there are two reasons we woke up at 3:45 am on the last day
1. if you wake up really early and hike your ass off, rushing past other groups on the trail, you can get to the "sun gate" in time to watch the sun rise above the mountains and shine onto machupicchu.
2. (pay attention because this information will come back later!) we were informed that if the porters leave late they will miss their train back to cusco. apparently, peru rail only has two "local" trains a day, one at like 5:30 am and one at night. there are more expensive "tourist" trains during the day, but the porters cannot afford the tourist trains. so what happens if the porters miss their early train, you ask? don't they just wait 12 hours for the evening train? no, dear blog readers. these badass porters actually WALK back to cusco, with all the shit they've been carrying for 4 days. now, as much as it pains me to wake up at 3:45 am, i couldn't live with myself if i chose to sleep late and then forced the porters to walk the 30 or so miles back to cusco. and i'm sure they don't get paid extra if they miss their train and walk.
so with much grumbling (more about this later!) we all eat breakfast in the dark and then make our way, flashlights in hand, to the sun gate. now, we were told that everyone is trying to rush to the sun gate at the same time so the bolshevik and i decide that we are going to pull out all the stops and use our last bits of energy to get to the sungate as quickly as possible. even though i was wearing my backpack again, i was a renewed woman, zipping past all these suckers who were stopping to do such silly things as taking pictures and trying to breathe. we watched as the sky got brighter and brighter, hoping that we would make it to the sun gate before the sun appeared from behind the mountains.
our fearless guide had told us that right before the sun gate there would be "50 steps." fifty steps? that's all you got? according to our fearless guide we had already done 3,000 steps! what's another fifty? but when we got to the fifty steps we were a bit alarmed when we saw that they were straight up. more than "steps" i would say they were 50 stone notches in a wall. instead of walking up them as one would walk up stairs, we had to ditch our walking sticks and crawl up them one by one. halfway up i had to stop to pant for air for a while, but eventually i made it to the top.
we walked through the stone pillars of the sun gate and once we were through we could see machupicchu below us on the other side of the mountain. it was still shrouded in darkness, and we breathed a sigh of relief that after all our hardwork (and some annoyances that will be discussed later) we had made it in time for the sunrise.
a few minutes later the sun emerged from behind the mountains, with an incredible brightness. one of the guides explained that it you put your hands in the shape of a diamond (as though you were singing twinkle twinkle little star), the sun would shine on you through the diamond shape and the gods would grant you a wish.
then over the course of ten or fifteen minutes the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, completely illuminating machupicchu. and then we set off for the last hour of our hike to actually reach the site of machupicchu.
walking around the site of machupicchu was spectacular. it is so vast and impressive. it is amazing to think of anyone hiking through the mountains to this spot and then building such a huge organized city. and, our fearless guide explained that the incans built aqueducts below the city, which still work today. incredible.
after exploring the vast inca city, the bolshevik and i were pretty tuckered out. soon we took the bus to aguas calientes town, where we had lunch and beers with our guide and some of our fellow hikers. then we checked into our treehouse hotel room and took a nice long nap.