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March 26, 2006

Machu Picchu!

On the last morning, after we'd tipped and thanked the porters at dinner the night before, we woke at 3:45am to pack up and eat breakfast. We were the second or third group in the queue for the checkpoint, which opens at 5:30am.

After about 90 minutes of steady downhill hiking (bliss!) we arrived at the Sun Gate. It's ideal to be there by sunrise, but you'd have to be a triathlete to get there that quickly after the checkpoint. Anyway, the sky was overcast for us, so we didn't miss much of a sunrise.

The view of Machu Picchu from here is breathtaking. It looks like a castle in the clouds, surrounded by green mountainous splendor. Our guide told us there could be related ruins and towns nearby, hidden in the jungle overgrowth.

We arrived at Machu Picchu, the Temple of the Sun, about 8:15am, long before the crowds of tour buses empty the throngs onto the grounds around 11. We had a guided tour of the site by an amazing guy interested in anthropology and working on a book of the area.

Some people hiked up Wyna Picchu, the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu, where the Temple of the Moon is. This is anohter hour and a half of steep, strenuous hiking and our knees were killing us so we opted out. I was bummed not to see it, but there was no way I'd make it up and back in time to take the train home!

The stones and temples were amazing. Most of the features were designed as annual calendars to indicate planting times and spiritual events. For example, light came through an opening to illuminate the eye of a puma-shaped stone only on one day each year. Stones were oriented to perfect compass points. The Incas were very in-touch with the nature around them.

We caught the last bus to Aguas Calientes before the rain started and met our group for lunch. Every restaurant specialized in pizza, so we had ours with pepperoni.

We tipped the guides then took the train back to Ollantaytamba to meet the charter mini-bus back to the Plaza des Armas (central square) in Cusco. We said our goodbyes to our new friends then took a taxi the half-mile back to the hotel.

Posted by sedda at March 26, 2006 11:10 PM