Machu Picchu and the Journey to the Sun Gate, Part III

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After our lunch break, we donned our backpacks and started to leave the Deli. Ken and Sheila had moved off to the side, talking in whispers. Sheila had some bad news. She was experiencing significant knee pain. She and Ken decided to go back to the hotel. We had been climbing for the last three days around Cusco, exploring the ruins of Saqsaywaman, Pisaq, and Ollantaytambo. These sites built on hills and steep slopes had taken a toll. We said our good-byes and promised to meet up later for dinner at one of Aguas Calientes hotspots(Aguas Calientes must-dos to come).

My husband and I re-entered the park presenting our passports(required to enter the park) and our second set of tickets stamped for the afternoon. The Ministry of Culture regulates the flow of tourists entering Machu Picchu by imposing half-day visits. Tickets grant access from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon or 12:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. We wanted to visit Machu Picchu for the full day and so bought tickets for both the morning and afternoon. Because tourists visiting Machu Picchu has grown exponentially, preserving the ruins has become a concern for the Peruvian government. A maximum of 2,500 guests per day has been instituted by the park. The Peruvian Ministry of Culture has the following site online for information on purchasing tickets https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/inicio.

Jim and I zigzagged our way through the hordes of tour groups that hit in the afternoon. I found myself saying “con permisso” (with your permission to pass) many times as groups blocked sections of walkways. We got bottle-necked at a set of stairs that led to the Sun Gate Trail. As Jim and I politely waited for a group to pass, a woman from the States said, “Go ahead and jump in! We’re 40 strong. You’ll be waiting a long time.” I thanked her and we cut in. Once we got on the trail to the Sun Gate, the crowds diminished. We were leaving the citadel frenzy.

Granite flagstones paved the way between ascending and descending terraces that were cleared from the encroaching jungle. For a while, we enjoyed a relatively flat, straight trail. As the path steepened, the lush undergrowth rose and pressed in on both sides. I kept my eyes open for the white boulder Jimmy had talked about. It was believed to be a monument marking a grave. These huacas (sacred boulders) were common in Peru. Usually placed to honor the founders of a tribe according to Hiram Bingham, they were sacred areas for worship.

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The town of Machu Picchu became a tiny image of building blocks as we climbed. As we pushed forward, a clearing appeared on our right. The slopes gave way to level ground. Broad-faced boulders broke through the dirt. Steps had been chiseled out of one large piece of granite that led to a low stone wall. The wall created a barrier in front of a towering huaca that rose at least 30 feet above our heads.  How could an ancient people with no power tools upright this rock? The white stone was marked with rivulets of black stains flowing down the face of it. As if the boulder was mourning, I wondered what was causing this unnerving sight. As my gaze scanned this unusual monolith, my breath caught unexpectedly. A protrusion stood out on the left. Was it a natural creation or had it been carved by a skillful craftsman? Out of the stone was a manifestation of a warrior looking over the valley, a grim expression on his face. The image was incredible. A cape fell from his shoulders. A breastplate covered his torso, a skirt his legs. There was nothing in my guidebook about this. If there was such a thing as living rock, I believed it today. The indigenous people were still here, eternalized in the Earth.

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The jungle is dense on the lower part of the trail. It creates deep shadows and hard to see areas on slopes and in crevices. Hidden under trees and sprawling bushes, I got glimpses of large boulders strewn haphazardly where cavern-like openings formed between them. Could they be part of more ruins? My husband, stronger and faster, had pulled ahead of me, intent on completing the journey as quickly as he could. He wasn’t thrilled climbing on a mountainside, but hey, sometimes you got to “bite-the-bullet” and go along with it.  Alone and curious about the boulders, I stepped off the trail to take a closer look. The ground was damp and trampled down. As I lowered my head slightly avoiding hanging branches, I heard a hiss. I froze. I quickly scanned the ground and saw nothing. My heart raced though I held my breath.  I needed to hear from what direction the sound was coming from. I couldn’t see anything move. I frantically tried to recall what snakes were common in Peru. Vipers, boa constrictors, Fer de Lance? Then it occurred to me to look up. Tree branches were creating a canopy overhead. Highly venomous tree snakes are common in Peru. I slowly moved out of the stretch of overhanging branches. There wasn’t another hiss. I decided to keep moving along the trail. Needless to say, I didn’t deviate from the path again.

