Salkantay Trek – Day 5
We met at 4:30 AM to begin the walk up to Machu Picchu. It was a full 45 minutes of climbing steep, stone steps in the dark before we reached the gate. If I look sweaty and tired in my pictures, it’s because I was. The entire group was hot and sweaty by the time we reached the top, despite the morning being cold. We were admitted through the gate and had a two hour tour guided by Reuben.
I had met other travelers along the way who weren’t too impressed by Machu Picchu, but I’m not one of them. It must have been an amazing place when it was occupied. The stone terraces used for farming were cleverly engineered to withstand the rainy season and make good use of water in the dry season. There were aqueducts for transporting clean water from natural springs. This seemed somewhat ironic to me since some of the villages we passed on the way did not have running water yet. The Incas had even used the terraces to adapt low elevation plants to grow in high elevation. They would plant them in the lowest terraces and slowly move them up to higher ones. They also transported fertile soil from Cusco to the terraces.
There were three styles of stone work. In one, each stone was cut to fit those beside it perfectly without mortar. Some historians have written that they were so perfectly cut a single blade of grass couldn’t fit between them. The buildings were constructed around boulders and rock formations becaus
e some Incas did not believe in changing Pachamama’s landscape design. The buildings were also built to withstand earthquakes which are common in the area. Rather than constructing vertically plumb walls, many of the walls, windows and doorways were trapezoidal, each inclined slightly to the inside of the building.
At the end of the tour, we all said goodbye. I think I could have held it together if Reuben hadn’t said, “Goodbye my Champions, my family!” I had to laugh but I actually cried a few tears too. I really enjoyed the group and was sad to see them go.
I dried my eyes and spent the rest of the morning wandering through the ruins. There were dramatic views below of the incredibly steep hills and the thundering river with its huge, smooth boulders. I could see why the Incas thought the area was sacred. It was awe inspiring to just sit quietly and observe everything around me. Tourists came and went, taking photos and breathing hard. The sun travelled overhead and went from sharply lighting one side of the mountain to the other.
As the afternoon got hot, I went down the long stone staircase back to town and took a train and a bus to end the night in Cusco.