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Full Circle

Day 193: Pongo De Mainique, Urubamba River

Pongo de Manaique, Urubamba River, Peru 
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Wembley in Peru. Listening to penalties in the Pongo.
Michael Palin - Full CircleWater slaps over and into the boat, forcing Barry to stow the radio as we sheer away from the foot of the cliff. We swing, twist, bounce against a couple of sturdy backwashes, then all at once are out of the frothing rapid and into the smooth limpid stillness of the gorge.

Nothing I have read or fantasized about has prepared me for this place. It looks as though high explosive, rather than a river, has split through this last mile of the Andes. The walls are sharply fractured, with rocky overhangs, sheared off like the stumps of shattered bridges. Lianas hang down to the water, some tipped with orange-red flowers like up-turned candelabra. Water, pouring constantly down smooth black mossy flanks, has worn the rock into weird and wonderful shapes - symmetrical fluted surfaces, perfectly smoothed bowls, caves and chambers.

It is an enchanted world. The air is quite still, parakeet cries echo from above, white-collared swifts dart along the water. A blue and black morpho, the largest butterfly I've ever seen, moves lazily among the rocks. The animist Machigengas believe the morphos are forest gods patrolling their territory.

We put in to an inlet in the lee of one of the two last cliffs that face each other across the river like great grey walls, and on a radio, with the signal fading and surging, listen to eighty thousand people crammed in a space not much bigger than this, cheering a goalkeeper's save and England's progress to the semi-finals.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 193
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: Pongo de Manaique rapids
  • Book page no: 263

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