23 Jun Mountains
Written by Jessica Lewitzky, 2016 Peru: Amazon Adventure
“Sleeping bag?” I asked myself.
“Check,” I replied, as I recalled the packing list for the hundredth time.
Once I was sure that I had jammed all of the essentials into my backpack, I made my way out to the dining table to meet the rest of my group. Eager faces and towering backpacks greeted me as we all sat down to eat breakfast. After everyone scarfed down enough food to energise themselves for our forthcoming trek, we tossed on our packs and headed out. All fourteen of us and our group of guides were buzzing with excitement and anticipation as we ventured into the Amazonian high jungle for three days.
Our trek began through the small community of San Roque. The community members were already hard at work drying out coffee beans and opening their Bodegas, although they still managed to squeeze in a goodbye wave for us all. We reached the end of the community and were abruptly faced with a very steep mountain and an army of bugs. Within minutes, the majority of our group, myself included, were already covered in mosquito bites and most definitely feeling the burn in our glutes. The thought of three full days of hiking suddenly seemed very daunting. Our hike continued through the sticky heat for what felt like several eternities. At one point, we were hiking up a hill when our guides pointed out an abundance of large, poisonous ants that are known to deliver bites so painful that they makes their victims cry. As I was imagining the intensity of such a bite, I suddenly felt an intense pinching on the back of my leg. To my dismay, I looked down and saw one of those nasty bullet ants latched onto my leg. I began shrieking in horror as a fellow group member, Jared, heroically swatted the bug off my leg with a stick. Once we reached a clearing, our guide, Joelle, helped assess the damage and follow proper precautions. With a stinging leg and cautious steps, our group trekked onward.
Nine treacherous hours later, our achy feet trudged up one last hill before arriving at heaven’s gates, our campsite for the night. A wave of relief rushed through us all as we dropped our backpacks and scurried into our tents. Dinner was served a mere hour later. Upon finishing, we gathered around a campfire and recomposed ourselves after one heck of a day. With full stomachs and exhausted legs, everyone fell fast asleep.
“Desayuno! Vamos chicos!” hollered our guides from across the campsite.
I rolled over in my sleeping bag, tossed on my shoes, and headed down to the campfire. With another long day ahead, I stomached as much food as possible to fuel myself. To begin our day, our guides walked us down to a rocky waterfall area. A couple people chose to swim, a couple people took photos, and others explored the area. Once our group felt satisfied with our waterfall activities, we headed back up to the campsite to begin our hike for the day. As we were walking up a slippery rock face, a group member, Lindsay, slipped and whacked her head on the rocky ground. Frantically, our group rushed to help her up and ensure she was okay. With minor scrapes, Lindsay, and the rest of us looking out for her, continued on.
Day two provided us with more painfully steep mountains, muddy trails, and relentless mosquito swarms. Our group was slowly but surely making our way up another hill when a group member, Liza, tripped over an unfortunately placed log and ended up rolling her ankle. As our team racked up another injury, we split up into smaller groups to maximise our walking efficiency. Now in two teams and with an increased number of walking sticks, we carried on. Day two stretched on for another handful of hours before we found ourselves at the bottom of a sky-scraping waterfall. We scaled the wall of the waterfall basin and arrived at our second haven, another place to sleep, finally. This time our sleeping arrangements were not the most comfortable, largely because we were to sleep on a wooden floor. After replenishing ourselves with dinner, we configured ourselves into sufficient sleeping positions to prepare for another long day.
Thunder boomed across the mountain range, startling myself and the others awake. Raindrops squeaked through the wooden structure we called home for the night. Our day was already off to a scary and wet start. Suddenly, extra loud thunder (or so we thought) rang close by. One of our guides regrettably informed us that the “thunder” was actually a landslide, and that it had happened on top of our path for the day. Already wet and instilled with fear as to what the final day would hold, we packed up the site and headed onward.
Our group braved the jungle like a group of retired seniors; hunched over our walking sticks plucked from the jungle, speaking incoherent out-of-breath sentences to one another, and stopping every ten minutes for a break. The day dragged on as heavily as the packs we dragged behind us. Hours passed like years before the treacherous jungle claimed its next victim from our group. Sarah had just reached the top of a hill when a stretch of mud awaited her. The mud slipped from under her boots and Sarah’s leg swivelled out to the side, resulting in a rather twisted knee. After gearing our group member up with a new walking stick and a lighter load on her back, we continued on the final stretch of our trek. Mountain range after mountain range passed before our eyes until we reached the road to our home village. Finally seeing the village was an indescribable moment – it felt like fresh warm laundry, the first sip of coffee in the morning, and a gentle ocean tide all at once. We all threw our packs off as quickly as possible and rushed to the showers while the community hosts prepared dinner. After our bodies were cleansed and repaired to the best of our abilities, we all sat around the table. This period provided a time for great reflection to look back on our gruesome three day journey. Thinking back, though, the memories I recalled were much different than the ones shared thus far.
The first day of the hike brought on glorious mountain ranges that stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. Rolling shades of green sprinkled with yellows and reds coated the leafy foliage of the mountains. Our guides were excellently informed and never failed to teach us about each plant and tree we passed. Each fact was followed by a symphony of “oohs” and “aahs”, and the classic question from group member Damian of, “Is it edible?” The endless laughter from our group rung throughout the jungle as we trekked on. We made a stop at a lovely bungalow perched atop a mountain. Our group arranged ourselves on the upper level and snacked on oranges as we looked onto the mesmerising range. A collection of butterflies floated throughout the bungalow. The next stop was at our guide Joelle’s farm. Here we tried lots of local fruit and learned the entire process Joelle and his wife go through while making coffee. Dinner was cooked for us at our campsite; the men prepared a delicious hot soup for our aching bodies. Afterwards, we had the most wonderful, crackling fire. We exchanged ghost stories, rocked out on makeshift instruments, and stared at the thick blanket of stars above. The dying crackles of the fire provided a soothing noise as we all fell fast asleep.
Day two brought on even more beautiful mountain ranges moulded around deep blue rivers. The spirit of the group made the hike feel far less difficult than it was. Our campsite that night was pure magic – a two-story wooden structure, open to the elements, that faced the sky-scraping waterfall. Water flowed down the rock side in thick, cloud-like motions. Steady sound patterns from water currents echoed upwards to our site. Upon nightfall, flashes of lightening illuminated the distant mountains. Our group cuddled up together and reminisced on humorous moments from the trip thus far. The cascade of water and gentle rumbles of thunder lulled us all into a comfortable sleep.
The third morning of this trip greeted us with a soft fog drifting throughout the campsite and surrounding areas. We packed up knowing that within the day we would be back in a safe and comfortable home. Before long, we arrived at an epic gondola across a stunning river. Members worked together to pull everyone across the rocky flowing water below. Our team persevered until lunch where we devoured a smooth and flavourful soup and got to meet two exchange students from Spain. One of the students even played guitar and sang for us once lunch was finished. Lucky for us, most of the hike from this point on was on a flat road that wound through the mountain valley. We arrived back home just as the sun was setting along the horizon.
I will never forget the sense of accomplishment and pride I felt looking back at this whirlwind of a hike our group went through. Throughout the literal and figurative highs and lows, our group persevered with our heads high while creating lifelong memories. I would like to formally thank each and every single person that accompanied our OG group on this hike – you’ve made it all worthwhile. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “You’re off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”