The Inca Trail (Part 3)

Peru Flag Leaving Camp Paqaymayu took us up yet another steep incline leading to two further passes, Qochapata at 3900m and Phuyupatamarka at 3650m above sea level. I recall leaving Paqaymau at 3am back in November 2000 and running the remainder of the trail to Machu Picchu; arriving at the site at around 10am. This time, we had the luxury of taking a leisurely additional day and morning. At the top of this initial steep bank we reached the archeological site of Runkurakay.

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Runkurakay (Inca Granary)

From Runkurakay, trekkers were encouraged to carry a small rock to the Qochapata Pass as a means of gaining some luck - what else can you do when there's no wishing-well?

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Cairns at Qochapata Pass

Much of the trail between the second pass to the Phuyupatamarka Pass is relatively flat. By 9:50am we reached Sayaqmarka, a small Inca town which was also discovered by Hiram Bingham just before stumbling upon Machu Picchu over some 90 years ago. This Inca town is relatively well preserved. It is located at a cliff top over looking a mist filled valley. At the entrance of the town there a semi ellipsoid structure which had multiple window-like niches. Hiram Bingham reported that idols were found installed within these niches. It is believed that these items are now within the walls of his American university. Concha Marca, an Inca checkpoint station can be seen below Sayaqmarka. Here, start of other Inca trails can be seen. After a short stint we arrived at the sunny lunch camp of Chaquiqocha. Don't get too excited by the guide's mentioned of the Inca tunnel. This is simply a naturally formed short walkway at the precipiced section of the trail. Before arriving at the final camp site the trail forks at an electrical pylon. The left extended trail takes you to further ruins. For those who cannot face any more walking can take the right turn!

The camp at Winay Wayna (Forever Young) gave indications that we were nearer to the touristic sites. There was a shop selling bottled beer! Hot showers were also available here at the lodge. We were unfortunate to be camped close to the small toilet block - however, we were closer to the final Machu Picchu checkpoint gate than the other trekkers. This would mean that we had a good chance to being one of the first groups to arrive at the site the next morning. The sound of the relentless rain overnight did not impair the quality of sleep that evening!

The early start and anticipation for seeing Machu Picchu generated a strangely charged atmosphere with the small community of trekkers. Everyone from the seasoned hardcore adventurer to the casual walker were storming towards the Sun Gate with some newly discovered energy. Everyone wanted to be the first to the Sun Gate as the sun rose above the horizon over the archeological site. This enthusiasm caused many to not realise that the morning had been overcast and rainy. We arrived at the Inti Punku (Sun Gate) at around 6:40am to be greeted by a disappointing hanging thick mist.

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Trail from the Sun Gate from the top left

The downhill walk to Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate takes a few minutes. You'll almost certain to be greeted by a small handful of llamas on the way! From here you're required to check your backpacks in at the main site entrance. Trekking poles are not permitted and must be checked-in also. Just outside the entrance of Machu Picchu is a small covered outdoor food hall, a coach station and the infamously overpriced Orient Express owned Sanctuary Lodge hotel.

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The Sun Temple

Our guide provided a hour long tour of the major features of Machu Picchu before allowing us to explore. The Sun Temple contains a huge granite altar where young children were sacrificed. As with many cultures of that time and region, these children were regarded as privileged. Again, as with many structures within the site, the window was located to allow the solstice sun to penetrate directly.

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Through the window

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South Eastern view of the agricultural terraces

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Rocks that mirror the surrounding mountains of Machu Picchu

These rocks were featured in Michael Palin's Full Circle (1997) as well as Dan Cruikshank's Around the World in 80 Treasures (2005).

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Intihuatana

This famous rock is still an enigma for archeologists. Concensus is that it was used as a calendar, but its precise use is unknown. It is also claimed that the rock has a very high crystal content, exciting crystal healing fanatics. There were many other rock artifacts near the Intihuatana which played an important part of Quechua culture. This sacre rock was damaged by the filming crew for a Cusquena beer commercial in 2000.

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Victor, Mitch and Travis (Image taken by crazy Russian)

Wayna Picchu is the larger of the two mountains seen in many classic Machu Piccu postcard backdrops. The few hundred metre climb is very steep and took about 40mins to the summit. Iron chains allow you to climb the short vertical sections. The summit is covered by several gigantic slabs of rock over looking the entire Machu Picchu site. For those who are not keen on this climb, the easier ascent of Huchuy Picchu is also accessible from the same checkpoint.

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Australia at the summit of Wayna Picchu!

In the afternoon, we jumped on the frequent, air-conditioned luxury coach to the small town of Aguas Calientes taking a series of hairpin switchbacks. Aguas Clientes is a small town at the base of the valley with the old rail tracks running through the centre. The town has a myriad of excellent restaurants and cafes. No-one seems to be interested in visiting the hot springs here. I don't blamed them, the pools are mostly concrete clad monstrosities. Hardly the romantic hot springs that Peru conjures up! There is a covered market place just outside the main rail station, allowing you to pick up any last minute trinkets before boarding the British Rail built trains. The influence of the British Empire in South America still amazes me! The lengthy train journey back to Cusco (via a truck connection!) was filled with exhausted but elated travellers! Again thanks to Pachamama Explorers (esp Jason and Debbie) for such a well organised trip!

We headed off to Puno next...

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