And we made it.
Second in line at the checkpoint, we chatted away in the darkness until a light turned on at 5:30am and we were allowed to pass through and make our way to the Sun Gate. We never stopped. We walked and hiked and climbed at a pace quicker than the days before. The trail was as rough as predicted; a hurried scrabble over a recent rockslide across the path, narrow trails dropping off into the jungle, traversing along in near darkness. Groups all around us had seemingly disbanded and dispersed, but we stayed together as a family until the very end, until that final climb up steep Incan stone stairs to the summit at the Sun Gate at dawn.
And it was...
Out of breath, all those "energies" finally depleted. We made it. The rain never fully stopped, but the clouds cleared and we could look down to Machu Picchu and take all the obligatory, triumphant group photos we wanted before making another quick descent to the entrance. We had seen the first tour buses creeping up the winding road, but we still managed to make better time such that Machu Picchu still felt like it was ours when we arrived.
Another passport check in, real bathrooms, a first look in the mirror.
And Erick's final tour commenced.
They still don't know, won't ever really know, exactly what Machu Picchu is. Who built it? Why did they build it? What was it? Why was it abandoned and left behind? Theories and clues and speculation and lore exist throughout and through all these years of study since its discovery in 1911. New notions still being formed, floated, and still to be conceived. And it's huge. Bigger than you can imagine, bigger than you can ever see in a photo or wrap your mind around once you're there.
And it really is just as magical and mystical as promised.
Nestled, tucked away, secluded in the Andes and the mist and the clouds and the sky. In the midst of mountains that don't feel like ordinary mountains; mountains that seem to contain secrets and power and magic within magic.
You start to think that somehow it makes sense that this place should exist here. Pachamama, Pachupapa, the water, the air, the Andes, this jungle, this trail, these incredible structures built over an unknown amount of years. This hidden city whose secrets will remain secret. And you're here for a day. Taking it all in, the fraction that you're able to.
I wandered around that morning in a daze. It was almost too beautiful, too difficult to begin to process. I was there, it was finally real, but it couldn't possibly feel like reality. We'd made this journey, accomplished this incredible, arduous hike. We were attached to each other and to the Andes and to this trail. And now we were back in civilization, inside another civilization so impossible to fathom.
We were exhausted. We were finished.
After the tour a few of us wandered around in the rain. Erick had just delighted in surprising us with champagne which he sprayed all over us in the spirit of congratulations. We were happy but we were winding down. We soon took a bus down to Aguas Calientes to do more wandering and to finally sit down and celebrate with food and beverage and nothing left to do. We had split into smaller groups but we eventually converged at a restaurant where we ate pizza, drank too much, salsa danced (!?), and said goodbye. Some people stayed on another night, others went on earlier trains. A few of us made a plan to meet up in Cusco that night, but it still felt strange to be separated, even for a few hours.
By the time we took the train and the bus and the next bus back to town, I was tired beyond description. I rallied along with Darren, Matt, Alyssa, and Wendy to meet up at the gringo Irish bar in the center of Cusco. We drank more and talked more until we couldn't anymore. And then we said a goodbye that was really real. It felt impossible, but by that point we were so exhausted that it could only just be what it was.
My flight left Cusco early the next morning.
We had really made it. And it was really over.