I eventually caught up to Jim sitting among a set of ruins along the trail. Walls surrounded him on a promontory that stood on the side of the mountain about halfway along the trail. A stone altar, rounded and uneven, hung on the side of a ledge.

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Coca leaves weighted down with smaller rocks sat in tiny piles on the altar. We wondered if these leaves were offerings. I later discovered that coca is indeed a typical offering used by the local indigenous population.  Hikers also seemed compelled to offer their own coca leaves as they passed by. No other altar in the Machu Picchu complex showed signs of offerings. This temple was special so we added our coca leaves in gratitude for the journey, our safety and the beauty of the mountain.

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After a brief rest, we continued. I enjoyed the long stretches of solitary trekking but also appreciated the comradery of fellow hikers who passed by with a congenial nod or hello. The age range in and around Machu Picchu did not cease to amaze me. There was the bare-chested athlete, in running shorts and shoes who buzzed past us, giving us a quick salute. (Yes!  He did get my attention)

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Later, I observed a Shaman, sitting in purposeful prayer with his followers behind the Sun Gate.  His long grey braid hung down his back,  a black bowler hat topped his head and colorful vest draped his shoulders.  Had he and his group just completed one of the multi-day hikes on the Inca Trail?  I watched a gentleman who seemed lost in thought, head bent, as he descended with slow deliberate steps, his cane helping him.  And a group of excited, young Europeans who in their exuberance forgot that they were blocking the narrow trail.

Knowing that this may be my only visit to Machu Picchu, I paused on the trail while Jim marched on. I needed a moment. To allow the dream that had turned into reality sink in. I took a deep breath and noted the mountain air mixed with the moist smells of the jungle. I closed my eyes and heard the buzz of a legion of insects and the absence of human voices. I gazed across the valley that followed the trail and noticed some of the mountain tops stood at eye level, while others were shrouded in clouds.

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The Urubamba River below looked like a piece of ribbon carelessly dropped from the sky as it wound around Machu Picchu mountain. I wanted to remember the mountains covered in the vibrant greens of ferns, bromeliads, bamboo, laurels, pines, and flowers.

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I had finally arrived! My inner voice rejoiced. In the midst of the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world, by the most celebrated archeological discovery in South America, the teenager who had been inspired by a photo spread in National Geographic was now experiencing the dream she never gave up on. As I brought my gaze back, it fell on an orchid, tucked about 20 feet on the slope in front of me. What a gift! A rare sight since I had been told by the locals that it was not yet the season for orchids.

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Narrow steps cut into a very steep slope as you near the Sun Gate. Only one person at a time can use them. My husband was on all fours, climbing them. Caught up in my own enthusiasm, I bypassed him, with a keen balance like the Big Horn sheep that scale the cliffs in my home state. I was almost there.  The steep slopes transformed into a series of terraces. Two stone columns flanked the trail in front me and a wooden sign inscribed with the words “Intipunku” stood off to my left. I had reached the Inca Trail milestone. A room made of stone blocks sits on the pass. Niches in the walls tell us that something of importance was placed there. We can only guess today. Idols? Provisions? Who knows?

The view puts Machu Picchu in perspective as it sits on a saddle between two mountains. Off to one side, the bus route zigzags up the slope like a child’s scribble. I glanced at the 30 or so hikers that were taking a break, sitting on stone walls, steps or precipices that jutted out over the valley.

