Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Inca Jungle trip, part one

Eric limbers up for the big ride.
Nice vest.

Machu Picchu was the last big-ticket attraction left on my roster for South America this trip. By this time I was getting a bit jaded towards the massive tourist attractions anyway but it had been said that Machu Picchu was unmissable so miss it I would not. To get there we (Townie, Eric and myself) decided to do the “Inca Jungle trek”, a package which involved cycling, rafting, hiking, zip-lining, hot-pools and climaxed in a visit to the site itself.

An early start was required as the boys piled hungover into the minivan for the drive to the start of the tour. Joining our group were three Argentinians and a couple of Europeans. It was shaping up to be a good bunch. The drive out took about an hour and a half, and provided a perfect opportunity to take in some Peruvian countryside. The road climbed fairly steeply and consistently to the start of the ride which boded well for some gravity assisted fun.

Highly enthusiastic about my quality wheels.
The actual ride was a bit disappointing for me. We basically just bombed some very poorly maintained mountain bikes down a road. Some of the views were stunning but it didn't really get the adrenaline going. We did try to make it a bit more interesting by trying to get off-road as much as possible but the opportunities weren't really there. The pace was also fairly relaxed for me even on the road. All in all, this was not a highlight.

There were definitely some views ...

And some healthy nudity.

After another drive and a sketchy lunch in a small Peruvian restaurant we were into the white water rafting. This was something I had never done before but always wanted to crack into. The rapids got up to grade 3, which wasn’t anything to get too excited about but at least seemed a bit dangerous. We were collected in a run-down van with a couple of inflatable rafts strapped to the top. This did not fill me with confidence.

At the river we were issued with some South-American quality safety gear and given a brief run-down of basic raftsmanship. Then we were straight into it. The theory of rafting is pretty simple: you have a guide at the back and some paddlers down either side. These paddlers, through joint effort and the co-ordination of the guide, steer the raft in specific directions and attempt to generally provide an aspect of control as the vessel wetly careens down a large and angry river. There’s a bit more to it in practice though.

Photograph shamelessly thieved without permission from Towny.
 We had a blast. Our guide was extremely competent and a funny guy who knew enough English to throw down some wisecracks. I was lucky enough to start off up the front as well, so I was in the thick of it. Being winter at the time, the water was cold but not unbearable which was lucky as I was drenched after the first set of rapids. I did get over having my crown jewels constantly getting dunked however. The front of the raft tended to buck and then dig in with some intensity, cascading water over me. For a novice like me it was exciting stuff. We were able to safely navigate our way through all of the sets of rapids, something like 12 in all. Rafting definitely gets a tick as something I would like to do more of.

A further potential infringement of photo ownership rights.
I did get into some trouble in a slow section right at the end, when we all jumped out. The guide had said not to stand up because the raft would float off and there would be no chance to catch up to it. Of course, the first thing I did was stand up. Man, could that raft move. It was clear there was no chance of me catching the raft and we were approaching the next set of rapids, meaning that I was in what you would call a predicament. The rapids were going to be gnarly enough to inflict some serious pain (okay, probable death) if I went through them so I was pleased to grab on to a massive tree stump that conveniently presented itself (as the river was by now going too fast to stand up in). All of this resulted in me needing to be rescued by the guide, who threw me a rope from the bank.

We were pretty sedate that night as it was an early start for a trek the next day. The trek started too early to have considered anyone’s wellbeing and began with a dull slog along a flat gravel road for about an hour at the groups pace (slow). I got interested when we got onto some actual hiking trail. What’s more it was steep too, and heading upwards. It was good to do something physical after so much time spent in drunken stupor at Cuzco. I got my sweat on pretty thoroughly in the jungle humidity but was in no way the worst off which was nice. After a couple of hours of this we approached the monkey house, a little place set up in the hills where we stopped for lunch.

Part way up the hike, It is rumoured that the building with the bright green roof (almost dead centre of the photo)
is a facility in which a certain infamous white powder is produced ...
Lunch was a fairly interesting affair. Find out why in part two of this spiel, yet to be completed …

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