Getting high the old fashioned way: Peru, Day 6

Saturday, June 23, 2012, Wayllabamba, on the Inca Trail, Peru

An easy day today.

The hike from Paucarcancha, our campsite on the Salkantay Trail,  to our first camp site on the Inca Trail only took about an hour. The Salkantay trail intercepts the Inca trail about half an hour from where we camped. From the trail intersection, we took a left turn, joined the main Inca trail, and walked to our Wayllabamba, where we’re joining up with another group coming from the start of the Inca trail, about a half days walk in the other direction.

The day started pleasantly enough. Since we were in no hurry, we lingered at the campsite this morning, taking a *brisk* shower, doing a little laundry (hope that soap works in cold water), and exploring the nearby Inca ruin of Incaraqay. This is our first real Inca site of any size, and Alex does a splendid job explain various aspects of the site, what it was probably used for, pointing out details, such as handholds chiseled into the stone, which we probably would have missed by ourselves. It’s obvious Alex enjoys talking about his cultural heritage, which is great for us. It’s a beautiful, sunny, warm day, so Mark and I linger, taking pictures, soaking in the atmosphere. It appears to be blooming season for a particular kind of cactus that grows here, and striking red blooms dot the landscape here and there.

Once back in camp we packed our bags and headed out to join up with the Inca trail.  Sure enough, the trip to Wayllabamba only took a short while, and it’s still early in the day when we get there, so Alex suggests we leave our packs here and backtrack on the Inca trail to an overlook for Patallaqta, an Inca site situated on that part of the Inca trail we missed.

On the way to Patallaqta we run into the guide, porters, and eventually fellow travelers, from the group we’re meeting up with. After a few brief introductions  we continue on our way to the overlook. Patallaqta is by far the biggest Inca site seen so far, and although it’s quite possible to hike down into it, by this time it’s starting to get a little late so we content ourselves with looking at it from the overlook.

The Inca trail is way busier and more built up than Salkantay – on the way down to Patallaqta, and now on the way back up to our campsite, we pass a number of different “way stations” of sorts. Some sport plastic red flags – really nothing more than a piece of red plastic tied to a tree branch or otherwise overhanging the trail somehow. When asked the significance, Alex tells us that indicates a place that sells corn beer, a popular refreshment around here. At the last such place before our campsite, only 10 minutes or so away, we decide stop to sample the wares. Corn beer is relatively refreshing, and fairly low in alcohol – to me, it tastes vaguely reminiscent of a weak wheat beer in the US, perhaps slightly sweeter and with a bit more of tang from the fermentation to it. I probably wouldn’t buy a 6 pack anytime soon, but here on the trail, it’s OK.

Once back in camp we meet up with the other guide, Seoul (Sole? Soul? Never did quite figure out the spelling) and the rest of our fellow travelers – Denny and Wendi, a 40ish Dutch couple that are spending a summer in South America, Tom and Marietta, a younger Dutch couple also traveling for the summer, and Nicole, the chatterbox of the group, from London. Nicole was a recruiter for an investment bank in London, quit her job a while back, and has spent the better part of the last 8 months traveling around the world, first in Asia and now S. America, with planned stops in N. America and the US later on.

All of them (Denny and Wendi, Tom and Marietta, and Nicole) have been traveling and on vacation for multiple weeks, if not months, and have been to multiple countries in S. America. This jaunt on the Inca Trail is but one stop on a much longer itinerary for all of them.

As for me – sigh – between the trek and getting back and forth to Cusco, this will kill about 2 of my 3 weeks of annual vacation. The other week will be spend visiting family and taking the occasional 3 day weekend.

Clearly, at least in terms of being able to spend any significant time traveling, living in a country with a work ethic like the US does have its downsides.