Have you ever had one of those days where everything that could go wrong does go wrong…but because of the mayhem and mishaps the final results were even better than you could have dreamed?
That is definitely what happened on the day that Glenn and I were booked into what has to be one of the craziest hotels on earth, Natura Vive’s Skylodge (not far from Cusco, Peru).
The fortunes of travel have definitely been with us with respect to Peru. On a fluke we decided to travel to a small town about two hours outside of Cusco immediately upon our arrival in Peru. We wanted a little quiet relaxation following our busy trip in Bolivia and before we began adventuring in a new country.
We found a quaint hotel (Casa del Abuelo Riverside) in the small village of Ollantaytambo, located in the Sacred Valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu. It was a perfect spot for some downtime. We woke up in the morning to a major strike to protest a new law that would allow private companies to operate and manage certain archeological sites. Many of the protesters felt that the law was essentially selling their cultural heritage.
The goal of the strike was to disrupt tourism in and around Cusco by shutting town all transportation services – including taxis, busses and trains. Incoming tourists ended up stranded at the airport and had to walk to their hotels…and those that were already in Cusco were unable to travel to Machu Picchu (some 3,000 tourists visit there per day).
Our hotel was full of people that were going to have to go back home without ever seeing the iconic site they had come to Peru for. It was heartbreaking. There was one Italian couple that was so determined that they planned to walk the 7+ hours along the railroad to try to reach Machu Picchu on their own – with no idea how they’d get back.
All of the stores and restaurants were closed in our little town, and the roads were blocked off preventing anyone from coming or going. All tourism services came to a halt. By some estimates the two-day strike cost over $3 million in losses from the tourism sector.
While this situation was horrible for most everyone else, it worked out in our favor.
There are some major Inca ruins in and around where we were staying – and because all of the tourists were stuck in Cusco we had them essentially to ourselves. The ruins that looked like an ant hill because of all the tourists scurrying around the sites the day before were all but abandoned when we visited.
On the second day of the strike we were supposed to be picked up from our hotel at 2:30 PM by the Natura Vive Skylodge staff. But because the roads were blocked by huge boulders, downed trees and protesters, they were unable to reach us. Glenn and I spent the afternoon anxiously checking for update emails from the Skylodge folks. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Our 2:30 PM pickup time became 3:30 PM, and then became 5:30 PM. Rain and thunder began rolling in and the electricity in the hotel went out.
By the time the Natura Vive staff got past the roadblocks to pick us up (~7:30 PM) we were sitting in the lobby, in the dark (after hours with no electricity) with several hotel staff and guests staring at each other by the light of two tiny candles.
Needless to say, I had some serious second thoughts about what I had gotten us into.
You see, the Skylodge consists of three glass pods hanging on the side of a sheer 1,300+ foot cliff. Guests climb the cliff to their pod via ferrata – or “iron path” – a series of metal cables, rungs, steps, ladders and bridges. Of course, this adventure is meant to be done in the daylight…not in middle of the night!
Before I knew it we were being suited up in harnesses and safety gear. A headlamp was slapped on our foreheads and we found ourselves at the base of the cliff with two guides and another couple (Percy and Arelis), ready to begin our climb.
Glenn and I have no climbing experience and scaling this cliff in the dark of night was a crazy experience. Our guides have been doing this multiple times a week for three years – one of them had never climbed it at night and the other had only done it once before.
Climbing in the dark meant our once-in-a-lifetime experience became even more remarkable.
On the upside, I couldn’t see how high off the ground I was…on the downside, it was very disorienting to be surrounded by a void of darkness on all sides. I stayed focused on the rocks and metal rungs that were illuminated by my headlamp, took several deep breaths, and slowly climbed one step at a time.
Arriving to our pod in the dark of night meant that we were treated to an amazing view as the sun rose above the horizon, slowly illuminating the valley below. It was truly breathtaking.
The culmination of this amazing experience was zip-lining from the pods down the cliff back to the valley floor.
Here is a video of some of the climbing and the ziplining – as the pictures don’t quite capture how amazing the experience was.
In the end, our late start made this adventure a truly remarkable experience. There are very few people that will ever get to say they climbed the 1,300 foot cliff to Peru’s Skylodge in the dark. It is definitely at the top of my list of most amazing things I have ever done.
P.S. – But what about a bathroom?
Because I know you want to know…yes, there was a bathroom! It was a dual system, liquids in that funnel looking thing (a chamber pot is used for the ladies) and solids are collected in a plastic bag that gets sealed and put into the shoot coming out of the bottom of the toilet into a collection bin below the pod. It was all very civilized.