Posted on Friday, February 1st, 2013
Finding reliable riding tours with real quality in exotic places can be a great deal of fun, but it is not always an easy matter. Again and again we have heard of places which sounded wonderful and turned out to be below our standards. Other rides, like the one in India, have had some initial glitches, but had great potential and developed into big winners. My wife, Mel, and I as well as the six other Equitours veterans who made this first trip all feel that it has enormous potential. The problems we encountered were the kind that we have learned to expect on a scouting trip, and we are confident that they will be avoided in the future. The guide and his staff are dedicated to giving excellent service and to seeing that their guests have a first rate experience.
We were met at the Lima Airport and escorted to our plane for Cuzco. Our plane climbed from the dry coastline to the lush valleys of the Andean highlands and we glimpsed the snow capped peaks which tower more than 20,000 ft. We had a breathtaking view of the Andes and got some idea of the unusually diverse climactic zones of Peru.
In Cuzco we were met by the owner of the horses and organizer of the ride, Eddie van Brunschot. He is a Dutchman who came to Peru some 15 years ago and fell in love with the country and the Peruvian Paso horses. He is friendly, kind, intelligent and conscientious. We took a liking to him immediately. This time we saw nothing of Cuzco and were whisked away to a gem of a hotel near the Urubamba River called Hotel Sol & Luna. The gardens are meticulously tended and overflowing with magnificent blossoms. Accommodations are in attractive individual cottages, each with a comfortable bathroom. We were amazed by the spread of buffet choices which included a vast array of European and Peruvian dishes which were not only delicious, but also visually alluring. The setting is exquisite. Mountains tower around and distant glaciers glisten in the sun. It is an ideal spot for hang gliding and the owners of the hotel are very keen on the sport which guests have a chance to try although it is not part of the riding tour.
After lunch we rested and showered before going a half mile to Eddie’s stable. Here he has over a dozen Peruvian Pasos. The traditional tack is almost new and perfectly maintained. Eddie is strongly imbued with the history and mystic of the Peruvian Paso and all that goes with it, which was one of the attractions of the ride. He and his trainer gave us demonstrations of how to ride and let us each try our hands at it. As most of you will know, these beautifully gaited horses are very smooth to ride and one’s seat stays easily in the saddle. The rather elaborate tack takes time to become familiar with, but we all found the saddles comfortable. A day in the saddle on these horses in the smooth paso gait is much easier than a day with trots and gallops, which makes it a more tranquil experience and allows time to admire the spectacular scenery.
While the riding is quite easy, some of the horses are spirited and one must have sensitive hands to control them well. It is important to be in fairly good physical condition as the altitude around 12,000 ft. is a strain for most people. (I live at 7,500 ft. and still strongly felt the difference.) Under some conditions one has to get off and lead the horses because of slippery trails or difficult spots. Future trips should not have a great deal of climbing on foot, but it might happen under unusual weather conditions. We were there at the end of March when the rainy season was still on. Rides running between April and October will undoubtedly have better weather. The climate is temperate even at very high altitudes and the temperature is unlikely to fall below 45° F. The days were very pleasant with temperatures in the 70s.
There will be four nights of camping on the new itinerary and it is quite comfortable with good tents. There are comfortable chairs and tables and the camp food and picnic lunches were very good. The camping sites were attractive with superb views and some were near extensive Inca ruins which were fascinating to explore. The toilet facilities are rudimentary; a tent with a seat and a long drop. A pack horse came with us to carry lunch and drinks as well as extra clothing and raincoats.
We spent two nights at a comfortable hotel in Cuzco, and we all enjoyed this picturesque and lively town. There are sophisticated shops, Indian markets, lively nightclubs, attractive restaurants, Inca ruins and colonial buildings. In many cases colonial buildings were built on top of superior Inca stonework. We visited several interesting museums and gained an appreciation for the power and complexity of the highly developed Inca civilization which the Spaniards so effectively quashed.
We mostly rode for about three hours in the morning and the same in the afternoon. The scenery was always magnificent, the countryside was lush and the soil seemed very rich. Most of the available land is cultivated even on steep hillsides. The Incas and their predecessors built an extensive system of terraces on many of the hillsides to provide additional garden plots. They had highly developed irrigation systems, and must have done a great deal of experimentation with different crops to obtain more productive strains.
Farming techniques are still primitive for the most part and we saw wooden plows being pulled by bulls. The local people were always welcoming and one group of farm workers invited us to join them for lunch. They were sitting around a huge pile of boiled potatoes which they were peeling and eating. We ate a few potatoes with these friendly people, and then ate our own sandwiches a half hour later.
We found the trip to Machu Picchu to be a highlight of the trip. I have never seen a place which I found so awe inspiring. Access is very difficult and it is easy to understand why it was not rediscovered until 1911. The town was perched on top of a mountain with the river gorge winding 3,000 ft. below. Higher peaks surround it. The ruins themselves attest to the strength, determination and engineering ability of the society. The stone work is amazing and some of the building blocks weigh many tons. They are so meticulously shaped that they fit together tightly without need for mortar. A visit to this spot is a powerful spiritual experience.
At the end of the trip we spent an afternoon in Lima where there are a number of museums. We only had time for the Museo del Oro which we found interesting beyond our wildest expectations and several hours there are well spent. It gave us many insights into the Inca civilization and the far more ancient civilizations which preceded them.
Those of us who took the Amazon extension were enthralled with the area and the tremendous diversity of this sensitive environment which is of enormous importance in the world’s ecology. I had previously thought that it was not really my cup of tea (since it’s not good horse country), but I found myself caught up in the pleasant atmosphere of the Rain Forest Lodge and the many interesting activities. The people who run it are dedicated to protecting this fragile ecosystem from the heedless encroachments of economic interests and the pressures on local people to exploit their flora and fauna. They have an exceptional staff of bright and attractive young Peruvians who see ecotourism as an alternative to exploitation. They are extremely well informed about the birds, mammals, medicinal plants and many other subjects. The possible activities cover a broad range of interests and with a guide-to-client ratio of one-to-one there is always a canoe available and someone knowledgeable to cater to your special wishes. Some of the options available are birdwatching, fishing, nature photography, swimming, visiting native shamans, learning jungle survival skills, studying medicinal plants and observing the local primates.
We particularly enjoyed swimming with the pink dolphins, searching for caimans by canoe at night, observing many types of primate, and identifying the incredible birds. One member of our party listed over a hundred different birds during her stay. Although I was rather frightened by the zip lines through the forest’s upper canopy, many people love it. The jungle certainly has another aspect 100 ft. or so up. The lodge’s service and food are very good, and the atmosphere is relaxed. This extension to the Amazon is optional, but something I highly recommend for anyone who wants to experience the incredible diversity of Peru.