Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lost in the Pitch Dark Climbing to Machu Pichu

4 AM, the alarm rings, but most of us are already awake. There's literally no light in our windowless room, a result of a power outage scheduled to be fixed ... in a few days. We're in Peru, not Germany.
Rummaging through our bags, one of us finds their flash-light, using it to guide us out the door and down to the hostel lobby.
We set off at 4:15 AM, an effort to ease the suffering of the worry-bots of our crew who believe that if we aren't the first through iconic city's gates at 6 AM we'll be doomed to "unsavory, awful photos with people in them which would not be "fit for posting."
With battery powered headlamps illuminating, we make our way through the dark streets of Aguas Calientes, then down an uneven path towards the mountain's base.

A half hour later we arrive at the bridge over the rushing river. I'm shocked to see about 35 people already waiting. Two friendly dogs mingle with the the UN sponsored collection of tourists. By the time 4:59 AM rolls around, the ranks waiting for the bridge to open have swelled to 80; apparently others are also worried about "quality photos" as well.
Now while everyone is doing what everyone else is a doing (a psychological phenomenon known as 'Social Proof,') which is huddling around a shack containing a couple government workers, I break away from the pack and stand by the bridge's gate. Sure enough, when 5 AM strikes, and the fence rolls back, I'm first to show my ticket and passport, then cross, listening to, but unable to see, the river raging below me.

I start hiking up ancient stone steps, the last leg of the Inca Trail. The mountain is steep and there are arrows pointing me back to the path as I cross the dirt road the buses use as they wind up the the steep hill. Buses are allowed to start ascending at 5:30 AM, giving hikers a head start.
Now, there's still no light in the sky, so I'm using my cell phone as a torch, and as I climb through the jungle in the pitch dark alone, I imagine all the invisible nocturnal hunters that might be near- jaguars anaconda, dragons etc.
At that very moment, an animal races by my legs. Fear momentarily overtakes my body as I shine the torch in its direction, bracing myself for imminent attack. It's one of the dogs from below. Another animal rushes by me like the wind, the other pup.
my guide waits for me a couple stones up (cell phone flash)
I laugh, relieved, and gently call them to me, petting them. Once I deem them sufficiently tamed, my two canine guides and I start once again ascending through the pitch-black. I imagine myself an ancient Incan warrior, arriving back home after many years of exploration.

Twenty minutes later the roads have stopped crossing the path, the stone steps more jagged and farther between. Suddenly the realization comes, I haven't seen anyone else on the trail, I'm alone. True, I got out of the gate first, but I'm not the speediest walker. I stop and wait 30 seconds, no one joins me, silence reigns.
Alright, well so be it, I'm continuing up. Ten minutes later I turn around, and decide to wait a full minute- no one appears save my guides racing around me.
hurry up Rich
I seem to be off here. Did I take a wrong turn? Am I lost on this mountain? How come no one's caught up? It doesn't make sense. Am I going up the wrong way? Maybe I found a backroad into the city. Should I go back to the base of the hill and start over?
Nah ... This will make for a better story. I keep climbing, the lost explorer keeps moving in the wrong direction.
Yup, for sure now, no more signs, no more arrows ... the upshot is there's a glimmer of light on the horizon. I'm lost, but since when in mankind's history is that a reason a stop?
What happens if I don't even make it to Machu Picchu? Oh my God, have I really come all this way to Peru, and now I am not going to see this stunning, ancient city? ... Oh well, I guess I can accept that, at least this is an adventure.

But lo and behold, ten minutes later, the path opens up, and I'm at the entrance of Machu Picchu, it just so happens that, on this morning, I'm the first hiker up to ascend, actually by a wide margin. So I guess will see the ancient city after all! I'd have been cool either way.
Machu Pichu visibility early morning- so glad we listened to the worry-bots


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