Rafting! How I love rafting. And chocolate mousse. The most scrumptious desert description is directly plagiarized from the menu and reproduced at the end of this post. My mouth still waters when I read it. But first you have to hear about the rafting.
I had a small problem on this trip that I thought wasn’t going to be a problem. I couldn’t find the travel alarm clock I normally use and so had to trust my watch to wake me up if I had an early rise time. The problem there is my alarm on my watch is at a pitch just about perfectly at a dead spot in one of my ears. So if I’m sleeping a certain way there is no way I’m going to hear it. This had me in fits early on in the trip when I had to make a flight, but with mental tricks (telling myself I’ll wake up on time the night before, which caused me to wake every hour) I never missed an appointment on this trip.
This caused me to wake at 4:45am and since I was up, I made the most of it. Packing first then heading downstairs to sit close to the wifi router and check the internet yet again to see how Thanksgiving was back home. Breakfast was a single egg with a side of hashbrowns prepared by the sleepy-eyed inn keepers but with a healthy dose of smiles. I walked the town looking for another pair of shorts. I only had one and hoped to find another to change into after rafting, but this late night town was not up that early and at 7:45am there was not a single establishment open, except McDonalds. Yes, there’s a McDonalds here, right in the Plaza de Armas.
I checked out and asked to have my laundry forwarded to my next hotel as I’d be arriving back after dark. Alex, the rafting guide, arrived around 8:22am (yes, I take notes like that) and I piled into the van with driver Carlos. Remember that I signed up for this trip just the night before and had no clue who was on the trip or how many. I was greeted with a family of 4 in the back of the van; Bob, Theresa, Jen and Ian, both married couples if you can figure that one out. Ian and Jen lived in Chicago and Bob had spent his life in the US Air Force traveling all over. Our last passenger was Aaron, our kayak safety guide.
It’s a two hour drive to the put in and for the life of me I still can’t remember which river we rafted. Yes, me, the guy who likes to have things planned out most of the time, got into a van with a bunch of strangers, fell asleep for 2 hours and then proceeded to raft an unknown river. I really had no clue where we were other than East of Cusco. My Mom’s going to freak out when she reads that, but my intuition told me things were ok and I’m learning to listen to that more. It’s been right almost all the time even if I’m not often listening well enough to hear it.
The group was a lot of fun to raft with. While almost all were brand spanking new to rafting, we still hit some holes and rafted some waves that were challenging. The rapids, most ranging in the class III and IV range, were a blast. The geology of the area was quite foreign to me and Alex was generous in his description of historic shifts in the crust as well as pointing out ancient Inca walls built to contain the river banks, still doing their job 500 years later. A local farming family with their herd of lambs lined the bank and gives us hearty waves as we pass by, the children chasing down the river for a while. Other than short glimpses of the road now and then, the area is desolate and arid.
The slopes show some signs of attempt at agriculture ages ago when the area may have had more rainfall. But now most hillsides are covered with switchgrass, a few trees but are too steep to be efficiently farmed with modern equipment. Cattle and other livestock are the best use of the land now.
The day is sunny but the water cool and I decide against the opportunity to jump in when we hit an eddy by a ten foot high boulder. Jen comes up gasping for air after her jump, screaming about how cold the water is. I take the chance to catch photos of others jumping in (shown here) and am glad I brought my water proof camera case with me for this one stretch of the trip.
Alex has us play a few games in some of the lighter rapids and I get a good drenching of water down my back as we spin into a wave four feet high. It leaves me gasping for breath. That’s cold enough for me for the rest of the trip. And then in the distance I spot our van along side the road with a lunch tent next to it. Our rafting is over and it has quenched my thirst for a while. Cold water, warm sun, blue skies, challenging rapids and a fun group. I couldn’t ask for more.
I also mentioned in my last post how things never seem to work out just how they are planned and today is no exception. On the way home we……can you guess? Yes, we run out of gas. It’s almost comical at this point as we aren’t even off the road, just after a blind corner in a 60KPH zone. After piling out of the van and watching Carlos grab a 2.5L bottle and flag down a car, we are resigned to wait for him to come back from the gas station just 5 minutes up the road. Large trucks and smoke belching sports cars whiz by as the gringos hang out, taking pictures of street signs and then later setting up a ‘shooting gallery’ . We collecting some plastic bottles and set them up across the ditch beside the road, then throw rocks to see who can knock them down. It’s funny how simple things like that can cause peels of laughter especially when the rain threatens to drench us with fits and starts, but no true down pour.
Carlos comes back and tries to get the van started to no avail, mashing valiantly on the fuel pump but still it won’t catch. He grabs another 2.5L water bottle and heads back to the station while we clients just look at each other and shrug our shoulders in a, “well, what can we do?” helpless look. Then go back to more rock throwing.
Finally, after another 5L of fuel is poured in and much smoke belching, the van springs to life and shuttles us home without incident. On the way back Aaron gives us a lot of insight into Peruvian life; what it’s like to grow up in a country where the leadership is constantly changing, where theft is experienced simply for the power felt in taking things from people, where walking in the wrong part of town really is a problem and can get you killed and where everyone seems to have at least four or five lines of income because you never know what’s going to happen the next time there is an election.
I finish my evening by heading to Cicciolina’s, a great restaurant suggested to me by Hector at Inkaterra. My table is on a slight balcony over an alley way and the cool mountain air mixed with heat and garlic aromas coming off the nearby grill is an intoxicating mix. Or maybe it’s the wine. And the food! My heart wept when I finished the onion soup which went perfectly with the Malbec I had selected. The trout had tons of flavor, so much that I can’t describe. A smooth, buttery cream sauce mixed with caramelized onions and fresh chives. See? I can’t really describe it other than I’d love a swimming pool full of it to splash around in. Oh man, it’s was dee-lish-us.
And now, for the plagiarized desert description: A white chocolate mousse mounted on a soft Whiskey drenched brownie, drizzled with our warm butterscotch sauce and served with little mint jellies.
Day 13: Hanging out in Cusco