Thirdeyemom

The Glorious Sunrise over Machu Picchu

Our last night sleeping on the Inca Trail was a night to remember (or forget depending on how much you had to drink!).  The party began at 4:30 pm as our group gathered for our Incan Golds atop the overlook in Winay Wayna which means “forever young” in Quechua.  We drank our beloved beers, laughed, talked and enjoyed each other’s company along with the other hundred or so guests for the night at the Trekker’s Hostal located at only 8858 feet/2700m.

The Trekker’s Hostal was no paradise but after three days trekking and sleeping in a tent, it was nice to have at least a western toilet (instead of the detested, stinky toilet tent), cold beer (which the porters carried up three hours on their back from the nearest town), and music which unfortunately played until 11 pm.  I tried my best to go to bed early but it was impossible to sleep since we were right next to the bar filled with revelers singing their hearts out to American rock.  But I knew our 4 am wake-up came awfully early and I was finally beginning to lose steam after so little sleep on this trip.

The noise slowly stopped and I fell into a deep sleep until my rude awakening at the crack of dawn.  The sun was hardly up, and it was pitch black save the moonlight shining down upon us.  I dressed quickly, ate a hearty breakfast and snapped a few fabulous pictures trying to capture the beauty of the sun rising over the Andes.  If only I had a better camera! I cried.   Here are some photos and documentary along the way.  Day 4 trek to Machu Picchu.

5 am:  Our last day of the trek to Machu Picchu.  Picture of the sun rising over the mighty, snow-capped Andes Mountains.

5:30 am departure:  We were on a race to cover the short distance of an hour and a half in order to reach Machu Picchu at the peak of sunrise and before the busload of tourists (who didn’t do the trek there) arrived and spoiled the view.

We left quietly and quickly into the darkness trying hard to watch our step carefully.  Below is a picture of the Trekker’s Hostal below in the distance. What a fantastic location!   Unbelievable.

The last hour of the hike to Machu Picchu was spectacular.  It was so incredibly peaceful and tranquil.  I tried not to talk much and indulge myself in the beauty of this magical place.  I listened to the birds singing softly while the sun rose over the lush, verdant mountains.   I closed my eyes and realized that this is why I do it, why I trek.  It isn’t the accomplishment of climbing a mountain or finishing a multi-day trek that is important to me, it is the peace and serenity that I achieve with my inner being and soul that is priceless.  For I am in my element and doing what I love best in life.

We are approaching the final turn in the trail that would bring us to our destination:  To the lost city of the Incas known as Machu Picchu, hidden by the world until their amazing discovery in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham.

Then as we turned the corner, we suddenly saw it:  The glorious lost city of the Incas perched high atop a ridge at 7,834 feet/2400m in the Andes.  The first sight of Machu Picchu was breathtaking and absolutely spectacular.  We made it just as the sun was to rise above the blanketed peaks of the mighty Andes.

After four days of hiking through jungle, cloud forests, and steep, stone stairs, the sight of Machu Picchu took my breath away and made my heart melt.  I could immediately see why the Incas choose this remote location.  It was incredible.

As we approached the ruins, we had no time to stop and marvel at its beauty and mystique because we knew that the buses of tourists were loading up below in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes and soon our private viewing of the site would be over.

The place was astounding and I could hardly believe my eyes.  How the Incas built such an amazingly, intricate city located in such a remote, mountainous area is beyond belief and a miracle.

A panoramic view of the site.  The Incas chose the most remote, sacred part of the Andes to build Machu Picchu.  The high mountains form a natural open valley with a perfect perch in the midst where they could build their shrine.  Machu Picchu was built on a rocky enclave with steep, thousand foot drops off the side making it difficult to reach and impossible to see from the nearest town, Aguas Calientes, located thousands of feet below.  No wonder the Spanish never found it, leaving it hidden for over 400 years. An amazing feat!

On the righthand side is the perilous Huayna Picchu, a beautiful mountain that offers stunning and views from a different angle of Machu Picchu which is 400 m below.  Climbing it however takes some serious guts since it is extremely steep and there are no guard rails…..climb at your own risk!  Yet of course the view is absolutely stunning!

It had rained the night before and thankfully cleared up enough to give us excellent, picturesque views of the mountains and of course, Machu Picchu.  I found the low hovering clouds to be lovely.

Finally around 7:30 am we arrive at Machu Picchu with very few tourists.  The beauty of doing the visit on foot!  (The gates do not open to the public until later meaning trekkers have a huge advantage since they can arrive before the crowds).

We made it!  My dad and I at Machu Picchu in November of 2001.

I could not stop taking pictures of the ruins.  It was so incredible.  Apparently only 10% of the ruins were visible when Bingham discovered the site and it took many years until all of Machu Picchu was uncovered.  Persistence paid off!

Our guide Limas gave us a detailed tour of the site and we stopped to take a picture of at the intricately carved stones.  How did they accomplish such an amazing feat of architecture?  It must have taken hundreds of men and years to build.

As the clouds blew in, it enhanced the mystical feeling of this amazing place.  There are so many unanswered questions and many things we will never know.

I stood in awe and amazement as I took this picture.  It is by far my favorite of the entire trip because it illustrates the incredible mystique of Machu Picchu.

After touring the ruins, we took our lives at hand and climbed the short, yet difficult peak of Huayna Picchu.  I had heard and read that the views from atop were the best of Machu Picchu.  Yet the hike up was pure hell and scared the wits out of me.  It didn’t help that our guide informed us of the unfortunate tourist who fell thousands of feet to his death while he was climbing Huayna Picchu. 

