Wednesday, August 26, 2009

South America 2009 - Day 15 (8/21/2009) - Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu

We checked out of the hotel, stowed our big bags in their storage, and departed shortly after 4 AM. Nora and Chris' advice to get flashlights was very handy, as it was dark for our entire hike to the base of Machu Picchu and then up. The stepped path up the mountain intersected the roadway at various points, and there were markers that very roughly indicated how many sets of steps were remaining (though some sets were very short while others were extremely long, and a few numbers were skipped). It took us about 1.25 hours to get from our hotel up to Machu Picchu, and it began raining a little about halfway up. In my opinion, the hike was quite difficult, and we had to stop fairly often to catch our breath.

When we reached the top, we entered the line behind about 100 people to wait for the gates to open at 6. We were confident we would be able to climb Huayna Picchu in the first of two groups of 200 each, one at 7 AM and another at 10 AM. As it turned out, we were #s 16 and 17 of the people who opted to do the climb at 7. After getting in, we walked across to the entrance to Huayna Picchu, and waited under some huts while it began to rain harder. Once they started letting people in, the queue that had gathered moved pretty slowly because each person had to sign in (so they could track if everyone had been through and exited). By the time we decided to get in line, and got through to the entrance, we were #s 112 and 113. We left at around 7:45, and made up to the top in about 1 hour. This path was far more treacherous, with steps sort of carved out of the rock. In some places, cables were attached in order to give something to hold on to. There were also a couple of ladders. The rain stopped just as we neared the top. At the top, the view was initially blocked by clouds and fog, as it had been the whole climb up. It periodically cleared up enough to get a decent shot of Machu Picchu, so we hung around for a while trying to get some good pictures. After we began our decent, things really started clearing up.

The hike down was not nearly as tiring as the hike up (which, while tough, was not as bad as the hike up Machu Picchu), but it was certainly scarier. After getting back down to Machu Picchu and walking back through, we decided to hike back down from there as well instead of taking the bus. I would later regret this decision, as my quadriceps were already burning only halfway down the steps. We reached the base, and then walked back to central Aguas Calientes to grab some lunch. We decided to stop at the first pizza restaurant saw, and shared a large "bacon pizza" (I use quotes because there was not really any bacon on the pizza, and the thinness of the crust almost made Imo's look like deep dish) and 2.25 liter bottle of Inca Cola. After eating, we walked back to the hotel, though I had to pause a couple of times due to cramps in both quads. Once at the hotel, we collected our bags and dried out some belongings that had become waterlogged during the climb.

We eventually headed back to the train station and caught our 5 PM train back to Poroy. There, we were picked up and taken back to Cuzco by bus.

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