October 29, 2005
Today, we had to get up at 5:15. The toughest day was already behind us, but this day proved to be the longest with ten hours of hiking. I didn't really feel any better or worse in the morning. I just took some more drugs and left, realizing that my cold simply wasn't going to go away as long as I was on the Inca Trail.
The first hour of the day involved a tough climb to the Second Pass at 3950 meters. It was very foggy all morning, so there wasn't much to look at. On the way up, we did pass Runcuracay, yet another Inca site. I began to wonder how we could be taught in high school about the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans for an entire semester, yet the Incas, who had a magnificent culture, could barely even be mentioned and be lumped together with all of the other ancient cultures of the Americas. The Incas definitely don't get the attention they deserve.
Near the Second Pass, the fog began to clear a bit, so I got a good view of the lagoons that remained eerily calm on the mountainside. It wasn't too difficult to make it to the top this time, and I finally realized that I could could take in all of the wonderful scenery without having to worry about whether I'd make it to the end alive.
The next stop on the trail was the Sayaqmarka ruins. In Inca times, it was a town with windows, staircases, irrigation systems, and an intricate set of passageways. The site was also a great place to photograph. The dreary green and gray colors combined well with the ambient fog to give the entire site an almost-alive feel.
When we left the Sayaqmarka ruins, the scenery quickly changed from mountains to jungle. Once again we were walking along the river, but now, the forest dominated the area. I saw many tropical plants, including ferns and orchids, and the weather became warmer and much more humid. I started taking so many pictures, I began to fall behind the rest of the group.
Eventually, we ate lunch and forged ahead. We almost immediately stopped at Phuyupatamarka, another ancient Inca site. It had several chambers, ceremonial baths, and a large set of requisite three-foot stairs. Also visible from Phuyupatamarka was Intipata, a hillside Inca ruin.
The climb down was so steep, it became treacherous. At one point, a Swedish hiker yelled "Your friend fell!" loudly in English. Obviously, everyone who heard him became very worried because a fall off the wrong part of the trail would mean certain death. We started running up the trail, but then a bloody porter passed us and we figured out that he simply fell in some brush and quickly got back up. It was a scary moment, but luckily no major damage was done. It's crazy how the porters continue to run on the trail, even when the steps are longer than their legs. I wonder how many of them lose their lives in the name of getting the tourists' luggage to camp before the tourists themselves get there.
We still had a few hours of daylight left, so we took the long way to camp and checked out Intipata on the way. Our guide got really excited at one point and told everyone to stop moving. I thought he had spotted the elusive spectacled bear, but it turned out to be a false alarm. The only disappointment of the entire trek was that I didn't get to see any wild animals other than a few hummingbirds. Maybe a trip into the jungle is in my future.
After we got to camp, our guide had a surprise for us: there was still one more ruin we could see. Several of us walked with him to Wiñaywayna, which was possibly the most impressive ruin I had seen all day. It basically consisted of three parts: A large stepped area for growing crops, a section with several living quarters, and the Temple of the Sun. Connecting the living area with the temple was a long string of ceremonial baths. Anyone who wished to enter the temple needed to bathe himself on the way. There was almost nobody at the site, which made it even more unique.
The mood at the campsite was very festive. There was a bar with a dance floor, and hot showers were available. Wanting to get the full Inca Trail experience, I declined the shower (I didn't have any clean clothes to put on anyway). Still, it was good to see that we were getting near civilization again.
We ate our final supper together and said our formal goodbyes to the porters and cooks who had helped us along the way. The trip would not have been possible without the porters, and I probably would've had to have eaten bugs if it weren't for the cook.
That night, some people started drinking rather heavily, but I didn't want to push myself. I still wasn't feeling any better, and I wanted to make sure I was well enough to take in Machu Picchu the next day. We also had to get up at 3:45 for our last hike, so my decision to go to bed at 9:00 was actually pretty easy.
The photo album for this entry is here.