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The Lost Inca City

Extraterrestrial terrain of the Maras salt mines
Extraterrestrial terrain of the Maras salt mines
It was cold when I woke up! There was frost on the ground and I had trouble convincing myself to get out of my sleeping bag. In the end the lure of Machu Picchu was too strong and I emerged from my cocoon. Our first duty today was to tip the porters. This had been a constant source of worry for my parents who had ferreted away crisp $20 bills in all of our money belts to be sure that if one of us went down, the porters would still get their tips. After the awkward ceremony was completed we packed up for the last time and took the staircase down to the Phuyupatamarka ruin below. The site had nicely preserved walls and poked its nose right out into the valley below. There were a set of fountains on the side which brought water all the way down the mountainside to Machu Picchu, 4000 feet below.

The Trail weaved through the ruin and continued in a broken staircase down the mountain. I set out on my own and jauntily bounced down. A few porters sped by me, attempting to make it down to the train before it left at 9. Otherwise they would have to hike the train route to get back to the village. The sun was starting to come out and some of the morning mist was burning off. There were orchids in bloom along the path and bursts of butterflies exploded in front of me as I walked along. Down, down, down I went, having to constrain myself from taking a picture at every corner.

Eventually I reached an offshoot for the ruin Intipata. I knew the group wasn't headed there but I figured I'd bought myself enough time to take a peek. I was worried the group would pass me as I was off on my tangent so I broke into a trot. Intipata was a very steep slope covered in terraces. There were a few tall storehouses at the base of the ruin. I was the only one there although couldn't quite enjoy the feeling due to the nagging worry that I would lose the rest of the group. I headed back towards the trail, half running and half walking in an attempt to intersect the group. Just my luck, I ended up waiting another 20 minutes for them to catch up.

We continued our descent to the ruins of Winaywayna. This was the last city before Machu Picchu and the most spectacular yet. Winaywayna was tucked into the fold of a mountain. One half was terraces while the buildings were farther down the slope. This site was empty and we got to prowl to our heart's content. Teddy pointed out the aqueduct that we had started our day with and we watched it as it tumbled along Winaywayna and continued down. I sat on a grassy lip and looked out, trying to absorb as much of the site as I could knowing that my trip was almost finished. We had the whole place to ourselves, something not even the Inca had enjoyed, and I wanted to savor every last moment.

The path led on past Winaywayna. It clung to the side of the mountain and at times my fear of heights would kick in and I would have to hug the rock as my knees went to jelly. Finally we hit a stone structure and we could feel that we were getting close. This was a set of stairs that were so steep we had to use hands and feet to climb up, ladder style. At the top was a small stone entrance. The sun gate, we asked Teddy? Soon. We continued on and I strode out ahead, sensing that the end was near. Finally I saw a stone doorway above me and knew that must be Intipunku, the sun gate. I quickened my step and mounted the stairs. Right as I was reaching the top, someone emerged from the doorway. I was taken aback. Who was this anonymous someone ruining my grand entrance? What right did they have to be up here? I was getting used to enjoying the ruins in solitude, not in a throng of sweaty tourists. To my dismay, when I did reach the top the place was crawling with people, some of whom had hiked the trail but the majority of which were just day hikers from Aguas Calientes. Swallowing my indignity, I tried to enjoy the breathtaking view in front of me. Sprawled out along three humps in the distance were the spidery walls of Machu Picchu. From this distance the iconic ruin with Wayna Picchu in the back was recognizable but it was in harmony with the peaks around it. The entire scene was dramatic, with mountains poking up out of nowhere and rising with sheer slopes towards the sky. I could tell why Bingham had dubbed this a sacred city. Looking at it, it was difficult to not feel that this was a very special place.

We ate our bag lunches of cheese and ham sandwiches on the steps of the sun gate, our eyes doing more feasting than our bodies. Soon our time came and it was time to join the plebeians, to descend back down to earth and say goodbye to the Trail. The final bit was easy walking and we were quickly on the slopes of Machu Picchu. We sat down, dangling our feet off the sides of a terrace and just rested. Teddy began to tell us about the site but I was more engulfed in the view than the audio. Having friends in high places, Teddy had arranged for us to use our entrance tickets the next day so we took our time just prowling around the outskirts of the city. We took plenty of photos although none of them really captured the site. It's not just the architecture but the entire setting that casts the spell. And a hardy spell it was, standing up to the singing of a nearby French tourist group and the incessant chatter of four Argentinians sitting nearby.

We took the bus down a long, narrow set of switchbacks and quickly found ourselves in the unremarkable town of Aguas Calientes. Its sole purpose for existence was to put up and feed the thousands of tourists that rushed to Machu Picchu every single day. That being said it was tacky and depressing. Luckily our hotel, El MaPi was very nice and happily provided the one thing we had all been eagerly awaiting: a shower. I jumped in first and gave myself two good scrubbings. You can imagine my dismay that after thoroughly rubbing my legs to dry off, my towel came away brown! Oh well, it's good to get dirty sometimes.

After finishing my final postcard and waiting for my brother to shower, we headed to the bar to claim our complementary pisco sours. They tasted good and we felt entitled to a little indulging. Teddy met us for dinner across the road from the hotel and we had a good time re-hatching our adventure. We would sleep well that night, our tummies full and our bodies cozy under soft comforters.

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