Monday, November 14, 2011

Road to Manu National Park

Driving to Manu National Park was such a remarkable experience that it deserves a blog post of its own. The trip from Cuzco took us more than eight hours, most of which we spent on narrow, windy, often muddy, mountainous dirt roads, dangerously close to 1,000-feet-high cliffs. On more than one occasion the wheels of our truck were less than an inch away from the edge of the road, causing our hearts to go to our throats. Some of our travel companions felt quite anxious about it, but Anil and I enjoyed ourselves a lot. Yes, the road was bad and potentially dangerous, but we've seen and survived worse. As scary as it was, not even for a second did we think that our lives were in actual mortal danger. Our driver was extremely good and cautious, and we completely trusted his judgment. Never, ever did he do anything that we would consider even vaguely dangerous, so instead of worrying, Anil and I decided to take in the views–which were fabulous.

First we passed several archeological sites located near Cuzco, including the famous Saqsaywaman Ruins. In fact, the ruins looked so interesting from our truck window that we decided to visit them upon returning to Cuzco, at the end of our trip.

An hour or so later, we arrived in the historic city of Pisac, where we stopped for breakfast. Our guide took us to a local, family-run, hole-in-the-wall type of restaurant, where we had delicious strong Peruvian coffee, and equally delicious bread with cheese. Sometimes the simplest food tastes the best, especially when consumed in interesting company. Breakfast gave us a chance to get to know our travel companions for the next four days: Elody–a French news journalist stationed in London; Jayne and Matt–a British couple, both lawyers, on their six-month-long honeymoon through South America; and Jane’s sister Christine–also a news journalist from London, who was joining Jayne and Matt for the Peru leg of their trip. I have to say that all these people were very friendly, easy-going, considerate, and fun to talk to, and they all greatly contributed to making our trip to Manu National Park extremely enjoyable. Not only did we share many interesting conversations, but also throughout the trip I felt that they were trustworthy, and I could count on them to watch my back and support me when needed. Many of those qualities manifested themselves already during the breakfast, when everybody was sharing their food, hand sanitizer, and tissues, and when one of our travel companions offered to pay for everybody’s meal.

After we left Pisac, the road got narrower and rougher, and our truck seemed to struggle hard every time we had to make a steep climb up one of the several mountain ranges that were separating us from Manu NP (all in all we climbed over 17,000 feet/5,000 meters). The landscape had changed as well, and it became both rougher and more pristine. Occasionally, there were some farms here and there, but for the most part we could just see bush-covered mountains, and a few snow-covered mountain peaks in the distance. There were also a few villages and small towns along the way, and some locals going around their business in typical Peruvian clothes (see the photos below). We visited one of those little towns, but more about it in the next post.

Finally, after around six hours of driving, we got into the cloud forest and the official entrance to Manu NP. From then on, the drive became even more spectacular. We found ourselves surrounded by dense jungle, alive with thousands of exotic birds, monkeys, and other animals. There were also hundreds of waterfalls and millions of butterflies. I have never seen so many and such diverse butterflies, so I took hundreds of photos of them, which I’m also going to share here in a few days.

On the way to our final destination we also visited a local bakery and a coca plantation, which made the trip the more interesting, and reinforced my belief that every trip is about the journey, not the destination. Though in this case, the destination and the journey were equally fascinating and rewarding. So, if you would like to visit the Amazon Jungle of Manu NP during your trip to Peru, do not get discouraged by the long drive it entails.

Two short movies shot through the truck's window–we drove like this for eight hours!