Location: Machu Pichu
When I heard my alarm go off at 3 am, I almost rolled over and shut it off, until I realized what day it was. Not only were we going to Machu Picchu but I was also the team leader for the day! I had been waiting for the esteemed position since our first day in Cusco. I slowly pulled myself out of bed and began getting ready for the long day we had ahead (little did I know how long it would be.) At 3:45 I was downstairs with all my luggage, everything was in place except for one factor: no one else was downstairs. As the team leader it was my job to wake everyone else up, something I knew my peers would not be happy about this early in the morning. I got the list of everyone’s room numbers from the front desk and began my trek back upstairs. With five minutes until the time that we were all supposed to meet downstairs, I realized that only a third of the group was awake. I knocked on their doors calling their names only to hear a faint moan in response. When I told them how much time they had to get ready, I finally got a half-hearted “okay.” At 4:10, almost everyone was downstairs, and we began preparing for the day. Luggage was placed aside, boxed lunches were handed out, and the groups of people that would be hiking to Machu Picchu or bussing up were decided. Despite the week-long cold I had and the sand still in my eyes from the sandman I decided that I would hike up, I was the team leader, and I had enough morale for everyone. We began our journey towards the sacred mountains, it was pitch black outside, and the cool wind gave us each a refreshing slap, Valentin had already begun to dig into his lunch. When we finally reached the entrance to start hiking the trail to get to Machu Picchu, I wondered why I chose this option. I could have been asleep on the bus. I told everyone my number, an optimistic ten, and we started up. The first thirty minutes were the hardest; as my breathing rapidly became heavier, Lucy kept track of how much time had passed. After another hour, the sun finally began to peek through the mountains, and we were almost at the end of this hike. We reached the entrance, and everyone looked exhausted, the hikers were all covered with a fine layer of mist and sweat. We met with the other group members and waited in a line to enter Machu Picchu. William, our tour guide, called this our break. As we walked along the narrow trail leading us further into the depths of Machu Picchu, I was astonished by the view. The mountains seemed to climb towards the clouds, and they were covered in an iridescent shade of green. Everyone in the group seemed to be taken aback by the mountains and the ruins, I felt so grateful to be a part of this moment. Our first stop was the Sun Gate, which was an hour-long hike up the mountain and was the “classic” Machu Picchu view. The hike was long and tiring to both those who had bussed and hiked their way up, but the view was worth it when we arrived. It’s difficult to describe the beauty of the sacred Inca city from the Sun Gate, but it is the most impressive thing I have ever seen. We relaxed, joked and ate lunch while enjoying the sight for about an hour — then we made our journey back down. On our way down, we occasionally stopped to learn the significance of a certain stone, ruin, or gathering place. At one point, we stopped to learn the history of Machu Picchu. I think that William could see the effects that waking up at 3 am had on us, so we decided to have a group nap in a clearing of grass overlooking the mountains. I wish I could say I enjoyed the view but I immediately fell asleep. After a restoring nap we continued our tour of the ruins, we learned the importance of the buildings and the intricate architecture of many structures. At midday we went back to the bus, everyone was sad to leave the beautiful city but glad that they could rest on the ride down. The rest of the day went by rather quickly; due to regional strikes, our train back to Ollantaytambo was delayed and possibly canceled. To treat ourselves, as I like to say, we got lunch at a delicious buffet, and everyone stuffed themselves with potatoes and Maracuya cheesecake. Afterward, we had free time to explore the lovely town of Aguas Calientes before heading down to the train station. We spent five hours waiting for our train. We passed the time listening to music, talking about the day, petting a dog we named Valentina and playing ninja, which was the most fun for me. Although the day was tiring, it was one of the most memorable. I enjoyed the quality time I spent with the group and our amazing experience at Machu Picchu.