Exploring the Inca Trail

Inca Trail Peru

The Inca Trail Discovery

As the sun set beneath the Andean peaks I was drawn to the remains of a tiny ruined hut on a hill overlooking our camp site. It had been a long day so far, the third of a four day Inca Trail trek, and perhaps the altitude and the exertion was getting to me but there was a definite attraction to this lonely ruin above a narrow mountain valley.

Four walls of rough stones formed a roofless three-by-three meter room. Weeds and grass covered the floor and grew between the gaps in the stonework. Through the window at the far end I could see a soft blanket of cloud start to roll across the valley floor. Standing in this silent space I could feel that these bare walls had once been a fixture of someone’s life. I had no idea who this person, or persons, could have been. I couldn’t even tell if they were ancient or modern. But still this was not a silent ruin.

Following the Guide

Misty peruSo far, I along with dozens of other trekkers, guides and porters had passed no shortage of archaeological sites as we climbed from valley bottoms, up and over barren windswept mountain passes and through mist shrouded semi-jungle. At each site we were be given a well-rehearsed and succinct description of what we would see. Whilst our guide spoke, to our left another guide was a few minutes further on in the same speech and to our right another was taking up position with his group.

Speeches over, we were then conducted conveyor belt fashion around an Inca fortress, palace, temple or storage site. The abandoned sites were quickly filled by the timetabled trekkers. On day one, our guide stopped and pointed down a few hundred meters to the precisely arranged walls of a huge fortress sitting next to a thin, fast-flowing river. I stood rooted to the spot as the guide instructed us to pass on as we had a schedule to keep.

All this hurrying and guiding mixed with the breathless conversation and exhausted huffs and puffs of my fellows trekkers drowned out anything the ruins had to say. In contrast, the little hut above the valley was calm and peaceful.

On My Own on the Inca Trail

For the first time in days I had been neither guided nor given a time limit. With the sky darkening and the first stars starting to sparkle into life I tried to envision the presence within these four little walls. Was it an Inca road guard who had to sit here day after day watching the clouds tumble down the mountain slopes and keep an eye on traffic? Had this been someone’s house, were these the walls within which their life unfolded? Of course, the stones never spoke and I never learnt what they once meant to someone. But for the first time in three days of clambering over ruins, it was clear that all these broken walls amidst the mountains and jungles once formed the backdrop of people’s lives.

Written and photographed by Neil Middleton
Featured photo by Steve Pastor through creative commons 3.0