wonder by train and bus.
Our guide lead us to a sunny terrace, and gave a short lecture about the site. Unfortunately, we were exhausted and the sun was too hot, so it was hard to focus. About half way through the talk I realized there were multiple wasp nests in the wall the group was leaning against, so I spent most of the time watching giant black wasps inches from everyone's head and worrying about stings. I was relieved when he was finished and it was time to explore the ruins.
This temple was built into the natural rock formations on the mountain. It was pointed out to us that there is a difference in the stonework for temples and other important buildings. The terraces and normal structures are built from stone but it looks more rustic, and uses some mortar. The temples and religious sites are made with stone on stone, no mortar, and with very smooth edges.
You can see the smooth stone work of the rounded temple in the background on the left, which contrasts with the rustic stone work in the foreground.
I believe we were told that the soil that fills the garden terraces was brought in from another location by the Inca. We saw some active archaeological excavations while we were there, and it appeared that they were removing the soil from the terraces an inch at a time, and finding bits of pottery and other artifacts buried in the soil.
Even the main doorway to the temples was made from the smoothly carved stones.
At the top most temple was this stone carved to mimic the mountains in the distance.
This is the stone sun dial that's reported to give off a palpable energy to those that can feel it with their outstretched hands. I didn't feel anything, but I think my vibe was getting hijacked by the guard who was smirking at me while I tried to get in tune with the stone. The man, keeping me down, right?
See those stone projections on the side of this house without a roof? We saw some re-created houses with thatched roofs and could see how those projections were used to tie the roof on with straps.
I've already forgotten the name of this temple, but it was something to do with a condor. See how the head and beak of the bird are on the ground, and the natural stones are like outstretched wings?
Is wasn't long after noon before we were sun baked and ready to head down the mountain to find our hostel, a shower, and a nap. We did it!