After sleeping comfortably in our tents listening to the pleasant sound of light rain all night, we were woken at 5:50am by Assistant Guide Juan offering “room service” of coca tea, coffee, or hot chocolate to wake us up. We savored our hot drinks, then pulled on warm clothes and ventured to the dining tent for a delicious breakfast of fruit, granola, porridge, and pancakes! Some complained about not sleeping well on the “too thin” sleeping mats, making Zach and I glad to be seasoned campers who had slept hard! Thankfully the rain stopped just after breakfast and we set out on the much-anticipiated “Challenge Day!”
On this day we were to hike 12 km, first rapidly gaining 5,000 feet to go up to Dead Woman’s Pass, the trail’s highest point at roughly 14,000 feet, then descending steep stone steps for a couple more hours to get to our next camp. We began the hike around 6:30am and steadily plodded uphill until our first break, during which Guide Percy taught us how to chew coca leaves. The leaves are legal in Perú, and are neither harmful nor addictive. Coca leaves were actually considered to be more valuable than silver or gold and were used as currency by the Incas. Chewing the leaves lessons feelings of hunger, cold, and altitude sickness. What you do is take a pile of 10-15 leaves, sprinkle a couple drops of lime or ash (containing chemicals which activate the leaves) in the center, roll up the leaves into a sort of burrito shape, then stick between your teeth and slowly chew for 15-20minutes. If you’re doing it right, the leaves definitely make your tongue and lips go numb (just like novacaine at the dentist!) for a few minutes, but it doesn’t last for long. We chewed coca leaves all day on Day Two and they definitely helped! While chewing them we just felt less like we were at 13,000 feet! Our lungs felt more open and our heads clearer. Conversely, every time my leaves started to wear off, I felt a headache coming on. I just popped more in and away it went! Also, everyone in our group that chewed a lot of coca made it to the top first, and those who didn’t like it lagged behind! Interesting!
Nevertheless, Day Two was definitely a challenge. After a few hours of gradual uphill, we stopped for a “second breakfast” since lunch wouldn’t be served until we made it to camp. While we ate, we watched the porters ahead of us climbing up the trail which wound steeper and higher until it was out of sight. The rain also returned while we ate. The hardest part was ahead. Ready or not, we threw on ponchos and raincoats and set off. It was slow going. Eyes on the rocky path of steep steps, we slogged our way uphill through the rain, passing and being passed by the same hikers over and over again as we all stopped for frequent breaks. The scenery was gorgeous as we passed a green field full of llamas below and climbed into the cloud-shrouded peaks. I tried to stay positive as I huffed and puffed, reminding myself “Look at where you are! What a privilege to be here! You can do this!” I never once doubted that we would make it, but as the altitude increased and the air got thinner, I felt like we were moving at a tortoise’s pace and began to get frustrated. We could see the top of the pass ahead but it just never seemed to get any closer! As usual, Zach was my rock and encouragement, always managing to stay positive no matter how much he was struggling himself. After what seemed like hours (but I think only took about 1.5), and many breaks to just breathe and pop in more coca leaves, we stopped for one last breather within sight of the top! “Five minutes,” I said, “and then we’ll make it!” And we did! After grinding our way up the last few meters of granite steps, we made it to the top of the pass just behind the faster hikers in our group; we were the first ones up carrying big backpacks! (Everyone knows it’s not a competition but in your brain, you know, it kind of is. At least for an incredibly perfectionist and competitive person like me, it felt good to be in the top 50% of our group.) We were supposed to wait for the whole group at the top to take a picture if the weather was nice, but it definitely wasn’t. The group on top had taken a 10-minute break up there and were now all freezing. It was cold, so we shot a quick video and continued down without even taking off our backpacks. Coming down was the complete opposite challenge of going up. The stairs were still steep and uneven and we relied heavily on the walking sticks we had bought in Ollantaytambo for 5 Soles ($2) apiece. At least breathing was not as difficult while climbing down! Gradually regaining my breath and the rain slowly stopping made the last few hours of downhill relatively breezy. We also broke out of the heavy hiker-traffic after crossing the pass and had the peaceful trail almost to ourselves for awhile. We were both ecstatic at having completed the hardest part of the trek! “We did it! Now I know we’re going to make it!” I exclaimed! We felt “on top of the world”, literally, hahaha.
As we rolled into camp around 3:00pm with all the porters clapping for us (they did this for everyone, every time someone made it, which was quite silly but nice) we were ready to EAT! One effect of the coca leaves I never felt was reduced hunger, that’s for sure. But when you’re burning around 4,000 calories per day hiking, the delicious food provided, and lots of it, is absolutely necessary. I ate loads of food every meal and was always starving by the next meal time! Understandably, we had to wait for everyone in our group to eat lunch. So we sat around drinking tons of tea, congratulating ourselves on making it, and discussing how sore and tired we all were! We finally ate lunch around 4pm once everyone made it to camp. Then a two-hour nap before dinner, more stuffing our faces, and bedtime! We were all exhausted but victorious!
