Awe inspiring and I haven't even been into the ruins yet, the surroundings of the town are just incredible geography. It makes the "maginficent karst topography" of Laos seem quite ordinary.
Well now I have been to Machu Picchu ruins and I wasn't disappointed, infact I was quite astounded, photographs I'd seen previously just hadn't prepared me for the overall impression you get when you first see the whole thing. I got very, very wet the first day and a half and sunburnt today. I got up at 5am every morning, climbed every mountain there was to be climbed, some of them more than once, saw every view I think there was to be seen and went into every building that was possible to enter (and there are a lot of them).
First of all, I didn't actually do the Inca Trail, any of it, the main trail is closed in February to let it recover a bit. I took the rip-off Peru Rail train directly to the town of Agua Calientes or Pueblo Machu Picchu on the Sunday morning at 6am! It broke down a couple of hours into the journey and we were stranded at an intermediate station until they hitched it up to the local train when it got there. It was very reminiscent of many Indian railway journeys with most passengers walking up and down the platform wondering what was happening. Eventually we arrived at Agua Calientes an hour late in a torrential downpour. Fortunately I found somewhere to stay at a reasonable price and standard very quickly and when the rain eased I went for a look around the town.
I already knew that the ruins were about an hours uphill walk or a $12 bus-ride from town, when the rain stopped I decided to see what the walk was like. It was a realy good walk through the rainforest but very steep and quite slippery but the view from the top was fantastic. It took me just over an hour to the entrance of the park where I bought and drunk a bottle of water (I forgot to take any) then turned round and walked straight back as the ruins were only open for another 2 hours and at $20 entrance I thought I'd wait.
Monday was my full day in the park and I intended to be there from dawn until dusk, so I worked out that I had to start walking at about 5:30, my second 5am wake up in a row. I made it to the entrance at about 6:45 just before the first bus arrived, I could have been the first person in for the day except that I went to the toilet and the bus arrived. It was raining lightly and very foggy and cloudy so I decided (don't ask me to explain the logic) to carry on climbing up to a high view point and followed a few people who seemed to know where they were going, one was obviously a guide. Very quickly I'd overtaken all of them and the climb just went on and on, and on... (the sign at the bottom had said "Machu Pichu Mountain - 2 hours"). The rain got heavier and I'd virtually given up on my waterproofs as I was sweating so much, until during one downpour I just had to stand using my raincoat as a tent for 5 minutes. The climb was all Inca steps, lots of it through parts where the forest had almost taken it over, and some of it scary cliff-edge stuff. I finally got to the top after an hour and a half, soaked to the skin, I have no idea how my camera survived, even the plastic bag I had it in got wet inside. Anyway, when I got to the top and looked down all I could see were clouds, I didn't even know which direction MP was! After 5 or more minutes the cloud started to thin then all of a sudden MP started to materialise out of the clouds miles below. Eventually I got an almost perfect view of the whole place if not a little misty. I think I stayed at the top for about half an hour, as I was just starting back down I met another person coming up, he was one of the first people I overtook going up. He was horrified when I told him that the only way down was back the same way, he'd been going for 2.5 hours. The route back was trecherous, I fell 3 times, once quite heavily on my backside, fortunately the inca seemed to have the sense to put more effort into the cliff bits and make them relatively safe. As soon as I got back to the entrance I went out (no food or drink in the park) for a well deserved coffee and fried egg sandwich for about $100. I timed that quite badly becasue just as I was about to go back in all the tour groups from the train turned up and I had to queue with them and my very soggy ticket.
This time I decided to have a closer inspection of the ruins and made my way along one sector visiting almost every building in the section. I was really impressed by the scale of it, each building seemed to lead to another and another, most of them interconnecting in some way both up and down the side of the mountain. At the far edge of that section I came across the entrance for the climb up Huayna Picchu, the famous mountain usually seen behind the ruins (on that climb you have to sign in and back out again. I had planned to climb that mountain the second day but for some stupid reason I couldn't resist the urge and signed in. It was steeper than the first climb in parts but those sections had ropes fixed to the cliffs to help. Only 45 minutes of climbing this time but even waiting an hour at the top didn't give the slightest glimpse of a view. There was an alternate route back signposted as "Templo De Luna" and thinking it might be easier than the way I came up I took it, another stupid decision! It was 45 minutes down to the temple on the opposite side of the mountain and much lower than the original starting point. To get back to the gate was another arduous walk around and back up the mountain. I was utterly exhausted when I got to the check point, I started to make my way out of the park and the sun finally came out. I just had to climb up the few hundred feet to the guard hut for THE view of MP, the one that everyone has seen the photograph. Eventually I left the park and walked the hour back to town (but thankfully downhill). I was going to have 3 drinks that night for my 3 falls but after having a meal and a small beer I was in bed asleep by 10pm.