Thursday, 15 January 2015

Machu Picchu: Day One

Machu Picchu just had to be seen. To have come to Peru and not gone there would have been some kind of sacrilege I feel. And so, like all good tourists, Tobias and I duly booked to go and see this ancient Inca ruin. We decided to forgo the famous Inca trail, and opted for the four day Jungle Trek with Loki Hostels, which included various activities like white water rafting and zip-lining, instead. It sounded much more fun and we also saved hundreds of dollars.

After only one day in Cusco, we got up at an inhuman hour and made our way to the waiting bus, where we met our tour guide and the rest of the group. It turns out I was the only native English speaker there, with other members of the group being from far flung places like Italy, Germany, and Argentina. I was also the only female, which did feel a little strange at first.

It was a long, winding road up to our first activity, and took around 3 hours. The scenery was spectacular though, so I was by no means bored. And as well as this, the weather was so shockingly bad that I was happy at the excuse to sit in a toasty bus. However, the moment came when we had to brave the elements and get ready for our impending bike ride. I was quite looking forward to the mountain biking activity, especially when I learned it was all downhill, but I must admit, I was hoping the weather would be slightly more agreeable. After dressing in our protective gear and choosing our bikes, we gathered for the obligatory group photo before whizzing off down the hill.

Looking attractive

The road was a mountain road (obviously, you might say) - very windy and with a sheer drop on one side. Add to this the fact that it was pouring with rain and you can understand why I was a little cautious. I was the slowest one (slow being relative here - I was going quite fast), and every now and then I would whiz round a corner and see the group was gathered together waiting for me. However, when we set off again, I quickly lost them all, despite trying to live on the edge and not worry too much about impending death or injury. Anyway, despite being 'slow', I found the whole thing rather exhilarating.

A problem did arise after about 40 minutes though. We had to stop when we came across a long queue of cars and people milling about. It turns out that there had been a landslide shortly before (luckily not whilst we were riding past) and so the road was completely blocked. This shortened our ride quite considerably, and at this point we had to give our bikes back to the van that had been following us and take a short cut to our destination. This involved walking down a steep drop covered with loose mud and stones. At one point I landed flat on my back and ended up covered in mud.

Making my way down the hill

We eventually made it to where the car was picking us up and taking us to our well-deserved lunch in an idyllic little lodge, just before we went white water rafting. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons I could not take photos of this activity (not yet the owner of a Go Pro), but I have to say it was the best part of the trip. An absolute highlight. Tobias and I were not actually sure if we were going to do it, partly because we had to pay an extra fee, and partly because I had heard horrific first-hand stories from my friends who had visited Machu Picchu a few weeks previously. However, I am so glad we did. The river was set in the most amazing location, and all we could see around us were mountains covered in forest. It felt kind of prehistoric, as though we'd travelled in time back to the Stone Age or something. 

There were six to a boat and we had a guide telling us how and when to paddle. Fortunately. Or we probably would have ended up being sucked in by rapids. Paddling with the oars was a definite workout for the arms, but I did get into a nice rhythm. The windy weather meant the water was very choppy, but that just made it all the more fun. We did survive, although there was one hairy moment - with most of the waves we'd be lifted up and then plonked back down again, but one was so big that that just wasn't going to happen. As we were thrown through the wave, I headbutted the person in front of me, and learned afterwards that Tobias, who was in front of him, had also hit this guy at the very same moment. In the face. With an oar. Ouch! Going through the wave probably lasted only a few seconds but everything went into slow motion and it felt a lot longer. I was quite scared as I knew that the whole raft was completely out of anybody's control and I was convinced that we'd all be thrown out. We weren't. Despite this moment, I found the water rafting experience to be absolutely amazing, but the best part had to be when we jumped off our raft towards the end and went for a swim in the freezing water.

The day was tiring but incredible, as you can probably imagine, but the adventures weren't quite over yet. Night hiking up the mountain in order to reach our lodge for the night, we happened across a house in the jungle, and stopped for water. The couple living there had a pet monkey, which was (sadly) tied to a pole. Being a monkey-lover, I went over to play with him. All was well for the first minute or so until, out of the blue, he swiftly grabbed my glasses off my face and ran up to the top of his pole. Being blind and terrified that I would be unable to see for the next three days, my first instinct was to wrestle with this little creature and and try and get them back. However, after being bitten (not deeply, fortunately) on the finger, I realised that it was probably not a good idea to fight with an aggressive jungle animal. The owner calmed him down, at which point, the sulky little thing threw the glasses on the ground. I'm not one for tying up wild animals but at that moment I was glad he could only climb the length of a pole and not run off into the jungle leaving me with a lack of sharp vision. Lesson learned: never mix monkeys and valuables. I slept well that night.

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