Two days down, two to go! As promised, the second day on the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu was tough. Twenty-two kilometers and two mountain passes. There were lots of uneven stone stairways with steep uphill climbs and treacherous downhill steps. But, it was now behind us and we could begin to look forward to the final trek to Machu Picchu.
Our guide, Claudio entered the dining tent to give us our hiking plan for the next day.
“The third day is the easiest on the trail” he assured us.
“Compared to the second day, the third day is relatively flat and the distance is not great. Tomorrow, you can sleep in until 6:00 am when the Chaskis will wake you again with room service” Claudio grinned.
Just then, our chef Juan de Dios, entered the tent carrying a beautiful fruit arrangement shaped like a penguin. The day before he hand carved an arrangement in the shape of an owl. How does he do this on top of a mountain in the remote Peruvian jungle? In addition, he has to carry all of his supplies to each camp site and he has to sprint ahead of us and begin preparing our meals. There are restaurant chefs in Manhattan not nearly as talented as this chef running along the Inca Trail.
“I have another surprise for you tomorrow” Claudio said.
“We will camp just outside the gate to Machu Picchu. We will be sleeping at the ruins of Winaywayna. This is considered the second most beautiful Incan site after Machu Picchu. You will have all afternoon to explore the site to yourself.”
The sites we had seen on the hike was already amazing. For the past two days we had hiked by and through numerous Incan ruins, each more beautiful and mysterious as the one before. It was hard to believe that we were able to wander through the ruins and explore these sites. I couldn’t imagine a site any more beautiful than we had already experienced.
Again, we were served another fabulous four course meal. We had fresh juice, appetizers, soup, an entree with protein and fresh vegetables, and of course dessert and warm tea for digestion. I ate until I couldn’t eat another bite.
“Get some rest” Claudio urged us. “In the morning I want you to get to know the hard working Chaskis who have made this hike comfortable for you. I would like to introduce them to you and let them tell you about themselves. So, sleep well tonight and look forward to a wonderful day tomorrow.”
We went to our tents and immediately went to sleep. We were exhausted after the grueling day.
In the morning we were again greeted with a warm bowl of water for washing and warm tea or hot chocolate. The Chaskis really were concerned about making life on the trail as comfortable for us as possible, even after running ahead of us on the steep trail and carrying packs as large as they are.
We rolled out of our tents, packed our bags, and sat down for another amazing breakfast. Juan de Dios and his staff had never ceased to amaze us. Not only did they provide delicious and nutritious meals, they never repeated a menu.
After breakfast, Claudio assembled all of the Chaskis and asked each one to tell us about themselves and their families. We learned that all of them came from the same small town of Pisaq and each had large families back home.
He then asked us to introduce ourselves to them by telling our names, where we were from, and what we did back home. I didn’t know if I should have been sad or impressed with myself to learn that I was by far the oldest person in our group.
After the introductions, we again loaded our packs and headed out on the Inca Trail. As promised, the hike was uneventful. We would proceed directly to the next camp site. There would be no separate camp for lunch because of the short distance covered today. We would get to camp, eat lunch, and explore the ruins of Winaywayna.
Things were going as planned. The hike was mostly a gentle downhill slope and we were on time for a relaxing lunch. The weather was perfect and the scenery was incredible. We reached another ruin site and Claudio pointed to a nearby mountain.
“That is Machu Picchu mountain. The city of Machu Picchu is on the other side. Tomorrow morning we will walk through the Sun Gate and be greeted with a beautiful view of Mach Picchu.”
The mountain was stunning, even from the backside. I had heard of Machu Picchu all of my life and now I was actually looking at Machu Picchu mountain. It was hard to contain the excitement. But, we weren’t there yet. First we had to reach camp where Juan de Dios was preparing another gourmet lunch.
And, then we saw them. Up ahead on the trail were a pack of wild llamas blocking the trail. Some were sitting down, some were grazing, and there was even a mother nursing a baby. Our plans immediately changed. Everyone wanted to spend time with and play with the llamas.
