There was only one other couple in our group along with our guide and 9, yes, you read that correctly 9 porters to carry our gear. My husband and I each hired a porter to carry our clothes & sleeping bags and mats (we left our larger backpacks in Cusco) and while my hubby Eric originally poo-pooed the idea of hiring men to carry our gear, I don´t think we I could have made it without that help! The trek was INTENSE. We would be up at 5:00 AM, breakfast at 6:00 and be on the trail by 6:30 AM. Our porters would pack up camp and later that morning they would literally run past us on the trail (with 40 lbs on their backs!) to beat us to our lunch spot and have a piping hot, 3 course, delicious meal ready for us. Our chef was phenomenal!
I had read about the difficulty of the trail and how steep it was at parts, and Eric and I were concerned about his bad knee acting up on him, so we had thought to bring a knee brace. Ironically, on day 2 as we started descending the 13,860 Dead Woman´s Pass, my right knee decided it wasn´t going to handle the 3,000 plus stone steps well and started to give out on me. Oh yeah, and it was also raining. 2 nasty falls and a few hours later, I made it to the bottom of that pass. No broken bones!!!!
Due to the rain, our guide found out that a mudslide had taken out the trail to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu and we could not finish our trek the way we were supposed to. We were devastated, but the alternate plan wasn´t too terrible: we would camp just outside of the town of Aguas Calientes and the next morning be up at 3:00 AM to be able to catch the first 5:30 AM bus to Machu Picchu. It worked out pretty well, actually! The only thing I regret is not having a photo of me washing my hair and face with a bar of hand soap in a water spigot in our camp site next to the train tracks. Hello, hobos!
Machu Picchu was phenomenal, but I was so tired from the 3 prior days that I think some of the glitter that I was expecting to feel was not there. After our guide led us on the official tour, our crew of 4 sat in the sun for about an hour, ate our sandwiches, then decided we were ready for a celebratory beer(s).
The entire experience was so wonderful, and our tour company, Llama Path, did a great job. Overall I was humbled immensely by our porters who could do this backbreaking work with smiles on their faces.
One of my photographer friends, Laura Grier of Beautiful Day Photography had given me the contact info for the guide she used on the Amazon, so we contacted him and he took us on a tour of the floating slums of Belen. Fascinating!
Luis also set us up with a 4 day trip out into the Natural Reserve Pacaya-Samiria. In my head I had imagined we were going to stay at a lodge that was like a rustic hotel out in the jungle. That´s not quite what we had! The next morning we were on a small wooden boat with another traveling couple, our guide, his assistant, our chef, her daughter, and some (live) chickens.
Our guide had us going from morning till night with different excursions and while it was definitely interesting, the jungle just isn´t my scene. I told my husband repeatedly “it wants to kill us”. We didn´t get lucky (?) in seeing any alligators or anacondas, and when we went Piranha fishing, the only thing we caught were Catfish. I forced myself to swim when we happened across some local kids swimming.
After the jungle we hung in Iquitos for a few days then caught a fast boat down the Amazon to Leticia, Colombia. Leticia is a port town that shares a tiny section of the Amazon with Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. Not too many gringos in that part!
In Leticia I threw out my ugly flip flops, bought some pretty sandals, got a pedicure and told Eric that I was done with ugly clothes & feet!! Cartagena after Iquitos felt like Disneyland after the ghetto! We arrived in the evening and at night the romantic sounds of horse drawn carriages with old fashioned candle lit lanterns created the music and ambiance for our stroll through the beautiful streets. It was magical and perfect. Until the aggressive drug dealers started approaching us and we realized that many of the horses were malnourished!! My utopia bubble burst, but that’s all part of life, you know? There’s no such thing as perfect.
Our second night we took a Chiva bus which is and open air, party bus that looks like it was built & painted by The Muppets that has a live band and booze on board as it takes you to see the sites of the city. Our Spanish is terrible (even after my 3 months of lessons prior to the trip) but the Colombians, Chileans, Paraguayans, & Argentinians were lovely to us and included us in the impromptu dance sessions at the sites we visited and they even translated some of the things we didn’t understand. We forgot to take our camera that night and I’m so bummed about that. We felt totally safe in Cartagena’s historical center with the police everywhere, and only had one instance outside of the city that felt truly sketchy.