Today the porters work us up at 3:30am. Since we had had earplugs in (thankfully since the busy campground was quite loud), it took them a while to wake us up. We had packed all that we could the night before. So, all we had to do was dress and eat breakfast – which was good as we were still half-asleep. Breakfast was simple – tea, buttered bread rolls, and an egg and potato dish. We ate quickly and then walked the very short distance (about 5 minutes) to the entrance point. We were one of the first groups (3rd?) so we got seats on a bench under the checkpoint’s roof. Thankfully too, as it sprinkled on and off while we waited. We had to wait there until 6:30am when the entrance opened. At this point, each group took off as quickly as possible once they cleared the checkpoint. It felt like a 4 kilometer dash along a rather hilly, uneven, and treacherous trail. But, we were amped up about getting to the Sun Gate the fastest we could. Even the typically slow people were keeping pace – around 2.5 mph (incredibly fast for the trail). Unfortunately, this fast pace led to a couple of mostly-harmless falls. There was one extremely steep set of stairs near the Sun Gate that were particularly difficult. These stairs threw Katie into a partial asthma attack, so she used her inhaler after reaching the Sun Gate and then claimed a good spot on a rock.
When we arrived at the Sun Gate, fog was still covering Machu Picchu. We couldn’t see it at all. It was really awesome to sit at the Sun Gate and watch the fog rise, revealing the incredible site below. Eric and Grace brought a few small bottles of vodka, and they shared with all of us. Hence, we had vodka shots at the Sun Gate at 7:30am in the morning! We figure that this is a fairly unique experience. 🙂
Then we started the final trek down into Machu Picchu. Katie apparently attempted to walk and look at Machu Picchu, and ended up taking a tumble. All she remembers was falling and thinking to turn into the mountain (to hopefully avoid falling off the cliff). After hitting, she tumbled down a few more steps. Her left hand had two chunks of skin pulled back, her left elbow and knees got scraped up, and her right knee, left elbow, and left leg got pretty bruised. Laura and Alex came along about a minute after Katie’s fall, followed shortly by JT. We then waited for the assistant guide Hector, who gently but thoroughly cleaned Katie’s wounds and then bandaged them using cotton and tape.
Then, we continued (Katie with just one pole since her injured hand could not hold one) down to a place where our group could take a picture together (wearing our new Llama Path shirts) that had Machu Picchu in the background. By the time we got there, the fog had totally lifted and the views were nothing short of magical. Then we had to go to the main entrance where we used the first non-squat toilets in days (for 1 sole each – which we were more than happy to pay). JT was so happy to see a “real” bathroom that he joked he was going to take a picture. Our fellow hikers laughed, understanding the feeling too.
We gathered, checked bags that were too large (supposedly over 20L, but in reality they only really picked up people with really large backpacks) or that we did not want to carry (5 soles outside the entrance and 3 soles inside the entrance), and returned our rented trekking poles to our assistant guide (since they are not allowed inside Machu Picchu).
Next we started our 2-hour guided tour of Machu Picchu with Miguel. We saw the temple of water, Temple of the Sun and the rock quarry, among other places. All along the way, Miguel shared more in depth history about the place: debunking the Machu Picchu “discovery” story by Brigham, talking about how all the sites along the trail seemed to lead to this one (as each had more decorative water fountains). We were quite annoyed with the other tourists there, as we were used to exploring sites all on our own. We figured that we should get special privileges around the site considering all the work we did to get there. 🙂
We finished our guided tour around 10:30am, so that some people in our group could go climb Wayna Picchu (which we are doing the next day). We decided to wander over to the Hut of the Caretaker, from which we signed-in and walked to the Inca Bridge. While checking in, Victor, Victor’s daughters Renee and Victoria, and Andy appeared and joined us. As we returned, it began to thunder and sprinkle. So, we hurried to put on our rain gear… But the real rain never did come. With the extra time before lunch, we went to sit for a while in a plaza by the Hut of the Caretaker that had a great view of other parts of Machu Picchu and also had about 6 llamas grazing. Some of these llamas got quite close to us, as well as to some visitors sleeping on the same terrace. One llama even decided to pose perfectly in front of Machu Picchu for us.
