Wake up call is around 4 am. My eyes are barely awake with less than 4 hours of sleep under me. I quickly jump into the shower hoping it will wake me up. It is still pitch black and I have to use the flashlight just to find my clothes. I find my boots completely covered in some kind of green dirt but I don’t remember it being that way. I put on my pants and get ready and walk out to the dining area to get some breakfast. We all then gather and head back down again to the boats that are 30+ min away.
We stay on the boats for about 20-30 min and then we get off in the middle of the jungle. No one tells me how long this will be and I am not in the best mood. I start almost running through trying to follow the guide. After about 40+ minutes I get aggravated because it feels like we are walking forever. After a total trek of about 70-80 minutes we finally arrived at another boat that was a flat boat powered simply by a huge oar.
We get on and after about 15 minutes we arrive at our destination. The guide takes out a bag of red meat and says we will be fishing for piranha! I was pretty excited! I have never even seen one let alone catch one. I was one of the first to go and realized these are some of the smartest fish I know! They didn’t eat as one – they ate as a group and so quickly that within 3 seconds all the food was gone and your chance of nabbing them is very small. I finally caught one and a few others in the group caught some as well. The sun began coming up and we began our trek back through the jungle back to the boat and back to the lodge. It was a very exhausting but fun morning.
When we got back a lot of the group members wanted to go hiking to the top of some mountains and I chose to finally relax. That afternoon I got a very awkward full body massage in the middle of the jungle, checked out some monkeys on my way back to my room and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in my hammock watching some movies on the iPad.
As the group got back it was time for us to leave this lodge. We grabbed all of our gear and again went down to the boats, long boat ride and then a long bus ride. At this time we stopped for lunch and played some soccer, as it was one of my last days on the trip. On the ride back on the bus our tour guide explained that it was pretty great that our bus did not get stuck in the roadway – apparently has happened before and some of the drop off are pretty steep. We arrived at a fairly nice hotel where we finally had air conditioning! It was amazing! We had some dinner and then went out for drinks with the guides we met and had a great time! The following morning we spent flying back to Lima and I split from the group as I was flying back to Chicago and they were flying to Rio. Wish I had gone with them but that will be another day!
We all pack our stuff and frantically run downstairs to check out and head on the bus to the airport. They make me open my ridiculous suitcase yet they could care less about my huge liter of water I was carrying – weird. We get on the plane in roughly 50-60 degree weather and get off in what feels like it has to be 100 degrees with 100% humidity. We arrive in Puerto Maldonado and get off the plan on the tarmac and quickly run towards the airport hut – which has no windows – just a very large hut with a carousel for our suitcases. Surprisingly my suitcase survives!
Just as we get our suitcase the rain starts hitting strong! Wind stats picking up and meanwhile we have to give all of our suitcases to the guides to put on the roof of these mini buses. We ride on this bus for roughly 20-30 min and arrive at a small stopping station to transfer the stuff we need for the night in the jungle. We quickly get our stuff out and throw them in the duffle bag we would be taking and meanwhile everyone is sweating beyond imagination and willing to pay anything for the nicely refrigerated bottles of Inca cola and water.
We throw our duffle bags onto this ridiculous small school bus yet maybe half the size with no real suspension and we begin our ride to the lodge in the jungle. Roughly 30-45 min on the bus as we pass large masses of land covered with plastic tents. The guide explains that a development company came in posing as the property owners and sold all the land to all these people yet the property belongs to the government. Pretty shocking – considering how many huts there were. The road is not paved – it’s simply dirt with large holes that our driver kept trying to avoid and bridges that I would never dare cross if I was behind the wheel. Meanwhile it’s still muddy but not raining anymore. We finally get to the river. I am thinking – this has to be it NO. We get on small long banana shaped boats with motors on them and we ride down the Amazon River for roughly 30-40 min. The air was great and I was finally beginning to cool down. We were in the Rio Tambopata area. Everyone had taken malaria shots and so fourth – but of course not me.
I made sure though before I left on this trip I had plenty of insect repellent and sprayed all my clothes with DEET (later found out that was not the best thing to do). We finally get to the end and I am finally cooled down but I see a small ladder with no railing again. I’m thinking ok – a couple feet and we can finally relax. Nope lol. We begin our trek through the jungle – through a barely paved with who knows what animals around. I simply kept just walking making sure the person at the end did not disappear – because if they did I would be in some trouble. Roughly 35-40 min after we finally get to the lodge.
We are greeted with cold wet towels and the most amazing juice I ever had in my life. I find out this lodge has no doors, no windows – only curtains for the entrance to your room and that is it! I throw my shoes off and go relax a little in my room. There was a hammock in the room and two beds with fly nets covering them. Only electricity was in the dining area and only for a few hours in the day. They used a pretty cool way to light the rooms. They would put a lantern at with two mirrors on either side and that would give plenty of light to your room.
