Day 60: Inca Trail–Pacha Mama

Fri. 12th October 2012

Special messages on our pancackes at breakfastIt was a cold night. I was in my thermal long-johns and long-sleeved vest with a fleece on top and my  woolly hat on snuggled as far into my sleeping bag as I could get and I was still cold. So, it was a bit of a relief that the alarm call was 5am this morning. I think we were all happy to get moving – particularly as we were rewarded with some incredible views out across the valley to the cloud and snow capped mountains on the far side.

Before setting out, Percy asks us each to pick up a pebble from the side or the bed of the stream that runs past the camp. We think its not because he feels we have had it too easy so far, so we pick one up and tuck it in our pocket. We have two passes to climb today – 3,950m and 3,600m and it is also our longest walk of the Trail.

High in the mountains, level with the cloudsIt isn’t long before we come across the Inca ruins at Runkurakay. Percy explains that the Incas built over 20,000km of paved roads. The centre of the road network was the main square in Cusco (which was the heart of their civilisation). From the main square, roads ran North, South, East and West to the four provinces that they divided their empire into. From these main roads ran branches and around every 15km to 18km they built lodgings to provide a rest place and also a weapons store. The distance between lodgings was determined by the distance that a llama can walk in a day. (Sounds a bit Monty Python, I know).

A mere 4,000m but we are still glad to get to the topOur first pass of the day isn’t as high or as steep as yesterday’s (and ‘only’ a 400m climb) but even so, we are glad to reach the top. Percy takes the opportunity to tell us a little more about Inca religion and philosophy and about their belief in reciprocity, as well as a moving tale that brought more than one tear from the group. In particular he told us, that if we give something to Pacha Mama, (Mother Earth) then she will give something back to us. So, we each take our pebble that we brought from the stream by the campsite and climb to the top of the nearby rocks and build a little tower of pebbles. Then, after making a wish, we return to our circle on the level at the top of the pass and we each hug every other person in our group.

OK, so it is not the most impressive Pacha Mama ever - but it meant alot to us.Each of us was very moved by the little ceremony.  Percy has been calling us his ‘family’ since we first met, and now we really feel like it.

We move on along the side of the valley looking across at the clouds that fill the valley. From time to time, there is a break in the clouds and we can see a patchwork of hillside through them. We are happy to walk in silence for a while, spellbound by the scenery, the sound of the streams rushing down the mountain or the occasional bird calling out – or even just enjoying the silence.

At the next stop, Percy produces a beautiful cedar wood and llama-bone flute and plays us a couple of traditional songs – one from Cusco and one from is local village. The haunting music fitted the scenery perfectly. I captured a video of one of the songs and you can see it below.

Ruins in the mistAfter the song, we climb up to a nearby archaeological site that is the remains of a temple complex built to worship the snow-capped mountains. Unfortunately, the clouds stubbornly refuse to clear and we can’t see the mountains. Once again, we get a little explanation of the importance of mountains to the Incas – as providers of weather and water and the link between Pacha Mama and water. Percy draws parallels with the importance of mountains such as Mount Fuji, Kilimanjaro, or Everest to their local cultures.

How can they carry so much, so quickly?We are now getting close to Machu Picchu. The next temple complex that we get to has a series of water fountains and on a clear day would have a view of Machu Picchu mountain. The fountains were used to symbolically cleanse the spirit of travellers prior to reaching the sacred city (only royalty and priests would walk the Inca Trail). Sadly we are still in the clouds and have to wait a little longer for our view of Machu Picchu.

The clouds start to clearThen suddenly we get below the clouds and the sky starts to clear. We are treated to the spectacle of Machu Picchu mountain bathed in sunlight, surrounded by other high mountains shrouded in clouds. Occasionally, the clouds break and we see the sun glistening off the snow covered peaks. Now we are getting to the end of the Trail, I suddenly find that I don’t want it to end. It has been a really special experience – enlightening, hard-work, incredible scenery and at times moving. We have risen to the challenge and been inspired by it.

Man holding up set of Inca terracesWe had the option of taking in a final site which some of us take. We are rewarded with the spectacle of a giant set of terraces carved into the mountain. You couldn’t fail to be impressed by the scale of the engineering work which somehow matches the scale of the mountains and the splendour of the views. Then we are down in our campsite where we have our routine for getting settled into the tents all down pat.

The scale takes your breath awayOver supper, there is a discussion around the group as to what time do we want to get started in the morning. Close to the camp, there is a checkpoint that we have to go through which doesn’t open until 5:30am. However, in the campsite there are 12 or 13 other groups and many of them want to be first through the checkpoint. They are likely to start queuing from around 3:30 or 4am. We decide that we do want to be first and so we agree to a 3am wake up call. (Yes, even Janet!)

Saying "Thank you" to the portersThe final task of the evening is to thank the porters with tip and a few words. I had previously asked the group if I could do a little speech as I had been thinking about what the Inca Trail has meant to me. I seemed to say the right things – I even used a little Quechua at the beginning and end:

allillanchu – Hello everyone

noccan cani David – My name is David

Sulpaikee llipiykichista – Thank you very much

Tired but happy, we went to bed thinking about what we had in store tomorrow, but knowing that regardless we have had a very special experience.

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