Sunday, May 9

Steve: Our peak out the window at 5:30AM revealed a crystal-clear sky, just beginning to glow from the rising sun. Although still tired, the anticipation of watching the sun rise over the mountains and gradually illuminate Machu Picchu helped us awaken quickly and arrive at the entrance gate again just as it opened at 6:00AM.

This morning's walk up to the guard house led to an outcome very different from yesterday. When we reached the overlook, we had a perfect view of Machu Picchu layered by wisps of clouds that were moving quickly through the Urubamba valley and hanging in and around the contours of the site. Spectacular! This was a sight we had seen in many pictures, and were hoping to witness in person. Looking toward the west, we could see the top of the snow-capped Pumaclove Mountains, just starting to be brightened by sunlight. In the east we could see a faint glow just starting to rise over the Veronica Mountains. The sky above was absolutely clear and the air perfectly still. This was an absolute perfect setting for a sunrise.

In the still and quiet of the morning, we were also greeted by several llamas that were grazing on the terraces by the guard house. They seemed to want to pose for us as we took some pictures with mountains in the background.

We stayed up at the terraces for almost two hours and were treated to an absolutely wonderful display as the sun rose and various cloud formations swept through the valley toward Machu Picchu. We'd watch as a cloud would approach from the east, totally obscure the ruins, and then dissipate just as quickly to leave us again with an absolutely clear view of the site. At times, thinner wisps would advance toward Machu Picchu and wrap themselves around the contour of the various structures and land formations below. They created particularly mystical effects and it was great to watch these formations float through the site. At one point we watched as a single cloud formed right in the center of Machu Picchu at the base of Huayna Picchu, hanging magically over the ruins.



As the sun finally crept over the Veronica Mountains, sunlight began to appear along the eastern face of Machu Picchu, gradually illuminating the entire site. We could actually see the rays of light emanating from the mountains and becoming brighter as the sun continued to rise. Even with the warming air, several clouds remained in the valley and the combination of sunlight with various cloud formations over Machu Picchu was particularly wonderful.

We literally couldn't stop taking pictures, trying to capture the various moods that the changing light and fluid cloud formations created over Machu Picchu. This evening we had to sort through all the pictures, trying to save a smaller set that hopefully communicates some of what we saw during our awesome morning.





























After breakfast, we met Hilda and began a hike that led from the terraces by the guard house, along a ridge, and eventually to an Inca bridge that was built right alongside a huge cliff. We hiked for about 40 minutes, led by a local and very friendly dog that accompanied us this morning (David and Katie named him "Machu"). The Inca bridge was constructed of stone, with a large gap that was normally filled with logs. The Incas used this as an escape mechanism. In case of any sort of enemy invasion at Machu Picchu, the Incas could retreat on this trail, cross the bridge, and then remove the logs so that no one could follow. Today, the trail leading up to the bridge is closed because of the danger involved in negotiating the cliff. Apparently there has been at least one fatality involving a tourist who was trying to cross the bridge. After admiring the bridge, we returned to the guard house and rested on the terraces, happy for the opportunity to view Machu Picchu under today's bright blue skies.

Following lunch we all gathered books and found a shady spot in the ruins where we spent the rest of our time here relaxing and reading. It was particularly interesting to review the pictures of Machu Picchu in Bingham's book with Hilda, comparing them to how the ruins appear today.












Finally it was time to leave, and we boarded a bus down to Aguas Calientes where we'd catch a 4:45PM train back to Ollantaytambo. Aguas Calientes is primarily a tourist town, surrounded by huge cliffs that seem to entirely surround it. This is also the place where recent landslides killed 11 people, and we were able to see much of the destruction during our time here today. We spent our time strolling through the town and its shops, waiting for our train to depart.

After arriving back at Ollantaytambo we were driven to Urubamba for the evening. Tomorrow we'll be spending time in the nearby towns of Chinchero and Maras.












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