Early to rise to a nice warm cup of coca tea again, we wearily climbed out of our tents to a lovely view of Veronica, a nearby snow capped peak. We were tired and sore from day 2 but we had to press on.
The uphill started almost immediately. We had about a 300m climb to the first ruins of the day, Runkurakay, a circular building that was believed to be a resting place for Chaskis (runners or messengers) on their way to Machu Picchu. It was a good place for us to also rest and to admire the view while our guide have us an explanation.
After a little more uphill climbing we arrived at the second pass of the trail at 3,950m. On the way we were instructed to pick up a rock from the side of the trail, any rock that took our fancy. This would be used for our ceremony to Pachamama (The Mother Earth as worshipped by Andean civilisations).
Our ceremony started with the placement of a large rock, along with some offerings including money and sweets. Each of us then placed 3 coca leaves and our rocks in a circle, at the same time asking Pachamama for something. Once we had all made our contribution Eddie and Juan proceeded to pour an entire bag of coca leaves over the top to complete the offering. The only problem was they used the very best coca leaves we had amongst the group, the only ones that were remotely bearable to chew by day 3! Only the best for Pachamama they said.
Our next stop would be Sayaqmarka, an Incan town 350m lower from the pass. The trail here had started to become really impressive. The trail consisting of steep stone steps we were told was all original at this point. It led us to a short, steep uphill climb of narrow steps to Sayaqmarka.
We had a nice rest here and Eddie told us some of the history. This site was mostly residential with quarters for a priest and a temple. There was a canal system that channelled water from the river and some agricultural terraces a little further down the hill.
The next stage was to make our way to the third pass where we would be having lunch. This section of the trail was probably our favourite. The incline was fairly mild and the trail itself was such a marvel. Hugging the mountainside, some parts were built up on high walls to create a metre or so wide platform to walk on, all huge stones. In some places you really didn't want to look down!
This section is also where the landscape really started to transition to forest. There was more humidity and some beautiful vegetation including orchids and moss covered rocks. We passed through some small tunnels in the mountainside and had breath-taking views of the valley to our left the whole way.
We arrived at the third pass for lunch as the weather started to turn. There was a few drops of rain while we ate and it got a little cold, but nothing to worry about. We were excited knowing there would be no more uphill walking for the day.
We set off downhill towards our last campsite at Wiñaywayna. Our guide gave us two options, one to go straight to the camp, or one to go via Intipata, a huge site of agricultural terraces. We followed the excellently preserved steps down. As we were carrying a bit of a faster pace than most we kept getting frustrated with people in our way, so whenever any Chaskis would pass, we would run behind them.
There was some light sprinkle for a while but the forest cover meant we weren't getting too wet. Eventually it did get a little heavier so we pulled on the rain ponchos, and despite the rain we chose to take the longer path via Intipata. The huge terraces were on a very steep hillside with one very long staircase of very narrow steps running through the middle. While it was a little slippery in the rain we were glad to be going down them rather than up!
It was still raining when we arrived at camp, so we just rested in our tent for a while. It stopped raining soon after and the weather cleared really quickly. We were really pleased since we would be arriving to Machu Picchu the next day. Given this was the rainy season, having clear views the whole trail and only 2 hours of rain was extremely lucky!
We had snacks and dinner, and a rather unceremonious "tipping ceremony" for our Chaskis and cook. While we all felt they more than deserved tips, we had forgotten to arrange it sooner so they all stood at the door of our meal tent while we collected the money. Awkward!
Knowing that the Chaskis needed the tent, we all went off to bed, which was a good thing given we had to be up at 3.30am!