Chaquicocha to Winaywayna – Inca Flats
Our reward from yesterday’s slog is a somewhat more leisurely scenic six hour day on what is called Inca Flats. In reality the “Inca Flats” means up, down, up down, and then there is a long slow drop of 1,200 metres to the third camping spot Winaywayna – where the luxury of a shower and cold beer awaits – bliss.
Part 1 is here if you want to read it first.
It’s a picturesque day and we enjoy taking photos more than yesterday as we were always too puffed to bother. This section of the trail has some original Inca era paving stones. The steps have shorter rises, and the change in surface lends itself to a more relaxing hike. The trail is well paved with fairly large stones. While the path does not rise too quickly, because we are still at an altitude of between 11,000 and 12,000 feet even gentle inclines cause a lot of puffing.
During our hike we pass over a dozen Inca ruins. Usually small, they were administrative posts, observation posts for spotting enemies and food storage posts. With no written language, it is difficult to know exactly what occurred back then. The Spaniards conquered the Incas quite easily as horses and steel swords allowed small groups of Spaniards (usually less than 100) to quickly defeat large groups of Inca led natives. Having conquered, they set about destroying the Inca culture as quickly as they could.
This valley was far enough from the remaining indigenous farming areas that the rock was never removed for use elsewhere. So, after the Spanish conquest, for 500 years, the buildings just sat. The roofs disappeared with time since they were made with wooden poles and straw, but the walls remained. The ruins were overgrown by the time restoration of the trail and the area began. Restoration here seems limited to removing brush and a little tidying up.
The trail almost always runs along the face of the hill. The restoration workers got into some problems here with large rocks which spilled down the hillside, so they just built the trail through the rocks and through a natural cave.
The trail continues through wonderful mountains with natural vegetation but in the light fog the scenery is not easily visible. Throughout the hike we pass through a number of very distinct ecosystems, each with its own set of plants and birds.
We camp at Winay Wayna where there is the luxury of a basic shower, a beer and a relaxing afternoon. We sleep well and are fresh for the final easy push onto Machu Picchu in the very early morning.
Day 4 is a relatively short hike that involves an elevation gain at the start as we climbed from to the top of the last pass from which we can see our prize, the fabulous Machu Picchu. The goal is not to arrive before dawn (around 5:30 am) as that would involve hiking this part in the dark, but to arrive at the pass before the sun actually hits Machu Picchu (around 6:15 am). So, there is a half hour workout ahead. It can get a little crazy on the last day of the hike. People go a bit nutty and like to run the last part of the track!
Not me, I am all leisure by this stage.
Just past the camp, in the dark, we line up at the checkpoint that opens at 5:30 am. We have to wait half an hour, but ours is the second group at the checkpoint, so we are well positioned for the race along the last bit of the trail.
The Sun Gate, the last pass along the trail before Machu Picchu and our first glimpse of the ruins. What an approach the mighty Machu Picchu which is in view for the remainder of the trail.
In spite of all the effort required and the physical difficulty of climbing at high elevation, we were ecstatic at the end. For some it was easy, for us it was hard work. However, we had no injuries, no blisters, no altitude sickness; just very tired muscles from hiking. It is probably not a trip that requires a repeat experience.
Once was rewarding and wonderful, but I would not attempt to replicate the excitement of experiencing it the first time.
Gallery Inca Trail
One needs to understand the difference between the two separate routes to Machu Picchu as they approach from two different perspectives.
If you catch the train to Aguas Caliente and bus to Machu Picchu, you enter and get your first glimpse through the tourist route. If you walk the trail then you approach from the spectacle that is the Sun Gate. I would highly recommend that if you don’t walk the trail that you get to Machu Picchu early and hike to the Sun Gate.
It is a good climb but well worth it.
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