Published: January 16th 2012January 9th 2012
It was an early wake up call today just as Smithy had promised. As I took the two cups of Coca tea I had been handed by our porter, I couldn't help but feel a little deflated after the news last night. Keith and I felt equally gutted about the circumstances under which we had to finish the trail as we got dressed, but sadly that was the hand we had been dealt and there was little we could do about it.
Breakfast was a far more somber affair than it had been the last two mornings and I could only assume that it was because the group shared my disappointment. Once I had eaten, I was handed a set of shoelaces by Smithy with which to fix my boots. I wasn't sure how they would help or how long they would hold up for, but nevertheless I returned to our tent to attempt to make my boots last just one more day. Having put a dry pair of socks on, as well as some plastic bags, I slipped into my now rather battered footwear on for the final time. I secured the soles as best I could with the shoelaces and rejoined everyone ready for the trek up Runkuraqay Pass.
Although we started the climb together, we had soon separated into our usual walking groups. Much of the cloud cover that had laid thickly over the valley yesterday had cleared to reveal thick scrub land surrounding the narrow stairway to the pass. I climbed steadily up the winding staircase, stopping only to allow the heavily laden porters to pass. Halfway up we arrived at the Runkuraqay ruins which looked down across the valley. The ruins were a small circular complex, and as Smithy explained was not a common design in Inca architecture. Smithy told us that Runkuraqay was probably used a resting, refueling, and relay station for messengers sent to or from Machu Picchu to Cusco. Before we moved on, Smithy told us that people often carried something to the summit of the pass as an offering to Pachamama. He suggested that we pick up a small stone or rock each, so that we might build a rock pile or apeceta when we got there.
I began looking for a suitable rock to carry with me as I continued my climb up the steepening stairs. Although this section of the trail wasn't as arduous as yesterdays, it was still quite tough in places. My eyes fell upon a small rounded stone, which I stooped to pick up and carry with me to the top of the pass.
Puffing and panting, I reached the pass just behind Lil and Henk-Jan where the three of us sat to wait for the rest of the group. Keen to make my offering to Pachamama as thanks for a so far successful journey I scrambled to the top of the nearby rock formation. As I reached the top I saw a few apecetas that had been left by other trekkers. I was the only one from our group that wanted to take part in the tradition, so I placed my rock next to the others atop the boulder and thanked Pachamama. I was soon joined by a few of the others who were keen to catch a glimpse of the view from Runkuraquy Pass, a mere three-thousand-nine-hundred-and-fifty metres above sea level.
Lil, Henk-Jan and I led the way down the other side of the pass, bounding along the paved staircase to the next set of ruins at Sayacmarca. We waited for the rest of the group before scaling the steep stones steps that had been carved out of the mountainside. Smithy told us that Sayacmarca meant inaccessible town and it was no wonder, as it was protected on three sides by sheer cliff faces. Smithy told us that this was the juncture where a separate path lead into the jungle lands, an area that the Inca people were never able to fully conquer. It was a stunning sight, with an incredible view over the entire valley. I only explored the ruins briefly, as the call of nature meant that I had to rush ahead of the rest of the group to our next meeting point.
Relieved, and with my load lightened, we continued along what Smithy often referred to as 'the undulating way' towards our lunch stop. The path we trod was now almost ninety-nine percent original Inca Trail, carved from the face of the bedrock. Sadly, it began to rain which made it entirely miserable to walk in after such fine weather this morning. Not wanting to get too sweaty, I slung my coat over myself and my rucksack and kept trudging on through the drizzle. I was more concerned that my boots would take on too much water, as I trod carefully to avoid the larger puddles. Thankfully I didn't have to worry for too long, as we soon arrived at our final lunch stop on the trail.