Then we used the US$9.50 one-way bus tickets given to us by our guide to ride the bus down to Aguas Calientes around 1pm. We met our trekking group for one last time at Apu Salsacany, which was a pizza restaurant on the main street in Aguas Calientes near the bus and train station. We got bad directions from two different people, and eventually found it after consulting a town map and finding the police station (which our guide had said was across the street from the restaurant).
We ordered a medium pizza and a beer to split, which cost us 56 soles. We enjoyed the free chips on the tables, and a few people bought nachos for the table to split. Some people in our group were really celebrating finishing the trek. There were many beers on the tables, and Victor ordered two bottles of Pisco for the two Llama Path groups to split! Pretty nice of him! There was also a really sweet little cat in the restaurant that clearly craved attention and enjoyed sitting on Andy’s and then JT’s lap.
We eventually had to say our goodbyes to the group as they left to catch their trains. We took our duffel bags and day-packs to Hostel Varayoc
) to check-in. We got room 305, which was an interior room with two twins (real beds!!) and a private bathroom ($35 per night on booking.com). We then went out to buy a 2.5 liter bottle of water, band-aids for Katie’s hand, neosporin-like cream for Katie’s wounds, two single-use shampoo packets, and just to wander around the small town. The neosporin cream was an interesting item to track down. The first pharmacy we went to offered a sulfuric acid cream and then a muscle relaxing cream. It seemed that they did not understand the request and/or did not have the proper cream. Thankfully though they sold us 5 band-aids (Bendi-C brand) for just 1 sole. The next pharmacy was selling one band-aid for 1 sole! But they had a more appropriate cream for Katie’s hand.
Then Katie used the free computer terminal at the hostel to work on reading her AAMAS reviews (released today!) and to send her advisor initial responses for him to edit. Meanwhile, JT called Capital One about a password change email he got while on the Inca Trail and then attempted to find the Peruvian-Chinese restaurant that had been rated highly on Trip Advisor. However, he never found it and was told by one person it had been closed.
After Katie finished writing her responses, we wandered around looking for cheap food. Katie had her heart set on pizza. It seemed most of the ‘grande’ pizzas, which seemed to start around 25 soles, were actually not that large. The restaurants along this street all have people outside who attack people passing by, which gets really old quickly. We actually ended up eating at a restaurant right next to our hostel where we got a grande Hawaiian pizza to split for 31 soles. It was good, but nothing amazing and not so grande.
Then we retired to our room and blogged for a while before finally showering (for the first time in days for Katie). It felt so good! We ended up each using the entire bar of soap provided to us by the hostel. JT was able to wash his hair three times with the small sample-size shampoo he purchased.
We both fell asleep without earplugs despite the hostel being near the train tracks and a loud bar (since our room was interior, it was actually pretty quiet). JT still had his phone in hand – as he was in the middle of blogging when he fell asleep. However, Katie woke up in the middle of the night to a dog barking so she put in earplugs. Other than that, we both slept excellently.
Waiting for the checkpoint to open at 6:30am.
Racing to the Sun Gate.
We were told this 6km would be ‘Inca flat’ – does this look flat?
Katie captured a good spot at the Sun Gate.
Machu Picchu is starting to appear from the fog.
Vodka at the Sun Gate, complements of Eric and Grace. 🙂
At the Sun Gate
Leaving the Sun Gate for the walk to Machu Picchu
Katie’s hand after stumbling down the stairs
Hector attending to Katie’s hand
The view of Machu Picchu that caused Katie to stumble
Iconic Machu Picchu with Wayna Picchu
Looking back at the Sun Gate from Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu
Looking up at the Caretaker’s Hut
Miguel giving a talk
A group of traditionally dressed tourists?
JT in front of Wayna Picchu
Non-rectangular doorways were common
There was a herd of llamas gazing in a grassy area near the Caretaker’s Hut
Yet another iconic Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu photo
Overlooking the Inca Bridge
JT’s photo of a llama with Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu
Katie was sure it was going to rain
Another photo of a llama with Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu
Our trekking group at the goodbye meal
Andy with the super sweet cat
JT with the super sweet cat
The street in Aguas Calientes just outside our hostel
The bus fees as of our visit in November 2013. They really have a captive audience and can change whatever they want…
‘Grande’ Hawaiian pizza