Land Trip to Peru
09 December 2004 | Peru
It wasn't the weight of our backpacks. It wasn't the steepness of the trail. It wasn't the cold mountain air in our lungs. It was just that, at over 13,000 feet, there wasn't enough air to fill our lungs.
We stopped every few steps to catch our breath. We were exhilarated to finally reach Warmiwanuscca, which in Quechua means "Dead Woman's Pass". Quechua is the ancient language of the Inca Indians, and is the national language of Peru today, along with Spanish.
We were trekking on the Inca Trail, which had been used to travel from Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, to Machu Picchu, the Lost Inca City.
Deep in the Andes Mountains, we enjoyed spectacular scenery. Snow capped peaks, deep river gorges, dense alpine forests, and soft alpine meadows, with alpaca and llamas grazing peacefully. The trail was littered with a wonderful assortment of Inca ruins....villages, temples, forts, and agricultural mountain terraces. We marvelled at the amazing architecture and engineering behind these ancient stone structures.
On our 4th day of hiking, we trekked through dense rainforest to arrive at Machu Picchu. What a spectacular sight! An entire city, build high on a mountain top, surrounded by majestic peaks and a deep river gorge. Temples, homes, fountains, and terraced mountainsides, all built from huge stones, and so cleverly constructed. The wind and fog swirled around the ancient community, adding to the sense of mystery already surrounding this Lost Inca City.
After relaxing a few days back in Cuzco, we flew to Iquitos, in the heart of the Amazon basin in Northeast Peru. We wanted to explore the Amazon Rainforest, and learn more about the people that lived on the river, and the nature of the rainforest. So we hired a local guy, William, to take us to the village where he grew up: San Martin de Tipishca. He offered to introduce us to his family and village, and show us the rainforest that he loves so much.
The only way to get to William's village was by riverboat, so we took the Monica Jaime up the Amazon. It was a 2-story steel boat, loaded down with people, pigs, chickens, bags of rice, bags of cement, and bricks. William had brought hammocks for us, and strung them from the ceiling on the second floor. We slept shoulder to shoulder with about 150 local river dwellers, while young mothers nursed their babies, and kids slept on the steel floor beneath us.
The Monica Jaime stopped at each small village along the river, where everyone from the village seemed to turn out to help unload rice, building materials, and the personal items that their family had bought in Iquitos. We noticed their simple huts with thatched roofs, built on stilts, knowing that 3 months a year the river would flood, covering the entire river basin in dark brown water.
We were the only visitors on the boat, and our every move was watched with fascination. The children and adults alike just stared at us, and followed us around. We soon discovered that the chickens squawking below were used by the makeshift galley to feed everyone, along with rice and ground provisions, during our 30-hour river trip. The food was actually quite good, though we had to ignore the conditions we saw in the galley.
We finally got off the Monica Jaime at 2 am, quite hot and tired after 30 hours on this steel riverboat. We were met by William's brother, who took us in a handmade dugout canoe up a river tributary to William's village, deep in the Reserva National Picaya Samiria. This picturesque village was clean, and the people were warm and friendly. Though they lived without electricity or running water, they seemed healthy and happy, and eager to visit with us. We enjoyed learning about how their village was organized, how they fished, what crops they grew, and how they appreciated the natural beauty surrounding them.
William took us in his brother's dugout canoe to explore the rainforest. The butterflies were brilliant, and the wild orchids so colourful. We were delighted to see parrots, macaws, and toucans, and lots of monkeys. But best of all were the pink river dolphins, dancing around our canoe as we drifted slowly downriver. One night we camped along the river, lulled to sleep by the nocturnal animals, birds and insects. William was a wonderful guide, but we were sure glad we had studied our Spanish, as he did not speak a word of English!
Though we went to Peru to see the Andes and the Amazon, we also fell in love with Peru's coastal desert. A dune buggy ride revealed miles and miles of sand dunes. Our driver brought homemade sandboards, and showed us how to carve turns down the huge dunes. We stayed at the natural desert oasis of Huacachina, in awe of the stark beauty of the desert around us.
Peru has a wonderfully rich culture and history, and we really enjoyed the different museums we visited in Lima, Ica, and Arequipa. Mummies in elaborate graves, buried with their gold and ceramics, were a real thrill. The penguins and sea lions of Islas Ballestras were so cute and playful. We loved the local bands, playing the sweet Zambona pan flute, a symbol of Peru.
What a wonderful month of new experiences and adventure! Now we are back in Trinidad, painting the bottom of our boat in 99 percent humidity, interrupted by the torrential downpours so typical of Trinidad. We look forward to finishing our priority boat projects, so that we can enjoy the Carnival season here. Oh, it's good to be home!