Day 4 was going to start really early: The Winaywayna checkpoint opens at 5 am and Intipunku or the Sun Gate, where you want to be when the sun rises, is 45 minutes away. This means that every group of eager hikers wants to be first in line to get through the last real obstacle between you and Machu Picchu. So, David suggested a 3:30 am wake up. Whooo- OK David, you know best! Totally prepared to wake up in complete darkness, no one was prepared to be woken up around 12 midnight by the sound of big raindrops pelting our tents. “Ohh No…” we all thought separately from our respective sleeping bags. “This cannot be good.” Having not rained the entire time we trekked, it was certainly disappointing that Pachamama (Mother Earth) decided to rain down on us today of all days.
Nevertheless, we rose at 3:30 and got ready in the damp, dense fog that enveloped our campsite. It had stopped raining, but from the moisture in the air, we knew we were not in the clear. Ready on time, we headed to the lineup at the final checkpoint and were pleased with our place of 3rd group in line, behind two other much smaller groups. For the next hour we all sat in quiet but excited anticipation of the race to Machu Picchu, wondering if the weather would cooperate on this most important of days. Right around 5 am, someone arrived to work the gate, and the buzz rose to higher levels as everyone started to get fired up for the final leg of our journey.
Cleared at the checkpoint, we were off! The competitors that we are, we wanted to be first to the Sun Gate and so we literally double-timed it the whole way. Making quick work of the last short, but really steep climb to the view, we were in fact the first group to the top! Success!? Nope! We eagerly moved into position to spot Machu Picchu from above, only to be met by clouds. These were not just any clouds, they were thick, low hanging waves of fog that would crawl toward us and then recede just a bit teasing us with the possibility of seeing something, then thickening up again before you could. And Great! Now its raining again. Ponchos on. This is not how this was supposed to go!
After waiting 15 minutes or so with no sign of clearing we decided to just press on to Machu Picchu- after all, seeing it from afar wasn’t nearly as important as actually getting to it and being in it. So, we hit the trail for the last bit to the ancient Inca City where we would also reunite with members of our group who had done the Lares Trek. Approaching the final checkpoint, the excitement began to rise again- we are finally here! And then it started to pour…Feeling completely dejected the group got quiet, dreams of a sun shiny Machu Picchu pushed from our heads. More knowledgeable about the ways of the Andes both David and our regular tour guide Fredy still assured us this magical place wouldn’t disappoint. Yeah, Ok.
After 20-25 minutes the rain slowed enough that David decided it was time for us to go in anyway and start our tour. The mist still thick and hanging low over the mountains and the city, we were able to make out the parts closest to us and tried to be satisfied with that. David continued to give us the fascinating history and detail what each part was used for, but now I was only partially listening. Behind him, it seemed like the mist might be lifting a bit, so I began to scramble for my camera. Oh! The mist WAS lifting more visibly now and I could finally get a picture worth taking!
As the tour continued, the mist continued to rise and the clouds began to part. Now, the sun was peeking through and all hope that we might get those beautiful views we had all worked for was restored. Ponchos off and the ground drying out the day continued to become more and more clear until you could finally see that you were standing inside of the greatest and most mysterious ancient Inca city there is! Yes! Pachamama didn’t have it in for us after all. We then spent the next couple of hours exploring, taking pictures, admiring the views and trying to ingrain the memory of this place so deeply into our brains that we could easily recall it in our old age. Fredy and David were right- this place is magical.
Tired, hungry, really dirty, but totally happy, we headed down to get our Machu Picchu passport stamp and then to board the bus that would take us to Aguas Calientes- Here we would eat lunch and wait for our train back to Ollantaytambo. As the bus wound down the mountainside, with a slight grin on my face, I pictured my bucket-list with a shiny new X right at the top of it.