 

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We had all achieved our personal journeys. My husband soon came into view, completing the last few steps as he passed through the doorway of the Sun Gate. Breathing heavily, he leaned against a wall. I grabbed him and said, “you made it buddy. Let’s take a photo!”

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The park closes at 4:30 p.m. When we showed up at 3:30 to go back to Aguas Calientes, everyone seemed to have the same thing in mind.  A long line formed along the road.  We waited for an hour to catch a bus. It began to drizzle.  I was thankful that the rain had held off for most of the day.  October is near the rainy season that starts in November.  We brought rain jackets and they came in handy.  People were patient and polite including the local dogs that greeted us while we stood in line.  This was life at the edge of the Amazonian jungle.

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Machu Picchu Inside the Citadel Part II

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After finishing our hike to the Inca Bridge, we made our way back to the park and straight to a viewing platform. Here visitors are able to capture that perfect picture, my husband and I, along with our friends, spiraled into “tourist mode”. We scrambled to take as many photos as we could, moving into countless poses. Jimmy stood patiently off to the side and even offered to be the cameraman. As we were taking pictures, our phones began to chime. Text messages, voice messages, weather alerts were lighting up. We discovered that the elevated location of the platform was conducive to exceptional cell phone service! We pulled out our phones and FaceTimed our kids, our parents, and our siblings. We panned the area, circling 360 degrees while exclaiming to our loved ones, “Can you believe it? We can see each other and show you this amazing place?” They were surprised and delighted.  It was a crazy, joyous moment that I will never forget.

Jimmy captured our attention with the wealth of information that poured from him. Using a set of pictorial flashcards, he shuffled through them, showing us a visual of each topic he discussed. He began by clarifying that the ruins were not named Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is the name of the mountain.  The official name of the ruins is “the Town of Machu Picchu”. A formal name was never given to the ruins.  City planning was a serious endeavor for the Incas. It is believed that the buildings along the perimeter were placed intentionally to create the shape of a condor, one of three animals that the Inca revered.

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The farming terraces on the outskirts of town had a two-fold purpose for the Incas. The first to supply food and the second to create a barrier against invaders. The terraces are backfilled with a clever layering system of rock and soil that allow for remarkably effective drainage in the rainy climate. Aqueducts carried water throughout the town, and large spaces found in plazas, fields, and fountain areas encouraged a sense of community.

While listening to Jimmy’s narrative, bugs began to feast on our ankles. We slapped them off until finally we were forced to pull out a can of bug spray.  We came prepared.  Fellow bloggers had warned us about the bugs.  These gnat-like bugs are close to the ground and can be an annoyance to uncovered legs.  This was even more evident when I saw a woman wearing shorts whose legs were riddled with red bumps.

Before moving on, I stood silently on the dirt platform, wanting to remember this moment forever. A calm washed over me. Enthralled by the colors, the geography, the structures built by a “by-gone” people, I was overwhelmed with emotion.   In the meantime, another tour group moved in behind me while my group walked away. I was alone. A local tour guide stepped slightly in front of me. I couldn’t suppress the feelings that moved me as I gazed at the setting and spoke in a reverential voice to no one in particular, “BEAUTIFUL!” The gentlemen, with his identification lanyard hanging from his neck, smoothed his hair down and smiled at me, responding  “well, thank you”.  He couldn’t help seize the moment.  I quickly came out of my reverie.  So he was a comedian!  I joined in the burst of laughter that erupted from his group.

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I made my way along gradual descending steps to the Royal Entrance of the city, catching up with the rest of my party. In front of us stood a bleached granite wall and stairs that tumbled down the length of the town. The wall towered some 15 to 20 feet above our heads.  A large doorway marked the only opening in the wall. All that is left of the door is a frame of megalithic stone blocks stacked on top of each other; a thick stone lentil spans the doorway. According to Jimmy, this was the main gate leading into the city. A wooden door once closed from the inside to keep out unwanted guests, whether they were bears, pumas or humans. Now standing at the door, we officially walked through, entering the Citadel.

