Monday, September 1, 2008

21 August 2008

Santa Teresa ~

Yesterday we spent the day dropping into the Urubamba river valley. Today, we followed the valley. Even though we were tracing the valley, we sometimes were forced to climb steep inclines, getting to over 500 meters above the river. The trails were fantastic. They cut into the side of the mountain and were never more than a yard wide. On one side was a rock wall going straight up and another side was a straight cliff, going down a couple hundred meters. At times it was a straight cliff, but if there was even the slightest angle, the land was being farmed. I don’t know how the land could be cultivated without climbing gear, but sure enough, elderly women would be working the outrageously steep inclines, tending their crops.

If it wasn’t for these locals, the mountainside would probably be covered in brush. However, because the land was in use, a whole score of edible plants were being grown. We were constantly going through mandarin, coffee, cocoa, avocado, papaya, and of course coca fields. In reality, they weren’t fields, but disparate, single rows of crops wherever the landscape enabled anything to grow. It sure is odd to be walking and to encounter coca. In every other country, the crop is illegal and would be burned. In Peru, the plant is a celebrated part of the culture and is literally available everywhere. If you go into businesses, coca leaves are oftentimes sitting in the open in a candy jar for free—like free water or the give a penny take a penny jar. Plus, it has been served at all my meals during the past few days. For this reason, I am starting to enjoy coca tea. If you take it straight without tea, your mouth temporarily goes numb, like a small dose of Novocain. Now I can see this plant being beneficial for dental work, but the locals consider it a panacea, not just a dental numbing agent. Whatever the case, it is too bad that man found a way to take such a wonderful plant and produced such a danger drug. I suppose coca is the Incan form of Sudafed.

As we walked during the day, the temperature seemed to keep increasing. To combat this, we’d purchase water at every opportunity. The options for buying water though weren’t like going to the gas station. You’d be walking along the mountain side with wilderness all around and suddenly you’d encounter a small hut where the inhabitant is selling water, Gatorade, and Oreos. It would blow my mind to encounter a dwelling, especially when I tried to determine how the Oreos got to the store. Whatever the answer, we would sit on a rock outside the building, drinking water and admiring the phenomenal view of the river valley, surrounded by mountains with birds circling below us while monkeys and other exotic animals played all around us.

At one such stop, we had lunch. The lunch was amazing, and I imagine it was all produced from food within a few hundred meters from where we ate it. We started with an asparagus soup followed by some tomatoes, fruit juice, and chicken (probably killed a few hours earlier). Despite all the fresh and exotic food that we were eating straight off of the tree, nothing impressed me more than the avocados. I doubt that I have ever tasted avocado straight off the tree before. Instead, I go to Lunds and pay top dollar for a small, soft, and brown avocado. Not only were they multiple times larger than Lunds, but the taste was so superior due to the freshness and the growing behaviors (without chemicals). It made avocado my favorite food. It also makes me realize the poor quality of the food we get in Minneapolis. Here, I just ate a meal which was sustainable and grown in a natural, poly-cultural environment. The food I eat in the US has been shipped from all over the world and has been treated by who knows what to keep it looking presentable in the store. I doubt I’ve ever had a meal as fresh as this…except perhaps after catching a fish.

After lunch we continued walking, but now we declined back into the river bed. The rapids still were about 5 meters below us, but it was obvious that where we walked used to be underwater. Walking with mountains towering on all sides, it be came awe inspiring that we were relatively close to Machu Picchu—it lay somewhere beyond one of these mountains. The walk was very difficult with the heat and elevation, and I was impressed how easily the whole group made the eight hour hike. Even with lots of cigarettes, these travelers are well conditioned. Additionally, I was surprised how quiet our journey was. I was expecting a bunch of tourist traffic on these amazing trails, but besides the occasional local, I didn’t see anyone outside of our group. This was refreshing because I came with the expectation that this walk would be crowded (like the end of el Camino de Santiago); instead, it was all ours.

As we walked amongst the mountains, just as it was getting dark, we did encounter a group of people because we had hit a destination. We had reached some hot springs, nestled in an Andean valley. We took about an hours break to relax in the spring, and we probably could have stayed all night. These were by far the best hot springs that I have ever experienced. Not only were the pools large, deep, and natural, but they were set upon the most beautiful landscape. The pools were built into the side of the mountains, and you could touch the rocks and feel the host water spring from the rocks. It was perfect after a day of walking and was a true oasis to encounter while roaming through the wilderness.

Photo Credits:
1. Video I took along the path in the morning
2. Some coca plants growing along the trail
3. Adam with a monkey
4. Adam with Incan face paint taken from some wild plant. The paint stained my clothing quite nicely.
5. Hot Springs that we relaxed in at the end of the day.
6. Adam crossing a bridge a la Indiana Jones.
7. Adam along the walk
8. Austin along the walk

No comments: