Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 3 of the Trail - Pacamayo to Phuyupatamarca

This morning we wake to cool temperatures and a welcome cup of hot Coca tea, compliments of the porters as they arrive to each tent. I like this tea ok but I'm ready for some of the thick, strong coffee that I know will be on the breakfast table, it's cold up here! 

All night the frogs were singing, happy for the rain. It was very soothing and everyone said they slept like babies after our big climb over WarmiwaƱusca. Our campsite is perched on the side of the mountain and the view down to the valley and surrounding area is outstanding as we have breakfast up in the clouds.
This morning our guide has arranged for an introduction of the porters. He asks them to tell us about themselves, where they are from, if they are married, how many children they have and how many times they have been on the Trail. With pride they step forward one by one and speak about their lives, joking and watching each other talk. One of the porters is almost 60 amazingly and one as young as 22.

A word here about our operator, SouthWild, now called Q'inti and the porters; the porters are all very well provided for while working on the trail and are given fleece jackets, shirts and hats, as well as shoes. Some of them do not wish to wear the shoes provided, as you can see, but wish to continue to wear the standard rubber sandals that the locals wear in the area. They are also provided with packs that have built in padded waist braces and padded shoulder straps. Provided with excellent food on the trail as well as shelter, your porters are well paid and well taken care of. A portion of the fee paid to our operators also goes to a foundation supporting the porters in the Machu Picchu area. If you chose a company to hike the trail, and all hikers must use porters on this section of the Inka Trail, please be sure to use a company that practices responsible employment/treatment for its' porters.

We finish breakfast and get ourselves ready for the next hike up the steep mountain side to Runkurakay. In the picture below, if you follow the trail of hikers up the trail to the center of the mountain you can barely make out the ruins where we will make our next stop. Above this is the second highest pass on the trail at 13,113 ft. We begin hiking and the trail is tough! I should have had one more cup of java!

Once to the ruins we stop for a lecture and a welcome rest and the ruins are beautiful! This ruin was a tambo or temporary storehouse for llamas/animals and supplies. A refueling station of sorts for the Inca couriers. This small, round construction is not typical of the Inca construction. 
Looking back, we can also see the pass of WarmiwaƱuska in the distance, as well as, the campsite and the waterfalls. The scale and enormity of the view is absolutely breathtaking as we huff and puff our way up to the site!

We continue on and reach the pass at almost 10:00am after a 20 minute hike. It's raining a bit, cold and windy as we make the pass and the snow capped peaks of the Pumasillo Range come into view. We are now at 12,960 ft. As we descend into the high paramo we pass by two Andean lakes and the trail is flanked by tall bunchgrasses and more flowers. We see a few ducks in the lakes and many black and orange Tanangers along the way. Flocks of parrots cackle as they dash about and we even see a few hummingbirds! But one of the best parts about hiking at this time of year is the beautiful lush growth of the rainy season and the very few hikers on the trail. In fact, other than seeing them across the last campsite, we have not seen many hikers at all.

We hike for 1 hour to Sayacmarca archaeological site, which means Inaccessable Town, consisting of a huge complex of houses and plazas perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the Aobamba Valley. As we hike the steep stairway to the site of this incredible feat of engineering we are in awe!

We are literally hanging off the side of the mountain up in the clouds on this set of ruins, covered in moss and flowers.

After a lecture we leave Sayacmarca and hike for 30 minutes and we notice that the trail becomes more dense with foliage and the sides of the trail are covered with great mats of tiny bromeliads and fantastic looking miniature plants under the brush and trees. We arrive to Chacquicocha for lunch and a well deserved rest stop.

I should mention that there are toilets here for use and they are manned and cleaned often but pretty primitive. There is a thatched roof stone building that is tiled inside and contains toilet stalls but no seated toilets, you have to stand. Wash sinks are located at the entrance/exit and it is still a welcome sight.

We hike a good distance away from this site to a high bluff in the area and lunch is set up for us and waiting.

A feast of bread, tomatos, cucumbers, cheese and Quinoa soup await us. Our main course is pasta with tuna, vegetables and a hard boiled egg. Coca tea and honey is also served and we are happy for the sustenance as it's been a hard hike this morning.
We gather ourselves together to start hiking again and we're clouded in up on this massive plateau, as they move rapidly around us. The trail transforms into a massive buttressed path hanging off of the mountain and constructed of granite paving stones. We are in cloud forest now and the vegetation is becoming very wild looking and suddenly there are orchids and great masses of bromeliads in the trees. Then, we come to our first tunnel, carved from the living rock and it seems we are walking into the side of the mountain like some great chapter from a Harry Potter book!

The trail continues through cloud forest and soon we see Giant ferns, bamboo stands and plenty of orchids. After hiking almost 2 hours, and making the third pass of the days' hike, we camp near a rock pinnacle topped with Inca viewing platforms and they overlook the ruins of Phuyupatamarca, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful on the trail!

Our campsite is in a protected alcove on top of this gorgeous peak but below an outlook facing the ruins. We have the views of both the snow capped peaks of Salcantay, the Vilcabamba mountain range and a stunning view down the valley towards the Amazon region. It doesn't get much better than this!

Our operators utilize the 5 day - 4 night schedule for the Inca Trail and this affords a bit of a slower pace to enjoy the sites and also avoid having to wake up in the middle of the night to hike out on Day 4 of the trail to Machu Picchu to arrive for sunrise. This makes for a hectic pace. The 5 day 4 night has us arriving to MP in the late afternoon, overnighting in Aguas Calientes and then a sunrise visit to MP on the 5th morning for a full tour of the site.

We sit up on the lookout and take pictures of the ruins and the 360 degree view that is astounding and we know this is a trek that we will never forget! We have tea and a snack back down at the campsite before dinner but the sun is setting and of course, we have to take some group pictures. There are clouds moving in and out and this is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been! I am here up in the Andes on my way to Machu Picchu and it's better than any fantastic dream I could imagine!

Back down to the campsite again and we are warm in the dining tent as we tell stories and talk about the day's hike. Hot wine is served and we toast the day before our dinner. What a great bunch of people I am with to experience this amazing place! Thanks Franco for taking this one! It isn't long until we're tired and ready to hit the sleeping bags..... Machu Picchu, here we come!


  1. Love your pictures.
    I did the Inca Trail with my husband and friends on May 2010, it was a Wonderfull experience, everyone can try it!!!

  2. Thanks Claudia! This was the most amazing day! I cannot wait to return to the Trail and the Sacred Valley!!! Laura

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