An early wake up call, at 3am, and a brilliant sky filled with stars await on the last day of the Inca Trail. I pack hurriedly – the porters are leaving us this morning, but will drop our gear off in Agua Calientes. I mustn’t be late as that may cause them to miss their train home. It’s an almost full moon, and false dawn starts to creep over the horizon at about 5am.
The checkpoint into the Machu Picchu sanctuary opens, and our group finds itself ahead after a few minutes. Wilbur is setting a cracking pace, my sore ankle feels completely healed and I am about to see Machu Picchu in a few hours. The dawn is cool and the mist wreathes the mountain tops.
The ascent to the Sun Gate or Inti Punku, just as the sun rises, is the hardest, with steep, narrow stone steps. Carlos leaps up barefooted – he has been doing the entire trek without any footwear. At the top, we wait for our first glimpse of the fabled Machu Picchu – there, just through the fog, is a suggestion of stone buildings.
Wilbur hurries us onwards. From Inti Punku, it is just 20 minutes to Machu Picchu. I’m excited, bursting with adrenaline. I am following the paths of Inca pilgrims, who would have made the same journey on the Inca Trail, purifying themselves in the ritual baths, finding sustenance in the villages along the way. Their goal was the holy sanctuary of Machu Picchu, and I knew how they felt as they neared its hallowed stones.
For them, as for us, it was the journey that made the final destination more rewarding. The morning was still young, and the crowds that would soon arrive by train were yet absent. I stood watching, silent and lost in thought as the sun burned through the mist to reveal the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu.