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Trail of the Lost Incas...
On the way up to Warmiwanusacca (Dead Womans) Pass (4,198m)
4th April 2000

Five and a half hours walking yesterday.  Breakfast (slow and easy rising as we had made it further than we thought we would), overlooking the valley and even some snow capped mountains that had shown themselves now that some of the cloud had disappeared.  What a great way to wake up, left the tent door open so we could see the mountains and watch the brightening light, the porridge and the coffee.  Exploring the campsite, a llama herders hut and the llamas penned for the night.  They make funny bird like sounds, not what you would expect, and that look, comically self conscious with erect heads and antennae ears.  They would come up to smell for food when you outstretched your hand to them.  Nice llamas!

Then the pass (4,198m)!  We had left it late enough that a constant stream of trekkers and porters that had come up from the valley below, shared the trail with us.  Was only one and a half hours but it was very steep uphill, very hard and hot, lots of breaks for rest etc. with the altitude having a bit of an effect.  Stopped at the top with about thirty or forty others, mostly from groups who would clap when one of their team members came up.  Was quite a friendly atmosphere even if it was a lot of people and I didn't mind it that much.  Must be incredible during peak season which starts in May/June I think (this is the 'deserted off season').
On the up to Warmiwanusca pass (4,198m)
More flowers
A little bit disappointed at the top as the side over which we were heading was just a blanket of cloud (and a trail that headed down for about 20m before disappearing into the mist).  Headed off anyway and it was very atmospheric, everything closed in and Inca mysterious, just the immediate hill and the stone path coming out from and disappearing into the fog.  And not so many people strangley enough, just the odd overloaded porter all but running down the steps now that gravity was on their side.  Also heard someone playing bits of peruvian flute out of sight in the fog which was nice.  Heard it a couple of time during the day, the next time at the second pass, not much but enough to give you a feeling of current, and people, and peruvian people more importantly around you even if they were porters.
I like the porters.  We were walking with them yesterday ahead of the groups that start a bit before km88 (the train stop we got off at), at Chileco or some town I think.  Similar to the Nepalese, huge loads, big iron camp stoves, steel folding chairs, big sacks of stuff tied together with rope which along with some old clothes formed the shoulder straps to it all.  Bentover all wearing silky soccer shirts, muscly toned brown little legs with sandles and short toenails.  Always smiling and 'hola' when you or they pass.

It started to clear on the way down, or more likely we started to descend out of the cloud and so we got the views down to the river and up to the ruins on the other side we were after.  Steep up and down the hills!  The whole trek is apparantly only 33km, it's just so up and down that it takes three to four days to walk!

Saw a few humming birds which was amazing. Up very close, long little snouts into the bigger stalks of the bushes.  Beautiful metallic green and black, a blur of tiny wings, magical little things.  There is a huge variety of wildflowers up around the hills.  Reds, yellows, whites, indigos, mishmashed around rocks and brush and shrubs.  Not what I would call a beautiful scene, just little wildflower spats of colour and detail
pan flute somewhere in the mist.
Porter on trail
in amongst apline plants.  Nice to see and interesting to note all of the different types along the way (have decided to squash a few for physical touchness sake!).

pm. We arrived at the bottom of the valley, in the rain, to a mudmire of porters and trekkers cooking and sheltering under thatched eaves of the few buildings that were around (mainly toilet/shower blocks).  Wet dirt trails up and down around clumps of grass and shrubs and other porters cleaning dishes etc. that weren't apparant at first glance.  Could have been a scene from a Vietnam war movie - look after your feet boys, look after your feet.  We took it all in, in a few minutes under a spare eave ourselves, filled up with water, took off the japaras and boldly or foolishly, or perhaps because the alternative was a small steamy spot with porters cooking food running backwards and forwards the whole time, headed up to Runturacay ruins (3,800m) in the rain.

