The sun rose the same way it did every morning. The mountains stretched their lush fingers of rock and jungle high into the horizon, grasping at the sky and blocking out the sun. Unrelenting and stubborn the sun ignited the outline of the mountains and filled the spaces between with a shroud of soft light. The increasing warmth of the morning evaporated the condensation from the verdant trees, a thin mist glided out of the green of the mountains, the jungles exhaled.
Similar clouds of vapour escaped the mouths of those shuffling up the ancient steps, murmuring in close conversation and rubbing the sleep from their bones, they took their places among the rock and grass and stared in unison out over the mountain fortress. They waited patiently for the arrival of the sun, some adjusted on their cold seats of stone, some fidgeted where they stood, shifting their weight from side to side, I sat among them, and waited patiently.
Down below among the stone structures, a trio of llamas grazed lazily in the morning cold. The first blades of sunlight pierced the peaks of the mountains and sliced through the dimness of the valley, they struck the tip of Huayna Picchu. Engulfed in sunlight, the young mountain loomed over its older brother. The might of the sun is instantaneous, those who have been waiting in the damp cold have to shield their eyes from the brightness as the ancient structures are bathed in a golden light. The sun rose the same way it did every morning, but for me there was no other morning, neither before nor after, there was only this morning. There was only this sun. There was only this mountain. There was only me.
ACROSS THE BORDER
After seeing the beginning of the Inca empire, our plan was to head to the former capital of the Inca empire, Cusco, and then to the ancient mountain stronghold of Machu Picchu, this would require that we would cross the border from Bolivia into Peru, and as I explained in one of my previous blogs, crossing the border legally was not our strong suit.
The overnight bus we took from Lake Titicaca stopped at the border crossing, we were instructed to exit the bus, get our passports stamped out of Bolivia, cross the border by foot, get stamped in by Peruvian customs and then carry on to Cusco. While waiting in line, ignoring currency converters hawking false exchange rates, we brainstormed how we would get our passport-less travel buddy across the border. The best we could come up with was a bribe, so as the three of us handed our papers and passports to Bolivian customs, my travel companion handed over a wad of Bolivian pesos and a convincing story in Spanish. For about the equivalent of 60 Canadian dollars he was allowed to leave, not a bad deal. We crossed the border by foot and while the three of us went through Peruvian customs, the border-hopper got directly on the bus.
We carried on through the night, noticing a huge difference in Bolivian and Peruvian highways and level of infrastructure. We stopped in a small city to frantically switch buses to Cusco. Arriving into the city at about 2am we grabbed a cab to the Wild Rover Hostel where we were allowed to sleep in the TV room until the morning when they could put us in a dorm. We constructed beds out of beanbags and napped.
Once we had our packs stashed in our dorm room we took off to wander around the city, grab some food and plan our trip to Machu Picchu. I won’t go into detail about Cusco in this post, we returned after Picchu for 5 days and really experienced the city then, so stay tuned!
The next morning we woke early to beat the lines for tickets to enter Machu Picchu, after waiting in line for a few hours, laughing our heads off watching the local pigeons mutilate a stale loaf of bread, and giving the stink eye to anyone who tried to push in line, we had our passes to enter Picchu two days from then. We headed to the train station to buy tickets to the town outside of Machu Picchu for the following morning and then headed back to the hostel to enjoy some beers and watch Canada suck at the Summer Olympics.
The journey into Machu Picchu was pretty awesome, we jumped on a minibus from Cusco that took us about an hour and a half out of the city to a small town built along Inca ruins. We grabbed lunch at a restaurant alongside the train station and watched as a parade marched through the town. The view from the train as we hurtled towards the mountains was pretty breath-taking, it ran along rivers lined by smooth water-beaten boulders. We arrived in the town of Machu Picchu, which was a tourist nightmare. The train station exits out onto a market of cheap souvenirs and Peruvians shouting their room prices, we were led through the town by a man who offered the four of us a pretty good deal for a room. However when we got there we realized it was just 2 beds for the 4 of us, through some cunning bartering in Spanish we convinced them to push 2 more beds into the room for a few extra pesos.
We stashed our stuff, headed out to buy a bus ticket up the mountain for the following morning, and explored the train tracks out of the town. I ended up walking along them myself for about 2 hours deep into the jungle, the mountains looming over on either side. I walked so far that I ended up on the other side of Machu Picchu and could see some of the structures high upon the peak of the mountain, pretty awesome teaser for what we would see the next day. We reunited at the hotel, grabbed some food and called it a night.
The next morning we woke up before the sun and rushed to the bus stop excitedly, not surprisingly many other people had the same idea of watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu as us and we waited in line shivering in the cold and darkness for half an hour. During the bus ride we saw some travelers who had opted to walk up the mountain through steep trails that snaked across the roads.
Finally we were at Machu Picchu. Just typing it blows my mind, it still has never settled in that I was there, that I watched the sunrise over the mountains, it still escapes me, describing the magnificence of the Inca fortress nestled high above the clouds seems like a dream that I still haven’t woken up from.
We filed into Picchu and got our first glimpse of it, mindblowing. The whole place was wrapped in a thing morning mist, like a ghostly shroud over the entire mountain. Huayna Picchu loomed over use in the distance and we could see the first rays of sunshine beginning to reach over the line of mountains. We found a good vantage point high up and sat their breathless in the cold of the morning, I don’t remember saying a word. It was absolutely awe-inspiring watched the sun slowly illuminate the mountain, to the end of my days it will be one of the most beautiful mornings of my entire life.
After the sun surpassed the peaks of the nearby mountains, we began to explore the ruins. I won’t go into the details of all the different buildings and temples that dot the top of the mountain. Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely enthralled by the structures, their history, their design, their purpose, I love history, particularly ancient civilizations, and everything about Machu Picchu ignited my passions, but that is what wikipedia is for.
As well as wandering the ruins my buddies and I did some off the track exploring and actually found a series of skinny stone stairways in the side of the mountain that led down into empty terraces away from all the crowds. After checking out some of the stuff of the beaten path we took a nap in the sun overlooking the mountains and terraces of Machu Picchu. Groggy from our sun-soaked nap, but still excited to see as much as we possibly could we headed to the Inca Bridge, which consists of a few trees laid across a 10 ft long gap, connecting a 3 foot wide pathway of stone that protrudes out of the side of the mountain and drops away a few hundred metres. The bridge itself was blocked off, but being the idiot gringo I am I weaseled through the barrier and took two steps out onto the bridge before realizing how bad it would be for my parents to get the news that I had died in an absolutely idiotic way being a moron. So with the well-being of the folks in mind, I courageously declined to take on the Inca bridge and we trekked up to the Sun Gate, the point where the Inca Trail ends and overlooks over both Machu and Huayna Picchu.
After spending the entire day trekking around in the sun we were beat, so we headed back to the main gate where we inked our passports with a Machu Picchu stamp and walked back down the mountain into town. We celebrated conquering Machu Picchu with some colourful but highly alcoholic drinks called “Machu Picchus” followed by a few beers before heading to bed and catching the train back to Cusco the next morning.