I guess I put off writing the third and final installment of my trip to Machu Picchu with my friend, Bridget, because I didn't want my Machu Picchu musings to end. This was an amazing trip. If I were younger, I'd definitely try to hike the Inca Trail twice in a lifetime. As it is, there are so many other places that I want to explore, that I'll have to hope that my children are as curious, and venture forth. In A Martini Explorer of Machu Picchu Part I & II, I talked about the prep involved and the first two days of the trek. After reaching our highest elevation on the second day, 13, 891 ft., we hiked down to our second base camp which was at 11,800 ft. To be honest, the hardest aspect of the trek for me was that I did not sleep well at night. I am a sensitive sleeper anyway, but I think the high altitude exacerbated the situation. As we were making our way down from Dead Woman's Pass, I did slip on the wet stones. I did not hurt myself, but one of my poles snapped* in half. Better than my ankle-there is always a bright side. And I learned that you really only need one trekking pole. (Trekking poles are surprisingly expensive, so if you see a solo pole for sale, snatch it up.) *Note: Be careful when you adjust your hiking poles that you don't extend the pole beyond the recommended limit. I think that's why mine broke. Our second campsite had the most spectacular views of glaciers and cloud forest. Talk about a room with a view! Usually we ate inside a mess tent, but on this morning we asked our porters if it would be alright if we ate in the open air. With the cold morning temps, the spectacular sunrise, the glaciers and clouds seemingly within reach, we found nirvana. Day 3: One of the highlights of our third day was when our guide, Vladimir asked us to stop on the trail, hold hands like small children on a class trip, and close our eyes. Then we proceeded to gingerly walk about 5 ft., still with our eyes closed, in anticipation of Vladimir's surprise. "Open your eyes", he said. "Ahhhhhhh." There we stood, in complete amazement, to see the ruins of Winay Wayna, a spectacular ceremonial and agricultural site. The hillside is carved with wondrous terraces and the Urubamba River is below in the distance. None of my pictures do it justice, (nor does this one, really) but I found this from Google Images (labeled for reuse). Day 4: I'm not sure why, but our fourth day felt much longer than we all expected. However, the prize was waiting for us at the end of the day when we climbed our last steps to the Sun Gate which overlooks Machu Picchu. (Incidentally, there are two entrances to Machu Picchu, but this one is accessed directly from the Inca Trail.) We didn't tour Machu Picchu on this day, but quickly hiked down to the bottom where we caught a bus that took us to Machu Picchu Pueblo. The reason for our haste? The Soccer World Cup, Argentina vs. Holland. What a thrill to watch a World Cup match in a South American country when a South American country is playing. After that, we went to Aguas Caliente, a hot springs where trekkers and locals alike go to relax (or actually bathe-yuk!) We should have been suspicious when Vladimir did not join us, but we had some good laughs, and afterwards went to a restaurant for dinner. I might add that our trek food was as good as our restaurant meal (i.e., I like being a martini explorer). The next morning we awoke VERY early so that we could wait in line with hundreds (yes-hundreds!) of other people waiting for the entrance of Machu Picchu to open so we could see the sun rise. Honestly, since we had made the trek, this was not the moment that it might be for the non-trekkers. Our "trekking family" had been spoiled by enjoying our environment in the quiet. We all were a bit overwhelmed by the tourists. However, for the next three hours, our fearless leader, Vladimir, guided us through the mysterious ancient ruins. It's really difficult to synthesize this trip into only three blog posts, so I plan to follow this up with a final blog post of images. We hiked on such varied trails, saw enigmatic architectural feats, viewed different eco-systems, saw brilliant orchids, quinoa fields, wild animals, made new friends, learned a few words in Quechua, (one of the languages spoken by indigenous Peruvians and our porters), tried Chicha (spit-fermented corn beer), made our porters laugh when we tried to carry THEIR packs (see below). Obviously, we also took in the culture in Cusco by visiting the local market, trying to talk to the various merchants, deciding whether to choose the llama or the guinea pig for dinner, bartering for our knockoff Brazilian soccer jerseys, and sampling an array of Pisco drinks, and so much more. This was a trip that exceeded my expectations. I hope that those who read this consider making the journey. However, if you can't, you can always be an armchair traveler by going to Google Maps and read some of the suggested books mentioned in my previous posts.