Inca Trail, Day Four: Machu Picchu!

(You may click on any photograph to pull up a larger version of the image.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010  WINAY WAYNA CAMP, PERU. The music played in the Hostel at Camp Winay Wayna until exactly 10:15pm when the sounds of the night frogs and crickets returned to the high jungle.  The bottles of empty Cusquena and Cristal beer scattered around the patios outside early the next morning spoke volumes about the party that had gone on after we retired from the hot showers the night before.  It had been fun, once we arrived and changed out of our trail clothes, to mingle for an hour or so with the rest of our band of 150-odd trekkers at the multi-use concrete building that housed the kitchen for a restaurant, a bar area and serve-yourself coolers of beer, several sets of restrooms, hot showers, and a small store.  They said it was owned by an Italian, and I must hand it to whoever operated it…they not only have a captive market, but a thriving business!  This was our own “Inn at Canterbury” on the final night before the pilgrimage ended.  Here, we could trade stories with the people we had met on this incredible journey, and watch as the connections and interactions made settled into a remarkable celebration.

There was Cyril, the South African rugby player traveling with his cousin Lynn: who had lost his camera case and the memory card stored there – containing all his travel images for the past several months – on the first morning of the trek as they left the Kilometer 82 checkpoint.  He came through our Pacaymayu Campsite the other day with a couple of his porters asking every trekker and every porter if they had happened to pick up that case on the first morning.  Now, the smile on his face and sparkle in his eyes told us, before we asked, that he was successful.   A porter had actually picked it up the same morning he lost it!  Here was a real life example of one of the Inca three-way steps: Don’t Steal, Don’t Kill, Don’t be Lazy.

Then, Francesca and Company, the group of young British girlfriends on Holiday from school and very much the attention of most of the young men on the trek, enjoying their cigarettes even on the grueling climb over Dead Woman’s Pass!  They all seemed fairly unprepared with equipment and clothing for this trek, but managed to be there in the thick of that evening’s celebrations at the end of the trek with no apparent harm done.

Our trusty guide, Julian, and Chris remarking about Francesca and Company at a break at Llulluchapampa on the hike up Dead Woman’s Pass

Then, Toby from Sydney, the red-haired young vagabond who seemed to have joined the pilgrimage as an afterthought, or maybe on a dare during a night of drinking in Cuzco.  His blue tights (now getting a little baggy) always falling off his rear end to reveal his bright yellow undershorts, the plastic “grocery bag” of belongings carried in one hand and his sleeping bag and mat over his shoulder…stumbling up and over Warmiwanusca Pass with a dazed look on his face, admitting his delirium as he descended in the driving rain on the back side.  There he was, laughing and joking it up, beer in hand, playing a card game with several of the other young people…and sitting next to his new “best friend”, the famous Flip Flop Man.

Our first visit with Toby from Sydney on the way up to Warmiwanusca Pass

Yes, the Flip Flop Man: he presented a remarkable visage, tall and strong in a lean way, long brown hair rolled into a tight little bun on the top of his head, always a few day’s beard growth for that edgy look, long-sleeved knit shirts and only shorts…with his signature cheap flip flops!  Yes, he actually walked the entire Inca Trail in flip flops!  I can’t imagine a manlier thing to do…the women must have just thought he was a god, or something the way he strode those trails, sometimes actually jogging along the route!  The ever-present back-splash of mud drops on his calves and feet were a mark of highest manhood.  I must hand it to him, it was a most impressive performance!  Here, this final night, midst his covey of admirers, it was obvious the rewards were in hand, as it were…and his tent, we noticed, was just a few steps away from the Hostel, how convenient!

Toby and Flip Flop Man in the afternoon sun at Machu Picchu waiting for a bus to Aguas Calientes

Or, Malina the Doctoral Candidate, from Los Angeles who had just been to her 10th High School Reunion and is working on her PhD in Italian Literature.  She really appreciated the comments we made about our dinner at the Comedio Divino Restaurant in Cuzco, up the street one block from our hotel, where the staff entertained with live classical piano and beautiful arias selected from classic opera!  Her band of friends on the trip, some young men who looked much younger than she, never said a word to us or anyone else that we could tell on the journey.

