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Postcards from Peru: Day 9 Machu Picchu



I met my guide Miguel at 4:30 am and we walked to the crowded Aguas Calientes bus stop.  Hundreds of tourists stand in line, eagerly awaiting the first bus departure at 5:30 am into
Machu Picchu.    

In line I ate the breakfast sandwich that our cook had prepared for me the night before.  It is still dark, and I smile, knowing that I have already seen Machu Picchu the day earlier.

The bus depot is very organized and we are soon on a departing bus.  It is a short 30 minute ride up to the Visitor’s Center.  Another short line later and we enter the great archeological site of Machu Picchu.      

 Few visitors have arrived and we have much of the site to ourselves.  Miguel begins his two hour tour of the site while I snap hundreds of photos.  

 We begin with a beautiful circular building in the center of the site, called the Temple of the Sun.   

Miguel explains that and the Incas worshipped the Sun and the Stars among other gods. In the Temple of the Sun, there was a reflecting pool, and the priest could see the reflection of the Milky Way in the pool and interpret the future.  The Temple of the Sun is composed of more precisely formed stones than in other areas of Machu Picchu, as there were different levels of importance placed on each area, with the religious portion being the greatest.   

 Next we looked at the Royal Tomb, an area carved directly from natural rock, and believed to have been the final resting place of the royal family. 

 We walked to the rock quarry above. The quarry provided many of the stones used in Machu Picchu, and the Incas used several techniques to shape the rocks.  One technique was to mix water with sand and to rub the mixture over the stones by hand until they had the desired texture and edge.  The stones were assembled in such a way that not even a slip of paper or blade of grass can pass between them.  They are interlocked by a series of groves and holes in each stone.  They are also built at such a incline that they can withstand the areas many earthquakes. 

Machu Picchu housed about 500 people and was built over the course of 50 years.  Pachacutec, the ninth Inca King was responsible for completing the project.

Machu Picchu has a residential area and industrial area, ceremonial baths and fountains.  

 Machu Picchu’s many terraces were used as retaining walls and for farming (potatoes, corn and coca).  The houses originally had thatched roofing that needed to be changed each week. 

We explored the sundial, the Central Plaza, and the Temple of Three Windows (on June 21st, the winter solstice, the sun shines in the Temple in such a way that a llama’s head appears). 

      Miguel had to leave me around 8 am to begin another trek the next day.  I tearfully said goodbye and I promised to keep in touch.  He said I was a good hiker.  :). He may say that to all the girls, but it made me feel good. 

I sat on a terrace and reflected on our journey.  I finished my buffalo jerky and contemplated hiking Machu Picchu mountain.   I had bought my ticket on Saturday, but today I wasn’t sure if my legs could handle it.

As I sat there, Lionel and Javier walked by.  They were headed to see the Inca bridge, so I joined them.  Once we found the entrance, it was a short 30 minute round trip to the bridge and back.  The bridge was a series of short stone stairs on the sheer cliffs hundreds of meters in the air.  I struggled to understand how the Incas could carry these large stones over this trail and bridge. 

 I said goodbye to Javier and Lionel and I decided I would try the mountain.  I gave myself a pass to only go up halfway if necessary.  

The attendant at the checkpoint said that the top would close at 12:30.  It was already 10 am and I wasn’t sure if I could reach the summit by the cut off.  He assured me that it is generally  a three hour round trip hike (assuming one hasn’t just completed the Inca trail, I thought).
Painfully, I ascend the stone staircases.  Miguel had told me that they would be switchbacks, but these seemed to be steep stairways.  I had given my trekking poles to Miguel, as he would use them far more that I would, and now I longed for the added support.  Again, I counted 10 steps, took a rest, and began again.  
People passed me and I felt like a snail.  I continued ahead.  After what felt like 2 hours, someone told me I was halfway up.  I cursed myself.  I continued up, up, and up.  I was hot, my legs were shaking, and yet I told myself that I was not a quitter.  Each time I thought that I must have reached the top, another set of steep stones awaited me.
I finally reached the summit around 1200.  It had taken me two hours to get up the mountain.  The view was worth it.  Machu Pucchu could be seen far below, and Wañya Picchu, the famous mountain in the pictures could be seen behind it.  At 3000 meters, most of the mountain ranges were in view. 
I sat on the mountain top, feet dangling, and enjoyed a Clif bar. I chuckled at the thought of actually eating a Clif bar (with its mountain climbing logo) after climbing a mountain.  The Ranger soon came and scolded me, and I think he announced that the summit would soon be closing.
I begrudgingly began me descent below.  I knew that I needed to be on the 2 o’clock bus in time to take the  3 o’clock train back to Cuzco.  My phone had died and I wasn’t sure of the time.
Although my knees ached, I seemed to descend at a much quicker pace than the upward climb.  When I reached the checkpoint it was only 1 pm.  It had taken me three hours round trip after all!
I used my extra time to explore the grounds of Machu Picchu some more and to ogle the llamas.  
I said my goodbyes to the mountains and it was surreal that such a long goal was now accomplished.
I made my bus with time to spare, so I stopped at La Leña for an alpaca steak.  I love alpacas, but I had wanted to try it before leaving town.  It was delicious!  It was tender and juicy and cooked perfectly.  
I found the train station, nestled behind the local textile market.  I refrained from buying anything and headed for the Vistadome train.
I arrived with only a few minutes to spare.  The Vistadome is a section of train that has giant windows on all sides and overhead.  I had a window seat and the kind gentleman next to me offered me his seat!  He was a tour guide and said he had taken the train many, many times.  I thanked him profusely and we talked about Peru.  He pointed out the archeological sites as we passed and told when the best times to take pictures of Victoria Glacier would be. I have been blessed to have met such kind, helpful people during my trip!
After the 2 hour train ride, we said goodbye, and I was picked up in Ollaytaytambo by a personal driver and taken to my hostel in Cuzco, 2 hours away. I could see all of the stars in the night sky and I was sad to leave this magical place, for in the morning, I head to Iquitos.
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