Day Four, our last day on the trail, my alarm went off at 250am. I wasn't confident that I could ready myself in 20 minutes and there was no way I was going to hold my group up, jeopardising our place in the queue.
Everyone had the same idea. We opted for a boxed breakfast instead of a sit down affair to gain a further advantage and we all but ran to the checkpoint. We were third in line.
The checkpoint has a few benches covered by a tin roof. Unless you arrive early you have to sit on the ground and up in the cloud forest rain is frequent. Lucky for us we had a bench and a roof. The wait began. It was cold, we shivered, danced, anything to keep up warm.
One thing you need to realise about the Inca Trail is that it's actually proper dangerous. The paths are often very narrow and the drop, if you lose your footing, can be many hundred metres down meaning certain death. Just a few years ago, our guide told us, a girl who was not paying attention to her footing fell over the precipice to her death. All it takes is one moment of inattention. We were all aware of this at all times.
The atmosphere at the checkpoint was strange, so many people lining up to get into the last leg. At any one time there can be up to 500 people on the trail, 200 tourists and 300 service providers (including porters and guides).
The wait was long, the night was still dark and when those gates were opened everyone filed through. The track was narrow making it dangerous to pass other groups except in wider areas. By now we realised our group was quite fast and we needed to overtake the other groups - our mission was to reach the Sun Gate before anyone else.
In parts we ran, overtaking slower groups, at last we were in front. The kept a good pace along the narrow track, over bridges, bypassing landslides and focusing on the ground before us not the sheer drop that was less than a metre to our right.
Just before the Sun Gate is a wall of stairs, we used hands and feet to scramble to the top and we arrived number 8 and 9 to the top. Our group were the first. Success. Traditionally this would be the first time we would see Machu Picchu but the most swirled thick above it Wyuana Picchu, the mountain Dean and I crazily signed up to climb later that afternoon.
That was the moment of elation. Watching as each person stumbled over the crest panting from exertion. There were high fives all around and an eagerness to be the first group down to Machu Picchu.
Another 30 minutes down and we reached the top of the sacred sight, fittingly it was here we saw the sacrificial stone. A place where children were given up to the gods in answer to a natural disaster that wreaked havoc on the land, the Inca’s answer was to spill blood to appease their gods.
It felt like I had been waiting a lifetime to see this town nestled in the mountains and it didn't disappoint. We wandered down from the Sun Gate down into the Citadel where we took the classic shot.
At this point I need to point out the obvious, we had walked for 4 days to reach this point. We arrived at 730am, Machu Picchu opens at 6am, other people were already wandering around inside. We were painfully aware that we were less than fresh smelling, whilst the people around us we doused in sweet smelling fragrances and dressed in clean clothes.
We stifled laughter as people huffed and puffed walking up the couple of hundred steps inside the Citadel with the use of walking poles. We toured around the city but the real excitement was the feeling of elation at completing the trek.
After farewelling our trekking group Dean and I climbed Wyuana Picchu, another 2 hour round trip. This is not something I recommend, not because it's hard, because the people who by and large do it are ill equipped both in skill and attitude. So many times we saw people scrambling out onto unsafe rocks for the perfect selfie.
We didn't let this dampen our day, we continued to explore Machu Picchu on our own until the afternoon when we headed down to Aguas Calientes, where we would stay the night. We showered, finally, and went to bed for a quick nap before dinner around 5pm. We woke up at 530am, I guess we were tired.
All in all the trek was an amazing experience, something I would do again in a heartbeat. For me the journey was the destination, and it's something that will stay with me as an accomplishment for all my days.