By the time we arrived in Aguas Calientes we had been learning and soaking up Andean history and culture for eleven days and we had seen a lot of Inca ruins, five of the ten “Top 10 Inca Ruins to See (that aren’t Machu Picchu)” according to National Geographic to be exact (we didn’t plan that), and a few others not included on the list. The Inca believed in preparation and cleansing before entering a sacred site and I felt that the days we had spent touring other ruins and our Salkantay trek had been our methodology to approach Machu Picchu. The process definitely made being there more meaningful for me. I felt like I had earned it, at least a little bit.
Machu Picchu perches majestically on jagged mountain peaks where the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon Rain Forest meet. The Urubamba river surrounds the mountain on three sides, an impressive and often sheer 2,000 feet below (Machu Picchu sits at almost 9,000 feet above sea level). The views are dramatic and the feelings that resonate are mystical, magical, sacred and otherworldly. Our plan to arrive early and watch the sunrise was thwarted by a heavy mist shrouding the mountain, both hiding the sunrise and adding to the feeling of mystery.
We wandered back in time through the stone passages and marveled at the craftsmanship. I constantly had to remind myself that these stone creations were constructed at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere without modern tools (except for those of you who believe in Alien intervention). I wondered if this citadel was created in some alternate universe using the very popular Minecraft software or maybe Lego building blocks. Even if you don’t believe that Aliens had something to do with the Inca ruins, the feeling is truly supernatural.
Water still runs where it was designed to by the ancient culture. In addition to water running through stones and in rock conduits, the terraces are renowned for their incredible drainage.
As impressive as our surroundings were, the llamas still attracted attention.
We made our way across the site working towards the entrance to climb Waynapicchu, the mountain behind Machu Picchu and an opportunity to view the ruins from different angles and from above. Only 400 people are allowed to climb the mountain on any given day to limit impact on the trail.
You have to sign in with your name and passport number.
It takes a solid hour plus to climb this peak and it is steep and precarious, often requiring hands and feet.
These steps are narrow and verticle and best accomplished with patience and caution.
These orchids were growing near the steps above.
We did make it to the top.
We sat on these rocks overlooking Machu Picchu, snacking on random food floating around in our packs while we waited for the clouds to lift.
Jeremy advised hanging out here as long as possible because we would only have a few minutes at the very top of the mountain and the hope is to get a clear view. Even though our view was obscured by the clouds, it was fun to watch as they moved and changed. So in the end, we were treated to many different views, just not a clear one. We waited until the ranger noticed us and told us to get moving.
We left our perch and headed up to the top of Waynapicchu. This orchid was on the way up.
Our picture at the top Waynapicchu (just imagine Machu Picchu spreading out far below us). The clouds had drifted back in with a vengeance.
The hike down started with a muddy slither through this tunnel.
Back on the grounds of Machu Picchu, we wandered around and admired the scope of the ancient community.
A room with rocks in the middle that have fallen off of the walls and been gathered up.
Not a bad view from these rooms.
It is impossible not to want to touch the walls that the Inca built because it is like feeling the past. There is definitely a palpable energy in these walls.
The walls are beautiful.
The quintessential Machu Picchu picture.
And here folks, is the best part of my visit to Machu Picchu and something I won’t likely forget. Scott and I left our wedding rings at home (on purpose) with the plan to purchase bands along the way and renew our vows at Machu Picchu. We found silver (or something that looks like silver) bands in Cusco and then in the drizzling rain, just past the Sun Temple (you couldn’t stop at the Sun Temple) Grant officiated (he’s reading our ceremony and vows off of Scott’s phone) and we renewed our vows. Ashley took care of the rings and Jeremy was our photographer. Scott joked the rest of the trip that I was his new wife.
The happy newlyweds
We took the bus back down to Aguas Calientes…
…and wandered around the markets while we waited for our train.
It was almost a three hour train ride to Ollantaytambo…
…but we did have some entertainment!
We arrived in Ollantaytambo and then endured a ninety minute van ride back to Cusco for one more night (in a hotel!) and then an early flight to Quito, Ecuador. I looked forward to good cell service and a chat with my brother.