Thursday, 27 March 2014

Inca Jungle Trek, Peru ~ Day 2

Continued from here

Day 2 was a full day of walking, about 8 or 9 hours, so we got off to an early start after an even earlier breakfast.

After dinner last night I had been introduced to an American girl called Grace – she had been with a different group the previous day, before being put with our group for the rest of the trek. Realising that we were the only two native English speakers, someone had thoughtfully introduced us. We therefore looked out for each other in the morning and spent much of the day together chatting.

Grace was really interesting and already had a great many impressive accomplishments under her belt. She was a regular sailor, and had once come second in a day-long running race down and up the Grand Canyon! To say I was impressed would be an understatement!

The walk began along fairly level ground and I practiced walking with poles for the first time in order to reduce the impact on my still-untested hip. I found this really clumsy and difficult to get the hang of, but based on how my knees felt at the end of the day compared to how they normally feel after a day of trekking up and down steep paths, I think the poles did make a difference (hip, knees, I know, I’m a wreck…)

Urubamba River

My Chilean friends

Very early in the walk we crossed the swollen Urubamba River and came upon an abandoned village. The village had been destroyed in a land slide several years earlier, with the loss of many lives, and so what was left had been abandoned and a tribute to the dead had been erected. It was very eerie to wander through this ghost town, and see the crumbled empty buildings. 

This feeling did not last long however, and we wound our way along the track at the side of the river, the tumbling and crashing brown water cutting through the vibrant green vegetation. Butterflies and birds were everywhere, and there was constantly some new sight to delight the eyes – including giant millipedes and exotic plants.

The track at first was mostly wide enough to take a car along, but we soon got onto a narrow walking trail that began to rise higher up the valley side above the river. 

We passed small patches of low-key cultivation, with plants such as coca and coffee along the side of the track. Coca leaves are available everywhere in the parts of South America we visited, they are dried and then powdered and added to hot drinks, used as an ingredient in sweets, or simply chewed as they are. They give a buzz of energy and wakefulness – like super caffeine – and are also reputed to help with altitude sickness, headaches and nausea. It was really interesting to see the coffee too, I have seen plenty of tea plants before but never coffee.

Coffee plant with its red berries, inside which are the coffee beans themselves

After a while of pretty leisurely walking, we came to a section of path going straight up a long set of steps. We were given the strange instruction to keep going until we got to the monkey. I thought this was rather cryptic, but it turned out to be completely literal as we arrived at a house with a little monkey tied up in a porch area. It was sad to see such an intelligent creature just tied there like this, but one of the guys with us spent a lot of time playing with this monkey, making games for it and letting it figure things out and interact with him. While it was sad seeing the monkey tied up, it was also fascinating to watch the incredible way its mind worked, to see it so inquisitive and having such fun.

Our rest stop over, we carried on upwards again following sections of the ‘real’ Inca Trail for some time until we reached a bit of a tourist set-up. 

There was a sheltered area with demonstration items for the guides to give talks, and there were basic toilets, and the opportunity to buy some drinks and snacks. There were also several tiny kittens that captivated everyone when we sat for the cultural talk by our guides! 

The talk was carried out in Spanish, so I didn’t understand everything, but something I found pretty fascinating was a water jug. The interior shape was such that when you turned it upside-down you could pour water into the hole at the base. You could then turn it back the right way without the water falling out, and pour it away through the spout at the top. It was so cleverly designed.

Water goes in the bottom...

...turn it over, the water doesn't spill...

...pour the water out of the spout!

We had a little time here for taking photos, and while doing so Grace and I spotted another pet monkey. This one was also tied up, but seemed much happier as its leash at least allowed it to be out playing and climbing in a natural habitat. It was also a very friendly little thing, and we posed for some pictures with the little monkey on our shoulders.

The face paint was part of the cultural lesson, and came from the inside of a fruit

Returning to the shelter to get our bags ready to start trekking again, I suddenly noticed another creature had arrived and was eating some bananas that were set out for it. It was very relaxed and didn’t mind at all that a small crowd was gathering to admire it. It was very unusual, I had never seen anything like it before, and the guide didn’t know what it was called either – except that it was treated as a pet, but was a rare creature. It was so cute in the way it manipulated the bananas in its little hands, and with its snuffly nose investigating its surroundings. I still have to find out what this lovely creature is, but if anyone can assist then I would be really grateful!

