The brevity of our Amazon Rainforest possibilities had nearly instantly sparked an idea for a whole new trip where this vast, lush jungle would be the absolute focus. That would be for another year, though. For now, we were privileged enough to make do with a 4 day/3 night excursion, making our way to some historical villages not too far from Cuzco before settling into the elevated cloud forest for our first overnighter.
I don’t remember the name of the location we visited, but one of its main features were scattered graveyards in which the indigenous locals had gone through a unique mummification process after they had died. Our guide, Bylly, cited some of the differences compared to the more commonly known Egyptian mummification processes. Here, the corpses were placed in a fetal position compared to the upright mummies seen in Egyptian pyramids and tombs. They were also brought to mountaintop glaciers for some time to help dry them out. Also, the bodies were cleaned of their organs and brain. A fruit-bearing tree called molle was used to help preserve the bodies; while the trees average 2-3 metres in height, the fruit is small, red, and grape-like and excretes a milky substance which itself is the preservative. While some tombs are positioned to face the highest peak in Cuzco, others are facing the glaciers for reasons unknown. Some corpses have also been discovered with the owner’s mummified dogs as well.
Tradition dictates that the dogs are meant to help guide the fallen spirits through the darkness underground, in search of a hidden bridge. This particular indigenous tribe, which I’m kicking myself for having not written down the name of, believed in multiple levels of reality, or different worlds. The sky world is known as hanaq, the land work is kay, and the underworld is uhu. Also, each world has its own ruling deity, or pacha; the condor is the god of the sky world, the puma is the god of the land world, and the snake rules the underworld. Bylly was really pleased at any questions we had to ask and readily indulged us with as much information as his memory had stored.
Several hours later, we’d passed through the border of Manu National Park and began descending into the cloud forest. Its physical features are exactly as one would imagine. The surrounding mountains capture the precipitation, giving the land a misty quality. Due to the elevation and frequent rain, the air is still much cooler compared to the lowland jungle that houses some of the more tropical flora and fauna. After stopping briefly at a waterfall for some pictures, we continued on to our lodging, a couple of hundred metres off of the gravel road that we drove upon.
The accommodations were just right for this type of getaway; wooden lodgings with very limited electricity, a space for communal dining and hectares upon hectares of surrounding forest. The trees nearby were riddled with swinging monkeys for a brief period before dinner. Several of us sat around on tree stumps, hot tea or coffee in hand as we took in the sights and sounds.
That evening, we had dinner made by some of the locals who stay at the lodge for most the year. As I had mentioned in a previous post, they do tend to “Americanize” the food they prepare for travelers. I suppose this is due to demand, but I will still never understand someone signing up for an Amazon getaway and expecting cereal, bacon, and eggs for breakfast and burgers for dinner. However, I think the lack of authenticity regarding the food was a little overemphasized upon our signup for this excursion, perhaps based on the assumption that Teresa and I were part of those who created such a demand. Lucky for us I suppose; each and every meal was very enjoyable.
We crashed early that night, ready for a predawn walk the following morning in search of an exotic bird indigenous to this area of the world, known as the “cock-of-the-rock”. Several travelers came prepared with binoculars and the two guides were willing to lend us theirs, as well. We saw numerous birds and eventually saw a few of these highly colourful cock-of-the-rocks towards the end as well. We had been hoping that the hike would be through a narrow, bushy jungle path even deeper into the forest than our lodging. As it turned out, we just walked back up the road from which we had driven the previous afternoon. While there was little to no traffic the majority of the time, and we were eventually treated to some visuals of winged wildlife, our imaginations had taken us somewhere a little more off the beaten path than our feet would ultimately take us.
Still, though, to even be trekking through the Amazon Jungle at some capacity is a true privilege and at some point, we will have the opportunity to return to South America with this at the forefront of our priorities.
Next time, the heated, tropical lowland jungle…inaccessible by any land vehicle and truly surrounded by vibrant, active wildlife.