The “classic” Machu Picchu shot.

I kept making the mistake of looking up the endless flight of stone steps, thinking that magically, maybe the top of the mountain was just around the corner. Each time, I looked back down, sweat dripping, and took one tiring step after another to the beat of Lady Gaga’s new album, Artpop.

At long last, I reached the top of Montana, the big brother to the more famous Huayna Picchu, which could be seen basking magnificently across the other end of Machu Picchu. But all those who braved Montana were sitting twice as high as Huayna Picchu and enjoying a much less-seen perspective of the ruins and surrounding valleys, considering how few people attempt the climb.

Machu Picchu from the top of Montana.

Unfortunately today, Machu Picchu was playing hide and seek with us. Clouds would float by and cover up everything for a few minutes before winds would push them aside, allowing just enough time to snap a few pictures and admire the scenery below from all angles until more clouds came by. But it did add a certain level of mystery to it all. After 20 minutes at the top, back down I went for another grueling 1.5 hours.

Suffering from onset of quad cramps, having run out of water after the ascent (2 bottles), eaten up all my snacks, I proceeded to make another ascent to the Inca Sun Gate, or Intipuku (hashtag YOLO). One guy said it would take 20 minutes. I believed him. After 20 minutes, I asked a passerby if I was close to the end. He said I wasn’t even halfway there. I was cramping but in between sitting on inviting rocks, I pushed on. I was following a group of Americans in their 50s and I joked with the lady at the end that I was using her to set the pace for me. I had to remind myself to use hiking poles next time I ever do another hiking trip.

Only a few sites I’ve visited have ever blown my mind. Notre Dame Cathedral, Sagrada Familia, Taj Mahal, and Hagia Sofia. Add Machu Picchu to that list. The Conquistadores destroyed much of the Inca culture but Machu Picchu was untouched when it was discovered. Add to the dramatic surroundings and the mind boggling question of “How the heck did they build all this here??” and you have yourself something to behold in wonder.

Click here for more pictures of Machu Picchu…

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