Up Wayna Picchu

We got up at 4am to stand in line with 400 of our closest friends. Only 400 people per day are allowed to climb Wayna Picchu ("young mountain"), the iconic mountain that forms the background of every photograph of Machu Picchu ("old mountain"). They let the first group of hikers in between 7am and 8am and the second group between 10am and 11am.

We signed up for the second group, so that we'd have time to catch the sunrise. The sight of the sun coming up behind the mountains and hitting the valley was pretty amazing. Because this was so close to the winter solstice, we also got to see mirror images in shadows at many places within the ruins (as planned by the Incas, who were sun worshippers).

Machu Picchu is all about the setting. The workmanship in the Cuzco palace of the Sun is much more impressive and the menhir-walls of Sasqawaman much more awe-inspiring. What Machu Picchu has going for it is the sheer gorgeousness of its mountain site. And the fact that it is well preserved -- the Spaniards didn't discover it and so, they didn't blow up the walls as they did to other Inca monuments.

We did hike up Wayna Picchu. Took us an hour up and an hour down. This is the most strenuous hike I've ever done. I've done longer hikes, and hikes where we gained more altitude, but in terms of sheer steepness, this one takes the cake. At least a third of the trail, we were climbing 60-degree inclines. Something I didn't realize -- when a trail is this steep, climbing down is also time-consuming.
And nerve-racking. When we entered the trail, we had to sign in and when we got back down, we had to sign out. They had rangers posted at several particularly steep parts of the trail, so that hikers who paniced (we saw one woman who did) could be helped down. Still, incredibly worth it.

The adrenaline was still pumping when we got down, so two of us (we were a group of 5 who climbed Wayna Picchu) decided to go out and do another trail. This was to an old Inca bridge, which was probably how peasants made it to Machu Picchu in those times.

Impressive, when one thinks of the effort needed to create these trails. We got exhausted just walking them and the ancients went there with primitive tools and chipped away at the rocks to create them! We're such wimps. But then again, we don't have the benefit of coca.

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