Stories from the Amazon
Tres Canyons in the highlands of Peru where the young Amazon river becomes the Grand Apurimac River.
Following the Apurimac River, Jacobs Does a Little Sightseeing
The only thing I knew about Three (Tres in Spanish) Canyons, I read on a wall poster inside a tourist agency in Arequipa.
It is the location where the Apurimac is joined by two other rivers in the highlands of Peru. Since this is the river I am following, it seemed like a good place to go.
With a driver who spoke zero words of English and a list of things I had no clue about, we set off on a grand adventure. I liked the idea of being in the remote countryside, far from everything, with limited language skills and at the mercy of the world.
My driver navigated the small white station wagon down a gravel road until we came to a small village. He pointed in the direction of a canyon and said one word, "Apurimac."
At this point, the river sliced through the volcanic rock and created a deep cut straight down. The river had grown considerably since I had last seen it high on the side of Nevado Mismi.
He then pointed to a stone bridge that spanned the small canyon and said, "Inca."
"That's cool," I thought to myself, since whatever I said out loud wouldn't be understood anyway.
We continued driving for another hour until we came to a sign that indicated some type of archeological location called Maria Fortaleza.
We walked through the ancient Inca community, completely alone. What was once a thriving community now stood silent in the beautiful landscape of the Peruvian highlands.
Rock wall foundations and deep circular holes in the solid rock ground gave me a sense that this once was a busy place. Oh, how I wished walls could speak, or even my taxi driver for that matter.
The Inca ruins of Maria Fortelza which sit next to the Apurimac River in Peru.
Eventually, we made it to the top of the large hill-like mountain. My breathing was labored since I still hadn't acclimated to the altitude. At least that was my story, given we were at 13,000 feet.
Once at the top, it was clear why the Incas had chosen this location. I could see forever in every direction. The hill offered a panoramic view that was breathtaking. I sat there trying to visualize a hillside with women, children and men busy with their daily lives of farming and producing food.
I felt like Indiana Jones walking through an ancient civilization looking for clues where the treasure might be found. Without the poison darts and snakes, of course.
Next we came to Tres Canyons and the Grand Apurimac River. Here three rivers joined to multiply efforts to race to the Atlantic Ocean. It is a majestic place that leaves one inspired by such a beautiful sight created over millions of years ago.
We doubled back to find the Inca bridge in Queshuachaca.
At various locations along the river, occasionally I would watch people planting fields by hand. Spring had finally come to the highlands of Peru.
We stopped briefly at a village street stall for a fresh trout lunch. Later I would pay a special price for this.
Then the long two-hour drive began to a small town where we ended up on a side road that took us to the middle of nowhere. For three more hours, we drove on a winding country road.
Occasionally, my driver would stop and ask for directions since there were no posted signs. The responses included pointing and saying something I imagined as, "Keep following the road."
Random thoughts floated through my head. "If this old station wagon breaks down here, no one will find us for days."
As we neared our destination, the road started to turn muddy. I could see where people had thrown large piles of grass and rocks on the road to try and maintain some traction.
The road wound down the canyon like a serpent coiling back and forth. We passed several good drop-offs that would be perfect for an old white station wagon to tumble down.
I was daydreaming of a four-wheel drive vehicle when the taxi driver gave me this look. My interpretation was that he was afraid we wouldn't make it.
With the river in sight, I was determined to make it. I gave him my best non-verbal gesture of "we can do this!"
When my driver maneuvered one of the bends, suddenly there was the Inca Bridge. Rebuilt every year by the local villagers from hand-woven grass, the bridge stretched across an angry Apurimac River.
These bridges were very handy in the Inca times, and they fared much better with the frequent earthquakes.
I started walking across the bridge with gaping holes serving as reminders not to let go of the sides. After a few yards, I stopped and my taxi driver took my photo. My heart raced.
Do I walk all the way across the bridge, even if it was falling apart? Knowing someone would ask if I made it, I wasn't going to let my fear stop me from being able to say "yes."
"Don't look down," I kept repeating out loud.
Halfway across, shoot, I looked down. "What am I doing out here over this raging river?"
My taxi driver used my video camera to film the entire adventure. The smile on my face when I got back to the starting point could not have been any bigger.
I made it back to the end of the bridge. Now, I just hoped we could make it back to the hotel as night began to fall.
The traditional Inca bridge at Queshuachaca over the Apurimac River, surrounding villages rebuild the bridge every June by hand using woven grass (left).
A stone bridge from the Inca times stands over the Apurimac River in the highlands of Peru (right).