The Death Road

When researching in Norway the activities to do while in South America, we came across a particularly interesting adventure: Mountain biking in Bolivia on one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The road is the Yungas Road and it is about an hour outside of La Paz. However, the more known name for this way of transport is ”Death Road”. The name doesn’t sound too appealing, but it provides an experience like no other that lets you freely cruise down a rocky path on the edge of a mountain. Sounds like a beautiful time, but then again, nicknames are given for a reason, right? The road mainly got its name when it was the only roadway to get over the mountain from La Paz. Cars, vans, busses, and trucks would attempt this journey as they navigated up and down the hairpin turns running along the steep mountainside as they travelled to and from La Paz. X amount of people were killed…deeming it the nickname ”Death Road”. However, Death Road is not only know for claiming many lives, it is also one of the most unique ways of passage providing absolutely astounding scenery – and this is what attracted the mountain bikers. The road has become much safer – or at least the kill count has gone down- after (2006) when the new road was built. Now there is hardly any traffic on it and the accidents that do happen are usually self-induced with uncareful biking maneuvers. So after a lot of research on safety, we decided it was an adventure we just couldn’t refuse. We booked with this best biking company in La Paz, Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, and tested our fate.

 

The time had come. We had spent 10 weeks travelling South America with just one day left, and one supreme activity: Death Road. This activity was planned from the very start of the trip. It was something we felt we must do, but not by coincidence that it was our very last activity of the trip. Let’s be honest, it is called ”Death Road” for a reason, so on the off chance that we were swallowed by the steep mountainside, we wanted to be sure that we had already experienced everything else we wanted to accomplish. And if we did happen to take a tumble, at least we would be going out with a bang, right?

 

Until recently – after a new highway was built for the transportation – Yunghas Road was known as the most dangerous road in the world. It is a narrow, gravel dirt road that slithers for 43 miles down steep mountainside connecting La Paz to Corioco. It is estimated that the canyons once claimed 200-300 lives per year. However, since the new highway has been built and most of the traffic now is just local and adventure-seeking tourist, it boasts a modest 20-25 lives per year. See, nothing to worry about; the statistics are much lower now. However, it was still the rainy season and our friends from the Inca Trail that did it the previous week did experience a landslide. Nope. Can’t defer us now. We had waited all trip for this, we were doing it. So we went to the highest rated service provider, Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, and signed up. After we had signed up, however, we learned a Japanese guy rode off into the oblivion just a few days before us. Slightly startling. So we had a nice last meal and made a few phone calls to our parents (just in case).

 

”So, son, what do you guys have planned for your last day?” ”Oh, nothing too exciting. Just a bike ride.”

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Alright. Enough talk. Let’s get to the ride. Our bus climbed out of La Paz at the crack of dawn on the new highway. We reached the top (15,260 ft.) and tested out the bikes. Being as we were in South America where Pachamama and sacrifices are so important (even more so in Bolivia), we performed our ceremony to Pachamama. As with all ceremonies, you must offer something to Pachamama, so our guide made the speech and passed around what she called ”holy water”. We had to ask Pachamama to get us down safely, pour her a drink, and then take a drink ourselves. At this point, nothing should have surprised me in South America. But I was quite shocked when I poured the clear liquid – which I assumed would just be water since it was early in the morning and we were about to bike down a road named after death, but I was wrong– into my mouth. It was 96% alcohol, and the taste stuck around far longer that it was welcome. With nerves slightly dulled now, we began the ride. The first part of the ride is on a paved road, and it is magnificent. It’s nice to have this precursor so you can get used to the bike before taking on the narrow gravel roads. We raced down the smooth pavement with nothing but the fierce wind on our faces and breathtaking sights all around. From the top, we were surrounded by snow and mountains, and could see the winding road disapear into the distance. And what beautiful weather we had! With the smooth sailing behind us, we entered the infamous Death Road. We started slowly letting gravity be our escort down through the winding curves. It was steep, the road was tight, and the loose rocks weren’t exactly comforting. Oh, and then there’s the steep drop off immediately to your left. Because on this road, you don’t drive on the right side, you drive on the left so you can see exactly how much room there is on the edge if you meet another vehicle. Just wonderful. Not only are we distracted by some of the most stunning, authentically tragic sights we’ve ever seen, but we have to ride a foot from this hazordous beauty in case we meet oncoming traffic.

Giving thanks and asking Pachamama for permission:

But it was actually no big deal. It’s just riding a bike. And it you take it easy and just ride a bike, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. However, you must keep yourself in check. The minute you start to get a bit too comfortable on your bike and gain a little extra confidence with slightly too much speed on a turn, you feel the back wheel sliding away from you, and the road quickly reminds you of its name and why you see so many crosses along the way. So if you just ride like a normal human being, there really is nothing to worry about. But if you get a little out of control, you can easily see how you could plummit to your death. Fortunately, we escaped, and had quite possibly our best experience of the entire trip. It was absolutely remarkable. Our adrenaline raged the entire time but at the same time we were completely at peace. It was such a dream experience. It’s that dream where you are doing something incredible, such as flying, so you know it is just a dream, except we weren’t dreaming this time. It’s something I am so thankful we did. Within hours we were able to witness different climate changes as we descended into the depths of the jungle. It defined South America for me. It was slightly dangerous, tragically beautiful, and like nothing else; the perfect ending to our incredible vacation. We reached the bottom safely and celebrated with a big hug, kiss, and cold, cold beer – and they never felt more deserving.

Buggy- and Sandboarding in Huacachina

If you are near Ica, a visit to the desert oasis of Huacachina is an absolute must. But unless you want to party with all the backpackers, a day trip is all that is needed. It was really cool. We took a cab from the vineyard and were just driving through the congested, dry city of Ica, and then all of a sudden the road ended and we were in this quaint, beautiful oasis in the desert. The oasis sits in-between these vast sand dunes, with a lake in the middle surrounded by desert palms – I’ve never seen anything like it. After we walked around the lake and took some photos, we went to the hostal where we had booked a dunebuggy and sandboarding tour – our main reason for coming here. After being questioned about previous injuries or if we had been in car crashes before that could possibly cause flashbacks, we didn’t really know what we had gotten ourselves into. Then our guide informed us that we had most insane driver and that when he is with him, he always makes sure to drive even crazier to deliver an extra extreme experience. For someone that doesn’t typically enjoy thrill rides such as roller coasters, I wondered if I had made a mistake. However, it was an absolute blast. We reached the sand dunes and he immediately gunned it towards a steep decline. There would be no ”getting your feet wet” with this guy. He preferred the ”ripping off the bandaid” method. With the steep drop, it left our stomachs in the air, and we squeeled with delight – yes, I squeeled like a little girl, and I wanted even more. It was exhilerating! He raced through the dunes taking on steep inclines and declines and speeds you wouldn’t think would be possible. On a summit, he would make a 90 degree turn at full speed – you never knew what to expect with this guy. But he had complete control. Even his stopping methods were intense. Other dunebuggies would be gathered together letting the passengers out to take pictures, and he would come flying in going straight towards the people. They would dive out of the way thinking he was going to hit them, but every time he would just turn the wheel and slide in sideways, stopping on a dime within a few feet of disaster. It was sick, but so much fun.

