Aside from the sheer exertion involved, the Inca Trail is an unbelievable marvel of engineering. After Sayacmarca we entered a rather humid forest area where Incan builders had constructed a raised walkway over a bog. One section had a path cut into a cliff face, while on another stretch they bore a tunnel through solid rock, with stairs going down:
Take Time to Smell the Flowers
Phuyupatamarca was another site carved into the mountainside. Amy negotiates the steep stairs down to the monument:
Along the way, we studied some particularly colorful and fragrant flowers. These are possibly a variety of fuchsia:
These purple beauties reminded us of snapdragons back home:
Since it has so many different biodiversity zones, Perú hosts over 3,000 varieties of orchids—of the 30,000 known species worldwide. This fragile yellow one grows especially well in the Andes:
Across the valley we could see the site of Intipata with its concave terracing:
And we explored the impressive terraces of Wiñay Wayna, which translates to “forever young”:
However, my knees didn’t feel very youthful descending these steep stairs…
Before taking the obligatory ‘jumping’ photo, the Sexy Llamas assembled for one of my favorite group shots:
Benito, Papa de Todos
These are our porters—all twenty of them!—who introduced themselves after lunch and told us their ages and how many years they had worked as porters and for G Adventures. Notice our two chefs in their white toques. These are some of the nicest and hardest working people we’ve ever met. Benito, the oldest porter at sixty-five (!), was always there to clap for each of us as we reached camp every day. The other porters called him “father of us all” (he’s in the gray cap in the front row):
Though the porters hiked much faster than any of us, they often stopped to rest. On the way up a pass, Benito was sitting on a rock and catching his breath, when our friend John volunteered to carry his pack to the top of the pass. Being half his age and physically bigger, he felt that it was wrong not to help Benito. Out of sheer appreciation of everything that the porters did for us, John made it to the top and remarked that since he wouldn’t let his own father carry the pack, he couldn’t resist helping Benito for even a few steps!
Benito was truly the father of us all:
And again, it was the little things that the porters did for us: anyone that provides bowls of hot water for washing every morning outside our tent earns a well-deserved A+ in our book!
Our final dinner on the trail was prefaced by a snack of hot popcorn (!):
And crackers and Fanny Jam (the source of endless jokes throughout our travels):
The soup was delicious as usual:
And dinner once again featured meat, veggies, two starches, and a wonderful fried potato puff:
The Big Day
3:30 a.m. came dreadfully early on Day 4, as we had to get going before dawn to hike the remaining few miles to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The sun began to rise over the mountaintops as we made our approach to Intipunku, or Sun Gate. We caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu, with the zigzag road leading up to it clearly defined:
The site wasn’t open yet, so we hiked down to the visitor center to eat our second breakfast (our first was bread & jam while still at camp) of a cheese sandwich and juice box. Our friend Jane commented that it was remarkable that the porters carried all those juice boxes the entire time, just to include them in our bags on the final day!
Inside, llamas were grazing undisturbed on the terraces:
The famed Temple of the Sun looks as if it were carved out of its base rock:
The trapezoidal window, a signature of Incan workmanship to guard against toppling during earthquakes (Perú is in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a major seismic zone):
A fountain, or ritual bath, still flows as its water pools in the bottom then cascades down to the lower fountain (sixteen in all):
Machu Picchu was almost completely overgrown when explorer Hiram Bingham first visited here in 1911. Now the grounds are immaculately groomed, and tourists may only gaze (but not walk) upon these verdant terraces:
Archaeological work and reconstruction are still being done on site, and there were walls being restored while we were here:
As David & Evert told us over and over again, hiking the Inca Trail is the only way to see and truly appreciate Machu Picchu. After four days of pit toilets, no showers, lots of sweat, and very achy muscles, it was well worth every penny spent to walk in the footsteps of the Incas to this sacred site:
Next chapter: post-hike food hijinks in Aguas Calientes and Cusco!