Blogs sponsored by Piotr Chmielinski
The life and soul – the heart – of the local Peruvian towns seems to be recovering now, post-Covid. Having spent some time in the surprisingly pleasant and picturesque Pichari, I’ve seen a definite surge of socializing. Every night of the week the streets and central plazas are buzzing with people of all generations, food stalls galore, night markets, street performers, young people dancing, music, restaurants etc. Seeing them now, I can’t imagine how these people must have suffered during lockdown, unable to be outside or sell their food in the streets or interact with other people (which is, after all, an innate need in us all). Life is returning to normal here, at least for now, and everyone seems to be out in the evenings. The year-round hot weather gets people outside, so It’s like a festival every evening.
There have been a few days of torrential rain recently, and the Apurimac River has turned overnight from clear water to tea-brown, with this dramatic start to the rainy season. As I walked along the connecting roads & trails that run directly above and alongside the Apurimac, and as I climbed higher, I had fantastic views of the river below me, meandering into the distance (see photo below). This was to the accompaniment of the frequent sound of water cascading down from the mountains over the rock-face, swelling the river as I crossed various bridges.
It took time again for me to get going, but this time the delays were caused not just by the usual logistics and cash flow or guide issues. This time, the main delay was caused by the mysterious disappearance of all my expensive mountain kit, carefully sourced, tested in the UK, and stored in Lima ready for this final leg. The only explanation I was given by the person responsible was that it had been “given away to charity”. I was stunned to learn of this from the person to whom I had entrusted key equipment like a new 85L Macpac backpack, down sleeping bags, ultralight Tents, Carbon trek poles, gas stove, specialist rain wear and thermal underwear and other clothing, climbing boots, rope and carabiners, special sunglasses, new compass,etc. Having so recently adjusted to the horrible feeling of being in debt and overdrawn, this was another big blow to the expedition: another unforeseen hurdle to overcome. I simply couldn’t afford to replace it all again – not even one pair of the expensive Bridgedale trekking socks supposedly given away.
Very fortunately for me, and without me even having to ask, Piotr Chmielinski came to the rescue. After reading a tweet about my predicament, I received a message..“please send me a list of items you need. A friend of mine is currently in Peru and he can bring you replacement gear purchased in Lima.” I humbly accepted his amazingly generous offer, and sent a small list of the most vital items I needed, assuring him that “with these, I can get by with what I already have.” I asked Piotr who would be bringing the gear.
“Dawid Andres” he said “One of the two brothers who biked the Amazon. You were meant to meet up with them on Marajo island in Brazil, when you were just starting and they were finishing, remember?”
I do indeed remember, and many thanks go to Dawid Andres (who now hosts Discovery Chanel programs) for dropping what he was doing and for buying replacement kit (courtesy of Piotr), then traveling to my location on the banks of the Rio Apurímac and finally showing me how to quickly set up my new tent on the roof of my hostel. It was awesome to finally meet up – many thanks indeed, Dawid!!
Also thanks to Guillermo Escudero in Lima for receiving my all-important new bank card and Altberg mountain boots – and for staying in contact and sending me regular updates about interesting archeological and historical locations on my route ahead.
And of course more thanks to Piotr, for once again rescuing the expedition from another long delay.
I can still vividly remember as a young child asking my father “Where are the Andes?” He was a born Cockney, and liked to play with words, and his favourite reply was “on the end of your armies, son.” The annoying answer eventually prompted me to walk to the local library in an effort to find out for myself. There, I discovered not just the Andes, but an entire planet, from a copy of the biggest and heaviest Atlas I had ever seen – a Times Atlas of the World – that could be found in the reference library. I clearly remember sitting there for hour upon hour excitedly studying the magical pages, examining especially the beautiful topographical maps of the Andes mountain range and the Amazon basin. I returned many times over the years to study that book.
