Friday, 17 May 2013

Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu: Part 2

Day three is around 12km and is regarded as the longest day as it mainly consists of up and down sections which skirt around Salkantay mountain to Intipata, and perhaps seen as the cultural day on the trail as three ruins lie along it. It began with yet another early wake up call at around 5:30am with breakfast soon after and by 7am we were on the road again. The trail was an immediate wake up call as it was uphill for around 45 minutes to see the first of the three Inca ruins, Runcuracay, or in English, 'The Circular Building', or so our guide said.

Discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1915, Runcuracay sits at an altitude of around 3750m overlooking the valley and was possibly used as a storehouse for food which was then distributed to locals amongst the hills, a watch tower as it has such great vantage points over the valley and all the way up to Dead Woman's pass or a shelter for messengers to rest after running all day. The likelihood is that this place was in fact used for all of the above.

From here the path continues to ascend, passing a lake on the way, until the pass at 3950m is reached. Looking back there are incredible views back towards camp from the previous night but the views on the horizon are more impressive with the mountains providing a gorgeous backdrop and the second of the Inca ruins, Sayacmarca, hugging the rock wall of the mountain where the path lies.

After taking pictures, the group slowly wound it's way down to Sayacmarca, known as 'The Inaccessible Place' and for good reason as the 98 steep steps that lead up to it are real energy sappers. The ruin is said to have been a refuge area and was only occupied seasonally, experts think the people who lived here survived on food rations from Runcuracay and by a 3.5km aquaduct they crafted which provided them with water from the surrounding mountains.

From here the path winds down into the valley and passes another ruin by the name of Conchamarka before coming to the resting point of Chaquiconcha. The path then undulates for a while before steadily climbing with mountains dominating the views on the left side, after a while the 6200m mountain Salkantay is in view and with perfect weather the top of the mountain is visible. By and large this peak is obscured by cloud cover and mist but we were blessed with good weather so we had perfect views all around. Come the end of this section, the walk becomes a little steeper before cresting the ridge and coming across our lunch stop at Phuyupatamarka; the name of the campsite and the nearby ruin.

After lunch, we checked out this ruin. In English the name translates to 'City in the Clouds' and again, this facility is believed to have been used seasonally and mainly as an observatory. From where this ruin is situated, on a clear night so much of the sky would be visible it's not hard to see why this area was picked.

Descending some 400m, the path thereafter is steep with uneven stones and steps carved out of the ground and steep drop offs on the right side of the trail with the path itself being less than a metre wide in some places. After an hour, the path cuts through a tunnel crafted out of the rock face and becomes much flatter although still slowly descending into the valley.

From Phuyupatamarka, it is possible to make out the terraces of Intipata and after another hour or so these terraces are reached. They were mainly used for growing corn and potatoes and most of the produce here will have made it's way to Macchu Picchu which is only around 5km away. The campsite for the night is just around the corner but before bedding in for the night we checked out another ruin called Winyawayna. This one had an even more impressive set of agricultural terraces than Intipata and is a concave shape as opposed to Initpata's convex one. There are two sets of buildings separated by yet another aquaduct/fountain system which is amazingly still functioning, these Incans built things to last.

Runcuracay




Path leading down to Sayacmarca
Sayacmarca
View on Sayacmarca
Sayacmarca
Salkantay


Phuyupatamarka from afar
Steps leading up Phuyupatamarka




Intipata





After three days of struggling up and down mountains and through valleys, the short walk of 5km to Macchu Picchu from Winyawayna was a welcome reprieve, although to get to Macchu Picchu at a decent hour we were up and packed by 4am.

The actual checkpoint doesn't open until 5:30am however so it's best to get packed and queue up, the better placed you are in the queue, the sooner you get to Intipunku, or the Sun Gate. Passing out other groups isn't so much against the rules, merely frowned upon as the path, which skirts around the actual mountain named Macchu Picchu, is very thin in places with yet more drop offs in what is now dense jungle as the dizzy heights of 4200m have been left behind for the more hospitable sub 3000m range.

After about 3km, the steep steps that lead to Intipunku  are in reach and by far the steepest of the trek. Thankfully they aren't too long but you are left gasping for breath when you reach the top, however from here it is a matter of minutes before you reach the Sun Gate itself and finally see Macchu Picchu for the first time.

At this stage, you finally get to see all the other people who have been doing the Inca trail. Only 500 people a day are allowed to do the trail and over the last three days, you barely see anyone else. However, at this bottleneck, the place is teeming with other people, straining to get their breath back and sitting down whilst taking in the view. Macchu Picchu is still a couple kilometres away but just seeing it gives everyone that boost that is needed to complete the rest of the jorney to the entrance of this lost city. Once there, there is a service available to finally get rid of that backpack you've been carrying the past three days and walk around this beautiful 'Lost City of the Incas' .

Macchu Picchu from afar


Terraces at the Sun Gate





Macchu Picchu


Four days and 43km from where we started finally brought the group to Macchu Picchu. Before undertaking this trek, I had heard many people describing the trek itself as impressive and as rewarding as seeing Macchu Picchu itself and after completing it I can understand exactly what they meant. The sights seen and friends made along the way were astounding and reaching Macchu Picchu was the culmination of a great trek which will stay with me for years to come. Highlight of the trip so far perhaps.














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