 Davison and Multhauf interviewing Malina the Doctoral Candidate at Phuyupatamarca

And, then there were the two American newlyweds, Chuck and Wife 2, who we met on the third day of the trek climbing up Runkuraqay Pass. Before that, we three thought we were the oldest hikers on this trek.  When we met Chuck, who is from Denver, and his new wife of one week (they were on their honeymoon) we found that he beat us quite nicely!  Chuck turned out to be a healthy 60 years old, and his wife 51 years!  Here’s to Chuck and Wife 2!

Chuck and Wife 2, newlyweds from Denver, saying goodbye to us at the main gate to Machu Picchu…with the Sanctuary Lodge in the background.

I wish I could remember them all.  Moreover, I wish my camera hadn’t been damaged in the slippery wet drop inside the second Inca Tunnel the day before.  Else, I could have snapped a few photos of these new friends during the party that night on the deck overlooking the Urubamba River far below!  Suffice that those faces are embedded on the emulsion plate of my mind – the smiles and back-slaps that evening resonating in my memory for years to come.

At our camp that night after a final incredible dinner by our Llama Path Chef Cecilio, seated around the mess tent, lanterns casting sharp shadows on the tent walls, we had a simple ceremony where each of us presented the porters and chef with a bonus or tip for their services.  Each of us stood and gave little speeches in the best Spanish we could muster, complementing them each individually and praising Llama Path for this incredible journey.  I brought out my flask of Drambuie, purposely saved for a special occasion, and treated the three of us and our guide Julian to a couple of finger’s-worth of that golden nectar!  I don’t think Julian had ever had Drambuie before, but he sure finished his glass!

The early wake-up call, at 3:30am the next morning to get to the final checkpoint for our entry to the final leg of the trail to Machu Picchu, made for an early evening.  The last of the music was echoing away in the hills and the sleeping bag felt nice, as I thought about all that it had taken to be here, at this moment…and what we’d been through since arriving in-country on the 15th.  What an adventure! Now, the big reward, our final goal, was only hours away!  It was hard to fall asleep, even though a hot shower, a couple of beers and a long day of hiking were behind me…

I woke up a few hours later, before the wake up call, as usual. My body clock wouldn’t let this morning be wasted in a tent. The plan was to get dressed and pack up, have a final special breakfast (where Cecilio, this time, had baked a beautiful cake for us!) and then head down to the official checkpoint to get in line for the last section of the trail: to the “Sun Gate” Intipunku for the sunrise over Machu Picchu!  The morning was black, but there was no rain thank goodness, and that one point was a real encouragement.  We donned our headlamps, grabbed our trek poles and followed Julian out our camp and down the trail to the Official Checkpoint which wouldn’t open until 5:30am…it was now about 4:30am.

One group of about fifteen hikers was ahead of us in line when we got to the checkpoint a few minutes later.  As we had walked through the Winay Wayna Camp other groups were stirring, but our compact group was more efficient than a large group at getting started in the mornings.  No rain, and the sky was growing brighter above the jagged mountain range ahead of us as dawn approached.   We could now make out the profile  and contour of the mountains we had seen the day before, across the Urubamba River rushing far below.  Oh, for a clear day!

Machu Picchu Mountain in the distance as dawn breaks, Day Four!

Passport Stamp (page 11, red) for Winay Wayna Checkpoint on the Inca Trail

Pasports stamped, tickets stamped and we’re through the final gate, striking out at a fast pace, with legs that felt stronger and lungs more acclimated than ever.  The adrenaline (and maybe coca leaf tea) added a little surge to our steps, as well.  Here we go…

As the light improves, approaching the “Monkey Stairs” to the Sun Gate…

Julian, Davison and Etzold at the final stop before surise from the Sun Gate!

View of Machu Picchu before sunrise from the Sun Gate (Intipunku)

Multhauf and Etzold at the Sun Gate high above Machu Picchu!

Now, we’d have a nice gentle down-hill walk to our final destination, with skies now finally clearing (miraculously!) and our hearts singing I quietly gave thanks to God that we’d made it here for this moment…this perfect instant of time!  Woooowww!

View from the trail down into the Urubamba Valley, and the village of Aguas Calientes far below….

Llamas browsing along the trail into Machu Pichu from the Sun Gate, with the Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock in the background…

The INHL Inca Trail 2010 Team of Davison, Etzold and Multhauf arrive at Machu Picchu!

Royal Fountain….

