Day Three also dawned damp and drizzly, but we all seemed well-recovered from the previous day’s exertions and set off in a cheery mood. After a very short, level warm-up, we were climbing again to reach the second of the three passes the trail takes through the mountains. At 3950m, Runkuraqay Pass was not as high as Dead Woman’s, but the trail leading up to it was narrower and felt steeper.
Tomi (the more extrovert of the two Croatian guys in our group) seemed to have picked up Richard’s bad stomach this morning and lagged quite a way behind the group, being cared for and encouraged by the guides. While I didn’t envy him having to carry on pushing himself up the trail while feeling wretched, I couldn’t help a bit of guilty pleasure that Brett and I were no longer the slowest in our group.
Descending from the pass we were once again serenaded by frogs and birdsong. As a change from the constant sound of rushing water that follows most of the trail, it was very pleasant. As the descent undulated, we also passed a few shallow tarns.
Mid-morning, we stopped at the ruins of Sayacmarka, once a large Incan roadside rest-stop; the Holiday Inn of its day. Following the now familiar pattern, the weather had cleared as the morning progressed and we had some good views down into the valley below. We sat awhile, as Felipe gave another of his somewhat rambling history/culture lessons before beginning our descent into the high jungle.
The trail after lunch became really narrow and we spent a lot of time tracing the rims of cloud-filled valleys. While it was certainly picturesque, each time we passed a viewpoint extending out from the side of the track, I wondered again about the view those clouds were hiding. From what we had seen on Day One, I guessed they must be spectacular vistas.
We reached Third Pass at Phuyupatamarca, some 3670m (12,040ft) above sea-level, around 2pm but it was completely enveloped in cloud, so no views. As well as serving as a campsite and rest stop, there’s also a farm nearby and their llamas roam freely. Naturally, as soon as llamas come wandering by, lots of cameras turn in their direction. It amused me somewhat that, as soon as this particular llama was the centre of attention, it let out a long stream of piss and then shat on the trail. I suppose maybe it didn’t like the tourists…
Phuyupatamarca also marked the first time we had encountered mobile signal since we departed, so I took the opportunity to do a data dump, backup my notes and check the “Urgent” category in my mailbox. Fortunately, it was empty and I happily shut-off the data connection once I was done.
Not everyone was quite as keen to stay off the grid though and through the afternoon on the trail, we kept passing a girl from another group who would stop at every turn in the trail to read or send messages on her phone.
After Third Pass, came the hardest part of the trail for me. I heard it described as the Three-Thousand Steps but, really, it’s impossible to say how many steps there were as “steps” would be a generously precise definition of the trail. “Uneven, rocky descending track,” would be more accurate. Regardless of how it is described though, it consisted of nearly four hours of hard downhill. The trekking poles can only absorb so much of the impact and both Brett and I were limping by the end.
Because we were so far behind the group, I had held off stopping for snacks so, by the time we reached the afternoon rest stop at Intipata, I was quite the grouchy bundle of grumpiness. Nevertheless, I let Felipe take photos of me against the cloud where there might otherwise have been a view of the River Urubamba far below and then tucked into my cereal bars and chocolate.
Sure enough, within a few minutes, I was feeling human again and, as the cloud had now cleared, I took a few shots of the river down in the valley before Hans, the group’s rear-guard, escorted us down into our final camp.
Given the state of our knees, it didn’t help my mood that our pitch was on the lowest level of the campsite!
The discussion over dinner that night was about some of deprivations of the trail. There was a comparison of how cold the showers were at each camp. (The second night had been the worst as it was supplied by fresh spring water from the mountain!) I was quite glad that I had decided to make do with Wet-Wipe Showers and wear our Icebreaker Merino shirts – which you can happily sweat into for several days without getting smelly.
There was also discussion of the toilet facilities. While many western tourists will throw up their hands in horror at the thought of using a squat toilet, our group seemed quite pragmatic about the mechanics of it all. Where we all agreed we were unhappy though, was the general state of the facilities. None of the camps had had lights in the toilet, so you had to work with your head torch. Most of them hadn’t had locks on the door. Because of the height of water from the cistern, a good portion of the flush washed over the rim and onto the floor around the bowl. That made it a problem where to put your toilet roll while your hands were busy, as there was no shelf or hook to be found. To add to the general level of unhygienicness, there was no bin for the used toilet paper, so people just piled it up in the corner – where it soaked up the overspill from the flushes.
It seemed to me that a few small, cheap adjustments would make the facilities far more sanitary and more pleasant to use. It always surprises me when I find situations like this, where it seems “modern” culture is less aware of/concerned with basic sanitation principles than “primitive” indigenes who take far more care of their personal environments.
After dinner though, none of us were really up for staying around to chat; we had to make a very early start in the morning and everyone was weary and ready for bed. We put our contribution into the pot for the porters’ tips and gratefully left Andrew to do the presentation while we went to sleep to the sound of frogs placidly croaking – and an occasional train horn, reminding us that we were, once again, close to civilisation.