Investigating my camera :)

The guides finally dragged everyone away from the monkey, kittens and the unusual creature, and we continued our trek. We climbed some more, although not as steeply now, and eventually came out to a high point where the track rounded a bend giving spectacular views over the valley with the Urubamba River at the bottom. At this point there was a small cave within the rocks to the side of the track, and our guides led us in an interpretation of an Incan ceremony during which we honoured Pachamama (Mother Earth) and placed offerings of coca leaves into the cave.

Coca leaves

After this we continued along the track, which was now traversing this high level along the side of the valley. We stopped a couple more times along the way for talks by the guides about the Incan culture, but mostly we walked. Then came some sections of steep downs to negotiate as well as ups and walking on more level ground. My legs, unaccustomed as they were to such exercise after a long rest-period for my hip bursitis, were tiring by now and unfortunately this caused me to slip as we were descending a section of steps and I twisted my ankle. It was painful but I ‘walked it off’, however I had to do this slowly and my spirits sank somewhat, along with my confidence in my ability to complete the trek, as I lagged behind the others. This disappointment was compounded as Grace and I noticed a heavy rain squall heading our way during one of the cultural talks.

We all set off again, but it was not long before the weather caught up with us and we were trekking through very heavy rainfall. I had to put my camera away out of the wet, which was a real shame as after this I saw a flock of macaws go by on several occasions. 

Last photo before the rain arrived and got too heavy

We trekked for some time now, trudging through the rain, and were told that we would have to use the cable car soon to cross the river; the bridge was not open when the river was in this much flow. This was all well and good until we cleared the jungle, walked along some rocky-shale paths for a while, rounded another cliff above the river, and saw the cable car: a single cable, suspended from cliff-to-cliff high above the raging river below, upon which was hung a plywood crate with a rope fixed at each end. The rope was attached to metal loops which were also threaded on the cable, so that a single giant loop didn’t form when the rope was slack, and the other ends of these ropes were attached to anchor stations for the cable on each side of the gorge. Not very high-tech or comforting at all!

There was a slightly wider flattened area carved out of the cliff as a waiting area beyond the narrow single-file track that preceded it. Therefore, with our group-size, it was a little time before I could see that what I had assumed was a mechanism to hoist the cable car, was in fact only an anchor point for the cable itself, and the hoisting of the cable car and its contents from one side of the gorge to the other was all done manually. Each time a group of us (2-4 people could fit in the cable car’s crate – with no proper seats or any safety equipment, just sitting in a crate with feet dangling over the side!) a man at one end would have to haul the rope to drag the crate across to his side. Watching what hard work it was for our guide to haul the empty crate back to our side for the next batch of travellers, I did not envy the cable car man his job AT ALL!

By this point I was feeling pretty exhausted: as I said before, I wasn’t really fit enough after a long-term period of resting a stubborn injury, lunch had come very late in the day, and now after waiting a long time in the rain for the back-and-forth journeys of the cable car to ferry everyone across the gorge, the chill damp was sapping more energy from me.

Although a bit sore, I was glad to finally get moving again once we were all safely on the far side, and as we continued trekking for another few hours the scenery changed and levelled out. We were no longer following steep valley sides, instead the ground was flattening out around us before rising up to hills again, and the walking was easier. The thought sustaining us at this point was that at the end of the road awaiting our arrival was a set of geothermal hot springs. What luxury for a weary traveller!

We talked of how wonderful we expected the springs to be, how they would soothe our aching muscles and relieve the weight from tired feet.

Image from

When we arrived at the pools, they did not disappoint. Once a little confusion over changing areas and baggage storage was sorted, we made our way down to the pools. There were three in total – one was for families with children only, and the other two were for adults. Large rectangular pools, the natural rock formed one side while the rest was man-made. The bottom was a coarse gravel – but not too coarse – and they were deep enough to cover my shoulders when I stood up straight. Leaning on the natural rocks at one side, I could even feel the hot volcanic water seeping through fissures in the stone. It was glorious, and as darkness fell and the stars began to twinkle, it only became more so.


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