Seven weeks was a long time to spend in Peru. I loved nearly every second I was there, but as my trip was coming to a close, I had an overpowering urge to go for one more adventure. There are so many extraordinary places to see in Peru, and I could only take a couple of days away from my teaching job, so it had to be a short trip. My only serious requirement: not touristy. I talked to our guide from Salkantay, and we decided to go to the rain forest.
This adventure began in a van traveling along a nice, smooth highway, for maybe a half hour. Then we were bumping along a winding mountain road for 6 hours. My most vivid memory of this part of the trip was deep breathing and a deeper fear of throwing up in the van. Our first stop was Paucartambo. It was just a short, but badly needed rest stop. There was a festival going on, but we only got to see a little bit of it: dancing, beautiful costumes, and of course, food everywhere. Then we were off to Pilcopata, where we stayed in a small hostel on the edge of the village.
On the first day we hiked along a dirt road to an indigenous village, Santa Rosa de Huacaria, a couple of hours from Pilcopata. The people living there are Machiguenga. We talked to some of the women living there and visited the school, where we talked to a few of the students and the teacher. On the hike back we were joined by some of the students heading to Pilcopata. We arrived just ahead of a torrential rainstorm.
The next day, we headed to Salvación. This was pretty much an all day hike. As cool as it would have been to hike through the jungle with machetes, we just followed the road. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but for all of the butterflies and dragonflies and endless variety of flowers, we could have been in the most magnificent of botanical gardens. Our first stop was a small zoo for rescued wildlife. I got to hold a baby monkey as we walked around seeing a tapir, and anteater, various birds and turtles. Normally I don’t like zoos, but none of the animals were caged and they were clearly loved by their caregivers.
We stopped at Atalata Port for lunch before heading on to Salvación, where we arrived just after dark. Salvación is not a tourist destination. When I asked if there was hot water at our hostel, the owner laughed and said, “Es la selva.” “This is the jungle.”
We spent the next day in a park where we borrowed a canoe and spent the day hiking trails. We ran into another group of tourists who had taken boats to the park and came in from the river. I had been happy hiking along the road, but it was so cool to be deep in the jungle. There were dozens of varieties of ants. The most disturbing thing we saw was a large lizard that had been killed and was being devoured by ants. We hiked back to town for dinner. We ended up watching part of the regional soccer tournament and bought fish plates from some of the ladies at the game. I had been warned many times not to eat street food, but es la selva and it was delicious.
We returned to the park that night hoping to see alligators. I think I caught the flash of one’s eyes in my flashlight but couldn’t be sure. Hiking through the trails in the dark was cool, but so much scarier than during the day. Still the night was clear and the stars were just incredible.
The next day we made the long bus ride back to Cuzco. The trip was wonderful, but way to short. I was incredibly sad because I knew that would be my last big adventure in Peru. I was hopeful, too, because I’m far too in love with the country and its people not to return. Algún día.