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Inca Trail / Camino Inca, Day 3

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 3 we woke up at 6am, once again to Fredy’s flute and the call “Good morning, family.”  This was the day of descent.  We were up at 11,483 feet, and Machu Picchu is at 7,872 … so steps, here we come.  A joke around here is that “Inca” means “steps.”  Certainly, we all thought so on this day.

Here’s a team photo we took with all our porters before we left camp:

Our team for the hike

We started off passing a mossy land of flowers and shrubs, then ascended our 3rd and final pass, Abra Phuyupatamarca, at 12,037 ft (3670 meters).  After this pass, it was literally all downhill.  Fredy wasn’t overestimating when he said we had about 2,000 steps down to our campsite (at 8,858 ft).

Mossy flowers

Ascending to the final pass

Flower along the trail

View from the 3rd pass

The descent begins!

Shortly after the 3rd pass we came to the ruins of Phuyupatamarca.  This site is a beautiful example of the Inca’s use of “organic architecture,” something I previously knew nothing about.  They incorporated natural elements such as hillsides and boulders into their buildings in the most perfect and, well, organic way.  The shapes of some of the walls and buildings echoes the surrounding mountains.  This site also includes a series of fountains that feed into ceremonial baths, which still work today (and from which I saw porters getting water for their teams).  Phuyupatamarca was a cleansing place for travelers on the way to Machu Picchu, as well as an agricultural site.  Fredy played his flute as we passed by this sacred site – to see and hear a short video clip, click below.

Phuyupatamarca's beautiful organic architecture

Fountains that feed into baths at Phuyupatamarca

Phuyupatamarca's organic architecture

Along the way I spotted this flower – I’d been looking for it.  Most other flowers I saw multiple times along the trail, but this one I only saw twice in the 48km and wanted to capture on camera:

Pink Inca Trail flower

We got our first view since we had started the trail of the Urubamba River, which snakes all through the Sacred Valley and around the mountains near Machu Picchu.  In the left side of this photo you can see another Incan agricultural site.  And on the other side of the main mountain with the lovely ridge, is Machu Picchu.

View of Machu Picchu mountain

After going down, down, down, down and down some more, we got to our campsite for the 3rd night pretty early, around 11:30am.  Almost everyone who hikes the Inca Trail camps at this site on the 3rd night, Winaywayna (sometimes spelled with a space between the words as in Winay Wayna) for a few main reasons:

1) Hot showers

2) It’s the closest campsite to Machu Picchu, so if you stay here you can get to Machu Picchu for sunrise

3) Beer

While I was extremely grateful for #1, after 3 days of being coated in dirt, sunscreen and bug spray, and happy to have the chance to see M.P at sunrise, it was a bit of a shock to be back in even limited civilization after 2 1/2 days in the wild.  It doesn’t sound like that long, but I’d really grown used to just hearing birds and the wind, and using lanterns at night and not having any electronics around.  Suddenly, we were back in a space with electricity, a television, and lots of noise with all the groups staying at this one location.

At Winay Wayna

Okay, I was pretty excited about the flush toilets.

Before lunch, Fredy took us to see another Incan site near the campground, also called Winay Wayna.  This was one of the most beautiful sites we saw along the trail.  Part of its beauty is that it is only accessible to people who hike the trail, or those who make a really long day trip from Machu Picchu, so it’s very much undisturbed.  It was mainly an agricultural area for Machu Picchu, where they grew food for the city, with some buildings and temples for those who worked the land.  I went back later in the afternoon and had the site nearly to myself – which is a very different experience from the highly visited Machu Picchu.

Winay Wayna site

And I haven’t even mentioned the best part!  Previously on the hike, some of our group asked Fredy if he could arrange for a sighting of some Andean deer.  I requested a meeting with the Andean bear instead.  Fredy said deer, he could probably make happen, but bears, nope.  So our group is sitting at Winay Wayna and Fredy has just started his talk when what comes out of the forest but TWO Andean spectacled bears, a mama bear and her cub!

The bears emerge!

Andean spectacled bears!

Andean Spectacled bears!

I wish I had a better zoom lens for the bears!  We watched in silence as they climbed up several of the terraces and ambled into another part of the forest above us.  “You are so lucky!!”  Fredy whispered.  A sacred site, indeed.

I should also mention that there is a herd of llamas who tend to the grass at Machu Picchu.  One had wandered over to Winay Wayna and was very alert about the bears as well, making a warning call and watching their every move.

Llama on alert

Winay Wayna is situated on a hillside, with a waterfall gushing behind and facing a very serene mountain view.  Quite a lovely spot to spend an afternoon.

Winay Wayna, waterfall, llama

Winay Wayna

Winay Wayna

Like many of the Incan sites that have been discovered, Winay Wayna has a complex fountain system that still gushes with water from a nearby source.

Winay Winay fountain

Winay Wayna fountain system

Winay Winay fountain

It was golden hour when I left the site and headed back to the camp area.

Golden hour in the Andes

Orchids near Winay Wayna

After lunch and showers, most of our group gathered to chat and relax on the balcony outside the multi-purpose mess hall / beer selling point at the campsite.  It was great to have a chance to talk with everyone while it was still light out, to share stories from our various countries and backgrounds.

Chatting at Winay Wayna

And then, we feasted!  Our chef understandably made EVERYTHING they had left.  I don’t know how they did it.  But we had pizza, french fries, lomo saltado (a yummy peruvian dish of beef & vegetables), chicken and vegetarian saltado, rice, beans… and for dessert, cake!  I have no idea how in the world they made us a CAKE in a TENT in the middle of the ANDES!  Fredy tried to explain the cooking process (something about a pan and heating it and putting a towel over it to make a kind of oven?) but I’m just going to chalk it up to our chef Winder being amazing.  The food he made for us throughout the trek was better than what I’ve had in many restaurants, and he did it all on the road with limited supplies.  Thank you, Winder!

Final Feast

Cake! Made in a tent!

Pretty soon after dinner, we all hit the sack.  Our plan was to get up the next morning at 3:45, to start the trail at around 4:45.  The main reason was to allow our porters time to run down the mountain to Aguas Calientes, where they could catch a 5:20am train away from Machu Picchu; if they missed this train, they wouldn’t be able to take a train until 10pm that night (several trains run throughout the day but I guess they only allow porters to ride the very early or very late train).  The secondary reason was to get to the Machu Picchu “sun gate,” Inti Punku, for sunrise.  So, amid the sounds of other groups partying and celebrating, we passed out in our tents one final night.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Friday, May 27, 2011 8:30 pm

    Love the flowers, the golden hour, the cake, and especially the bears…. what a great adventure!

  2. Saturday, May 28, 2011 12:00 pm

    I love it! More videos please!!

  3. Briel K. permalink
    Saturday, May 28, 2011 7:02 pm

    I’m loving reading about your travels so far. It sounds like an amazing trip!

  4. Tuesday, June 21, 2011 10:33 am

    I’m just catching up and loving it!!!

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