Day three of the hike with Lorenzo Expeditions started with zip lines. I had so many favorite parts of this trip, but this might have made the top five moments. There were five HUGE lines between mountains, plus a terrifying hanging bridge. We passed over mountainside jungle with river running though the bottom.
I’m not comfortable with heights, but I feel reasonably safe on zip lines and roller coasters. These were long enough for one to have a good think a couple hundred feet off the ground too. I proudly and nervously did one hanging upside down too. We got some sweet GoPro footage, so there’s a video to come (someday!).
The bridge looked like every bridge in every chase scene of every movie. We were tethered to a zip line rope the whole time, but if you fell off the bridge you’d dangle until one of the workers came to tow you to a place you could jump back on. I knew I was safe, but my heart was pounding and I spent most of the time hurrying Julie because I didn’t want Will swinging the bridge it behind me.
Late morning and early afternoon we hiked around Mount Machu Picchu along the train tracks. Bruno pointed out different mountains and fruit for us along the way. He explained the ticketing at Machu Picchu and the details of the hike up the following day. We lunched at a little place along the trail and snoozed in their hammocks too.
It was about seven miles total of hiking before we reached Aguas Calientes, the tourist town at the bottom of MP. It was a slanty, crowded place full of hikers getting ready to go up the mountain. We bought some fruit and snacks for the following day and repacked our bags. We shared our last meal together, finishing with Rosas y Espinas before heading to bed. On the way home, we saw a parade for the festival of the cross. Since we had a 3am wake-up call, we were not exactly thrilled, but managed to sleep through it.
The morning of Machu Picchu we woke up at 3am to line up outside the gate. Our group was meeting at the top at 6am to be the first inside. Bruno assured us we’d get the best photos and be able to make the most of our day. Some of our group took the bus up for $12, but we wanted to hike it. At 5am, they opened the gate to the stairs. I was the first passport they checked, then Josh, Will, myself and a pack of stray dogs took off up the mountain with our flashlights. Julie and George followed close behind us.
That one hour of nothing but steps was the toughest part of our trip. There were a million switchbacks and as Will pointed out, the Incans weren’t worried about the standard step height of seven inches. Some were over a foot and other a couple inches, so you really had to pay attention (and have a flashlight). Some of the local dogs borrowed our flashlight beams and seemed to have no trouble at all, while I was wheezing at one point. Bruno told us to pay attention to the mountain across the way because it was about the same size and you could use it to gauge your progress to the top. That would have been more helpful had it not been dark and foggy in the dense jungle. We finished 1968 stairs in 47 minutes. Sweat dripped through my rain jacket and my legs were a little shaky. Luckily, we packed fresh shirts at the top, because we looked rugged.
The green shows our path and the big black zigzag is the road the bus takes.
Once inside the gate, we were ready for beautiful views, but the fog left us looking at the inside of a cloud. Bruno started in on some history lessons. We waited for the weather to clear, but no luck. He asked if any of us had June or July birthdays, I volunteered. He asked me to blow away the mist, since my birthday was closest to the summer solstice holiday. I blew and I’m not joking, the clouds went away and we saw the full ruins.
We spent the rest of the day exploring, meeting the resident llamas and sneaking Pringles when the security guards weren’t looking. As corny as it sounds, the ruins were majestic and HUGE. They look smaller in photos. It’s incredible how the masonry lasted five hundred years and how different angles perfectly line up with constellations and other mountains.
In the afternoon we hiked to the Sun Gate, which was worth the view. That’s where the Inkan Trail Pilgrimage officially ends.
By afternoon the mountaintop was pretty crowded and the rain passed through a couple more times (even though I kept blowing). We walked back down the steps to Aguas Calientes exhausted and soggy. We collected our packs and found a restaurant serving Alpaca tacos. The train ride back to Cusco that night provided an unexpected meal and a weird fashion show. The workers danced, one pulled Will up. Then they modeled local knit clothes and then tried to pedal them to us while we tried to nap in our cold, wet socks. It was uncomfortable in every way.
When we arrived in Cusco at midnight, we found our hostel and took showers one at a time in order to make the most of the hot water.