What a beautiful place for lunch, it stopped raining and big cloud banks would move in and out of the valley.  We sat up the back of the ruins in one of the stone rooms and set up watching it change constantly before us.  At times you could see right the way up to the pass and the whole valley would be clear, rows of groups of tents at the river below and mist rising out of the ridgelines (looking like a Chines painting as Ange pointed out).  At other times a big bank of
cloud would move in and engulf the campsite, or us, it was very nice.  The ruins also were very nice, small enough to get your mind around (made a little sketch plan).  In some of the ruins, apparantly the rooms are set up and the windows blocked in or not, to align light at sunset or sunrise with the recesses on the far walls which tells them what time to plant etc.  Sounds a bit suspect I must admit given that each time winter came, they assumed the sun would be leaving forever and offered sacrafices (llamas only - no virgins apparantly according to a guide we overheard).  Maybe it was knowledge restricted to high priests and all of that?  I love travelling for lunches like that.  A few people started to arrive towards the end so we left them to it and started up to the second pass.

Up through more clouds on and off, a couple of small lakes and a sharp saddle - again not so many views because of the clouds.  Lots of atmosphere though, a little more flute in the mist and then gone - actually, I saw a recorder strapped to the side of a porters pack and so it was probably that and not the traditional pan variety!  Anyway, down, more Inca steps in and out of the mist, past a dank looking lake to a set of very steep stairs leading up to some ruins perched on a ridgeline, Phuyupatamarca ruins, larger this time, a whole little city (quite little) perched around the ridge.  Keen to get a campsite we headed on a bit, around 15 min to Aombamba.  The names in LP don't seem to match
Runtaracay ruins (lunch)
Sketch map,
Runturacay ruins (lunch)
up with those marked on the trail, or those on the official contour map you see every now and then, hmmm...  Nice campsite anyway.  Very wet so everybody was perched on these little mounds covered in straw to help keep things dry, and surrounded by marsh.  Frog hollow let me tell you, when do those little suckers sleep!

Was a georgeos sunset over craggy peaks with the odd snow covered mountain, late light coming back to the ruins, took a few photos, hope they work out.  Sunshine to dry everything and warm us up.  A dinner to rival lunch.

5th April 2000

Woke up to rain again this morning, a few momentary glimpses of the mountains and then cloud and drizzle again!  Decided to lie in the tent for a while and write in the diary and all that, and relax making it a five day walk (which is what we had first intended but had been doing much better times and so were around half a day ahead of schedule).  The rain cleared around 8 and so we had brekky, half packed up and headed back to the ruins leaving the tent and the packs at the campsite.  It's no easy walk without a pack either I realised!

Ruins were very nice, most impressed by the steep
staircase in, very fortress like in position - I don't quite know how you attack a place like that.  I wonder if that was why they lived up here, or if they were just like me, and like a novel position with a view.  Lots of tourists, trekkers looking around, tour groups with guides.  Enjoy eavesdropping to catch little bits but the place has so much mystique and so many secrets without the guided tour fully imposed over it.  Was also impressed by the little causeway across the main entrance door that came off of the ridge line of rock above, it flowed in rock channels in the walls down around town - quite the engineers, it all really is the stuff school kids dreams are made of.  They must have a lot more flair for the imaginitive than we do.  A race of dreamers, of kings and Gods actually I think!  I must admit that other than a few flowers out of 'Inca rocks' giving a little romanticism, I much preferred last night watching the ruins from afar, the sunset and mountains cajoling the clouds.

I mean't to mention a little more about the bus trip from Puno - a little bizarre, John Claude van Damme movie which was ok, and then a couple of others with sub-titles which were a pain as I couldn't restrain myself from watching and picking up the plot every now and then.  Drivers high on cocaine according to an Australian couple in front of us.  Got a little worried about
Sunset Aombamba
Sunset, Aombamba.
terrorists when we stopped for no apparent reason at one stage.  Stuck my head out the window to beautiful stars, the big dipper right on the horizon and Bolivians standing around with lots of jackets on.  Turns out they were taking turns sleeping in the baggage compartment - cold!  All of that and an upset stomach made for quite a tortured trip, a delerium of trying to sleep in amongst all these just off centre things going on.  I remember now, a truck, stationary in a town around midnight, full of people wrapped in scarves etc. Obviously going or coming, other towns just a few store lights paraded past the window not even rising above the reality of the bus engine noise, and an accolading Jesus lit up on the hill (a la Rio de J).  When I looked up the name of the town in Lonely Planet it said something about the third highest crime rate in Peru and something to be missed.  What a strange way to experience a town, no sound or touch or taste, no smell, only a passing vision of a few things, a nice feeling, a very average review and all to John Claude van Damme in the background and that grinding differential noise moving things along.  I think a guy actually ran alongside the door of the bus for a few seconds trying to get on, to get it to stop, but we just kept going, no time for ghost towns that exist at night like this, unmarked mirages in the passing darkness.

