Happy Thanksgiving! There definitely could be worse ways to celebrate Turkey Day. 🙂
We got up at 3:50 a.m. and had to quickly get our stuff together because breakfast was at 4:20. This was the first day we hd to do this in the dark, so it was an extra challenge. A very weak breakfast this time, which was disappointing – just a single pancake and some tea. I took this opportunity to send around a lit to get everyone’s email addresses so we can all keep in touch and swap pictures afterwards. By 4:40 a.m., it was still dark and rainy.misty and time to head out to get in line at the gate to the path leading to the Sun Gate (Intipunku). That opened at 5:30 a.m. and the goal was to be one of the first groups through so we’d be able to get a good spot at the Sun Gate to see Machu Picchu as the sun rose. Of course, since it was cloudy and rainy, it was all sort of moot.
Regardless, we were the 4th or 5th group in line, which David said wasn’t too bad. At 5:30 a.m., the gate opened and we headed off on the hour-long hike to the Sun Gate. It was up and down over a mostly rocky/stony path and I kept pace with the front of the pack almost the entire way. It was Rebecca and Jacek up front, followed by the Norwegian girls, me, Dave and Kelsey. At one point, there was a bit of a controversy as a guy from another Peru Treks group rudely tried to pass Dave and Kelsey. They started a bunch of back and forth which ended up with Kelsey both elbowing the guy and hitting him with her walking stick to try to prevent him from passing her. I thought there may have been a little overreaction because, really, who cares? I didn’t think it was worth getting upset over. It was also clear later that the guy raced ahead in order to get ahead to film his kids as they came up the hardest, steepest part of the path to the Sun Gate, so I could sort of see his side, even if he was rude about how he went about it.
The Not-So-Sun Gate
Arriving at the Sun Gate was a little anticlimatic because it was so cloudy and we couldn’t see a bit of Machu Picchu. The group was also quite split at that point with both Lee Ann and Christine not feeling well and staying behind a bit. And we didn’t even take any good photos! From the Sun Gate, we continued to hike to Machu Picchu – maybe another 30 minutes or so? We stopped a few times along the way to try to take pictures as some clouds started to lift and we could start to see Machu Picchu. When we finally got there, we were in the upper portion of terraces with lots of llamas grazing. Rebecca tried to take my picture with one of the llamas but he refused to cooperate! He kept moving around and turning away!
We spent some time wandering and taking pictures of the main part of Machu Picchu while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Once everyone was there, we neaded for a nice overlook spot for a group photo. From there, we had to head down to the main entrance to Machu Picchu to “officially” enter. That was a very narrow path down and we had to pass by all of the daytrippers just visiting for the day, looking extremely fresh compared to us! At the main entrance, we had time to use the bathrooms – our first “real” bathrooms, complete with mirrors, in 4 days! I surprisingly didn’t look as horrible as I thought I would. It’s amazing to go 4 days without a mirror and what that does to how little you care anymore about how you look!
Exploring Machu Picchu
We also had time to stamp our passports with a Machu Picchu stamp, which I put underneath my Inca Trail stamp. Just before 9:00 a.m., we finally started our guided tour with David. The weather at this point was quite nice – very sunny and fairly warm. There were still some clouds floating around but we were able to get some good pictures over the whole city and of Huayna Picchu, the big mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. We saw the Royal Tombs and spent some time in one of the houses hearing about what a typical house likely was like (they even had bathrooms!). One one side of the city there were amazing views over the Urubamba River and valley and on the other side, more mountains. It’s really hard to describe, just so amazingly beautiful.
Our guided tour lasted until around 10:30 a.m. and then we had free time to explore on our own. We just had to meet back in Aguas Calientes at the Allyu restaurant between 1 and 2 p.m. The group pretty much split up at that point. Kelsey and I followed David’s suggestion and walked up to the highest point for some more amazing views and then down through the plaza and into the “urban section.” Not too sure what everyone else did. Unfortunately, this was about the time the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. At first just a drizzle, then a little harder. Then it seemed to lighten up and we were mostly through the urban section and it was just after 11 so we thought we might walk back up to where we came in the morning and follow a path to the Inca Bridge (one of David’s suggestions). Well, we kept hitting dead ends as we tried to make our way there and by 11:30 it was almost a downpour again so we decided to just head for the exit instead and get the bus down to Aguas Calientes.
Pub Crawling in Aguas Calientes
We got to the restaurant a bit after 12 and nearly everyone in the group was there within about 20 minutes of us. Our train to Ollantaytambo didn’t leave until 6 p.m. so we were gonna have a lot of time to kill! David tried to switch our train tickets to the 3 p.m. train but it was full. So we settled in for some lunch and drinks. They sold these enormous beers so Dave, Lee Ann and Christine split a few of those while I had a few Pisco Sours and a Hawaiian pizza – yummy! The Norwegian girls went off to get massages and Rebecca and Jacek went off to another restaurant for lunch. Persis and Allan were staying the night in Aguas Calientes so they headed to their hotel to check in and shower (we were so jealous!). Which left me, Kelsey, Dave, Murray, Lee Ann and Christine. I came up with the idea to do a bar crawl since all the town seemed to have were bars and restaurants. However, once we left Allyu, most other places were completely dead and no one seemed enthused about any one place. We ended up at a place called Toto’s where we each had a cocktail and somehow ended up playing hangman! Random. Our bar crawl pretty much faded after that as Christine and I headed back to Allyu, Murray went for a massage and Kelsey, Lee Ann and Dave went to an internet cafe. Finally, at 5:30 it was time to go to the train station and get our train to Ollantaytambo. The ride was an hour and 40 minutes and I read while Kelsey slept.
Heading Back to Cusco
It was pouring down rain when we arrived in Ollantaytambo and leaving the train and trying to find our bus felt like mass confusion. Omar was supposed to be there with a sign for us but he was nowhere to be found. Somehow we managed to find our bus and amusingly enough, the guy that Kelsey and Dave had their encounter with in the morning on the trail was on the bus too. He had also been in the restaurant in Aguas Calientes and in the same carriage as us in the train. Anyway, actually getting the bus out of Ollantaytambo turned out to be quite the adventure. The roads in Ollantaytambo are not wide enough for busses to pass each other and within a few blocks we came face to face with another large bus. This led to a traffic hame for about 15-20 minutes with quite a bit of yelling amongst various drivers and onlookers (and Dave crying out of the window that he just wanted a beer!). We eventually got moving at what seemed like a very fast pace considering it was raining and we were on very narrow, winding mountain roads. Sure enough, another 20-30 minutes later and we apparently hit something (or something hit us!). We just heard a crack and the sound of breaking glass! But the bus kept going and we concluded it must’ve been the headlight that got busted since the windshield seemed fine. We finally arrived in Cusco around 10 p.m. and thank god it wasn’t raining. We were dropped in a square just a block from our hotel, which was quite convenient – most everyone else had to walk a ways or take a taxi. We said our goodbyes to everyone except Murray, Christine and LeeAnn who seemed to disappear as soon as we all got off the bus, and Dave, who we made plans to meet up with tomorrow for dinner.