Despite the deliciousness and strength of the Macho Tea served to us last night (much Rum), our night's sleep had been far from comfortable. The highest of all the campsites at 3,300m and we were sleeping on hard compacted gravel. But the tents are warm and spacious and are pitched in the middle of one of the more rugged areas of the world, so expectations must be managed.
After a busy first hour of climbing we stop at the Inca hostel and checkpoint of Runkurakay. The site was built to look back up the trail towards Dead Woman's Pass so that any attacker could be spotted and runners sent to Machu Picchu to raise the alarm. The interesting thing about the Inca Trail is that the Spanish never found it. The last reigning Inca is thought to have ordered the trail's destruction and concealment in order to protect the city of Machu Picchu.
After the ascent of Dead Woman's Pass yesterday, today was a test for the knees. Once we had topped the climb out of Runkurakay, we descended in the direction of Machu Picchu.
The weather was settled today, but heavy cloud on the ridge line denied us the sweeping views we had anticipated. The terrain was difficult due to the lack of context, hours passing by with little to see.
We stopped at a network of temples called Sayacmarta. This site supports the theory that the trail was a sacred route used by the monarchy and academics because the calibre of the temples and fine masonry are of a higher standard here in relation to other routes that were used for trade and general transit.
The site plan focused on the aqueducts supplying the temple buildings, implying that the water here was sacred as opposed to being used solely for crop irrigation, much like the systems we saw at the palaces of Tipon. In the picture above you can see one of the gutter-like constructions that carried water down from the mountains.
The complex was tightly planned with little space wasted on the narrow ridge. It must have been a remote and lonely life up there.
The trail undulated through dense Andean undergrowth and the weather rolled in and out as our porters flew past on the way to the evening campsite.
Our beautiful ponchos made a second appearance.
The weather worsened as we arrived at Phuyupakamarka. Believed to have been a centre for astronomy, it differs from Sayacmarta because its highest point was built as a terraced pyramid, similar to Tiahuanaco in Bolivia. Astronomers were some of the most respected members of society as their knowledge informed the crop cycles so pivotal to Inca culture. The pyramid supports the theory that the Inca appropriated technologies from other cultures.
Agricultural terraces surrounded the cliff top citadel to provide food for the inhabitants, but they also served as an earthquake defence system, spreading the load of the higher levels across the cliff face.
The forest became denser as we descended further into the Urubamba river valley.
At days end we emerged from the forest at the top of Intipata, a steep collection of agricultural terraces with a commanding view of the Urubamba valley. Finally out of the clouds, we could enjoy the views we had worked for.
With only a short walk to the campsite at Intipunku we stopped to watch wisps of cloud hug the hilltops and listen to the river roar beneath us.
Besides the trail itself, Intipata was the largest site we had seen on the route, confirming the power an influence of the Inca across the region.
The campsite clung to the mountainside on a similar set of terraces. We went to bed knowing that when the Sun next rose, we would see Machu Picchu.