So woke up late in the rain (waiting for it to finish) packed up from our little island in the froggy marshes and hiked on.  Not so much to experience, no hard slog to passes (the third pass is a gentle pass), just an Inca tunnel - natural cave with steps! - rising and falling mists, porters, tour groups, oh, a couple of beautiful views down the misty valleys to the Urumbamba (river) and at one point even the little red and yellow train, all a kilometre or more down, dizzying Inca heights, actually not so dizzying, just high, you get used to being up there, an elevated domain of the Incas!

Arrived at the pass after one and a half hours (were expecting 3), a lot of tourist groups cooking lunch and setting up tents.  Looked like a nice spot but was a bit early so decided to keep going to Intipunku and cut a day off.  Went down to the ruins (Phuyupatmarca 3,690m) which were only a couple of hundred metres away but we had them all to ourselves (the tour groups seemed to stick pretty closely together).  Set up and ate lunch on some rocks just above the ruins, very magestic, watched the changing view to the valley below.  These were also nice ruins, a set of ceremonial? baths down one side, water 
Trails flowers - day 2 Sayamarca ruins
On the way down to Sayamarca ruins, from the second pass.
on to the 'Inca sun gate' (hows that for an impressive name) - Intipunku, to camp.  Filling up water bottles, tour groups all around us, we were nipped in the bud by an official looking uniformed park... official!, and more definitely by a closed gate and fence blocking the path stating pretty clearly 'Campemento Intipunku prohibida' and trail open from 05:00 to 14:00!  Much complaining by white tourists that we wished to camp there, would miss sunset etc, ended up camped on the hillside with I must say not a bad view at all of the mountainous drop away hills, Urumbamba below, and when it cleared a little snow cap every now and then above.  Much cooking and setting up it seemed in a confined space, bit of a chat with Todd and Tracey, up and down to the thumping happening youth hostel full of tour group people, cervacas, smoke and spaghetti bolognaise.  Started to feel for the guard who has to put up with this every day, every night.  The whole campsite was packed near to full, I don't know what they do peak season!   And then complaining people like us with their own ideas and free spirit traveller attitudes wanting our way - what a nightmare job, no wonder he has a gun.

Rained heavily that night pretty much as soon as we went to bed.  I was up and down covering things in plastic and worrying about things getting wet, water running under the tent etc. and basically not being able to sleep.  Sat with my head out the door for a bit watching the faint sheet lightning and the torches of the various trekking groups flickering around the hillside,
cascading from one to the other on the way down.  Caught up with Todd and Tracey, a couple of very nice Americans we met at the station in Cusco buying tickets, they had been camping not far behind us.  Todd hadn't eaten anything for the whole walk not being well!  Unbelievable with the strength you needed for the climbing.  He must have lost a lot of weight.  Was good to see them, they were from around Portland, Oregon and were pretty down to earth, for some reason just seemed very comfortable around them.

So down hundreds of Inca steps, beautiful cloud forest (I still like that name and all the mystery that goes with it), and lots of wildflowers, down past (or being passed by), porters all but running, I would not like to see one of them put a foot wrong, out of the changing cloud into more panoramic views.  We could see snow covered peaks from time to time, I think the views on clear sunny days must be a lot better, I haven't minded the cloud though we still get the views from time to time along with the atmosphere of cloud banks playing in the hills.  Funnily enough I can't remember a time when we have been walking through proper cloud forest when we have actually been in the cloud!  Anyway down to the hostel and other buildings.  You could see the ruins of Conchmarca and Hunay Huayna, little bright green scabs of terracing with a few buildings at one end, on the hillside on the way down.  Decided given they were off the track a bit and that we would see Machu Picchu tomorrow, to give them a miss.  So we arrived at the youth hostel full of ideas about continuing  
Approach to Inktipunktu (Sun gate)
all to the sounds of the rain, the Urumbamba in the valley below, and the cervaca'd out trekkers in the hostel.  Was a bit of a scene.

