We were informed that we would have to get up at 330 to start the short hike to Machu Picchu. They tell you it’s so you can reach the Sun Gate at dawn. It’s actually so the porters can get on the first train. The trail will not open before dawn. Ruben told us the trail used to be open at all hours but there were too many injuries. The terrain is not easy; I could not imagine trying to fumble around on some rain-slicked rocks with just a stupid headlamp. There are a few steep drop-offs and as of this writing, one section of the trail is severely damaged due to a mudslide. The go-around requires a rickety bridge that you’d typically find on your way to meeting a mystical Shaolin monk somewhere. It doesn’t make any sense to have a group of people traipsing about in the dark like that. I don’t know how litigious Peru is, but you know some American would find a way to sue the pants off any tour company that didn’t take proper precautions. So, you get up at an awful hour only to go down to the bottom of the hill and rest there for 1.5 hours awaiting the opening of the trail.
I had such poor sleep and my fat overworked body was failing me. Frankly, I was quite glad of the opportunity to go back to sleep, but there’s always some asshole who doesn’t respect that it’s quiet time. Almost every hiker out there pulled out their poncho and laid down for a little rest, except this one guy.
This little shit had a 2000-watt headlamp on that he was shining in people’s faces. He was talking to some guy who did not actually appear interested in the conversation. He kept his 2000-watt headlamp glowing while he chattered away with someone who did not appear to be interested. He happens to see this bottle a few feet away from me and 47, and he comes up to us.
“Hey, is this your agua de florida?” he said, motioning to a bottle in Ruben’s pack.
First, of all, he reminded me of Shaggy from Scooby Doo. He talked like a surfer but with an accent. It was soon obvious that he was high as shit. 47 tried to ask him where he was from.
Her: Where you from?
Him: You know, countries. They’re such bullshit. Like, do we even have to have borders. People should be able to go wherever they want to go.
Me: ………………. What the?
Him: Yeah, the concept is so 1800s.
Her: So, where are you from?
Him: Well, I’m from Poland but I have a passport from the UK and I’m going to get one from the US, and then………………………..
He asked us again about the agua de florida.
Me to AK: Tell your fucked up brother go somewhere.
AK to me: That’s not my brother. That’s your fucking brother.
AK to him: We’re not sure what it is, but I think you could just Google it.
Him: Nah, man, I don’t trust Google. I don’t Google. Google watches me. It knows what I’m doing and it shows me stuff that I want to see. It knows what I want.
Me: ……………… what the……
Call me crazy but don’t you want Google to show you want you want? Ruben eventually explained that agua de florida is medicinal for people who get altitude sickness. You don’t drink it; you make the sick person sniff it. I think this dude wanted to drink it to see if it would get him even more messed up than he already was.
Thankfully the trail opened and the guy went off to find his own group. That is when I noticed he was wearing pants similar to what firefighters wear when they are actually fighting fires. In fact, I’m certain they were.
Now that you are at the end of the hike, you really want to hurry it up. I scurried along as fast as I could. Occasionally you catch a glimpse or two of the Sun Gate, but it’s really too far away to see it properly. It does something to you, to see the finish line but you’re not quite there yet.
This last little bit is more up and down. It’s very dewy, so, of course, the trail is slick. We are not the only ones at the end of our endurance. More and more hikers are holding up the rear with us. At some point we caught up to Katie who was having a difficult time. During the downhill on Day 2, she had injured her hip. Under normal circumstances, she would have rested and been okay, but since this event requires consecutive days of physical activity she had done more damage by trying to keep up with her husband and the rest of the forerunners.
Now this bitch is crying and is on obvious pain. No stranger to double-rucking, 47 offered to carry her pack to ease her burden. Katie declined. We asked if there was any way we could help her. She said no, and I think really she wanted her husband to be with her. She seemed incredibly clingy, and it’s obvious she’s one of these chicks that needs her husband right there with her at all times. Since she did not want our help, bye, Felicia.
A normal person can reach Inti Punku (Sun Gate) in just under two hours. We got there in maybe 2.5 hours. Again, the terrain is very slippery. There is more up and down. The final killer is what I call Stairs of Death: a set of stairs with a very sharp incline. My hiking poles were useless. I ended up passing them off to 47 and I crawled on my hands up the steps. Did I mention that I’m scared of heights? I dared not glance down or even around me for fear of being paralysed by that very fear. I stared only at the steps and put one hand in front of another, one foot in front of the other until I got to the top.