At the time, the thought of actually visiting the Andes never entered my head. For a child brought up on a council estate, the South American continent might as well have been as far away as Mars. In those days words like ‘adventure’, ‘exploration’, ‘expedition’, or even ‘further education’, were pretty much as alien as little green men, and I recall that they hardly ever formed part of our conversation. And yet, and yet…
Entering the Andes
Yet here I was, all those years later, climbing purposefully into Andean Condor territory, after thousands of miles trekking though the Amazon and ascending a barely perceptible 150m. As I walked, it made me think, and I realised I was connecting a million dots in my life and remembering so many people and places. My emerging happiness was tempered only by an acute awareness of the demands of the trail and the difficult challenges ahead. One of these challenges is certainly the fact that I have taken the difficult decision to go it alone from here on in (mainly for financial reasons).
I’ve already plotted my route all the way to the source of the Amazon on the amazing Fatmap Application I’m now using to navigate, along with the Garmin Earthmate application, as both my GPS & laptop stopped working months ago. The truth is that I have rarely needed a guide to help me with my routing, but my walking companions have often proved invaluable as teachers or mediators. As we have overcome obstacles together, and shared food and camp, I have learned Portuguese and Spanish with them and a wealth of rainforest lore, and I still hope to occasionally be able to walk with someone local & who can also speak Quechua in the mountains ahead, money permitting.
As I continued my walk along the winding, ascending trails and roads, the sun finally broke through after two days of rain. I could clearly see the Apurimac River with a backdrop of deep green, cloud-forest mountains. As I passed one pueblo, a group of about fifty young schoolchildren and teachers were walking towards me, The children excitedly asked “de dónde eres y a dónde vas”? “where are you from and where are you going”? When I explained my mission, they cheered me on and began singing a traditional Peruvian song to me. It was a wonderful, kind of surreal experience that I will not easily forget.
Later that same day, high up on the curving mountain road, I saw my first two condors majestically gliding by, (see photo). Soaring on the warm air rising from the cloud forest below, they circled very close to me twice before flying off. Meeting the children and seeing the condors, I felt my spirits lifted after walking alone in the rain, wrestling with my thoughts, all through the previous day. It seemed as if they had come to greet me and welcome me to the Andes. My earlier reservations melted away, and for a short while I forgot to worry about the road ahead. The magical world of my childhood had sprung out of the atlas, out of my imagination, and filled my senses. “You’ve made it, you’ve made it,” I heard whispered on the wind beneath the condor’s wings and carried in the children’s songs.
As well as those distant childhood memories revisiting me, this famous Andean folk tune composed over 100 years ago came to my mind as I walked: El Condor Pasa, the Condor passes.
Video El Cóndor Pasa. Source video YouTube.
My next big landmark now will be Cusco, probably the most famous city in South America, and previously the capital of the Inka empire and gateway to Machu Pecchu. I will need to divert from my route to visit the historic city to re-supply, rest my legs, and get cash from the bank there. But first I need to traverse some precarious mountain trails to stay close to the Apurimac
I hope to arrive before Christmas, all going to plan. Christmas in Cusco Peru?
Onwards and upwards!
Support the expedition
If anyone would like to help with a donation to my Paypal account to keep things going, it would be greatly appreciated. Please use the Paypal link below, which will take you to my support page. Any donation above £25 or $30 will eventually receive a special calendar with images from this trek. Any technical problems donating, or if you prefer to help via a bank BACS payment, details are now on the support page also, Thank you!
Photos and video.
A few random images from last several months.
Music. Spirit Of The Andes Modern Traditional Music of Peru by Echoes of the Andes
Header photo. One of a pair of magnificent Condors that seemed to welcome me to the Andes.
Me in Pichari Peru
The Ashaninka themed plaza of Pichari.
Celebrating the opening of new Municipal building in Villa Virgen.
Distant view of Villa Aurora
Pichari to San Francisco
San Francisco to Villa Virgen
Villa Virgen to Villa Aurora