First the Good News: We would be culminating our pilgrimage via the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
The Bad News: This would require a 3 am wake up call. (Yes, we paid a lot of money to do this!) We needed to be packed, swallow breakfast and be on the move (muy rapido) in order to wait in line until 5:30 am. That's the time of the opening bell for Machu Picchu. Fortunately, we had really fast pilgrims on our team. We were in gate position number three among the dozen plus tour groups.
So we waited, and waited in the dark and damp in close quarters with shadowy strangers and 19 acquaintances. Conversations were muted or whispered. Most of us tried to nap while leaning up against our packs or fellow travelers. I laughed to myself thinking this situation would be a dictionary example of the term, "hurry up and wait."
At about first light, we were called up to a window one by one. Our ticket was presented to an Machu Picchu official who materialized out of the vapors. We had our clearance. Next stop - the Sun Gate.
It was an uphill hike with a few wonderful glimpses of Mother Nature's pretty profile. Oliver (the lone Canadian in our group) and I passed between two twin pillars (the Sun Gate) and looked down and to the right.
There it was, the iconic Machu Picchu view.
Seconds later the sun came out to infuse light and shadows for some impromptu special effects. Clouds welled up from the valley below playing hide and seek with the ruins. I looked about at the gathering crowd and all I saw were exhausted yet smiling faces. Once again handshakes, hugs, kisses, congratulations and back slaps were doled out. I was damn pleased to be there at that moment.
We relished the scene until reality set in. Our guides relayed the game plan on where to meet at the site itself. Once again we would have to show our passports and a ticket to gain entry to this UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
So down we went into a growing storm of humanity who were fresh off the buses and tourist trains. Me and my fellow journeymen and women weren't fresh at all. I for one was feeling overripe from the days of dirt, toil and lack of a warm shower. Maybe this is the way to create space in a soon to be crowded place.
It took awhile before everyone was moving in the same direction. Maybe we were feeling the lack of sleep, sparse breakfast or plain old weariness. Maybe all the above.
Once inside, Alex morphed into an Inca History/Machu Picchu professor. We obediently followed him from one unique section to another. Stories, names, historical significance and of course the Incas brilliant methods of marking the solstices were expounded upon.
As the day got warmer, I got hungrier. At the top of where the solar observatory was located, I began to break out in a frigid sweat accompanied by an out of touch feeling. I knew the big pass out was only moments away. No Bueno. I sat down before I flopped down.
I explained my plight to my new found buddies. From the creases and nooks in their day packs a few energy bars and chocolate chunks were found. They generously gave them to me. I ate. I felt better double quick time. They were my heroes.
Alex's walking tour continued to a final question and answer period.
"Are there any questions about Machu Picchu?
Maria who up to this point kept a pretty low profile piped up, "Yeah! When do we eat?"
See? I wasn't the only one.
By the time we dined, drank a few beverages, boarded a train and a bus and were dropped off at our Cuzco hotel it was 8:30 pm. We had been up for over 17.5 hours. We were spent.
On the bright side, we had all successfully completed the Machu Picchu Ultra-marathon.
It was one for the books. It was a great experience.
Cheers to all,