Day 3: Hiking Mount Machu Picchu.
The alarm went off at 5 a.m., to give Pascal and I enough time for a quick breakfast before meeting our Andean guide, Joseph at 6 a.m. in the hotel lobby. It was quite chilly with a cloudy early morning mist clinging to the mountains surrounding us. We headed down through the narrow streets of the higgledy piggledy town, and across a tiny pedestrian bridge over the roaring Urabamba river.
A long line with hundreds of hikers had already formed for the buses to take us to the base of The Citadel. Soon we were bouncing along in the little bus, speeding along the hair pin bends of the narrow road with sheer drops along its edge. This is a cloud forest, where clouds are literally manufactured as cold air rushing down from the peaks meet the warm moist air in the valley. The clouds revealed glimpses of the mysterious mountains as we climbed higher and higher.
We arrived at the base, checked in, had our passports stamped, and began the climb. It was 600 meters, 3027 steps along a trail created some 800 years ago. It seemed easy at first, and with a spring in our steps, we eagerly made it out in to the rain forest.
The path quickly became steep, the stone steps quite high in places. The layers started to come off. Andean Wrens serenaded us with their territorial songs and gorgeous orchids lined the trail. Thick clouds swirled around us as we climbed. I say this thankfully because at times the trail narrowed to just 3 or 4 feet wide with sheer vertiginous drops of several hundred feet, which would have terrified me if I could have seen how dangerous is was. The thin air at this altitude had our hearts racing like crazy and we stopped frequently to catch our breaths.
Joseph regaled with the history of Machu Picchu and the many Inca and their people (Inca means king and his people were the Quechua people). He described the vegetation, many of the plants with healing properties, and the various birds as we saw them. The climb became steeper and steeper, some of the steps almost vertical like ladders (I secretly panicked as to how we would get down). Breaks to catch our breaths became longer. We met other hikers along the way as some were overtaking us, and at times we over took others. We all bonded with our trail stories.
Nearing the top we met an exhausted girl from Chilé, a full figured curvy girl in her mid twenties, exhausted and sitting on a rock. Pascal, who was the head motivator on the climb, was urging everyone who was struggling onward (we joked telling people there was an elevator at the top to take us down ). He stopped beside her and noticed her huge heavy back pack! No wonder you are exhausted he said, “Give me your back pack and I will carry it to the top.” He wouldn’t let her refuse, and so she did (it was super heavy). The steps grew narrower clinging to the sheer rock face and we approached the summit.
Finally on wobbly legs we arrived. Dozens of hikers had gathered waiting for the clouds to clear. We sat down, delighted and relieved we made it, and enjoyed a packed lunch. Claudia, our Chilean friend, arrived to a round of applause, delighted with herself and thanked pascal for carrying her back pack. The clouds continued to swirl, at times parting briefly to reveal the rain forest below, but the Citadel remained heavily obscured. We made fast friends with fellow hikers; French, Argentinian, Chileans, British, Australian, Irish, German, and Americans. Alas rain rolled in! What’s up with rain in rain forests? We waited 45 minutes, but it didn’t let us, so we abandoned the peak and headed down. Going down was soooo much easier! Woohoo! We met so my hikers on their way up, exhausted as we had been. "How much farther?" each group would ask! We would encourage them, "Not too far, you can do it!" About half way down the clouds became less dense and as if by magic, the mystical Citadel of Machu Picchu was unveiled, as curtains of thin cloud parted and closed. At first it gave us glimpses of it way off in the distance, like a mirage. We felt like we were discovering a mystical city that had been lost in time. It was so sooooo exciting!! And made the effort of the climb completely worth it! Wooohoooo!!
Our legs were wrecked, total Jelly, by the time we got back to Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, where we soaked for a good hour in our Hot Spring soaking pool on our terrace. We then napped in front of a blazing fire, reviving ourselves just enough for a wonderful dinner.
Stay tuned for day 4 when we visit the Citadel