Inca Trail - Day 3
After breakfast at 6am and our daily bowl of hot water and tea service (tent-side), we started the day with a climb to the archaeological site of ‘Phuyupatamarca’. This part was particularly exciting as we -for the first time- hiked on the original Inca Trail built by the Incas themselves. We hiked through the tunnels on the trail and many amazing vista points. We continued through the cloud forest and we began a new ascent up to the third highest point of the trail (3680m/12073ft). The Inca site, ‘Phuyupatamarca’ (meaning ‘Town in the Clouds’), was located a few minutes from the third pass and after visiting this, we continued walking through the cloud forest, through the impressive agricultural Inca site of ‘Intipata’ until we arrived at our third campsite Wiñay Wayna (2680m/8792ft). We had been rather distanced from other groups and civilization for the last two days, even though you share the trail with 500 people every day. At this campsite, all groups converged as it was the last stop before getting to Machu Pichu - making it feel lively and very touristy. Showers and beer were available for purchase, which for some was like water in a dry desert.
A short distance from the campsite is the Inca site of the same name ‘Wiñay Wayna’ (‘Forever Young’), which was worth the extra walk, even though our feet were blistered and our legs useless. The terraces and cascading stepped baths were in pristine condition and almost more impressive than parts of the actual ruins at Machu Picchu. We shared our last feast in our dining tent, along with adventure stories from other lands and thanked our porters for their relentless hard work and dedication to our happiness (by offing a decent tip collected by the group). After dinner the porters and the cook surprised us with a hand-made cake for dessert. We had no idea how they managed to create a cake but it tasted just as good. We would wake at 4am in order to be among the first at the gate. The porters woke us, fed us and then they had to hurry down the mountain to catch the first train home from Aguas Calientes. This was the first time they would split from each other - each man now on his own, in the dark with 25kilos and no light. If you ever do the Inca Trail, gift your guides and porters with head lamps, or at least leave yours behind.
Inca Trail - Day 4
This morning it was really dark - but in order to get to ‘Inti Punku’ (‘Sun gate’) (2730m/8792ft) before sunrise, there is no other way. The "gringo killer" steps were an unexpected steep climb before reaching the gate. We were not the first, nor the last. It is this view that is the quintessential first dramatic view of Machu Picchu (2400m/7873ft) with the sun rising over it. Unfortunately the smoke from the burning in the jungle cast a haze over the whole thing. It was still awesome, but more because we had reached our goal and the feeling of accomplishment was strong.
After some time there, we walked down the last part of the trail into the ancient city. Freddie popped out his last tour guiding effort with a walking tour of the ruins. For the few with still enough energy, they hiked Huayna Picchu (2720m/8923ft), the highest peak when looking to the right of the ruins. For me the climb and the 45 minutes to reach the top were completely uninteresting, so while Patrick climbed, I found a shaded spot to watch as the ruins came alive. A few moments of solitude and a few grazing llamas made it possible to feel the mystery of this city high in the jungle. I closed my eyes for a few seconds and when I opened them again the scenery had changed dramatically - for the buses had begun to arrive and now the landscape was full of cameras, sun hats and international faces.
We all met at the front gate and boarded the bus down to Aguas Calientes. We found Freddie and Elvis at the designated lunch spot, where we dined on pizza and guzzled a cold beer. We waited with the hundreds of other people for the train back to KM 82, where we caught a bus back to Cusco. We said good-bye to Freddie, exchanged the necessary emails and slowly walked back to our hotel, somehow noticing that everything looked just a little bit different. We splurged that night on Cheese Fondue at the Swiss restaurant and soaked for a few minuted in a hot shower. We had made it.