Machu Picchu, Merry Christmas

We were so excited about today. We didn’t get the best sleep as we had to be up at 4am to ensure we got the first train up the mountain. On top of that Peruvians celebrate Christmas on the night of the 24th and from about 10pm culminating in an epic finale at 12, fireworks could be heard right outside our window. Tim got up and peaked out the window and said the street looked like one in war torn Beirut. But we still managed to get a few hours of sleep so we were ready and raring to go!
We got down at 4:30 about an hour before the bus was due to leave at 5.30am and there were only about 5 other people so we were definitely going to be on the first bus! 
You can actually walk up to the gate at Machu Picchu but it is a very steep climb which takes you about an hour. After much deliberation (about 2 seconds) we decided as it was Christmas we would take the easy way up. We did feel slightly bad when we arrived at the gate and there were walkers staggering up behind us, very short of breath and covered in sweat looking at us with daggers!
At 6am we were allowed in and quickly made our way up to the building called the guardhouse to get the epic overview of the whole site hopefully without too many people. Now the weather for the last two days hadn’t been that great with it raining most of the previous day at Aguas Calientes. We had also heard that clouds can come into the site very quickly and obstruct the whole view. We had decided to not get our hopes up and when we made it to the guard house you could not see a thing….
But within minutes of our arrival the clouds almost like magic slowly parted and revealed Machu Picchu. Just as you thought it was all there the clouds kept retreating and more and more terraces were revealed. It was spectacular! The size of it was surprising and the way in which it was incorporated into the mountain was amazing.
So much speculation revolves around Machu Picchu. Originally thought to be discovered by American Hiram Bingham in 1911, in reality the native Indians were always aware of it but never were inclined to reveal it. Fair enough really considering their horrendous treatment by the settlers. Nobody really knows the exact purpose of the city or why the inhabitants abandoned it though they do know the Spanish never found it (hence why it was in such good shape) and that is was built somewhere in the 15th century.
The mind blowing thing about the place is how the Incas managed to build such an amazing city, high atop a mountain with primative tools and no written language. Their skills with stone is like an art form and the way they built the buildings, trying to disturb the natural scene as little as possible means that their plans (if they had any) would have constantly been changing. 
So after we spent about half an hour admiring the view we decided to go explore! At the highest point of the city there was the Intihuatana (hitching post of the sun) which is a weird looking stone that the Incas used to track the seasons via the sun. The Spanish priests would destroy these whenever they found them elsewhere as they were closely tied to the Incas belief of worshipping the sun and moon. It is one of only a few left.
One of my favorite buildings was the temple of the Condor. A little imagination was needed but you could actually make out a shape of a condor in the rock formations. The temple had some significance with the dead but as we were listening to all the different tour guides and their varying stories we couldn’t make out exactly which was correct.
We had a ticket to climb Machu Picchu mountain so after we spent several hours exploring the ruins and a lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches we decided to give the hike a go. We had heard it was a tough 500m ascent to the top which would take about 2 hours and they were not lying! It was crazy hard with some of the steps being very steep and also very narrow but we made it and when we got to the top the view was obscured by cloud and it was raining…
We were determined to see the sight so we sat down to wait it out. About 20 mins into the wait the clouds cleared and we got the perfect shot! 
The way back down was really cool as the clouds had cleared and we got to enjoy the views. When we got to the bottom we decided that we wanted to walk out to see the Inca Bridge which was a short 30min walk down a narrow track on a cliff side. It’s still amazing how they built these paths and the view at the end was well worth it.
Back down we decided we had seen everything and headed home via the path instead of the bus. We were very glad we took the bus on the way up as it was relentless! We were both starving by the time we got back to town and treated ourselves to a wonderful dinner to make up for our packed lunch for Christmas. 
The whole day was just perfect from beginning to end. To have the sight revealed to us with the clouds parting was an amazing start and from then on it was just one wondrous sight after another. It was amazing how few people were there and for the first couple of hours we got to enjoy ourselves with no one else around.   S  

The first glimpse after we arrived on the first bus.
  

The clouds gradually lifting to reveal Machu Picchu in all its wonder

  

Different parts of the sight becoming visable
  

Patience and the cloud had dispersed and we had unwrapped our Christmas present.  Truely an amazing sight.

  

Sarah at the main entrance.
  

Intihuatana or hitching post of the sun

  

The stone work is just amazing.
  

Walking around the ruins with hardly anyone else there was very special.

  
    

The Condor Temple where sacrifices were made.  The incredible thing is how the stone work has been built around the condor’s wings.
  

Local residents

  
    
    
    
  

Time to climb Machu Picchu mountain.  The paths up were fairly good, but the steps were often very big, steep, narrow and with a fair drop beside them.

  
No Handrails here

  

Finally reached the top of the mountain.
    

This shot was actually the view that greeted us, but to be fair we were a little tired after the climb so we’re happy to sit down and wait for the clouds to clear.
  

What a reward!

  

The paths the Incas built are really amazing. 
  

The Incan bridge.  The bridge was built so that the wood could be removed in times of attack!

  
Our last views of Machu Picchu, very sad to say goodbye.

  

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