That is the time we needed to be up for to begin our hike to Machu Picchu. Those who know me, know I am far from a morning person. Before I left for my trip, my friends would laugh when I told them about this part of the trip. Surprisingly however, it was not as difficult as I thought it would have been to get up and ready at that time. I think the energy of the group was excitement, and I was feeding off of it. We wanted to see what we had all worked so hard for. The 4am wake-up time was to ensure we made it ahead enough in the line to enter the gate which led to the rest of the trail to Machu Picchu. There was a limit of how many hikers could access the trail and Machu Picchu per day. After four days of hiking, Pedro and Fletcher wanted to make sure there was no chance of us being rejected.
When we arrived at the gate, we realized we were not even the first ones! However, we were definitely safe to enter the gate once it opened at 7. Until then, we played cards, laughed and some of us (including myself) tried to get a bit more sleep in – which was mostly unsuccessful. When 7am came around, everyone was excited and eager to hike to Machu Picchu. Someone had music playing from an iPod and I totally danced.
Once we were let through the gates, we hiked – FAST! Partially, because there was an obnoxious group of hikers who had been giving us a hard time most of the hike and we wanted to beat them. The other part of us wanted to get to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu as early as possible to miss as many crowds of tourists as possible.
The most difficult part of reaching the Sun Gate, was the famous 50 vertical stairs. Walking poles were of no use for many members of the group, as ascending the stairs felt more like a rock climbing activity. Most of us used our hands to grab the next stair in unison with moving our legs. The stairs were much steeper than any of the other staircases we had experienced.
Pedro had warned us that the Sun Gate may not be what we expected it to be. He stated that usually, clouds covered the view of Machu Picchu and that people sometimes left disappointed. To his surprise, we were not going to be that group. The view from the Sun Gate was crystal clear and the sun was beaming full force. I looked ahead, and in front of me, miles away, stood Machu Picchu.
We rested at the Sun Gate for approximately 45 minutes, soaking in the beauty of the day and reflecting on the journey which would soon be complete.
Photos: More views from the Sun Gate
After many photos and snacks, Pedro and Fletcher moved us on, to continue to our final destination of Machu Picchu. Our hike would continue approximately another two hours. Once we arrived at Machu Picchu, we had to enter two separate lines. It was fairly confusing, however Pedro and Fletcher had done it enough to know what line came first. One of my first thoughts upon entering Machu Picchu was the number of tourists! Emmie, Iain, Matt and I made up a game called “Who arrived on a bus?”. It was a funny game to us, as there were significant differences between tourists who hiked for four days like we did, and those who arrived on a tour bus. For one, they smelled nicer. They also looked much more fancy and well put together and less tired!
Although I understood the importance of making Machu Picchu accessible to all individuals, a part of me was irritated by the shear number of people taking photos and standing around. I felt annoyed with all the noise after being with such a small group, and being with myself, for four days on the trail. In all honesty, the number of tourists ruined part of my idea of what Machu Picchu was going to be like. Between the food vendors, photo ops, souvenir shops and tour bus swarms, I found myself disliking that part of society that capitalizes on everything possible. I guess a small part of my imagination thought the sight would be quiet and with few people – like the trail had been. Having said all this, the sight of Machu Picchu was breathtaking! The ruin was larger than any of us had imagined. It also marked the end of our hiking journey which felt surreal. We had come so far, and we were all finally there. Despite the extreme difficulty of the hike, a part of me was sad it was over.
Perdo and Fletcher gave us a one hour tour of Machu Picchu. The rest of the day was ours to explore the Incan site. Emmie and I had walked together through the ruin. We walked through most of Machu Picchu, took many photos and climbed dozens of more stairs! We found a resting place and decided together to move onto the next part of the day. We caught a bus back to the town of Aquas Calientes. We wandered, bought souvenirs and eventually met up with the rest of the group for lunch.
After lunch, we had presented Pedro and Fletcher with gifts of gratitude, and said our goodbyes to Fletcher and members of the group that were staying extra nights in Aquas Calientes. Iain and Matt gifted the panpipes to Fletcher, with all our names signed on them so he could remember our group. Our bus arrived shortly after lunch ended. We packed our bags and were more than prepared for the comfy ride home.
Once we arrived back to our hotel, Emmie and I unpacked our bags and began preparing our luggage. Naturally, Emmie began unpacked her giant backpack onto her bed and began looking at everything helplessly. It was like day one all over again. Minus the fact that we smelled AWFUL! We laughed about how bad we smelled as we did not realize it until we were in a clean space. Despite the fact that there was virtually no hot water, I was so immensely grateful for water coming from a tap and a toilet that was not a hole in the ground! Emmie and I prepared for dinner with the group. Despite my make-up attempt, my sunburn was still very much apparent unfortunately. However, clean clothing made me feel like a whole new person!
Our goal of the night, was to try guinea pig. Apparently a delicacy of Peru. It tasted like chicken with a chewier skin. When in Peru, right?
That night, I appreciated a bed.
**For an amazingly hilarious video on this trip, visit Iain Slater’s YouTube channel Adventures in Life. Or, just click the link below to make your life that much easier!**