… 1:00am – no sound of dogs, no sound of cockerels, so sound of donkeys, not even any sound of John snoring – why? Because I couldn’t hear any above the sound of the rain thundering down on the outside of the tent that’s why!!!

Oh no. To decamp in the rain – let alone walk the final part of the trail – would be horrendous. & very dangerous due to the sloppy uneven rocks underfoot. Serious prayer required. I had about 2 hours in which to pester God so much with prayer that surely, this one last time, He’d come through for us. That’s how it works isn’t it?!

I knew Fiona was awake too – basically if Fiona’s awake she’s talking. If Fiona’s not talking it means she’s asleep. She & Maddy are best pals, both Christians, & are great fun. Fiona just has bags of energy – & loves talking πŸ™‚ She even talked all the way up to Dead Woman’s Pass on day 2! She & Maddy were in the tent next to us.

Over the next 2 hours bits by bit the drops became slower & softer. By alarm call at 3:00am all that could be heard was the occasional fall of rain water from the leaves of the trees above our tents – of which one went straight down the back of my neck the minute I unzipped the tent door! Why does that always happen?!

Another prayer answered. I do believe we’re being looked after on this trip… funny that πŸ™‚

Camp was a hive of activity from the off – people brushing teeth left right & centre, last minute supplies being crammed in to backpacks, porters’ backsides sticking out of tents as they rolled up sleeping bags & mats within, anoraks being put on & zipped up ‘just in case’…

A hurried breakfast of cake & coffee & camp was empty of Trekkers by 3:55am.

We walked down to the checkpoint which was in darkness but achieved our goal of being first – just in time too as moments later another group of about 20 came down from the campsite & joined us. Behind πŸ™‚

The next hour & a half were cold, wet & boring. Nowhere to lean against to ‘nod back off’, just a damp perch to rest on while we waited. One by one torches were turned off to conserve batteries – & because there was nothing to look at anyway! It was pitch black. Slowly, at about 5:10am, it started to get lighted. Gradually the mountains & valleys came in to view as the darkness faded & the cloud filled valley started to clear. It was very misty, but very picturesque. Then, the checkpoint opened & the still of the last hour & a quarter was gone. Backpacks on & clipped in to place. We went through the gate & WE WERE OFF!

It reminded me a bit of greyhound racing. Where the dogs are all in their cages waiting excitedly, then they see the ‘hare’ go by & the traps doors are lifted… & they’re away, legs moving so fast they’re a blur – it was a bit like that. Except our legs were only blurred because we were all still half asleep! But the pace was manic!

We had no idea how long this bit was supposed to last for, or how far it was, or what the gradient was going to be like – I’m sure we’d been told, but my brain had deleted the info. So as we walked, hitting some really steep gradients & steps along the way, I could feel the energy starting to drain from me. Somehow I’d managed to start at the back – where I didn’t really want to be as I’d worked hard to stay near the front throughout – so in addition to the breakneck pace, I pushed myself even harder to find little ‘spaces’ either side of the guys in front to politely pass. By the time we actually reached the Sun Gate I was in the middle, which I was happy with πŸ™‚

The Sun Gate is the point at which the sun rises from the viewpoint of the Sun Temple in Machu Picchu. As such the views vice versa, from the Sun Gate towards the City, are amazing… on a clear morning. Which this morning was sadly not. It was a bit of an anti-climax. This had been the main reason for getting up so early & is always a gamble because the guides never know whether Machu Picchu is going to clear on any given morning until the actual time comes.

Other sad news was that Helena was now poorly with the stomach thing & was really struggling. Mind you, the pace probably wouldn’t have helped – it about finished me off!

We had a breather at the Sun Gate & then started off for the final part of the trail to the City. It was a steady downward path from the Gate to the City & by the time we reached it it was thickly shrouded in cloud. Every now & then the cloud would thin & reveal a tantalising glimpse, but we were going to have to be patient & wait for 9:00am when the sun would rise high enough to burn away the remaining clouds. With the time at 7:30am, we again settled down patiently.

Aneke & Chris, who hadn’t done the trail, were waiting for us with Angel, & it was great to hear their news as we waited – Aneke had done the Lares Trek while Chris had taken the opportunity to further explore Cusco & to visit The Sacred Valley of the Incas. Angel had very kindly bought a bottle of ‘Champagne’ & some little glasses so after we’d toasted our success we gathered for some group photos & to thank Henry & Enrique for their work guiding us through the trail over the 4 days.

9:00am came. There it was. The Lost City of Machu Picchu. It was absolutely breathtaking. To think that I was standing in the very spot where all the photos I’d seen in the books & on the Internet before I came was boggling. Aside from that, to think I was standing where ancient Incas had stood over 500 years ago, where they had walked, where they had worked, where they had worshipped… just awesome. & to think I had walked here along the same paths they had walked, along the paths they had made by hand over a period of hundreds of years… just too big for my little brain.

I wandered round, half listening to what Henry was telling us, half drifting off in to my own imagination of what might have taken place in each of these perfectly built rooms, looking to the Sun Gate to see where we had walked down from & imagining Inca people looking to the same place, from where I was standing, in a completely different space in time. I was a very happy chap πŸ™‚

It’s thought that the people of Machu Picchu fled the City before the Spanish ever found it. Other towns had been found & destroyed by the Spanish because traffic & trade had led them to it. With Machu Picchu being deserted before the Spanish even got that deep in to the valleys – & with it being so high – it just ‘got missed’, which explains why it is so remarkably intact. With the Inca tribes of the north fighting the Inca tribes of the south – & with their unsophisticated weaponry compared to the Spanish – it was an easy task for the Spanish to conquer & defeat the Inca people.

Machu Picchu remained hidden for nearly 400 years until it was ‘discovered’ by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911. The vegetation that had grown to cover the city over the last 400 years was painstakingly removed over the years that followed, between 1912 & 1915. The city that was revealed was almost as it had been left the day the Incas had fled. A piece of time, freeze framed.

The City is both the best & the least known of the Inca ruins. It isn’t mentioned in any of the chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors (for the reasons mentioned above) & archeologists today can do no more than speculate on its function. The local Quechua (Inca decendants) farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, but it wasn’t until an 11 year old boy led the American historian (who was actually in search of Vilcabamba) to the site that the rest of the world became aware of its existence.

We spent hours walking round the City – until we had reached saturation point I think – then one by one we walked down to the exit & caught the bus down in to the town of Aguascalientes for some lunch & to wait for our train.

The train journey took as back past the point at which we had started at ‘Kilometre 82’ – it seemed so long ago now, but in reality had only been a few days ago. We were all pretty smelly, definitely exhausted, but happily content at what we’d achieved – & certainly still in total awe of what we had seen.

We disembarked at ican’trememberwherebecausemybrainhasgonetosleep & hopped on the GAP minibus for a 2 hour drive back to Cusco where we collapsed in to our rooms & very quickly drained the hotel of every drop of hot water!

It was suggested that we had a ‘night out’ after dinner, but even the youngsters were slow to agree… I was whacked, so as soon as we’d finished eating (I had an Alpaca cheeseburger & a very large glass of red wine – very nice!) I headed back to the hotel with Mike & John & after a quick catch up on emails from home I hit the sack – hard!

A free day in Cusco tomorrow, before heading off to the Amazon Rainforest for 2 nights on Tuesday. So tomorrow will be gift day – up early, get sorted, hit the town. I have some ideas πŸ™‚

Signing off, powering down, refuelling. Adios πŸ™‚