Rafting the Urubamba River in Peru

Rafting down the Urubamba River in Peru

Rafting down the Urubamba River in Peru

‘More power, more power,” Orlando screams from the back of the raft. “That’s easy for you to say, mate,” I think to myself as I plunge my oar back into the icy water. “You’re not paddling.”

We make it through the swirling rapids to some calmer water on the other side and I double up over my paddle and gulp in lungfuls of oxygen-deprived air.

White-water rafting at 3000 metres is hard work. To be honest, doing anything at 3000 metres is hard work. At this altitude a flight of stairs can reduce you to a gasping wreck, so a white-water rafting trip might not seem the ideal way to spend an afternoon. But it’s one of the best ways of taking in the majestic scenery around Cusco, a region in Peru that’s famous for its soaring tree-covered mountains and ancient Inca ruins.

Unfortunately, only one other person in Cusco felt the same way, so there are just the two of us on today’s tour. Which would be fine if we were in a kayak. But we’re in an eight-person raft. And our guide – a sinewy local by the name of Orlando – is a maniac.

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Cusco, Peru

Market stall in Cusco - photo by Rob McFarland

Market stall in Cusco - photo by Rob McFarland

I’ve never been so apprehensive about getting off a plane. After spending most of the flight from Lima to Cusco reading about all the possible symptoms of altitude sickness, I’m convinced I’m going to faint theatrically the second they open the door.

I don’t. I venture nervously out onto the stairs and take my first breath of oxygen-starved Cusco air. And then a second. And then a third. The relief is palpable. I’m going to survive.

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Climb to the top of Wayna Picchu, Peru

Climbing to the top of Wayna Picchu - photo by Rob McFarland

Climbing to the top of Wayna Picchu - photo by Rob McFarland

Winner, 2007 ASTW Travel Writer of the Year
Winner, 2007 ASTW Best International Story (over 1000 words)

I’m having second thoughts. The steep stone path we’ve been slowly climbing up for the last half an hour has disappeared and we’re standing on a small section of terracing with terrifying thousand-metre drops on three sides. Maybe this really wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe we should have heeded the advice of the security guard who told us not to carry on.

Suddenly, Rob (the only other person on the tour foolish enough to attempt this with me) spots a small sign pointing into what appears to be a sheer rock face. Further investigation reveals a hole and, after using our camera flashes to illuminate the entrance, we discover a tunnel. We exchange a “what the hell, we’ve come this far” look and I follow him in. On the other side is another flight of breath-sapping steps but the end is finally in sight. We edge around a large boulder, climb a small wooden ladder and join a handful of other elated climbers on what feels like the top of the world.

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