“The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear.”
Day 3: Paqaymayo to Wiñaywayna, approx. distance: 11 miles (18 km), approx. time: 8 hours.
This longest day of my Inca Trail hike was also the most relaxing, as we walked at our own paces over landscapes that changed with every twist and turn.
We started the hike by walking up steep steps for about half an hour. We had carried up stones from the stream that ran along our campsite, and we deposited them in a clearing in a symbolic offering to Pachamama, the goddess Mother Earth, while we each made a wish for ourselves.
My G Adventures guide Percy picked an exquisite spot for a break, where he performed an Andean song from his home village on the flute with clouds in the background level with his head and snow-capped peaks in the distance.
We stopped for lunch at one of the most beautiful spots we had seen so far on the trail. My teenage sons had reached it before me, and they excitedly led my husband and me down into a hidden rock clearing to see the views. We had hiked above the clouds, and we saw jagged mountain tops all around, their white caps set off against a bright blue sky.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for having hiked this far into the middle of the wilderness, but I was humbled yet again by the crew who surprised us with a cake for our final lunch. Yes, I had managed to walk slowly along a path, while they had rushed ahead and baked a cake in a tent kitchen they had carried with them!
During this day’s hike, I kept a more relaxed pace than the day before and enjoyed the gentle ups and downs of the trail. We gradually dropped down into a cloud forest, and the change in vegetation was dramatic, with green trees and mosses all around instead of the brown mountain sides we had been hiking beside the day before.
We hiked through tunnels, along cliff edges, and across ancient Incan terraces. Most of the stones of the trail had been set down by the Incas before the Spanish came in a network of roads connecting their empire.
As the hours went by in this longest day of the hike, fatigue set in. By the time I reached camp at the end of Day 3, my thighs, knees, and ankles were screaming for a break. I crashed on my sleeping pad in my tent and daydreamed until tea time.
In our after-dinner meeting, we met with the porters and support staff to tell them how much we appreciated their hard work and to tip them directly.
My group agreed to get up at 3 a.m. to try to be the first group in the queue at the checkpoint on the final day, so I got to sleep after the dinner meeting as quickly as I could.
Exhausted down to my bones, my journey almost over, I was eager to see Machu Picchu in the morning.