Peru, day 8

 We started the day at 3:30am.  Went down to the lobby for a small breakfast (bread, tea, and coffee) before heading out at 4:20.  We had to be at the bottom gates of Machu Picchu by 5am, when they opened.  The hike up the stairs to the main gate of Machu Picchu (which opens at 6am) would take about an hour.  By the way, there are 1,700 steps to the main gate...

We arrived at the base gate (luckily, we were able to leave our packs in the hostel) to a line of about 30 people.  They quickly processed us all (passports and tickets) and we began the long hike up the stairs.  So here we are hiking in the dark with our headlamps...everyone trudging up the stairs. 
We arrive at the main gate by 5:45 and not 10 minutes later, the buses arrive and this line forms behind us.  We were maybe 15th in line.  Get ready for an onslaught of pictures of Machu Picchu...
 Getting through the main gates and stepping out onto the first terraces of Machu Picchu was surreal.  For so long I've dreamed of standing right there...and there I was!  Machu Picchu was covered in a mist that just made everything look magical

 Jorge, our guide, gave us a 2 hour walking tour

 Of course there are llamas everywhere

 This area is where the school would have been for boys

 The way the rocks fit together is just incredible.  It is easy to tell which buildings are temples as they were built with more care and the rocks fit together more perfectly

 That winding road you see is the one the buses take up to the main gate.  The 1,700 steps we took shortcut that.

 Absolutely amazing
 Alex found a "basement"
 It never got really crowded as we were there in the low season.  Jorge said in the low season, about 2,500 people would visit MP in a day.  In the high season, double that.

 More impressive rock fitting

 Absolutely exhausted by elated!

We had tickets to climb Machu Picchu mountain (a tall mountain surrounding MP) but after the 1,700 steps that morning and learning the climb to MP mountain was more steps, we bailed.  We did maybe 10 minutes and decided we just didn't have it in us.  Luckily for us, those who did do it said the fog never cleared and they couldn't see anything anyway.  We also had to keep in mind that those 1,700 steps we took up, we'd have to take down again...

So we spent several hours at MP before beginning the decent to Aguas Calientes.  We had bought return train tickets to Cusco for 9:30pm.  I figured the later the better so we could have as much time as possible.  Well, we were so exhausted we ended up buying earlier tickets, 6:45 train.  The train would take us to Ollanta, then we had to catch a bus back to Cusco.  Our initial arrival time back to Cusco would have been 1:30am...with the 6:45 train, we'd get back around 10:30.  Much better!

There were several places I'd researched for food in Aguas Calientes (as I wanted to avoid having touristy restaurants).  One was called The Tree House.  Alex and I headed out in search of that restaurant or any others I'd read about.  We ended up finding The Tree House, though not easily. 
It was up a steep alley that was very much so under construction.  We weren't totally sure we were going the right way...but we kept going.
 Boy are we glad we did!  We found it, though it was empty, and were happy to sit down for a real meal.

 Alex ordered bacon-wrapped alpaca steak with mashed sweet potatoes.  I ordered quinoa-flour raviolis stuffed with sweet potato and ricotta.  both were phenomenal!  I also, of course, had a pisco sour (practically Peru's national drink). 
 For dessert, Alex got a brownie sundae with lucuma ice cream (a local fruit).  The brownie had pisco-soaked nuts in it. 
I got something similar but with lucuma mousse and candied Brazil nuts.  It was such a perfect lunch/dinner.  We killed a bit more time in A.C. before hopping on the train back to Ollanta.  The train ride was lovely.  However, once we reached Ollanta, we had to look for our names on a sign-board in the chaos of everyone else doing the same.  Oh, and it was absolutely pouring.  We finally found our names and hopped on the bus.  It was another 2 hours to Cusco.  We were very happy to arrive back in Cusco and flop into our beds.