Everyone got situated and I was still trying to catch my breath in this weather. The sun was going down but the temperature stayed the same – it was completely strange for me.
For dinner we had some food but I was really not in the mood to eat – not feeling well I just wanted to go to bed but we were not done for the day!
At this point it was pitch black and lucky for me I managed to bring a flashlight with me. The tour guide had a surprise for us. She told us to put on boots and that we would be heading back down to the river in pitch black simply following each other. Took us about 30-40 min to get down (still have no idea how we did this without falling) and then got back on the boats. The guide asked us to turn off all lights. As soon as we did I could literally not even see my hands in front of me. It was that pitch black. She meanwhile told us we would be looking for alligators. She took out a huge flashlight and we drove around at night in pitch black while remaining completely quiet going through the river. Meanwhile I am thinking – how does this drive know where we are going and how the heck will he know where to take us back – not like there are light towers here.
She spots one! She shows us the alligator and it quickly dives into the water – we then ride around for another 45 minutes looking but only find another animal and that is all. We finally get back to the pier and again have a trek up the hill to our lodge – another 30-40 min in pure bitch black. I get into my room and am so tired I literally fall asleep within minutes! Meanwhile I am hearing crazy noises all around me – almost as if these animals are above me!
Morning starts out a little slow – most people are gone on their trips while some are exploring Cusco. Before I was going on my chef day I had to find a store that would sell me some straps for my suitcase – it was bursting at the seams! Good thing I found a store to make me some also liquor was crazy cheap in this city!
A famous chef in Peru who has two restaurants – one of which we ate at one night and the other is a very upscale steak house – picks me up in his small sedan in front of my hotel. I don’t know what to think of the man and I don’t know what the schedule is like but it’s only $50 so why not!
I get in and we begin driving around the city picking up people from other hotels. We finally meet his wife and all the people in her car at the market. It’s a little rainy but it’s not something we can’t handle. The market of the roof is covered with large metal panels and we slowly walk around as he lets us try different fruits and vegetables explaining that the most versatile vegetable in Peru is the potato. The reason is because it is so versatile at growing in high altitude.
Some of the fruits are just strange and amazing – never tried anything like this. Thinking at the time – why was this not part of the tour from the beginning. We then bought some vegetables and fruits and headed back to his restaurant. The whole place was cleared out and we began our training with learning how to make a Pisco Sour. Which was a lot of fun and we got to try many different types of liquor. He talked about his private collection that he has back home where he infuses them with different fruits for long periods of time.
We then finally get to the cooking! He brings out a mountain of mashed potatoes and some spicy mayo – we make our mix and then he gives us small amounts of precut chicken, some olives, eggs, and a few other elements. We make our first dish and it looks amazing! We use a round mold and it tastes great and looks even better! Now that was the appetizer – now time for the main course.
He brings out a mountain of Onions and many other vegetables and tells us – time to chop! We all grab as many as we can and start chopping away – putting the final chopped product into a large bowl. Then came time to cut the Alpaca meat – no one wanted to really do it so the chef showed me how to properly cut – with one stroke – and I sliced everything up. I thought that now we would be done – but nope! The lights go out and we find out this restaurant is having issues with the electricity and we have to go next door to his upscale steakhouse.
He brings us to the pickup window in the kitchen and shows us how he prepares this dish and then tells us we are next! I squeeze in back there and begin doing my thing! It was pretty fun but very cramped and a lot of heat and fire everywhere. We then followed up by eating there and having some awesome drinks.
I meanwhile sneak out and revisit my entire group at another upscale restaurant that they heard was pretty amazing. We then all headed out to the bars since some of us would be going back home the next day. We stayed out pretty late and had a lot of fun dancing, sweating and just enjoying our time in Cusco.
We all barely get out of bed around 9am as its pouring outside we all eat some breakfast and get ready for our adventure of Machu Picchu. We walked briskly down the hill, as we were all drenched while hoping for the sun to come out any minute. We got on a bus with random people – pushed in like sardines and off we went!
We arrived at Machu Picchu which just walking around was pretty hilly. I also learned that the elevation of Machu Picchu is actually not that much at all roughly 2400-2500 meters. The sun was finally coming out but the fog was still pretty prevalent. I was able to sneak in a walking stick just so I can actually keep up with the group through various tunnels and pathways. The whole thing seemed like it was mostly rock and seemed very impressive that they built something so grandiose at such altitude. The view from the top was amazing. At one point we got to the highest point and all took a picture. I took some amazing shots with the intense fog but it was very difficult to see past. Again no railing of any kind anywhere – I was surprised no one dies at these sites.