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There was a hush among the ruins. I noticed that the sounds of motorized civilization didn’t penetrate this place.  Visitors spoke in low voices.  Everyone seemed to portray a kind of reverence and respect for this city in the clouds.   Was it an indication of our understanding of the monumental task of building this lasting legacy?

The terrain rose and fell. The steps were uneven and sometimes steep.  If we weren’t descending on stairs, then we were climbing on more.   I noticed that the perimeter wall didn’t encircle the town.  Why? Jimmy told us that the deep terraces and 1000-foot drop-offs in these areas served as a deterrent to invasion.  We passed long rectangular houses, their thatched roofs long gone.  Narrow streets led to temples built on hilltops or chiseled out of slopes. We came out onto wide grassy areas that looked like football fields. I was thankful that I was physically fit!

Our first stop took us to a wall, waist high, that overlooked the Temple of the Sun. Strategically placed, it’s rounded wall and rectangular windows align with the Sun Gate which sits about half a mile away on the mountain. During the winter and summer solstices, the rising sun’s rays flow from the Sun Gate and pierce through the temple’s window lighting up the interior. It’s a marvel that has found its way in many treasure-seeking adventure movies! The Inca leaders excelled in using the sun’s light. Their armor of silver and gold would catch rays and create a glow or brilliance on their person, making them appear larger than life.

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A plexiglass shield lays flat over excavation beside the temple. Jimmy informed us that a mummy was recently discovered under the temple. He went on to say that the mummy is in a state of limbo, unable to be moved since both the authorities of Cusco and Lima have stated a claim on it. Until the matter is settled, the mummy will remain at Machu Picchu.

As we advanced further into the citadel,  we walked to a garden patch.  The park planted some of the indigenous plants that grow on the mountain, labeling them for tourists.  We were informed that we were looking at highly hallucinogenic flowers that the Inca Priests used to reach altered states of mind to connect with the spirit world.  Alongside the flowers, was the infamous Coca plant.  Hiram Bingham, the American that put Machu Picchu on the map, talked about the Huilca Tree in his book, Lost City of the Incas.  These trees helped Bingham locate the ruins of Machu Picchu since they were widely used by priests for inducing visions and instigating prophecies.

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We turned to our left and walked up a flight of narrow steps wedged between two buildings, making our way to the Sacred Plaza and Temple of the Three Windows. Jimmy explained that the Inca believed that there were three levels of existence, the higher world or heavens, the middle world, and the underworld. The Three Windows represent the three states. Exulted leaders who died were mummified here. Manipulated into the fetal position, they were believed to be reborn into either the higher or lower worlds. The structure faces East and has a breathtaking view of the mountain range around Machu Picchu. Some of the largest stones in Machu Picchu weighing several tons make up this structure.

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From the Sacred Plaza, we climbed to one of the most notable platforms, the Intihuatana. Intihuatana means hitching post of the sun in Quechuan. A rock pillar carved out of a single stone sits vertically against the remaining stone fashioned into an altar. There are many theories about its function. However, most agree that it serves as a celestial marker predicting major astronomical events.

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Intihuatana seemed to be the highest point in the city. We carefully made our way down along the edge of the mountainside, following steps that ran along a stone wall on our right and a severe drop-off on our left.

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The view is spectacular as you gaze down into the valley below. We finally reached a grassy terraced area where llamas grazed and strolled through the ruins. The llamas seemed content, unconcerned with the pockets of tourists that gathered throughout the complex. Our walking tour eventually brought us to the far end of the citadel and the gated entrance to hike Huayna Picchu. We watched as hikers holding an additional ticket to access Huayna Picchu walked through to scale this death-defying trail riddled with narrow paths and severe drop-offs. It is the prominent peak used in many photos as the town’s backdrop.

Continuing, we skirted the lowest section of the city where wide platforms protruded over scenic drop-offs, and unobstructed views of the mountain ranges could be seen. We walked through a network of narrow alleyways where the backside of stone houses encroached upon us, passing by the elaborate Condor Temple.

