In this installment, we’re back in Peru, continuing our journey along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This posting covers the second half of Day 2 of our four day trek.
After our delicious and fortifying lunch we left camp on a steep trail quickly ascending out of the valley toward the second highest point of the four-day hike. You may have noticed sleeping tents in some of the photos of our lunch camps as in the photo below. After the first day, trekking outfitters alternate camp usage so that half of the trail’s 500 trekkers end their day at our lunch camps and break for lunch at our overnight camps, which keeps hikers more evenly distributed over the 45km length of the trail.
Location: Ayapata to Chaquicocha Date: 10 July 2010 Max/Min Elevation: 13,779ft./10,829ft. Day Distance: 16km (11 hours)
The climb towards the second pass was comparably strenuous to the Dead Woman’s Pass climb, but in a different way. The trail at this point required climbing steep stairs, hundreds of them, for a couple of hours. It was tough work, but the views did not disappoint.
If you like orchids, or unique flowers in general, you’d love the Inca Trail. Even in July (prime time for orchid viewing is March-May) we came across many different types of orchids ranging from these Lady Dancers (named for their striking appearance) to yellow, blue and white orchids.
Llama Path (our trekking company) was a first-class outfit, owned and operated by Peruvians with a focus on sustainability and fair treatment of their porters.
In the midst of high season, they were able to offer us small group numbers (our group was only six hikers whereas most others had at least a dozen). Their porters wore high-quality color-coordinated trekking attire with good shoes and technical clothing and were only allowed to carry up to 20 kilos each. Lori especially appreciated that from a physical therapist’s standpoint. Other companies sent porters up the trail with huge backbreaking packs, a pair of flip-flops and the clothes on their back. Our porters were young and fit and healthy and well-equipped, and to top it off, Llama Path was surprisingly cheaper than most other outfits.
The porters spoke Quechua primarily, with limited Spanish, but Lori was still able to chat them up which she really enjoyed. They clapped for us every time we came into a snack/lunch break or campsite which was motivating. Also, we liked that “our” porters all hiked in a single-file line (16 or so of them), other companies were much more spread out…meaning having to step off the trail many times for them to pass.
Part-way up the mountain, we stopped at the ruins of Runkurakay. The fast-moving clouds and stark distant ridgeline created an incredible other-worldly backdrop for us to admire as Julian, our guide, related more stories of the Inca and Inca Empire history and folklore.
My notes tell me that this circular structure named Runkurakay was an Inca tambo, or place where messengers would stop for food and rest along the trail before moving on. The ruins of course are only visited by those who choose to hike to Machupicchu. Runkurakay is near the second highest pass of the same name at an altitude of just under 4,000 meters. According to Julian, just up the hill is an Inca observatory which we did not end up visiting.
Upwards and onwards, we say farewell to the site of Runkurakay and look forward to reaching the Runkurakay Pass shortly.
At last! A well-deserved rest at Runkurakay Pass with our group and others. It is all (mostly) downhill from here to Machu.
The defining feature of this pass is the ceremonial rock piles (below) scattered throughout the area.
Our first view of Sayaqmarka, an Inca fortress town perched high on a cliff overlooking two converging valleys and our Night #2 camp.
Less than 30 minutes from our pit stop for this leg of the trek, but first, a little Sayaqmarka.
This was a cool site that demonstrated well the Inca’s understanding of environment and their engineering prowess. Sayaqmarka, in particular has gutters built into the walls that collect rain water and direct it into a giant cistern. The system is in disrepair, but large portions remain intact to see how the system worked.
Sayaqmarka was a fortress at the confluence of two valleys. The south end of the city drops off into a valley far below, but remanants of another Inca trail leading up to the fortress can still be seen near an overgrown set of steps. The site was very interesting, however sitting for too long left us targets for huge man-eating mosquitoes that showed no mercy to the tired Gringo.
Usually our guide Julian’s informational sessions atop ruins were fun and interesting, but his 30-minute spiel at Sayaqmarka bordered on torture, as the six of us spent most of the time batting away huge flies and tiny no-see-ums which nonetheless managed to devastate any exposed skin any of us might not have been able to cover. I had a hole in my convertible pants and got it pretty good up and down my entire right leg, not to mention my hands and face…however this attack would pale in comparison to what I would soon endure in the Peruvian Amazon only weeks away.
Sunset over Sayaqmarka, illuminating our bright red dinner tent (right side) signaling that it’s time to get a move on and head to camp, marking the end of a very long, and very satisfying day on the Inca Trail.
At last, camp, sweet camp. Our mess tent glowing up on a hill, calling us to happy hour and eventually dinner. Shortly after dessert, we change into our night clothes and head off for a wonderful, long and well-appreciated Andean slumber.