Breakfast this morning was worth a mention - Disnarda brought them in, explaining that they were condor eggs.
I got a little worried, because she had also told us that condors were endangered. However, it turned out that the "yolk" was actually a peach, and the white was grits. Peruvian jokes!
Our first order of business was to descend the steep, narrow Puncu Puncu canyon, which happened to be under a cloud of fog. The mist was beautiful and eerie.
Descending first, after having started the last two days ascending first, was a nice thing.
Disnarda also showed us an ancient Inca aquaduct, which I'll point out on a photo later in this post. You may remember that the peak in yesterday's post was at 15,000 feet, and the aquaduct began not too far below that, at about 14,000 feet. Parts of the aquaduct have fallen down, but other parts still serve the locals. Pretty fancy.
The fog continued as we entered the Chillca Valley, obscuring the mountains across the valley.
As we hiked, the fog gave way to clear views, with clouds still hiding all but the highest peaks. We took the opportunity to take some photos at this picturesque little spot:
We kept hiking for a while on an even path, which slowly began to incline. Eventually it ascended into a switchback the likes of which I have not seen before and have no desire to see again. Even just thinking about it as I type on this computer, in the safety of a chair sitting at sea level, my blood pressure rises a little. It was a very, very difficult ascent, and very steep, giving me the heebie-jeebies.
As soon as we rounded the corner at the pass, however, we saw our lunch spot already waiting for us:
This is the photo where you can see the Inca aquaduct. You can see the remainder of some ancient terraces softly sloping now that there are no stones to hold them up. Above that, just below the top of the hill on the right side of the photo, you can see the stony aquaduct. It was actually the path that we used to walk to lunch! Walking in an empty, ancient aquaduct is a new one for me.
After lunch, we walked up to what was probably my second-favorite ruins of the whole adventure (after Machu Picchu, of course) - the Wind Gate, or Wayra Puncu. Look at this thing, standing watch in the distance:
As you may recall, I fostered a great love of Incan doors on our trip. This was the most fantastic Incan door that ever happened.
We got a wonderful little group photo in these ruins, which were a site used to worship the wind. The spot stands atop a mountain where two valleys meet, and you can see so beautifully far in every direction.
That ascent up the third pass was rough, but let me tell you - Wayra Puncu was worth it.
We met a very nice gentleman at the ruins who had actually climbed up the valley from Ollantaytambo. He asked where we had come from, since he didn't see us on the path, and we explained that we had been so high that we came DOWN to Wayra Puncu. I also realized that he was the first non-trek-member human that we had seen in about two days. Crazy.
The rest of this day was devoted to ascending the path toward the town of Ollantaytambo, which we would explore tomorrow. On our way down, we walked through the K'achikata quarry and its administrative center, Llactaniyoc.
At Llactaniyoc, we ran into some cows that had pretty much taken over the ruins by grazing. Pretty funny - these ancient ruins of incalculable value, lording over a beautiful valley, and the cows are just hanging out in them like it ain't no thang.
The quarry itself. How do I describe it. Four words: PAIN IN THE ASS.
The descent consists of switchbacks on these HUGE steps that hurt your knees and thighs the whole way down. In fact, as I sit here typing this a month later, my right thigh STILL hurts. The paths were often strewn with huge boulders, which required stepping and climbing carefully lest you twist an ankle. It was unpleasant, and I hated almost every moment. I might have actually hated it more than the scary, terrible ascents. Ugh, so bad.
At any rate, eventually we found some level, dirt paths, and we came up on our campsite. Some of the cows checked us out:
Not sure if those are the same cows or different cows, but to be sure, the hills and mountains of Peru are teeming with cows. Actually, in the night, they bellowed to each other, sounding much like whales do in the ocean.
This camp is memorable for being our last, and for all the freakin' flies. At this point, we were no longer high enough (altitude-wise) that insects can't breathe, so they were swarming around the cows and their vast quantities of waste product.
We were beginning to reenter the world of people.