We filled our water bladders while the porters handed out our bag-breakfasts of sandwiches, apples, and mango juice. We bade farewell to the porters that we would not see again, started our hike in the dark, down a few flights of stairs and in less than ten minutes, we were at the shelter where we would have to wait for over an hour to go through the checkpoint into Machu Picchu territory. We were there so early to get in line for they only let so many people per day into Machu Picchu. While I stood and chatted with a couple of teammates, most of the others were eating breakfast or just adding some more snooze to their systems leaning against their backpacks.
Other teams started coming into the shelter. All of a sudden, it became a ballroom of familiar faces from the previous three days; the Australian team, the British team, even the Canadian family from the hostel were there. Everyone greeting each other with sleepy mirth, and telling how they have survived the trail so far. Even Herlin was there, once again cheering for 'Turkiya!'.
A one-hour hike from the checkpoint via slight ups and downs brought us to the Sun Gates. It was 6:30AM, and there was a very thick cloud cover over where the travelbook picturesque view of Machu Picchu was supposed to be. Our mischievous guides were doing their best to please us while we were wondering if this was all a scam and there was no such place.
When the entire team was finally at the Sun Gates, and the clouds did not relent to our patience, we kept on walking down hill for an other hour to arrive at the entrance of the ancient city. I kept my gaze down as I always did while hiking to be aware of where I was stepping. When I heard more and more people around me, I looked up to an unexpected view of Machu Picchu. I was there. It almost seemed unreal appearing out of the mist so suddenly in front of me.
Beautiful! Beautiful! So beautiful! I was finally at my dreamland. I walked forward to join my team for the group photo and we all said 'WE MADE IT!' in unison while our guides took pictures of us. We proceeded to the gates where they once again checked and stamped our passports. It was official!
Our guides gave us the tour of this enormous city above the clouds, and I took a lot of pictures. However, I will not share most of these pictures with you for they will not do justice to the spirit of this magical place. Only when you stand on those ancient stone walls, and inhale the view of surrounding mountains, you feel how close you are to the skies above. Only then you understand why those people were fascinated with the celestial events and objects. Only then you start worshipping the universe with all your being and get lost in your own singularity.
One building I cannot pass without sharing with you was the Temple of the Sun that fascinated me for decades. What is so special about this building is, on the day of Winter Solstice, the sunlight entering the middle window directly falls onto the sacrificial stone in the middle of the building. I touched the smooth surfaces of this Inca-holy structure, and made it mine.
I walked around in a haze of amazement, and gratitude to the Inca people for creating a place that stood the test of time and humans. I passed through buildings, expecting someone from that time to suddenly walk out of one of the doors to greet me, and be my seer to teach me all they knew above and below our heads.
It was time to leave. I turned around, took a last long look at my Brigadoon, and said goodbye to the lush greens, rocks of wisdom, and the Inca Tree.
A short bus ride brought us to the little tourist town of Aguas Calientes, happily nestled in one of the curves of the wild Urubamba River.
We lowered our tired bodies into the very comfortable chairs at the Machu Pisco restaurant and sampled the local delicacies of alpaca, guinea pig, and Cusqueña Malta beer. We were handed our train tickets to take us to Ollatamba from Aguas Calientes, making it very real that we were about to say goodbye to our team and guides and perhaps never see any of them ever again. Hugs and emails were exchanged, tips were handed to our guides for a last minute show of appreciation for doing their jobs so well.
I boarded the early train with only four other teammates, and rested my eyes during the two hour train ride listening to the people around me, finding out how intensively people travel to the most exotic places. I felt less traveled than most. In Ollatamba, we were greeted by a native holding up one of those pieces of paper with our names on it, and were led to a small bus which finally took us back to Cusco.
We were dropped at a smaller Plaza I was not familiar with, and wished each other safe travels, giving a final hug. Thanks to having left the map to the hostel open on my iPad, I walked uphill for about 15 minutes on the dark and narrow back streets of Cusco to finally arrive at Hostal Cusi Wasi to be greeted with this lovely view:
I don't know how long I stood in the shower but I washed away four days worth of dirt, tiredness, soreness, being careful to not wash away the happiness and lightness of my heart. I adored the clean white bedsheets with the lacey edges before sleep pulled me into dreamless depths.
Read more in Part 7