It is day three and we are up early again. Breakfast consists of delicious toasted buns with butter, and coca tea. The climb to the first Inca site of the day, Runkuragay, is not as difficult as yesterday’s ascent. The ruins are circular in shape, and stand a little over half way up the slope to the pass. The mist drifting past adds a sense of mystery, and the craggy peaks behind lend drama to the scene.
The descent following the pass is steep but manageable, and we soon arrive at Sayamarca, an Inca fort perched on a steep ridge and accessible only by a single steep flight of stone steps. From it, we are able to get a broad view of the next part of the walk, through cloud forest up to the third pass.
We leave the ruins and eat lunch just after crossing the valley floor below before beginning our gentle ascent. Moss is draped elegantly over gnarled and twisted trees, and bamboo lines the path. On one side, the moss-covered cliffs soar upwards, and on the other is the dense verdant canopy of the cloud forest plunging down to the valley floor. The trail itself is a true stone Inca pavement, constructed with great ingenuity and skill against the side of the mountain.
Suddenly, we round the last corner before the pass, and the mountains open up before us. To the right are cloud-capped mountains rising up out of the Urabamba Valley, while a thick fog is beginning to roll up the valley from which we have just come.
The euphoria of the cloud forest quickly evaporates as we begin our descent of 900 m down what is mostly Inca steps leading steeply from the ruins at Phuyupatamarca, a place with five (or was it six?) ceremonial stone baths, down into the valley. James and John take the lead. By about half way, my legs are like jelly. For most of the way, we descend through a thick forest of bamboo and the familiar moss-covered trees. The final stretch comes off the Inca pavement and descends a deeply eroded zig-zagging dirt channel. My relief at reaching the campsite is short-lived. It seems that the entire world is staying at Huiñay Huayna that night. It is a dreadful holiday-camp of a place, with disco music blaring out from an ugly concrete building. Camping space is scarce and on narrow terraces. I have no success in finding our tents until I finally bump into Kevin, one of our group, and then James and John. Jay appears shortly afterwards, and then our porter materialises and shows us to the tents. Two are pitched together, and the third is in the only remaining space a short distance away.
Once accustomed to the initial wrenching shock of the change from the peaceful mountains, we move into the building to be deafened by 70s and 80s disco music while we play cards. It seems the only thing to do.