Tuesday March 15th
The plan for today was to hike to the Chakra, however the rain early on stalled the plans until around noon, but we made good use of the morning by cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Due to the humidity, warmth (no electricity=no refrigerator) and abundance of insects and fungus vegetables go bad quicker than normal, so another vegetable heavy meal was in order. As a side note, I’d like to document that no one in Peru (that I know of so far) refrigerates eggs. Even in my house in Cusco the eggs sit on top of the refrigerator instead of inside. At first this worried me, but I have never noted any negative effect from this. Therefore, I have concluded that either the eggs in the US are different and do need refrigeration or we are all under the false impression that it’s necessary to refrigerate our eggs.
Anyway, I digress. We were able to hike to the Chakra, although Milena wasn’t feeling well and stayed behind. On the trail we came across a huge snake called the Bushmaster. Apparently if this snake bites you it’s likely that you will die before you can acquire the anti-venom. Lucky for me, however, this one was already dead. And moreso, I should have been expecting to come across it and not been so startled upon finding it in the middle of the path because I already knew it would be there. David had told us on Monday that when he tried to come back from where he had been fishing around midnight the night before he had found this serpent blocking the path. He waited for 4 hours for it to move, but it didn’t. So around 4:00am he killed it with a long stick and there it stayed until today. On the hike back he picked it up and brought it back to Amaru Mayu to cook and eat.
This are the banana plants (David in the picture for size reference). Yes, I had to ask if it was a tree or a plant…
No, I had no idea before this that pineapple grew from a plant and not a tree. Apparently all the other foreigners that come here are surprised to learn this, too. Now, where do we get the idea that it’s a tree?? I’m honestly stumped. I'm also not sure why this picture is upside down...
Wednesday March 16th
I’d like to bring to light here another issue about which the global community does not seem to have reached a consensus: toilet paper in public bathrooms, a right or a privilege? I’d say that at least 95% of the US holds the belief that it is a right, something that I previously had the fortune to take for granted. However, if you’ve ever travelled outside of the US you may have noticed that in some countries you can consider yourself very lucky to find tp in the bathroom. This is definitely the case in Peru, where I’d say the odds (optimistically) are about 50/50. It only takes a few times of being surprised by this before you catch on, get smart, and start carrying around pocket Kleenex with you wherever you go. I suppose I had to experience the ‘privilege’ philosophy to fully appreciate the ‘right’ philosophy of my country…
Thursday March 17th
Today my “work” was to participate in and help with a river rafting venture. The organization I am working through also provides various opportunities to tourists. In reality it was no easy feat to bring everything we needed (deflated raft, which is very heavy, 5 life vests, 5 helmets, and 5 oars) from Amaru Mayu to Pillcopata, but we managed it. It was also no easy feat inflating the raft with a small hand pump, but luckily the weather was sunny and beautiful, so we had no reason to hurry. After plenty of pumping we put the raft in the water and were off. We travelled from Pillcopata, stopped briefly as the Chakra, floated past Amaru Mayu, and ended our journey in Atalaya. The tourists (two girls from Sweden) were picked up here to travel by car to a different town where they were to volunteer in an orphanage for a few days.
Overall, even though the trip on the river wasn’t actually that long it offered a nice vantage point from which to appreciate the landscape. It’s just a shame I couldn’t bring my camera (for fear of drowning it) to be able to show you instead of tell…
Friday March 18th
Over and over again I learn that the only thing constant is change. The original plan for today was to travel to Pillcopata to pick up Sarah, who was coming to spend the weekend here. When we got to Atalaya, however, we found out that instead of arriving solo today she will be arriving tomorrow with 2 other tourists, a guide and a cook. So, instead of travelling on to Pillcopata, we came back to Amaru Mayu to clean everything and make the beds in the rooms for the tourists.
On a different subject, I’d like to note that life in this climate (tropical jungle, approximately 600m above sea level) has brought about 3 changes in my lifestyle. First, ever since I lived in the dorms I have had the habit of sleeping with earplugs. I fall asleep much easier with these because they block out the random noises that keep me awake. Here however, the constant noise of the river makes earplugs unnecessary for me.
Second, my skin is usually pretty dry so after showering I almost always use both lotion and face moisturizer, but after my second shower here I realized that neither was necessary. I believed before that my skin was just inherently dry, but I realize now that the condition of my skin is very dependent on the climate I’m in.
Third, for as long as I can remember I’ve been addicted to chapstick. Once I made the above realization about the lotion it occurred to me that this might be a good time to quit (or at least reduce) my chapstick dependency. So far I have been able to reduce the usage significantly—I’m down to using it just twice a day (some of you may realize that this is really quite a change for me). I think it’s possible for me to quit entirely here, but I’m not sure how long that might last once I return to the colder, drier climate of Cusco.
Saturday March 19th
This morning around 2am I woke up and through my sleepy haze slowly realized that I would soon be ill and vomiting. It was another 2 hours before these needs finally drew me out of my tent and to the bathroom. For the next few hours I slept as much as I could between periods of my body apparently attempting to purge all of its contents. I ended up almost literally spending the rest of the day in my tent since eating, drinking, and walking (without feeling like I was going to vomit or pass out) weren't really options.
It wasn’t exactly the way I had imagined receiving the group, which arrived around 1pm. I briefly talked with Sarah (without leaving my tent) and promised to feel better the next day to participate in the boat tour. This kind of sickness usually passes after 24 hours…
Sunday March 20th
I woke up around 1:30am and realized that I felt normal again. Furthermore, when the guide woke me up at 4:45am to find out if I would be participating in the tour I realized my dreams had been mostly focused on food. I took this to be a good sign—I had an appetite again.