 

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Near were examples of aqueduct systems and water still flowed in fountains. We were coming to the end of our morning tour as we looped back. Jimmy asked if we had any other questions before he left us on our own to explore more of the grounds. There was one thing that I had to see during my visit to Machu Picchu.  The Sun Gate is the last milestone for hikers completing their 4- or 5-day hike on the Inca Trail and where they get their first glimpse of Machu Picchu.   It is a principle entrance that marks the final journey to the citadel.  I wanted to understand that experience albeit in a small way by walking through it.  I asked him to point me in the right direction.  It was going to be a 30-minute hike up the mountain. “There is a towering, monolithic stone along the way.  Make sure to stop and check it out”, he added.   “It is a Huaca, sacred boulders used to honor an Inca.  They are markers used at Inca sites throughout Peru.”

Leaving Jimmy, we strode along the farming terraces and exited the park.  Our feet were throbbing.  Maintaining a steady pace during the three and a half hours for our morning tour had our hearts pumping and brows covered with sweat.  We returned to the bus loading and unloading zone and explored our lunch options.   A buffet is offered at the Machu Picchu Lodge. We opt for lighter fare at the open-air Deli beside the lodge. Sitting, facing Huayna Picchu while we ate was a view like no other. Like clouds suspended between the mountains, I had a sense of floating as I gazed at the magnificent sight of soaring ranges and plunging valleys.

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From my perched seating in the Deli, I noticed that the crowds were growing. More people were disembarking from buses that left Aguas Calientes every 30 minutes.  A long line had formed at the only public restroom outside of the park. The dreaded job of standing in line was exasperated by the fact that you had to pay to use the bathrooms! Jimmy’s claim earlier in the morning that we were fortunate to enjoy the park with relatively low tourist traffic drifted back in my thoughts. The afternoon was going to be different. This second wave of tourists was coming from Cusco’s long train ride, a ride that we avoided by driving to Ollantaytambo. My plan to hike up to the Sun Gate after lunch would avert us from the crowds.

As I contemplated my friend’s question on “unexpected surprises”,  the ability to connect with loved ones thousands of miles away in the heart of the Andes, was a pleasant surprise.  Family members, who were unable to join us, marveled at our real-time streaming and thanked us for the call.

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Machu Picchu and It’s Unexpected Surprises Part I

DSC02668October 11, 2018.

A friend asked when I got back from my trip to Machu Picchu, “did I encounter any surprises while visiting the Inca site.” I asked, “what do you mean, surprises?” She replied, “oh, things that you didn’t expect.” My husband and I, along with our long-time friends, preferred to travel on our own. So, without the expertise found in tour companies, I had to do a lot of groundwork familiarizing myself with our destination. I enjoy a leisurely pace that pulls the maximum experience possible while touring a place. I do my research before arriving, who doesn’t these days with the abundance of “information sharing” over the internet. The itineraries I strive for are seamless, enjoyable and as low stress as possible(I don’t think that you can ever eliminate stress when you’re in new, unfamiliar surroundings). So, when my friend asked this question, I have to admit there were a few surprises.

Jimmy, our guide, arrived at the hotel at 8:00 a.m. sharp. Our friends were already in the lobby when I came down with my husband. Enthusiasm was bursting from every part of my body. I was finally going to visit one of the most exceptional city ruins in the Andes. Jimmy, tall, lanky and of both Quechua and Spanish ancestry, met us the prior afternoon to coordinate our hike.  We had taken Peruvian Rail’s, Vistadome, from Ollantaytambo which had the last train station available going into the narrow Urubamba Valley to Machu Picchu’s nearest town, Aguas Calientes.   We wanted to have a good nights sleep before our all-day hike the next day.

