It was a little heavier than the wet stuff we encountered yesterday morning, as evidenced by the fact I could clearly hear it falling, over the top of the dull sound of water rushing down the nearby stream. No point in mulling over the weather, however, so it was business as usual as brekky was consumed, packs were packed, wet weather gear was donned, hiking poles were strapped to wrists and we were off!
With the promise of a much easier day on the Trail with plenty of downhill stretches as opposed to uphill slogs, I was beginning to wonder how truthful Nancy’s (our guide) words actually were, as we left the camp leading straight into a steep incline which we followed towards our first pass for the day.
Half way up, we entered our first ruins for the day – a beautiful rounded rock wall structure known as “Runkuracay”. Serving as an outpost or tambo (resting stop), the building would have been used by chasquis (running messengers) who would stop over to eat and rest before continuing on their journey along the Inca Trail.
We gathered around and took a little time to pause and listen to Nancy chat some more about the role of the immensely important chasquis during ancient Incan times. I have to say, it’s pretty cool to have a guide as educated as Nancy on board with us on this trip. Being able to actually understand the significance of these amazing ruins we have been coming across along the Trail has been really great.
Kudos to you G Adventures for hiring good people!
From the ruins of “Runkuracay” it was another climb up an ancient Inca staircase, which had been transformed into a mini waterfall overnight, to the next pass roughly 3,850m (12,631 ft) and the last of the high points for the day.
The descending journey, while easier on the lungs, is by no means easier on your legs (knees in particular), and it didn’t take long for me to be reminded that my old left knee injury from my teenage years was probably going to come back and bite me over the course of the next couple of days. All the more reason to take it easy I guess.
We wound through more grassy alpine valleys past peaceful lakes and free flowing streams as the cloud began to lift around us, removing with it any need for us to continue hiking wearing our stuffy rain gear.
The trail we were following also changed at this point from a mixed rock and dirt trail into a narrow stone roadway, an indication that we had reached the true Inca Trail constructed by the Quechua people back in the day.
Next on the sight-seeing agenda was a second, larger Inca ruin known as “Sayacmarca” or “Town in a Steep Place”. We were given quite a bit of time to either rest or explore the ruins.
Access to the main section of the ruins was via a single narrow stone staircase which clings to an overhanging stone wall on the left, and gives way to a sheer drop on the right. Great views of the smaller “Conchamarca” (“Shell town”) ruins in the valley below could be found from the top of the precarious staircase, so they were definitely worth scaling.
The next section of today’s hike was probably my favourite and a highlight of the trail so far, as far as scenery goes. Leaving the sparse alpine vegetation behind us, we entered a vast moss-drenched “cloudforest” which engulfed us over the next 2 hour gentle climb.
Featured along this section were a few amazing examples of Inca engineering including an 8m tunnel which was constructed making use of a natural fissure in the rock and ultimately allowing the passage of both man and animals. The mind boggles as to how the engineers and workers during the period of the Inca Empire were able to achieve feats like this.
With spectacular views of the Vilcabamba Range appearing from time to time from behind the swirling cloud, we wandered into lunch camp where a pretty spectacular feed was put on consisting of some kind of Peruvian quiche, wild rice, fish and pasta. It was ALL GOOD, let me tell you!
Trust me when I say I’m not overselling the quality of the meals on this trek. While I would have probably wolfed down anything over these past few days without so much as a murmur considering how hungry the hiking makes you, these chefs of ours sure know how to knock together a decent feed with limited facilities.
I’m pretty sure my knee will never quite forgive me for the punishing, yet scenic descent down to the next set of ruins after lunch. Making our way through a forest of what appeared to be some kind of bamboo, we emerged at the extensive ruins of “Phuyupatamarca” (“Cloud-level Town”).
The ruins consist of a number of terraces flanked by a series of tiered, intricate ceremonial baths connected by what you can only assume are water channels. Apparently, the higher baths were reserved for the nobles, while the lower class citizens were left to use the lover level facilities fed by the polluted water flowing from the nobles baths above. Mmmmmm… nice.
On the homeward stretch for the day, all that was left for us to negotiate before hitting camp for the evening was a 1,000m plunge down into the massively impressive ruins of Wiñay Wayna (“Forever Young”). Perched on a steep hillside overlooking the Urubamba River, the ruins are surrounded both above and below by an expansive series of agricultural terraces – all able to be explored from a path that runs throughout.
To reach the ruins themselves, some of the group had to make a slight diversion and split off the main trail down into the campsite. My knee had really had enough for the day, so I settled for the stunning views from afar, and instead opted to settle in camp and enjoy the first decent toilet and shower options we’ve had for a good few days.
As everyone else gradually made their way to our tents and freshened up, Rob and I set about collecting tips for our porter/chef team. With all the cash collected, we had to sort out how the cash was going to be split up between Nancy, the porters and the chefs using a suggested ratio provided by G Adventures. It seemed the best way to go about this was to head over to the information centre/bar where we could grab a couple of ice cold beers and sit down and work it all out.
We grabbed a few more beverages “for the road” and headed back to camp where we met up with some of the others and perched ourselves on the edge of a really beautiful vantage point from where we could watch the sun set over the mountain range in the distance. It was a pretty sweet feeling knowing what we had achieved over the past couple of days and the fact that the spectacular “jewel in the Andes crown”, Machu Picchu, was literally just around the corner and only a couple of hours hiking away.
Being the last night we’d spend with our Peruvian porter buddies, we all gathered in the meal tent post-dinner to thank them all for their tireless work over the course of the trek and presented them with the collected tips along with a nice speech from Rob, who stepped up when we needed someone to speak on our behalves.
With a super early start on the cards in order to beat the crowds up to the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu, nobody was up for any extended sessions of card games this evening. All that’s left to do is to get some sleep with fingers crossed that the persistent patches of rain that seem to be hanging around, make themselves scarce in the next few hours.
I’m about to put a BIG tick next to one of the more special items on my “bucket list”. The last thing I, or anyone else want, is for the shine to be taken off the experience by bad weather.
Anyway, I’m beat. HUGE day tomorrow. Time for bed. Night!
Posted in: Travel