That evening, our last as a private group, many of us let loose with free-flowing wine and boisterous conversation. It’s amazing how comfortable people can get with one another in a short period of time—no better witness to this fact than the easy repartee among groups members (and guides) with a healthy amount of “shit-giving” thrown in to boot.
In fact, that copious wine proved to be the undoing of David the morning after, as he stuck to the back of the line as we hiked up to a pass on the ridge above, before descending to visit the Inca ruins of Llactapata (only partially restored, and with distant views to Machu Picchu) and then stopping at a lunch spot with million-dollar views of Machu Picchu across the valley — a view most visitors to the area never get to see. After an hour or two of steep downhill walking, we reached the hydroelectric station on the Urubamba River, where we boarded the train for the short ride to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. Pulling into the ramshackle town, it was something of a shock to suddenly be in the midst of gringo backpacker overload, instead of alone on the trail with just our group and the occasional horse, donkey, or mule.