Jungle living & volunteering-the winding road from Cusco to Atalaya

Sometimes the arrival can be an adventure all on its own. Leaving Cusco to live in the jungle. The day had finally arrived, weeks  of anticipation were over, and I almost missed it..Sort of. I’d spent all night packing things up. I was taking an insane amount of food-I was sure no other volunteers that had gone out there had taken so much crap.

But I was determined.

What if they didn’t have…say crackers? Or Rum and Coke? Some things were necessities. I was supposed to meet Karina, the volunteer coordinator, and I was already running late. Snoozing the alarm probably didn’t help either.

As I walked out the door, the bags kept spilling things everywhere. I didn’t think I’d even get a cab at that insane hour.  We arrived to the bus stop and I was surprised to see there were so many other people traveling. Men were hoisting cargo onto the roof of the bus-everything gets wrapped with rope and burlap after.

Karina mentioned that I’d be taking supplies with me to give to the guide. I didn’t realize the extent of the supplies until she pointed them out so I’d remember them later-2 or 3 huge bags filled with vegetables, a crate with dozens of eggs, and 2 crates filled with fruit. When the woman who was giving out bus tickets spotted all the food bags, plus the amount of food bags I had brought-she demanded extra payment-another 10 soles. Not bad at all.

I tried to shove my stuff under my legs when I got on the bus and found my seat. I had scored the last seat  in the back row on the bus, at the time I thought this was a blessing.

Little did I know.

Sleep came much later in short bursts accompanied by the occasional head-banging against the window. As we left Cusco, the road ascended to about 4000 meters, with the bus passing through tunnels, small towns, and always hitting speed bumps.

After arriving at the town of Paucartambo, the road made one last uphill climb and then began the downward decent. The ride is long-my bus would take around 12 hours to reach the end of the line, the town of  Pilcopata.

Paucartambo-where I was warmed by the sun

Paucartambo-your last real bathroom break

Don’t be afraid to ask for bathroom breaks on a bus, ever. Anytime I had to go I gently pushed my way up front and gave the word “Senor- porfavor, tengo que ir al bano”, and after a reconfirmation he’d pull over when it was deemed safe. The first time he pulled over I felt kind of bad that I’d stopped the bus.  I hadn’t seen anyone else ask for a bathroom break, and I thought they’d resent me for it.

To my surprise, about 10 other Peruvians (women and children included) hauled ass off the bus and scrambled to different parts to handle their business. As I got off with my huge roll of toilet paper, I could hear the men snickering.  Note to self: next time only bring what you need. The second time, we’d gone deeper into the forest and the road got smaller and smaller.

The bus driver had pulled over in the nick of time, I really had to go-but as I got out I looked around for the protective bush. “No hay ningunos arboles?” (Where are the bushes?) “No senorita”, responded the bus driver, letting out a nervous chuckle. When you gotta go, you find a way to go, right? The local women had their long skirts to hide under. I think that’s another good reason to wear one.

Yup, thats the road right there.

At times as I leaned out the window I couldn’t even see the edge of the road-that’s how close we were. These were some of the smallest roads I’d been on  since traveling in Colombia. The buses flew along at top speed, and honked their way around curves-laying on the horn real thick. Sometimes we’d come to a screeching halt and reverse a bit-which was exciting and terrifying at the same time. All the locals would get up and look out the window. I’d entered a rainforest and it was alive and crawling with life-such a change from the coldness of Cusco!

Spectacular sights and smells

The sweet humid smell started wafting in, and I cracked open my window a bit.  The birds were chirping as they flew by, and interesting /scary looking insects flew in through the window and landed on the seat in front of me. The temperature got warmer and warmer and I began to de-layer. I finally arrived in Pilcopata, which sits at around 650 meters.

We also passed slowly through muddy roads and saw many little waterfalls

It was steaming hot.

I was thrilled. My things were unloaded and I hung around waiting for my guide, David, to show up. When he arrived we went for lunch where I had my last piece of chicken for a long time, and a huge beer.

We took another bus to Atalaya, about a 40 min ride, the first town I encounter that sits along the Alto Madre de Dios River.

Atalaya views of the Alto Madre de Dios River

From there, we dragged the supplies down huge rocky stairs to the canoe. Almost to the house now.

A tourist boat makes it way down the river.

 Jungle living has begun.

Bringing things down-easier said than done

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