May 8, 2012 by Amie M
With the morning mist still hanging on, and a little chill in the air, we awoke to our usual morning fare of “Buenos dias! Agua caliente y coca tea?” (Good day! Hot water and coca tea?) But this day, our boys let us have a little bit of a sleep in. Instead of the 5 a.m. wake up the day before, they let us sleep until 6:30 a.m. Oh, those extra hours felt so good. Feeling well rested we thanked Alejandro for the Coca Tea and got to packing up our tent. Each morning we were responsible for packing our personal belongings back into our duffels, then the boys would repack them and our sleeping mats into their packs. The hardest part was always getting out of your warm sleeping bag and into the damp morning air in the tent.
We checked to see if any of Paul’s clothes dried overnight, some did a little, but his cropped pants were still soaked through. So it looked like it was going to be a short short day for him!
We ate a hearty breakfast from Esteban, then I learned about the conversations from the night before while I was in bed. The boys were joking with Paul that they were in a band, all of them, and Sabino was their manager. Apparently this all sprang from Alejandro admitting he plays the accordion.
After breakfast, Carlos formally introduced us to the boys. We have (back row) Christian, Sabino, (front) Alejandro, Leandro, Esteban and Achilles.
Carlos also explained to us what Intrepid (or PEAK) gives their porters and their villages. For on the Trail, each porter is supplied with their fleece jacket, hiking shoes, poncho, back belt to help distribute the load and strengthen their backs, and stainless steel water bottle. They also sleep on the same sleeping pads as we do, but in the dining tent. Intrepid works closely with four farming communities a few hours outside of Cusco. They help with providing clean water, school supplies and medical care, in addition to paying their porters really well for their time on the Trail. The majority of the porters are also farmers, and use the Trail as a second income for their families. It felt good to hear these things about the company we chose to go with. It was the biggest factor in who we decided to use, as Paul and I both felt the treatment of the porters to be very important, and didn’t mind paying more knowing that our porters will get more out of it.
Even though we slept in a little more, we were still the first group out of camp that morning, and didn’t really see the others until rest stops along the way. It felt good not to be passed!
We were back in the cloud rainforest.
Moss and lianas were abound.
With two hours of walking, we made it to the third pass of the Trail. Yes, we climbed three mountains in two days. This pass was much smaller than the others, 3 670 m (12 000 ft), with camp at 3 680 m (12 033 ft). But we had a small descent before our ascent.
The stairs down from the third pass were incredible. The steepest yet.
Just after the third pass, we came along to Phuyupatamarka, Town Above the Clouds.
The ruins here were covered in moss, because of the constant presence of the clouds and moisture. It added an eerie calm to it all, but still so beautiful.
It was here that Carlos explained the Incan and Quechan religion. Inca refers to the King, the Emperor over the country, that was his family name. It is also derived from the Quechan word for the sun and sun god, Inti. Thus Peru had a Sun King. Quechan were the people and the language they spoke. The Quechan were very intelligent and masters of engineering. But most of their beliefs sprang from the cosmos. They tied everything to the sun, it’s movements and to the stars. The most important constellation to them was the Southern Cross.
Having four major points, and four minor points it formed the compass in the night’s sky. When steps were made along the top and bottom, it transformed into a tiered pyramid, with each level signifying a level of nature. The topmost tier is the sky, represented by the condor. The middle, earth, and a puma. The bottom, the underworld, and the snake. The Incan builders formed their great cities in the shapes of these animals as well, and they found symbols of them in their surroundings. The Sacred Valley is called such because the Sacred River (Rio Urubamba) flows through. The Sacred River is sacred because it is in the form of the snake. Cusco, it’s original size and shape, was in the form of a Puma. And it is thought that Machu Picchu (to some) is in the shape of the Condor.
The llama, the beast of burden was also an important animal. There was even a constellation for the llama in the night sky. And because this llama was black, all black llamas were important. When the winter solstice (June 22) was upon the Quechan people, the sun was the furthest away. In a prayer to bring the sun back for the next year, black llamas were sacrificed to appease the gods. That is why there are few black llamas today.
We continued along for our short hike. We only had five hours to do from breakfast until lunch, much less than the thirteen from the day before. So we kept a leisurely pace, but still a good rhythm. I hardly needed the sticks! Just when we were going up did I put them down, or to balance my shaking thighs on the way down some steps. It was liberating. We were doing so well that when we were only half an hour away from camp, Carlos asked if we wanted to do the hour hike to Intipata, or go straight to lunch and our tents. I was so proud of how well I was doing, that I said “Of course! Let’s keep going.”
Intipata, Sun Place, was one of the major agricultural centers along the trail that fed Machu Picchu and the mountain villages. It was incredibly productive because of the amount of sun it received every year.
The buildings at the top housed the workers and families that maintained the terraces. On our way down, Carlos pointed out further terraces that had yet to be uncovered by the Peruvian government. Still hidden under the jungle canopy, this sparked a great conversation as to whether they should be uncovered, or left. Left would mean not touching the habitat and vegetation that has taken over this old place. Uncovering would mean showing off even more how extensive the Incan empire was at supplying itself, especially the average person. I fell on the side of leaving it, much like how pieces of Angkor Wat are left to the jungle. Paul fell on uncovering them, to learn more.
After Intipata it was a short walk to Winay Wayna campsite. Here all the groups would be stopping for the night, as the checkpoint into Machu Picchu was at the base of the campground. There were to be 20 groups and almost 200 people here soon. But when we arrived we felt like we were the first ones, aside from the porters, to get in for the day. We had a relaxing lunch and siesta, as it was starting to drizzle again.
Carlos woke us up around 4 p.m. by then we were ready to go. We went on another leisurely hike to the Winay Wayna ruins. Where Intipata terraces were convex out of the mountains, Winay Wayna was concave tucking into the mountain.
Winay Wayna, Forever Young, was named after the orchid found abundantly in the mountains. The flower blooms for a long time, and has no season preference, which is rare for an orchid.
To the right of the town was a waterfall that Carlos was psyching Paul up for most of the Trail. The waterfall was a 15 minute climb down some really steep stairs. Even though you had to go down to get there, you still needed to come back up. Having had enough of climbing stairs from the day before, I elected to stay up at the ruins with Carlos while Paul ran down and up to the waterfall.
It was beautiful.
But Paul was down there for a long time, and Carlos gave him half an hour to 45 minutes to go down take photos and come back up. He was starting to get worried. So he headed down to see if he could see Paul, and there he was, sauntering back up the really steep stairs. He was ecstatic over the waterfall.
We headed back to camp and supper. Then it was an early night, because we had an early morning. A 3:30 start to get all our things packed up and out of the tent so the boys could take everything down while we ate breakfast.
So after some failed attempts to do star trails, we went to bed at 8 p.m.