It’s 3.30am. The walls are still reverberating with the same beat that’s been belting out of the street party conveniently being held right outside you’re window since 10pm. Your alarm is joining the musical fray. It was time. After 5 days of hiking, a few sleepless nights and one mighty hangover (stay AWAY from inka tequila), we were here at the bottom of Machu Picchu, the final destination for our Salkantay team.
My legs were on their last…well legs. Shaking out the stiffness of around 1ookms clocked, doing a final check of vitals in the day pack (snacks, raincoat, water) and yawning away the delirium left by lack of sleep, out I stepped into the darkness, following the torch lights of my trekking team to try be first in line for the Machu Picchu gates.
The entire journey our guides had reassured (see – fibbed to us) by letting us know when approached said “hardest part” of the trek. Each time we passed this most difficult leg we were met by an even greater, lung gasping, muscle roaring, bitch of a hike to get through. Machu Picchu was no exception. As the sky lightened and the gates opened, there was not even a second of reprieve before that familiar sensation of straining out tight, fatigued muscles set in. 40-50 minutes of straight up, stair climbing to the top. Talk about total zone out. After 20 minutes all that was left was the single thought, un poco un poco. A bit after a bit. Left foot, right foot.
I arrived at the top sweaty and stoked. Scowling judgmentally at the first arrivals by bus to the top, we hopped into the line and were some of the firsts to enter El Ciudad de Incas on this day. I tell you what. Nothing i can say will prepare you for the impact those first few steps into an empty, mist covered ancient city will have on you. To me the whole thing felt vaguely surreal, an air of reverence settles in our awe and then suddenly Llamas are running towards you with their gangly, dorky gaits and laughter ripples out across the cool, sacred air.
The wonders of the Andean civilisations, their traditions, technologies and culture can be felt in the workmanship of every aspect of the ruins. So marvellously maintained despite the heavy traffic of tourist to this spectacular wonder of the world.
Still, it was not time to rest them weary legs. The Machu Picchu mountain, whose summit was not visible from our vantage point in the ruins towered unconquered above us. While my body screamed no, i had bought the additional entrance ticket…ain’t nothing getting wasted on my watch. Besides, wasn’t i like totally a real live mountain climber now?
I won’t lie. It was kind of like torture, scaling that monstrous mountain particularly in the wake of 5 days of solid walking. Several times i could have turned back. Around each corner lay another staircase. Impossibly steep, narrow and typically unsafe (south america, seriously).
But after an hour of some heavy breathing, hand crawling, shaky legged steps, the top flattened out and for the third time on my trek that familiar celebratory high boosted me to my feet. I have just found myself on top of the world, i think. From up here, Machu Picchu City is a thumbnail on a map.
It was plain crazy.
It would also be plain crazy to have missed it.
Conquer, savour, gather your strength. You will need it for the hellishly steep descent.
As for the throngs of tourists that coming back down to earth in the late morning will throw you into… try not to let that blur the unspoiled vision of the ancient city at first light roamed only by her Llamas, her misty clouds and her keepers.