Written by Neon
Travelling from Huaraz to the city of Jaen was not enjoyable. Fidgit and I boarded a bus in Huaraz at 9:30 pm; two transfers and 23 hours later we arrived in Jaen. So much time on a bus, especially when we both struggle with motion sickness on the curvy Peruvian roads, is terrible. We couldn’t do much other than listen to music lest our motion sensitivity get aggravated.
Thankfully we were able to find a decent place to stay in Jaen to sleep it off. We awoke refreshed and ready to go the next morning, and headed out along our route. As we walked along, it became very evident we were fully in the tropics now. A lower elevation with higher temperatures and humidity were quite the mix. Fidgit and I quickly soaked our clothes with sweat, and each time the sun peeked out from behind the clouds our umbrellas went up in defense. It seemed like the locals were adapted so there were cold beverages and ice cream in nearly every shop. We would stumble into town covered in sweat, buy many cold things to consume, and sit in the shade until we cooled off enough to move on.
Walking from Jaen, it was a gentle uphill along a couple of rivers to the town of San Ignacio. From San Ignacio, it was another hundred or so kilometers to THE BORDER! As we neared Ecuador, I began feeling worse and worse. I thought my illness would pass, but after a couple of weeks of not trusting my farts, I talked with our medical adviser and began a round of Flagyl- bought over the counter for $1.60. We continued walking, though I was tired, feverish, dehydrated, hot, and irritable. I pushed on stubbornly as we crossed the border into Ecuador and kept going.
The border crossing into Ecuador was a river valley with talkative and friendly border control officers. We then ascended away from the river towards the small town of Zumba. Trying to avoid the oppressive heat and humidity, we rested for a few hours until a storm rolled through then walked into the night. The route took us through two more valleys before we arrived in the town of Zumba. I was so exhausted that I laid in my hotel bed as Fidgit went out in search of food and water. I hadn’t been that physically tired in a long time, and was annoyed at my body for not keeping up with what my mind wanted to do. I ate and grumpily went to sleep, reminding myself to take it easy as I was healing. A side effect of the Flagyl is headaches, so I would get dehydration AND side effect headaches . . .
I was more forgiving of my sick self as we continued north, finishing up the round of meds as we made our way towards Loja. Many of the towns were small as we wound along the valley side. The amount of landslides we saw taking up part or nearly all of the dirt road we were following was impressive. The locals seemed to have adapted to that as well, driving through or around the mud as though they’d been doing it forever (which they probably had).
As Fidgit and I continued along our route, we continued mostly ascending, with some descents in there too. At one point, we ascended to a 4,000 meter pass and into a cloud forest. It finally cooled off and, though still wet because we were in a cloud, I didn’t feel the heat as much. After descending out of the cloud forest, it stayed cooler and we made our way into the town of Vilcabamba.
Vilcabamba is well known for its healing properties. We learned that there are apparently two rivers running under the town, through beds of quartz crystal. This makes the town a huge draw for holistic folk from all over the world as well as people wanting to live longer. Fidgit and I were grateful to be on the edge of tourist season so town was still quiet. We found a place and decided to take our first zero day since Jaen. Though I didn’t do much on our day off, I felt it was a much needed rest for me and was glad to have the opportunity to do so little.
After our day off, we walked another couple of days into the city of Loja. Along the way, we found a sendero or trail that led us along the river valley nearly the whole way. It was so nice to be off road and feel like we were walking through the forest again. Conveniently, the noise of cars was mostly drowned out by the river we were walking along. We passed National Park Podocarpus and made our way into the city.
Fidgit and I rested for another couple of days in Loja, getting more work done and allowing me to continue recuperating. We were able to slack through and then out the north side of Loja, continuing our way along the river valley. We then followed a dirt track up out of the valley to connect with the main road in the small town of San Luis, walking along that to Saraguro. Our time was running short, so we began our travels back south to Rio Maranon.
To get back to Huaraz (our jump off point for the raft trip), we spent two days of travel going back to the city of Jaen, then flew to Lima and met up with our friend who’d be coming along before flying to Huaraz. In Huaraz, we spent a couple of days preparing for the month-long raft trip by getting supplies and meeting up with our guides. Then we were off to begin our trip down the Maranon!