Hoping to reach the Machu Pichu entrance by sunrise, we were walking by 4:30 am, using our flashlights to guide our feet away from puddles of mud. Last night, the cooks gave each of us a bag with breakfast - sandwich, juicebox, and toffees. As we started our ascent up the mountain to Machu Pichu, I drank some of the juice. Bad idea.
Steep stairs were built into the moutain, twisting and turning so I wouldn´t know how much I had left to climb. It was one big mind game. The juice sloshed around in my empty stomach, making me nauseous. It wasn´t as bad as Day 2, but the stairs were so steep that I had to stop periodically. Nikhil was my motivator, waiting until I caught my breath and pushing me to move on. "Walk twenty steps and then take a five second break," he´d say. My break would stretch to ten seconds...ten very slow seconds. By the second half of the climb I didn´t stop as often, maybe twice in total. I had also started hearing screams of triumph as people were reaching the top, pushing me to keep going. We missed sunrise, since I was so slow. Besides, it rained last night and there was still plenty of cloud cover. We wouldn´t have seen a sunrise in the first place. The total climb took an hour and a half.
When we reached the entrance gate, there was already a huge line of visitors, waiting for a ticket just as I was. Within Machu Pichu there stands a grand mountain called Wayna Pichu. A shopkeeper we befriended in Cusco gave Nikhil a stone egg to bury in Wayna Pichu and prayers to recite while he would do so. However, there are only two times a set number of people can gain entrance into Wayna Pichu. The first four hundred people who enter Machu Pichu get a stamp on their ticket with a number (The first person to enter is #1, the second is #2, you get the idea). These "Reserved" status entrees have first access to Wayna Pichu, with two hundred allowed at 7 am and the other two hundred at 11 am. Sucharit was part of this exclusive 400 and was standing at the Wayna Pichu checkpoint line when we met him. Maybe some people with "Reserved" status won´t go to Wayna Pichu, opening up some spots for the rest of us. With that in mind, Nikhil and I stood in line with the others. The line started moving, and we were getting closer to the entrance. We were just about to enter when a guard stuck his hand in front of Nikhil. Two hundred people had gone in already. Nikhil was #201 and I was #202. Just our luck. A guard took us aside and tried offering tickets if we paid 20 soles each. We declined his invitation to bribe.
It started raining again. We explored Machu Pichu, marvelling at the perfection of the Incan walls and smooth, grassy terraces. At 10:15, Nikhil left to get in line for Wayna Pichu. Thirty minutes later, I joined him. Maybe this time we would get in. Once again, the line started moving and the next two hundred were slowly entering the gates. Once again, we were inches from the door when a group of three people with "Reserved" tickets showed up and were admitted before us. "There are still five more spots still 400," Nikhil said as he peeked at the register. Our relief was short-lived. Exactly at that moment, five more people showed up with "Reserved" tickets. We were not going to be shut out again after getting so close.
"We´ve come all the way from India. It´s so far. Please let us in!" Our pleas were heard by a sympathetic guard inside, who recognized us from earlier. In the register, he marked the couple before us at #399. We were #400, the last ones to enter Wayna Pichu on July 26, 2009. Just our luck.
Wayna Pichu was much more special to me than Machu Pichu. Wayna Pichu was a maze of stairs, just like every path I had encountered today. Most of the stairs up this mountain were at least a foot high. An hour of hauling myself up these stone steps led to a gorgeous view with narrow paths and sheer drops. Machu Pichu looked insignificant from up here, the tourists colorful polka dots. There were ruins and temples on this mountain as well, and a cloudy white mist floated in front of me. We walked some more and climbed to the summit, enjoying chocolate chip cookies and the world below us. This is what it must feel like to be a bird, I thought. Except for the vertigo I felt whenever I looked down. Nikhil was standing on the edge of the cliffs, looking down unflinchingly. He´s crazy.
Stairs to get down to Machu Pichu. More stairs to get down to Aguas Calientes. More stairs to get up to our hotel, and then stairs to get down from the hotel with our bags. My legs were fine, but my feet were exhausted. A two hour train ride and an hour bus ride later, we were in Cusco. I dropped into bed. It was 10 pm. We had finished the Salkantay Trek and seen Machu Pichu. The $170 dollars were worth every cent.