Sunday, October 5, 2008

Trekking to the Lost City - Part Two (Inca Trail, Peru)

See part one for details of the first two days of trekking the Peruvian travel wonder of the Inca Trail.

Day Three is the longest trekking day (around 16 kilometres or ten miles) but it is mainly downhill over uneven ground (which is surprisingly hard on sore legs) and in many ways is the main highlight of the trek (apart from Machu Picchu itself). The trail passes some majestic Incan ruins.

Sayaqmarka (“Inaccessible Town”) perches on a small hilltop, formidably protected with cliffs on three sides and a narrow stairway on the fourth. It features a number of semi-circular buildings, rooms and squares on different levels connected with narrow paths, ritual baths, flat open areas and canals. Despite the misty morning our group incurred, you could make out the rest area it must have provided Incans travelling to Machu Picchu and the strategic oversight it offered over this key pathway. Some of the unequalled precision of the Incan stonework is featured, built without mortar, but with such perfect joins that you can’t slide a pocketknife into the gap.

Trekking follows the original Incan path down into the valley and up to the third and gentlest of the three passes. It passes through an Incan tunnel with smooth walls and carved steps – an incredible engineering feat given the limited tools available at the time.

Phuyupatamarca includes a terraced area for crops and six Incan baths probably associated with religious rituals. The trekking from here on is on the original Incan staircase and follows over 1000 uneven stone stairs (downwards) through a cloud forest of lichen-strewn trees, orchids and ferns in a cool refreshing atmosphere.

Late in the day and near the final camp site, there is a stunning terraced agricultural area along with a residential complex at WiƱay Wayna (lead photo and below), which roughly translates to forever young. A series of fountains run from the top to the bottom of the slope in a perfect alignment with the terraces. The Urubamba River that we crossed at the start of day one continues to flow below.

Day Four tends to start early for a short walk (about an hour and a half) to the Sun Gate (Intipunku) which oversees the entire Machu Picchu site. As if uplifted by a mystical power, people who could barely take another step over the previous two days approach a sprint as the trekkers herd towards the Sun Gate at dawn. Surrounded by magnificent scenery, the peaceful walking of the previous three days is lost in this final undignified crowded surge towards the Incan sanctuary.

The crowd awaits the sunrise. Everyone speaks in excited but hushed tones and there is a huge sense of satisfaction at completing this holy grail of trekking. The hardship of walking the last three days had all been worth it. A few alpaca and llama contentedly graze below, familiar with the daily pre-dawn commotion. The mountain saddle which Machu Picchu is built upon tends to be misty but when the foggy curtains lifts, the truly awe-inspiring and haunting travel wonder of the “lost city” of the Inca unveils before your very eyes.

Now for a tour of Machu Picchu itself...

Other Peru Posts
Flight of the Condor (Colca Canyon)
Living in Reeds (Lake Titicaca)
Photo of the Week (Toucan)


Andreea Vaas said...

wow what a city.

Mark H said...

@andreea: Indeed.

Anonymous said...

Good description. I'd love to visit.

Barbara @ Hole In The Donut Travels said...

Thank you SO much for sharing all this. Macchu Picchu is high on my list of places I must see and I would prefer the hike to the train - although I suspect I'd be better off with the slower, 7 day version. One there, are there hotels or inns where you can stay, or is it all camping? And with the 500 person limit, is there a limit on the number of days you can stay at the site?

Mark H said...

@barbara: Macchu Michu has a limit of 2500 visitors with a greater limit on the climb up Huanya Pichu which overlooks the sanctuary. There is one fancy hotel at the site itself but most stay in modest hotels or hostels in the nearby Agua Calientes - certainly comfortable but not ritzy. There is a relaxing hot springs at Agua Calientes (literally "hot water") too to soothe the aching muscles from the multi-day walk. There is no limit how long you can stay in this town and hence no real limit as to how often you can get into Macchu Pichu - simply front up early enough via the bus from Agua Calientes to ensure a ticket. I spent two whole days at the site and could easily have spent another just wandering the ruins and enjoying the mood of the whole place. One of the greatest travel wonders anywhere in the world. Email me if you would like more detail.

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