As if today wasn’t hard enough, I just wrote this whole blog and then managed to somehow delete it. It really wasn’t my day.
It all began with another 5am start, so we could reach the mountain summit ahead of the ridiculously hot sunshine.
Heading UP! Can you spot Speedy and Legs leading the way?
Everyone was ‘feeling the trail’ by this point and it took a while for aching muscles to warm up and spirits to lift. The path was steep and we were climbing from 3,850m to 4,200m in 2 hours. Christine and I managed it in 90 minutes, Iain and Lindsey in just 45!!! I’m still astounded at how fast those 2 are, neither one wanting to be outdone by the other, though still not as impressive as the porters who scramble up and down those paths like mountain goats with packs 4x heavier than mine! For most of our group the first pass, Warmiwañusca (or Dead Woman’s Pass – so named because the rocks form the shape of a woman lying down, the pass being her stomach then a rounded hill up to the right being the breast and above that the chin, nose, eyes and forehead) was a euphoric moment. It’s such a huge climb and the highest point of the tour at 4,200m that you can see why conquering it is a high point, but for me it just wasn’t; all I could see was the 2 further hills we had ahead of us that day and I was tired. This was my mental mountain and it took some climbing I can tell you. Even the sunrise and stunning scenery couldn’t make up for what lay ahead – it was barely 8am and we weren’t stopping till 4.30.
Over the next hour we dropped 700m to our 2nd breakfast site (chased by all sorts of buzzy things) where most enjoyed a siesta in the sun and I dunked my head in the fresh mountain stream to try and snap myself out of my negative thinking. We all enjoyed another scrummy meal (how do they do it??) and all too soon it was ‘vamoose’ for our last up section of the trail, climbing almost 500m to the second pass. What did these Incas have against bridges?! Or zip wires?? Or….”When are they installing the escalators Jorge?” I asked. “Next year” he replied “Okay, I’ll stay here till then” “Good plan” says Jorge “me too!”. I wish! Half way up to the second pass was Runkuraykey, a tiny Inca post house and our last chance to get photos of Dead Woman’s Pass and our lunch spot.
The sun was brutal and we were all struggling. Jorge sent up a prayer to Veronica (the snow capped mountain) for clouds and 10 minutes later our wish was granted – what a magician! The clouds obscured most of the view making us glad once again for our early start. Towards the top Christine was literally tempting me with ‘just a little further, we’re almost there’. Even the Inca’s seemed to be sick of the trail by this point as each step became larger than the one before.Finally we dragged ourselves up the last step and staggered to the clearing where Iain and Lindsay were, of course, waiting, looking totally refreshed and relaxed. You can go off some people.
At this point we were all missing a shower and joked about not sitting too close to one another. Along the previous path we had each individually smelt something unpleasant and self consciously assumed it was ourselves. Jorge, listening to the conversation, began to chuckle. Ominous. “When I first did the trail” he shared “I was saying ‘you guys go on’ and when they were gone I am checking my feet and my arms thinking…ooo I smell bad! But, nada, so I am carrying on. Then a few more meters and poooo what is that smell?! My fellow climbers are laughing at me – and now I’m laughing at you. It is a plant you’re smelling! A very stinky plant!!” Well, thank goodness for that!
Before we knew it it was…you guessed it…time to head back down, but at least all the up was done! Huzzah!! En route to our lunch spot was the optional site of Sayaqmarka; otherwise known as ‘the inaccessible place’ and when you saw the steps leading off to it this seems like an entirely accurate description! But you can’t just walk past these places when they’re right there and you’re probably only going to do this once. Lynne, Christine and I hauled ourselves up the stairs to the top to find Iain and Lindsay about to descend. Honestly by this point as amazing as the architecture is and as breathtaking as the scenery is it really is just another Inca site. The 3 of us explored a little and took a few photos before making a move past a few houses called Concha Marca and to lunch. Here the trail began to change, from the rocky landscape we’d been used to, to a softer more rainforest type trail with trees and moss and huge ferns. We took our time here, so much so that Jorge sent 2 porters to look for us in case someone had fallen and broken something – oops!
I couldn’t tell you what we had for lunch, or much about the place we stopped, because for the most part I lay out on the tarp meant for our daypacks and tried to put as little pressure as possible on my feet. They were throbbing, my legs were aching and I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get up to do the next bit. It sounds ridiculous to be struggling so much when you hear that people do this trail from start to finish in 3 hours and 45 minutes as part of a marathon each December; but there I was, struggling. Jorge had promised that after the 2nd pass it was just downhill or undulating till our next campsite. Lying little tyke. ‘The next 10 minutes’ he says ‘is a little more UPdulating than undulating’. Luckily it really was only 10 minutes and my rest and magic coca tea got me up there. Waiting round the corner was one of the most spectacular parts of the tour – the cloud forest. Wow.
The vegetation around the path became more dense, while the colours changed to vibrant orange moss, red orchids, trees dripping with lichen and vines Tarzan would be proud of! The stone path underfoot became slippy and the air cool. It’s hard to describe but for the first time none of us wanted the trail to end. During the wet season moss and lichen grow on the rocks up to half a meter thick (as proven by my very own walking stick).
The water they contain is then used by the trees and plants above in the dry season keeping the place lush all year round; very clever. As the name suggests, for the most part we were above the clouds which swirled and parted more like a thick mist revealing the mountains above and valley below. The path was gradual and at one point there was even a natural tunnel in the rock which the Incas had widened and smoothed. It was everyone’s favourite part of the trek with its gentle path, cool air and beautiful surroundings, but even then I was happy to see 3 cheerful yellow tents waiting in a row in our 3rd and final camp site. Today we’re camping (it took 4 attempts to write that word – I’m so sleepy!) above Phuyupatamarka (or village in the clouds) and have been awarded our first glimpse of Machu Picchu mountain and the finish line. It’s all downhill from here, though everyone will agree that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact I’d say downhill is more of a nemesis than up as you have the added fear of falling. 3 days ago I was so slow going down but my trusty stick and practice have boosted my confidence, phew.
We had free time before dinner which most people used to find a quiet place and contemplate the day. The scenery here is too stunning for words as two giant mountain ranges meet and hug the tiny Wayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains in the middle.
The site of Machu Picchu was chosen due to its protected position, both in terms of enemies and being close to the gods (and water). It seemed so strange to sit out on the edge of a mountain viewpoint and hear music and car horns from the town over 1500m below. I stayed there until the sun snuck behind the mountains before realising I’d begun my wanderings without torch or headlamp – oops!! It was quick sticks back to the others where we played cards until dinner and then all made tracks. This is our last night of camping and tomorrow our last day of walking the Inca Trail. It’s been tough but I’m not sure anyone is looking forward to going back to reality.