After reaching Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,215m above sea level and the very long trek down the other side on the previous day, I have to say I slept like a baby that night… Quite unusual for a light sleeper like myself, but I certainly wasn’t complaining. I awoke on day 3 feeling energised, although the calves were a little tight!
I looked over to my tent buddy Anne as the sun came up and she was still out to it… looking something like a caterpillar in a cocoon! She loves to get her head right inside the sleeping bag… The strange sleeping habits of others never ceases to amaze me.
As I moved to get out of the tent, I stopped for a moment to take in the amazing view of the clouds in the valley below. How can this country be so beautiful? Everywhere I look, the landscape is just stunning. No wonder the Incas decided to build their shrines here… smart people.
We are served our morning cuppa and hot bowls of water to wash with and we go about our morning ritual of packing up our belongings and clearing our tents for the porters. Breakfast today is some kind of bread with jam and the usual quinoa porridge. I like the porridge. It’s fascinating to think that the quinoa grain has been a staple food in Peru for centuries. For Andean farmers, “the mother grain” was not only an essential food but part of their religious ceremonies and burial rituals. Each year, it was the Incan emperor who broke the soil with a golden spade and planted the first seed. But Spanish conquistadors, who arrived in Peru in 1531, scorned quinoa and forbade its cultivation under penalty of death. They forced the natives to replace their ancestral crops with European species such as wheat and barley, and quinoa’s popularity waned. It continued to flourish in the
wild, however, and as the South American colonies fought for and gradually gained their independence from Spain during the 19th century, quinoa was poised to be rediscovered and reintroduced. The rest of the world has only just cottoned on to this ‘super food’ and with 92% of the world’s production in both Peru and Bolivia, it is now it in short supply, has tripled in price, resulting in land disputes and a collapse of traditional farming practices. This makes me a little sad.
So the history lesson and breakfast is done and we’re grabbing our snacks and assembling together in preparation for our first climb of the day. As I look up at the mountain, I’m already feeling tired! Although we are starting our day at 3,800m above sea level, we have a few climbs before we end it at 2,650m.
Before we set off, we gather together with our guide, Paul to learn some more Quechuan phrases (Indigenous language of the Andes) and deliver our daily war cry to get us motivated for the day ahead! “Haku” means “Let’s Go!” and so we do!
We step on up to the bottom of the mountain and Paul brings out his trusty stop watch again. It’s a welcome sight really, because we know we are in for a rest in exactly 12 minutes! Climbing mountains in high altitude, first thing after breakfast can be a little exhausting!
As we begin climbing the trail, and start to gain some altitude, I look back and see our camp below and the
mountain we came down the day before. It’s all about stopping and taking in the moment. Sometimes I wish I was at the back of the pack so I could take my time but if I don’t keep my momentum happening, I seem to lose the plot.
We keep climbing, step by step, breath by breath, stopping on cue at the 12 minute mark. A regular rhythm sets in and after a few hours we reach our first stop for the day at the archaeological complex of Runkurakay. Another stunning outlook pans out before us in the valley below. The Incas certainly knew their real estate…
We stop for a history lesson from Paul and take in the moment and the scenery around us. It just keeps getting
After a short break, we press on with the usual routine of 12 minute hikes, followed by a few minutes rest. We pass so many beautiful sights, I’m snapping away with my camera trying to hold on to all the wonderful memories.
As we walk amongst the clouds at the top of the mountain, we come across a tranquil little oasis with a tiny lake. Paul tells us that there are lots of deer in the area and they often come to the lake to drink. We didn’t see any today, but I could just imagine them there in this peaceful little paradise.
We pass a couple of porters having a rest on our way up the mountain. It’s not often you see them resting… and as I gestured to the two of them to smile for a photo, one of them hid from my camera. There was no way he was going to be seen having a rest! They giggled at my attempts and I gave up with a “hello, my friend” in Quechuan. “Allinllachu kuna!” (I think that’s how you spell it…). They were just so lovely. The people of Peru have most definitely stolen my heart.
Their kind and respectful manner, cheerful and friendly all of the time. I thought a lot about this throughout our trek and wondered where we have gone wrong in the western world. I think they can teach us a thing or two about good old fashioned manners and kindness.
