Quilitoa Lagoon, Ecuador
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Inca Trail Day 3
Written by Tina Sibley in August 2019

The third day on the Inca Trail was the longest.  So although not the highest, it was still a long and tough day.

It involved another climb up Runkuraqay Pass - an elevation gain of about 600m and then later a descent of 1,000m.

Monday 26th August

While I was drinking my coca tea and getting ready for the third day, I realised that while I had been struggling with my breathing and needing to take my time going downhill, I wasn’t suffering in terms of muscle soreness at all, which was great! The preparation I had done was paying off and my legs felt pretty strong. My feet were also in good shape with just a couple of small blisters on the inside of both my big toes – but they were hard blisters, more like callouses, so not too sore. 

Once again, we were given a hearty breakfast, this time pancakes which went down really well with more coca tea. It was an earlier start this morning as we had a longer hike in front of us – 16km versus the 12km of the previous 2 days - albeit not as steep as the day before. Gradually, the sunlight became stronger and the layers of clothing started coming off.  

We got to see a wonderful set of ruins at the Runkuraqay site and our guides gave us some more information about the history and how the archeological sites were discovered by Hiram Bingham in July 1911. 

We had another climb up and again I was in the pack of 5 in the middle – it seems weird that I was happier and more capable when walking uphill rather than downhill. 

Our next goal was the Runkuraqay pass – at 3,900 m

When we got to the top, it was once again spectacular! The views were incredible and I couldn’t resist the option of climbing a little more to take some photos from the summit of the pass. It was worth the extra climb – I literally felt like I was on top of the world. 

Back down at the main pass, we stopped for a break, some snacks and some more knowledge from the guides. We were also treated to our first sighting of a condor! The condor is the largest flying land bird in the Western hemisphere and the symbol of the Andes and it glided above us – unfortunately too high and brief for us to capture it with our cameras. This was so special because it was a rare sighting. Our guide Nati who has been leading hikes on this trail for 11 years said she’s only seen 3 condors on the trail and this was the first time she’s seen one in this spot. We took it as a great sign that Pachamama was looking after us. 

There was a natural archway of trees that framed the pass and it looked like a gateway to another world. Now the path was more downhill so I began to lag behind again but it was more undulating so by comparison, the going wasn’t quite as tough.  

We came to another archeological site called “Sayaqmarka”. We could either walk past it or choose to visit – up a very steep set of about 100 steps. Of course I wasn’t going to just walk past, so I scampered up the steps on all fours and explored quickly, taking my photos. By now the rest of the group had come down and set off again, so I had to be quick. Coming down was much more difficult and I was also much more aware of the steepness of the steps and the drop off to one side. My fear of heights therapy was beginning to pay off. 

In fact, the rest of the day, my new confidence with heights and drops was really challenged as there were several parts of the path that were quite narrow with very steep drops off to the side. There were a few times when anxiety kicked in and Javier helped me by taking my arm and encouraging me. The photos don’t really show the steep drops, but although I was anxious and certainly out of my comfort zone, my therapy absolutely did its job because I wasn’t petrified or panicking the way I would have before.  

It was an interesting path this afternoon and we even had to go through some really cool caves that the Incas had carved out of the rock. At one point, we passed a train of Llamas that included a really cute baby llama. They looked at us and we looked at them as we passed each other. I was so upset because I took a video of them passing us, but I must have hit the stop button with my finger because I got two seconds of the bush and no llamas! There were about 6 or 7 llamas altogether and it was a very special encounter. 

We had lunch at another site near some ruins called Phuyupatamarka, which were more terraces and then set off for the final 8km of the day.

The going was down, down, down and I lagged behind again, but I was going well and happy. Not too long before getting into camp, we came to the spectacular archeological site called Winay Wayna – although there is also a sign calling it Intipata. 

This was a huge site of typical Inca terraces. Terraces after terraces and I’m sure I’ve done a jigsaw puzzle based on a photograph of this site. There were also more llamas and this time I managed to successfully get a video of one of them. 

There were some very steep steps that we had to descend and then more downhill trekking that took us into the WinayWayna camp. We had now descended to only 2,711 metres above sea level so it was easier to breathe and not so cold. 

As we approached camp, I was really exhausted and my legs were like jelly after the long descent.  At one point, one of my legs gave way and I fell slow-motion to the side and into a bush.  Javier was behind me but not quick enough to catch me so I just toppled but I didn't hurt myself and it was really funny.

Dinner was quite subdued as everyone was so tired, but we had a presentation where we thanked the porters, shook all of their hands and gave them a hefty tip to share between them as this was our last night with them. After breakfast, we wouldn’t see them again. 

We were briefed on the following morning and told that the wake up call would be at 03.30 am! Then we were given the option of joining in the madness of the queue at the checkpoint and waiting for about an hour on the floor, or hanging back and waiting at the shelter, where there would be benches to sit on. We opted for the latter – which also meant that we wouldn’t be jostled along the trail by other groups and while we would get to the Sun Gates last, we would have longer there to take our pictures and soak it all in. 

Then we went to bed.  

Once again, I couldn’t sleep and this time I did get about an hour between about 10pm and 11pm but then woke and couldn’t get back to sleep again. 

I was so excited – tomorrow would take us to Machu Picchu – the big goal that had been the focus on my attention for so long. 

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