The first leg of the trip was to Paucartambo. (The route from Cusco to Paucartambo can be made by the once daily early morning bus.) The road to Paucartambo is still unpaved and was very rough. Construction crews are still working on the road, widening it and blasting rock. They have been working on it since last July, almost a year now. In places it is only wide enough for one truck; two passing cars can just make it. To one side are steep drops into the valleys.
We arrived in Paucartambo about 10 p.m. It was raining and a festival was taking place. The streets were crowded with people, flags had been strung across the streets, and a stage had been set up where music was playing. We drove through the town and traveled along a smooth unpaved road to Challabamba where we parked in front of a farm in order to sleep for a few hours. Awakening around midnight, we drove on and reached the entrance to Manu National Park.
|The town of Paucartambo during the day.|
The road to Tres Cruces turns off to the left of the entrance to the park. It was blocked by a chain and padlock. After several attempts, we succeeded in lowering the chain to the ground. We drove over the chain and then tightened it to its original position. The road was unpaved but in good condition and was approximately eight miles long. The area was desolate. Shrubs and bushes lined each side of the road. Stretching overhead was the Milky Way with its brilliant stars.
We drove into the parking lot at Tres Cruces to find a group of campers. Four cars pulled into the parking area after us. Everyone sat in their cars and waited. At 4 a.m. there was no sign of the sun; only the stars shone overhead. At about 5 a.m. there was a red line just above the horizon. It gradually increased in size. Everyone left their cars and began to take photographs. It was bitter cold outside, so cold that even though I wore alpaca gloves, the cold burned the backs of my hands.
Suddenly the sun became a speck, a ball of fire on the horizon. The sky turned red. The sun was outlined by multiple rings of intense reds. It became a great white eye surrounded by rings of flaming yellow and red until finally there was a red ball above the sun and one below it. Beneath the mirador, the white cloud cover over the canopy of trees in the Amazonian basin gradually became visible. The landscape became brighter as the sun rose in the sky. The experience was indescribable. No words can do it justice.
We drove back to the entrance to the descent into Manu National Park and stretched our legs, walking up a small incline lined with trees festooned with hanging moss. Then onward to Challabamba where clouds were lifting from the land. And then to Paucartambo where we stopped to buy flat round loaves of wheat bread. Women were sweeping the main plaza in preparation for a parade to honor the founding of the town. That was what the colorful flags across the streets of Paucartambo and the festival the previous night were celebrating.
While we were in Paucartambo, we also paid a visit to the Virgin of Carmen, affectionately known as Mamacha del Carmen, in her church. Her festival is celebrated from July 15-18 and is attended by thousands of devout followers. Regional dancers in colorful costumes representing historical events, with their own bands accompanying them with music, dance in her honor during the festival days. July 16 is the principal day of the festival when Mamacha del Carmen, followed by the dancers, the bands and the faithful, is carried aloft in a procession around the town to bless the people.
|Villagers in the town of Huancarani.|
Our plan was to leave Paucartambo, pass through Huancarani and then drive to Cusco; however, our plan was abruptly halted. Shortly before we were to descend from the dirt road from Paucartambo in order to connect to the main road that linked to the road to Cusco, we encountered an obstacle. Construction crews had just blasted. Boulders and rocks blocked the way. The foreman told us it would take three to four hours to clear the road. As it was just noon, and the crews were gathering for lunch, we decided to drive back to Huancarani. To sit inside the car for that length of time in the broiling sun would have been torture.
Arriving in Huancarani, we parked in the shade beside a small restaurant. Immediately the car’s engine overheated, venting great clouds of steam. My driver filled a pail with water from a faucet in the patio of the restaurant, and after the engine had cooled he slowly fed it water.
We sat at a table inside the restaurant and watched the World Cup games on TV while three chickens roasted on spits. When they were ready, we were served chicken soup, a chicken leg and wing roasted in a delicious marinade, fried potatoes, and sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded greens. While we were eating, a woman arrived to tell us that the foreman at the next construction checkpoint had said that the road would be open at 6 p.m.
After thanking the family who owned the restaurant for their hospitality, we set off again for Cusco. Although the foreman at the next checkpoint sternly warned us that the road ahead would not open until 6 p.m., this time we were successful. We arrived at 5:30 p.m. where the road had been blocked; the boulders had been cleared, the road was open, and we drove through. We arrived in Cusco at 7:00 p.m., exactly 24 hours after we had departed for Tres Cruces.