We spend the next few hours climbing and descending amongst the mountains, stopping for breaks and snacks until we finally reach Puyupatamarca (cloud level town) for lunch. The place is crowded with other groups who have stopped to eat before the last section of the day. Our lovely porters are there to meet us as usual, clapping us in as we breathlessly make our way towards our food tent. https://youtu.be/xEnEpbUikck
We sit down to a delicious meal of chicken and rice, a cup of coca tea and time to relax and explore the mountain views around us. We’re told that Machu Picchu is just in the next valley, but we can’t see it yet.
I’m more than a little excited by this… finally we are so close! A few of us stood on a rocky outcrop admiring the view and I looked to the west and saw this solitary bird gracefully making its way across the valley in front of us. I immediately recognised it as a Condor and shouted out to those that were with me. I could hardly believe my eyes. Standing on a mountain, just a few hours walk away from Machu Picchu and here comes the one thing I wanted to see in the wild all along. Check out this majestic sight. (the video doesn’t quite match the view we had, but still, you get the picture!) https://youtu.be/9tkAVWsBMPQ I’m a little overcome with emotion as it feels like a dream come true. How do you top that?
After lunch, we gather our belongings and take off for the last section of the day… it’s ALL downhill and I cannot wait!
So down we go and our varying speeds start to split the group as we work out our individual comfortable rhythms. We pass other groups on the way who have stopped to rest. I’m not really interested in stopping until I reach our next site. It’s a gruelling pace as I bounce down the steps. It’s hot and my knees are starting to feel it, but the faster I go, the easier it seems to be. Ian, Galina, Slava, Lindsay, Paul and I are at the front of the pack and stop for a moment while Paul decides to wait for the rest. So the five of us press on for another 20 minutes until we finally reach the most
spectacular lookout I have ever seen! The Urubamba River in the valley below is a sight to behold. The mountains seem to go on forever. I can do nothing else but stop and stare. As we sat and took in the view, I looked down at my boots and thought about where they have taken me in this world. They’ve done a lot of miles with me and now they were sitting here with me on top of a mountain in Peru, having a well earned rest!
The others started to arrive and one by one as they took their first glimpse of the valley below, I took great delight in watching their reaction. Each and every one of them was the same… “Oh wow!” “Oh my goodness!” Massive smiles on everyone’s faces. It was a lovely moment.
We rested for some time, taking in the moment and reflecting on what we had achieved so far. Sitting on the edge of that mountain, amongst the Inca ruins with the team is a moment I will remember for a long time. I can’t explain it other than right then, it really hit home, that a special group of people had come together in one place.
One foreign place, that none of us had been before and although we were all having our individual experiences, we were sharing something unique and life changing. Unforgettable.
The day wasn’t quite over, we have one more leg to go before we reach our camp at Winaywayna (forever young). Paul tells us it’s 20 minutes down the mountain, so off we go. We walk to the bottom of the Inca ruins with so many stairs
and before we know it, we’ve reached our camp for the night. Paul tells us we have one more important place that he wants to show us before we unpack and get ready for dinner. He says this place is the best ruins of the trek. We’re all pretty tired, but we throw our day packs in our tents and follow him and Omar in the fading light. If he’s telling us that… then it must be good!
We walk for about ten minutes and all of a sudden we come across the wondrous sight of the ruins at Winaywayna (or Winay Huayna). Paul was definitely right… these were remarkable ruins and there were llamas!!
We were all excited to come across them in this peaceful place. They weren’t the least bit bothered by us. They were intent on eating as much grass as possible… We sat and listened once again as Paul gave us a history lesson and the llamas wandered amongst us.
It was getting dark and there were a few mosquitoes about so we decided to head back to camp. It would be our last night with the porters, as they were getting up early to pack up and leave us to catch the 5.30am train back to Cusco. We had enough time for a little rest before dinner and unwind the excitement of the day.
The conversation at dinner revolved around us finally seeing Machu Picchu in the morning. It was all becoming a reality and there was a tinge of sadness as our wonderful trek was also coming to an end. We gathered together our tips for the porters and gave them to Slava, our nominated spokesperson for the group tonight (well he was the accountant!) After dinner our two wonderful chefs and porters gathered
around our food tent and presented us with a beautifully made cake! None of us knew how they put that together in the wilderness, but we were all very impressed!
After thanking these beautiful souls and downing the delicious cake, we presented our porters with their tips and thanked them for all their hard work (with translation assistance from Paul). It was another emotional moment for me as we expressed our gratitude and reflected on the past 3 days. It was to be an early night for everyone, as day 4 begins at 3.30am…