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Trekking the Inca Trail
Day Three

Go Back to Day Two

Inca Trail Cloud ForestWithout a doubt, yesterday’s climb to Dead Woman’s Pass was the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. But I did it! And today I was feeling great. Maritsa promised that today would be our best day on the trail. And in retrospect, I totally agree with her.

We headed out around 8:00 AM with a slow gradual ascent into the cloud forest. It was a slow easy walk with lots of stops to examine the amazing plethora of floral and fauna. We saw bright, colorful bell and aster shaped flowers, mosses in red, orange, green, brown and white, and spider bamboo vines that can grow several meters per day. Louis, a trained botanist, easily identified each one and talked about their growth habits. It was interesting to see how the dampness from the cloud forest resulted in a perpetual weeping of the moss covered mountainside.

spider bamboo

This was the point when we saw the best examples of the incredible Inca engineering that went into the construction of the Inca Trail. We passed through the narrow entrance then down the stone carved steps of a 20 meter/65 foot Inca tunnel, one of several tunnels that go through the mountains along the trail. With the tools available at the time, it must have taken an incredible amount of skill and energy to hollow the mountain and carve the steps.

Following a short climb, we reached Phuyupatamarka, the third pass, at 3,620 meters/nearly 12,000 feet. After a brief rest stop, we continued our descent until we reached the Phuyupatamarka archeological site. Phuyupatamarka, Town Above the CloudsPhuyupatamarka, aptly called the “Town Above the Clouds”, because at night the clouds descend into the mountainous ravines and the archeological site towers above them. At sunrise, the clouds rise again as the environment heats up.
In contrast to some of the other sites, Phuyupatamarka’s architecture is simple with symmetrical terraces that contour to the mountainous terrain. This ruin is thought to have been an important religious site and contains numerous baths for religious ceremonies. After a brief rest stop, we followed a set of side steps to the base of the site then continued down the 3,000 very steep moist steps.

Just as I stopped for my first distant view of Intipata, a fellow trekker shouted “porter”. I stepped aside as two porters ran pass one with a young woman on his back. I later heard that she had suffered altitude sickness the previous day and was being evacuated to a lower altitude campsite. I said a silent prayer of thanks that as tired as I was on the climb up Dead Woman’s Pass, I was able to hang in there and make it to the top.
Place of the Sun, Intipata
At 2,800 meters or just over 9,000 feet, Intipata faces east and is illuminated in a special light as it catches the first rays at sunrise. This may be why it was given a name that means “Place of the Sun”. Intipata is a large complex with 48 agricultural terraces. The trail hugs the mountain as we continued our descent from the cloudforest. At around 1:30 WinaywaynaPM we arrived at , our last campsite. Porters had already set up our tents on a narrow precipice along the mountain. With so little walking space in front of the tents, one misstep would certainly result in a long drop into the lush foliage below.

Several other trekking groups were also expected to arrive at the campsite later in the afternoon. Since this was the first opportunity in four days for trekkers to shower, Maritza urged us to head for the shower immediately to avoid the rush of other trekkers. Some group members took an optional tour of the Winaywayna “Forever Young” archeological site. I chose to spend the afternoon relaxing at the campsite and enjoying the sight of clouds snaking up one side of the mountain.

On the last night of a trek, Inca Trail tradition calls for trekkers to show their appreciation to the support staff by presenting them with a tip for services rendered. Our porters and cooks had done a fabulous job during our three days on the trail. They had prepared hearty, delicious and appetizing meals and been attentive to our needs. We wanted to do more than simply tip them.

So we reversed rolls and asked the entire support staff to gather in the dining tent at tea time where we served them tea and popcorn. When tea time was over, we all gathered outside for a group picture. Then, with their usual efficiency, the trail staff returned to their support rolls and prepared our last high mountain dinner.

After dinner each porter and cook took turns introducing himself as Maritza served as interpreter. Their ages ranged from 21 to 35 and most of them had come from rural farmland in pursuit of the higher wages they could earn on the Inca Trail. Although some of them were married with children, they joked that they were all single while on the trail.

Maritza continued to serve as interpreter as we all introduced ourselves and stated where we were from (Australia, United States, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Scotland). We also sang a special song written earlier in the afternoon by two group members. The song written earlier in the afternoon by two group members. The song called “The Road to Machu Picchu” was set to the tune of “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary” and attempted to convey our appreciation for the care and service we’d received from the trail staff and guides. Of course, we sang the song in English but Maritza later interpreted the lyrics for the porters.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had all pitched in and purchased a round of beer for the entire staff. No interpretation was required as we passed around the cold brews.

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