It is long regarded as one of the most majestic of structures in the world. Machu Picchu has been depicted as a symbol of power and beauty and a link to one of the world’s greatest empires. It is plain to see that Machu Picchu stands majestically atop the central highlands of Peru. It is a magnificent sight, especially after spending three days hiking in order to get there. It would be really easy to go on and describe how beautiful it was and how it was everything I expected after three days of rigorous hiking. The truth of it all was that it really wasn’t your classic Machu Picchu experience.
The night before we were to make our pilgrimage up to Machu Picchu we were informed by our guide of what to bring with us on the last part of our trek. We were informed that we should only bring what is absolutely necessary for the day because it supposedly got really hot during the day. Our group was about ten people including myself and the three other Karikuy volunteers I was with. Over the course of the three days leading up to Machu Picchu we had all become pretty close. Ranging in age from 20 to 27, hailing from England, France, Germany, Canada and the U.S. Dinner conversations resembled a U.N. meeting with three or four different languages being shouted across the table. There was never a shortage of laughter despite all of our aches and pains throughout our trek. Everyone was hurting, but it didn’t matter.
The scenery during the first part of the trek was beautiful. Gorgeous views of the mountains above and the rivers below made for some beautiful landscape photography. The trek itself was challenging in its own right. By the end of the third day, three of our group members were forced; due to injury, to take the train to a town called Aguas Calientes where we were to meet up and to finish the climb to Machu Pichu.
The park only allows the first 400 people at Machu Picchu to have access to another mountain within the park called Huayna Picchu. Huayna Picchu we had been told was not to be missed for anyone making the trek as it had some of the most beautiful views in the area. So beautiful that people started their hike at around 3:45 AM in order to get a ticket to go see it. This is exactly what we did. We awoke at around 3:30 AM, dragged ourselves to the center of town where we were to meet our guide. We waited and waited until around 4:10 AM. He never showed up. As a group we decided to leave and go on our own toward the trail.
The trail itself was less of a trail and more of an endless flight of twisting stairs. At times the inclines were pretty steep and for most of the climb it was pitch black out. Group upon group moved endlessly forward as we all trudged on toward what was our supposed Mecca that would make all of the pain and sleep deprivation worth it. The climb was hot and the muggy weather didn’t help. About three quarters of the climb I got rid of my shirt in hopes it would help me cool down. My shirt was drenched in sweat to the point where I was forced to ring it out a few times. It took us about an hour, but we finally made it to the top. It was at this point the weather had changed dramatically. Not only did the temperature drop significantly, but about fifteen minutes after we got to the park it started to rain. We had been informed that this happens nearly every day and that it usually clears up around 10 or 11. I have only one other article of clothing with me and that is my sweatshirt that I’m hoping will be able to with stand the rain until 10 or 11 when it was to get warm out.
Hungry from the climb, we all devour our breakfasts and wait in line until the park opened at 6. The park opened on time and we were fortunate enough to gain admission to Huayna Picchu. Upon entering the park it is grim and dreary weather, the kind you would expect in the background of an Edgar Allan Poe novel. There is a haze covering the majority of the mountain so thick that you could seemingly cut it with a knife. We then happened to run into our “guide” we were supposed to meet that morning, whom after half an hour of waiting in the rain took us on our tour. The tour was decent, but the weather continued to get worse. Most of us were unprepared for this kind of downpour. At the end of our tour, the rain continued to get even worse and the temperature dropped even further. As a group we sought refuge outside the park under a 5’ x 10’ overhang. We passed some time playing a game while we waited out the rain. It soon became 9 AM, then 10 AM, and finally 11 AM when we made the decision to go off and see Machu Picchu ourselves. Unfortunately due to the weather they weren’t letting anyone go up to Huayna Picchu at that time. My understanding is that it is a somewhat rigorous hike to the top and for safety reasons no one was able to go up.
The weather continued to get worse, but it didn’t matter. We climbed all over the ancient structure and had a great day overall. We had our very own hilarious guided tour lead by one of our English group members. We had a lot of laughs and a really great time exploring despite the weather. After several hours of meandering through the ruins, we decided to make a return to Aguas Calientes to check out the hot springs and have dinner. During dinner another group that we had been traveling with told us that they had managed to brave the rain and that the weather ended up clearing by 3:30. I definitely would recommend to anyone to bring rain gear and some extra layers for the trip. Afterward I spoke with our guide who said that the weather always clears and I would definitely recommend trying to stay until it does.
So perhaps it wasn’t your classic Machu Picchu experience standing atop its peak overlooking miles upon miles of Peruvian country with clear skies, but I personally can say that I had a great time. Sometimes it’s the people around you more then anything that really make the experience.
Evan Burawa is a volunteer for Karikuy. For more information about Volunteering in Peru visit www.karikuy.org/volunteer