Day Four -- Money Shot!

Trip Start Sep 20, 2004
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Trip End Mar 30, 2005


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Sunday, October 17, 2004

Made it! Ok well actually it took a another long haul.

Awake at 3.45 with the last leg ahead of us. We all dressed and packed up in the dark before breakfast (very ungodly hour for breakfast but necessary) At 5am we were at the last check point in line waiting to go through when it opened. We were one of the first groups through and we wasted no time. With renewed energy we hot footed around the paths to head to the sungate before the sun came up. We made remarkable time only being passed by a few other hikers who were actually running ( most of whom we passed again later ha !) The sun was coming up and we still had some way to go. For some reason I had imagined this last part as a 5 min stroll but it was a hard path and towards the end there were giant vertical steps to climb towering above us. I scrambled up with using my hands and feet !

At last we reached our goal and watched the sun rising over Machu Picchu, a rather spectacular site from Intipunku (the sun gate). Our group all looked around at each other with smiles and a sense of achievement. There were only about another 6 people there and we enjoyed the moment before the rest of the people started arriving.

Keen to get down to the main site before the stupid tourists arrived on mass ( we are professional hikers you know !?) We started down the path and enjoyed our last (or so we thought) glory steps. Soon we reached the main plateau overlooking the site, guarded by giant Llamas and pondered whether the site really was designed in the shape of a Condor which was sacred to the Incas. We decided that there was only one thing for it. After our tour we would have to climb Huayna Picchu and take a look from another perspective.

We started to climb Huayna Picchu (2900m) without water or a brain between us. Legs were already shot and pure determination and stupidity got us to the top. It was a slow ascent and more of a rock clamber than a trek as the steps were so steep there were a few guide ropes in for good measure. We made it to the top after the final stages of crawling through a cave and hoisting ourselves up onto the uppermost rock.

Here we admired (once again) Machu Picchu but also the miles of jungle that we overlooked. Butterflies danced around our heads and the sun beat down. Collapsed on a rock that was angled at 45 degrees, we noticed that there was another path down that we could get to if we slid 10 meters down the rock. Keen to find a less punishing route down and encouraged by some other people who thought they saw some others go that way (yes I know we are suckers) we advanced down the trail. Oh how smug we were for the first 15 min ambling downhill through jungle. Until that is we came to a path that curled into the rock so that you had to lean out holding an iron guide rope whilst sliding your feet around the path, from here there was no path just a vertical drop which had been filled with a makeshift ladder made out of wood. Focussing purely on each rung we made it down and with a quick backwards glance of where we just come from, we hurried on down the path in silence.

After 20 min down the jungle trail, the guys who had given us the thumbs up about the path caught us up and we carried on for another 10 min before we met someone sitting on the path near to tears. He had given up and decided to turn around as he had met someone who had said it was a 4hr round trip. After a brief discussion we decided to throw caution to the wind and carry on regardless ( this had something to do with the fact that there was no way we were going back up that ladder !) However we were slightly concerned about the fact we were actually now lower than MP and the path had shown no sign of winding back to rejoin the main path.

Eventually after another 30 min the path opened out to reveal the Luna temple a grotto like place overrun with vegetation and overlooking the jungle. There were handful of people there and we managed to get our fill of water before exploring.

One of our fellow explorers asked us if we could hear chanting to which we replied no. The guy replied he obviously had taken to many drugs in his life and was having a moment !

However as we descended around the front of the temple to the caves we spotted a group of people huddled in a circle chanting. This is a mystical site where there are hidden caves and rocks carved into the shape of a throne. After reading later that not many people make it down this far I was not surprised but it was a great adventure...

We decided to exit stage left and try and return to base camp before the search party was called. A good few hours later we emerged back from the jungle to the main path which we had left some hours before and started our descent. The legs were now beginning to think that we were taking liberties and by the time we reached our meeting place we collapsed onto a bench and didnīt move for the next 30 min.

Feeling revived (yeah right) we got on the bus and slowly rolled down the hill to Agua Calientes. There was no way we were walking that one !

Safely checked into a hostel we made it out for a soak in the hot baths for which the town has its name. Whilst being a little murky the hot water did wonders for the legs and the lights lit up the rocks surrounding our pool.

Later that evening we walked down to the square to meet the rest of our trek group for a beer and unknowingly almost got caught up in the middle of a local disturbance. The local elections were that day and we had wondered if the police always walked around in riot gear or whether it was a special occasion !! Just as we rounded the corner to the main square (which was packed to the rafters) a group of people lifted a guy (the victorious mayor) onto their shoulders and carried him up towards us with people chanting and shouting in support. We turned around as we heard some not so positive shouting coming from behind us, to see that the opposition were walking down towards us and making some confrontational hand signals. We realised just after how cool we thought it was to be part of the local life that we were being trapped in the middle with the riot police approaching. Luckily we managed to side step out of the way and leant back up against the nearest shops trying to look as inconspicuous as possible (hmm). Safe to say that the crowd dispersed as the police started to look like they could be roused into action and we scuttled off in the opposite direction. Beers were very quiet as everyone tried to pretend that they were awake. Gave it up quite soon and escaped back to the hostel.

A restless night ahead as we realised that our hostel backed onto a main square where the whole town congregated for what seemed like the whole night !
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