We were staying at Hatun Inti Boutique Machupicchu. I read reviews online and felt confident that we would have clean, comfortable accommodations. It turned out to be a great hotel. The six-story hotel overlooks the Urubamba river. It is ideally located between the train station and the buses that drive up the switchbacks to Machu Picchu. The staff was exceptionally helpful. They had a porter waiting for us at the train station to carry our bags. They recommended great restaurants and called our guide to notify him of last-minute changes we made in our schedule.

As we began our walk to the bus terminal down a narrow road that ran along the river, my excitement erupted, and I grabbed Sheila’s hand swinging it back and forth like a child. She glanced at me surprised but knew the reason. She had been my partner in crime in convincing our husbands that this trip needed to happen. It took 20 hours, four modes of transportation, and a lot of patience from our beginnings in Las Vegas. October was considered “off-season” for Machu Picchu. I was all about avoiding crowds and saving money, but when we arrived in Machu Picchu, I began to wonder was there really a “slow time”? According to Jimmy, we were lucky to have a relatively “light-traffic” day.

The bus from Aguas Calientes deposited us in front of the Snack Shop adjacent to the Machu Picchu Lodge. We had just experienced what had to be the most spectacular mountain excursion ever taken. In the misty, grey morning, we watched from the comfort of our sturdy, Mercedes Benz bus, soaring tee-pee shaped mountains pass by stacked tightly together. Valleys plunged below us while wisps of clouds hung on verdant, green covered pinnacles. I was in a world that I had never seen before. The window fogged up as rain began to fall. I took a quick look over the side of the bus and saw how close the wheels were to the edge of the road. I hoped the rain would not cause us to slip on the muddy track. Everyone on the bus seemed to be engaged in excited chatter, oblivious to the steep switchbacks we were taking. I decided to concentrate my gaze on some distant horizon, telling myself that the driver did this all the time. I had to be in competent hands. And I was.

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Exhilarated by the drive up the mountain, I eagerly scaled the narrow, ascending path behind the park’s main pedestrian entrance. Visitors were strung along the trail. Most were keeping a steady pace up the mountain. I skirted around an older woman, holding tightly onto the arm of her daughter. A young couple stopped to catch their breath, and two teenage boys waited respectfully for their parents.

With each labored breath, I pushed forward on the steep, uneven stone steps. The rain had become an intermittent drizzle that finally ceased.  As I made a turn along the path, I still couldn’t see the city of Machu Picchu. The trail cut into the slope. Embankments clad in tropical vegetation hid the ruins from view. I turned around and glanced at my husband, Sheila, and Ken who had fallen behind. They were concentrating on their footing, taking slow, intentional steps. We were embarking on one of the most sought out destinations in the world.

The trail finally stretched out into a straight, flat, pathway with guardrails. We had reached one of the wide, agricultural terraces. I took a moment to catch my breath and regroup. Our guide, Jimmy, was waiting for us. A 2000 foot drop to the Urubamba River separated us from a range of lush, green mountains on the other side of a winding valley. Jimmy explained how important the mountains were to the Incas. Their religious beliefs stemmed from their presence. Standing amidst these giants, I could understand their views.

A thatched roof hut stood just ahead of us. The locals called it the Guardhouse. We veered off to climb an additional set of granite stairs that ascended further on a hillside.  Taking our time navigating them, we reached a viewing platform and got our first full look at Machu Picchu, spreading out below us. Symmetrical, precise, peaceful, otherworldly and beautiful were just a few of a jumble of words that popped into my head.

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As we stood on the ridge overlooking the city, Jimmy seemed to give us a measuring look and then asked, “Are you interested in seeing a secret back entrance to Machu Picchu? It’s about a 25- minute walk. It leads to the Inca Bridge, which is an engineering feat in itself. Few tourists take the trail because of the time involved.”

