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.