Day 9 — Hike with a View

Saturday — April 11

A sunrise visit to Machu Picchu — that’s how I had hoped to start my birthday celebration (I won’t say which one, but will give you a hint that it includes a “5” and a “0” — wink, wink). Mother Nature had other plans in store for us, however. Waking up to heavy rain, we rolled with the punches and altered our plans. Instead of going up to the ruins on the first shuttle bus, we took our time over breakfast and walked around the Inkaterra property for a bit before heading to the bus stop in a heavy drizzle that we hoped would clear up before long.

We were shocked to see the long line at the bus stop when we arrived around 8:00a. We heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief when we found out that most of the people were (a) in line to buy tickets, and (b) waiting on group members to show up. Whew!!! With our tickets already in hand, we bypassed the queue and got on the next bus going up. By 8:30a, we were inside the ruins, considering our options for the day as we walked up to the caretaker’s hut.

Buy your bus tickets in advance and save time.

When we first started planning our days at Machu Picchu, I had put the Huayna Picchu hike on the list of things to do. Later, I replaced that with a trek on the less-traveled trail on Apu Machu Picchu. Another option was to hike the ridge trail through the sanctuary to Intipunku, the “Gate of the Sun.” Since it was still raining when we reached the caretaker’s hut, we opted for the latter as the easiest and safest hike for the morning.

We model the latest in “chic” rain attire on the trail to Intipunku!

Intipunku was a traffic checkpoint along the Camino Inca. It was used to control entry into Machu Picchu and it was where long-ago visitors caught their first glimpse of the impressive city hidden in the cloud forest. Today’s modern-day trekkers come through this gate to enter the royal estate that is laid far below the trail. While we may not be able to say that we “hiked” the Camino Inca, by going to Intipunku, we can truthfully say that we hiked “on” the Inca Trail. (Those who have done the four-day hike, will appreciate the distinction I am making.)

I can’t say that the trail was strenuous, but it was no walk in the park either. For the most part, there was just a slight up-grade to the trail and it was easy to walk, but there were a few really steep places to add a challenge or two. And of course, there were the ubiquitous “Inca steps” to negotiate along the way.

There were very few people on the trail — a group doing a fast-paced, guided “orchid walk,” (they quickly disappeared into the fog) and a couple of individual hikers intent on getting to the top (perhaps they were daytrippers with limited time at the ruins). Granted, with the entire area socked in by fog, there wasn’t much reason to dally, but we took our time, stopping to “smell the orchids,” so to speak, as we made the most of an experience that we knew we would not be repeating anytime soon.

Orchids are easy to find along the trail to Intipunku.

This is one of the steepest parts of the trail. Can you see me coming up?

For the most part, the people who were coming down as we were going up didn’t look too happy — no views from the top. There were a few, however, who had managed to get a glimpse of the sanctuary in its full glory when the sun broke through for a few minutes. Hoping for an experience similar to theirs, we pressed on to reach the Sun Gate to see a fabulous view of …………………..… nothing!

The sanctuary is completely socked in by fog.

Undaunted, we joined the couple of people sitting around, hoping against hope for the weather to clear. At least it wasn’t raining anymore. We waited, and we waited. People came; people left. A few hardy souls like us persevered. Occasional glimpses of the scenery through cracks in the passing clouds whetted our appetite to see the sanctuary unveiled, so we waited some more.

Occasional peeks at the scenery encourage us to wait for the weather to clear.

All the while, we chatted with the other persistent (some might say “stubborn”) visitors at Intipunku; we checked out the Inca Trail leading up from the other side — an eagle-eyed guard made sure that none of us snuck off down the trail; we studied the birds and the bugs; and I got serenaded by complete strangers who somehow found out that it was my birthday — I wonder who spilled the beans!

Will patience reward Mui with a good video op? We hope so.

Photo op at the point where the Inca Trail arrives at Intipunku.

A rufous-collared sparrow and ….

… a cicada join us in our vigil at Intipunku.

An hour later, our patience and persistence was rewarded with a spectacular view of the sanctuary and the surrounding landscape. Was it worth the wait? ABSOLUTELY!

The view is definitely worth the wait.

A “we were there” photo op from Intipunku
(photo taken by a fellow visitor)

Next Up: Day 9 — Flowers, Llamas, and Ruins

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