One of the main reasons that Lewis the Lion had travelled to Peru was to visit the legendary ‘lost city of the Incas’ – Machu Picchu which is found high up in the Andes mountains. It is a highlight of any visitor to Peru and is classed as one of the most spectacular sights on earth.
However, he needed to work out just how he was going to get there? Already he knew that he wouldn’t be doing the famous ‘Inca Trail’ as you needed to book your place on this at least five months beforehand and because Lewis didn’t know precisely how long his journey in South America would take, he decided against this knowing that there were other treks available, e.g. his friend Ofer was doing the Salcantay trek.
After visiting various travel agents in Cusco who were all clamouring for business, Lewis the Lion and Helen felt very happy with their preferred journey choice: the Inka Jungle Trek. This would be an action-packed adventure over 4 days and 3 nights including mountain biking, hiking through the forests, relaxing in natural hot springs and zip-lining. And all of this before reaching the many, many steps to climb to Machu Picchu itself! The route would also take in mountains, valleys and streams and would give Lewis the Lion the chance to see coffee and coca plants as well as lots of different fruit trees. All of this for just 546 soles or US $195. It sounded just perfect!
Can you do the conversion into pounds and pence? (Check out Lewis the Lion’s previous blog for help!).
Day 1 – The bike ride
The first day of this amazing adventure didn’t quite go according to plan though. It all began with a bit of a panic moment as Lewis the Lion and Helen wondered whether the trip had left without them? They were up at the crack of dawn and were told to meet in the Plaza de Armas for 7 o’clock. They arrived at 6:55 to see the city glowing under the pink and orange hues of morning. Just beautiful.
However, as the time ticked on, Lewis started to wonder if they were maybe in the wrong place? Or maybe they had got the wrong time? By 7:30 the bus had still not arrived! Just as Helen was about to call the agency, a guide arrived to accompany Lewis the Lion and Helen to the minibus which was parked nearby. Phew! Lewis the Lion was a bit annoyed with himself that he had even worried: after all, he’d been travelling in South America for a long time now and should know better than to expect things to run to time!
On the minibus, Lewis the Lion was introduced to a whole host of new friends from lots of different places. There was Ugo the guide from Cusco; Kuno and Cerianne who were brother and sister from Holland; Neil, Sam and Camille from England (and France); sisters from America – Rachel and Sarah; two judo champions – Roni from Israel and Amelie from Belgium; and Shanti and Federico from Italy. Also on the bus were three girls from Israel who would just be with the group for one day. Lewis the Lion just loved meeting new people from all over the world and hearing all their stories and… what a fun group of people it turned out to be!
The next hiccup to the day’s events was that the group reached the Inca town in the Sacred Valley of Ollantaytambo.
It just so happened that there was a teacher’s strike going on and all the roads were blocked, which meant that the adventurers weren’t going anywhere fast.
Lewis the Lion didn’t mind too much as he enjoyed just sitting in the sunny square and watching the world go by while Helen used the opportunity to write some postcards.
Eventually, Ugo decided to give the group a guided tour of the Inca town of Ollantaytambo.
Lewis the Lion thought that it was really interesting that the Incas read many signs in nature, such as seeing the face of one of their gods in the hillside. He also realised how clever they were as they created water ways so that fresh, spring water could flow through the village.
However, his favourite bit was when he got taken into a local home to see hundreds of guinea-pigs running all over the place.
Although it suddenly dawned on him that these guinea-pigs would probably be somebody’s Peruvian dinner in the not too distant future! See this video clip of them scampering around. A sense of mortality lingered in this home as they even had the skulls of their ancestors in a recess in the stone wall!
After an impromptu lunch, the minibus managed to escape from the road blockage and the group was on the road again. It wasn’t long before they were climbing high up into the mountains. When the minibus eventually stopped, they were so high that not only were they above cloud level but it was also positively freezing. The clouds seemed to form a dense grey fog around them. Ugo promised the group that it would soon get warmer as they rode down the mountain: that wasn’t quite true as Lewis the Lion was about to discover!
