Friday, December 30, 2011

The Inca Trek, Day Four: Wiñay Wayna to Machu Picchu

On the last, fourth, day of the trek we were woken up at 4:30 A.M. Despite the early hour, all of us were super-excited, as we were finally going to see Machu Picchu. Or were we? That morning was very foggy and cold, and many members of our group were skeptical whether we would actually manage to see the site.

I was not one of the skeptics. From the moment we booked our trip several months earlier, I had known that we would manage to see Machu Picchu in all its glory, and that the day we would arrive at the site would be beautiful and sunny. And I was right, the very moment Anil and I arrived at Machu Picchu, like with the touch of a magic wand, the fog and clouds lifted. But let me step back a bit, and tell you in more detail how this day unfolded.

After breakfast, we all went to the Winay Wayna restaurant, where we had to wait for about half an hour for permission to go further. For safety reasons the Inca Trail trekkers are not allowed to hike in darkness, and are required to wait for the sun to rise and light their way. To ensure that nobody breaks this rule, a few hundred feet past the Winay Wayna campsite, there is a guarded locked gate that only opens at 6:30 A.M. From that gate it is several kilometers, and about one-and-a-half to two hours to Machu Picchu.

After we were cleared at the gate, Anil and I separated from the rest of our group and started running as fast as we could. We needed to hurry, as not only did we want to visit Machu Picchu, but also wanted to climb the iconic mountain—Huayana Picchu—towering above it (more about it in tomorrow’s post). After about 30 minutes, we reached Intipunku (The Sun Gate), from which, on a good day, Inca trekkers get rewarded with a stunning view encompassing the whole site of Machu Picchu. However, we didn’t get to experience that view, as when we got there, it was still too foggy to see anything. The fog didn’t prevent me from snapping a few pictures of the Sun Gate, though.

As soon as we passed the Sun Gate, running became easier and faster, as we were finally going downhill. We were making good progress until we encountered a group of llamas. They looked so cute with their super-long eyelashes and big innocent eyes that, even though we were in hurry, we just had to stop and play with them. They seemed to be well-accustomed to tourists, and didn’t mind being touched.

We had so much fun with the llamas that we didn’t even realize that, in meantime, the fog had slowly started lifting.

And within seconds after we parted with the animals, the fog almost completely disappeared, revealing a breathtaking view of Machu Picchu directly at our feet. It was an almost mystical experience that I will never forget. (In fact, it was such a special moment that I decided to dedicate a separate post to it. It will appear here on 1st of January 2012, on the first anniversary of our arrival in Machu Picchu.)

As we were on a mission to get tickets for the Huayana Picchu mountain, we didn’t have time to admire the view for too long. After we snapped out of the awe, I quickly took a few pictures, and we headed towards the main entrance to Machu Picchu, where we had to show our tickets to a guard. We left our backpacks at the luggage storage, and again we started running all the way across Machu Picchu to the Huayana Picchu entrance. At least all this running paid off, and I’m proud to report that we managed to get one of the last few permits to climb the mountain. As you’ll be able to read in my post tomorrow, the climb to the top of the mountain was spectacular and well-worth the effort. A lesson: if you really want something really badly, and you’re willing to work very hard to get it, usually you’ll manage to achieve your goal, and a nice reward will be waiting for you at the end of the road :)