We woke up to our last breakfast with our team of porters and Augusto. A table was set up outside, overlooking the clouds. Our group wore the brightly colored and festive garments from their individual villages and Nate and I passed out some gifts for their kids (like pads of paper and pencils) as well as tips. We were very lucky to have such a good group of people helping us out. We set out on the trail to reach Machu Picchu and passed some pretty amazing sites along the way, starting out with Phuyupatamarka, which we were able to see from our campsite that morning. The trail was mostly downhill and we headed to Intipata next. This was pretty spectacular as it was a sprawling site stepped down the mountain side, overlooking the Urubumba River and Sacred Valley below. We stopped to take a rest and I was very excited to rinse my hair in fresh spring water running through a working Inca aqueduct. We moved on to get lunch at the next campsite, which happened to be the one where all of the other groups had stayed the previous night (and I was relieved to see that we didn't miss anything as it was not very picturesque, with a bunch of cement areas to park the tents).
We moved on to my favorite site up to this point, Winaywayna. The setting just blew me away. Once again, the site hugged a steep mountainside and looked over the Urubumba River and Sacred Valley. It was very well preserved and absolutely stunning. We pushed on to the last leg of our trek; the remaining hour and a half of trail to reach Machu Picchu. This was a breeze compared to the journey thus far, with a fairly flat trail through some pretty stunning foliage. Our excitement was building - we had seen some awesome sites up to this point but knew that Machu Picchu was the Holy Grail of Inca sites. We struggled up the last 100 very steep steps to get to the Sun Gate, which allowed us our first view of Machu Picchu.
The view was spectacular and made all of the effort up to that point worthwhile. We looked down on Machu Picchu, as the Sun Gate was set high and was the point where the Incas passed through to reach the site. We still had a 35 minute hike to get to the site but were gifted with a spectacular view along the way.
As excited as we were, thunder echoed through the air and we wanted to get down to the actual Machu Picchu site before any rain came. We almost made it. But under the cover of some trees with the finish line in sight, we pulled out our rain gear and covered our day packs. After a brief layover in the guard house, we set out to take in the site while the masses that remained either sought cover or moved toward the exit.
The walls of the main structures and Machu Picchu are themselves works of art. How did these people carve stone so perfectly and place it so exactly? At first we simply walked slowly to absorb everything around us. Few visitors remained and it felt like we were on a private tour of Machu Picchu. At the overlook of the Temple of the Sun, we noted the traditional curved nature of the structure. Its importance was evident by the polish and precision of its assembly -- especially in comparison to the surrounding terraced walls.
Another finely built room was the bedroom of the King or his wife. It was nicely carved, large, and had a private bathing area. Even as we were walking around and casually discussing the scholarly and archaeological work still being done 100 years after Bingham re-discovered the lost city of the Incas, Vidal stopped and pointed out pottery on the ground popping through the saturated soil and part of the bone that had washed up.
After a brief stop at the religious sites that paid homage to the water, sun, and earth, it was time for us to call it a day and head down to Aguas Calientes and our hotel, El Mapi.
Michele had so anticipated her first post-trek shower that I thought she might stay in there and skip dinner. The hotel was very comfortable and modern.