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Travel Story by Ian Reynolds

  Following the Inca Trail - Part II
Machu Picchu, Peru

At the start of the trail

Day 1: Cusco to Wayllabamba

The first day of the trek was relatively easy. We were collected early from our hotels and travelled by private bus to Piskacuchu, a community located on the 82nd kilometre of the Cusco –Aguas Calientes railroad (the start of the trail).

Starting at this point, we crossed the bridge and walked along the left shore of the Vilcanota River as it flows northwest along the Sacred Valley. Following the trail along a flat terrain, we arrived in Miskay, to then ascend and finally see, from the tallest part of an overlook, the Inca city of Llactapata. We continued trekking along the valley created by the Cusichaca river, gradually climbing for about five hours until we reached our first campsite in the small village of Wayllabamba. All along the way there were great views of the Cordillera Urubamba and the snow capped peak of Veronica 5860m.
Day 2: Wayllabamba – Pacaymayo

After an early breakfast we left Wayllabamba behind to tackle the most difficult part of the trek, which consists of an abrupt and steep ascent that stretches for 9 km. Along this climb, the landscape changes from sierra to puna (a dry and high area with little vegetation). On the way to the first mountain pass, known as Dead Woman’s Pass, we saw domesticated llamas and alpacas grazing on ichu, one of the few plants that grow at that altitude. Part of the trail took us through an area of cloud forest, which is the habitat for many different kinds of birds like hummingbirds and sparrows and the Andean bear. Immediately after the pass, there was a long and steep descent down the Pacaymayo valley to our campsite.

Day 3: Pacaymayo – Wiñaywayna

This day is the longest but also the most impressive and the most interesting, due the number of archaeological sites en route. From Pacaymayo there is a short climb to the second pass, the Abra de Runkurakay. Halfway up, there is an archaeological complex with the same name. This site, located at 3800m, consists of a small oval structure that is believed to have served the purpose of a watchtower. After about an hour from the second pass we arrived at Sayamarca by way of a superbly designed stone staircase.

The name Sayacmarca means 'Inaccessible Town' and describes the position of the ruins perfectly, protected on three sides by sheer cliffs. This is a beautiful complex made up of a semicircular construction, enclosures at different levels, narrow streets, liturgical fountains, patios and irrigation canals.

From then on the path descends into magnificent cloud forest full of orchids, hanging mosses, tree ferns and flowers, passing through an impressive Inca tunnel, carved into the rock, on the way. Continuing up an easy climb, we arrived at the third pass, the Abra de Phuyupatamarca (3700m) where we stopped for lunch.

Along this climb we could appreciate the magnitude of the Incas´ ancient craft, by walking along paths semi-detached from the mountain, and seeing rocks that fill up ravines in perfect order, saving the trail from the multi-levelled Andean geography. The view from the pass offers excellent views of several snow-capped peaks including Salkantay (6,180m) and Veronica (5,750m).

A few minutes after the pass is Phuyupatamarca, the most impressive Inca ruin so far. The name means 'Town in the Clouds'. Access to the ruins is down a steep flight of stairs passing six 'Inca Baths' probably used for the ritual worship of water.

Leaving the site via an impressive Inca staircase there is a long descent of a thousand or so steps. The trail continues to Wiñaywayna (2700m), the last official campsite before Machu Picchu. There were hot and cold showers available and a small shop where you can purchase drinks. We did not pass up the opportunity of a well-deserved beer!!

From our campsite a short trail led to the ruins of Wiñaywayna. The name in Quechua means 'forever young' and is named after a variety of pink orchid which grows here. The ruins comprise magnificent agricultural terraces set in an impressive location. There are also many buildings of good quality stonework and a sequence of 10 baths, suggesting that the site was probably a religious centre associated with the worship of water. Ritual cleansing may have taken place here for pilgrims on the final leg of the trail to Machu Picchu.

Day 4: Wiñaywayna – Machu Picchu

We woke early at 4.00 am, had some breakfast and left Wiñaywayna an hour later for the climb to Intipunku, or the Sun Gate. The trail contours a mountainside and drops into cloud forest before coming to an almost vertical flight of 50 steps leading up to the final pass at Intipunku. Suddenly the whole of Machu Picchu was spread out before us in all its glory - a fantastic sight. It was time for a Kodak moment where everyone posed for photos with panoramic views of Machu Picchu in the background.

From Intipunku we descended into Machu Picchu, and 40 minutes later we entered the citadel from the highest point through the ‘House of the Guardians’. While our first sighting of Machu Picchu may have been something of an anticlimax it revealed itself in its full glory the closer we got and we could appreciate how impressive and awe-inspiring it actually is.

The Inca city of Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world in dense jungle covered mountains until its discovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911. This 'Lost City' is one of the world's archaeological jewels and is one of South America's major travel destinations. The well-preserved ruins seem to almost cling to the steep hillside, surrounded by towering green mountains overlooking the Vilcanota River Valley.

At the control point/main entrance we signed the visitors register and deposited our backpacks at the luggage storage counter. There was time for some refreshments before starting our guided tour of the Inca citadel that took about two hours.

Afterwards we had some free time to explore the ruins alone. Some of us climbed the Huaynapicchu mountain, where there are spectacular views of all of Machu Picchu, the valleys and mountains that surround it; others visited the Temple of the Moon and the fabulous Inca bridge.

After visiting Machu Picchu I took the tourist bus down to Aguas Calientes, a steep descent by road with numerous switchbacks. There's a feel of a frontier town about it, with the railway forming the high street and the steamy jungle-clad mountains closing in on all sides.

There are plenty of restaurants and hotels in the town and it was a convenient place to relax after the exertions of the trek. I went to a restaurant where we had all arranged to meet to replenish our appetites before boarding the train to Cusco.

Fortunately the restaurant had a television, which meant I could watch the football. However, they were showing the match between France and Switzerland. Several British people eating at another table said that the England game was not being shown until later by which time I would be on the train.

This was a bit disappointing but I settled down to a large meal and a big bottle of beer. Just as half time approached there was a score flash with a TV clip of England’s equaliser against Croatia. We asked the owners if they could find the England game on one of the other channels and they obliged.

Although I missed the first 40 minutes I saw England score a second goal just before half time. During the interval I was able to catch up on the first half highlights. The second half performance was excellent and England were worthy 4-2 winners. The man of the match was Wayne Rooney who continues to perform with distinction on the highest stage despite his tender years. France won their match, which meant that England would play Portugal, the host nation, in the quarter finals.

So as you can imagine I was in good spirits when it was time to board the train for Ollantaytambo. We said our goodbyes to our guides, Carla and Hugo, and the older British contingent of four from Bristol who were staying on for another night.

A private bus collected us from Ollantaytambo station and dropped us off at our hotels in Cusco. After a nice hot shower and a shave I met up with the others again for a farewell drink in Paddy Flaherty’s, an Irish bar, before we went our separate ways the next day.

Click on photo to enlarge

Stopping for a breather  Campsite  Wiñaywayna

Date Submitted:
30 Sep 2006

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