It took us four long days (solo-trekking 50+ miles) to get to Aguas Calientes, the launching pad for anyone looking to visit Machu Picchu. Nate wrote about our adventures on the Salkantay Trail already. It was filled with highlights of breath-taking views, Inca ruins, runaway livestock, hand-picked and sun-dried coffee beans, star-filled skies, and frost-covered ground. But it was just the beginning of the “real” reason we came, right? The glorious and magnificent Machu Picchu ruin site in Peru. Well, for us the journey may truly have been more important than the destination.
We arrived in Aguas Calientes in the late afternoon after trekking from our camp early in the morning. We dropped our bags in our hostel and had the best lunch either of us can remember. It was pizza and beer. But it was PIZZA and BEER and we’d been eating only “just add hot water” foods for four days. We prepared for our full-day at Machu Picchu the next day.
We woke up at 4:00, had a quick breakfast and headed down to the gate. We showed our tickets, were waved through, and began our upwards hike with our headlamps shining. Typically, this hike take 90 minutes to get to the top. It’s nothing but large, stone steps. All the way up. But Nate and I had been at altitude for weeks, and remembered fondly all our training with November Project (climbing the steps at Harvard Stadium once a week for a year), so we finished up in half the time! By the time we got to the main gate, the sun had risen, but a foggy, grey haze hung over everything. As we walked into the iconic Machu Picchu, we could not see more than a few feet in front of us. And so it remained. We wandered for a few hours (Machu Picchu is huge and expansive), feeling tired and sore from our previous days of trekking. And disappointed. We had come all this way. And the fog was going nowhere, obstructing any view of this mysterious wonder, this historical gem.
Around 10:30am, we decided to hike back down to Aguas Calientes. We could have come back up later on in the day (tickets admit you up to three times per day since all amenities are outside the actual ruin site), but we were exhausted. We learned later from some friends we met on the train back that the fog did clear up that day around 3:00pm. We’re not regretful. The nap we were taking at that time was amazing.
So we don’t have any incredible photos of us standing above Machu Picchu, the city sprawling out down below us. But we do have a good story and the pride in knowing that we survived yet another trek, full of unknowns and discomforts and anxieties. There were plenty of highlights, and I’m happy none of them are overshadowed by a “perfect” day at Machu Picchu. We didn’t hike to the Sun Gate, Mount Machu Picchu, the Inca Bridge, or Wayna Picchu, like most people do during their day at Machu Picchu. There would have been nothing to see in any case. But we did see a unique side of Machu Picchu. Maybe how it looked on many mornings at the height of Inca life and bustle.
And we learned it’s not just a saying: “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Sometimes, it truly is useful to think about where you’ve come from in light of where you currently are.