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We were then driven to the high dunes where we were able to try out sandboarding. In order to generate the most speed, it is recommended to go down on your stomach, so this is how we did it. This was also a blast. We went down 8 dunes in total, with the longest and steepest one lasting about 20 seconds. Hanna had the best technique as she managed to go the furthest of any of each time. It was just so neat being out in the desert and racing down the dunes on sandboards. If you don’t handle sand too well, I wouldn’t recommend this, as sand gets everywhere. With a couple of wipeouts, I’m still getting sand out of my ears. After the last dune, we loaded back up in the buggy for some more excitement. He flew through the desert reaching about 60 MPH at one point, hitting a slope, and getting airborne. In our normal fashion, we slid to a stop where we could look down on the oasis of Huacachina and take in one of the most stunning sunsets I have even seen. It has rained a little bit, so the sky had the most brilliant pinkish-orange color that cascaded across the sand. Safely back on hard ground, we said goodbye to Huacachina and retreated back to our vineyard.

Ica, Peru: Hotel Viñas Queirolo

After 2 weeks of hiking in the mountains with showers and restrooms few and far between, we had reached our paradise and the ”honeymoon” portion of our trip. The adventures have been fantastic, but this timely escape was very much appreciated. After taking a 6 hour bus from Lima, we arrived to the dusty, desert town of Ica.

The city of Ica is polluted with noise and exhaust fumes, but there is a hidden gem about 20 minutes outside of the city. This gem is Hotel Vinas Quierolo. For 3 (short) nights we indulged in the luxuries of this beautiful vineyard. In this tiny ”village”, we bounced back and forth from the 2 different pools. The pool nearest our room was a smaller, intimate pool that was perfect for peace and quiet – and also had a bar. The larger, resort-style pool with a jacuzzi was a 5 minute walk, but well worth it. Here you benefited from the beautiful view of the mountain in the background and could really feel like you were on vacation with some hip pool tunes playing on the speakers, and an even bigger bar. We spent the majority of our days lounging here, soaking in the rays, and ordering lunch from the poolside service. It was glorious. But, this place had more to offer than just nice pools. They had a a clay tennis court, workout facility, playground, and a game room with foosball, ping pong, and a pool table. For such a large place, we were 2 of maybe 10 guests, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. At night, we took advantage of their excellent restaurant enjoying some great Peruvian dishes such as ceviche, and their $6 bottles of wine from the vineyard.

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Included in our stay, we were able to take a tour of the vineyard. And although the tour guide only spoke Spanish, it was still nice to kind of learn about the process. After the tour, we were driven up to the mountain that had a beautiful gazeebo built for looking out over the vineyard. We enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine as we took in a breathtaking sunset, watching the golden sun quickly disappear behind a vast sand dune. Seeing such a spectacular sight, it really makes you appreciate what a beautiful world we live in. We then returned to the vineyard and had a fun, interactive wine tasting, followed by another great dinner.

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Checkout was at 12:00 the next day, but our bus to Arequipa didn’t leave until 7:30; I guess we would have to spend some more hours lounging by the pool…bummer. It was truly difficult tearing ourselves away from this paradise. It was definitely one of the nicest and most relaxing places that we have ever been to, and it is absolutely worth making a detour here if you are ever in Peru.

 

The Cute Streets of Cusco

We were supposed to arrive in Cusco March 1st so we would have a whole day to explore it before we left for the Skylodge Adventure Suites March 2nd, however, when we got to the Airport in Lima an hour before the plane was leaving they told us that it was too late and the gate had closed. Unlike everywhere else in the world where it’s normal to arrive an hour before on domestic flights – in Peru it is not, and they said we had to be there TWO HOURS before the plane left on domestic flights. That’s Crazy! We therefore had to get new tickets for the next morning. Since we were leaving so early and the airport is a good hour outside of the city, we decided to stay at the Wyndham Hotel which is right across from the airport. When we got there they said the hotel was full, but that the spa had a overnight option and we could stay there.

So instead of spending the day exploring Cusco, we spent it in the spa; there are worse alternatives.

We arrived to Cusco early the next day. Our Airbnb host let us store the luggage there since we were leaving for Sacred Valley the same day but coming back the next morning. All we had to bring to the Skylodge was a little backpack with a change of clothes and tooth brushes.

We had a few hours in Cusco before they picked us up and got to see the main parts of the city. In doing so we explored the cute and tiny streets, and had some amazing food and drinks at The Meeting Place (where you can take Spanish Lessons and volunteer work if you are ever in Cusco). Peru is known for great food and Cusco has a lot of nice, tasty restaurants! It is definitely the tourist capital of Peru. There were tourists everywhere as well as street sellers, and they would not leave us alone. If you buy something from one person, all of a sudden there will be a line of people trying to sell you something afterwards. Baby Alpaca sweaters, selfie sticks, ponchos, and pictures were among many of the items they were selling.

When we came back from Urubamba after the night at the Skylodge, we ate dinner and then went to the SAS Travel meeting to get ready for our Inka Trail trek the next morning. It was a long meeting so we went straight back to the apartment and packed for our trip. Again, our sweet Airbnb host let us store our bags there for all the four nights we were going to be on the Inka Trail.

