Getting to Quillabamba is half the fun :). The bus from Cusco to Quillabamba got delayed 5 hours or so due to a landslide that occurred at night. It wasn’t until several dozen people (passengers of other buses like myself) fixed the road that the bus continued in the early morning. We spend the day in Quillabamba getting more supplies and waiting for the night bus to Ivochote. Quillabamba enjoys an amazing tropical weather. It provides most of the tropical fruit sold in Cusco and the Sacred Valley (an important thing to realize when drinking those tasty fruit juices in the market of Cusco ). The town is dull and boring in itself, however, it is an important gateway to the lower Urubamba river and usually an ending place to an expedition to the Vilcabamba valley. Quillabamba is the large town/city of its size. It has an excellent market where you can buy supplies. Keep in mind that from this point on the towns will be small and far apart so you'll be buying from small mom and pup stores.
Our journey down the Rio Urubamba started in Ivochote. It is another small sleepy village that marks the end of land transport in the area. Ivochote has a picturesque bridge that crosses the lower Urubamba river. Ivochote counts with a guesthouse and one or two restaurants. From Ivochote, we took a lancha to Pangoa, a small village downriver.
From Ivochote, we took a lancha to Pangoa,a small village downriver. Pangoa had no hotels so we stayed with a local family who fed us like kings. Unfortunately, my friend's watch got stolen there so we didn’t stick around for long. We did stay long enough to have a good time though. We even got to see the execution of a pig and the preparation of a great meal :). Anyway, we bought a small canoe there and were ready to start our journey. At this point, however, the river was fast and further down river it went through a canyon called 'Pongo de Mananique.' We took the advice of the lady we bought the boat with and took a lancha (huge canoe capable of taking Arco, our canoe, inside) downriver past the Pongo. The true adventure started past the Pongo. The first thing we did once we were past the Pongo with our canoe at hand was to name it. We named our canoe Arco, after a friend who couldnt join us on this trip (all we missed was the Champaign bottle to brake it on its maiden voyage). After naming the canoe, we started rowing downriver.
The Urubamba River starts in the highlands, at the Sacred Valley. At this stage, the river is known as the Upper Urubamba River. The Urubamba River makes its way down the mountains, past several stages of vegetation: from highland tundra, to pine trees, to forest, to tropical forest, to jungle. It is an amazing river! The lower Urubamba River begins past the Pongo de Mananique. At this stage, the river starts to lose force as the banks begin to widen from about 30 feet to over 100 feet by the time it joins another river near Sepahua. Eventually, the Urubamba River joins into the Amazon River, one of the largest river systems in the world. Rowing down river from el Pongo de Mananique to Sepahua wasn’t as hard as it seems though. Since it was the start of the raining season, we got a faster running river then during the dry season so it helped us cruise the 500 kilometers downriver to Sepagua.
We camped on the side of the river during the first three nights. Usually, the ideal camping spot will be a small tributary connected to the river. We would tie the canoe to a tree trunk and just make up camp. The days were spent rowing downriver enjoying the lovely scenery (more like navigating the canoe while the river current did the hard work). We stopped occasionally to talk to locals or just to enjoy a kewl site.
Since we had experienced the colono's side of life in the lower Rio Urubamba, we decided to stay the next night in a village of natives. So down we went until we got to the small village of Kirigueti. We stayed at a local teacher's house and their family. He was a native educated in a colono school so it was a good mixture. We just didn’t have luck finding a place to stay with a pure native so this was close enough. It was a lovely experience. We talked to his family and played cards with his young sisters. We left Kirigueti and headed to Sepagua.
We left Kirigueti and headed to Sepagua, a village further downriver where we were told we could score a flight back to civilization. We cruised all day trying to reach Sepagua, but had to camp when nightfall fell on us. The next day it rained (poured) on us. It was a nice experience, but not the first for it had rained on us the third day as well. I don’t know if it was the part of the river or the rain, but we manage to spot several large alligators in the river that day. We arrived at Sepagua at last around one o'clock in the afternoon. We got a room at one of the three hostels while attempting to score a flight home and at the same time sell Arco. We finally manage to sell Arco for less then half of what we had paid :(... at one point we were even considering putting Arco on fire.
A natural gorge that marks the end of the upper Urubamba River and the begining of the lower Urubamba River. The river comes crashing down through the gorge as the water goes from a wide river to a narrow river. It's a beautiful sight that lasts no more than a few kilometers. The currents at this point can be deadly so make sure you are well prepared. Take a local guide with you!
The fourth night, we met Don Porfirio, a friendly colono who owns Rancho Ben Hur. He not only gave us dinner, breakfast, and lunch, but also offered us a place to stay the night. The day we arrived we accompany him to look over his cattle in the jungle. Afterwards, we joined two of his workers on a fishing trip. We caught a mean looking, good tasting catfish. It was about a meter in length, no joke! We parted with Don Porfirio the next day and headed downriver.
As anything goes down in the jungle, getting back to Cusco was an adventure in itself. The flight to Lima from Sepagua was canceled, but we managed to get a motorboat ride back to Ivochote. The ride took 2 days and 3 hours. We took off at 5 AM and cruised all day with an occasional stop on a village every hour or so. It was nice to get to see the villages we had missed rowing downriver. We spend that night close to our friends Don Porfirio's ranch, so we took the time to say goodbye to him. The next day we continued upriver past el Pongo de Mananique. We stayed that night with the family of the motorist near Pangoa. The next day we arrived at Ivochote. We took a bus that same day to Quillabamba and then another one to Cusco.
There is not enough words to describe Cusco. It was the capital city of the Inca Empire. I have made a page about it in and on itself so make sure you check it out for details and tips on the city.