Travel Adventure in Peru - The Jungle
By Vic Hanson
I hadn't been to the jungle yet here in Peru so when my friends Claudia and Cindy invited me to go with them to help do some work at a children's camp in the central jungle, I eagerly accepted. I live in Southern Peru and had to take a 14 hour bus ride to Lima to meet them. From there we took a bus to Huancayo, a city of about 1/4 million people, up at 11,250 feet. We stopped there to visit the pastor who is in charge of the camp, and his family. I was told we would be traveling to the camp in the jungle with them, as well as a construction team from a church in Canada.
When I packed for this trip, I packed to go to the jungle. I didn't know that we would be spending New Years in the mountains at over 11,000 feet. There were a couple of nice days but the first two were cool and rainy, in the 50s, and there was no heat in the houses there. One night we went to an end of the year thanksgiving service at a church, the next night was a concert at another church. Then afterwards a turkey dinner! Interesting cultural differences. My stomach was rebelling a bit, not sure what the problem was but it gave me a good excuse not to eat some of the local food! I am a very fussy eater, even back in the US. No onions tops the list but there are many other items I don't like as well. Lunch one day was smothered in onions - I had salad. The scrambled eggs for breakfast the next morning were filled with onions, but they were cold anyway so I didn't mind passing them by. But the pineapple juice was warm, something seemed a little backwards!
After spending a few days there, I was told that we would leave on Monday morning for the jungle. I was looking forward to getting there and it being nice and warm. As long as I had some extra time, I went to the internet to send some emails and they asked me how long I wanted to use the internet. I said an hour but didn't finish by then so had to ask for more time. At the end of that time, I still hadn't finished but the timekeeper didn't seem to want to extend my time again so I left.
Travel is always an adventure here in Peru and our jungle trip was no exception. We left Huancayo with the Canadian construction team, the local pastor had left earlier. We took a 5 hour bus ride up over a 15,000 foot pass and then headed down to a canyon which took us to the central jungle area of Pichanaki. It was a beautiful drive following the river and canyon, watching the surroundings change from fairly dry and barren to lush green jungle. It was also good to feel the temperature rising as we continued lower, down to about 2,800 feet elevation. We arrived at the road to camp Shankivironi in the afternoon. Unable to find any available taxis, we started shuttling too much luggage and food up to the camp. We were soon met by a couple of the workers, one who took a large sack of food weighing about 75lbs. on his shoulders and another who took some of our bags in a wheelbarrow.
We went to help with the construction of a house for the new Peruvian missionary/pastor and his family. They are from the northern jungle area and after finishing 3 years of Bible training, were getting ready to move to Pichanaki. They arrived at Shankivironi a couple of days after us. The site for the house is on the side of a hill so our task was to dig out the hillside and make a level area for the house. We also used the removed dirt to build up the lower area so fortunately only had to dig a little over half of the total area. Then we dug about 12 holes to put rebar into and pour concrete pillars. We were working with a group of local church members who enjoyed laughing at all the breaks we took due to the heat and not being used to using pick and shovel. In spite of that, and the blisters, the site was almost ready when we finished our time there. The construction foreman did show up the last day and corrected the layout a bit, which added a lot more digging into the hillside where one corner of the building would stick out (the house will consist of 3 offset square sections).
On the afternoon of the first day, we had to stop working because it was raining and the ground was too muddy, so we went for a short jungle hike in the rain. I also went for a 2 hour hike late one afternoon which I really enjoyed, so different from the high desert area where I live. On the morning of the last day, we went to see a couple of waterfalls. When we arrived at the parking area it started raining, so we all bought "ponchos" made out of sheets of plastic (for $.50) so we wouldn't get wet. We hiked up about 10 minutes to the first falls and were enjoying the view when we noticed a sign that said "secret cave", with an arrow pointing towards the falls. Of course we had to check it out so took off our ponchos and waded out into the pond towards the falls. It turned out that the cave was under the waterfalls, so we dived in and enjoyed going behind the falls and playing in the water. Fortunately the water was fairly warm and in spite of the light rain on and off, it wasn't too cold, even though we were soaking wet.
We then went to another nearby falls and played in the river there also, as well as explored up river to see what was around the corner, as we were in a narrow steep canyon. There the current was so strong that we could just barely swim up stream. There were some shallow spots in the river so we were able to get some rest but we finally reached a spot where the current was too strong for me and I wasn't able to make it around the corner. A couple of others did make it but there wasn't anything different there. Then we had a very fast swim back down stream to the falls, which was coming from a second river high above us. It was such an amazingly beautiful place none of us wanted to leave, but as we were getting tired and hungry we finally did. It is definitely an area that I want to return to and spend more time exploring.
The following day we were to leave Pichanaki on a 9:00 am bus, to return to Lima. We used the wheelbarrow to get the luggage down again, and after waiting at the highway for over 20 minutes, finally caught a ride in the back of a truck into town. There we met the Canadian team, who had slept at a hostel in Pichanaki, and headed to the bus station with them. After waiting for about 30 minutes, we were told the bus would be an hour late. Then we were told that the bus we were waiting for was stuck on the other side of a 16,000 foot pass due to a snow storm at the pass. When they finally said the bus had turned around and gone back to Lima, we decided to try other options. Here we were, stranded in a warm jungle because of a snowstorm! The Canadian team of 10 needed to be back in Lima in time to catch a 6:30 am flight the next morning and Claudia, Cindy and I didn't feel like dragging our stuff back up to the camp so we checked all the other bus lines. One bus was leaving at 11:30 and had 4 seats available but that didn't do the team any good as they all needed to go together. Pastor Miguel found a combi (minivan type bus) that was willing to take them to Lima but there wasn't room for all of us in that. Claudia agreed to go with the team as they didn't speak Spanish, and Cindy and I went on the bus. We were hoping that the pass would be clear by the time we arrived there, about 6 hours later, and thankfully it was.
The rest of the team left in the combi before we did and in spite of all the stops the bus made, we passed them within a couple of hours. Their driver was very cautious about passing on the mountain road but our bus driver, who probably did the route every day, had no fear. We made it back it to Lima in 9 1/2 hours and it took them about 11 hours, crammed into a combi with hard seats and no leg room. I was very glad for the comfortable seats in the bus and that I wasn't in the combi. I also got in a lot of prayer time as it was snowing again when we went over the pass, and were passing large trucks all the way up and down the mountain, which was most of the trip, on a very busy 2 lane highway. The 4 lane highway was a very welcome site when we finally arrived in the Lima metro area that evening.
Vic Hanson is the founder of Adventure Cotahuasi Tours, which offers pre-planned and custom adventure travel tours in Cotahuasi Canyon and other areas of Peru.
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