Totally worth every moment of agony. The view is breathtaking. At this point, you can now catch a glimpse of Machu Picchu. Now you begin to feel a sense of accomplishment. You are now reminded this is why you’re doing all of this. You could have easily taken the train in relative comfort with a pisco sour in hand, but no, you’re made of stronger stuff and you wanted an adventure.
Ruben proved to be quite enthusiastic in his class on the ruin. The first thing he wanted to impart to us is that Hiram Bingham did not discover Machu Picchu. The local population already knew it was there. I would wager they didn’t know anybody was looking for it, and if they did, they probably did not care. I personally believe that you cannot discover something that already exists to someone else. I guess it’s like the whole Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, but there were already approximately 2.1 million people living on the land. I’ve read a few papers on the subject, and most of them clearly state that Bingham asked the locals if there were any ruins around. There were farmers actually farming on some of the terraces.
Maybe we can say that Bingham was the first outsider to see the ruins. Although there is a controversy that maybe even that is not the truth. Apparently, on two different occasions some Germans may have plundered the site before Bingham even showed up.
At any rate, Machu Picchu is quite a fascinating place that makes the entire four day hike worth it. I always marvel at these ancient things that were built without modern machinery and technology. The Inca also did not really utilize the wheel as other primitive cultures did. My guess is that the wheel would have been utterly useless on the terrain, with its steep grades and intense vegetation. I think it is unknown precisely how they moved the rocks around. There is a wild theory that aliens may have built the place.
We spent nearly three hours touring the ruins, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time in the grand scheme of things. After Ruben’s discussion, I wanted to stay longer but the truth is the exhaustion finally caught up with me. Also, the weather cleared up significantly and it was now quite hot and sunny. I advise being prepared for anything because when we first entered, it was raining and within a matter of seconds the sun came out and the temperature rose.
So, remember the whole tipping fiasco? Remember I said Martin cited socialism for wanting to tip Ruben and the others all the same? Well, near the end of the tour of Machu Picchu, Martin pulled us aside and said that he wanted to tip Ruben a little something extra.
“He’s put in a lot of hard work, and it’s obvious that he is really passionate about his job,” Martin said.
47 and I just looked at each other. In the wee hours of the morning when they were packing up, I slipped Señors Condor and Alfredo a little something extra because I felt they deserved it. I had to do it hastily because after Night 3, you don’t see the porters anymore. 47 and I already had plans to give another tip to Ruben at the end of the Machu Picchu tour, and I just found it hysterical that Martin realized the error of his ways. I’m really good for diming people out, but I decided not to and just went along with it.
All of us got together for coffee, beer and snacks in the little café at the bottom of the hill. We arranged to meet each other in Aguas Calientes at a specified time. 47 and I didn’t really want to but we would have looked assholes if we said, “No, we never want to see any of you again.”
Aguas Calientes is a quaint town completely overrun by tourism. There are dozens of restaurants packed in the streets, catering to every size pocketbook. We met up at Hot Springs restaurant, because this was the location of our duffle bags the porters had been carrying. The food isn’t anything to write home about but it’s not the worst you’ll ever eat. I had a decent pizza and several glasses of wine.
Now that physical discomfort was behind us, everyone was cordial and pleasant. The two married couples had booked a hotel in AC, so they were fresh while the rest of us were still bedraggled. We laughed and joked for several hours, whilst waiting for the train back to Cusco. Ruben was with us and it did make for a great way to pass the time.
The train ride back to Cusco is the final test of your patience and endurance. Seriously, it’s got to be at least three hours long. I did not find the seats to be particularly comfortable, plus, you’re still stank and dirty from the hike (and so is everyone else). I fell asleep several times, only to wake up like, “I’m still on this fucking train?”
We were none the worse for wear by the time we arrived to our hotel. I took the world’s longest shower when we got into our room. Then we ordered a bottle of wine, got trashed in the hotel room whilst asking ourselves, “what the fuck did we just do?” and then we lived happily ever after.