on top of the world!
post-mule shaky legs
South American Wanderings
We left Galapagos a month ago now, semester ended, visas expired and we were sent flying back to Quito where the Andean climate was crisp and cold and beautiful…such a change from the humid sea level of the islands. Sad to leave but the time was right to move as I suspected I´d feel. After leaving we spent a week at the home of one of my teachers about an hour out of Quito. A beautiful German woman called Judith with a big mud brick home, horses, chooks, children. We spent our time debriefing about uni, discussing conservation and planning and dreaming future research ideas. Riding horses in the golden light of the late afternoons, cooking delicious food. One day we climbed to the first refuge of Cotopaxi mountain, Ecuador's highest volcano…at 4900m our hearts were pounding and heads spinning as we struggled to suck in oxygen. The summit is 5900m but our equipment and fitness, and the girls tolerance for the cold didn't allow us to attempt that adventure, maybe when I return to Ecuador in a few months. From Judith's
we drifted over the mountains and down the eastern side of the
Andes into the jungle and wandered south through little backwater jungle towns where English is well and truly a foreign language and blond hair is a sight to stare at, especially that all tangled up in ´rastas´. We hid away for a week in a magnificent national park - Parque Nacional Podocarpus - in a little wooden cabin deep in the cloud forest where we saw no people except the park ranger for days on end. The river close by was deep and clear and icy cold with crazy fast rapids for leaping into and playing water slides and gasping for breath and being dragged under and kicking and kicking to sun warmed rocks. First afternoon we were there I helped save an Ecuadorian tourist who was swept down the river. Not many Ecuadorians can swim including the park ranger! Birds everywhere and the night air screaming with insects...we´d take hot mugs of chai into the jungle each night and spy spiders in their thousands in the lights of our head torches, their eyes lighting up bright colours...every species a different colour. Then onto Vilcabamba
in the south of Ecuador...it seems it's the mecca for natural health seeking
Pueblo de los muertos
sunrise walk to Chachapoyan ruins
tourists in Ecuador. It's actually full of fat old Americans pretending to be hippies...all dressed up in their hippy clothes almost like a fancy dress party. Quite irritating but hilarious. We stayed at a lovely little hostel in mudbrick huts next to the creek, with a herb garden and Señora Susana next door who bakes whole grain bread and sweet sticky cinnamon buns. And a woodfired pizza oven, and lots of nice walks through the bush in the reserve that backs directly onto our hostel. From Vilcabamba we began our epic couple of days crossing the border into Peru. We bussed south first to the border town of Zumba, a border crossing far from the usual gringo trail. We met a lovely peruvian girl Jesulin on the bus, and she made everything so much easier for us, although we would have been fine by ourselves with our stumbling Spanish. From Zumba,
we had to go in a car for 2 hours to the border... a long, dusty bumpy road. The border was surprising... we were the only people crossing and, once we had our exit stamps which we had to wait for the border officer to finish lunch
and drinking to get from Ecuador, just had to wander across a bridge and we were in Peru. We had to wait half an hour on the Peruvian side for the immigrations man to finish his beer and conversation before he would stamp us into the country. From the border at La Balsa, it was another long long car ride to San Ignacio. The tyres on the car were completely bald, so much so that they looked like just inner tubes and when we got the inevitable flat tyre it was a huge split gushing air. Cars are the only option for much of the travel in the very north of Peru, and they save trips by cramming as many people in as possible... up to 7 in a sedan. Tired, hungry, kidneys swollen from bumping for hours on end, heads dizzy from the altitude it took a couple of long dusty days to reach Chachapoyas where we found a cheap hostel with the first hot shower we've seen since January. Chachapoyas is named
after the pre-Incan people who occupied the area 1000 years ago, the Chachapoya. We took tours to a few different archaeological sites, ruins and
things, proving to ourselves that our Spanish had improved since our guide spoke no English at all. The best adventure around Chachapoyas was a six hour horse ride through the Andes, from cloud forest all the way up to the paramo at 3000m along a narrow, steep path with mud as deep as the horses thighs in many places. Actually, Kate had the only horse, Josie and I rode strong stubborn little mules determined to prove their hybrid vigour by pushing on and on up ridiculously steep mountains for six hours. I leant a new Spanish/Peruvian phrase - VA MULA, GO MULE! The scenery was breathe taking to say the least mountains high enough to reach the stars and we were on top of them. It was an amazing feeling to look back through the valley behind us and to think it was even possible to traverse such a vast landscape.
Right now we're in a town called Cajamarca staying at the home of some very nice, very generous people we met…washing our muddy clothes and resting. We're on our way to the coast, from there we'll spend maybe a week around a town called Huaraz, renowned for its
amazing hikes and climbing before meeting the girls' Mum in Lima and heading east again.
Stay tuned more adventures to come.
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