Into the Cloud Forest
Sunburnt, my face radiates heat in the dark room. I flop on the bed and kick off my already well worn hiking boots and damp socks.. Freedom. As I instantly relax to the hum of the river and the evening crickets, I recount the perfect day in my head.
Early start - 6:00 am - we all load into a van with exactly enough seats for all 9 of us. With our giant trail bags firmly secured and covered on top of the van, we begin our "8-10 hour" drive to paradise. We take the main road out of Cusco and pass areas of lower wealth, though the majority of the Peruvians seem to live simply anyway. Their culture dates back many years and their traditions are interesting. We stop at a bakery, for example, on the outskirts of the city. Outside the building, was a rather large wood burning stove. Young men were taking the bread out of it with wooden paddles, tied by rope, to 10 foot long sticks (which Could have been young native trees). There seemed to be no sanitary rules for no one wore gloves, special clothes, ect. Our guide told us that the Peruvians are very picky of their bread for they make it a special way - with pork fat being a characteristic ingredient. I really don't care what they used - for it smelled divine. Everyone bought and shared the warm bread just taken out of the oven. A welcome snack for the long winding journey ahead.
The Andes - an expansive mountain chain of tundra like grass and evergreen trees. Trees that share their soil with the potatoes, tomatoes, and the other native crop lands that etch out the mountainside. Trees that become coated brown from the dust plumes that follow the vans that drive along the one dirt road that takes you to the Manu National Park.
We traveled through many native Peruvian towns in these high mountains, where the air was chilly and the elevation reached almost 4,000 meters above sea level. The women of these towns dressed colorfully and were always carrying a basket of goods. Sheep were pulled like dogs on a leash by young boys and pig families ran around freely.
Before entering the park, we stopped in a famous village in the valley. It was built around a gorgeous river. Walls made out of large stones lined either side and flowers of many hues hung from the edges of them like locks of curly hair. After crossing a bridge, the road led to a cathedral with giant blue doors. Inside was quite ornate with walls fills with pictures of angels and saints. The picture frames were gold, for the mountains of the area were filled with it, or used to be.
And as a side note this was also our bathroom pit stop at which I paid 1/2 a sol to use the toilet.
A few hours later, we reached the gateway to the rainforest at the top of a mountain. A spectacular division point of two unique landscapes - look back and you see a short dull green and grassy mountainside with sparse trees - look forward and see only trees of lush green. Though that was what we knew we would see if the clouds didn't block our view. The first tropical birds could be heard on that cliff. The quiet, cool, and foggy air that I breathed in as I stood there gave me the greatest feeling of serenity I have ever known.
After that short, but momentous break, we piled back into the van and made our way into a vastly different landscape.
When the sun was at its highest, we pulled over at a little grasy ledge on the mountainside - kinda like a Heidi moment but in the rainforest. Mountains of trees surrounded us as we ate lunch. Chicken and rice with carrots and onions, a meat and cheese sandwich, an orange, crackers, and a piece of nut & fruit filled Peruvian Chocolate. I ate it all.
We followed the dirt road for many hours after that along the cloud forest mountainside, but not without breaks. We stopped for several 10-20 min trail walks to experience the nature at the different elevations. Berner introduced us to a special variety of rubus, or blackberry, that they call Macho Macho berries because they are thought to increase men's sexual prowess thus becoming a more Macho Man. I was told they were sour by the guys. I couldn't reach them to taste.
We descended slowly because the road winded down and around the mountain at like a 2 degree declination. We drove under waterfalls and through tunnels. The sky was cloudy and dark, but it never rained that day.
On our walks I listened to the birds, anticipating my first siting of a true tropical bird. Berner, our guide, knew some of their calls and would tell us their names. I didn't know anything. Until. We saw it. A bird of iridescent green. A bird I knew and only dreamed of seeing. It was a Queztal. A rare and coveted creature. It was phantasmagorical.
And the day just kept getting better for shortly after we were lucky enough to witness a group of famous c*** of the rocks - big bright red birds with black wings - they were performing their elaborate mating dances and singing. They were so very beautiful. The funny part was - as a side note - was the fact that we actually snuck into private property to see them. So here I am breaking the rules like I always do, just this time in another country.
The Manu Paradise Lodge was our final stop for the day. Next to a rocky river, surrounded by amazon mountains, The lodge definitely lived up to its name. There was a hummingbird garden in the center, and hummingbirds I had never seen before flitted everywhere. One was called the Violet-fronted Brilliance. With the little daylight we had left After settling in to the lodge I ran off and explored as much as I could. I found a way to the river and took advantage of it. I shared my discovery afterwards with the guys of the group, since the girls were resting. One of the most pleasant civilized suprises was that the bathrooms had hot water and 4 hours of electricity at night.
Later that night we met for a 3-course dinner, which like every meal since I arrived, was delicious and unique. Pumpin soup as an appetizer, trout potatoes rice and salad for the main course and mango (moose*) for dessert. After dinner everyone congregated on the porch fascinated by the varity of moths around the lights - too many to count. There were awesome Blue and black ones with iridescent long angular wings. Then, some were tiny, shiny, and white. My favorite was quite large and looked like a fallen leaf. Then like normal human beings we drank hot beverages and sat inside together passing my ipad around so everyone could draw something with my paper app.
As the night grew older, everyone retreated back to their rooms for a well needed rest. I quickly fell asleep, and surrendered to dreams that have now become reality.