We took off our backpacks and immediately began petting and posing for selfies with the llamas. The baby was especially friendly and began kissing me. The others did not seem to be bothered by the attention either. It is funny how a group of adults from the United States all turn into children when they find themselves in a herd of llamas.
At first Claudio was amused. He laughed and took photos of each of us playing with the animals. This was an every day site for Claudio and I think he didn’t see the attraction. After much too long an amount of time, Claudio urged us to move along.
“Juan de Dios has prepared lunch for us. If we stay too long the lunch will be cold” he pleaded.
We were having none of it. We don’t get a chance to play with llamas every day and we wanted to enjoy every minute. Besides, the llamas seemed to be enjoying it as well.
After a while, I think Claudio was beginning to worry about a mutiny. Just then Rene appeared on the trail. He had made it to camp and when we did not show up he walked back up the trail looking for us.
“Lunch is waiting. Juan de Dios has your meal ready. We have to eat so that he can feed the Chaskis” Rene said.
This was the incentive we needed to move along. We couldn’t keep the Chaskis from eating lunch. We had seen how hard those guys work and no one wanted to keep them from eating. We stepped over the resting llamas and made our way into camp. Just as promised, Juan de Dios had another incredible lunch prepared and waiting.
We eagerly ate everything and enjoyed swapping stories and photos from the morning hike. Everyone laughed at the llama selfies and the funny photos. Finally, Claudio entered the lunch tent for an announcement.
“And now for your afternoon adventure we will all walk five minutes up the hill and you will see an amazing sight. I will tell you the history of the beautiful ruins of Winaywayna. You will then be free to explore the ruins for as long as you want.”
We followed Claudio the short distance up the hill. At the top, we looked out and saw acre after acre of beautiful Inca ruins bathed in the afternoon light. The site was huge. Terrace after terrace stretched to the bottom of the mountain below us. Above us were the remains of houses, military fortresses, and temples. It was almost overwhelming. And, it was all ours for an entire afternoon.
Although I was tired from three days of mountain hiking, I sprinted up and down the steep steps exploring the nooks and crannies of this beautiful city. Occasionally, I would meet someone else from our group and we would marvel at the things we had seen.
Nettie and Katy were taking photos, and Monica and Ryan were exploring the structures. I descended the terraces and saw Mike and Melissa who appeared to be in another world. They were practicing yoga poses among the ruins. They asked me to take a few photos for them.
Finally, the sun was setting and it was time to get back to camp. Even though we didn’t want to leave, we had to make it back before dark. When we arrived in camp we were greeted with hot water and told to wash up for one last meal from Juan de Dios.
“He has one more surprise for you tonight with your meal” Claudio said.
Again we ate like Incan royalty. We feasted on four courses of things not normally found near the top of Machu Picchu mountain.
“Who has a birthday near this time?” Claudio asked.
“My birthday is December 13th” Marie volunteered.
“Anyone else?” Claudio asked.
“Mine is the 16th” I chimed in.
“Well now for your surprise” Claudio smiled.
Juan de Dios entered the dining tent carrying a freshly baked cake, decorated with home made icing and sprinkles. How did he bake a cake on top of a mountain, with no oven?
Claudio asked Juan de Dios to explain the process of baking a cake in a mountain camp. Apparently, the Chaskis build a fire and regulate the temperature by fanning the flames. Juan de Dios holds the cake pan over the fire as the cake bakes, constantly checking the temperature. Again, we were amazed at the skills of this mountain hiking chef.
The group joined in a healthy but off key rendition of the happy birthday song for Marie and I. It was unforgettable. I have had well more than fifty birthdays in my life, but the birthday cake baked at the top of Machu Picchu mountain is one that I will always remember. And, after three days of hiking, it was the best birthday cake I had ever tasted!
“Go get some sleep” Claudio finally announced. “Tomorrow we will wake up at 3 am and begin the final trek into Machu Picchu. The hike is all downhill so it will not be difficult. And, you will have all day to explore the beautiful lost city.”
We went to our tents but sleep would not be easy. We were all much too excited to reach the destination that we had heard about all of our lives and had worked so hard to reach. Tomorrow we would finally reach the mysterious and beautiful city of Machu Picchu!