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Inka Trail to Machu Picchu

Day 1

They say that Machu Picchu is one of the most remarkable sites on the planet. After seeing it with my own eyes, I can now attest to this – it is truly spectacular and such a unique and spiritual site. Any way you decide to get to Machu Picchu is amazing, but we decided to take the Inca Trail to gain the true pilgrimage aspect from it. It is a 4-day, 3-night trek that takes you on the original Inca Trail that goes through the magnificent Andes mountains, river valleys, and the high jungle. The trail is 40 km (25 miles) long and reaches a highest altitude of 4200 m (13 779 feet). We booked with the company SAS Travel Peru, and after a bad first impression, our experience was absolutely exemplary with our amazing guide, Felipe. Felipe was a very special, passionate guide from the mountains and still practices the religion of the Incas. Learning about their customs and performing ceremonies to Pachamama (Mother Earth) was an enriching experience that we will never forget, and our participation was something that clearly meant a lot to him. While they no longer sacrifice humans, he did tell us about his family sacrificing a guinea pig not too long ago when his sister got sick. It was truly fascinating to see how much the nature means to him and how much he appreciates everything that Pachamama provides. We were a total of 14, and what a great group we were. We all became friends quickly and became even closer going through this life-changing journey.

After having completed the Santa Cruz trek, we had a bit more confidence going into this one. With similar altitudes, it was really nice to already be adjusted and not have to worry about any altitude sicknesses. However, this doesn’t mean it was easy, just easier than it would have been. The first day was relatively easy, but we still walked for 7 hours. Each day our porters – the locals that carried 30 kg of camping equipment – raced ahead of us to set up camp twice a day. Going into it, we didn’t really have high expectations for the food basing it on what we had on our previous trek. I mean, how good could the food be while hiking four days in the mountains? We saw our blue tents set up around midday and hungrily marched into the tent. What a pleasant surprise we had waiting for us; We had freshly prepared ceviche! And it was some of the best ceviche we have had while in Peru. How the chef was able to make fresh, tasty ceviche out of a tent, is beyond me. Time and time again we were surprised at how he was able to prepare such tasty food. Each meal we had a starter, a soup, and then big, family style portions for the main course. It was amazing. We had fresh trout from the river, Peruvian pizza, and he even managed to bake a cake for us on the last night. We really enjoyed all of our meals, but after such large lunches, it made it quite difficult to start hiking again. Fortunately for us, they always had a soup or tea to aid in the digestion process. After lunch, we hiked a couple of more hours before reaching our first Incan ruins site. We were so impressed by this fortress that we wondered how Machu Picchu could be any better. We had a history lesson about the ruins, and then walked another 2 hours to reach our camp for the night.

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Day 2 was definitely the most difficult of all the days. This was the day we were to ascend “Dead Woman’s Pass”. We woke up with some rain, but with a recently purchased poncho, this would be no problem, right? Wrong. I bought, what I thought, was a good quality poncho, but it turned out I would have been better off with a garbage bag. The poncho let the water seep through, and then it would just collect underneath. But you sort of just get used to being wet, and march on. It was a beautiful, challenging hike, that showcased some of the lower Andes mountains beneath us with fog rising from them. The scenery then changed to the high jungle. It was really neat being under the canopy of the jungle vegetation as we walked next to a running stream. We were also getting our first taste of the steep stairs that the Incas created for the pilgrimage. In high altitude, it took no time for the stairs to completely wear you out. I found the best way was to not take breaks, but to just slowly put one foot in front of the other and gradually climb the stairs in a zigzag pattern – of course while chewing loads of coca leaves. We made it to lunch where thankfully the warm sun was shining. We hung up our clothes in hopes they would dry out some, and refueled with some hot tea and big lunch. We would need all the energy we could muster if we were to overcome “Dead Woman’s Pass”. This portion of the trek is the steepest part and takes you to the highest summit of 4,200 meters. But why is it called “Dead Woman’s Pass”? According to our guide, the mountain takes the shape of a woman lying down. But we were never able to make it out. So once on top, we asked another guide why it was called that. According to him, it got its name honestly – a woman died in her attempt to cross it. It might be best that we didn’t know this before we started the ascent. After a group huddle with some inspirational words, we started up. Felipe told us it would take an hour and a half, but once you start it, you just want to get it over with as fast as possible. You know you’re going to be out of breath either way, so just deal with it and press on. With this mentality, we all managed to do it in under an hour. The hardest part was over with, and we were rewarded handsomely with the breathtaking view. We were even blessed with a rainbow glistening across the mountains. We took some photos and then started the 2-hour, steep descent on the other side. While this wore on our knees, it was nice being able to catch our breath. Wash, rinse, repeat at camp, and get ready for an unforgettable trek the next day.

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The trek for Day 3 was a long one, but had some really incredible scenery. We used a total of 10 hours, but you really didn’t notice how long it was because of the unique sites. We also got soaked this day. The very first part of the hike was up the mountain for an hour and a half, but we did it in 30 minutes. As we started up, it began to pour. But being soaking wet made us forget about being out of breath, so we blazed the trail in record time. We hid in a cave to change jackets or just prepare ourselves for the rest of the way, and started down. We had to use a lot of concentration going down in the rain because it made the loose rocks even more slippery. We chose not to make a small climb to see some ruins, and got to lunch as quickly as possible. In our wet clothes with no way of relief, we had an extremely frigid lunch in our tent. No one really wanted to keep going. However, as soon as we started walking again, our luck changed for the better. The sun came out and we were soon burning up. We had a pleasant walk, steadily up, as we gazed down at the jungle beneath us. Jungle, sunshine, mountains; how could it get any better? We had another surprise waiting for us when we reached the summit. First of all, it was a spectacular view with so many mountains of various brilliant colors around us. But best of all was the next Incan site. It was your typical Incan ruins with different levels and llamas wandering about, but with one of the best views you can imagine. The beautiful mountains go without saying, but what made this place unique was the high perch the site was on, and the other Incan site we were able to see beneath us. Having an aerial view of the large Incan site with rolling terraces was remarkable. At this site, we also performed a ceremony to thank Pachamama. We formed the trinity of coca leaves, had a moment of silence, and then placed each of our trinities in a circle around the sacrifice for Pachamama. Even without believing in this religion, we were still able to feel spiritually connected as the fueling passion from our guide influenced us. After this, I chased some llamas around for some cool pics. Speaking of llamas, they are like celebrities in many places in South America – they love them. Our guide Felipe would say things and have gestures for sexy llamas, sexy llama leg, llamasutra, and his personal creation: The Laughing Llama. He would always crack us up when did this one. All you do is put your middle finger, ring finger, and thumb together, leaving the index and pinky finger up. Then he would move the “mouth” of the hand llama up and down in unison with his outrageous cackle, “Hehehehehe” – he was a trip.

