Trek the Salcantay Trail…check
Make it Aguas Calientes…check.
Eat hot yummy food…check.
Go to bed early…check.
Wake up the morning following 4 hard days of hiking at 3am…WHAT?!?!?!?
Yeah, that’s right. Not only that, but the volume on the alarm wasn’t high enough so we almost slept in. Getting up really really early after treking all the way to Machu Picchu is practically a right of passage for those who hike to the ‘old’ mountain. One needs to get up that early to hike up an additional 400 meters, straight uphill, to be in line at the entrance BEFORE the buses taking the ‘normal’ people even depart. All this so that you can get one of the coveted tickets to hike straight up Wayna Picchu, (young mountain) an additional 200 meters into the air, to view Machu Picchu from above.
And that’s exactly what we did.
We were nearly late meeting the group on account of that alarm clock but we made it out anyhow. Back out ofAguas Calientes we walked, practically sprinting, to get ahead of the other hikers. At the foot of the hill we started walking up the steps. More than three thousand in all I was told. Three thousand steps straight uphill, with sore legs, so that we could walk even more once we got up there. Crazy right? Welcome to our world.
Only the first 400 people in line get the coveted tickets to Wayna Picchu, and getting up so early we were within the first 100. We went up so fast that, despite the rather cold air, I was covered in so much sweat it looked as though I’d gone for a midnight swim. (And for all those racers out there, we passed waaaayyy more people than passed us….yeehaaaw!!)
With tickets in hand, into one of the world’s newest seven wonders we went. (Who decides these things anyhow?) Our tour guide showed how the mountain was divided into living and farming and brought us to the temple and the king’s house. We watched as alpacas grazed on their ancestral land and as one traveler got down on one knee and offered his hand in marriage to another. We learned how the Inca’s split rocks to build the historic mount and also got a chance to visit the king’s bathroom and take a seat on his “throne.”
The ‘Lost City of the Incas’ was only used for about 100 years, just before the Spanish Conquest of the Incan Empire. It wasn’t ‘discovered’ until 1911 when a Yale professor stumbled upon the find and excavations began. As with all great things, the actual date of discovery is still disputed, along with the purpose of the city, along with the reasons for its decline, along with wheather or not it should even be opened for tourism.
Despite of how little is known or agreed upon, or perhaps because of it, we were not disappointed. We’ve seen many ruins now: Tikal, Monte Alban, Copan, and others. These ruins were out of another world though, truly magnificent. So what next, we got up well before the crack of dawn for the right to walk up that ‘other’ hill so that’s exactly what we did.
Whatever you do though, when talking about Macchu (old) and Wayna (young) Picchu (mountain) be sure you’re saying the word Picchu correctly. Note that if you see a group of indigenous men laughing at you while you’re talking about summiting the ‘Picchu’ it’s because you didn’t say “mountain” but are instead referring to a man’s…yeah.
I’m not sure whose idea it was to get up that early, or if I would have been upset if I hadn’t gotten the opportunity, but hiking up this time, already having been up nearly 7 hours and with the sun now beating very, very, very hard on us, I just kept stopping and asking myself why. Eventually we reached the top and I received my answer. Three-sixty views over the valley we walked the day prior and one of the 7 ‘new’ wonders of the world and I knew why.
Only 11am though and what an incredible day. Only three things left to do. Share a pizza (OK, maybe I ate one myself), a couple of beers, and wait for that train to take us back to Cuzco.