We got up pretty early because the guide had warned us that you have to get in the park early in order to climb Wayna Picchu. The first people in line for the buses had been there since 4am. We didn't get in line until 4:50, but we thought we would be ok. When the buses arrived at 6, we ended up on the 4th bus, so we assumed we would be one of the first 200 people in the park (50 people per bus). I felt bad for the people behind us as they thought their Machu Picchu ticket also got them on the bus. Instead of being one of the first 200 on the buses, they had to get into a different line to buy a ticket and get behind the hundreds of other people in line. The bus drove us up a winding road that ran through the forest on the mountain. It was pretty dark outside, we were rounding reasonably sharp corners, and we could tell that there was a reasonable drop off the side of the road. Fortunately, the road was designed for buses, so I think even people who are nervous about not being in control when being high up might be ok. We got to the top of the mountain and were pretty surprised to find the line much longer than it was for the bus. First, there is a very expensive hotel right at the gate to Machu Picchu. People who stay there can get to the gate early without getting up at 4 like the rest of us did. Second, some people got up even earlier than us and climbed Machu Picchu in the dark, through the forest. We didn't realize that was even an option, but now we were worried. The Peruvian government limits the number of people who can climb Wayna Picchu to 400 per day- 200 at 7am and 200 at 10. After seeing Chichen Itza, I understand why they want to limit people and preserve the mountain. However, I really wanted to climb it and I wasn't so sure that we would be before 400th in line. The people behind us were just as worried as two of them started to fight over their spot in line before their friends stepped in and stopped them. When the gates opened, people pushed through and the race started. The tickets to Wayna Picchu are distributed at the opposite end of the park as the entrance. Everybody who wanted a ticket was running right past the gorgeous ruins that were the whole point of why we were there. The irony wasn't lost on us. I did briefly stop to grab a couple of photos when we got stuck behind some slow people. We passed a few of the slower folks, but when they blocked both "lanes" I started feeling road rage. The whole concept was a bit ridiculous. Eventually, we made it to the line, hoping that there were still tickets left. By the time we got up to the front, there were maybe 20-50 tickets left. We made it!! We celebrated and felt like winners. I don't think I celebrated that hard at the end of the triathlon the weekend before. It was kind of pitiful. Now that we had our tickets, we went back to see the ruins. A bunch of people were perched in good places to see the sun rise. I think that we were definitely more than 400th into the park, but fortunately some people just wanted to see the sun rise and not get tickets to climb. We saw the sun come up and quickly dry up all of the morning mist that had coated the mountains. The ruins looked completely different before and after the mist.
We headed towards the entrance to meet up with our tour group. Our guide took us to the top of the city and began our tour. He did a great job explaining the ruins and their history. First off, he explained that when Hiram Bingam came a hundred years ago, he was looking for El Dorado and instead found a city in the cloud forest. Nobody knew the name of the city, but the mountain was called Machu Picchu, so that's what they called the city as well. The original "archaeologists" were locals who were paid 33 cents per day (which was more back then) and an extra day's pay for any mummies or artifacts they found. Since then, real archaeologists have done work on Machu Picchu and the current theory is that it was a city where the nobility, scientists, and doctors when to get educated. We passed the guard house and entered the city through the main gate via the end of the Inca trail. We walked along some of the terraces. The terraces were "farm labs" where they could harden crops and breed them so that the would grow better at higher altitudes. There was also a big field in the middle of the city where the Incas kept the livestock. Today, the government has stocked it with llamas to keep the grass short. The guide explained to us how the city was built from the white granite quarried from right underneath where a building made from those stones would then be located. We saw a stone that had begun to be split, but was still in the middle of the process. The guide explained the differences between houses (made with stones and mortar) and the important temples (made with the same tight-fitting lego-style stones we saw at Coricancha the day before. There were stones and windows in the temple and some other buildings that were aligned so that at the solstices the sun shone just right on them. This would indicate to the ancient people that the growing season was starting or ending. Our guide had a lot to tell us about all of this. He was actually quite knowledgeable about the ruins, but I guess that's his job. The end of the tour left us near the foot of Wayna Picchu, which we were excited to climb. The climb was supposed to be an hour, but the altitude + my asthma meant we had to take a few more breaks. My muscles were doing ok, but the panting was a bit much. Normally, when I'm running, I just keep going, but I wasn't about to risk anything halfway up a mountain in the middle of nowhere. As we climbed, we enjoyed the view of the river below and Machu Picchu. The city kept getting smaller and smaller until we couldn't see people anymore and the buses looked like ants. The trail was pretty rocky and not easy. There weren't stairs and railings like trails in the US would have had. As we neared the top, people on their way down kept telling us "it's not that much farther," and "great job." It was nice of everybody to encourage everybody else like that. Towards the very top, there was a cave to duck through, some very steep stairs to climb, and finally, a man waiting at the top to take our picture. Then, it was time to climb down. Let's just say that on one of the large drops I used my long legs to reach. I was glad I had some duct tape on me and another pair of pants back at the hotel. On the way down, somebody who had taken the long path to the caves (that trail is supposed to be more like 2+ hours each way, so we had taken the short one) told us that it totally wasn't worth it. It made us feel better about our choice, especially since it was too late to go back and try the other path as well. We rested at the bottom, feeling very accomplished. That's when I noticed that despite wearing a thin long-sleeve shirt, I had gotten quite a bit of sun on my arms through the shirt. I also ended up with a bit of a suburn on my scalp through my hair because I was wearing a visor and not a hat. Hint: use sunscreen AND clothing to protect yourself when the atmosphere isn't.
We crossed the ruins and took the bus back to our hotel. I changed clothes, got cleaned up a little, and sat. We relaxed in one of the plazas for a while until it was time to catch the train. We reversed our journey- took the train to Ollantaytambo, the bus to Cusco, and walked up the stairs back to the hostel we had stayed at the night before. The stairs were even rougher after climbing Wayna Picchu than they had been the other day. We were a little disappointed that the hostel had run out of towels, but I had no problem passing out as gross as I was. We did get towels in the morning, but it would have been much nicer to get them at night. (How do they run out of towels when they know the tourists have climbed a mountain?- Seriously.)
Tomorrow" Back to Lima
stairs at the top of Wayna Picchu
Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu
Stairs down the top of Wayna Picchu
The line at 5am
Machu Picchu in the mist
Machu and Wayna Picchu
Machu Picchu terraces
The National Geographic shot
Llama on the lawn