As the adventurers got ready for their downhill bike ride, they quickly put on extra layers of clothes and safety padding on their elbows and knees, not forgetting their helmets as well. They also had fingerless gloves so they could still manipulate the bike handles and breaks.
Ugo then set off with the group following one by one behind him, cycling down the mountain towards Humamarca. Lewis the Lion clenched up in Helen’s pocket as it felt so, so cold. It didn’t seem to be warming up at all as the cyclist rode through descending pockets of clouds. Not long after it started to rain. At first it was just a drizzle and then it seemed like the heavens opened. The minibus that was following behind picked up some of the cyclists who didn’t want to continue but Lewis the Lion nudged Helen as he wanted to keep going! So the pair kept cycling down the mountain getting wetter and wetter. The minibus kept on picking up cyclists as they went but Lewis the Lion were determined to continue. When you were this wet, you couldn’t get any wetter so what did it matter if they were cycling through streams of water on the road? In a strange way, Lewis the Lion was just loving it and he could hear Helen giggling to herself; she just felt so alive in this moment, feeling the grit on her skin and lips, with the raindrops ricocheting off her face! All of a sudden one of the bikes braked in front of them and Helen had to slam on the brakes. But with the spray of the water beneath the tyres, she lost control and the bike span 180 degrees in the road! What a scary moment and for a moment Lewis the Lion held his breath waiting for the bike to stop. Phew! No damage done as only the mad seemed to be continuing with the bike ride.
Lewis the Lion laughed his hearty laugh drenched through as the pair rode through a place called ‘La Sirena.’ This is the Spanish and Italian word for ‘mermaid’. It seemed ironic when they were truly wet through! Just then, the cyclists had the most magnificent view of the valley below. It was illuminated with shards of light and it almost looked biblical as if they were about to reach the Promised Land! Just as Lewis the Lion were really getting in to the bike ride, Ugo took an executive decision to halt the riders as it was too dangerous. One rider had already come off her bike and he didn’t want to take any more risks. The bike ride should have taken 3 hours to descend to Huamamarca but the cyclists were stopped after an hour and a half and then driven to Santa Maria. He explained that these were indeed freak weather conditions and normally it got much warmer once you’d descended below the cloud level but not today! The whole bus ride back Helen’s feet were squelching in her trainers and everything and everyone on the bus seemed generally wet. As soon as they arrived in their warm hostel they hung things out to dry and Ugo had a solution for their trainers too. He had a friend with a chicken restaurant and for 5 soles, they were able to put them in his oven overnight to dry off. Lewis the Lion was just happy that he wouldn’t be eating there any time soon!
After a game of cards and a ‘beef salteado’ dinner, the group of friends were exhausted and flopped into bed.
Day 2 – The hike
The next day, the group had to wake up at 6am and luckily, they had a cockerel friend nearby to make sure of it! After a hearty breakfast, the group left the town of Santa Maria on their real jungle-trek adventure.
To get them in the spirit of the day, one of the first pause points was by a tree with a fruit which could be used as a natural orange dye.
The group had great fun painting each other’s faces as you can see in these pictures.
The walk took them along a dusty track following the river with exotic plants and trees growing on either side.
Lewis the Lion was excited to see fruit and flowers growing in their natural environment and not just on a supermarket shelf. There were banana trees,
sweet tasting lemons,
a mango tree,
coca leaf plantations (so important to the Peruvian people living at high altitude),
and coffee beans.
As the hike continued they walked along a crumbly track along the river
and then little by little, they started to climb up the steep hillside.
This was quite physically demanding, especially with the hot sun and a sizeable rucksack. However, there were regular stop-off points which Lewis the Lion really enjoyed. Not for the fact that people had to rush for their insect repellent as they were attacked by sand-flies but because there was a cheeky little monkey in the truest sense of the word!