My “Indiana Jones” instincts kicked in. I knew nothing about this part of Machu Picchu. Were we going to go where few had traveled? I was all about that! I immediately responded, “yes!” But there were three other people in my party I had to consider. My husband was not a big fan of heights, and my girlfriend faced physical challenges with her knees. If they said, “no,” I would have to defer. The trail was rated “easy” on the range of difficulty hiking it, Jimmy explained as more questions were asked about this particular route. Cutting through the jungle, drop-offs were tempered with encroaching vegetation. Jimmy felt that it was well worth our time, and eventually, everyone was in for the extra mile. Phew!

The Inca Bridge Trail takes you out of the park. A park custodian’s hut sits along the trail. Once you have passed the ranger, you are officially out of the park. Your entrance ticket for Machu Picchu must be stamped in order for you to get back in and your names are written down in a ledger. This made us a little wary. It seemed like a lot of formality! What were we really getting ourselves into? Jimmy explained that this trail was thought to be the route to Vilcabamba, the last stronghold for Manco, the Inca ruler who eventually fell to the Spanish conquistadors.  Inca forces used this route for sneak attacks and were able to retreat behind an impenetrable draw bridge.

We maneuvered between large rocks, walking on compact dirt at times and granite flagstone at other times. As we wound our way through the jungle, my heart rate increased, breathing became strained. Needless to say, the trail rated “easy” was still a workout. Machu Picchu is at an elevation of 8,000 feet. We were above the city. The altitude was taxing. I was grateful that the day was overcast. The morning remained relatively temperate.

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Jimmy walked out in front, his hands intertwined below his green backpack.  He was at ease in his surroundings. As we rounded a bend in the trail, the right side fell away to a deep canyon below. Low stone walls alternated with guard rails along the edge, but at times there was nothing to guard against the sheer drop-off. We were scaling the side of a mountain. I glanced back at my husband to see how he was managing. His mouth was grim, and he looked a little pale, but he didn’t say anything. Jimmy stopped at a wide turn out in the path so that we could take in the view that stretched out before us.

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We found ourselves suspended between a sheer rock face wall rising behind us and tropical foliage descending below us. The mountains split open to reveal a myriad of ridges, slopes, and sheer cliffs. A river meandered thousands of feet below looking like a thin ribbon of brown against the gigantic base of the towering mountains.  No wonder the Incas believed that gods presided here.

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The trail rose and fell, expanded and contracted. It was a good thing that few tourists cared to visit this side of Machu Picchu as we found ourselves walking in single file on some parts of the trail. Finally, we came to a promontory and stopped. A few hundred feet ahead and below us stood the bridge. From our vantage point, the view was spectacular. Like popsicle sticks, tree trunks had been cut into uneven, swollen planks, spanning a 20-foot gap in the trail. A sheer rock wall towered over the bridge, and a 1000-foot drop fell below it. A tall, wooden gate, recently installed, blocked the entrance to the bridge. Age and deterioration made it unsafe to use.

As we gazed on this spectacular work done by the Incas who had chiseled away granite to create this breach in the trail, Jimmy asked if we wanted to turn around or finish our journey to the gate. The trail descended rapidly. Uneven and interspersed with jagged rock it hugged tightly against the cliff wall. On one side of the trail, there were no guard rails and on the other, iron stakes were hammered into the rock face with a cable strung along to create a type of hand railing. I was going the distance. The rest of my party stayed behind.

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Jimmy walked with an ease that said that he had done this 100 times over. I grabbed onto the cable when the trail became narrow and steep. Some workmen were at the gate reinforcing the door. Jimmy explained that a tourist recently slipped through the wooden slates and crossed the bridge. Fortunately, he didn’t get hurt. But a German tourist had fallen to his death standing too close to the edge to get a photo.

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Later, I watched a video my husband had taken with his cell phone of me reaching the bridge.  I wondered if he was recording me because I had managed quite a feat or did he feel that he had to document the possible last moments of my life? He never confirmed one or the other when I asked.

Walking to the Inca Bridge was unplanned and a nice surprise that our guide was instrumental in creating.  I was glad that he showed us this important part of Inca life.