In my previous post, I started telling the story of the magical journey towards Machu Picchu, via the Inca Trail, or Camino Inka, as the locals call it. Initially, I wanted to tell it all in one go, but putting my experience down on paper (or the electronic equivalent of it), proved too much for one sitting (or reading for that matter).
Now that I have finished the rest of the story below, and am ready to press the button to publish the post, I am having a moment of reflection. Did I do the experience justice in retelling my story? So, please pardon me for the many pictures, when words cannot describe the beauty, and I sincerely hope that I have been able to capture a bit of the magic and that in reading this final post, you are also able to catch a glimpse of it!
We were woken up again by the porters with the obligatory cup of coca tea, but this time a teeny bit earlier, at 5:30am, as we had a long day ahead of us. On the third day, a total distance of 16 kilometres is covered and on average it takes between 8 and 9 hours, so we had to get going at the crack of dawn. There is a fair amount of climbing to start off with from Pacaymayo, our overnight stop (approximately 400 meters in elevation), after which the trail starts descending towards the camp site for the final night, Wiñay Wayna (about 1 250m of descent).
But we were promised by Vladimir that it was an absolute ‘wow’ day. There are several Inca ruins along the way, and we were walking through the cloud forest, with promises of stunning views, and exotic orchids and flowers.
Getting out of the tent, I immediately realised that this was not going to be a stroll in the park though. My legs were stiff and we had a lot more climbing down stairs to do, and just the thought of my jello-legs the previous day, would have had me running for the hills, in normal circumstances that is…
Breakfast was scrambled eggs, and after filling our water bottles (and I filled an extra bottle of water, as I ran out of water the day before), we were on our way. About a kilometre into the climb, we reached the first Inca ruin, Runkurakay (pile of ruins), which overlooks the valley. Jesús, our assistant guide, told us that we know very little about the Incas, because they had no writing, unlike the Egyptian people. There are several myths about the origin of the Incas, the most popular of which is that Manco Cápac was born from the depths of Lake Titicaca. Manco Cápac was the founder of the Inca dynasty, and it is said that he decided to settle at Cuzco after his golden staff, given to him by the sun god, Inti, sank into the ground as was foretold.
From Runkurakay, the trail continues upwards for another approximately 45 minutes until the highest point of the second pass, Runkurakay pass, at 3 950m above sea level. By now, I was really suffering and the 45 minutes probably took me about an hour. The climb was steep and I was just thankful for cooler weather. But, the mist hanging over these magnificent Andes mountains made them look like pictures from a fairy tale.
Finally, about two hours into our trek for the day, we reached the summit of the pass and it was time to start the descent. I must have looked as scared as I was feeling, because as we were getting ready to start climbing down some few stairs, the assistant guide, Jesús, came to me and told me that he would like to help me, and asked me to give him some of the heavier items in my day pack to carry. Bless his soul. I handed over an extra bottle of water, my wallet (what is it with Peruvian coins??) and my emergency kit, and started walking again.
We now entered the cloud forest and the views were spectacular. I was snap happy and everywhere around me were exotic orchids, flowers, moss covered stone pathways, that just took my breath away, and made me (almost) forget the pain I was in.
When we reached Sayacmarca, I was too tired to walk up the steps to the ruin, but the views were incredible.
After our lunch break, we reached the ruins of Phuyupatamarca, which literally means ‘The town in the clouds’. This Inca site still has working aquaducts, most likely from pre-Inca days. Our guide, Vladimir shared the theory that the Incas probably conquered several tribes, and with it, gathered a lot of their joined knowledge of astrology, engineering and architecture,
From here onwards the path descended via an impressive staircase on the west down about a thousand steps (they knew better than to tell me this at the time…), through a second Inca tunnel, and magnificent views of the entire valley with the town of Aguas Calientes and the Urubamba River below.