After we left this sanctuary, we walked 2 more hours to the Incan site we were able to see from above. This was also quite large, but used mostly for farming with all the many terraces. Here we were also treated to a miraculous view, with more mountains than you can count, including Machu Picchu Mountain. With still 30 minutes left to arrive at our camp, we had to use our head lamps to navigate down in the dark. We had “The Last Supper” – as they called it – and enjoyed a freshly baked cake. We hurried to bed and tried to quiet the excitement for seeing Machu Picchu the next day.

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Day 4: We had an early start, with breakfast at 03:30, and then waited an hour for the checkpoint to open. After showing our tickets, we started our walk towards the enchanted wonder that is Machu Picchu. We had a bit more pep in our step today. It was only a 2-hour trek that was mostly flat, but we had to climb the “Gringo Killer” before reaching famous Sun Gate. The “Gringo Killer” consists of 50 extremely steep steps. After defeating this obstacle, we had a short walk to the Sun Gate where we would have our first sight of Machu Picchu. We passed through the gate with extreme excitement and anticipation, and then there it was. We were finally here. Beneath us lay one of the most extreme disappointments of all time. No, I’m kidding. It was brilliant, and I have never seen anything like it before in my life. We sat on top taking in this wonder; how could it even be? How were the Incans able to create such a remarkably well-designed city high in the mountains? As we made our way down closer to it passing llamas along the way, it was so surreal actually being there. We have all seen pictures of it and thought, “Wow, that looks really cool”, but actually being there and seeing it in person is really something that cannot be described. I could try to describe it, but no words I can use would do it justice – it is just something that has to be seen. We were on cloud nine, but for some reason we quickly became disgruntled. After an exhausting four days of trekking with little sleep and no showers, we felt very deserving of such a treasure. However, we started getting passed by people who had taken the train up for the day. They had new outfits on, smelled nice, and were full of energy. What had they done to deserve this? And for no other reason than this, I couldn’t stand the sight of them. Just as I was having these hateful thoughts, one of our trekking companions said, “Does anyone else want to kick these people in the face?” We all busted out laughing as we were all thinking similar thoughts. The rest of the way down we all had a good kick making jokes about the situation. “Oh, sure. Please, you go ahead of me. You must be so tired having slept in your warm bed last night and then put on your clean clothes and took the train up!”  It was all good fun and we managed to get over our small break in spirit and fully enjoyed Machu Picchu in all its splendor. We navigated our way through the perfectly laid out stone city and learned more about its history. It was a very religious place where the king lived. They had an extremely sound irrigation system, terraces for farming different crops at different altitudes, temples, a university, and a ceremonial area where proud families could be chosen to give their kid to Pachamama for sacrificial purposes.

The architecture was unbelievable. I will never understand how they were able to move such large stones from such far distances, and place them so perfectly in the elegant design of the city.

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For whatever reason, Hanna and I didn’t think we would be tired enough from the trek, so we booked in advance to also hike the Huayna Picchu mountain on the same day. Huayna Picchu is the steep, iconic mountain in the background of Machu Picchu. It is an exclusive hike, with only 400 permits sold per day. After an abbreviated tour for us, our guide rushed us over to the starting point so we could make the bus back in time for lunch. He told us that most people use an hour, but he thought we could make the climb in 30 minutes. It was as if he were challenging us. Well, challenge accepted. Our competitive spirit forgot how tired we were and we raced off to make the steep climb of almost 1000 feet. We passed a few exhausted looking tourists coming down and they all told us it took them an hour and a half. This drove us even more. We decided to look at it as an intense cardio session and pressed on. Remember the Gringo Killers I mentioned before? Well this was basically how it was the entire time, except tighter. We went nearly as hard as we could go with only momentary breaks to wait for the path to clear. Drenched in sweat and gasping for air, I heard Hanna yell, “20 minutes!”. Almost there. Of course, the last part was the most difficult. It basically was a rock ladder in which you had to climb using both hands and feet. With the last ounce of energy we had left, we scaled the ladder and both reached the top in under 30 minutes. If you can’t tell, we are very proud of this. And best of all, the view was by far greater than any we had seen thus far. From this aerial view, we were able to appreciate the city even more as we could clearly make out the shape of the puma in which it is built. This was our favorite part of the entire trek, and we are so happy we decided to do it. And although going down was way worse and took us longer than it did to go up, it was still worth it. The view from above gave us precisely what we wanted: An unforgettable experience from Machu Picchu.

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Skylodge Adventure Suites

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There may not be a more suitable name out there for something than Skylodge Adventure Suites – it was so much fun. When we read about this adventure online, we knew we had to do it. It consists of scaling a mountain and sleeping in a transparent luxury capsule, then zip-lining back down the next day.

These hanging pods are available to book through Airbnb or on naturavive.com. We were picked up in Cusco and driven 3 hours to the Sacred Valley where our adventure awaited us. We were 6 in total with the two of us, two Chinese girls, and a Peruvian couple.  Yuber, the Peruvian guy, had only one leg. Turns out, this guy totally rocks and refuses to let his misfortune hold him back.

When we arrived, we looked up at the pods hanging off the mountainside 400 meters above us and wondered how we were going to get up there. We put our harnesses on and listened to the safety speech, and then started our climb up the mountain, via ferrata. You are scaling a mountain and still dealing with heights, but there is a safety line that goes all the way up that you have to constantly connect your clips to. The most intimidating part involved a cable line on the bottom for your feet and another one above for your hands to hold onto. We had to walk across this sideways, covering a gap of about 20 feet while looking out across the valley and the ground 200 meters directly beneath us. One misstep and we would have to rely on the support of our clips to save us. Fortunately, we made it across fine and enjoyed a beautiful sunset the rest of the way up.

Safely in the capsule, we could feel the fatigue in the muscles we weren’t used to using. As we sat there feeling very satisfied with ourselves, we looked across at Yuber, and were so amazed at what he had accomplished and his positive attitude. He had hopped up this mountain on one leg, relying mostly on his upper-body strength to pull him up. Turns out, this guy is a mountain biker and still competes on a normal bike against people with two legs. He is quite an incredible individual. We found out that he lost his leg five years ago while mountain biking. A trailer hit him and just left him there to die. On his Facebook he shares more of his story and attitude towards life: “Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone, the future is not guaranteed.”