…and details of water course…

Temple of the Sun

“Royal Tomb” under the Temple of the Sun

The “Enigmatic Window” on the north side of Temple of the Sun, and distant mountains…

Carved and polished sacred rock at Fountain 3, the Sacred Fountain

Corner of what Hiram Bingham called, “the most beautiful wall in America”…

Detail of the “most beautiful wall”…..

Amazingly precise and beautifully laid courses in the “most beautiful wall”…

Temple of the Three Windows at the Sacred Plaza

Carved stone in the shape of the Inca Cross, or mountains, in the Temple of the Three WIndows

The Intiwatana stone, the “Hitching Post of the Sun” at the top of the pyramid

The Intiwatana might be the most famous stone at Machu Picchu, if not in Peru, for it is the only surviving “Hitching Post of the Sun”…and barely that!  The Spanish conquerors destroyed all of the others that they found, but since this place was lost to them, this stone survived…until a few years ago!  In one unbelievable accident which happened during the filming of a Cusquena beer commercial, a TV crew lost control of a crane that smashed into the top corner of the sacred rock, chipping off a big chunk…the missing corner can be seen today if you look carefully (right in the center of the above picture)!!  Take care as you enjoy the walk through these ancient ruins.

View of main Plaza and Huayna Picchu

Here, around midday, we took a break and lay out in the sun on the grassy lawn of the lower portion of the Main Plaza.  It had been a long day, since arising at 3:00am to get to the Sun Gate!  Many of our fellow pilgrims from the Inca Trail trek ended up doing the same thing…the bright sun felt so good for a change!

Later, walking up to another section of the ruins, we run into a couple we recognized from the Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco, he was hard to miss with his long, blond ponytail.  We visited with them about our adventure on the trail, the challenges of the trek…and its rewards…made introductions and left them our blog site address so they could check back on us later.  Turns out that Steve and Suzie Sullivan, from Berkeley, California, were a pretty famous couple!  They founded one of the best known and highly respected artisan bakeries in the Bay Area: The Acme Bread Company!  Someday I’ll stop into one of their shops in San Francisco and enjoy their bread creations…and remember our chance encounter in 2010 in Peru!

Davison framed in famous dooorway

Etzold at famous double-jam doorway

Multhauf at the main gate of Machu Picchu

Time to go?

…and a final goodbye from the most spectacular place in the world!

Etzold’s Inca Trail Ticket with all Official Stamps

Map of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu!

We now had to retrieve our bags from the “luggage check” at the main gate, get a bus down the mountain to Aguas Calientes, and find Julian for lunch at the restaurant of the same name.

Ticket for the bus down the mountain from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes

Afterwards, we’d walk up the canyon to the public Hot Baths and sooth our sore muscles for a while in the different-temperature baths.  Later we would head over to the train station to catch the Hiram Bingham luxury train back to Cuzco…or so we thought!

Etzold and the raging Urubamba River…

…scary, flood-stage Urubamba roaring through the canyon!

The steep canyon walls above Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo)

The public Hot Baths at Aguas Calientes… a light rain falls.

Map of Aguas Calientes, Peru (Machu Picchu Pueblo)

So, we arrive forty minutes early at the Aguas Calientes Peru Rail Train Station, tickets in hand for the Hiram Bingham Train at 5:50pm.  No trains in the station…and hundreds of passengers milling around looking a little lost.  Not a good sign!  Little would we know how precious these tickets would be to us!  (Please refer to the Special Report posted January 27, 2010 called “Dunkirk on the Urubamba”, a full accounting of what transpired next, a story that has made international news!)


Etzold’s Hiram Bingham Train Ticket

Note left with my boots ….a fitting epitaph!

INHL Logo Globe Grey-Preserving the Past


~ by Dave Etzold on January 30, 2010.

3 Responses to “Inca Trail, Day Four: Machu Picchu!”

  1. My husband will be leaving in a couple of weeks for Australia due to work related reasons . I was worried that living away from each other will create problems in our bond in the future. However he assured me that everything will be good enough and there’s nothing to be anxious about. Life in general can be a little harsh for us newlyweds to fall in a circumstance like this.

  2. I do trust all of the ideas you have presented on
    your post. They are very convincing and can certainly work.
    Nonetheless, the posts are too brief for beginners. May you please prolong
    them a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.

    • Thank you for your comment. I have several more posts on the Inca Trail adventure, please click on that category on the right side column of the page, and it will bring up a list of all the Inca Trail Blog Posts I have written. Enjoy! DFE

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