Peru: Sacred Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
I was very happy to take another shower in the morning (probably my sixth in the last 12 hours) and have a good breakfast at the hotel. We caught a 6 a.m. bus up to Machu Picchu to get an early start. We would need to leave the site at noon to catch a 1:30 train back to Ollantaytambo, where Roger would then pick us up in the passenger van to drive us back to Cusco.
We had perfect weather and there was not a crowd that early in the morning. We walked with Vidal as he guided us through the site, sharing his unlimited knowledge. We then had a few hours on our own and Nate had signed us up to hike Huayna Picchu, which is a mountain located North of the city. It forms one of the backdrops of most of the most iconic photos of Machu Picchu and the peak is about 1,200 feet higher than Machu Picchu (about the height of the Sears Tower in Chicago). You can do the roundtrip climb in 2 hours and it is extremely steep and a bit dangerous. By this point I was pretty sick of trekking. I thought we had finished the climbing the previous day, so I was getting a bit crabby about this last physical endeavor. After much squawking, I decided to suck it up and do the climb. And it was hard. The trail wound up one side of the mountain and was very steep. The last push was brutal, crawling on hands and knees up almost sheer steps of the Inca buildings at the top to reach the summit. But it was so worth it! We had the best view of Machu Picchu, looking straight down on it. The Inca site at the top was spectacular and makes you wonder at the effort involved to get the stones and materials up that mountain. This was definitely the icing on the cake for the day.
Having been to Machu Picchu once before, I remembered that the image that is perhaps most special and most painful is the last look back at Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu as you exit the park. The same was true on this trip. The bus ride back down to catch the train to Ollantaytambo was solemn. Already I felt we were re-living the trip in our mind. Vidal had secured train tickets in the lead train car that allowed Michele to sit up front and look out the front picture window. Peru is such a beautiful country whether you're hiking the Inca Trail at nearly 14,000 feet or tracing the river valley below on train tracks.
On the ride back to Cusco, the sun was shining through blue skies and I repeatedly asked Roger to stop the van so I could get that one more perfect picture before we had to fly home. The green fields of the valleys set off against the snow-capped peaks in the distance and the vibrantly-dressed families working their fields created the perfect scene for our last group picture. Back in Cusco we said our good-byes to Vidal and began the task of packing our bags. Once we got the zippers closed, Michele and I spent the rest of the night wandering around San Blas well past dark and found the last restaurant open before be succumbed to exhaustion.