Peru, part 10
Paul and I eat a 5:30 breakfast then return to our room with a porter so he can take our two suitcases to the storage room. We make a final check of the room then shoulder our backpacks and return to the lobby. Jose Luis arrives shortly after six and asks us if we have our binoculars within easy reach. Our binoculars are securely in place via shoulder harnesses under our coats and when we show them to Jose Luis, he flashes us a beaming smile. He says this shows him we are serious about the birds and wildlife we will see on our way to the river. There is another couple in the van, Will and Beckka, accompanied by their guide, William. The manager of The Cock of the Rock Lodge, where we will stay tonight, is here and our driver. We also go and pick up the new manager to be of the Lodge so the seats are full. It takes a little while to load the young woman and all her luggage into the van. Once the luggage is piled in the back we drive south through Cusco.
Our first stop is at the lagoon where Norma took us a few days ago. However, Jose Luis and William know where to find the birds and they spot several birds many of them new species for us such as the punateal and giant hummingbird. We drive through the small village where we ate guinea pig but the streets are quiet. The next small town is famous for the enormous round loaves of bread they produce. This town is buzzing with activity and the smell of baking bread permeates the air. William has our driver stop so he can purchase a loaf and allow us to get a close up look at the baking process. Clay ovens like those for roasting the guinea pigs are in use but the ovens are much larger. William shares by allowing us to tear a handful of bread off the warm loaf. The bread has a slightly sweet taste and is delicious.
We leave the valley behind and begin to drive up the mountainside. Our paved road soon gives way to gravel. The road becomes little more than a single lane with serpentine curves as we travel higher. I’m setting by the window where I become well acquainted with the sheer drop off which is the roads edge. I can’t help but peer into the deep chasm far below. There are no guard rails along this road, not that it would probably matter anyway. When we meet the rare oncoming vehicle, our driver seems to be the one that must backup to a “wide” place in the road that will let the car by. It is exciting enough to drive this road going forward; going in reverse is an experience we could skip.
As we drive through the mountain plateaus, we pass by small villages where children stare and wave to us. An old woman tends her flock of sheep, her bright clothing in stark contrast to the dingy sheep and the muted colors of the land. We must slow for the mixed species of livestock the natives herd down the road, always accompanied by a dog or two. We can see the road we are traveling in crooked tiers below us. No wonder it seems we are getting nowhere fast! Oh yes, the new manager of the lodge has proven to be prone to motion sickness. The driver has to stop for the poor woman once so she can exit the van and get some fresh air. I suggest she move to the front seat and everyone agrees although William seems reluctant to give his comfortable seat up. He does swap seats with her and the young woman finds this helps her immensely.
We arrive at the last town we will pass through today and stop to use the restrooms, one soles please, and buy some snacks. Our guides allow us some time to explore the mountain town of Paucartambo. Paul and I walk through the market but the smell of raw meat and fish accompanied by buzzing flies makes for a short visit. We walk to the middle of the stone bridge that spans the river and just absorb the sights around us. Many houses have laundry hanging on the patio along with blooming pots or even terraces full of flowers. The women wear Stetson here rather than the stovepipe hats and we see a few women in flat hats with ruffles sewn to the edge. Paul is leaning against the side of the bridge looking rather aristocratic, in my prejudiced opinion, in his Stetson. An old man approaches him talking excitedly. The grizzled man removes his hat, bows his head and takes Paul’s hand pressing it to his temple. After a few moments still with his head bowed, he backs away from Paul and continues on his way. I watched the whole thing with my mouth wide open and not a photo to document the completely odd affair. Jose Luis had no explanation except that the fellow was probably drunk.
When we leave the village, we start to climb into the mountains again. Soon we have left the dry plateau behind and are entering a completely different landscape. The cloud forest is chilly, mist is falling and lush vegetation smothers the land. We stop to eat our box lunches at the entrance of the Manu Reserve. Paul and I forego the grilled chicken breast as the meat is quite pink and appears to be under cooked. There is no sense taking a chance of becoming ill besides they have sent enough food for two meals.
When we tourists commented earlier on the rough, dusty, narrow and windy road we have been driving our guides guffawed and told us to prepare as the worst was yet to come. They weren’t kidding, as the roads in the cloud forest is even narrower in addition to being muddy with frequent tight curves. Our driver hugs the mountainside of the road so tight at times the van nearly rubs against the mountain. I’m glad he does because there are frequent places where the roadside is crumbling. There is more than one occasion where I hold my breath wondering if the outside tires will stay on the road. To make it even more adventuresome there are waterfalls everywhere cascading down the mountainside the water flowing across the road. No wonder the road is giving way. One waterfall is dropping sheets of water directly on the road. Nature’s car wash doused the van as our driver guns the vehicle to drive through it.
There is no shortage of birds and flowers in the cloud forest. Jose Luis proves to be the expert birder we were hoping for. He identified birds by song, in flight and while they perched without hesitation. We exited the van one mile from the lodge and walked in hopes of seeing one of the lodge’s namesakes, the cock of the rock bird. There was another couple and their guide who were walking along with us. The woman and I took an instant liking to one another and enjoyed exclaiming over the birds that Jose Luis was identifying for us. Paul and the woman’s husband lag behind us visiting. It seems his attitude towards birding is like Paul’s; he likes birds but not as much as his wife. Among the more exciting birds we saw was a female umbrella bird and just before we reached the lodge Jose Luis found two of the bizarre male cock of the rock birds. I wish I had a photo to share but the one I took only shows an orange blob which is the bird’s head. You really should look this odd bird up on the internet. My new birding friend asks me if we would mind if they joined us tomorrow. It seems their guide is just a beginner and is unable to identify many birds. I tell her that if we were staying for the day I would be delighted for her company but we are leaving first thing in the morning. Her disappointment is nearly palpable when she hears the news.
The Cock of the Rock lodge is really cozy and we are staying in rustic bungalows. There is no electricity but plenty of candles, we do have hot water. It is nearly dark when we arrive so the candles are put to use immediately. When we go to the dining hall it appears that the only other folks here besides our group is the couple we were just with. While we are waiting for our meal, Jose Luis goes through my bird book with me so I can check off all the birds we saw today. I think we marked off 50 species for the day. Not a bad start. We are getting up early tomorrow in hopes of seeing more of the national bird of Peru the cock of the rock so are in bed early.