Machu Picchu has been getting a little too popular, so the day has its structure. I wonder what it would have been like to be Yale University's Hiram Bingham, to be led by the hand of a small local boy as Bingam brushed away the historic site's blanket of trees and bush and moss. To enter the Sun Gate and overlook the Incans' site unfolding upon steep terraces of beautiful green hills. We however, packed up our gear and waited in a line about 6.5 km away from the Sun Gate, our first "checkpoint."
There were five of us that wanted to climb Waynapicchu (meaning "small mountain"), the straight-up, narrow mountain behind Machu Picchu ("big mountain"). They only let 400 people up in a day and when those who took the train are usually the first ones into the site, the hikers have a race to run. Our guide led the five of us down the original Inca trail, by other trekkers and through misty jungle. The rocks are unsteady and the climbs steep, and when you are fighting for a place at the top, you have to sprint. So we ran, finally reaching the Sun Gate that was covered in clouds. We continued to sprint through the site as I wondered if this was a terrible idea, pushing off the splendor that surrounds me to breathe hard and ignore aching knees and the 20 extra pounds on my back. We will have time later, I thought.
The line was long, and the 10am spot had just filled up. There was only one group of hikers that beat us there, and they were high-fiving, proud to be going up at 10. At first, we were crushed. We were exhausted and had wanted that climb bad. Our sweet guide said he would give us a tour separate than the rest of our group (who were walking in three hours what we had just run in one hour), and we could go up at 7, right now, but the clouds might block all views. We had run all that way, it was worth a shot.
The views as we started our upward climb were, even in the clouds, some of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. When we looked down into the valleys with sun gleaming through the clouds and onto the Urubamba River that flows between the mountains that made me feel the smallest I have ever felt, it makes you look up to the higher peaks, the ones you want to reach to see even more. I felt like I was in Peter Pan, when the audience sees Neverland for the first time and flowers bud at amazing rates and the green is slightly visible through mysterious clouds. We hiked straight up for 45 minutes and looked around, getting nervous. We could feel we were high up but a thick fog blocked all views. So we sat, wondering where we should be to see Machu Picchu below.
It didn't take long. Our rushes of adrenaline had slightly slowed as we dangled our feet over the ledge, waiting, but they picked up as clouds began to move and the vast spread-out of Incan ruins from nearly 600 years ago slipped into vision.
The Incans knew what was up; they seemed to magically pull and push rocks we can't dream of moving today to have a haven with views so splendid, the clouds wrap themselves around to remind you to open your eyes when, each morning, they unwrap the splendor like gifts. Their ideas of survival that simply formed out of necessity inspire me every time, making our techno ways of life seem silly, lazy, unintelligent. We walked around the sun dial, the towers, the tombs, the royals' rooms, the altars, feeling the straight-cut, perfect stones for the royals and the more jagged, imperfect stones for the regular class, hoping to maybe lay a finger on a spot that was last touched by a citizen before Machu Picchu was abandoned in the 1530s.
Exhaustion took over our tour, and I wouldn't hesitate to go back again to lose myself in another era and in those Andes mountains. Let me know if you want to go.