Freelance journalist Kimberley Granger writes: I stood in the middle of the famous Inca Jungle Trail and felt only nauseating fear. Every two minutes for two hours straight, someone would yell, “Lights up!”and ten small torch lights would point to the mountain towering straight above us. The sound of rocks falling had started again, but luckily they were still twenty metres behind us.
The ordeal began earlier in the day, when crossing a raging river turned into a nightmare. Fernando, an Argentinian boy, had to be rescued after slipping in. Antonio, one of our guides, ran down the bank of the river, lifted a log from the water, and brought it slightly upstream to try and reach Fernando. Someone came running with the rope, and they were able to pull him in. Neyser, another guide, took back a small group who decided not to cross.
It continued not long after when the track we were supposed to take had collapsed into the river. Antonio said to me: “I am not going to risk your lives any more.”
After days of torrential rain, landslides had begun to carve up the mountains.
We took another track, directly up the mountain for about two hours, the darkness closing in around us. Luckily for us, we had two guides that knew the area better than anyone.
By six o’clock, we had reached the main road. We continued walking while Antonio tried to call for a vehicle to pick us up. That is when we found out the cars weren’t coming through. The road was blocked by a landslide.
The pace picked up. The supposed six-hour jungle trek that day had turned into twelve hours, and it wasn’t even close to being over.
Further along the road we came to the first landslide. The muddy ground and the sound of falling rocks brought the group to a halt.
Our guides went up ahead to have a look. When they came back, their words to the group were: “When we say run, you run. When we say stop, you stop.”
We were attempting to run through a landslide. That is when the overwhelming sense of fear set in. We tried to calm ourselves down, breathing deeply to catch our breaths before the running began, my friend Jess and I holding hands so as not to lose each other in the dark.
“RUN!” yelled our guide. With our small packs banging against our backs, we ran. The rocks were falling around us, a giant boulder landed between two of the other Australians on the tour. We kept running.
There was no turning back at this point. It was chaotic. Twenty-one people were running through muddy ground along a narrow stretch of road, all in one big group, dodging falling stones and boulders.
Then there was the call: “Stop!”
We were back on to hard ground. We walked for another two minutes, thinking we were safe, but kept a watchful eye on the mountain above us, as the grinding of falling rocks continued.
We rounded another corner and the landslide must have been enormous. We could hear the rocks falling, lots of them. It sounds a bit like thunder, but with a strange grinding sound mixed in.
“Run!” said our guide. We started running, more rocks falling now and our shoes were sinking into the soft ground. Jess and I let go of each other’s hands, worried that we are going to twist one of our ankles on uneven, soft ground.
I breathlessly called out to Jess over and over and she would yell back “I’m still here!”.
We slowed down as we heard giant boulders thundering down ahead of us. “Stop! Run back!”came the call.
“Run back?” I remember thinking, “to where?”
We ran back to the hard road in between the two landslides.
We wait there for a long two hours, with lights directed to the mountain above us. We did not think we are going to get out of this. Between the six Aussies, three of us threw around ideas like, “Call the Australian consulate, they should be able to get a helicopter.”
One guide, Antonio, went to get help. He goes straight down the steep hill, between the two landslides, and everytime we hear the thundering of rocks we hope to God that Antonio was OK and that he would come back for us.
When we saw five lights making their way back up the mountain through the darkness, a tiny little bit of relief overcame some of the fear. That is until the sound of falling rocks began again, and our lights went back to being directed at the mountain, everyone’s eyes watching for movement.
Ricardo, the guide that stayed with us, lead us down the first part of the mountain. The 60-degree incline was sometimes too steep to walk, so we slid. Other parts were too steep to even slide, so Ricardo jumped down first and pointed to a tree, or a piece of grass for us to hang on to and jump down.
We reached the rescuers coming up when we were about a quarter of the way down the mountain. Antonio took one look at our faces and told us he wouldn’t leave us again.
They were all wearing hard hats, and I burst in to tears, once again, when I saw them. The fear was indescribable. We thought the mountain under our feet was going to collapse. Although the rain had eased, there was still the sound of falling rocks right beside us.
We abseiled down a seven-metre cliff, with a fraying piece of rope tied around our middle. The rope was not long enough to reach the bottom of the cliff, so we detached ourselves from the rope and were then passed between rescuers, who were holding on to trees on the side of the cliff, and they got us down the rest of the way.
From there, we walked for fifteen minutes until we reached the openness of the river valley.
We were helped again through torrents of mud and rocks from the multiple landslides until we reached the dirt road in to the small town of Santa Teresa. There, a police truck was waiting for us. With lights and sirens, we were taken to the medical centre and the main square. Luckily, no one suffered anything more than cuts and bruises, but the relief was washing through us as we huddled in a group in the square at 1am.
Applause broke out as our rescuers and guides arrived in the back of another truck. Antonio, Neyser, Ricardo, Chavo — words can’t describe how incredible and brave you were. We couldn’t have made it out of there without you.
NOTE: An article appeared in El Commercio newspaper suggested that the police rescued us. In fact, they met Chavo, one of the other guides, just as he came up the mountain to rescue us . They came with one cell phone that they were using as a torch. Chavo told them to “F. Off”. The only part they played was to take us in their car, with flashing lights, back to the town.
This post first appeared on Kim’s blog.