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Sleeping above the clouds... with llamas
Peru: Sacred Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Cusco: Plaza de ArmasCusco: Plaza de Armas (Nate Mirocha)
Nate:
It was cold this morning until the sun rose over the mountains and showered our camp with direct light. Once packed, we set off for the first site of the day, which was visible from camp, but uphill. We arrived at the Runkuraqay and learned that it was kind of a stopover point for travelers on the trail. There was area for grain storage and some rooms for living. This site is shaped like a half-moon and there are no terraces around and no flatland. The views were again spectacular looking back up toward Dead Woman's Pass. From the Runkuraqay site we climbed up about 45 minutes further to the actual pass where we started down toward Sayaqmarka. It's hard to say whether climbing is easier than descending or vice versa. It really depends on the pitch of the trail, the condition of the stone path, how long you been ascending or descending, the weather, and how long you been hiking. As we were certainly being well fed, we usually shared our snacks with the porters, who were appreciative. It's truly amazing how hard they work and how well taken care of we are.

Sayaqmarka is an impressive site built out on a ledge above the valley. We had to climb about 100 steps to reach it and they were hard to navigate in some spots because they curved around natural rock outcroppings. The first room you see is a horseshoe-shaped room with an opening facing east for the sunrise. Vidal took us up a level where we saw the aqueduct that supplied fresh water to the entire huge site. Most impressive is that it required a bridge to get from the mountain into the site. Unfortunately that bridge is no longer there.

As we walked through the site, Vidal explained that certain features helps identify its use. Again there were no terraces so this was not a farming area. As such, lower status people would not live there. The quality of the building also suggested that the more elite live there.

Vidal pointed out a type of thin plant growing in the rocks along one of the walls. He explained that this was a plant that the stimulant ephedra comes from and that it can still be found in markets today. Perhaps this site was one of the areas where the chemists of the day learned about the medicinal properties or uses of plants.

By the time we reached the lunch campsite, it was almost completely in the clouds. Our afternoon meal was Augusto's version of lomo saltado and it was worthy of being served in a restaurant.

Michele:
We left the lunch campsite and entered the Cloud Forest as it began to rain. This was our first rain on the trail and it made everything look very mystical and beautiful. The foliage changed in that we started to see a lot more ferns, orchids and intensified color in the lichens and moss; different shades of green, yellow, orange and red. The mistiness intensified as we began walking through cloud formations. Even though we were headed uphill again, we had some flat/only slightly elevated sections of the trail so we were able to take it slower and really look around and enjoy the views. The trail hugged the side of the mountain and was not covered so we could look down the sides and see sheer, foliage covered drops. It was a pleasant 2-hour walk to our campsite, which we arrived at in the late afternoon. We were camping above the clouds and the views were spectacular; plus we had the place to ourselves. The other groups pushed on a few more hours to reach the next campsite, with the idea being that they would get up very early in the morning and have only a short hike to reach Machu Picchu by sunrise. Vidal suggested that we make it a short afternoon and camp early so that we might experience camping above the clouds. We agreed and it was pretty special.

I took a short nap when we arrived, while Nate was out taking photos on the trail, and woke up to llamas walking around our tent. They are very gentle creatures and have dainty hooves and heads which look like deer, with big eyes and long lashes. They thrive in the high altitude.

Nate:
When Michele awoke from her nap the clouds were lifting and revealed the most breathtaking panoramas of the mountain peaks in every direction. Below our feet clouds were filling the valleys. We were literally above the clouds looking down on them. The scene changed every minute and I couldn't stop taking pictures. When I finally did and we all sat down for tea, one of the porters reported that the snow-capped peak behind us was now visible. What a spectacle. I was camera crazy again as the backdrop kept changing. Eventually we returned to our meal back in the tent and were surprised with some Peruvian Cabernet Sauvignon to go along with Augusto's spaghetti. The jello dessert was like being at Grandma's house all over again.

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