You're never alone in the Andes. Subsistence farms with their tiered gardens and noisy chickens hang tightly to the mountains. Couples much older than I pass you with heavy loads on their backs. A guy on a burro is led by a man holding an old radio to his ear. But still, we've been out there. Until now.
Tonight I am sitting in my tent with two different songs playing in the background. One stereo is thumping loudly from behind, and another radio screams from somewhere off to my left. A car alarm blares. Dogs bark. People laugh. A television shouts in Spanish. After six days in the mountains and five nights in quiet campgrounds with just our group, this is arresting.
Looking through the screen on my tent door, I see a small, open shop selling candy, beer, soda, and other junk food. There is another, nearly identical, store just behind us. When we first rounded the corner in La Palya and spied our six tents lined up in two rows, I was disappointed. Where was the mountain culture I was loving so much? Where was the solitude? I knew I did not want to sleep here, in the middle of noisy La Playa.
Carlos explained that down here in the "jungle" or selva, people are different than in the mountains. The climate is warm, the fruit is lush, and people spend a lot more time outside socializing. They spend their days in shorts and sandals. Their houses are open and so are their personalities. According to Carlos, they are more straight forward, which to me seemed a little aggressive, but understanding the culture did open my heart a little to a different experience.
I hadn't slept well since I arrived in Peru (the altitude messed with my sleep something fierce), so I climbed into my tent and napped.
The day had started with toasted lima bean mush, pureed and mixed with cinnamon and cloves. We drank it from cups and I was surprised at how much I liked it.
The day's walk was gently downhill. I think it was our biggest day for mileage, but it was easy walking and relaxing. We started the trek on a new road--just one year old--and eventually crossed the Rio Tortora to a trail. As we descended, the vegetation changed until we were walking through avocado trees with giant fruit, manioc, lemon, papaya, passion fruit and banana trees and coffee plants. We were in the selva.
And the flowers! Oh my, the flowers were abundant, showy, and gorgeous. It's a miracle I even made it to La Playa.
Changing elevation in Peru is like changing latitude anywhere else. We crossed lots of creeks with waterfalls. Then the Rio Totora jumped around rocks in a churning, frothing gorge. The turquoise water looked like the glacial melt you see in high mountain streams.
Back in my tent, I notice how very stinky I am and look forward to tomorrow's hot springs dip. It's another night without much sleep, but that's a small price to pay for an experience like this.
Plan your own trip
Are you reading along and thinking, "I want to go on a trip like this!"? Call my friend Felicia at Bella Treks, she'll set you up. And it's not just Peru, she goes all over South America, Morocco, Yellowstone, and a ton of other places.