Surviving Down Hill Biking on the Inca Jungle Trail
The flight from Lima to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca civilization, gets our hearts pumping and juices flowing. The mighty Andes emerge above the clouds, as the snow glistens in the sunlight. Cusco lies in a valley at 11,000 feet surrounded by snowcapped mountains and one immediately understands why the Incas chose this spot, feeling close to their Gods. It is literally breathtaking, as we found ourselves panting after climbing only a few stairs, and had trouble sleeping the first few nights. The dull headache passed after a few days for all of us except Maya, who worried us when she vomited and complained of a sharp pain in the back of her head. A local doctor arrived and after checking her oxygen level, declared that she is suffering from altitude sickness. There are two remedies for altitude sickness- descending or taking pills. Luckily the pills did the trick, and after a couple of days we were ready to rock and roll (literally) on our first planned adventure- the”Inca Jungle Trail”. This is an action packed four days which starts with an 8,000 ft. bike descent from a 14,000 ft. summit, continues with white water rafting, and finishes with the challenging Inca trail trek which brings you to sunrise at the Machu Pichu, one of the seven wonders of the world. Since we are in the envelope pushing business, we have dubbed this trip as the “Inca Jungle Family Triathlon”, an adrenaline filled endurance event on wheels, water and foot.
There are many travel agencies in Cusco who offer a similar package, but we chose “Marvelous Peru” run by Joel. He impressed us with his service which went above and beyond the call of duty as he spent over an hour with us at a telecom shop helping us purchase a local SIM card.
Day 1: 8,000 ft. Bike descent
Joel picked us up in the morning with a minibus which seated three couples of backpackers from Australia, U.S.A., and Germany, all of them in their early twenties. “On the average we’re about the same age as you”, Orit apologetically quipped. We hadn’t even started moving and all mayhem broke loose as the kids fought and cried over the seating arrangements. We could see them rolling their eyes as they were clearly regretting being stuck with this family who would ruin their experience. Even if they surprisingly behave properly, how will the kids cope with the challenges on route without holding up the group? We had a two hour ride along a steep windy rode to the peak of Abra Malaga (14,000 ft.) in order to break the ice, but the vomiting of the kids didn’t help. At least they aimed well into the vomit bags, so it wasn’t a complete catastrophe.
We get off the bus, and I prepare together with Yali (14 yrs) and Maya (11) for the monster descent to the other side of the peak on the same windy, steep road we just climbed. I haven’t been to Hawaii, but imagine the way down from a volcano, with a Peruvian company and equipment, as cars are passing at high speed. A group of riders zoom past us at 50 mph wearing shirts flapping in the wind with the words ” I biked the death rode in Bolivia”. As we begin to comprehend what we’ve gotten ourselves into, we ask the guide if there have been injuries on this route. He said that he knows one story of someone who broke his jaw, but in retrospect we heard many crash stories, some even fatal.
In the meantime, Orit and Noga help us don our protective padding, while preparing to cheer us on from the minibus.
Our group of nine riders attempts to descend in a convoy. Yali breaks away, trying to ride with the leaders, and I trust Yali’s competence as he has more than 1000 miles of experience. I stay close to Maya who feels less confidant on the bike so we bring up the rear at 25 mph. The views are magnificent as the road curves it’s way down to the Urabamba river, while crossing numerous waterfalls which flow across the asphalt. Holding on tightly to the handlebars, we are equally gripped with fear and joy. After one hour, about halfway down, we take a sharp turn and almost crash into a huge pile of stones which are blocking the road after having fallen there in an avalanche only minutes earlier! There are still some rocks that are falling and leaving a cloud of dust behind.
Miraculously, no one is injured. The drivers and bikers line up like firemen, laboring for an hour and a half to clear enough rubble from the road in order for the bikes to continue. Orit and Noga wait another nerve wracking hour until the bus finally manages to overcome a pile of rubble amidst the smell of burnt rubber and screeching tires. At this stage we are without a support vehicle and just in case Orit wasn’t afraid enough about our plight, the heavens open up and start raining down. I am worried about Maya and the possibility that she may skid out at a curve, so I shadow her at every bend, barking at her to slow down. At some stage Yali joins us and we eventually reach the bottom of the valley, with white knuckles and a soar throat. The six other group members applaud in admiration of these gutsy youngsters who aced the course. I release a huge sigh of relief, thanking the Good Lord that we made it down without a scratch.