Lewis the Lion thought it was a really funny monkey as it somersaulted and did tricks but at the same time, he kept his distance as it tried to playfully bite people. ‘No, thank you!’ thought Lewis the Lion.
Both in this rest point and the next one, Lewis the Lion learnt more about how coffee is made.
He’d never really thought about it much before when Helen had opened her jar of coffee in the morning but he now knew what a lengthy process it is. First the beans are picked,
cleaned and then dried on terraces in the sunshine.
They are then shelled, roasted and then ground before adding water to make your cup of coffee!
He’d make sure that Helen would never take her cup of coffee for granted again when he saw how much work went into it! He also learnt that coffee is the most consumable good in the world. A parrot also seemed to listen attentively to the conversation and Lewis the Lion admired its colourful feathers.
After drinking plenty of water, the group continued to climb the hillside for approximately an hour, walking under the cool branches of the forest and
through tall, yellow grasses until eventually they reached a sign which said they were on the ‘Inca Trail’. How exciting!
However, just a little while later Ugo explained to the group, as they looked on the wondrous valley below, that the Incas had many pathways or trails stretching across their empire which stretched from Colombia in the north to parts of Chile in the South.
What we know as the ‘Inca Trail’ is just one of their many pathways connecting parts of the empire.
Lewis the Lion just loved this pathway however as from here they really did have a wonderful view of the valley below. This time Helen also had her sunhat and sunglasses on – she was not taking any more chances after her Colca Canyon mishap!
As they continued, the walkers heard many birds singing loudly in the trees and saw even more beautiful flowers along the way that showed up brightly against the landscape.
The adventurers then walked on, in eager anticipation of lunch. They found it in a shaded hut in the middle of the forest with hammocks strung up in the garden. Lewis the Lion loved the fact that there were also hens with their chicks running around too. It just seemed like such a haven of tranquility.
Here they ate mountains of guocamole (an avacado-based dip) followed by spaghetti bolognaise and then relaxed in the hammocks for a bit. Not long afterwards, their hike started to descend the hillside towards the river,
and crossed rickety bridges
and over running streams.
After about an hour’s walk, the group decided to take a little rest so that they could put their feet in the gushing stream (or for the more adventurous to take a dip in its waters!). Click here to see what fun the group had.
Lewis the Lion was thoroughly savouring each moment of this walk as they then walked along through the valley, following the river: it truly was a beautiful place.
Once on the other side of the river after they had walked for a kilometre or so, the group then had to cross back across the river in order to make their way to the Thermal Baths of Uyurmiri.
However, it wasn’t as easy as crossing a bridge this time. Lewis the Lion spied a very strange pulley-like seat that seemed to be taking people across the river instead.
Four people needed to sit on the wooden cart which was suspended by wires and pulled across the river by a man on the other side. The cost was 1 Nuevo Sol each.
It was soon Lewis the Lion’s turn to cross the river on this pulley. You can see what happened to him here:
Lewis the Lion yelped as Helen pretended to drop him in the river but thankfully, she was only joking!
After about 8 hours of walking, the group were getting very tired and the light was already starting to fade. However, luckily, they were just in time to enjoy the natural thermal spas of Uyurmiri. It was just what the doctor ordered with their aching muscles from their active day!
Lewis the Lion got a nice surprise when he bumped into his friend Ofer there as he was doing a different hike. Ofer was also camping that evening after his long walk which Lewis the Lion thought was very adventurous. However, he on the other hand was happy to be returning to a warm hostel in Santa Teresa as he was ready for some food and then bed. He couldn’t believe that Helen and her friends even went out for a dance that night: just where did they find the energy after such a long and strenuous hike?! Before long though, they too were fast asleep as their journey was taking them closer and closer to their destination of Machu Picchu!
On his hike, Lewis the Lion saw many different exotic fruits. Do you know which countries the fruit and vegetables come from that you eat? How far have they travelled to get to your supermarket shelves?