Inca Trail – Day 3

The previous day’s clear skies were not to last, and when we awoke the surrounding panorama was totally obscured by a thick wet mist. After breakfast we performed an interesting ritual where we stood face to face with our porters, on one side a semicircle of rich city-dwelling westerners outfitted in the finest gear modern materials science can provide, on the other side Peruvian country folk mostly in sandals and simple garb. One by one they introduced themselves (with Jose translating), generally giving us their names, ages, home town, and number of children / girlfriends. Afterwards we introduced ourselves to them. It was interesting to see each of our hard working porters, who until now mostly toiled behind the scenes while we simply enjoyed the results.

When that was done we headed out into the rain. Most of the morning’s path was a steep downhill along uneven stone steps bordering precipitous cliffs, and the wet conditions only made it more treacherous. It was obvious why the locals call that part of the trail the Gringo Killer.

As had previously been true, by late morning the rain and mists cleared and gave way to sunny humidity. By noon we had reached a series of large terraces overlooking a valley, and we paused for pictures with the local llama population.

After that the trail became blessedly more horizontal, and we continued to our lunch site at a relaxed place. This was originally where we would have spent the 3rd night, if not for the threat of mud slides. After lunch we tipped our porters and said goodbye to them, shaking hands with each and saying “Tu Panichi Comma”, Quechuan for “See you in the next life”. Having been warned of the dangers of the final leg of the trail, this was hardly reassuring.

You see, the last bit of our journey would take us to the Sun Gate, the entrance to Machu Picchu. But the path there was a vertigo-inducing narrow uphill ledge, where an errant step could send you plummeting to a very scenic death. An American girl had done just that last year, and I had no interest in joining her. The rain picked up again as we ventured forth, but by now we were all pros at firmly planting our walking sticks to keep us balanced. There was a brief section that was nearly straight up, requiring both hands and feet, the only time those trusty walking sticks got in the way. I would like to think that my minor rock climbing experience helped me out, but probably not. We all survived, and after passing through a final checkpoint, we arrived at the Sun Gate.

Of course, the Sun Gate was anything but, as the sky was uniformly clouded and provided a steady rain. During the Winter Solstice, the sun would shine directly through the gate and provide a spotlight directly onto the ruined city of Machu Picchu. We had no such signal, but the city was obvious enough on its own, a stone labyrinth in the distance, nestled between the twin peaks of mounts Machu Picchu and Wayñu Picchu.

I would like to say that our first glimpse of the lost city we had spent so long hiking towards was spectacular and awe-inspiring. But we were still quite far away, and from that distance it simply looked like any of the other dozen Inca ruins we had come across on our hike. It would not be until we got closer that the true scale of what we were seeing would be revealed.

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~ by kilbasar on February 3, 2013.

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