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Inca Trail / Camino Inca, Day 2

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I’m back from the jungle!  It’s funny to switch gears and relive our mountain journey after 4 days in the lowland rainforest, but here goes… 

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After our cold, cold night at 12,246 ft, Fredy woke us up by playing his flute and calling out “Good morning, family!” Our porters placed bowls of warm water and soap outside our tents and brought us hot drinks (coffee, tea, or coca tea)… a wonderful wake up in the cold Andean morning!

To fuel our day, we had a huge breakfast of french toast and omelets and a delicious sweet Peruvian porridge. Up at 6am, breakfast at 6:30, and on the road by about 7:30am, we hit the trail on route to the highest pass of the Inca Trail – Abra Warmiwanusca.

On the way to Abra Warmiwanusca

This day was the most spectacular, scenery-wise. I was astonished by how high the foliage grows here in the Andes. Back in NH, not much grows above 4,000 ft. But here, even at over 13,000 ft, the mountains are still lush with a huge variety of plants and flowers, and we never saw any snow. I read that the Andes are the highest tropical mountains in the world, and if you ever get the chance to see how green they are, you’ll understand what that means.

Speaking of foliage, one of the reasons I loved this trail so much is that the scenery & plants along the trek were constantly changing, so you were never looking at the same thing or the same type of ecosystem. I have never done a hike with so much biodiversity – sometimes it seemed like from minute to minute we’d go from a dry realm of succulents to a lush orchid rainforest to a high desert plateau to a dripping mossy world. There was always something new to look at, which helped distract from the fact that we were walking over 48 km!

Abra Warmiwanusca, Dead Woman’s Pass (because of the way the mountains look from a distance), is at 4200 m / 13,779 ft. Needles to say, the views from this point were incredible! Here are a few shots from the top:

Our team approaching the summit

Seth at the peak

At the summit

At the top!

After the pass, we descended about 2,000 ft through a strange land of succulents and waterfalls to our lunch site.

On the trail

Succulents on the trail

Another fantastic meal, another grateful break before another climb…

Resting at our lunch site

After lunch, we hiked back up 1,500 ft to check out our first Incan archeological site, Runkurakay, a resting place for travelers on the ancient Inca Trail.

Runkurakay ruins

View from Runkurakay, looking back at our lunch site in the distance

Another 700 ft up and we summitted the second major pass on the trail, Abra Runkurakay, at 3950 m / 12,956 ft. On the way we passed a lagoon which is often dry, depending on the rain levels. Fredy said it used to be a camping area, but because the lake is an important resource for birds, they no longer allow camping near it.

On the way to the 2nd pass

The lagoon

The lagoon

Up and down, up and down… it was amazing to me how many mountain ridges we flowed over on this trail. After the second pass we descended over 1,500 ft to our campsite.

Descending from the 2nd pass

Another lagoon... because much of the water near the 2nd campsite isn't drinkable, some of the porters run back to this area to get clean drinking water

Our team taking a break while taking in the view

Sayacmarca ruins from a distance

This time the trail led us by two more Incan ruins. Sayacmarca and Conchamarka. Fredy led us into Sayacmarca and gave us a great history lesson on the use of the site. It struck me how much more I would have loved history classes if they had all been taught at the sites under discussion. Can you imagine if this were your classroom?

Outdoor classroom at Sayacmarca

Outdoor classroom at Sayacmarca

With apologies to Fredy, I don’t remember all the details about what this site was used for exactly. I think it was a cleansing place for the Incan pilgrims who traveled along the trail, as well as a look-out point so the keepers of the trail could check out who was heading to Machu Picchu, since it overlooked both a military trail and a religious trail.

Sayacmarca

Sayacmarca

Sayacmarca

Flowers growing on Sayacmarca

I do recall this feature, though: the site includes a huge stone around which the Incans created an altar. The stone has a relief that resembles a dancing figure, with one hand facing toward the ground, Pachamama (Mother Earth), and one to the sky, Pachatata (Father Earth). See the figure?

Altar at Sayacmarca

Altar at Sayacmarca

Fredy assured us that our campsite was only a half hour away from this site. It looked so much further.  After a long day crossing two paths, we were skeptical… doesn’t it look like we had a LONG way to go?  Our campsite is that tiny cluster of tents just above the word “Campsite.”

Campsite the 2nd night; ruins of Conchamarka visible in the lower left

Trail past Conchamarka ruins to our 2nd campsite

Fredy was right, of course. Seth made a quick detour to see the ruins of Conchamarka along the way, but the actual walking time from Sayacmarca was only about 20 min to our campsite, at Chaquicocha. Sitting at 3500 m / 11,483 ft, we were MUCH lower than the previous night. Phew!

Conchamarka campsite

Conchamarka campsite; that is our dining tent on the left

Our dining tent. The porters sleep in this tent after we finish dinner.

Did I mention that before dinner, our team set out snacks for us of popcorn, guacamole, and hot drinks? yum!

Snack time! Homemade chips, guacamole and popcorn!

This campsite sits on a high mountain ridge with a stunning view. These little birds surrounded the site and sang up until it was pitch dark, and started again with the first sun’s light. They also live all around Machupicchu, so if you go, you’ll hear them singing.

Singing birds at our campsite

One of the things I loved most about the Andes is the way the clouds roll in and around and over the mountains. I’ve never seen clouds move so fast and so dramatically, creating new textures and moods with every minute.

Andean clouds

Andean clouds

Andean clouds

Andean clouds; team of porters resting

After dinner, we got Fredy talking about previous trips he taken – he’s been a guide on the trail for over 14 years. He told us about his oldest client, a 72-yr-old, overweight woman from England. With the help of a dedicated, strong porter, she successfully completed the Inca Trail and made it to Machupicchu. After this inspiring tale, someone asked him about his scariest experience on the trail. Despite my first instinct to leave the dining tent, I stayed and was treated to several purportedly true stories about deaths, murders and ghosts on the trail. I almost couldn’t fall asleep that night… I tried to focus on the British woman’s triumph – which ended with her and her porter having cocktails at the hotel next to Machupicchu – and told myself that the Andean priests surely have expelled all the ghosts by now, right?

Happy campers

Still to come… days 3 & 4 of the Inca Trail.  And then… jungle tales from Manu! 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:26 am

    Wow, don’t even know where to begin… I love the cloud photos, the delicate little green plant with red flowers, the bird, the stunning views, the smoochy photo of you both with the stunning view behind…. memories for a lifetime. The popcorn surprised me!
    ~Shephard

  2. Kristen permalink*
    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:33 am

    We were surprised by all the amazing food they produced out of the cooking tent! There is a lot of popcorn in Peru – they grow tons of varieties of corn & maize, and thus create lots of varieties of popcorn, including fried popcorn kernals and all kinds of flavored versions you can buy on the streets.

  3. Milly and Herb permalink
    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 2:28 pm

    I thought Machu Picchu and surrounding area was what Shangra-lai must look like. The trip sounds and looks wonderful. So jealous.

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