At this stage, I was faced with another pain. From the constant descents, my big toenail kept pushing against the front of my hiking boot on the steep downhills and every time this happened, I was literally crying out in pain. When we tackled the last hour, Jesús offered to carry my day pack for the last stretch. When I protested, he told me that he used to be a porter and that he does not mind at all. It definitely did help, but when I (finally) reached the camp site, the first thing I did was to take off my hiking boots, to find that my whole toenail lifted and conjealed blood underneath the toenail turned black. This is when I really regretted not being able to pack alternative shoes, and was forced to walk around the camp site in my hiking socks.
Dinner the final evening was preceded by another game of cards and a game of murderer, with lots of fun and laughter. To our great surprise, we were presented by a fantastic cake at dinner time. A cake, baked without an oven, apparently steamed in a pot over boiling water. We were suitably impressed.
After dinner, we said our goodbyes to the porters and had an early night sleep, as we had to leave the camp site at 4:30am the next morning, for the final stretch towards Machu Picchu.
Wake up time on the final morning was supposed to be 4:00am, as we were starting our final day at 4:30am, and we were warned that we mustn’t be late, as the porters do not carry on to Machu Picchu, but rather take another route towards the hydro-electrical power station to catch the train back to Ollantaytambo. However, at 3:30am, it was clear that there was going to be no sleeping in on this morning. The porters had already started packing up the camp and was eagerly waiting for us to wake up. I got up and managed to force a shoe over my bandaged foot and had a quick cup of tea before we were rushed off with a packed breakfast.
Just outside Wiñay Wayna, we settled for a half an hour wait to exit the gates and enter the reserve of Machu Picchu. There was a mixture of tiredness, excitement and wariness in the air. We were finally almost there. The aim is to leave the campsite in time to do the last hour and a half walk to make it to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu in time for sunrise (around 6:30am).
We finally got going and once again, we were walking through the most magical cloud forest. The path followed the ancient stone steps with the mountain rising up on the left and steep slopes on the right. I was now trailing at the back of the trail with Nellie and taking it very slowly, but all along knowing we were getting closer to the end and that it was just a matter of a short walk before we reached our goal. After about an hour, we reached the ‘face rock’, a set of very steep steps everyone had to negotiate on all fours. Nellie told me at this stage that we had about another 20 minutes to go. Hallelujah!
Finally, we reached the steep steps leading to the Sun Gate. I made it! I handed Nellie my camera and she took minute by minute pictures of me, finally walking up the steps towards the Sun Gate.
And then it was there. The view that I have been waiting to see all week. Machu Picchu in all its glory. And I was crying. It was so beautiful. Who cared about a sore toe and stiff legs. This was all worth it.
Another short walk (but nothing felt short anymore at this stage), took us from the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu. Here we rejoined the rest of the group who did not do the hike and had a guided tour of Machu Picchu. This site is just amazing and it is incredible that for many years, nobody knew of the existence of this site, until Hiram Bingham re-discovered it in 1911. You can only imagine how this city was hidden from the eyes of the beholder for hundreds of years, overgrown with shrubs and jungle.
Today, Machu Picchu is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Centre, and all I can say is that if you ever get an opportunity, grab it in both hands, because this place really is magical.
Finally it was time to make the return trip with the train, but not before we had a beautiful lunch (anything other than rice!) in the town of Aguas Calientes. Our main guide or CEO (Chief experience officer), Manuel, bought two guinea pigs for the table and we each got to taste this popular Peruvian dish.
The train trip back to Ollantaytambo was a quiet affair as everyone contemplated the adventure that we shared. All that was left over was a fairly long journey by train and bus back to Cuzco, and then one final dinner with the group. I was due to leave for the airport and the return trip early the next morning and it was with a sense of nostalgia that I was thinking of what I experienced in the last week and a bit.
Maybe it is goodbye, until we meet again, who knows…?
Tupananchikkama, Peru! (the Quechua phrase for ‘until we meet again’)