One day in Banos, Ecuador Carrie and I got all pumped up on coffee and eggs for breakfast and then walked downtown to Geotours where we had a deposit down on a “canyoning”, a.k.a. waterfall rappelling adventure. For $30 each we got a half day on the ropes in the mountains southeast of town. They supplied us with all the gear we needed; helmet, wetsuit with jacket, and these dorky cheap shoes. (Why we didn’t just wear our Chacos, I will never know.) Our guide Jose spoke very clearly in Spanish and perfect English as well, but we try to always speak Spanish when we can. So we loaded all the stuff into a friendly town rent-a-truck and headed down the road toward Puyo. We went through two tunnels then made a quick left up a gravel road. There was some kind of a community road repair function going on that we seemed to break up only long enough for our truck to sneak through. We drove up the hill and over an old bridge then stopped at a shack along the ever -diminishing road. There was our changing room, a.k.a. some woman’s house whom we interrupted cooking rice over a fire she had built up against a large boulder. She had a perfect little kitchen set up on that rock, complete with machete.
We changed into our gear then walked up a trail that started across the street. It was kind of steep and awkward, sweating in wetsuits and slipping on the wet rocks in our dorky shoes. After about 20 minutes we could hear the water and made our way to the top of a beautiful series of cascadas. We watched closely as Jose tied up the rope system, hoping someday to mimic it ourselves. After practicing once we put our weight on the ropes and kicked and fell (a controlled fall) down the the first falls. We swung into the falls and held on as the water crashed into our faces. What a thrill! The highest waterfall was over 100 feet and we were able to try some tricks and bounce off the walls a little bit.
A short little clip taken with the waterproof camera:
The entire waterfall rappelling adventure lasted from around 9:30am until after 1pm. It inclueded lunch for some reason, so when we were dropped off in town Jose walked us to a sandwhich shop and we said goodbye to our personal guide. We had so much fun that now we really want to buy some ropes and go do it ourselves! We love Banos, Ecuador!
Enjoy this post about waterfall rappelling in Banos, Ecuador? Check out ourarchives for other adventures! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram@laaventuraproject and our subscribe to our Youtube Channel.
Woah! We packed! Ya know why? ‘Cause our flight leaves this Thursday!!! Oh my goodness; so excited!!! Packing is always a challenge for me. Thankfully, Zach is really good at it. It also helps when you have tons of video and camping equipment and have to fit everything in two backpacks. The solution this problem is basically to bring no clothes. Following is our official backpacker packing list, if you’re interested.
dSLR in case with accessories
camcorder in case with accessories
2 external hard drives
chargers and cords for every electronic device
journal and pens
3 pairs of socks
6 pairs of underwear
1 pair of shorts
1 pair of pants
1 pair of gauchos
sleeping bag strapped to outside
bowl and utensil set
external hard drive
journal and pens
Books: Spanish dictionary, Spanish textbook, South America on a Shoestring
1 pair of zip-off pants
1 rain jacket
2 pairs of underwear
3 pairs of socks
sleeping bag strapped to outside
sleeping pad strapped to outside
Insane backpacker packing list right??? I can’t believe everything fit in there! Well, we are now equipped to live out of 2 backpacks for the next while…and to get really buff while doing it because these things are HEAVY!!!!
Our flight leaves on October 27, and now our fundraising deadline is fast approaching! We set a lofty goal of raising $5000 and we still have a long way to go! We are currently only a few hundred dollars away from the $1000 mark, and every little bit helps! The film is happening no matter how much money we raise, but the more we get, the better the quality will be! Here are a few things your donation will be used for:
TRAVEL HEALTH INSURANCE!!!! (to protect the film from being scrapped due to unforeseeable health issues)
SHOTGUN MICROPHONE (for great sound quality!)
EXTRA HARDDRIVES (for backing up footage)
EXTRA MEMORY CARD (for storing pictures and video)
LONG LIFE CAMERA BATTERIES (to keep us rolling in places where there’s no power!)
Don’t leave us without medical coverage. We can’t do this on our own. Let’s make these last 8 days count and help us get the equipment we need to create something amazing. Every dollar will be greatly appreciated and there are some great perks for helping us out. We appreciate your help so much!
The link to donate is www.indiegogo.com/laaventuraproject
Feel free to leave comments with any and all questions; we’d love to answer them!
You can also help by following @AventuraProject on Twitter, “Liking” La Aventura Project on Facebook, and posting this event to your wall for others to see!
Thank you so much to everyone who has donated to our indiegogo campaign so far!!! You guys are truly awesome. We are up to $350 with 90 days to go! Click here if you want to donate!
In recent news, Zach got his travel shots! He has been “a little bit infected with several tropical diseases” for the past few days now, hahaha. So there will be a lovely video post of that experience coming soon!
The most exciting news is that we officially registered our production company as a business! That basically involved filing a notarized form and paying $15 at the courthouse to make Journey Lost Productions legally recognized. We also opened up a business account with Chase so that we can keep all of the funds we raise for the film completely separate and provide copies of our bank statement to donors if they ask. It also means we can write off all of our equipment as business expenses when we file our taxes next year. This is all so new to me but the fact that I’m now officially a business owner makes me happy. Journey Lost Productions is real, yo!