Determined not to feel like a slow-poke all day, I got up extra early, gobbled up some breakfast, and was on the trail before the others had sat down to eat. A short ways up the trail I turned to look down at our campsite.
A moment after I took this photo, the clouds further down in the valley rose up and suddenly covered the camp and the trail and me–in under a minute. I’d never been swallowed up by a cloud that way, it felt magical. Most of that day was spent walking through a forest of cloud, which concealed the majestic vistas of the mountains all around but drew my attention to the tiny wonders along the trail.
I stopped a moment at the Runkurakay ruins and then kept walking, enchanted by the damp, quiet beauty around me.
The second pass of the trail (3,950 meters above sea level) is in a very humid wetland area, dotted with ponds.
Rock cairns in the north often mark a trail where it might be unclear which way to go. In the Andes, they are often created at a summit as a token of gratitude to the mountain. (I don’t know who created these, but aren’t they lovely?)
We were making such good time that our lunch spot was pushed farther down the trail than first planned (9:oo would be an extra early lunch!). So I continued on, enjoying the solitude of walking alone. I kept singing to myself:
Now I walk in beauty, beauty is before me,
beauty is around me, above and below me.
Although we were walking through humid clouds, I only needed to put on my rain poncho a few times.
We ate lunch at the breezy third pass (3,670 meters) above Phuyupatamarka. After another delicious meal, Will and some of the porters had time to play a game of cards before we started off on the long downhill section of the trail.
From Phuyupatamarka we continued the steep descent (what our guide called the “gringo killer”), hugging the mountain whenever we heard the sturdy feet of porters hurtling themselves down the steps behind us. We were all impressed by their strength and agility, and grateful not to be knocked down!
With those who were going more slowly we practiced our Quechua greeting skills: Allillanchu? Allillanmi. (How are you? I’m fine.)
I chose to take the long way to camp, through the impressive terraces of Intipata. Because of the clouds, I hadn’t seen the terraces from above, and the huge scale of them was obscured when the trail first approached, as their convex shape curves outward around the mountain.
The steps down were quite daunting, but it was worth it! On the short walk from here to the campsite outside Wiñaywayna I discovered that the sole of my left boot was coming apart. Fortunately, I had friends who travel with duct tape, that wonder product, and I was able to get patched up well enough to continue on the next day to Machu Picchu!
That night after dinner (which concluded with an impressive cake somehow baked–or steamed?–in the camp kitchen) my Spanish skills won me the privilege of offering our formal words of thanks to the chef and the porters and presenting them with tips on behalf of the group. It was an honor to do this because I felt such deep gratitude for their service to us and their encouragement along the trail.
We all got to bed as quickly as possible after that, since our wake-up call was coming at 3:30 a.m. for the last leg of the adventure!