We had it in mind that we wanted to go to Quillabamba since after Vipassana, when Katya told us of her friend in the jungle who had a house available. Later on it turned out her friend was in fact in another jungle, somewhere North of Lima, so we didn’t know if and when we’d be getting there.
So our jungle plans became pretty undefined, as usual… Until one day, when something happened.
How we decided to finally go to the jungle
It was the day we were coming back down from the Can Can Lagoon. The mamacha had taken us down to Calca, but from there we still had to make it back to Urubamba. Since it was a Sunday the buses and colectivos were pretty rare, so we had no idea how long we’d have to wait by the side of the road. It was after lunch and we were tired, the last thing we wanted to do was be toasted under the bright sun while waiting for the bus.
After a few minutes of that we decided we would try to hitch hike. The first few cars passed by without even the slightest intention to stop. We were getting more and more disheartened, when finally someone took pity on us: Carlos and Willy, two guys who were originally from… wait for it… Quillabamba! They lived in Cuzco, Lima and sometimes Quillabamba, and kept telling us how Quillabamba is the best city in the world, that God himself lives there and that even when the mosquitoes bite you, they do it with the l-o-v-e. That it’s always hot and there are delicious fruits, coffee and honey everywhere. We were sold! We were surprised at the “coincidence” of meeting them while still sorting out our jungle plans, so we exchanged contact information and told them we’d be in touch once we decide to go to Quillabamba, probably some time the following week.
Getting there one week later
A week later we were on a bus to the jungle. It was supposed to take 5 hours but of course we got there 2 hours later than expected. Coincidentally Carlos happened to be in Quillabamba for a few days, so he became out host and guide for the week we were there. It really felt like we had been friends for a life time! He introduced us to his friends and showed us around his home city and some of the cities around. Took us for pizza, strawberry shakes and countless places with good beer. He was also the one who introduced us to ceviche (traditional Peruvian dish of raw fish “cooked” in lemon) and we had an incredible culinary experience. What a great host indeed!
One day he and his friend Hugo took us to the local pool, a fancy space with eating, drinking and bathing places where apparently the people of Quillabamba relax during the weekend. It was quite impressive to find this place there, in the little jungle town, and we were even more amazed to find they had a little zoo with animals from the jungle. I’m not at all a pro-zoos person, but it didn’t seem the most appropriate place and moment for a protest, so I went along with it. It was pretty interesting indeed, with animals I had never seen before in my life. Our favorite was one that looked exactly like a guinea pig, but about 20 times bigger. We could not get enough of watching them eat, with their little hands and big teeth, and Boca expressed her wish of taking one home as a pet. That giant rodent seemed like the perfect instrument for freaking out ones guests, there’s no doubt about that!
How we found Quillabamba
We felt like Quillabamba was not really Peru, but a completely different country. It was much more modern and pretentious than the Sacred Valley, the part of Peru we had become familiar with, and nobody there was wearing the traditional Peruvian clothes. Carlos told us the city was becoming pretty rich because of its gas resources, so the local authorities had quite a bit of money to play around and build fancy swimming pools and fancier buildings. He said people can be poor in Quillabamba only if they don’t want to work, because anyone there can easily find a job. We had found many things were more expensive there than in other parts of the country, and it now made sense why.
We also noticed people there were fairer than the Peruvians in other parts, and we were fascinated to hear a bit about the history of the city. Apparently the city was founded in 1857, when a group of Spanish from Lima decided to run in the jungle towards Bolivia and came across a community who was living in a valley, on the way there. They settled there and that’s why today most of the inhabitants of Quillabamba are direct descendants of the Spanish.
The city was built in a valley and it’s surrounded by high gorgeous mountains from every single angle. I loved the fact that wherever we were in town I’d have only to lift up my eyes and be greeted by glorious peaks all around. That’s a kind of view I could definitely get used to, I decided :).
