38 Photos

The City in the Clouds
An Inca Adventure

Moray crop circlesMoray crop circles (Madeline Jones)
Daniel was a bit late to breakfast but he was up and walking and, despite being a little quieter than usual, seemed quite normal. We started our day hiking up towards the second pass. On the way up we passed a small round ruin, Runkuraquay. It had probably been a rest house for messengers along the trail and it was spectacularly placed between the two mountain passes. From here we continued our walk up although today the end was in sight and the steps weren't nearly as steep. The day was cloudy and by the time I got to the top of the second pass there were clouds trailing me. I climbed up to the top of one of the small peaks that made the pass and patiently watched as the other seven slogged their way up.

I contentedly wound my way down the other side knowing that it was all downhill from now on. To my happiness I could see that where the path flattened out there was a small jut of earth housing another ruin. The walls of this ruin snaked along the thin spurt of bedrock and protruded out into the valley below. This was the city of Sayacmarka. This gem had been hidden from prying eyes deep in the heart of the Andes until Hiram Bingham had stumbled upon it in the early 20th century. I couldn't imagine how magical it would have been to rediscover such a place although a small part of that wonder was replicated as I rounded a bend and was caught unaware of its presence.

Teddy led us up to it and we wandered through the fallen walls. We inched right up to the edge of the prominence and looked out at the lush valley before us. A huge bank of clouds had accumulated in the valley and we could tell they were rising up towards us. As we peered over the edge the clouds swooshed over us and engulfed us in an eerie pale light. I got chills all over.

We stopped for lunch at a site about 30 minutes past Sayacmarka. From there Teddy and I took the lead. Teddy had a premonition that it was going to rain and he didn't want to get caught in it. Sure enough, it soon began to sprinkle and this gave way to a light rain. The walk was spectacular, however, and made up for any discomfort the rain may have brought. By now we were in a cloud forest and were skirting the sides of mountains as we snaked our way West. We descended through a natural rock tunnel and continued along the worn stones on the other side. It wasn't long before we reached our camp, Phuyupatamarka, or City in the Clouds. It had stopped drizzling although the clouds hadn't broken up. I was eager to keep moving and noticed there was a small stone wall on a neighboring peak. Teddy gave me full reign to explore so I started my climb.

From the top of the first mountain I could see down into the valley and to the backside of Machu Picchu mountain. The clouds surrounding the peaks below were dark and foreboding. I could hear thunder from down in the valley and was hoping it wasn't headed our way. From the peak I dipped down and followed a thin dirt path that looked like a deer trail towards the other peak. It was uneven and the grass was long but I was excited to see what was at the top. About 2/3 of the way up, I felt a few drops and realized it was going to rain again. Grudgingly I turned around and hightailed it back towards camp. When I got there everyone else had arrived. It was beginning to sprinkle in earnest now, so we crawled into our tents to sit out the rain.

After the rainstorm we explored the site a little more. Below us on the other side was another ruin, tucked along the mountainside. We were going to pass it tomorrow but for the time being we could look down on it in wonder.

Soon it was time for tea and this time to accompany our popcorn they brought us Inca popcorn, large corn kernels that had been warmed in a pan with oil but hadn't popped. These were dressed with a liberal amount of salt and were absolutely delicious. The sky was brightening and the setting was incredible. It was as though we were camping on the top of the world. We were all a bit giddy, what with the setting and the prospect of a shower the next day. Plus we had almost made it and were eagerly anticipating our reward, Machu Picchu.

When we emerged from the tent after dinner we were struck by the stars above us. They twinkled brilliantly in the clear sky and displayed a pattern none of us had ever seen before. It was the perfect setting for contemplating mortality and eternity and all the other grand thoughts that seem to creep into your head with the seductive influence of the wide night sky.

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