The wake up call comes at 4am and we drag ourselves up off the concrete floor (cushioned only by a camp mat) that has been out bed for the night. We have to get up and packed so that the porters can run down the mountain and catch the 6am train to Cusco.
Breakfast of pancakes and caramel and they're packing the tents as I drag the rucksacks from inside. We're ready with torches and head to stand in the queue at the park entrance which doesn't open until 5:30am.
There's about 8 groups in front of us but Victor's pace takes us forward at lightening speed and I've ALMOST forgotten how painful my legs feel: first i think it's just going up stairs that is painful .. then i find that it's just as bad going down.
It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the sun gate and the first glimpse of MP astride a mountain. We're quite far off and it looks pretty small from here, but no doubt impressive. Gradually, we wait for the sun to rise and illuminate the buildings ... there's no beautiful orange sunrise, but just this gradual covering of the structure with the sun rays.
It's another 45 mins or so walk down to the complex for our 'family photo' in front of the ruins. The sheer size of the complex then becomes apparent. I also try to imagine what the place must have looked like when Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911 when it was over-run with vegetation.
Machu Picchu (Quechua: Old Mountain; sometimes called the "Lost City of the Incas") is a well-preserved pre-Columbian Inca ruin located on a high mountain ridge. Machu Picchu is located above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, about 70 km (44 mi) northwest of Cusco. Forgotten for centuries by the outside world, although not by locals, it was brought back to international attention by Yale archeologist Hiram Bingham who rediscovered it in 1911, and wrote a best-selling work about it. Peru is pursuing legal efforts to get back thousands of artifacts that Bingham removed from the site.
It is thought that the city was built by the Sapa Inca Pachacuti, starting in about 1440, and was inhabited until the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1532. Archeological evidence (together with recent work on early colonial documents) shows that Machu Picchu was not a conventional city, but a country retreat town for Inca nobility (similar to the Roman villas). The site has a large palace and temples to Inca deities around a courtyard, with other buildings for support staff. It is estimated that a maximum of only about 750 people resided in Machu Picchu at any one time, and probably only a small fraction of that number lived in the town during the rainy season and when none of the nobility were visiting.
Machu Picchu really is one of the most amazing sites that I have seen on my trip. The location of the site is probably the most impressive aspect: perched on a mountain and not easily accessible, even in this day and age (although there is talk of putting a cable-car up to it which has met local opposition - quite rightly, in my opinion). Walking around the site requires stamina and agility!
The Incas used a technique to make stone walls that did not require any mortar ... yet the stones are fitted together so tightly that often a knife cannot be put between them. Both in Cusco and here, Inca walls of this build have survived many an earthquake. Also, it's interesting to know that the incas did not use the wheel at all or have horses or donkeys ... the only animals for carrying at that time were llamas and guanacos. It's likely that the large blocks of stone were simply pushed into place by strong Inca men.