It was rough going up.  Thank God there were metal chains and ropes to hold on to for extra support and safety.  As I mentioned before, there were no guard rails and if you made one wrong step, you would fall thousands of feet to your untimely death.  I’m not sure whether or not this has changed over the last ten years, but this kind of safety mishap would never fly in the US (where we have more lawyers than we know what to do with!).  I wasn’t sure why I did the climb, but when I got to the top I realized it was worth the pain and the fear.

The view below of Machu Picchu blew me away.  Incredible!

I’m king of the world….well, not really, but it was fun to believe for a moment (especially for all those Titanic fans!).

I was relieved to head down to the safety of the ruins and flatter land.

Meanwhile the tourists began to arrive.  I was so happy we had arrived early and got so many spectacular “tourist-free” pictures.

After our visit to Macchu Picchu was over, we arrived safely down in Aguas Calientes feeling grimy, dirty and exhausted.  Yet we were excited to find a nice place to eat.  Thankfully neither of us got sick along the way (a few of our friends got a bad case of the runs….definitely no fun when there are no bathrooms!). I was happy to avoid any stomach mishaps and glad to be heading back to Cusco where I’d get a nice hot shower.  It was going to be heavenly after four days gathering dirt and grime.

The town:  This picture isn’t the best (my eyes are closed) but I thought it was worth sharing since it shows the poverty of the place.  This is Aguas Calientes, the town located a couple thousand miles below Machu Picchu and a launching off point to see the ruins.

The poverty

I recalled a story our guide Limas told me along the way.  As a young boy growing up in the mountains of Peru, he lived in a rural village with no electricity and little material goods.  He had to walk almost two hours to school each day, which thankfully for him, he spent studying (yes, while he walked).  The other boys from his village used the walk to horse around and those were the ones that never left the village.  Education was only required up until age 12 and most children just simply dropped out.  It is an unfortunate reality for many rural Peruvians who grow up uneducated and poor.  Yet, their strong culture and pride remain and still continue to inspire us.

Peru is a place I’ll never forget!

Stay tuned….I’m dusting out my files and hope to write about another fabulous trip.  Not sure yet whether it will be Australia, Argentina, Chile or New Zealand.   It all depends on what inspires me at the moment.  Thanks for reading! thirdeyemom

11 comments

  1. Charlotte Zissou

    You’ve managed to capture a seemingly indescribable feeling here. The way the people are forced to live is sad but somehow so beautiful. It’s wonderful to know that they can inspire by having so little. Excellent words and photos, I look forward to your stories from other countries 🙂

    • Thank you! The trip was over ten years ago but it was one of those life changing places for me. I was only 28, recently married and hadn’t really been anywhere quite like Peru before. Seeing and meeting these fabulous people was very enlightening and special and I’m so glad my post portrayed these feelings! Thanks for reading!

    • Thanks Lucy! I hope you are doing well and it is not too hot in Guatamala now. It is really warm here….90s and sticky. Gotta love it though.

    • Thanks Kathy! These were taken over ten years ago and I had to scan them onto my computer. I can only imagine how incredible they would have been with today’s technology. I will have to check out your blog ASAP.
      Nicole

  2. Dan

    Good write up. Would only comment that doing the the inca trail nowadays increasingly exploits the poverty of local people. Prices have been pushed down by increased volume and several porters have died of exhaustion in trying to earn a living.

    From the article it seems clear that you didn’t consider yourself a tourist and spoke in slightly disparaging terms about ‘tourists’ who arrived by other means.

    Whilst you are entitled to this view remember that whilst undoubtedly extra energy is expanded in getting to the location, this is not in everyone’s gift and by taking the Inca trail the impact on local life maybe unwittingly catastrophic. Whether arriving by Inca trail or train or bus. Every visitor is a tourist.

    I’d suggest an unsupported hike if you truely want to avoid this and be able to claim differentiation from other tourists.

    • Excellent point! I honestly can’t remember exactly the wording of this post off the top of my head however the hike was done in 2000, over 12 years ago. I know that life has changed significantly since then in Peru, with Machu Michhu, as well as myself and my own travel philosophy. It was the first hike I’d ever done of many and yes I agree that there is a lot of issues today with hiking this trail.

      If I sounded like I wasn’t a tourist than I must have not stated myself clearly because of course I am!!!! When I remember hiking the trail, my fondest memory was how amazing it was to see the ruins by hiking there and learning all about the culture and history of the trail, as opposed to arriving via bus. So I apologize if I sounded like I was being rude. It wasn’t intended at all! 🙂

      When I went to Nepal we used a local trekking company that gives back to the community and is eco and people friendly. We spent two weeks on the trail with a guide and porter. Sadly enough these are the best jobs in Nepal. However, if you go with a good reputable company then it is a much better situation for the people. We became great friends with our guide and porter and still talk two years later. We learned a ton about their culture and made lasting friendships that we never would have made without them. Furthermore, the money for them was over a month’s salary for our guide working at his retail shop. Yes, it is a sad reality yet I don’t feel like they were exploited.

      I love to hike and am passionate about doing so. However, I am not truly able to hike unsupported carrying my own tent or pack due to a herniated disc in my back. I guess I look at the fact that if I chose relatively good trekking companies and give back to the people (I’ve written about this a lot on my blog see post “How Nepal Changed Me”), than it is better than simply doing nothing at all. Anyway, thanks for stopping by and commenting! 🙂 You gave me more to think on! 🙂

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