Machu Pichu

Day thirty: Sun Gate, Machu Pichu

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Our alarm goes off at 4am – our intention is to get up early and hike to the Sun Gate to watch sunrise over Machu Pichu.

It’s 4am, it’s dark and it’s absolutely pouring with rain – as it has been all through the night. It takes us about 2 seconds to cancel that plan and roll over back to sleep. To be fair, the three large pisco sours we had the night before may also have influenced our change of heart.

At breakfast we discover the first technology glitch of our trip. Some film clips from the Galápagos are not showing up in the draft films we had built. One clip was particularly special – it captured a seal playing in the water near us as we swam and then you see him snapping his teeth at us…. all a little too close for comfort.

Our hard drive was getting full and we conclude that my *emptying the trash* the night before must be the culprit. Bugger. We panic – buy some trash retrieval software – and try and locate the files. The short version of this story is that after several hours of trying… we fail to retrieve most of the missing film clips.

A big lesson is learnt and we promise to buy ourselves a larger backup drive on arrival in Santiago. Our drop box backup strategy was simply not working – we had underestimated the size of our daily backups plus the poor connection speeds we’d be getting.

Hoping that our day gets better, we head off on our second trip to Machu Pichu – still with the goal of reaching the Sun Gate.

While we’re in the valley, it starts to rain. We realise we’ve forgotten Mia’s coat… so we head back. Got the coat. We head off to Machu Pichu.

We get to the bus. We realise we’ve left the bus tickets behind… so we head back. Got the tickets. We head off to Machu Pichu.

We get half way to the bus. We realise we’ve left the GoPro in the restaurant where we had lunch. (I’m considering giving up on the day and just heading to the bar. Pisco Sours suddenly seem the way forward.) Got the GoPro. Thank you, thank you, thank you lovely restaurant staff. We head off to Machu Pichu.

It’s now so late in the day, the bus crowds are gone and we have our own personal bus ride all the way to the top. 

Onwards and upwards to the Sun Gate! The trail is mostly in the shade, uneven, narrow in places with several steep drops off to the side.

While we’re catching our breath half way up we spot two bears crossing the path just behind us. Albeit exciting, I’m desperately trying to recall the ‘bear rules’ we learnt over 15 years ago in Canada. Luckily they’re not interested in us and they head off into the bushes.

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With a whole lot of cheerleading, several water stops, some bribery for one particular member of the team, (Bruno Mars playing on my iPhone and the promise of ice cream at the bottom), we finally make it to the top. 

Many other hikers had overtaken us on the way and many had been privy to our need for motivational speeches, bribery and coercion. When we finally reach the Sun Gate we are welcomed with a round of applause and several “bravos” from the other hikers who are now sat, taking in the view.

Ours were the only children we saw on the hike up to the Sun Gate and several guides come and give them commendation for their achievement.

We see the Inca trail from the other side of Sun Gate and watch as several hikers near the end of their much tougher, four day hike. The weather is kind to them and they are welcomed with a totally clear and stunning view out over Machu Pichu City – I watch as a couple of them crack open a beer.

Down is much easier, particularly as everyone is on a high from their achievement. We stop off at Machu Pichu City for a few more photos at dusk. The archaeologists have left for the day, their endless repair work on the walls paused for another day and we hear the wardens blow their whistles. It’s time to make our way out.

Back down the valley to Aguas Calientes where we’re welcomed back with a downpour and a rainbow.

Take a look at our Machu Pichu film.

Tips: 

– You don’t need to pre-book a tour guide. There are several English speaking guides by the entrance gates waiting to be hired.

– You need your passport to get into Machu Pichu City. 

– You can stamp your passport with a Machu Pichu stamp on the way out. 

– Remember sun cream, raincoats and bug spray.

Day twenty nine: Machu Pichu

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Today is Machu Pichu day and we are all excited. The anticipation of seeing the iconic city of Machu Pichu is high as it’s expected to be one of the highlights of our South American trip. For one of us, this is their second time in Machu Pichu – this time around perhaps made even more special as they share the experience with their children.

We start the day here just outside Ollantaytambu. We’re on the vistadome, a gorgeous train with big windows, glass ceilings and breathtaking views.

We travel from the Andean highlands to the beginnings of the jungle before finally arriving at the town of Aguas Calientes – an odd little town. The train follows the path of a river almost all the way and we see rapids, boulders, mountains, snow, villages, churches, but most breathtaking are the pure, simple, untouched landscapes. The weather is clear and the whole experience is impressive and the service seamless.

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Today’s school task is simply… write an interesting list of all the things you can see out of the window. Even our reluctant writer writes reams of notes and ends up with a comprehensive list of over fifty things.

Just under two hours later we are met at the station, ditch our bags and are taken straight away to the gates of Machu Pichu. Today ‘Jimmy’ is our tour guide and we only have two others in our group (bizarrely, one is from Kingston, only a few miles from our home town).

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We learn all about the lost city from our guide and are advised how to hike up to higher ground to get ‘the money shot’. Jimmy gives us the history and a tour around the old buildings and then we’re left to our own devices to explore the city ourselves. The gates close at 4.30pm and we’re told a whistle will be blown to tell us when to make our way out.

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Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu (official name) is truly stunning, however I find the mountains opposite the city equally as stunning. They are green, lush and thick with trees all the way to the top with little sign of snow or rocky terrain – we are at 2,430 metres above sea level.

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We’re allowed to walk amongst the ruins, touch them, lean on them, sit on them, we’re even invited to try and move them. I think back to Stonehenge in the UK and how it is now roped off, out of reach. I recall stories from my mum’s childhood and of her being able to run between the stones and touch them. Surely the day will come when the Machu Pichu ruins will be roped off too? For now…. we continue to enjoy them, up close and personal.

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We have a wonderful day up there and try to ditch the reliance on cameras and take it all in – consciously trying to engrain this view into our memories.

When it’s time to leave, we catch the bus back down to Aguas Calientes. We stay here and later that evening share Pisco Sours with our new friends we met in Cusco. A little worse for wear, we make arrangements to meet up again in a couple of days time… the boys are ecstatic!

Tips: 

– The amount of luggage you can bring into Machu Pichu via the train is restricted, so you may need to take a subset of your luggage with you. They advise one small backpack per person.

– Try to book tickets on the left hand side (direction of travel) of the vistadome as it has a better view than the right – as you are immediately next to the river.