When my alarm went off at 3.50am, I really had to force myself that it was worth getting out of bed (I was so tired and you wouldn't believe how cold it was), but then I remembered I was going to be at Machu Picchu in a few hours and I was much more spurred on!
By 4.20am, we (there were 2 other people in my hostel walking up that morning) had checked out of the hostel and were en route to find the trail for the climb to the pinnacle point of Peru. The beginning of the walk is alongside the river, which flows so fast and loud that in the pitch black the sound was quite scary and heightened the tension and atmosphere of what we were about to see.
At 5am, we reached the welcome sign and registered our passports. We were meeting our guide at the top entrance at 6.30am, giving us around an hour and a half to walk what we had been told was a pretty tough climb with the rocky paths and steps going on for over 2km - made all the worse because of the altitude.
All the way along the path, the cloud was really thick and I could barely see a few steps in front of me, but as sunrise drew closer the cloud slowly started to clear, although is wasn't enough to be able to see the view downwards.
With various photo ops, stops to breathe (pretty often) and water breaks, I made it to the top around 6.15am giving just enough time for a recovery sit down before moving inside.
Once inside, I turned the first corner and my breath was taken away by the (somewhat cloudy) view showing just how grand and massive the site is - it was much bigger than I expected.
We began the tour and it was really interesting to learn about the people, the rituals (including human 'virgin girl' sacrifices) and the history. Not to be boring but heres a tiny snippet of a few details...
The site was discovered in 1912 (I think) by an American named Bingham who paid a local boy to show him the Inca sites in the area (he was actually looking for a completely different set of ruins). At the time, it was completely buried under trees and mountain plants but all the locals knew it existed. Bingham then noted his discovery and claimed it as his own, before beginning the process of extracting it. If you ask many of the locals, they will say that Bingham was lucky to find a kid who wanted the money he was offering (about 10p) and was willing (or naive enough) to give away their Inca secret!
The site was the home of many Inca's and there was a palace for the leader - who had loads of luxuries like the only actual toilet and bathing facilities. On that note, the water and irrigation systems are so clever and effective considering how much rainfall there is. But much cooler is that the ruler used to have a jaguar tied up outside his bedroom to ward of unwanted guests. Bloody amazing, imagine having a pet jaguar!
Anyway I digress...
The whole site can only be described as completely mysterious. Firstly because of the indigenous people who lived here, but also because of it's location high up in the mountains. One minute the whole view will be clear and crisp, seconds later and it will be fully covered in cloud with only a few things visible. Sounds strange but it all added to the charm and atmosphere.
The mountain directly opposite - Waynu Picchu also adds to the granduer as it's massive. You can actually climb that for a view of the site from the other side, which is meant to be just as good, if not better. I actually had a ticket for this, (as they only let 400 people per day through), but you can only go at certain times and it meant I would have had to miss out on half of the tour, which I didn't want to do. But, when the clouds do part and you get a glimpse of the mountain, or on a clear day like they sell the postcards for, the whole things looks even more impressive.
By 9am bus and bus loads of tourists were turning up and I was so thankful to have gotten up early and experienced the silent mystery and feel of the place with only a handful of people around.
The whole time I was there it didn't really sink in what I was looking at and how unbelievable it actually was. But I knew that within a few hours of leaving it would hit me (and it did).