We woke up early today and used the shower that was located right in the bedroom literally next to the bed (very odd...), enjoyed another great buffet breakfast and then packed up to meet Cesar for our trip to Manu. We joined 9 others on the small bus and then stopped at the airport to pick up 2 more people on the way out of town. We started the drive through a much less visited area of Cusco. It looked super run down and a little sad.
The drive took us 11 hours total, but with lots of stops along the way. It showed us a side of Peru that many travelers never see. I found it fascinating to see people in their native dress (and not doing it for the tourists), going about their everyday lives. Woman in super colorful, layered clothing sitting in the fields keeping watch over the alpacas, sheep, cows and pigs. Women and children with giant vats of juice on every street corner, selling cups to the local men. Men working hard creating bricks to finish building their homes. The houses were all covered in symbols that had been painted on - squares with some sort of symbol painted in the middle, some with crosses through them. We were told this is how politicians advertise- they go across the country and paint their symbols on rural houses. There were also crosses on most rooftops with a little ladder leaning against them and a statue of a cow on each side. We asked our guide about them and he explained that they are for good luck and fertility.
Our first stop along the road was at a lake to check out some local birds...this is when we realized we were with a birding crowd on a birding trip (...and we are NOT birders). Everyone was very excited to see these birds (the teals), but when we got off the bus, we realized they were essentially just ducks. The others on the trip were busy excitedly checking birds off their lists, but we just enjoyed the nice stroll along the lake and giggled to ourselves about how this would be our "big year".
At the highest point on the drive, we got a flat tire. This is fairly common since none of the roads outside of Cusco were paved or even close to being smooth. The driver and his 8 year old son worked on changing the tire while we took advantage of the break and just started walking along the road to our next stop instead. As we walked along the road, some local girls who were watching animals in the fields came running up the hill to examine the gringos. They don't see tourists very often and were very curious. One went running ahead to warn the other kids in the town below that we were coming. Finally, the bus pulled up behind us and we hopped back on until we reached our next stop.
We visited two sets of ruins. The first was just the outlines of the old walls of buildings. The second was a bunch of tiny stone huts that looked like brick ovens. Apparently, they were used as burial chambers when mummifying their dead. While we were exploring the second set of ruins, the group of children that had been warned of our arrival came running up the hill and tried to sell us woven bracelets. They were only 2 soles each (less than $1), but they were very aggressive about begging people to buy them. 'Comprame' (Buy from me) they kept saying while looking very sad.
They would clump up and gang up on the weak, and they knew who in the group would give in easily. They would surround them and all try to get their bracelets as close to the face of the prospective buyer as possible. I simply said "No, gracias" very firmly to the first couple, and Kepler and I were then left alone to watch these shenanigans with bemusement. Most people in the group ended up buying one or two.
Next, we stopped at a small town to use the bathroom. The town was tiny and we had to go through an open air butcher shop to get to the pay-per-use bathroom. We walked across one of the oldest bridges in the area to the town square. They were having a singing contest and the first contestant was pretty dreadful! The locals all seemed to be snickering along with us as this woman screeched her way through the song. We hopped back on the bus where we enjoyed our box lunches while the driver and his son patched the flat tire. (The box lunches for this whole trip were not what I expected, and were quite amazing! They always had WAY more than we could eat and included some sort of fabulous typical local dish along with local sides, fruits, vegetables, chocolates and snacks to save for later.)
The road for the rest of the trip was pretty crazy. There was no pavement after the first hour and it was all pretty much one very small lane (though traffic going both directions used it). After a few hours (and lots of napping on my part), we saw the end of the dry, dead landscape and began to descend into the cloudforest. We crossed into the Manu Buffer Zone and it instantly changed from sunny and dry to cloudy, thick air. The dry, dusty hillsides turned into lush, dense rainforest and the roadside became close and thick. We drove on this insanely tiny road the rest of the way, past (and through) waterfalls, over (and through) streams and through the lush vegetation. There were times when one side of the van had vines coming in the windows while passengers on the other side could look straight down a giant drop-off on the mountainside. We kept stopping along the way when the guides spotted unique birds.
We wound our way through the jungle making crazy manuevers anytime we faced an oncoming car or truck. We got out a walked a few times to get a better look at birds and butterflies. As we got closer to the lodge, we stopped and entered a special blocked off part of the forest where we climbed to an observation platform and were able to see about 6 of the national bird of Peru- the Cock of the Rock. The Cock of the Rock is a bright orange bird with a giant round crest over the top of its head. The birds were really beautiful and were trying to display for the females, which was really interesting to watch (okay, we aren't birders, but we are suckers for anything that is really unique and beautiful, especially if it is that colorful!). After watching them for about 30 minutes or so, we continued on to Cock of the Rock Lodge.
The lodge was a cute little set of about 20 individual bungalows. Each one had a tiny balcony and its own bathroom. The were stark and simple with thatched roofs and no electricity. The bed had a giant mosquito net to protect against bugs. There was a main lodge that was the dining hall, guide rooms and a tiny bar all in one. They had open windows all down both sides of the lodge that had screens we could drop down at dinner time. Most of the night, our rooms and the main lodge were lit by candles, but for 2 hours at dinner, they turned on a generator so that the main lodge had power. While the food was fabulous, the screens didn't protect much from the bugs, and the bugs went crazy when the power was turned on. I spent the entire meal fishing critters out of my food and drink...but we were in the amazon so I just figured this is how it would be (...it didn't end up being like this any of the rest of the nights in the jungle, phew!).
After dinner, we all headed to our rooms to go to bed. When we got to our room, we found out that roaches had invaded. Roaches are my biggest phobia and I had spent the past few months mentally preparing myself for this very moment. While I didn't totally freak out, I did make Kepler kill them all (which I think is against the rules) while I spotted them with my headlamp. Once the bodies were disposed of, we quickly jumped into bed, with all our luggage piled around us, and tucked the bed nets securely around the mattresses. I had a little trouble sleeping imagining the roaches creeping back in...