top of page

Solo Expedition Part II: Over the Andes into the Amazon

Earthwalker Paul Coleman Machu Picchu 1989

Cuzco is high in the Andes, at the upper end of a magnificent valley framed by spectacular snow-capped peaks. This was the heart of the ancient Inca Empire.

I chose Cuzco to begin my expedition into the Amazon because I could find very little information on the jungles in that region. The road I'd be traveling would be freshly carved through the jungles and lead me to a frontier zone.

I knew where I was going could be dangerous. There would be no law and order, but I would see what happens when people rush in, hoping to get rich, mining or panning for gold, destroying the forests in the process.

In Cuzco I participated in the Inti Raymi Festival, with 100,000 Indians and virtually no tourists at Sacsayhuamán, a massive Inca citadel overlooking Cusco, to celebrate the winter solstice, and visited Machu Picchu, which was deserted due to the threat of Shining Path terrorists.

After a few days, I got on the back of a flatbed truck with twenty or more Quechuan Indians and set off over the Andes mountains for the rainforests of the Amazon on a road so narrow that only one-way traffic was allowed. Direction changed twice a week, except for Sundays when two-way traffic is allowed. What a trip that must be!

The road was not paved, extremely bumpy, and downright dangerous! Incredible heights gave magnificent vistas and fluttering hearts as the truck lurched drunkenly toward the Amazon around bends that had everyone leaning into the mountainside and away from drops of a couple of thousand feet to the valley floors below. At landslides, we'd clear the road of rocks and use them later to fill deep potholes that would otherwise be impassable.

Earthwalker Solo Amazon Expedition

After thirty-six hours on the truck, we crested the Andes, and I saw the jungles of the Amazon for the first time. It was a vast green carpet that seemed to stretch forever. Being so high in the Andes, the sky was blue, but hovering above the mighty forests below, were clouds. Some were dark, and heavy with thunder and rain, while others formed from mist rising from the dense vegetation in a process known as evapotranspiration.

Moving down the mountains we entered the Cloud Forests. Here, the air is always misty, the trees dripping wet. The forest grew alive with insects and birds, bromeliads, epiphytes, orchids, and a dazzling display of plants beyond description.

I was ecstatic. Then we got stuck in a mud hole. and my first night in the Amazon, the place of my dreams, was spent in the back of a truck. The Quechuans were used to this and claimed all the flat spaces leaving me the stranger with nothing more than a pile of rocks to sleep on. Finding a comfortable position was not easy, but eventually, I dozed off.

Over the Andes into the Amazon Earthwalker Prepares for bugs
No bugs getting in my ear now!

I was asleep for about twenty minutes when a tremendous noise and vibration ripped through my head. I felt like my head was going to explode. I screamed in agony. An insect was boring into my head. I could feel its legs kicking, forcing itself deeper in. Thankfully there was enough of the body outside that I could grab a hold of it and pull it out. This was my worst nightmare come true. I was afraid of insects. I knew I had to eliminate this fear in the Amazon, but I never knew how fast I would have to do it!

I rooted through my backpack, found the jacket I took to Iceland, pulled it on, raised the hood, closed the mouth and chin guard, and protected my eyes with sunglasses. Then I covered my hands with socks. I was sweltering. But safe from whatever creepy crawlies were coming my way. So ended my first night in the Amazon.



bottom of page