6th April 2000

3:55am alarm - no movement, back to bed.  4:00am alarm, a bit of a torch in one of the tents, a slow getting dressed (Ange still cocooned) and 4:10am, into it.  Pack up wet tent, wet sleeping mats (the rest was fairly dry), cook porridge, make tea, all with maglite in mouth, in the dark, up to toilets etc. and fin.  Along the trail to the gate, tickets in hand to be stamped and off walking in the dark to Intipunku at 5:15am.  Not bad going.  Darkness and silence and walking, keeping up a pace in the wet forest, bodies not yet awake, vague thoughts of sunrise and sun gates in mind.  The valley below was filled with a mist which was lit up in a luminous blacky green colour (as it was last night I forgot to mention), quite impressive actually (lit up by what I think is a hydro type scheme, or the beginnings of one - probably just some sort of construction base as there were no turbines in sight).

So onwards, people passing, people being passed, quite a few on the trail, brightening sky the whole time, a little patch of red on a cloud -
sunrise, day 4

mainly fine - will there be a sunrise, what time will it be, how much further, wet, dark, torch in front to pick out the steps, on, onwards, Intipunku (which had by now become a bit of a holy grail!).

Ended up reaching it around 6:30.  It was quite bright by then but because of all of the hills, the sun still hadn't risen, in fact some low cloud developed by the horizon so we never had a real sunrise, just some morning light on some snowy peaks on the horizon.  But Intipunku!  A stone gateway on a small spur saddle.  Inca steps,
people congregated, Inca steps, and then over and Mach Picchu (2,400m), down in the next valley revealed.  Wow.  Spread out because we were at a different angle to the classic photos.  It was good to see it, felt rewarding, it was shaping up to be a nice day and we were here.  The sun gate and the much anticipated Intipunku were pretty soon forgotton and left behind.  Photos, smiles
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

and congratulatory looks as everyone made their way down at their own pace, enjoying it on their own terms, feeling a part of the days group descending.  Took quite a few photos especially once we got down to the caretaker of Funerary's hut.  One thing this trail has taught me is to take photos when you get the chance as it may well be a blanket of cloud again in a few moments!  The ruins are very impressive as the are the vertiguous mountains and whisps of cloud around them.  I remember thinking after a few minutes of taking it all in that this is the best spectacle I have ever seen.  We spent three or four hours up there peacfully watching, eating our two days rations of chocolate and dried fruit etc. (now no longer needed).  Did a bit of a sketch, found some Machu Picchu llamas and took some photos.  Very funny animals, very tame, would let you get within a foot or two with a camera.  Obviously live with tourists every day, these self conscious, blank sort of looks, all eyebrows and ears swivelling this way or that like xenephore.  

Hmmm...  so what to say about Machu Picchu, really steep canyon mountains, terraces on terraces of ruins and a middle grassy central plaza like area, peruvian cloud forest (never tires does it!) a dog following a couple around,
up and down - he had been with them for a couple of days on the trail Ange said, I hope he belongs to them.  Tour groups and trekkers, not taking away from the scene somehow, big American style cafe restaurant (when Todd and Tracey went for breakfast there they were met with incredulous looks and 'do you realise the cost is US$20!')  A relatively quick look around, (about an hour), more impressive from far away, holy rocks that might resemble pumas or guinea pigs or the mountains around aren't as interesting as the overall city perched up here in a Peruvian wilderness of ancient Inca trails and other citadels.

But just out of interest, Picchu means woman, they found lots of buried peasants or service women but no nobility, no gold etc.  Conjecture as to use, sacred womens site, university, ritual centre with women servants, who knows.  Best buildings towards the centre of the layout (also the oldest?).  Would like to read up on it a bit when we get back.  Always more interesting after the event all that.

Packs back on out of storage, onto a bus and down the hill to Aguas Calientes, down to a now furioso Urumbamba after the rains the night before, impressive river when it flows full.
Down into another world, looking back up you could not even see Machu Picchu the hills were so high.  Incredible, really did give the impression of the Incas as a race of kings living in the clouds, a network of trails and Inca cities way up high somewhere above.  A little romantic and awe inspiring.

Aguas Calientes on the other hand has its roots firmly in today...
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