Next we were prepared a first class, Peruvian dinner, that even included a bottle of wine from the vineyard we were going to in a week. Full and high on life, we made a small climb down and across (in the dark) to our private capsule – this may have been the scariest part. This was such a treat. Not only could we lay looking at the stars in our transparent capsule hanging off a mountain in the middle of the Sacred Valley, but we were able to do this on a plush, queen size mattress – pure bliss. And not to be too crude, but the best view I’ve ever had while sitting on a toilet – my apologies to the Chinese girls, but I was not hindering my view by closing the curtains. We easily drifted off to one of our best sleeps ever and awoke early to enjoy another fabulous meal for breakfast.

Now time for some effortless fun. The way down consisted of 6 different zip-lines before arriving at the base where we began the adventure. We had a complete blast as we flew through the air taking in the impressive scenery along the way. If you’ve never zip-lined before, you really should try it. It is completely safe and there is absolutely nothing scary about it – it’s only peaceful and fun. Once down, we took some group photos, exchanged emails, and made our way back to Cusco.

Remi Rufai is the Natura Vive’s photographer and took some great photos of us and the experience 🙂

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The Santa Cruz Trek

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When researching beforehand for our time in Peru, I discovered a trek that I was even more excited about than the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This trek was the Santa Cruz trek that takes place in the Cordillera Blanca, just outside of Huaraz. This 31-mile trek that spans across valleys, steep, snowcapped mountain peaks, rivers, and large, brightly colored lagoons, is revered by many as one of the best and most beautiful hiking routes in the world. Reaching an altitude of 15,580 feet (4,570 m) above sea level, this posed quite the challenge for two people that’s lived most of their lives down on the ground. We were supposed be picked up at 5:50 in the morning, but as we patiently waited outside our hostal, the van never came. Sore and exhausted from the trek the day before, I have to admit I was slightly hopeful that they had forgotten us. However, 30 minutes later they came rolling up, and we got into a tightly packed van with 8 other hikers.

The drive into the mountains was an adventure in itself. We drove a total of 6 hours with the last half being up a winding dirt road that seemed to never end. The views we saw on the way up were only a preview of what was to come. Since it is the rainy season in the highlands, we were taking a gamble on whether we would even get to see the incredible scenery or not. As we began our walk, we were immediately reminded of this as it started to rain. Fortunately, it didn’t last long and we were able to march to exhaustion in mostly dry clothes. The start of the walk is on a trail that winds its way in-between villages. It was fascinating to get to see a glimpse of what life is like living in the Andes. Along this walk, we were passed with ease by locals that were unaffected by the altitude, stampeded by donkeys, and played with some local kids who had set up a road block. They were so cute and we thought it was all fun and games until they wouldn’t let us through. “Propina! Propina!”, they would yell. This means “tip” in Spanish, so we gave them a bag of M&Ms and this seemed to do the trick. After a steady uphill climb, we reached an amazing valley with stunning views of the Andes around us, horses and cattle grazing, and a peaceful river running beside us. With the level of difficulty being low and the scenery so beautiful, I just wanted to walk in this valley the entire time. After 5 hours of walking, we set up camp near a stream, ate supper, used the local facilities (aka the nearest bush), and let the soothing sounds from the babbling brook lull us to sleep.

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We woke up early the next day to get a head start on our most challenging hike; and since it typically rains in the afternoon, we wanted to try and get the majority of the hike done before the rain rolled in. It was a bit cloudy, but every now and then there would be an opening allowing us to see the sun illuminating the snowcapped peaks. With this impressive scenery, you are really able to understand what people mean when they talk about mountains being majestic. The mountains were so tall. I’m not sure if I ever saw where they stopped. As we walked and took in the splendor of the Cordilleras, we were amazed at how high they were. But then a cloud would move and you would see another level of mountains unfold, and then another – it was insane viewing this slideshow. We then began our steepest ascent to the Punta Union pass. Staggering our way up this steep, rocky path, we felt the altitude take its toll. While our heads throbbed, we gasped for air, and paused every 15 minutes for water, the donkeys carrying the camping equipment trotted passed us and the donkey drivers ran alongside them. They made it look so easy! Halfway up this steep ascent, we decided to refuel and take our lunch break with easily one of the best lunch views I have ever had. We sat across from a beautiful stone-grey mountain with a sharp peak covered with snow. It must be too good to be true – and it was. Not quite finished with our lunch, it began to hail. We put in a post-lunch batch of coca leaves and began our race against the weather to the top. Even with new energy and motivation, this still was not an easy task. We were cold, wet, and still couldn’t catch our breath. After another steep, 30-minute climb, we reached the top. The view of the turquoise lagoon below was remarkable, but we due to clouds, we weren’t able to see the snowy peaks surrounding it. But the hardest part was behind us! It was all downhill the rest of the way.

Our guide informed us that we only had 2 more hours before reaching camp. Speaking of our guide, she wasn’t exactly skilled at time forecasting. First of all, she didn’t speak any English, therefore never felt the need to inform us of anything going on. But if she said 2 hours, what she really meant was 3 or 4. And if she said 4 hours, what she really meant 5 or 6. So we just learned to adjust her timeclock and carried on. However, this was our first time going downhill so we really thought maybe it was only 2 hours. After 2 and a half hours had passed and we were all alone, we began to wonder if we had made a wrong turn. When 3 hours had passed and the rain increased, I started to keep my eye out for a cave to crash in for the night. Fortunately, we saw our tents in the distance. Another half hour and we had made it. But our clothes were soaked and we were freezing. This was definitely the most difficult night for us – it was impossible to get warm! We all sat in the dinner tent shivering. With a small tent and 10 people inside, you would think we would be able to accumulate some heat. However, the zipper for the entrance was broken and it just flapped about in the cold wind. We ate around 6:00 and immediately went to our tent to see if our body heat and sleeping bags would do the trick – no such luck. The rain had gotten our sleeping bags wet and the floor of the tent. As we laid there shivering, Hanna stammered that she wished we could just go home tomorrow and not have to spend another night in the cold. We woke up to more poor weather, and Hanna’s wish was granted as we gladly accepted our guide’s proposal to shorten the trip by a day. This meant we would have to eliminate a loop that included viewing the Artesonraju mountain, which is where the movie production company, Paramount Pictures, received the inspiration for their logo. But being wet, tired, cold, and not even 100% sure we would even be able to see it, we unanimously elected to finish the trek. We did this in about 7 hours, but it was all downhill. It was nice getting a “breather” from being out of breath, but this was killer on the knees. Each steep step down on the loose rocks became more difficult as the wear and tear on the knees worsened. Back at our hostal, a warm shower and bed never felt so good.

