The early morning greeted us with a respite from the rain and we set off early after breakfast. This day while not as difficult, was much longer than the previous two days. The extra four hours (a total of 11) allowed time to pack in many exciting events. We visited 4 Incan sites. We climbed two passes one in dense fog and scattered rain, the other in bright and steamy sun.
The trail was packed with people, but luckily the pace the Italian and I usually walked got us ahead of most people eventually, so that we didn’t have to trek in a herd. That is one of the most peculiar things about the Inca trail, trekking in a herd of tourists. While it is true that you are in nature, the crowds are the price of hiking one of the most famous trails in the world.
This day was my favorite before Machu Picchu. We learned about the ancient Incas and the visited some distinct architecture. The first few sites we saw were very simple, but in the middle of the day we visited something greater. It was a site that housed a temple and a monument to the great mountains. Each site we saw was more impressive than the last, leading us eventually to the glory of Machu Picchu the next morning.
The weather changed all day from clouds and cold sprinkling rain on the first pass, to the steamy sweat at the bottom of the first valley. Then we went straight up into the sun again and it seemed like we were walking in a jungle area for a while. The variation makes you feel like you are travelling much greater distances. The adventure is real when clouds kick up and rain dumps within 2 minutes of bright sun and that same sun clears clouds in a matter of minutes only a little while later.
I said earlier I was wary of the extra weight I carried, but at times I was quite a happy hiker, since I was able to deal with this variation quickly and easily enough.
At one of the sites near the top of the second pass, began the hardest part of the day. This was what our guide Percy called the Gringo killer. It is 3,000 giant steps down to camp Winnaywayna “Forever Young.”
The name of the camp made a lot of sense when compared to the experience of the trail. When you are done and you put your pack down, you feel much more free and easy. Of course you may need emergency double knee surgery, but you are still light on your feet with the knowledge that the trail is behind you and Machu Picchu lies just around the corner. One night and a two hour morning jaunt was all that stood between us and the fabled Incan city.
This day was also the best, because of the immensity of the ruins. They just kept getting better and better the closer we got to Machu Picchu. Winaywayna and the terraced ruins on the hill above camp were incredible.
We had dinner late and then held the porter thanking and tipping ceremony after dinner under the stars. These guys were incredible. They carried packs 1.5 to 3 times the size of the hikers pack and ran down the trail breaking camp after we left and setting it up before we arrived. They wore sandals, chewed coca and would sometimes run past us down the trail. They are true warriors and I hope that their lives are made better by the massive amounts of tourism on the trail, instead of being exploited by the companies and the tourists. Sometimes they would clap when people in our group made it to camp, the absurdity of that is hilarious. I always thought, they have got to be making fun of us weaklings. But since I don’t speak quechua, I didn’t worry about it. They would be right anyway, we were weaklings.
After it was all done and I lay in my very small tent listening to the hypnotic sounds of the rain against my tarp,I reflected. 3 days, 9 meals, 3 tea times, tens of thousands of steps, and hundreds of coca leaves later, I was finally here. On the eve of fulfilling the dream, I felt a calm come over me. And the rain, the cold, the sleeplessness all faded into the background. Getting up at 3:30 am seemed perfect, the weather seemed perfect. It was all as it should be and I waited for the morning with a tranquility I am sure I have rarely felt in life. In a few hours I would be at the sun gate as the sun rose and illuminated the city. What more is there in life than the beauty of that moment and the moment to come? This must be why they call the camp forever young.
Stay tuned for Part 4 MACHU PICCHU!!!!