The next morning we awoke to some truly dazzling mountain scenery as the clear summits revealed themselves to us one by one in the early morning sunshine.
Llactapata was quiet and very still this morning, we could hear birdsong and the soft wind rustling the leaves in the trees along the valley floor. The hordes that trek The Inca Trail rarely stop here in their haste to reach ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ a day earlier than our little team were prepared to do and that decision by us was already beginning to look like it was paying dividends.
Basically we had staggered ourselves so that we were always behind the masses and always on a different set of staging campsites as a result. This did mean we were going to be on the trail for four days instead of the usual three but the pay off was obvious from the start. Less people, quieter campsites and less strenuous days so that we could actually enjoy the environment we were moving through.
We broke camp early that morning and started to trek into the steep valley of the tributary Cusichaca River. We steadily climbed all morning until we reached the small hamlet of Huayllabamba, the last inhabited place on the trail.
An idyllic viewpoint was found for a spot of lunch and our expedition chef cooked up an absurdly magnificent meal considering all he had was a single ringed gas stove to work with. After we had all eaten way too much and total lethargy had well and truly set in we once again had to break camp and hit the trail.
The next part of the hike began with a long ascent through beautiful patches of cloud forest which would eventually spit us out at our high campsite for the night at Llulluchapampa which nestled at an eye watering (3650m) above sea-level.
There were some great views of the impressive Huayanay mountain during this part of the walk and I’m also sure that we saw many species of orchid during our travels, but being no expert in flora and fauna I was left cursing my own lack of knowledge of the indigenous plant life of Peru. I’m told there are more than 250 varieties of hummingbirds to be found in the Machu Picchu National Park, we saw many during the day. Elusive little fellows however when it comes to catching one in a photograph so my narrative will have to suffice when I say they were sublimely beautiful and resplendent in their colours and exquisite in their motion.
After walking through what seemed like endless cloud forest we eventually popped out just below the camping ground only to be confronted by a posse of Llamas all apparently guarding access to the tent pitches. Careful negotiation was required to get past these guardians although I did cop for a face full of spital as I ventured too close for comfort to what appeared to be their leader.
After our Llama encounter we settled in for a night at high altitude. We were all (it would be fair to say) fairly apprehensive and nervous about what tomorrow might bring and the rumours and myths were rife in the rarified evening air. Maybe though those fears would have some substance because tomorrow we would attempt to climb over ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ the highest and most notorious part of the trail, tomorrow was where the adventure would go up another gear!
Next in this series of travel dispatches – The Inca Trail – Dead Woman’s Pass