Full of vigor and with the previous day’s lethargy washed away by the bright morning, another guest and I hiked steeply up to an alpine lake beneath Humantay with the assistant guide Lix (“Lees”) and a local kid who knew the way (he of massive lung capacity). Standing beneath something as massive as an Andean peak might permanently alter one’s sense of scale in the universe. After a round of photos, we headed down the trail to rejoin the group, hiking through increasingly lush foliage as we descended – first gradually, and then much more steeply, as we lost over 3,000 feet of elevation in only a few hours of walking. Eventually, we cut down to the river below, and then steeply back up the opposite bank, to reach the Collpa Lodge, set on a grassy plateau with a picture-perfect view over the green valley below and surrounded by forested mountains on all sides. Collpa’s picturesque setting, friendly vibe, great food (lunchtime barbecue cooked in the traditional way in a pit dug out of the ground), and homey interior won several guests’ and guides’ votes for “best lodge” on the trek. At only “only” 9,300 feet, it was also the first lodge to feel like we were approaching the jungly setting of Machu Picchu. That evening, we practiced several Peruvian card games that David and Lix knew…some of us proved quicker on the uptake than others, though luckily they were about as easy to learn as card games get.
The following morning, we hiked out of the lodge and passed several other groups who were doing the same route and who had camped in the field of a local enterprising family. While I’m an avid backpacker and generally enjoy camping and the associated wilderness experience, I have to admit that I was perfectly happy to have spent a comfortable night in a great lodge in the company of interesting people, rather than sitting out the rainstorm and reading in my tent by headlamp while trying to keep my gear dry. It was also one of the few times we really saw any other gringos on the trail, since they were generally packed up and gone by the time we headed out. Descending the valley down a dirt road, the scene became alive with tall trees, rushing water, and parrots – we had entered the lower cloud forest. Approaching a bridge, we veered off the road onto a foot path that followed the river downhill, passing increasingly lush foliage as the temperature and humidity rose. As was the case on virtually every day, the morning’s blue skies gave way to increasing clouds and then thunderstorms as the day wore on—-a mountain weather pattern familiar to many in North America, but supercharged by the moisture of trillions and trillions of trees in the Amazon.
After a lunch stop under cover (with entertainment provided by a veritable animal farm of pigs, dogs, turkeys, and chickens), we eventually reached a dirt road, where a bus carried us further down-valley to the town of Lucmabamba. From there, a short walk up an Incan road through coffee fields brought us to the Lucma Lodge, the final MLP-owned property. A short while later, we took an interesting excursion to visit a local coffee-growing family and watched their old-school hand-roasting process (surrounded by their family of guinea pigs, or cuy, an Andean delicacy).