Getting high the old fashioned way: Peru, Day 9

Tuesday, June 26, 2012, Machu Picchu, Peru

3:30 AM is not a civilized time to wake up, especially on your birthday. The only proper way  to see 3:30 AM is by staying up in celebration of something, not waking up in the cold and the dark in a tent. Where’s my birthday cake? Where’s the candles?

Sheesh. Oh well, we’re up now. And the funny thing is, we have no place to go for another two hours.

Apparently, tradition is to get up early to line up at the last control point on the Inka trail prior to Intipunku,aka the Gateway to the Sun, the stone portal that overlooks Machu Picchu. From there’s it’s only about half a mile or so down into the site itself. Everyone lines up, then at 5:30, while it’s still fairly dark, the control point opens, and everyone makes a mad dash to Intipunku in the hopes of being the first ones there for the day and beating the crowds that will surely follow.

So, up at 3:30, a light breakfast, and then line up for the opening of the checkpoint. We ended up about 15th in line, with, by the time the checkpoint opened, about 150 or so more behind us. When we the gate opened, Alex took off like a shot, with Mark and I scrambling to keep up behind.  We half walked, half jogged, the 6 km to the sun gate, over slippery, uneven rock, in the dark, with several hundred feet of exposure on one side for a lot of the way. Fun!

We did end up being almost the first people at the Sungate. You climb the last set of stairs, gasping, get a level area, turn  to the left, and…

there it is, spread out below you – the cloud city of Machu Picchu – deserted in the early morning light.

Machu Picchu is all it’s cracked up to be. Use whatever superlative you like, it’ll probably fit. It is a veritable city compared to the other sites we’ve seen, and covers most of the hillside in front of you. Alex gave us a good, thorough, tour of the place that took almost 2.5 hours – by the time he was done, my brain was saturated!

After lunch, we had a couple of hours to wander off buy ourselves and explore the site. By “by ourselves” I mean, of course, that Mark and I were no longer bound to Alex or to each other – we made plans to meet up at a later time. We were, however, far from alone! By this time, the big busloads of people from Aguas Calientes, the nearby town, had arrived and the more popular spots were getting crowded. Still, it’s a big enough place that you could find a moment’s repose and a bit of solitude, or, at least a close approximation of solitude, if you tried.

By mid afternoon we were pretty well saturated, so after meeting back up Mark and I took the bus down to Aguas Calientes to meet up with our porters and Alex for a beer and a birthday toast for me.

There are still more stories to relate, about the trip home on the train, the bottle of Cuban Rum that made it’s appearance, and disappearance, about wandering around lost in Cusco at 11:30 at night with our backpacks on, etc. Then there’s getting pulled into the “proverbial room without windows” by the narcotics police at the Cusco airport and having your baggage *thoroughly* searched. It’s like when the cop pulls up behind you on the highway and follows you for a ways – you *know* you’re not doing anything wrong – but you feel guilty and nervous nonetheless.

But I’ll save those for a beer at the bar sometime.  For now, I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

– N