While this doesn’t sound like a very glamorous trip, it was truly a spectacular journey. The scenery we saw was unlike any I have ever seen in my life – quite possibly the prettiest in the world. We were also able to gain a true sense of accomplishment as we endured this treacherous hike in the altitude and “roughed it” in the wilderness. The Inca Trail would surely be a piece of cake compared to this! Machu Picchu, here we come

Huaraz & Laguna 69

We arrived to Huaraz on an overnight bus that took 8 and a half hours from Lima. Huaraz is a dusty city that sits right in the middle of the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra, which is the highest subtropical mountain range in the world. Surprisingly enough, this congested, run-down city was far busier than we imagined it would be. At all hours of the day, deeply rooted Peruvians crawled the street. If you could tolerate the noise, rain, and exhaust fumes, this was an amazing place for people watching. For starters, if you drive a car in Huaraz, it also must come with an invisibility cloak. At least this is what they must think. Every driver feels the need to constantly honk their horn – and for no reason at all! Every few seconds the driver would just honk the horn as if to say, “Hey, look at me, I am driving a car”. It was really quite bizarre, and a bit annoying after a while. But my favorite people to watch were the old women. They were so important with their big colorful skirts and tall top hats tilted to the side. It was fascinating seeing that this traditional Peruvian look is still very much in fashion. So what were all these people doing in this run-down town? They were going to the local market, that’s what. The women were selling hats, their own produce, and hand-knitted beanies and gloves. The main market is in a big warehouse jammed packed with most anything you would never want – unless you really have a need for dead animal heads. There is a limited amount of time that you can spend in the market (for us 20 minutes) because the pungent odors trapped inside this congested area soon becomes too repulsive to handle. So what brings tourists to this rather unremarkable habitat? The mountains, of course.

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Laguna 69

We (or Lucas) really wanted to do the 4-day Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca. However, Lima is at sea level and Huaraz is at 10,000 ft. above sea level. So in order to acclimate ourselves and see if we would be able to do the trek or not, we decided to do a day trek to Laguna 69 beforehand. Laguna 69 is a magical place that will take your breath away – figuratively and literally. We were picked up from our hostal, Casa Ana – which she is about the nicest host one could ask for – at 05:50 and driven 3 hours into the Cordillera Blanca. Just outside of the Huascaran Park we stopped to have breakfast and bought water and coca leaves for the trek. The ride into the park was absolutely stunning. There were steep mountains all around and big, fluorescent blue lakes the entire way. We had almost decided we didn’t even need to do the trek because we had seen so much beauty already. But, we decided to march on. The trek took a total of 5 hours – 3 hours up, 2 hours down. Even though the level of difficulty of the trek was low and we had done much more difficult treks in Norway, not being adjusted to the altitude made this our most challenging trek yet. We took our time, drank water every 15 minutes as recommended, but still found ourselves gasping for oxygen that just wasn’t there. Only one thing kept us moving: the majestic image in our mind of Laguna 69. With much effort, we continued to put one foot in front of the other as we chewed away at our coca leaves. It is said that coca leaves – which is what cocaine is made from – has many useful benefits such as providing energy, acting as a pain reliever, and aiding in the prevention altitude sickness. Whether this is true or not, we continued to jam our cheeks full of these bitter leaves just in case. This day trek starts at 12,465 feet and ascends to 15,090 feet—higher than the highest mountain in the continental United States. Of course, the majority of this climb is right before you reach the lake. However, this made it all the more rewarding. When we finally reached the summit, our senses were treated to the most remarkable lake we have ever seen. Created from a melted glacier, this crystal clear, turquoise lake stands out even more next to the gray, rocky backdrop that races up to the snow tipped mountain peaks in the sky. We ate our lunch while we took in this wonder, and then tested the water to see if we would take a dip. The temperature of the water was no more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so we decided we would wait until next time. We started back down right as it began to rain, and it did so most of the way down. Prompted by the altitude, halfway down we both had throbbing headaches that lasted the rest of the day. But we had done it. We tortured ourselves in order to ready our bodies for the next 4 days and saw some pretty miraculous sights in the process. Once back to our hostal, we murdered a pizza and then went straight to bed to get rested for the next 4 days in the mountains.

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The 6-day Saga of the Galapagos Islands

We arrived to Baltra Island and then driven a short distance down to the clear, turquoise harbor. We were greeted by a very lazy and unfriendly controls officer; a sea lion laying on a bench. Any time someone else tried sitting on the bench, he immediately began barking orders to get up. There were 3 large yachts and 1 old, oversized-looking sailboat. Which one did we choose for our 6 days on the ocean? The sailboat. We wanted to experience all the charm the Galapagos had to offer. And if you have no issues with seasickness on a cramped boat with tiny cabins, this boat had tons of charm and character. Actually, this boat made the experience all the more special. We really felt like we were experiencing the islands and getting in touch with the ocean like Darwin did, as opposed to a luxurious vacation on a big yacht. We chose this trip because the itinerary explored the western islands, which has not been open to tourists very long, and only 3% of the land has inhabitants; and of course, Isla Isabela is the home to the Galapagos Penguins. We hopped from island to island with the longest voyage lasting 12 hours. There were 11 of us tourists and 6 crew members. Every person on board was extremely friendly and a pleasure to be around. We were served 3 fabulous Ecuadorian meals a day and the cook always had a delicious snack waiting for us when we arrived back from our daily excursions.

The Galapagos Islands are everything people say they are, and more. Something that makes this place so special and unlike any other place on earth is how well preserved it is. They realize what a treasure it is and go to extreme measures to make sure it stays this way. All the islands are equal in beauty, but each one is completely unique and offers something different from the other – it all is according to each island’s volcano, what type lava it produces, and how recently it last erupted. Our daily activities included hiking the landscape, learning about the wildlife and different species each island has, snorkeling, safaris in the dinghy, and stargazing – being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no influence from outside lighting, the stars were unreal. We will now elaborate on our daily activities:

 

Day 1

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The first day was mostly just a warm up of what was to come. We disembarked from the harbor on a 2 hour ride to Dragon Hill. This journey gave us a taste of the open sea and revealed to us whether the motion of the ocean would be a problem for us or not. Unfortunately, Hanna has some loose crystals in her head already, and this caused her to suffer from dizziness anytime the boat was moving. But she did not let this get in her way of enjoying paradise. We took a hike up Dragon Hill with the landscape much like that of the desert. We were acquainted with the incredible Galapagos land iguana. Basically, it was a mini dragon. However, it was huge for an iguana. Its brilliant yellow-orange color and robotic motions made this creature seem prehistoric. There were many of them along our walk amongst other types of wildlife such as lava lizards, but mainly birds. We made our way back to the boat in the dinghy – which is just the rubber inflatable boat with a motor used as our taxi – and were treated to our first of many, absolutely stunning sunsets. As the sunset formed a silhouette around our sailboat, it truly was a picturesque setting.

