Saturday, October 11, 2008

Week 2: So far so good!

We´ve been so busy getting used to Peru for the last couple weeks that I don´t even know where to begin. Our biggest obstacle with this entire expedition so far was just getting our boats down here. Most airlines accept large, fragile packages as excess baggage, but explicitly refuse to take kayaks. And as such we spent several hours at LAX trying to get around the regulations. Ultimately, after going through four levels of upper management, one mighty strong cocktail, plenty of sweet talking and much demonstrative boat kicking, we got on the plane.

Upon arriving in Lima, we were pleased to see that our boats had made it on the plane too. We were quite displeased, however, to see Lima. After we the plane decended through the clouds but before touching down, we all agreed that we needed to leave that city!

The climax of our time spent in Lima

We spent the day enriching ourselves in the culture with some Dominos Pizza, sprite, and scotch. The following morning, we were in the air again and bound for Cusco, one of the whitewater (and as it turns out, tourist) capitals of the country.

Cusco was much more in line with what we wanted out of a town. The hostels are abundant, restaurants cheap, and it has been easy to move around on foot. The local economy is also quite used to gringos and most people speak slowly and simply. Not that it helps me understand them, but is certainly an endearing gesture.

Mike and Zak enjoying the view of Cusco

By our second day in Cusco, Mike, Zak and I were packing for a three-day trip on the Rió Apurímac, one of the classic Peruvian whitewater trips. We were treated to excellent food courtesy of Mayuc Expeditions and had a terrific introduction to paddling in Peru with loaded boats.

A typical view on the drive to the put-in

Upon returning to Cusco, we were joined by Dave Kashinski, a friend of Mike and Zak´s from their previous trip to Chile in ´05. We quickly put together a day trip on the upper section of the Apurímac, known as Black Canyon. Our beta was limited on this section, but we scouted lots and had another great day on the water.

Plenty of good boating down here!

After our Apurímac exploits, we were invited back with Mayuc for the Tambopata river, a 6-day trip through the jungle. The Tambopata is a logistical nightmare and a terrific wildlife trip with minimal whitewater. Unfortunately, the aforementioned nightmare got in the way and we never got the opportunity to see said river. Instead we grabbed a cab to the Sacred Valley for a couple days of boating on the Urubamba.

A roadside view into the sacred Urubamba Valley

Somewhere along the line here, I looked up at the night sky and realized that every single star is new to my eyes. Still, the stars are about the most familiar sight down here. The change of scenery has been more than refreshing and the spirit of vacation has taken over. I´ve lost track of days of the week and even how long I´ve been here. Half the time we´re on the river. The other half, we´re figuring out how to get back on the river. Cusco has been a fun town to hang out in, but we´re all just about ready to leave.

Packing boats for overnighters

The entire gringo culture here is about going to Machu Picchu and the local culture is all about selling us things. The ¨handmade 100% alpaca¨ blankets are obviously fabricated. One woman sits on the stairs with the same half-knit sock each day to make it look like she´s making what she sells. Every ten steps someone is heckling us: selling paintings or weed or massages or suggesting the best bar for the night. But I don´t intend to trash talk Cusco. As I mentioned earlier, it has been very approachable for us. I´m just tired of explaining that I don´t want my shoes shined. They´re flip flops for god´s sake!

Zak getting ready for another day on the river

As I write, the other boys are back at the room packing for our next adventure, which may turn out to be the climax of our entire trip down south. Tomorrow we launch on the Río Paucartambo. The Paucartambo drops 8,000 feet of elevation over the course of 230 kilometers. It is likely that fewer than 20 teams of kayakers have ever completed this run. It´s not epically difficult, but has its fair share of challenges. We are planning on a 9 to 11 day trip, which is more than twice what any of us have done without raft support.

More beautiful and comitting canyon country

So for the next two weeks, no news is good news for us. We have spent lots of time preparing for this expedition and it promises to be one of my most memorable adventures. And on a completely different subject, no wonder south american teams always kick our asses at soccer:

This field is in the middle of nowhere at 14,000 feet. It looks like you could kick a ball off the edge of the world from here.

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