21 Days… Adventure Travel in Peru and Bolivia

That evening, as we trudged into the campsite near the Sun Gate and were reunited with the more intrepid members of our tour group and what seemed to be most of the backpackers in the universe, I found myself distracted from pondering the environmental impact of the inadequate sanitation and plumbing, by a sense of admiration for the porters. Whilst we congratulated ourselves on having walked all day carrying only daypacks, they had arrived before us carrying tents, cooking utensils, food and who knows what else. They cooked dinner and pitched our tents while we simply nursed our blisters and listened to the others talk about their adventures on the longer trail. This combined with a later incident over a sleeping bag and toiletries stolen by another backpacker, brought home a lesson for me. It is difficult to resign oneself to the quantum leap between our material wealth and that of the local people, and the differing attitudes of each towards it. Part of me resented the assumption that I would adopt the role of comparatively rich Westerner without a twinge of conscience. But it is true. Money does create a different conceptual universe but conscience can bring this into sharp relief. Why should they lug my stuff so I can arrive to the comfort of a hot meal and reasonably cosy tent? Why should I be so self-congratulatory when I know full well this walk is not an epic trek through uncharted wilderness? After all, there was an eight year old in another tour group. Still, the flipside of this situation is that jobs like these enable local families to live in the highlands and keep their traditions strong. This in turn slows the growth of shanty towns around the already over-populated cities.

At four a.m.we awoke to a mist-filled world. We walked through the early morning darkness and into a sunrise at the Sun Gate, the mist parting to give teasing glimpses of the valley below. Machu Picchu’s ruins and setting defy description. I was particularly impressed by the Temple of the Condor, with its uncarved stone naturally shaped like condor wings. The city itself is so well-known from photographs and documentaries that there really is nothing new to add, but the rewards of walking and being at the Sun Gate at dawn far outweigh the comforts to be found in the hot springs and busy streets of Aguas Calientes. That is where we headed after having seen everything we could up on the mountain, dodging members of bus tours who seemed nowhere near as exhausted and stinky as our unwashed selves.

After so long in higher altitudes, flying back down to sea level to Puerto Maldonado and trekking through the rainforest left me feeling almost super-human. The group travelled upstream in a boat to reach a jungle lodge with no electricity or hot running water. The gorgeous heat and humidity hit like a wall after the cool, dry air of the Andes. We took buses to a very funky local market to be introduced to some highly exotic fruit, then down to the port itself. Puerto Maldonado had scooters everywhere, over-grown streets and a humidity-induced lethargy in the air.

Following this there was a three hour boat trip upriver from Puerto Maldonado to the jungle lodge, which took us up a gorgeous river, with opportunities for bird-spotting along the way. The jungle lodge was fabulous – separate huts, hibiscus gardens, mosquito nets over beds, candles to shower by and a selection of gum boots for squelching through the muddy tracks in the rainforest. After we arrived and put our gear in the huts, we took a short boat journey upriver to a farm where we were introduced to more local fruits and shown medicinal plants, including a local Viagra. After a candle lit dinner of local fish and salad, we climbed into canoes to go cayman spotting down the darkened river. Two things amazed me that evening. The stars overwhelming the dark, dark blue of the sky and the beauty and tranquility of the river in this darkness – we had to be silent so as not to disturb any cayman. We only spotted one, but the silence and the sound of the slow-moving river left me feeling peace and stillness deep inside, that cities and work and the bustle of everyday life seemed further than a geographic distance away. The other thing that impressed me was the skill of the crew in steering the canoes up and down river in the darkness, using only the spotlight to signal to the helmsman.

About Guest Contributor

Here at The Outdoor Type, we are interested in exploring what inspires others to step outside. The outdoor experience is personal and unique for all outdoor types and the wonderful stories people have to tell from their experiences - whatever the method or medium - are equally inspirational. We are constantly in search of creative new stories and images that explore the outdoor experience. Contact us here if you are interested in writing for us.
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