 

Day 2

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We made it to Isla Isabela early in the morning and explored an island containing a mass surplus of marine iguanas. These large, dark gray, Godzilla-looking iguanas were spread everywhere across the hardened lava. We really had to watch our step due to how many of them there were and since they blended in with the lava. We visited the “kindergarten” – as our guide called it – that had hundreds of young iguanas piled on top of each other. They weren’t extremely friendly as they kept spitting or sneezing at us. We learned they do this because they do not produce sweat and this is the only way they can perspire. It was on this island were we saw our first shark as well. It was the Galapagos shark and we were able to admire it up close as it drifted in this lagoon getting its weekly cleaning from the other fish.

We then rode over to the actual town of Isabela: Puerto Villamil. It was quite unremarkable, but is the host of a Galapagos Giant Tortoise sanctuary. This was truly something special to see – they were huge! They can weigh up to 1000 pounds and live close to 200 years old. Seeing these prehistoric beasts move around in person was definitely a highlight of the trip. We saw all different age groups of the tortoises from newly hatched, to great great grandpa – and they did look like grandpas. If just seeing these remarkable creatures wasn’t enough excitement, we were actually so lucky to witness two male tortoises fight over a female, with the winner claiming his prize. I began to film the rare occasion, but then realized this was going to go on for quite some time, as there is no rush in a tortoise’s thrust.

The rain pouring down, lightning, and thunder did not stop us from practicing our snorkeling skills in a lagoon before returning back to the boat for the evening.

 

Day 3

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Okay, cool, we went to an island with an active volcano that last erupted in 2005. Now on to the part I had been waiting on; snorkeling with a Galapagos Penguin. There were two penguins where we had snorkeled the day before, but I wasn’t able to see them that well. But now that I was more comfortable with my snorkel gear in the water, it was on. We jumped off of the dinghy into the fresh, cool ocean and I spotted a penguin about 20 yards away. With no thought to anyone or anything else, I raced to catch it. I passed an impressive sea turtle along the way but I didn’t even give it a second glance; I wasn’t missing my opportunity to swim with the penguin. As I paused to catch my breath and search the area for the penguin, suddenly he was right in front of my face. In this brief moment of eye contact, I waved, and I’m pretty sure he said, “What’s up” – best friends right away. We then chased fish together (or the penguin chased fished and I chased the penguin) until I was completely exhausted and out of breath. While penguins cannot fly, they are little torpedoes in the water and I was using every bit of my energy to keep up with it. And just like that, he was gone. Except for that one time at band camp, it was the best 60 seconds of my life.

There was also much more excitement going on in the water besides my first penguin encounter. We saw so many pretty colored fish swimming around, sea lions being sea lions, blue footed boobies performing their kamikaze attacks into the water, sea turtles being the definition of “chill”, and the cormorant bird hunting for fish. The cormorant is a special bird that displays a perfect example of evolution. Adapting to the rich collection of fish around the Galapagos, it lost its ability to fly and now is an impressive swimmer that hunts fish. I even captured a successful hunt and capture of a fish on the GoPro. It was a great snorkeling experience, with even more greatness to come.

 

Day 4

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Do you watch Planet Earth? If not, what’s wrong with you? If you do, then you may have seen some footage from the island we visited on this day. We visited Fernandina Island, where an intense scene from Planet Earth II was filmed. In this scene, a marine iguana hatchling is born and attempts to get to the safety of the ocean. However, predators await. As the iguana sprints across the rocks and sand, the Galapagos Racer Snakes dart out from the cracks. In a dramatic pursuit, the snakes wrap around the iguana, but the iguana breaks free to safety at the last moment. While we didn’t get to witness this action packed drama, we did see both species at separate intervals. It was an absolutely beautiful island, and the newest island of the Galapagos.

Next, we cruised another two hours to Volcan Wolf, taking in the beautiful scenery and wildlife along the way. The passage goes between Volcan Darwin of Isabela and Fernandina, so the setting was magnificent. When we arrived to “Turtle Bay”, we had the most incredible snorkeling experience. We disembarked from the dinghy into the frigid waters of the cove. Immediately there were schools of bright colored fish feasting off the sculpted pink coral below. As we snorkeled our way along the rock island, each area unfolded a higher level of wildlife – it was unreal. All of a sudden we were in the midst of dozens of large sea turtles. We ceased swimming and just let the swift current move us in and out as we admired and floated alongside the algae-covered turtles. Right on cue, the next level of wildlife unfolded. Fifty or more blue footed boobies sped head first into the water capturing the large schools of fish. Large tuna raced around us avoiding danger. There were multiple penguins darting in-between us as they hunted for food. We witnessed sea lions feasting on fish and then playing with the penguins. We were just missing one creature: the shark. As the current picked up, I let myself get too close to the rocky coral and banged my hand up against it. Blood immediately rushed out. It could be coincidence, but I take all the credit for what happened next – our first shark encounter. Directly beneath me was a Galapagos shark. Fueled with adrenaline, I swam towards the shark to try and capture it on film. However, a quick realization halted my pursuit: I’m bleeding and I’m swimming towards a shark. Are you dumb?? I headed back to the dinghy and let the rest of the snorkelers admire the wildlife. Soon after, we got back on board the Encantada and headed for our next destination. Along the way, we passed over the equator as we entered into the northern hemisphere.

 

Day 5

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To start the day off with a bang, we woke up with two black tip sharks circling our boat. Standing on the back of the boat with our GoPros in the water, we were able to get some close footage of the sharks swimming – sometimes a bit too close for comfort. We had a walk on the black beach of Floreana Island where Hanna took a dive in a beautifully blue lagoon with sea lions to retrieve some trash. We walked back and then snorkeled from the beach where we saw many more fish, a seahorse, an octopus, and two sharks. It was neat swimming through the cavernous-like structures of coral as we embraced the wildlife.