I was feeling ravenous ad I took my seat and it was a good job i was. Once we had all piled into the tent, we were presented with platter after platter of food that the cooks had prepared. It felt like they had tried to use everything up because we weren't camping tonight, bringing out potato croquettes, avocado and ham parcels, chicken rissoles and a thick, chunky vegetable soup. It was astounding that such an intricate meal had been prepared using only three gas stoves in a small tent. Our fantastic meal was topped by the fact that the cook then bought out a cake, complete with icing that read 'Welcome to Inca Trail, Sexi Llamas'. I was dumbstruck, and asked Smithy how they had managed to bake a cake without an oven. Having asked the cooks, he explained to us that it was cooked in a pot, just like everything else we had eaten. If I hadn't visited the cooking tent to take pictures, I would never have believed it possible. It was an amazingly light, fluffy sponge cake, that had a thin layer of cream between the two halves and was still warm of the inside.
Just comfortably full, we thanked the porters for their hard work before saying goodbye to them and setting off for Wiñay Wayna. The weather dried up as we set out from our lunch stop, but the cloud's kept hampering our view as we descended to Phuyupatamarka, the 'Water Temple'. Phuyupatamarka sat three-thousand-six-hundred metres above sea level and had been loving reconstructed...complete with llamas! The trail led through the ruins and into a steep set of stairs which were known locally as the Gringo Killer. I could see why as I made my way down, because those who were less sure footed could easily come a cropper making their way down. The porters on the other hand had no problem, bounding down the steps sometimes two at a time to get past the Trekkers that were holding them up.
Eventually we made it down the zig zag path to Wiñay Wayna. We paused momentarily to take in the magnificent terraces that overlooked the Urubamba river and take on water. We had just trekked sixteen kilometres from our campsite at Paqaymayu and were exhausted. Had everything gone according to plan, this is where we would have been spending the night - but due to the danger of more landslides, we moved on. Odey pointed out Machu Picchu mountain as we started our descent towards the river, and I couldn't help but feel a little gutted. It was practically within touching distance, and without a cloud in the sky would have been the perfect day to see the citadel in all it's glory. As Matt and I made our way down the trail together we couldn't help but talk about how close we had come to completing the trail, but for the last four kilometres.
The trail seemed never-ending, and the awe-inspiring scenery had all but stopped. My toes were in such pain from the constant downhill drudge that I almost longed for another slope to climb or at least some flat ground. Eventually though, we arrived at the edge of the Urubamba river, where we were to leave the Inca trail and begin our walk along the railway track into Aguascalientes.
As we snaked our way over the rails, dodging trains carrying people back to kilometre eighty-two, the theme tune from the 'Littlest Hobo' sprang to mind. Unfortunately, it was only me that found this comparison of wandering along the train tracks highly amusing, so I entertained myself by humming the theme tune.
Eventually we arrived in the beautifully picturesque, although slightly touristy, town of Aguascalientes. It looked exceptionally welcoming with the many twinkling fairy lights that adorned the many gift shops that lined our path. It felt exciting to have arrived here, but at the same time sad, because it felt like my time with my new found friends was drawing all to quickly to an end.
Once we had arrived at our hotel for the evening I hopped straight into a hot shower to wash. I say shower, but it was more like a warm trickle due to the fact that there were almost fifty people from the various trekking groups doing exactly the same thing, at the same time as me. It was nevertheless welcome after two days of living feral and meant I felt a little more human as we made our way to a restaurant in town for our final meal from our cooks. They had prepared a last supper to fuel our final push up Machu Picchu the next day and it was most welcome.
Once we had finished our meal, we pooled our money together to show our appreciation the team of porters and cooks that had worked so hard to help us achieve our goal. It still seemed phenomenal to me that they had each carried over twenty-five kilos of equipment along the rocky path to Aguascalientes, and I didn't feel that anything could quite express our gratitude enough.
Having shaken each of their hands and given them rapacious applause for their efforts, we returned to the hotel to rest. I was utterly exhausted after my twenty-one kilometre hike and strangely excited at the same time. I was about to see yet another of the seven wonders of the world...and I couldn't wait!