The first morning we were there we woke up early and did the one thing we loved doing when in a new town in Peru – explore the local market. We were so pleased to realise that, just as in other places, we could have our delicious fruit salad with yogurt and honey for breakfast for USD1. And also that that’s where we found the nicest people in town. A delightful way to start the day! 🙂
The Sunday surprise
On Sunday morning we went to a cafe in the plaza to have our usual fruit salad and do a bit of writing. There was some strange movement going on around, kids in their school uniforms carrying flags bigger than them, and people carrying music instruments… Upon asking we found out a flag raising ceremony was about to begin shortly. We sat down with our breakfast and the ceremony indeed started, with a brass band and parades and the whole jazz. The noise was deafening but we waited patiently, thinking “In the end, how long could it last?” Boy were we in for a surprise: we asked around and got our answer: 3 hours. It would last for 3 hours AND it took place every Sunday! Every single Sunday people and especially school kids had to put aside their personal stuff and come to the city square dressed up in uncomfortable clothes so they could perform the flag raising ceremony. When we asked the very obvious question “Errr… WHY?” the answer we got was: “That’s just the tradition.” Oh well, what can you reply to that? The funny things people do… and have no idea why they’re doing them either. Because in the end “that’s just the tradition” or “that’s what religion says” are as good excuses as any, and are still not questioned enough. At least for now.
Going to Echarate
One day we went to Echarate, a smaller city in the jungle. On the way there we stopped by a waterfall, not very famous (yet), but truly amazing. It’s basically in a lady’s “back yard” and she charges 2 Soles for people to go and bathe in it. It’s supposed to be cleansing your entire being, and truth is we really felt reborn after the half an hour or more we spent bathing in it. The sun was shining and even though the water was a bit cold at the beginning, once we got used to it we just didn’t want to come out…
After we had enough of the water we had some lunch cooked by the same lady and drank a hot chocolate made with cocoa collected by her husband from the jungle. It was muy rico (very good) and energized as we were we felt ready to move on, towards Echarate. We loved being on that road, as the vegetation was so thick it was a pleasure starring at the banana, orange and mango trees, cocoa and … and all the other trees and bushes. At some point Carlos stopped the car abruptly and we all got out. He went to a tree and picked a funny looking fruit. “This is cacao”, he said. Well, it certainly looked nothing like the powder we were used to buying from the store. It was a yellow fruit bigger than our hand and we were wondering how they turned that into powder.
Carlos broke the fruit in half and showed us the seeds, telling us that was where the powder came from. Then he took a bite out of the fruit, the part with the seeds, chew a bit on it and spit out a few seeds. “This is what some people do”, he said, “they eat the pulp like this when harvesting the cocoa, then take the seeds, dry them and grind them to make the powder”. He handed us the fruit to try and we did. It left our mouth so dry we could have drank a river. “Carlos, and people really eat this fruit like this?”. “Well… I do” he said laughing. Right, just as we thought :). We also picked a few oranges from the trees and loved the whole feeling of not only seeing these tropical fruits in their natural environment, but being able to actually pick them from trees. It was simply great!!
Bathing in the Santa Teresa hot springs
The other place Carlos took us to was Santa Teresa, the place with the best hot springs around. It’s also the place many people pass by when walking to Machu Picchu, only about 3-4 hours away. Because it was so hot during the day we decided we’d aim to get there 5pm(ish), just as the sun was preparing to set. It took us almost 2 hours by car to reach there from Quillabamba, and the road was unlike any we had seen before. A big portion of it had been carved in the mountain, so it was this narrow unpaved lane that had the steep mountain on the right and… nothing on the left. If you looked down there was nothing there, just steepness all the way. It was a bit scary being on that road after dark, and we saw quite a few small crosses from place to place indicating that loss of lives had taken place there, but we had faith in Carlos’ driving abilities. We got to the thermals after 7pm and loved loved loved them from the first moment! The whole place was in open nature, as opposed to the ones in Machachancha which were covered, and there were three pools with hot water in different degrees. We were told the place had been much more beautiful in the past but the river had risen the previous year and “washed away” the hot springs. They had to be rebuilt and now they were just a small part of what they used to be.
To us it was enough and we enjoyed tremendously the warm water under the gorgeous star-filled sky. At some point the lights around the pools went off and we were left in complete darkness… until we turned around to see the fireflies greeting us from the mountain behind. It was magical!
And that’s how our jungle experience ended, a most unexpected week that we are so thankful to have had the privilege of experiencing.
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