14th April 2014
For more info on what the Inca Jungle Trek actually is, this post on Backpack South America for: What to Expect from the Inca Jungle Trek. There’s also a very handy packing list.
We woke up on the second day of our Inca Jungle Trek to find ourselves surrounded by huge hills coated in lush, green jungle. We’d arrived at our jungle lodge, overlooking the valley behind Santa Maria, in darkness the previous night, so the view when I stepped outside our room the next morning was pretty staggering. With a deadline to keep, though, there wasn’t much time for enjoying the scenery, as we had to pack, fuel ourselves up with a hearty breakfast of eggs, bread, and coffee, and get our faces painted Inca warrior style before heading out for our trek.
This started with another short uphill climb, but luckily we’d already hiked most of the way up the hill the night before, so there was only about fifteen minutes left. At the very top of the hill, the path met up with an old Inca trail, so the first part of our day was spent trekking along this narrow, uneven rock path. Our guide, Heberth, pointed out a small cave alongside the path which used to be used for sacrifices, and which is still full of coca leaves left for Pachamama by locals and superstitious travellers. The path teetered on the very edge of a sharp, horrifically high cliff that plunged down towards a skinny, silver river, and as we walked along the thin path I was pretty overwhelmed by fear. Having a fear of heights is so frustrating; the whole time I wanted to be enjoying the incredible views and having fun with Sam, and instead all I could do was concentrate on the path beneaht me and worry about the huge drop to my left.
Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before we’d made our way down into the valley, and were walking along through rich, green jungle. We passed – or walked through – a few farms, with thick forests of fruit trees, where Heberth pointed out avocados, banana plants, and many more I instantly forgot the name of. On one farm, we stopped to use the bathroom and buy more water, and the owner showed us into her kitchen, where about fifty or more guinea pigs were being kept. Females and babies were kept in a large hutch in the corner of the kitchen, while the males just ran about the stone tiled floor as they pleased; they can’t be kept in with the others as they might eat the babies. In the Peruvian Andes, guinea pig is something of a delicacy, so this kitchen scene is typical of every farm in the area. Heberth said Andean families roast a guinea pig every time there is a celebration or special occasion, “sort of like a birthday cake”.
Once we were right down in the valley, and had put all thoughts of roast guniea pigs out of our minds, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant near the river. Nachos with freshly made guacamole, followed by spaghetti bolognese, made a welcome break from the meat and rice we’d had for both meals the previous day, and once we were stuffed Heberth gave us an hour long break to digest, sleep, and laze about in the sunshine as we pleased; so we spent the whole time playing with an adorable ginger kitten which lived in the restaurant with it’s mother.
The rest of the hike more or less followed the river, crossing it at one point on a huge antique bridge. There was one more steep uphill session, this time only about fifteen minutes, and the rest of the walk was flat or downhill. Things got a little tricky on the other side of the river, where the paths bore traces of recent mud and rock slides and we had to negotiate our way over piles of loose rock, but the path here was much wider and thankfully, I wasn’t too afraid.
The fear came around pretty quickly, though. Heberth had told us we would cross the river a second time on a cable car. This turned out to be slightly more basic than I was expecting; literally a wooden crate that looked just like the kind bananas come packaged in, suspended from a solid metal cable and pulled by hand across the river using a rope. The picture isn’t fantastic, but that tiny wire looking thing at the top is the ‘cable car’. Sam and I went last, with Heberth standing on the back of the crate, and my legs dangling over the white river surging over sharp rocks below. I was terrified, gripping the metal bars attached to the crate so tight my knuckles turned white, and visualising over and over the thin wooden bottom of the crate falling out beneath us.
Thankfully, we made it to the other side in once piece, if a little shaken, and walked the last hour or so to the end point of the trek. We finished at the Santa Teresa hot springs, and had made such good time on our hike that we had two whole hours to relax there. I changed out of my smelly clothes as fast as I could, and, after a quick shower in a warm waterfall to rinse off the day’s grime, slipped into the bathlike water of the pool. We bathed and chatted and generally relaxed surrounded by an incredible, Jurassic-Park like scenery of green forested mountains and stark grey cliffs, until the light had dissolved from the sky and left us beneath a shower of beautiful stars.
A short bus ride later and we were in Santa Teresa, where we checked into our hostel, had dinner at a restaurant, and popped into the completely deserted local nightclub (the manager had to un-padlock the doors to let us in), which we abandoned in favour of bed after less than a minute. The second day was less adventurous than the first, but pretty actioned pack, and left me feeling pretty proud of myself once again for battling my fear of heights!