By Day 3 of the hike to Machu Picchu, we were in our hiking grove. As we donned our gear and watched the porters take camp apart in moments, we knew the hardest day was behind us, and that we were about to see what some people claimed was the most beautiful part of the trail, if the weather would permit.
When the sun came breaking over the mountains, and the only clouds seemed friendly, we had high hopes for a perfect day.
Most of us were feeling the wear and tear from the day before (my calves were sore to the touch!), and were getting a good grimy camping patina, but our spirits never faltered.
Brandon compared camping with porters to camping with a troop of Navy SEALS. These guys were tough! During the first part of the trip we all introduced ourselves, said how old we were, and where we were from. I think the youngest man was twenty-three, and the oldest was fifty. I asked later if they ever had female porters and got some big laughs.
Most of guys said they were from local towns, and I believe most were farmers who did this work during the off season. They were a friendly and cheerful group, and after seeing them run up all those steps carrying giant bags with their cheeks stuffed with coca leaves, I decided I should try coca leaves in my cheek too, and stuck some from the breakfast basket in my pockets. It tasted bitter, but wasn't bad. I don't think I tried enough leaves to do anything really, since later a bus driver told us that you have to use at least twenty, and mix in some kind of activator (cheese? sometimes you can't get very far with pantomime) to really get it to work. I was a little worried that thin air and exercise would be more than enough to stress my heart, so trying cocaine at the same time might not be a good idea. Brandon kept warning me to make sure I cleaned out my pockets before we flew home, since he thought carrying coca leaves in my pockets was risking a drug trafficking charge.
We were in lovely cloud forest by this time.
Since we only had a relatively small pass to climb over, our group wasn't as spread apart as the day before, and because we were stopping early to camp we had more time to explore and opportunities for the guide to tell us about the Inca sites we found along the way.
On top of the world!
The trail designer was genius.
I know that in a cloud forest moisture is captured from the clouds, and many of the plants had a lot of surface area, probably to capture more moisture. There were plants growing on the plants.
We're walking above the clouds!
The porters waited for us to catch up at this wide scenic overlook and we took some group photos. This is the part of the hike that some people get clouds and rain. Not us. Look at that blue sky!
I knew that we would see Inca ruins on the hike, but I didn't realize how extensive these ruins would be. Some of them rivaled Machu Picchu for setting and beauty. We were told there are many other ruins that haven't been uncovered, and that the government in Peru can only keep up with so many.
How cool is it to walk through a thicket of bamboo and see ancient stone-works peaking out above?
So many steps! This is the day my right knee began to protest, and then I had to walk down each step leading with the leg with the bad knee. I perfected a pogo stick technique and kept up a brisk pace.
This Inca site was my favorite. We had the place all to ourselves, and there were majestic mountains in every direction I looked. I heard and read a lot of theories about why the Inca's built these terraced settlements where they did, but my opinion is that it was for the view. All of them had amazing views.
I could have spent the rest of the day right here. Something about this place made me feel like I could fly. I heard others talking about using drones to photographic it, or using hang gliders, so I think we were all feeling like exploring flight.
We made it to camp for a late lunch, and had an hour and half all to ourselves. It felt like luxury after being vamoosed for three days to keep up with the meal schedule. Some braved the cold showers in the
dysentery pits bathhouses, and some of us just lounged in our tents enjoying the views.
At first I thought it was a little weird that we were all crammed in a tent for meals, but I learned to really like those cozy meals. No campfires are allowed on the Inca trail, and it's cold once the sun goes down. But each evening we were warm in the meal tent while the chef cooked on the other side of the tent flap, and it was the time during the day when we were all together discussing our adventures. It didn't take long for trail names to be assigned to those who earned them. Man-zilla and Mountain Nipple got their names quite early in the trip. Nothing creates group cohesiveness like crazy strenuous climbing, sleeping in side by side tents, and inadequate toilet facilities. Bonds were formed that can never be broken!
For each meal our napkins were folded in shapes, like swans or pinwheels. This is a camping first!
The chef obviously has more energy than the rest of us.
This one looked like an ostrich cut from an apple with a green onion for a head. The scraggly roots on the onion head made it look like it had crazy hair.
Our tent had the best view.
After lunch we had a short hike to visit a fabulous Inca site. It was lovely like Machu Picchu, but we had it all to ourselves. Us and the llamas.
I may not have impressive hiking speed or grace, but I was the only one to get to pet the llama. Most people have enough sense not to risk getting contaminated with llama spit when they don't have a change of clothes. I fear no spit!
We hiked back to camp for more popcorn and tea before dinner. The chef even baked a cake! It was decorated with multi-color frosting and everything. It was served before dinner. There was no danger of going hungry on this trip.
Maybe it was the late lunch, the platter of popcorn, and the two servings of cake that made dinner on the last night seem less appetizing than usual. Less appetizing, but definitely laugh provoking. Ha! What is that? A flying hot dog monster? A pineapple turtle with kebab arms? Whatever it was, it was too much!