I was pretty excited to wake up early this morning because if the sky was clear, I was about to fulfill item #53 on my bucket list – seeing the sunrise on a mountain top. So when we got our wake up call, I was more than happy to leave the warm tent and step out into the chilly air. It took us a few minutes to climb to the top of the camp site area. From there, we had a 360˚ view of the valleys and mountains all around us – including our old friend, Salkantay! It was simply phenomenal. I could have spent a very long time just watching the sun slowly gild the jagged peaks of the snow-capped mountains around us. We had the area to ourselves, me, my sister, Juan Carlos, and two porters. After sipping some hot coca tea as we admired the early morning, we headed back for our last camp breakfast.
After breakfast, we said goodbye to three llamas who were also sitting in the camp, enjoying their surroundings, and off we went. Destination – Machu Picchu! But first, Phuyupatamarka. We were pretty much the only ones left at the camp as everyone else had to start about 3am in order to make it to Machu Picchu with enough time to explore it before it closed for the day. For us, though, since we’d decided that day seven was for exploring Machu Picchu, it was all good as long as we made it before sunset.
Our first stop, Phuyupatamarka, was a set of ruins that were a five minute walk downhill from camp. It had the usual commanding views and was completely clear of clouds, despite of having a reputation of being “the city in the clouds”. Getting to it and leaving it required treading on steep and uneven steps downhill. I was really glad not to do it in the dark for safety reasons – but also because one can never tire of these amazing views!
The day was primarily downhill through lush forests. Every once in a while, there is a view where you can go, “Yeah! This place is amazing!” And then continue on. Once, we passed a spot way up the mountain that looked like any other tree covered spot in these mountains. But Juan Carlos told us that in this particular spot, there is a set of ruins still covered over. My inner archeologist almost had a brain seizure, contemplating all the possibilities! But not everyone has the same appreciation for history as I came to discover as we approached the next set of excavated ruins. Just before Intipata, there were some ruins (probably still part of Intipata, actually, just not excavated) and I saw two women leaving the area from a bathroom break. Okay, while I appreciate you gotta go when you gotta go, but really? In the ruins??
Intipata was pretty neat. There are a crap ton of terraces, a fantastic view of the Urubamba River far down in the valley, and a bunch of granaries. But, unfortunately for it, our next stop after this blew this place out of the water. Wiñay Wayna, also known as “baby Machu Picchu”, is ah-mazing. It is gorgeous, spread along the side of a steep hill with the usual fantastic views of the surrounding valleys. Several families or groups would have lived here so the compound is made up of terraces (farming), homes down near the bottom, and a religious site at the top.
Let me illustrate how much I loved Wiñay Wayna: I am one of those that can get hangry. It can be pretty bad. Ask my family. Anyway, I was well on my way to this state as we approached Wiñay Wayna – but seeing it was so amazing, I was able to push that aside for the time we were there. I was blown away that much. The other fun thing about Wiñay Wayna is that there are several llamas that graze here. They are tame enough that you can approach them for photos. Though they really don’t care about you – all they care about is eating and pooping.
Our lunch spot was a camp site near Wiñay Wayna. It was our last lunch so after we ate, we had to say good bye to everyone but our guide, Juan Carlos. It was super awkward with the clapping and the tipping. I tried to thank them in my bad Spanish and was relieved when it was all over. After lunch, we passed the final checkpoint and off we went on the last leg of the trek. I tried to ensure I soaked in every last bit of our surroundings as I could. The path wound around the mountain sides and the vegetation was lush which provided ample shade from the hot sun. I loved the several species of wild orchids we saw and the giant green leaves from the various plants. It was important, however, to also pay attention to the trail itself as there were parts where inattention could be swiftly rewarded with the short cut to the bottom of the valley.
Too soon, we reached the hella steep staircase to Intipunku (one more for old times’ sake, eh Inca Trail?) aka the Sun Gate. This was apparently a control point in Incan times, to ensure only special folks got into the city. The Gate was pretty busy, primarily with those who’d probably hiked up here from Machu Picchu rather than coming off the Trail. While it sucked in terms of (not) getting people free photos, I was more happy that we’d made it in time to see the late afternoon sun bathing the famous Machu Picchu.
Okay, confession time. I have a bad habit of being rather underwhelmed by famous sites when I finally visit them. And this was no exception. All I could really think about was that I was sad the trek was coming to an end and that man, the air here was really dusty! We lingered for a while but then pressed on to the main event. We passed many people heading up as well as a series of ruins and sacred spots. And then, finally. Machu Picchu itself.
The longer we were here, the more excited I felt. The fading light was beautiful and I was ultimately happy that we had the unique opportunity to be able to witness the site both at sunset (now) and sunrise (the plan for tomorrow). Not many people get to do both. We had enough time to wander around a little bit on the outskirts before the guards herded everyone out as it closed for the day. We joined the hordes in taking a bus down to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of the mountain on which Machu Picchu lies.
Tomorrow, yet another bucket list item will be checked but for now – a real bed and shower!