We all explored and now it was time to get back down to the bus but the rounded walkway coming down was covered in slimy rocks – I walked steadily letting anyone pass me who wanted trying to walk as fast as I can without falling on my butt and destroying my camera. We finally got down and I left my walking stick there – we got back on the bus and headed this time for the train that we took up north.
As we arrived at the train station the rain had finally subsided and we sat in a huge train station waiting for our train to be ready with people sitting on the floors anxiously waiting for the trains to be ready. They were delayed by roughly an hour. As thy cleared the train – a mad panic immersed as everyone started running through the doors towards the trains trying to figure out where our seats are as if there would not be enough.
We sit down and share some stories between us as the train began to head back south to Cusco. Yet for some reason we had to stop sooner and take the bus the rest of the way. The bus drove on into the night what seemed like a never-ending day of travel.
We quickly got back in our rooms and settled in. A lot of people in the group were signed up for adventures like biking, rafting and horseback riding but I later found out there was an option 4 – cooking class!
A very relaxing morning as I and two members of our group get ready for our horseback riding. Now I have never ridden a horse. As we wait patiently in the lobby playing on our phones a gentleman walks through the entrance of this cozy hotel and asks if we are ready to go. He has no insignia on his car and we just get up and get in the car. I chose to leave the camera behind in case something would break.
As we drive to the ranch the man talks to us about the area and how him and his family owns many of these horseback riding ranches all over Peru. He parks in front of a small little house with large gates all covered with overgrown grass. We get out and he gives us a helmet and we proceed after him. The doors open up and a tunnel awaits us – surrounded by what seems like a forest all around. As I am first in front I start walking and hearing sounds of horses but then I see a beautiful eagle perched and at first I get closer thinking that it’s a really amazing sculpture but then it moves away from me! The thing is real! They tell me that they saved him when his wing broke up in the mountains and now he hangs out at the farm and comes back after he is done eating. Amazing!
They bring out three horses. I am the heaviest of the three of us and they first give a small horse to the girl, a stallion to the tall guy and a medium size horse to me. Only issue is I have no idea how to get on this thing – this isn’t the movies! So they found a step near by and I barely climbed on clenching the reins for dear life. The guide explains that to steer left you simply pull on the reigns left and vice versa and when you want the horse to go fast you let the reins loose. Seemed pretty simple to me but how the heck does a horse know this… The older guide got on the more wild horse and decided to lead us while the gentleman who drove us decided to be on the last horse behind. I decided to get up front and follow the guide.
We slowly get out of the ranch, cross the street and then begin our ride through what seemed like the back roads of many farms in the area. My horse was doing pretty well and his name was Navajo (I think). He would stop repeatedly and I had to learn my way but I did really well – we even galloped a little. I learned that these horses don’t ride up and down but go side to side (still have no idea how) but when you ride your butt just moves left to right – not up and down and this only happens with horses in this area and in Spain.
30 minutes in we began going up a hill down a road where cars drove – a little scary but we did well. The weather was just right – not hot and was a great time. We then stopped off to have some lunch at one of their prime spots. I pretty much jumped off my horse but as soon as that happened I was worried about how I would get on.
The view at the top was amazing. I didn’t eat – just wanted to get safely back on the horse. The guide asked how much I weighed and they decided to give me the huge black stallion horse – which getting on was way tougher and he was way less willing to listen to me when I tried to steer him. We want back the same path and overall it was a lot of fun. I did have a funny hiccup – getting off the horse… We got back to the ranch and the main guy that speaks English was nowhere to be around to help and his dad spoke no English and he keeps signaling me to get off. I keep trying to tell him I don’t know how. Long story short – muscle cramped while trying to get down and fell on my butt – but least I was off the damn stallion.
The guide drove us back to our hotel and we got all of our stuff out of storage and got ready to take the train to go to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu). We waited at the train station and finally got on – a fairly modern train that was run by the Orient Express.
We arrived in Aguas Calientes where it felt like everything was built on hills. We gave our stuff to guides who ran up these crazy steep hills to our hotel while we slowly marched. At this point it was getting close to nightfall and we met up with the rest of our group who were exhausted beyond their wild imaginations yet also proud of what they had accomplished. I had thought I wish I had done it but I also knew I was not ready for such an event – next time! We had some great food and everyone wanted to get back to bed to pass out. Just before we did we all sat in the lobby, which was simply 2 small couches with us sitting on every piece of it trying to get the Internet to work on our mobile devices. Time for bed – this was not a very nice hotel room at all but it was somewhere to sleep.