I've always believed that you appreciate a beautiful vista more if you hike up to it; that the reward is greater if you have to work for it. If you agree with this idea, than a view of Machu Picchu is undoubtedly worth four strenuous days of hiking. Four days that will alternately take your breath away and leave your aching body begging for mercy.
The beginning of the Camino Inka (Inca Trail) is about a 2 hour bus ride from Cusco, the magnificent Peruvian city that was once the capital of the mighty Inca civilization. Our group of 12 brave trekkers was supported by an even braver group of 19 porters, one cook, and two guides. The first day of the journey was the easiest, although it still seemed more difficult than an average hike. Perhaps it was the high altitude (nearly 2 miles up), or the large quantities of water that I carried on my back. Regardless, it was a relief when we got to our campsite, had a surprisingly delicious dinner, and laid back to stare at a star-filled sky.
Our first campsite was shared with a ragtag assortment of donkeys, dogs, and fowls. At the early hour of 5am, I was suddenly awakened by a shrill rooster who just happened to be standing directly outside my tent. Almost as unwelcome as an alarm clock! No matter, as we ate breakfast at 6am and were hiking again by seven.
Afterwords we hiked down a long valley and passed by more fog-shrouded ruins.
By the time the following Inca site comes into view, its easy to question whether you have left the planet Earth and are observing some sort of alien formation.
A storm thundered down right before our final dinner. Everyone huddled together in the food tent and heartily devoured our last big meal before visiting Machu Picchu. My fellow hikers asked me to give a "thank you" speech on behalf of our group to the porters and cook for all of their hard work. In my best formal Spanish, I gave a few words of appreciation before presenting them with tips. Inspired by my bright orange getup, our group then proceeded to sing "Poncho Man" to the tune of the Village People's "Macho Man".
The experience of being at Machu Picchu cannot be put into words. I cannot imagine a more spectacular place in the world. Even though there were many tourists, the site is so large and majestic that being there feels like a unique experience.