by Erin Elaine
Day 4 – Wiñay Wayna to Machu Picchu (5km/3mi). Despite being the shortest day, the early wake-up was difficult.
We woke up at 3:30am, quickly packed, and went to wait in line for the gate to open that would let us out of the campsite and back onto the trail. Most tourists think the early wake-up is a clever idea by the tour company to get you in line first, so that you can reach the Sun Gate early and watch the sunrise. In actuality, the early wake-up is to give the porters time to break camp and book it down the mountain by a more direct route. They are only allowed to catch the very first train of the day out of Aguas Calientes. My guide explained that it’s a political decision, and porters have gone on multiple strikes to change this rule, to no avail.
So, we waited in line and played games (including limbo) for a couple hours until the gates opened.
Nick-named the “Monkey Stairs” or “Gringo Killer”, this was the steepest section of the hike, during which two hands are required. The pictures don’t even do justice to how steep it was. It was a very short and fun section, however.
At the Sun Gate! What a great view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains.
Made it!!! This felt so good.
Scientists have found evidence of different types of crops being grown at different levels of the terraces. The micro-climates allow for tropical plants to grow at the lower terraces, while temperate plants could grow at the upper terraces.
Temple of the Sun – the two windows correspond to the sun’s position at summer and winter solstice. Only the King (Inca) and the priest were allowed to enter this temple. Different types of pottery corresponded with the sun’s position at different times of year, and animals were often sacrificed here.
Llamas roam free here, because it’s the cheapest way to keep the grass under control. The tourists also love it!
Condor Temple – it took me a while to see at first, but on the ground is carved the head and neck of a condor, facing toward you. Behind that, rising above, are the wings spread open in flight. The condor was the most sacred animal of the Inca culture (puma and snake also being sacred). There are a few different theories as to what this temple was used for. The interpretation given by my guide is that a body would be placed on the altar-shaped head area, because in Incan mythology the condor carries souls to the afterlife.
What an amazing place! It is truly a breathtaking example of the melding of human engineering with natural beauty. It made a big impression, and I would love to return one day.
Upon completion of the trail I was physically more exhausted than I’ve ever been, but so incredibly proud of myself and glad I chose to do it. On the train ride back to Cuzco we went past the trailhead, and it felt like a lifetime ago that I was there. I was a different person when I arrived in Machu Picchu vs when I walked under that trailhead sign. I now know more about myself, about pushing through difficulty, about how easy my life is, about what I can accomplish, about how peaceful solitude can be. Completing this trek definitely changed me for the better. If I can do this, I can do anything!