The fourth film shoot for the upcoming season of Epic Trails took place a couple of weeks ago. The team headed to the Cusco region of Peru, where they experienced an amazing Peruvian adventure.
Below is an excerpt from Eric’s blog post about his experience:
Anyone who has considered a Peruvian adventure will be familiar with the city of Cusco–the former centre of the Incan Empire and starting point to so many tours to Machu Picchu. What they may not realize is that Cusco is also the name of a sprawling Andean region full of snowy peaks, extensive rivers, canyons and varied ecological zones. On a mission to seek adventures less traveled, the Epic Trails team began a month-long Peruvian adventure with a week exploring the central area of the Cusco Region. This trip was three years in the making, as our tickets were originally for early April 2020, right when borders began to close at the beginning of the pandemic. It had been a long wait, and we were ready.
Over lunch at Calle del Medio with guides Porfirio and Alberto of Apumayo Expediciones, the Epic Trails crew and I quickly learned we were in great hands with this team of enthusiastic explorers as we ran through our plans for the week. Our goal, to follow the route of the escaping Incans when the Spaniards had taken Cusco: a unique and lesser known portion of the Inca Trail.
After a brief stint exploring the main square and heart of Cusco right out the door of our accommodations at Andina Hotel, we ventured North by van along mountain roads flanking ravines carved by glacier-fed rivers. Happy to explore the rivers up close, we met with Pepe Lopez, owner of Apumayo Expediciones, for a rafting adventure on the Urbamba River. We put in just below the town of Ollantaytambo and paddled some adrenaline pumping Class III+ rapids. We were able to spy Incan ruins along the banks right from our raft–a very cool perspective that not all get to experience. We ended our day at El Mangal Lodge, a remote hostel, restaurant and agrotourism (cocoa plantation) getaway all in one. There we got to participate in all phases of cocoa production (AND TASTING!) and rested well before the multi-day hike from Yanama to Vitcos to come.
A broken-down truck caused a delay (a reality of travel in remote mountain areas) but once rolling, we enjoyed the views of peaks and passes covered in stunning lupin flowers. We watched dusk slip away as we were welcomed to the trailhead by a local family with a cuy (guinnea pig) dinner prepared for our arrival.
Embarking on the hike, it was clear from the numbers of porters and pack animals that we were going to be well supported on this trip. After a scenic river crossing, the uphill began. As we pushed our trekking limits, the team of porters, cooks and arrieros (horse and donkey masters or muleteers) always amazed as they hastily sped ahead to set up elaborate meals. We thoroughly enjoyed the catered break after a tiring day of hiking the elevated areas in the region. The Apumayo team spared no expense or effort.
“With three, four, and five course meals prepared regularly, it felt like I was on a luxury cruise liner hiking through the mountains rather than a rough and tumble expedition, something I’m not quite used to.“– Eric Hanson
The next day was the biggest day for altitude, crossing a mountain pass to get to another valley. Along this pristine section of the Inca Trail, rather than seeing masses of tourists, we encountered a shepherd on our way up to a 15,000ft pass in the mountains. It was at this pass that our guide Porfilio sang a song to honour his father and family. The last time he had walked that trail was with his brother 20 years previous.
On our descent, there were signs of local inhabitants as we crossed farmers fields where the Inca trail disappeared under the thick soil and grass and where we spent the night.
After wrapping up camp, we started on our way again, crossing fields and pig farms, and encountered a local farmer wielding an old tool for turning soil. Porfilio, a former farmer, enthusiastically encouraged me to try the tool—making me appreciate my trips to the supermarket all the more.
During the last leg, we encountered archeological sites, largely former trade route meeting places, some with circular structures designed to honor Mother Earth. I learned about and admired the precise Incan stonework that reminded me that this trail was initially an escape route. Continuing down a terraced hill we came to the end of our trek and the last stand of the Manco Incan empire; the stunning ruins of Vitcos.
The Cusco Region’s beautiful landscapes, mountains, ravines, and sacred sites have been welcoming travelers for decades, yet on this section of the trail, with the terrain seemingly untouched and local experience so authentic, it felt as if we had discovered it all over again.
About Epic Trails: Epic Trails is an exciting and inspiring adventure travel media series that follows host, Eric Hanson, as he explores the people, places, and adventures surrounding the world’s top hiking destinations. Each 30-minute TV episode airs on Outside TV, 27 regional networks, and internationally through National Geographic Channel—Asia and Extreme Sports Channel across Europe. Episodes of Epic Trails aired over 2,200 times in 2020. Learn more about the series at www.heliconia.ca. Networks interested in carrying Epic Trails are encouraged to reach out to Heliconia’s Vice-President, Brendan Mark, at firstname.lastname@example.org.