“The trail is the thing. Not the end of the trail. Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for.”
I read this quote before I left for Peru and I didn’t really understand it at the time. I remember thinking, “But…Machu Picchu is the end of the trail. That’s kind of the point of this trip. That is the end-goal of this 4-day trek.” But then day 3 happened and a lightbulb switched on inside my head. And now, this quote has a whole new meaning. I totally get it now.
Day 3 was magical. We got to sleep in until 6:00am [which became a luxury after the first two days] and had a much more forgiving agenda ahead. We would hike 6 miles of what I considered to be the most ‘authentic’ part of the Inca trail. As if the Quechua weren’t intriguing enough, they had also built their original cobblestone path among the most beautiful part of the Andes and it was our road for the day. And you knew you were walking where they walked. Yeeesss!!
This was the part of the trek where it became real for me. Everything was different. The trail had gone from a dry, dusty, desert path to a stone wonder in the middle of the rainforest. The sun was softer and the air was cold and crisp. There were butterflies and greenery and the most beautifully intimidating cliffs that fell from the trail’s edge. It was rugged and enchanting and overwhelming all at the same time. Talia and I joked about how we were waiting for a dinosaur to magically appear because we felt like we were on the set of Jurassic Park. Or maybe Indiana Jones would come flying around the corner with a giant stone ball determined to run him over. My mind wanders when I’m alone in the wilderness…
Hands down, day 3 was my favorite. It was my gem. I think I even slowed down my pace at one point to try to make the journey last longer. But alas, every day has to come to and end. I wish I could relive this day though – 3 moments in particular. These were my top three highlights:
1) Meeting our porters. You see those guys in blue? The ones that travel together carrying 50-60lbs on their backs? They were the hardest working people I’ve ever seen! They are true descendants of the Quechua and they travel the path of their ancestors every week. They were with us from beginning to end and took such good care of us. Actually, spoiled us. We finally got to have a ‘formal introduction’ on the morning of day 3 and even with the language barrier, we became a family. [and they baked us a cake that night! How they did that in the middle of the Andes with no electric, I have no idea. I think our cook was also a magician.] It was an honor to hike every day with the porters. We applauded them every morning when they left before us, and they did the same when we arrived to camp every evening. International love right thurrr.
2) Phuyupatamarcha. It means “town above the clouds”. Together we sat at the top of this ruin and learned more about the Quechua. And the name didn’t need explaining – we were surrounded by clouds which were hovering over the site. You could hardly see anything in the distance. It was quite the dreamy site with its long descending flights of stairs, moss covered stone walls, and series of natural fountains with sparkling glacier run-off. I bet it was dreamy back then too. Always has been.
3) Wiñay Wayna. I think this was a special place for all of us. It means “forever young” and it was the last ruin that we visited before Machu Picchu. This lovely place was just as beautiful and dramatic [if not more so]. A natural amphitheater that was quiet and serene and perfect in all its loneliness. I remember walking in and hearing nothing. Absolutely nothing. Everyone seemed to become speechless as they wandered through Wiñay Wayna. This place calms you. I remember we were sitting in one of the sacred rooms and our tour guide said, “You’ve come this far. And now I believe your heart and soul is ready for Machu Picchu.” I wish I had spent more time there because it was a magical place – you can just feel it.
My favorite day down, one more to go. Stay tuned for Inca Trail Part III, the finale!