Climbing Machu Pichu (Machu Pikchu in Quechua), the mountain, was definitely one of our top experiences in Peru. No surprise there, I guess. Sure, getting to the gate to the mountain, after a mad dash from the gate to the site and swerving through hordes of snap-happy tourists blocking our way, after a very stressful wait to get on the vans going from Aguas Calientes to the gates to the site – that was crazy. But once there? Once our tickets were stamped just two minutes before our visiting window closed? Then all we had to do was enjoy the mountain...
It's not quite a tough climb. I didn't time us, but I guess anything from 2 to 4 hours would be reasonable, depending on your pace. It's most definitely uphill, right? Lots of steps. Among the jungle. Frankly – awesome. Oh, and you know what else might slow you down? Looking back all too frequently because you don't want to miss any views, of which there are too many! Of the mountains, of the jungle, of the ruins of Machu Picchu... One awesome climb.
Sure, some stretches are a bit narrow. At times there's just the steep mountain wall on one side and a long fall down on the other. Sometimes the jungle forms a cover above the path. Occasionally you'll have to sort your way through some rocks. I even saw a girl tell her partner she was not going further anymore, terrified as she was by one of those stretches with a nice long fall to the side. But this was exciting! if a bit tiring. But you know what? You drop me on a mountain, and it's like springs grow on my feet and this uncontrollable desire to keep pushing forward and upwards takes over. I love it!
My habib, on the other hand. Is a more relaxed person. He takes his time to enjoy things and places. And at some point I just had to ask if it was OK if I went ahead "just for a bit". Of course, we both knew that meant I would almost run to the summit, and we'd meet there when he got there.
Once you reach the summit, some humour: a sign that read "no smoking"? Really? Does anybody climb tat long and that high to then have a ciggy? Like, honestly? LOL
At 3,082m above sea level, the views are fantastic. The perfect place to sit down, rest, and enjoy your reward for climbing all the way up. The surrounding peaks... the ruins in the distance... the odd eagle or condor (like you could tell from below, right?)... You so get your efforts worth. And more.
The way down is fun too. But the mountain opens at 7:00am so, no matter how early you get there and how fast you climb, by the time you're going down the sun is already high up and it's very hot. Still, a nice and not too hard climb down...
...to the ruins of Machu Picchu!
Now, apparently, the habib had thought we could use our first day to climb up, and climb down. And then do a thorough visit of the ruins on the second day. My excited mind didn't get the memo. I saw the entrance to the ruins, and I just kept going! Poor habibi, he found himself doing a tour of the ruins right after climbing up and down the mountain, trailing behind gotta-see-everything-right-now me!
The ruins? Great, of course. The architecture, frankly, wasn't as impressive as Sacsayhuamán, for example. But the setting made up for it, completely. And there were some extraordinary structures nevertheless. But the views! the views!
And you know what else was unique? An Intihuatana! A sun-post! Scholars can't quite figure how the Inca used these incredible irregular squarish sculptures to do calendar calculations. But it seems we know that's what they used them for. And – in my opinion – their complex angular structure is incredibly intriguing! Oh, and the Spanish tried to destroy as many as they could, as part of the campaign to sever all links to pre-Hispanic worship. But Machu Picchu was abandoned before the conquest, and so its Intihuatana was spared. How awesome is that?
Llamas, ridiculously well fit stones, circular temples, small fountains with narrow canals... The rest of the sight – well, what we could bear visiting under the sun – was quite impressive.
By the end, we were exhausted. Really really tired. Finding our way out was a bit hard because, like in Ollantaytambo, many paths were one-way only, so finding the right way to the exit took some effort. Then we devoured lunch at the overpriced cafeteria. And headed to the exit, to wait in line in the sun and breathing the road's dust for a couple of hours for a seat in the vans back down to Aguas Calientes (yes, more lining up). But even that very anti-climactic finish didn't ruin our day. And next day we were coming for more!