Back on board, we headed three hours more to the red beach of Rabida. This is said to be one of the most beautiful portions of the islands. With a large volcano high up in the sky, lush green forest beneath it, and then a crimson red sand beach touching the turquoise water, it was easy to see why. We took a small hike that revealed a beautiful view of the beach beneath us on one side, and a cool blue cove on the other. We walked back down and did our last bit of snorkeling. We saw more of the same, with the most notable being two octopi mating. Back on board, we enjoyed a toast with the crew over the last sunset, dinner, and then stargazing.

Day 6

The last day was very short. We woke up early to catch a beautiful sunrise and then circled Daphne Island, where you can see part of the crater of the volcano. We enjoyed our last bit of sun before returning to Baltra Island where our plane awaited to take us away from this paradise. However, we didn’t shed too many tears, as our adventures in Peru were awaiting us.

Amazonas

The Jungle: When you think you have reached its depths; you have barely scratched the surface. The Amazon Jungle is a truly remarkable ecosystem. There are 8 countries that make up this jungle, and we decided to make our visit from Ecuador. We took an overnight bus from Quito that drove 7 hours east before dropping us off to wait on our next bus. Fortunately for us, our waiting place was a restaurant that let us use their hammocks and wifi. With monkeys waking up in the trees around us, we already felt like we were in the jungle. After breakfast, a hot, steamy school bus picked us up to drive us the rest of the way. We drove 2 more long hours on an extremely broken up road until we came to a river. There were tons of palm trees, cacao trees, and mosquitos; this must be it, right? We then hopped on an extremely long fiberglass canoe with a speedboat engine, and were off. This turned out to be quite the smooth treat compared to the bumpy journey we just had. We navigated our way down the river as our guide pointed out all the wildlife along the way (I’ll get more into this later). Another 2 hours deep into the jungle and we had finally made it to our home, being welcomed by a 10-foot Caiman at our dock.

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We booked our trip to the jungle with Ecuador Green Travel agency and they set us up with the Siona Lodge. The lodge sat right on the lake and consisted of multiple huts for our living quarters. The living conditions were actually quite nice. We had a door, a roof, a bed with a mosquito net, and although no electricity, we had cold water for a shower – which became a necessity before bed in an attempt to cool us down for the night. Yep, this was jungle paradise.

It was nearly dusk when we arrived, so we just got ourselves situated and went back on the boat to watch the sun go down. We even took a dip in the Amazon River to get some much needed relief from the heat (our evening ritual). Later that night, we took a hike into the jungle for our activity. We followed our guide deeper into the dark, mysterious jungle as he would spotlight the various creatures we came across. We got to know many different insects and spiders and even shook all eight hands of a terrifying tarantula that our guide introduced us to. At one point, we were instructed to turn off our flashlights and just listen to the sounds of the jungle. As we stood there and listened to the deafening orchestra lead by the cicadas and giant grasshoppers, it dawned on me just how far from civilization we really were. The melodies were quite peaceful; if you were able to ward of the pesky mosquitos and quiet the thoughts in the back of your mind that kept wondering what creepy crawler could be inches away from you. After a few more poisonous frogs, snakes, and caterpillars, we made it back to our lodge where supper was waiting on us. After an exhausting day of travelling and on no sleep, we shovelled down the food and quickly fell into a deep slumber in the lumber.

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In a brief summary, we explored the jungle, took a night cruise looking for the nocturnal creatures (snakes, caimans, owls, spiders, etc.), did some early morning bird watching from the boat, chased the Pink River Dolphins, and visited an indigenous community 2 more hours into the jungle, all while taking in the various wildlife around us. We saw so many fascinating creatures of the Amazon, however, without the precision sighting of our guide, we would have missed so much. Every day I was more amazed at how good he was at spotting different wildlife. Whether it was the tiniest monkey of the Amazon (6 inches long) high up in a tree, or a camouflage poisonous frog lying on a log, nothing got passed him. Often times we would spend a lot of time trying to locate the animal he had spotted. And even with his precise direction and use of binoculars, sometimes we still had trouble finding it. After 10 minutes of searching, his eagerness would turn into frustration, and then into joy when we would finally see the hidden creature he spotted a mile away. Rain or shine, daylight or darkness, this guy was a master for finding wildlife. I would not want to play a game of “Eye Spy” against him. With the help of Neiser, we were able to see 8 different species of monkeys, almost every bird imaginable (with the beautiful Macaws always being the crowd-pleaser), the 2-toed Sloth, so many interesting insects, anacondas, frogs and lizards, multiple Pink River Dolphins, turtles, lots of fish, and of course, the famous Piranha.

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One of our favorite experiences was the trip to the indigenous village, the Siona tribe. It was quite incredible witnessing a group of people that have lived in the jungle for hundreds of years. However, it wasn’t exactly how we pictured it. While they still are deeply enriched in their culture, it was much more modernized than we had imagined. Instead of teepees and headdresses, there were houses, construction, and mostly normal clothes. We learned a few introduction phrases in their language such as, “Ji ma me, Lucas”, and visited one of the local women that taught us hands-on how to make yucca bread. It is a relatively easy process that simply includes peeling the yucca, grinding it, draining it, and placing it on a clay pan on top of burning logs. A few minutes on each side, and you have some natural, very tasty, flatbread. After checking out the local school where children are taught their language, Spanish, and a little English, we sampled some interesting local fruit that come in pods. When you open it up, there’s this white, cotton candy looking substance that tastes really good – the cotton candy of the jungle. After that, we walked through the jungle and saw the biggest tree I had ever seen, and then rode a bit further down the river to wear the Shaman is. The Shaman is the village doctor and usually begins training at a very young age, around 12 or so. The “graduation ceremony” consists of the Shaman in training ingesting a potion from a plant that causes the person to go on a “trip” that reveals one’s true self. However, some see scary images resulting in a really bad trip, and therefore do not go on to become Shamans. Our Shaman was 60 years old and has treated himself all his life. In doing so, he has never had to go to the hospital. As a demonstration of how they treat patients, the Shaman performed a ceremony on me that involved some chanting and a plant being waved over me. While I desperately tried to feel the energy, all I felt was the heat and nagging mosquitoes. Nevertheless, it was a neat experience to be apart of. We then we watched him show off his hunting skills as he used his large blow gun with a poisonous dart.

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Our trip to the jungle was an absolutely incredible experience that we are so glad we went on, however, it was quite nice to get back to civilization with electricity, AC, and a warm shower.