Our first rest stop is at the ruins at Runkuraqay. It is still raining and it is windy up here and the zipper has broken on my rain jacket, I am feeling soggy. We slog on to the ruins at Sayacmarca. I look up to see the steepest set of stairs yet. I decide I do not want to see the ruins badly enough to risk my life getting up those stairs so I wait for Al while I apply more mosquito repellent (the perfume of the Andes)
. As everyone comes down from the ruins I am having a hard time controlling my emotions, I am upset that I could not make myself go up to the ruins. Now we are walking down again and it is slow going. I reach the rest stop before Al and once again it is not a rest stop as we must move on to catch up with the others. Joachim stays behind and tells me to follow him, as Al will soon be at the rest spot with Jesus. Following Joachim proves to be a challenge as he is very fast (he has led this tour 270 times). Having done it that many times I think he has forgotten what a challenge it is for many of us. He does wait for me at one spot to show me the smallest orchid in the world as he know that I am interested in the flowers. It is called the mosquito orchid and it is pollinated by mosquitoes. I stop to take a picture then hurry along. I once again catch up with him at the entrance to the Inca tunnel. I lose sight of him once again and enter the very steep, very dark Inca tunnel on my own. By this time I am struggling not to cry and stop every few steps to take deep breathes and steady myself. I push on and every turn seems to bring a new challenge to me as the path is narrow and the drop is a long way down. I cross one more rickety bridge to find a piece of the narrow trail reinforced with a piece of old log. I get past this part with my heart pounding and lean against the side of the mountain and wipe away a few tears. When I said I wanted to get over my fear of heights I did not mean that I wanted to do it all in one day
. How far behind me is Al, and what is up ahead? I slow down and take pictures of the many flowers that I see along the way. This helps me to stay calm and eventually Al and Jesus catch up with me. We come to one more bit of tiny ledge and Jesus helps me over it but once again my emotions overcome me and I lean into the mountain and struggle with tears. By the time we reach our lunch break I am wet and exhausted and I am sure this day will never end. At lunch one of the girls fixed the zipper on my jacket, so at least I will be dryer this afternoon. The rain has let up and now it is mostly a fine mist. One of the girls asked me if I got my glasses wet, I replied that I got them wet inside and out, and I am sure that she can tell that I have had an emotional morning.
Right after lunch we face a very steep set of stairs going down, and we are told that eventually they will not be as steep, I am certainly hoping that they are telling me the truth. We come to the impressive ruins at Phuyupatamarca and stop for some pictures before moving on. I have told everyone that it will take me so long to get down that they are not to wait dinner for me, just throw a doggy bag in my tent. That does not prove to be too much of an exaggeration. After a while every step down is agony as my knees are really starting to hurt and I can only imagine what Al must feel like with his knees that were bad before the start of this trek
. Al & I arrive at our campsite 12 hours after starting, wet, cold and hungry but to a round of applause from the porters. The applause does not make me feel any better. This proves to be our worst campsite. It is set up with tents very close together, on a narrow ledge where you risk falling off the ledge if you step more then a foot out of your tent. The porters outhouse is located just below our tents and the smell is overwhelming, this is one time I am happy not to have a great sense of smell. The one thing the campsite does have going for it is showers and Al and I have time for a shower before dinner. The attendant checks to make sure that we are married before sharing the shower room and in we go with all of our clean clothes to change into. The showers themselves are not too bad but the footpath to the shower stalls is filthy. After we get out of the shower we have to go to the sinks, hoist ourselves up onto the counter and wash our feet in the sink We try and balance to put our clothes back on so that we do not have to touch the floor again until we have our boots back on. After 3 days without a shower I am just grateful to have some of the dirt and repellent off of me.
We just have time to head back to the food tent and join everyone for dinner. Everyone had a late tea except for us, and now it is dinner time. After dinner we get our outline for the morning. We are getting up at 4:00 a.m., we need to wear our headlamps as it will still be dark and then we head off to the gates where we will assemble before leaving for the Sun Gate. This is the part of the hike where everyone converges at the same point so there will be lots of teams in the early hours heading for the same gate and everyone wants to get there first. He warns us about how narrow the path will be, lots of steep stairs going up, and to stay close to the mountainside as there is sheer drop offs on the other side, even though it is covered in plant life. After the day I have had this is just too much for me and I go back to my tent and struggle with my emotions. I feel like Raggedy Ann with her red frizzy hair and her tear sliding down her cheek.
I wake up in the night to the sound of rain on the tent. Just what I had been dreading, a change of weather and now we will be doing the Inca Stairs in the rain. 3500 stairs, both up and down and up and down. I feel pretty quiet at breakfast as Joachim tells us that the stairs are steep and slippery, not to mention narrow in a lot of spots. We all bundle up in what rain gear we have and put dry clothes into plastic bags in our backpacks. Today is our longest hike 16 k and it is pouring rain. Today the cloud forest is really a cloud forest, wet and misty.