Food on the trek was amazingly good. It included barbecued guinea pig (it does not taste like chicken), a wide variety of hearty soups, creamy desserts and mouth-watering pasta. We traveled with our own chef and kitchen assistant. And most of our food was transported by our caravan of horses.
On Day 4, we descended 3,000 feet to a verdant valley filled with orchids, hummingbirds the size of robins and fluorescent-tailed butterflies. That night, while the mists from the hot tub swirled above, we felt as if we could reach up and touch the stars as we counted 15 "shooters" painting the night sky with their gleaming contrails. Day 5 took us on another white-knuckle bus ride and ended with us being dropped off at the Loreta-Llactapata Inca Trail, where we followed the broad grass-lined path through small coffee plantations.
Day 6 dawned cloudy and wet — our first inclement weather. We were thankful for the overcast as we clawed our way up 2,000 feet through the cloud forest and then down 1,000 slippery, ankle-twisting feet to an overlook.
And then, the "wow" moment that none of us will forget: As our guide Jesus gestured into the sea of roiling whiteness that separated us from getting a glimpse of the fabled city, the mist began to rise as if a huge vacuum cleaner were sucking all the clouds up and out of the valley.
It left us with a clear view of Machu Picchu, shimmering like a green jewel not more than two miles away. The hauntingly beautiful 8,600-foot emerald spire Huayna Picchu stood sentinel over a series of terraces and temples. The ruins looked much like they might have 100 years ago when Hiram Bingham first viewed them.
"You are seeing Machu Picchu from a point few visitors will ever know," intoned a for-once-in-life solemn Jesus. "This is a special place from which you can launch your own special dreams."
We all smiled in agreement.
Betsy and I high-fived each other in a congratulatory gesture that would forever bind us as some of the privileged few to see the Lost City of the Incas from this unique vantage point.