Hiking and rainbows
Breakfast was an omelet and a French toast - very good. Then we began to hike. And guess what - day two (yesterday) of the Inca trail was hyped as the really hard one, and it surely was, but day three was pretty darn hard as well! It was almost as tough as day two in its own way. After reaching Dead Woman's Pass yesterday, we descended about 800 meters to camp. Well today the first thing we did was climb right back up 600 meters. The steps were steep and it was a struggle, but the views were fantastic. We reached the top of the second pass and started slogging down the other side.
When you've just gasped your way up, down sounds good, but it's hard in a different way. On the steep parts there are steps made from stone by the Incas, since we are traveling an Inca pathway, but the steps are usually not wide enough to place your foot easily on them. You always steps sideways. And the steps are extremely high, so you land with a big impact. Even the gentler downhill slopes have awkwardly placed stones. And if it's wet, for example from the rain last night, the whole thing becomes incredibly slippery.
So we went downhill for a while, and then reached an Incan ruin called Runkurakay. The ruin was explored by climbing 99 narrow and exposed steps, and as I did it I thought I must be crazy to voluntarily do more climbing. But it was quite interesting and had some more fantastic views. Across the river you could see a tambo where Inca runners, like the pony express in the U.S., relayed messages across the empire.
We descended to cross the river, then after a slight uphill climb we came to our lunch spot. Our tent for lunch was set up with a wonderful view and we relaxed, talked and took photos while Felix, the cook, prepared soup and a stuffed pepper.
Over lunch we discussed what to do next. It was fairly early as we finished the meal, and our assigned camp for the night was only 1 - 1 1/2 hours away, but that would leave us a long walk from Machu Picchu the next day. We could probably go to the next camp, which is the only one closer to Machu
Picchu, and talk our way in without a reservation, but that was another good two hours beyond our assigned camp. After discussing it, we decided to head for the closer camp so that we could make it to Machu Picchu in time for sunrise tomorrow morning.
We set off after lunch, and though initially it was a continuous uphill climb, it was gradual and the overall elevation was still lower than that two tough passes we’ve already done. We gained about 100 meters in altitude and crossed a small pass and just after that was the camp where we were intended to stay. We made a rest stop there, having been hiking for about one hour and 15 minutes since lunch, and then set out again for 2 1/2 hours of continuous forced marching downhill. Almost immediately after beginning we came to another Inca ruin, Phuyupatamarka, which was also interesting. As we heard Vidal tell us about the ruin, we realized again that much of what is thought about the Incas is somewhat speculation, since they had no written language.
Until this point the skies had been clear, but here some raindrops began to fall. It was never really hard rain, but it lasted on and off almost until we reached our next camp. We even heard thunder in the distance.
The first hour of going downhill was bearable, but after that it was just a test of patience. You almost began to long for an uphill to have a brief respite (how quickly we forget)! But just when I realized I had developed a giant blister on my big toe from all the sliding downhill, and when I was ready to scream at one more step, the sun created a giant rainbow over the valley, a row of dramatic snowcapped mountains came into view, and we reached camp.
This is a big camp, with a stand where we bought fanta and Cheezitos (kind of like Cheetos at home) while we waited for the porters to set up our tents. As we sat, we greeted people coming into camp - familiar faces we have passed many times on the trail. Walking to our assigned tent spot we passed by the tents of another group where the friendly campers traded us some fried wontons with peanut butter (actually very good) for the remains of our Cheezitos.
Our tents are located on a quiet ledge at the edge of camp - just don't sleepwalk off the narrow edge - with a great view of the mountains. [see the photo album for a picture of Bob peeking out of the tent here] It's warmer because it's much lower, and we enjoyed getting cleaned up and settled in the tent without shivering. Now that it's our last night of camping we've got the tent routine down pretty well. So we got organized and I caught up on the journal until it was time for dinner at 7 p.m.
Usually we have been getting into camp at around three to find tents already set up. So hiking in at 4:30 and into tents at five made for a long day. Dinner was soup and spaghetti, which was wonderful, with chocolate pudding for dessert. Then we went to our tents and to bed.