This is a very significant picture – it captures the exact moment when things began to go downhill…LITERALLY.
All had been lovely preceding this latest Inca ruin climb. The day before, after my brush with panic – misplacement of credit card and passport at Awanacancha, we enjoyed a unique “picnic” lunch of local specialties prepared by this very talented chef:
Despite the rather rustic nature of this picnic, every effort was made to make us comfortable – down to the individual washing bowls and soap:
The tent was roomy and with a few flaps pulled back – afforded a sweet breeze, which also kept the flying insects down to a minimum:
No paper plates – this was a proper sitdown with cutlery, plates and glassware – and a pretty handmade table runner:
The meal itself – *yumyumyum* *foodporn*
Gargantuan french fries (hold this thought – wait until you see the size of the actual potatoes and other veggies pre-cooked in a later post)
Salad with balsamic vinegar dressing – at this point I stopped caring about potential issues of eating uncooked veggies as it was too delicious to be dangerous (all veggies were washed in bottled water)
Chicken and beef in delicious natural broths
My plate – colorful and scrumptious also includes additional potatoes with peas – we were told to eat a lot to keep up our energy levels at the high altitudes
The theory bore weight (no pun intended) for despite meals such as this and marvelous breads and tantalizing cocktails daily, I still lost 6 pounds. So that’s the secret – I just have to live at 13,000 feet above sea level and climb ruins at least 5 hours a day!
All washed down with freshly brewed coca tea
While eating we enjoyed the breathtaking panoramic view:
After lunch we did a little birdwatching – one of our group was an expert birder. Thanks Ginny, for the lessons!
Flock of ibis
Continuing our travel we eventually arrived at the Hotel Rio Sagrado – which of course has innumerable flights of stone steps leading from the reception area on top to our individual rooms (the hotel is literally built within a steep hill along the Sagrado River). However we soon discovered the ramp that the hotel staff golf carts used to transport guests and luggage which became our road of choice. I will write more about this exquisite hotel but suffice it to say its beauty took my breath away. Here is our room at the bottom of the hill, of course:
But look at our view – I called dibs on one of these:
And this is what lulled us to sleep:
By now you should be feeling how relaxed this environment made us. And this vibe continued as we made our way to Pisac, a mountaintop (of course) Inca ruin, despite what I read now as an ominous portend of things to come from Classic Journeys’ itinerary:
How did the ancient people without machines built these cities? It’s a question you’ll ask again and again – especially when you see these fortified ruins clinging to a rocky spur high above the Urubamba Valley. (ClassicJourneys Daily Itinerary)
I did some additional research before writing this post and came upon a number of descriptions of our 4km hike with similar tone, including:
The site is large and warrants several hours of your time. To walk there from town, take the steep but spectacular 4km trail. It’s about two hours up and 1½ hours back. It’s highly worthwhile, but undeniably grueling: recommended training for the Inca Trail! (LonelyPlanet.com)
Uh, okay. One other comment to note before I describe our ascent and descent.
Spread out amidst silvery eucalyptus, purplish clay slopes, and the slate-green Urubamba River in the mountains above the town are the Inca ruins of Pisac. There is a large agricultural section with terraces and several ruins. Allow for at least a couple of hours to visit. You can take an exhausting climb up there. Return to the parking lot via the lower path. (Wikivoyage Travel Guide)
Pisac was built in the 1400’s either as a fortification against attack or as an homage to battle victories – either way the area is visually astounding. There are vast agricultural terraces below and the remains of a temple complex, ceremonial baths as well as a fortress at the pinnacle. To arrive at the hilltop you must traverse a series of cliff-hugging footpaths made of irregularly sized stones – some narrow, barely supporting one foot, others deep and wide giving your upper thighs and quadricep muscles quite a workout. All come with a supply of broken shale and pebbles, insuring your footing will be at all times sketchy. The entire plateau is surrounded by a plunging gorge on each side. Is your heart pounding yet? Here are some photos to enhance the image – these were taken during lulls in the climb – as I mentioned before – all my camera equipment was stored to give total respect and attention to the actual climb.
At the beginning it didn’t look too bad – but notice the woman hugging the wall in the background – from this point on there are NO GUARDRAILS:
The terraces were incredibly beautiful but I marvel at how hard the Quechua had to work at maintaining their crops:
We are now at the top – what you can’t see is the fact that Edgard, our guide is literally at the edge of oblivion – there is nothing behind him but air. Now begins our descent to the fortress – note the arrow at the right corner of the photo pointing out the way. Again what you can’t see are many other “paths” leading to nowhere.
The foreground of the above picture gives you a good idea of what our challenge was – no real footing. My right knee is a bit wonky – either from a skiing injury or more likely and less exotic the result of many formative years sitting with that leg twisted under my body. In any event, when climbing, as most trainers will tell you I try to balance the stress on each leg, but this descent was so difficult that I began to fear that my knee might give out – so I started favoring my left leg. Big mistake. Another big mistake? Leaving my walking stick at the hotel, thinking I didn’t really need it until we got to Machu Picchu.
Stepping off one majorly tall rock/stepping onto a pile of broken shale, I felt my left ankle twist and the tendons stretch out like a worn out rubber band. Fortunately, no tears occurred, but now my left ankle was trying to swell and only the secure grip of my hiking boot kept it at bay. The hike still had a long, long, long way to go. Sucking it up, I kept on truckin’ hoping I could release the tension in my ankle by keeping it moving. This worked, to an extent. The views certainly helped keep my mind off my “injury” at least temporarily.
The poles above were NOT a railing – just a friendly reminder that one shouldn’t step off the mountain.
See that traversing wall halfway up the mountain? Once again in some perverse Bizarro world, in order to get back to the van that had been left in the lower parking lot that was reached by following the lower path (remember that quote above?) we had to CLIMB UP. Thinking, ok one more time, I proceeded slowly – until we came to this juncture:
Edgar was quite accommodating in giving us rest periods to catch our breaths – don’t forget we are still some 13,000 feet above sea level – and in this pic he playfully showed us what NOT to do during the ascent. While the stone steps you see here aren’t steep the actual incline is. However the steps got increasingly thicker as we went – to the point where I literally could not hoist myself up on either leg.
Ginny to the rescue. Not only is she a great birder, she is also brilliant being one of the few of us who carried a walking stick every day. Gallantly, she lent it to me – and red-faced with a combination of exertion and embarrassment, I reached the summit.
No time to rest – we had much more on our docket for the day, but I will continue the story in my next post so you can catch your breath.
Was my hiking career over? Stay tuned.