Sunday, 27 January 2008

Dropping into the cloudforest

After the heavy rains of yesterday we woke with the forlorn hope of a drier day to come. Day three promised to be the most varied of the trek with high passes, multiple inca remains and a descent into the cloud forest. The heavy rains of yesterday had lessened to a drizzle but still required a full complement of waterproof clothing. The initial climb to the second pass at 4000m was much the same gradient as the previous day’s climb to ‘dead woman’s pass’ but with the brief respite of a visit to the ruins of an Incan staging post. The view from the ruins back over the valley was spectacular as the clouds billowed up the valley from the Urubamba river below.

As we waited at the top of the pass for the last of our party to catch up we could see large hummingbirds, almost the size of sparrows flitting from one plant to another in search of nectar. Dropping down into the next valley the visibility worsened. Within 300m of descent we were back into the opaque mist that allowed us visibility of the path and our immediate surroundings, but no points of reference height or exposure. Having passed through rough cut Inca tunnels and traversed small wooden bridges we approached further archaeological sites, grander and more imposing than before, but still shrouded in cloud.

After another astounding lunch we made our way to the final pass and the steep descent known locally as the ‘gringo killer’. An hour of steep descending on often slick steps brought us into a more humid and warmer environment. Bamboos and bromeliads became more abundant, moss draped from branches of the trees and epiphytic orchids began to appear on the trunks of trees. Lining the path were tall begonias with candelabra sprays of white and pink flowers, large fuschias positively dripping with conical flowers, their petals splayed back to reveal long stamens reaching for the floor. As the orchids became more spectacular, I began to fall behind the rest of the group taking photos and marveling over the super abundance. By now we had broached the lower limit of the cloud and the spectacularly steep, wooded hillsides of the Urubamba river were clear to see.

As the camp site approached we made a final detour to a set of Incan terraces used to grow maize and potatoes. Thirty eight terraces, cut into the hillside and irrigated from a spring a the top, dropped down towards the river. Wildflowers grew from the intricate Inca stone work and orchids grew out of the irrigation channel.
Our final camp was the most luxurious of all with a fully stocked bar and showers to boot. After waiting in line for the rare commodity of hot water we retired to the mess tent for our final dinner and to say our good byes to the porters who had supported us so well.

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