Our main reason for waking up at 3:30 was, get this, we were scared of missing the sunrise. The sun was supposed to rise at 6am but we were also told that the gates only opened at 6am. A conundrum we did not ponder. So we silently awoke with our 3:30 alarm, took what we needed and set out. The moon was bright and we hardly needed Marco’s flashlight.
Just outside of Aguas Callientes there is a campground for $5 per tent. Just outside this campground, on the road, we saw the tent of the Americans. It was so predictably funny and absurd. It reminded me of how I travelled in Turkey when I was 20. Sustainable for a few weeks, harmful over a few months and a spiritual killer over a few years.
We continued on the path and encountered some Frenchmen who were adjusting their packs. They had got up extra early to be the first ones to Machu Pichu. “When we get there we will be heros.” Francois explained. Two of them (it turned out they were twins) had asthma and could not go fast. We soon passed them and continued up the stone Inca trail into the darkness.
We were overtaken by a local man, presumably the ticket seller. We had been going 45 minutes and asked him if we were about halfway. “Not yet!” he yelled behind him as he scampered up.
A half hour later met a Japanese couple who were resting by the road. There was a sort of formulaic conversation that took place anytime tourists met on this trail. First we would greet eachother in Spanish. Then where are you from? How many people did you pass? How many passed you? From this information, calculating in the speed of the people we had met, we could accurately estimate how many were at the top.
Having heard the terrible stories of $7 burgers and $3 cokes at the top, we were overloaded with food. Despite this we progressed fairly quickly, taking turns to carry our one backpack. We had a really funny trading etiquette. Trading was initiated by one of us asking to carry the pack. The other would immediately say, “Oh no. Just a little longer” and then after another minute or so they would say “Oh, that’s just about right” and hand off the pack to the other person. Actually if I remember it correctly it was Marco who always asked for the extra 2 minutes, I think I remember giving up the pack as soon as I was asked.
We made it to the top as about the 12th people up. Everyone had been concerned with being first up: the first tourist into Machu Pichu. They were kitted out in headlamps and hiking poles. Marcos and I had been only worried about the money for the bus and being able to see the sunrise. We were determined not to miss it.
As we sat about lazily for the next 45 minutes, I thought back over our decision to get up so early and also about my own decision not to bring a warm second layer. I was sitting at 3,000 meters in a T-shirt soaked in sweat. I was very cold. At about 5:50 a bus showed up and people started pouring off. A line quickly formed of those who had walked up to prevent anyone from taking their place.
A LINE QUICKLY FORMED
They should not have worried because the bus people formed a second line to the right. I asked what it was for. A lady told me it was for people who had prebought tickets. Prebought tickets!!!! No one who had walked had prebought tickets. the whole idea smacked of cheating! A few minutes later the people who ran the show opened the booth and the hordes of people from the bus poured in ahead of those who’d walked. The first tourist into Machu Pichu was not some trekker with a headlamp but a pushy middle-aged lady with a ticket.
Marcos and I bought our tickets and hurried through the gates, eager to find the best spot for watching the sunrise.