August 10, 2016

Two days in Machu Picchu

As I sat on the train from Machu Picchu back to Cusco, sipping my mint tea, absorbing the vistas of the beautiful Andean valley, I thought about our last 2 days spent at Machu Picchu.

On the Vistadome train, writing down my days thoughts
We had arrived in Aguas Calientes 2 days prior by Perurail. Aguas Calientes is a small town at the base of Machu Picchu. The next morning, bright and early, we had got on the bus with our tour guide to go up the mountain where the citadel of Machu Picchu lies.

lining up for the bus
As the bus stopped and we started getting off, I felt my excitement levels rise ten fold. We were soon entering the citadel of Machu Picchu, and those stunning pictures that I've always drooled over would be forming in front of my eyes! Well, once we had stood through the long entrance line and got our passports stamped!

Passport stamped! This passport is expiring soon and I'll so miss it - it's my favourite passport, so beautifully bruised with all our travels <3
Upon entering, you already start seeing the many mountain ranges around. There's a trail to climb up some flight of stairs to get to the guard house. 2 minutes in, Umair and I started huffing and puffing. We had only been at high altitude for 2 days and were still experiencing some shortness of breath. Once at the top by the guard house, we finally saw this:

Just like that, it was right there in front of our eyes. The mountain ranges bracketing the lone standing mountain and underneath all that....the sprawling ruins of the Inca civilization from the early 1500s. 

It was as magnificent as I had thought it to be. And so very surreal. I choked up just a tiny bit and got slightly misty eyed. I've been fortunate enough to have seen some really stunning beauty that this world holds, but none have brought the reaction that Machu Picchu in that initial second did. It could be because the sight of Machu Picchu is overwhelmingly majestic. It could be because I was standing in front of a wonder of the world. 

Whatever it was, this was real. I was here.  

We spent the first three hours with our tour guide, who walked us around the ruins, giving us details on the life of the Inca civilization and how intelligent was their masonry and engineering. The Incas had the amazing ability to build walls of perfectly carved and matched stones in those ancient times. And what's more intriguing is that they would carry all these stones up in the high mountains where ever they lived. They lived in the mountains to keep themselves safe from enemies. The Spanish had conquered the Incas all around Sacred Valley but they never made it to Machu Picchu. That's how hidden this little world was. 

Agriculture fields around the ruins

the ruins. Imagine waking up to this view everyday!

After our guided tour and lunch, Umair and I entered the citadel again. We decided to hike the Sun Gate - which is where the Inca trail ends. It was roughly a one hour hike, with stony terrain going up. Because of altitude, we took a lot of breaks and huffed and puffed quite a bit, but finally managed to get up to these stunning views of the mountain ranges:

Once back down, it was already 4PM and we spent the next hour just sitting around the guard house, admiring more of the Machu Picchu view and enjoying the serenity that wasn't there in the morning. Most people leave around 3-4PM, so at this time there were very few tourists just lying around on the grass reading, eating or llama-watching. There was a certain calmness in the air, and I started imagining what beautiful views the Inca people must have woken up to every morning. 

Umair! I have a brilliant idea....since Toronto housing market sucks, why don't we be smart like the Incas?!

...I think this llama is staring me down...what were you saying?

The llama is not staring you down. I'm saying....why don't we be smart like the Incas and build our own house here on the mountains?!!

*blank stares from Umair*

So?? What do you think?

*more blank stares*

Sigh. Ok. 

We then caught one of the last buses going down to Aguas Calientes, knowing we had one more day to return. [One more day to convince Umair about moving to Inca land!)

Next morning, we woke up at 4.30AM to go stand in the bus line. We thought we were early, but the line up was already so long that our turn to get on the bus actually came at 5.45AM! This was the day I was going to hike the most glorious hike of my life.

the steep mountain the red arrow is pointing at is Wayna Picchu
Wayna (or Huayana) Picchu is the lone standing mountain seen in all Machu Picchu pictures (red arrow pointing at it above). When we booked our Machu Picchu trip back in February, we made sure to grab tickets to hike the Wayna Picchu mountain. Only 400 people are allowed each day and tickets sell out months in advance. We had heard how steep and difficult the hike can get, so I was a bit nervous. It was good to have hiked the Sun Gate the previous day to get some practice, but I was already getting breathless out of nervousness (and altitude) and wanted to quit before starting. 

But I thought you wanted to live like the Incas? Said Umair

This time it was my turn to give some stares.

The hike started off pretty OK - the trail is mostly made up of uneven stone steps. The first 10 to 15 minutes are actually simple, but then it began to get really steep. 

It starts off not too bad - stone stair trail

View of the ruins on our way up
At one point the steps got so steep, all of us were on all four limbs! For the most part, there is also no support to grasp on except for a flimsy rope. I don't know how the Inca people used to climb up and down carrying stones and other materials through these stony, uneven, crazy high trails.

Ok, maybe the Inca people were not that smart after all....going up and down and down and up the mountains all the time. Who does that?!

Umair, I don't think I want to live like the Incas. I announced, huffing and puffing.

Too bad, Umair replied and started climbing on his four limbs. I followed suit.

Got really steep after the first 15 minutes - look how high those steps are - and no hand support.
This hike is definitely not for those who have a fear of heights. At some points, there are large drops off the side. We're both ok with heights, but were stopping every 15 or so minutes to catch our breath. At 1,158 feet high, the hike was the most challenging physical activity I've ever done, especially considering we were already at almost 8000 feet above sea level. Oxygen was less, air thin, but our spirits were high. We kept pushing through.

It took us roughly an hour to get to the top. The last stretch was the toughest - we had to be on all four limbs to go up. we had to go under big rocks and slide off rocks at one point.

View of the ruins from the top.
But we made it to the top! Such an exhilarating feeling to get to the top and be able to get a bird's eye view of the ruins at the Machu Picchu. 

Ok, I may have changed my mind again and would like to live her-

No, you've maxed out on the number of times you can change your mind for the week. Let's see who gets to the bottom first. And off he went. Again, I followed suit.

Coming down was hard on our ankles but we somehow managed without spraining them so yay for that! Once out, we had no energy left to do anything else but to take the bus back down to the town and get ourselves a nice massage before catching out train to Cusco. 

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