Salkantay Hike Day 3: The Jungle

We were all a bit chipper waking up, for we were given the luxury of sleeping in until 6AM. Now, before we go any further, it must be noted that I am a night owl. Most of my books, curriculums and illustrations are written/created/painted between the hours of 10PM and 3AM. For some reason, the hour of inspiration is one and the same with the witching hour, and because of this I usually sleep until 7:30AM on days when I have to get up and be at the library, or well past 8:30 on days when I don’t. So, to say that I slept in until 6AM is, as you can now see, a joke – not a very funny one, but a joke nonetheless.

Day 3 was an ‘easy’ day of hiking, with only about 10 miles to cover – all of which were downhill. We had entered the cloud forest the previous day, and were now hiking through the Western edge of the Amazon Jungle, the thought of which was terribly exciting. It’s not until you feel something on your hand and look down to see this that you start to panic:

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Let it be known to all that desire a trek through the jungle; the bugs are all on steroids and will wig-you-the-freak-out! Where I come from the rollie-pollies don’t get any bigger than a dime when coiled-up. This elephantine creature was the size of a flippin’ can of tuna when coiled up – the size of an actual and full can of tuna! Thankfully he did not pose any risk to us, but the bird-sized wasps did!

I was trotting along, lost in my own thoughts of how amazing it was to me to be hiking through the Amazon, when I heard a flapping sound over my right shoulder. Not a buzz, not a hum, but an actual flip-flap of big wings. I turned to see what I assumed was a humming bird, for it was roughly a similar size.

Jose, our guide, spotted the bird-thing as well and began shouting to get away from it. I then heard a thud. The bird was big enough to make an audible noise upon landing.

“What kind of bird is that?” I asked.

“That’s no bird,” said Jose. “It’s a wasp.”

I was simultaneously embarrassed and horrified. Embarrassed that I, a fairly educated person, had completely mistaken the species of the animal, and horrified that the monster-bug was so big that I MISTOOK IT FOR A BIRD! Naturally, I assumed that one would die immediately upon being stung by this spawn of satan, but no. Jose reassured me that a sting from an Amazonian Wasp would not kill you, rather it would just paralyze you for roughly 24 hours.

*Warning: what you’re about to see is the stuff of NIGHTMARES!

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(Photo Source: Amazon Wasp – For a good laugh read through the comments on this post)

Jose, not noticing my growing unease, went on to tell us that these wasps hunted tarantula spiders. They would sting the spider, paralyzing it, then drag it to their nest, split open it’s body and lay their eggs inside of it. There are so many things about this that I do not like, but mainly it was that the wasp is big enough, and strong enough, to drag a spider – and not just any spider, a TARANTULA! Nope! Not having it. Not one bit!

Suddenly, and with very good reason, I was beginning to feel a little panicked. I heard the flip-flap-flip of wasp-wings every step and on every switchback. I was hyper-aware of what was flying above and around me, so much so that I almost missed noticing a baby viper snake lying on the path. He was dead, but as they say; where one dead viper lies, there are surely thousands more fully alive (Okay, they don’t say that – I said that, mainly because at this point I figured the faster we moved the harder we would be to nail as a target for the poisonous wasps, snakes and spiders that were becoming more visible with each passing hour). May I introduce to you the lovely, and also terrifying, tarantula spider:

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Yup. Using the llama-toilet on this part of the trail was suddenly turned into a ghastly game of Don’t Pee on a Tarantula! Not a fun game, or one that I would recommend to anyone. Aside from the death-eaters and winged-demons, we did spot some of the nicer jungle birds and bugs – small toucans and massive iridescent blue butterflies, none of which we got any pictures of.

Thankfully, we made it to camp without being paralyzed, killed or eaten. With the trail being so easy, and only having to hike for 10 miles, we made great time and got into camp in the early afternoon. For the first time since embarking on this adventure, we had some free time. We were in a small village called La Playa (The Beach, aside from the fact that we were thousands of miles from the coast) and went exploring around the neighborhood. By the time we got back, Cesar, the chef, had laid out a most beautiful and delicious chocolate cake for our happy hour.

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How Cesar was able to bake, ice and decorate a cake, in the middle of the jungle and with two camp burners, is beyond me. Let’s call it mountain magic. Either way, this was a welcome sight, and the five of us (one hiker was still out for the count with stomach issues) devoured it. That night’s dinner was a beautiful display of fresh mountain fruits, potatoes and turtles…

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It’s true, Cesar wore his white chef’s uniform during every meal while he prepared the food. How he kept it white and free of wrinkles is some more of his mountain magic, regardless, it gave a special flare to our meal-times. Every single thing that Cesar and his sous-chef, Rene, prepared for us was just out of this world. Everything from chiveche, to the cake to banana pancakes and melon pasta, was nothing short of fine dining.

We had officially passed the half-way point of our trek, and all headed to bed early in preparation for the next day’s hike. What we thought was our last mountain summit (haha, jokes on us for not reading the fine-print) stood ahead – or above, I should say – challenging us to pass. We had a 9 mile hike with another 2,000 foot summit to conquer. Though we were at a much lower altitude and had acclimated to the oxygen levels, that also meant that the temperatures would be much higher, the bugs much bigger and the climb that much steeper. Oy. 

 


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