The first stop of the tour was across the river from a steep bank where many tropical birds come early in the morning to eat the salt found there… or I think that’s the reason anyway. In actuality it was very hard to see the birds because 1) we had to park across the river and 2) most of the birds were green and so was the vegetation where they chose to land. Good for camouflage from predators and tourists.
View from the boat.
Next we went back up the river a bit and hiked in at a trail that was supposed to lead us to a giant tree. I was definitely not disappointed when we arrived at this tree. At about 300 year of age it has a huge trunk, but most of its impressive size comes from the huge buttress roots.
This, my friends, is where chocolate starts. Inside here are the seeds that some genius decided to turn in to cacao one day.
Look closely—those little green flecks are pieces of vegetation being carried by leaf-cutter ants. I was very excited to see this incredible species in action. Seriously, if you want to have your mind blown just do a little research about these guys and the relationships they have with the fungi and microbes in their environment; they are really quite amazing.
This is a type of palmera—just another cool adaptation to thin soil!
Whee, I’m Jane!
Yes, this is a real live jaguar print.
Yep, the background here is the aforementioned tree.
The view up the tree.
Learning to hunt with a bow and arrow made of all-jungle material! But clearly struggling… don’t count on me to put dinner on the table…
The last stop was to hike back to an oxbow lake to see some interesting fauna. The most abundant , largest, and loudest was this ‘prehistoric’ bird:
The noises it made really did sound dinosaur-like, although I’m not sure of its true evolutionary history.
Driving a raft with a pole is loads of fun!
Monday March 21st
Today’s journey back to Cusco began at 11:00am with the short boat trip to Atalaya. We had about 45 minutes to kill before the bus was to come through, so we set about accomplishing a mission to acquire fresh coconuts.
We were successful :D
After arriving by bus in Pillcopata the guide searched out all of our transportation options. Unfortunately (I think due to the landslide business) the only option was the big bus that was scheduled to leave at 6pm. This was not ideal because 1) that meant a 5 hour wait in Pillcopata and 2) we wouldn’t be arriving in Cusco until around 6am. We made the best of this time, however, by really exploring the town.
Plaza de Armas of Pillcopata.
Unfortunately the town is not all that big, but we managed to keep ourselves entertained.
Upon boarding the bus at 6:00pm Sallie and I were almost immediately approached by an older woman. She was asking us to put a packet of something into our backpacks and bring it to Cusco for her. I was very confused as to why she wanted us to carry a packet for her, but we had the idea that it was no sort of noble cause and said ‘no.’
About a half an hour down the road when the police stopped the bus we found out why she had asked us to carry a packet for her. Apparently the police routinely stop vehicles coming out of this region to regulate the amount of coca leaves people are carrying. If I remember correctly it is legal to have (for one person) one pound of coca leaves. If you have more than that it is assumed that you will use it to make cocaine, which is illegal. When the police discovered that this woman had over the legal amount (apparently no one else wanted to carry it for her either) she didn’t want to give it up. After a few minutes of trying to make her case—although she really just repeated the same thing over and over again—she was starting to get a little hysterical. The situation seemed to be escalating and I started to get scared when a third police officer carrying a rather large gun got on the bus. Finally they were able to take half of her coca leaves and the bus continued on.
The trip went on without incident until about 4:00am. I had been snoozing in my seat when the bus stopped (not unusual) and the driver cut the engine (a little unusual considering we were in the middle of nowhere mountains). My first guess was that a car had broken down in the road and that we would have to wait for it to be fixed. I understand that building a two-lane road into the side of a mountain would be a lot more work, but there are serious flaws to a one-lane road. It was still dark outside and cold because we were up in the mountains, so I chose not to leave the warmth of the bus for the time being. I found out, however, from those who did leave the bus that we couldn’t pass because a truck had partially fallen off the road and was blocking the way for large vehicles (such as buses). Since there was nothing else to do I resigned myself to waiting and attempting to get some more sleep.
You shall not pass… big bummer all around.
About 5 hours later someone made the decision that the line of buses waiting to pass would turn around (which also was not easy and involved quite a bit of reversing) and travel backwards a half hour. From there we would find out if the new road currently being built to Cusco was passable.
When the 5 or 6 buses full of people arrived and asked the construction workers if we would be able to pass the answer was unclear. I think there maybe was some legal issue with letting us go through, but finally they gave us permission. Of course, they had just recently used dynamite in the construction, so we were told it would take 2 hours for them to clear the rocks. Three hours later, we were finally on our way to Cusco again.
By this time everyone was pretty hungry and frustrated—ready to get to Cusco. Unfortunately, we hadn’t yet hurdled all of the obstacles. After about a half hour of progress toward Cusco, we stopped in a small town. People selling snacks briefly boarded the bus (which is normal) and then we should have been on our way again. However, the police boarded the bus again to check for excessive coca. This time they asked the bus driver, which apparently brought up some issues. I’m not sure if he did have illegal amounts of coca, but I believe they also found out that he didn’t have the proper documents to be a bus driver. We waited about a half hour for them to ‘resolve’ the issues, but then found out that the bus driver had somehow fled from the police. Having realized that this bus was not going to be getting to Cusco anytime soon without a driver, we unloaded our bags and looked for other transportation options. Luckily we were only about a 40 minute drive from Cusco and were able to catch a combi (the vans that work like mini-buses) the rest of the way.
We finally arrived in Cusco around 3:00pm on Tuesday, 9 hours behind schedule. Since the lack of cell service had made it impossible to call and explain why I was running a little behind to Alberto, he was pretty worried by the time I finally made it home. But I made it home and that’s what’s truly important, eh?
Hoping to finish catching up and post again soon!