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AMAZING AMAZON…

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So you call yourself an adventurer? Well, in training for our adventure, my wife and I faithfully did regular weekend hikes in our new hiking boots. Bring on the Amazon, Peru, Boliva, the four day Inca trail hike, and the Nazca lines! Our 18-day tour was going to be no walk in the park.

Here are some of the highlights from our adventure. The half-hour boat ride to our camp in the Amazon immediately relaxes you. Wellington boots are available for all because there’s nothing but mud on the pathways and forest floor. Our entire beautiful wooden camp was on stilts and our room had no windows separating us from Mother Nature. Listening to Howler Monkeys at night, no matter how far away, is quite frightening as they sound like they are next to you.

The main purpose of my Amazon trip was to get photos of the macaws that visit the clay lick on the side of the riverbed. They eat the clay, which is rich in nutrients that help with their bright plumage. Unfortunately, the viewing hut was washed away a week before we arrived and the noise of the new hut being built had scared them all away. Not everything was lost however; I insisted that the guide find me a tarantula, which he did. Yes, they are hairy and scary and the one we saw was the size of a man’s hand. We also went out on an oxbow lake where we fished with beef to catch piranhas. There was no thrashing, or gooney, bubbling blood-filled water (very disappointing). They aren’t the monsters Hollywood makes them out to be. They were the size of my hand with razor sharp teeth which are used to catch fruit that has fallen in the water – the primary portion of their diet. I guess the good thing is that, unlike most of my fishing trips I actually caught something!

The city of Cuzco, ‘the Navel’ of the world is a stunning destination. Old Spanish churches and architecture line the streets. It was time to bring out the black and white film.

This was the first time I’d ever seen ‘free oxygen’ at an airport. This is because Cuzco is based at 3,400m above sea level. For the extremely adventurous, a local dining delight is the whole guinea pig dish, served with a chilli in its mouth. I decided I’d stick with the pizza.

Next was the four day Inca trail. This was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. The first day is eight hours of fairly flat hiking. The sight of the wide rivers meandering through the snow-capped mountains with the flocks of 80 to 100 green parrots flying overhead is stunning. It is straight out of a cowboy movie. There are separate groups on the mountain passes, which number no more than 200. The first night we were told that if you exhibit any symptoms of altitude sickness you have to turn back. I had mild symptoms and my wife had severe symptoms. We decided that we were going to suck it up and push on without telling the Guide. It was a good decision.

We were rewarded with breathtaking scenery. Every 50m higher we climbed the flora would change. New flowers that could not survive 50m lower appeared. We walked through clouds and rain forest. The second day however was 12 hours of stairs. You were either stepping up or stepping down. Nothing prepares you for it. We passed over three summits, the highest being at 4.215m above sea level called ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’. I could fully appreciate the sentiment. Day three starts at 04:30, so that you are in the queue for the final leg at 5.00.

After climbing an almost vertical staircase, with each step around knee height, we reached ‘the sun Gate’ where we could sit and wait for the clouds to blow over and deliver our long awaited view of Macchu Pichu. It was breathtaking and better than we could have expected.

Next on our trip were the floating islands of Uros on Lake Titicaca. An ancient civilization hunted by Incas and Collas has established their way of living on the floating reed islands. Children, with no adult supervision rowed boats to pick up their friends to take them to school. There were no lifejackets in the boats. Sink or swim. Imagine my surprise when I was walking around the reed huts and found solar panels to power the homes. Effective, clean and not wired to the mainland, it was a perfect solution.

Last, but not least, was our Cessna flight over the Nazca lines. Scraped into the earth’s surface, the pictures can only be seen from a light aircraft. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds identifying the pictures, as they’re scattered in every direction. Like the pyramids in Egypt, they are linked with the stars, and Orion’s belt can be found passing through the waist of a picture of a monkey.

It was an amazing trip that was very rewarding and worth every cent. How much did we pay for this trip of a lifetime? Approximately R72 000 for the two of us. We would have liked to bring a bit more Rands spending money, as there were a few unexpected expenses.

Tips & hints
• Bolivia charges a R700 visa fee and it’s charged in US Dollars. If you don’t have US Dollars they charge ludicrous exchange rates on the local currency upon which you have already paid exchange rates when you converted your Rands.

• Test that you fit into your newly bought sleeping bag before you’re suffering from claustrophobia and altitude sickness in a small tent on the side of a mountain.

• Have enough money to tip everyone. The porters on the Inca Trail carry stoves on their backs and run up the path ahead of you to set up camp.

• Don’t film from the side of the boat over the river. If your battery falls off the camera into the water, there’s no way of getting another in the Amazon!

• Recharge your batteries fully before a four day hike, when the prize is at the end of the four days.

• Even on connecting flights in Brazil, be prepared to pay $30 for Airport tax!

Macchu Picchu: Built by the Incas, Found by Hiram Bingham, Conquered by me!

Brian Mallory is a sales trainer and sales consultant.