The trail today was supposed to be the most beautiful as well as the easiest (when compared to the other days). And it delivered! First, we climbed a good bit up a ‘ramp-like’ trail. Instead of steps, there was just rocks slanted upward. This was made even more difficult due to the rocks being slippery from the night’s rain. But, the climb was rewarded with a beautiful view back towards the campground and of the mountains – including one glacier-capped peak of over 20k’ called Salkantay. There was also an incredible waterfall.
Katie and I stuck to the back of the group along with the other “slower” hikers: Debbie, Victor and Victor’s girls (Victoria and Renee). Since we only had a half-day of hiking, we decided to take our time and really enjoy the trail. Our main guide Miguel stuck to the back with us and pointed out interesting items and answered all of JT’s many questions as we went along. One interesting item was a near-vertical line in the rock caused by an extreme event. We also passed through some natural tunnels that the Inca Trail was built right through and a few impressive “weeping rocks” (where the water filtered through and dripped off the rock face).
Day 3 was certainly the most beautiful day for plants! We passed by a diverse variety of plants, some identified by the guides and others that we just enjoyed as beautiful. Katie enjoyed the “fern heaven” we seemed to pass through the entire day. We passed orchids, camomile, one of the origin plants of the modern potato, and so many more that we could not remember the names to!
About an hour into the hike, we stopped along a ridge with an incredible view both directions for a talk about the mountains, the forces used to create them, the glaciers that adorn them, and the forces that are destroying these glaciers. We had an (unresolved) discussion about whether or not there is such a thing as “sustainable tourism” (one of Llama Path’s mottoes). After all, think of the carbon footprint of all of us traveling here. Are we actually speeding along the destruction of the glaciers we came here to enjoy? Aren’t there mountains in our home countries? (Well, none in the US are as spectacular as these!!)
Most of the day we went along a built-up trail. Instead of carving out a trail from the mountain (or the trail going up and down constantly), the Inca piled up rocks to build the trail and keep it even along the route – sometimes exceeding 20 feet in places. This led to some incredible photo ops! 🙂
We reached the day’s summit of Phuyupatamarka (over 12k’) a little after 9 am. The porters were resting there, so according to our mutual tradition, they greeted us with applause (we had just done the same when they passed us on the ridge). We then gathered for a group shot – 15 hikers, 2 guides, 23 porters and the cook. We continued down some treacherous steps to another impressive archeological site.
There we had another lecture, this time about the mythology vs. real story of the Incas. The Incas were certainly not the peace-loving group they are sometimes believed to be. They conquered and annexed many surrounding tribes, often by first diverting the village’s water source to send the village into a weakened panic before they attacked. While at this site, we enjoyed watching a falcon circle, hunting for its next meal.
Almost to the bottom, we stopped at Intipata – yet another incredible site with an incredible view of the mountains, valley and river below. We sat on one of the many terraces (we counted about 45 levels) – at first enjoying the view but then listening to our assistant guide Hector give a talk about this site and more info about the Inca (decorative/farming/retaining terraces, llama sacrifices used to predict the weather). Ends up this particular site was used to grow potatoes and corn, as archaeologists found pollen of both of these (and nothing else) in the soil.
We continued down the steps of this site and the remaining 500′ of elevation to our final campsite Wiñaywayna (elevation: 8848′). Our unbelievably-dedicated porters had run ahead and gotten us the best site in the massive camp: one near the bathrooms/showers and next to the trail down to the final Inca Trail checkpoint. Again, we were greeted with applause. Once at the site, we ate lunch – tuna quesadillas, vegetable “ceviche”, meat slices (which probably were on ice the whole way up!), and fried rice. The cook/porters had carved an intricate ‘condor’ (or parrot?) out of a cucumber and carrots. This time our napkins were folded into intricate flowers.
After lunch, JT braved the freezing cold showers, as he had not showered in 3 days of hiking (almost no one else had) and felt gross. The water – which came out of a propped-up hose – was as cold as advertised! This was clearly water coming straight off of a glacier… It literally took your breath away when you were under it. However, JT would do it again in a moment for the clean feeling he felt afterwards!
After a couple of hours of resting, we gathered together to take a walk over to the Wiñaywayna archeological site. The guide said that we didn’t need our hiking boots but could come in just sandals – so we went in our shower flip flops. This led to a tough hike over and bug bites once we were there! But, the site was pretty amazing. Yet another incredible, mind-boggling, semi-circular Inca site.
Our group sat to listen to Miguel tell of the conflicting stories of how the Spanish conquistadors destroyed the Inca. The Spanish version – accepted as fact for many years – makes the Spanish out to be the underdogs, diplomatically just trying to become friends with the Inca – before the “barbarians” tossed the Bible they were presented with as a gift across the floor. Then they attacked and, although quite outnumbered, came out victorious. The victors always get to write their version of history. The other story, which comes from a more reliable source (based on the other writings of this person vs. the author of the previous story) involves the Spanish bringing wine to the meeting with the Inca. Once the Spanish and Inca king were nice and drunk, the Spanish invited the rest of the Inca ruling class to join the party. And the Spanish poisoned the “extra” barrel of wine given to these people. With the rulers, generals and nobility demolished, the Inca were not as much of a force to be reckoned with. Plus, all of the Inca’s enemies – inside and outside the empire – jumped in to help the Spanish. So it didn’t end well for the Inca…
Afterwards, we finished exploring the site and had an close encounter with the llamas at the site grooming the grass (insert video link here). Then we headed back to camp at sunset to cleanup and prep for “happy hour”. The cook/porters surprised us with two massive cakes – cooked right there at the site! We weren’t starving, so we split one among the hikers and saved the rest for the porters to enjoy.
For dinner, we had a heaping bowl of pesto pasta, meat slices (like round packaged sausage slices – but much better), a breaded something that we referred to at the table as twinkies, and a lot more. Unfortunately, we had lost our appetites from the cake and not having hiked that afternoon. So we left over half uneaten (the group had averaged about 90% consumption to this point). Dessert was a thick slice of peaches and some jello.
The last task of the night was collection of the tips for the porter and cook. The company recommends we give enough that each porter gets 65-75 soles ($23-27) and the cook gets double. The guides tasked two people in our group (with stronger personalities) to head up collection. And they were perfect for the job! I – and my handy conversion chart – were called in to help account for the money. Most threw in the minimum, but one generous soul (who I know but will leave nameless) threw $200 into the pot. He/she has a special place in my heart for such a generous gift… This boosted the pot to 85 soles ($30) for each of the porters and 170 soles ($60) for the cook.
After a short, but heartfelt, ceremony to thank the porters and turn over the pot of money (to be divided up later), we turned in to bed early in order to get enough sleep before our 3:30 am wake up call.