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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Peruvian Adventure 2016 - Inca Trail Day 3 (Paqaymayu to Winaywayna)

As was starting to become normal, we were awoken at 5am to one of our smiling porters greeting us with warm coca tea. This was definitely a friendly way to say, "Hey, it's time to get going, pack your stuff, and head to breakfast". At least, it was friendly! We quickly packed our bags and made our way to breakfast. Our chef surprised us with a cake, celebrating our journey thus far. It was a kind and delicious gesture. Our porters certainly took great care of us. Plus, our chef was a bit of a magician!

After breakfast, we grabbed our packs and began our hike. Today, we got to see five Inca archeological sites. Our first was Runkuraqay. Unfortunately, between us and Runkurakay was about 150m of elevation gain. Ouch! Not a friendly way to start our hiking for the day!

While we were hiking around Runkurakay, Christian explained the purpose of the structure and its use by the Inca people. This was more of an outpost for the big city over the pass, Sayaqmarka, where soldiers would travel back and forth, looking over the valley below. Also in view was Abra de Warmi wañusca, or dead woman's pass; although, on this side, it more resembled a younger, more beautiful woman. We could also see some glaciers in the distance as we ascended.

Runkurakay marked the halfway point of elevation gain to our major pass of the day. After we left, we passed a couple small lakes on our way up to about 4000m. Nothing like hiking to 4000m to start our morning and really get the lungs burning. We took a nice little rest at the top, and we all scampered up to a high point to look over the valleys below. We were blessed with such beautiful weather. We had clear blue skies and the sun shining down over the valleys below. It was absolutely breathtaking!

Following our time at the pass, we began our descent to our second Inca site of the day, Sayaqmarka. Where yesterday was the day of ascent, today was the day of descent. As quickly as we started our ascent in the morning, we began our descent. Descents were really rough on Brenna and Kari, so it was slow going down.

Much like our other Inca sites we explored, Sayaqmarka was absolutely beautiful and it overlooked Concha Marka. Sayaqmarka was one of the large Inca towns that overlooked several valleys. On our way down, Hannah was celebrating the finish of our ascending. Unfortunately, I burst her bubble in a less than nice way. I probably could have been better about it. We still had quite a bit more to climb throughout the day.

After our time in Sayaqmarka, we descended into the cloud forest. While it was beautiful, it was a little slippery as we went down. Not long after we left Sayaqmarka, the clouds rolled in. It was both cool and eerie. As we hiked up past Chaquicocha and higher into the cloud forest, the ability to see the valley became impossible. It was as if the world disappeared off the cliff. Sort of reminiscent of the scene in Up when the house was beginning to descend into the clouded rock spires.

Along the way, we encountered the first Inca tunnel. Christian took video of us as we entered and walked through the tunnel. Pretty neat! Before we knew it, we were at our lunch site, Phuyupatamarka. We were all pretty tired. The altitude was affecting me more than it had all trip. I was beat. Lunch was just what the doctor ordered, at least for me. Our chef, Mariano, made chicken with rice, soup, and vegetables. It was delicious!

After about an hour of food, rest, bathroom use, and recovery, we continued our journey down. Christian said that we had about 3500 stairs down to descend over 1000m to our camp site at Wiñaywayna. Hannah was thrilled, but Kari and Brenna looked like they got hit by a Mack Truck! By now, we were far in front of most of the trekkers we were leap frogging with prior to lunch. Only a few people were ahead of us, making travel relatively easy to go at a pace we were comfortable with.

The only people we really saw were the teams of porters trying to make it to the next campsite ahead of their trekkers. We visited the archeological site of Phuyupatamarka, while seeing our second to last Inca site of the day, Intipata, and the top of Machu Picchu mountain. It almost did not seem real that we were that close. We could also see Aguas Calientes, the hot springs town in the distance, our lunch spot following our time in Machu Picchu.

As had been the case most of our hike, we made it to the checkpoint outside of Intipata faster than Christian told us. We were moving really well as a group, and he commented that we were his fastest group of the year. Pretty hard not to be, considering we were also his first. He did say that we were moving better than most people he will take on the Inca Trail. Pretty cool compliment!

We hiked into Intipata, admiring the sheer size of the terraces as well as the surrounding mountains and valleys. We had a great view of the Urubamba River, the river we started our trek next to. Greeting us as Intipata was a group of llamas. We posed next to a llama named Erika for some photos, and we took more photos to commemorate the trip. It was cool feeling we had almost accomplished our goal of hiking to Machu Picchu!

Once we were done admiring the beauty, we began our walk down to camp at Wiñaywayna. Our porters exuberantly greeted us as we arrived. Again, we were some of the first to make it. They were always happy to see us, especially since we did not need much from them. Some groups, we were told, require being carried, oxygen, etc., requiring the porters to do extra work or work later into the day to accommodate the trekkers. In camp, we dropped our bags and headed to Wiñaywayna, our last Inca archeological site of the day.

The Inca site of Wiñaywayna was only a few minutes from camp. It was also the most beautiful site we saw thus far. It was set on a mountainside, overlooking the Urubamba River. Absolutely stunning! As we wandered around taking photos, we came to the reception area of the high class family of this city. In the reception area, Christian told us Inca stories and shared part of their religion with us, including the Inca Cross. It was truly fascinating to hear the stories and learn more.

After Christian showed us the upper home of the city, he let us wander around for a while. Kari, Hannah, and I walked down to the lower homes and fountains. The city, surrounded by the mountains and waterfalls, was an incredible place.

When we got back to camp, we had tea time, well hot chocolate for me, with toasted corn. Since most of the other trekkers had not arrived yet, we all scurried up to take a shower. While absolutely freezing, it was very nice and rejuvenating to be clean! Not long after we were done showering, it was time for dinner. We had more soup, chicken, sausage, potato "chips", and rice. For dessert, we had fruit jello. An awesome last dinner for our trek.

After dinner, we spent some time with our porters, learning more about each other. For example, Andres has hiked the Inca trail around 300 times in the last 8 years! Incredible! This time of learning more about each other was more productive than my attempt to communicate prior to dinner, considering that I speak basically zero Spanish and they speak zero English. They were good sports with me as I fumbled through my attempts to communicate.

Following story time, we said our goodbyes to the porters, since we would not have time to say goodbye in the morning. It was a touching moment after our few days of bonding. Then we hit the sack, trying to get as much rest as possible before our 3am wake-up!

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