How on earth do we find ourselves hanging off a cliff-face, in a glass-bubble bedroom, suspended on wires above Peru’s Sacred Valley? Well, it is just the small matter of a 400m rock-climb via-ferrata and a 200m high hanging wire-bridge to reach said bubble, then a six-stage zip-wire descent to return to terra-firma next morning. Stupid or brave… 🙂 ?
Winding the clock back a few months, our great friends Jimmy and Karen are planning a holiday in Peru to meet up with us. Karen has a proven track record as an adventure holiday planner extraordinaire. “There’s this Skylodge thing…” she says. Apparently, you just climb up and slide back down… great views! We’re so excited at the prospect of meeting up with them that we (somewhat rashly 🙂 ) agree to go along with her plans.
So here we are… after a couple of fun days exploring Cusco together, leaving Cuthbert behind, the four of us are collected by the amiable Cesar from the Skylodge and driven down the Sacred Valley to the foot of the cliff. We gawp up in awe at the three pods suspended off the cliff-face 400m meters directly above us. Then we spot a column of metal pegs drilled into the rock-face, disappearing up the cliff into the high distance towards the glass pods. It seems that Karen has booked us all into probably the only hotel in the world that issues climbing harnesses and hard-hats at the check-in desk! “What could possibly go wrong?” 🙂
Hanging down the side of the metal pegs is a safety line: a cable which is periodically secured to the rock-face. Cesar and his team take great care introducing us to the equipment and explaining the ‘via ferrata’ concept: with the carabiners attached to our harnesses, we secure ourselves to the safety cable. In the event that we slip off the metal pegs we should, in theory, fall only as far as the nearest secure point and not all the way to the valley floor. Hmmm… reassuring.
So off we set, one by one behind each other up the cliff face. Cesar and his team are really great, leading the way, taking photos and offering kindly words of encouragement as we tackle the trickier bits. We look down past our boots resting on the metal pegs, down the sheer rock-face and down to the valley floor which becomes increasingly distant below. After around 200m climb we are starting to dare to congratulate ourselves on the progress so far, when we find a gulp-inducing vertical crevice in the rock-face that we are traversing. Our section of nice, firm, pegged-rock stops dead and continues again after an air-gap some 20ish meters wide, with a sheer drop below. Stretching across said air-gap are two lines of wire: one to walk across and another above it at around waist/shoulder height, to hold onto :-0 I think the modern expression for such a situation is “WTF!!!!” One by one we clip our carabiners onto the higher wire then each set-off across the void alone. I’m desperately searching for words other than ‘terrifying’ to describe the feat! As we each carefully inch our boots sideways along the lower double-wire to cross the gorge, we slide our hands along the upper wire to steady ourselves. Looking down to the 200m drop below our foot-wire is an ‘optional extra’ activity which I choose not to undertake. Instead I fixate firmly on a building across the valley in the distance and don’t take my eyes off those yellow mud-bricks until I feel the firm rock ledge take-over from the sagging cable beneath my boots. Eish!!! Petrifying or what?? Thereafter, just another 200m climb to reach the pod with our minds full of anticipation… How will we sleep? How do we have dinner? And more indelicately… what if we need the loo in the night?
The climb takes us up above the pod so that we can descend to enter it from a wooden platform above a hatch in the roof. Finally inside, we can de-harness and move around safely. The pod is around 6 metres long, 2.5 metres wide and 2ish meters high. A spectacular view emerges all around the comfortable space, which has four single beds (No Sir… these are no camp-beds and sleeping bags… here be proper mattresses, crisp cotton bedding, fluffy down-duvets and embroidered cushions) and a separate bathroom section for, as Marcus says… “A pooh with a view” (so that answers that question then!) 🙂
After a full briefing by Cesar, we are left to giggle childishly amongst ourselves, taking in the enormity of our surroundings and lots of photos. The brief is for us to relax before the evening meal and you may well, as we did, wonder what on earth to expect for dinner. There is no ‘base-station’ up there; in addition to one other identical guest pod (in which is staying the lovely Magda from Poland), there is just one tiny staff-pod.
An hour later the wind is increasing. It’s noisy and rattling the frame of the pod but (fortunately!) it feels secure. Suddenly, there is a knock on the roof-hatch… “Elloo???” In descends a wind-swept but very cheerful Cesar. From his large rucksack, like the magician’s rabbits from a hat, he produces all the trimmings to set our individual fold-down tables for dinner. Cutlery, crockery, polished wine glasses, serviettes! Somehow… and God knows how… from the bag Cesar serves a delicious, hot, three course dinner of pumpkin soup with crispy croutons, chicken with quinoa and mixed salad, a squidgy chocolate brownie with strawberries and passion-fruit coulis, all washed down with a very tasty claret! This is the best dinner we have had in Peru so far and it was served from a rucksack at 400m in a cliff-pod. Mind-boggling!
After dinner, Cesar clears-up and bids us goodnight to return to the staff-pod; now it was just the four of us and the increasingly howling wind. We snuggle down under our fluffy duvets, looking up at the stars above us and down to the lights in the valley below. We can’t quite believe the full awesomeness and it takes a while to fall asleep!
Funnily enough, the spectacular view from our beds as we wake up is similarly spectacular as the view the evening before… but without the benefit of the wind’s sound effects. The ‘breeze’ has gone leaving a peaceful, calm sunrise. On cue, Cesar arrives for breakfast, but this time rather than bringing the food to us, he escorts us on a tricky rock-face traverse to a wooden platform where a table is set for an ‘Extreme Breakfast’. Remaining in our harnesses clipped to safety wires, we scoff fresh coffee, breads, jams, hams, cheeses, fruit salad, granola and then… the pièce de résistance… Cesar takes orders for eggs! Never, in the field of extreme breakfasts, have so many scrambled eggs been enjoyed by so few people with such extraordinary views 🙂 !
Finally it’s time to leave, but the fun’s not over yet! Remember that little climb-up we did yesterday? Well, we get to descend back down by way of a six-stage zip-wire! Once again we get a safety briefing then off we go… stage by stage. Only a small amount of screaming involved (mentioning no names… Karen 🙂 ) as we’re whisked by wire back down to earth.
All in all, the Skylodge is a fabulous, unique experience and highly recommendable to any nutter with a bit of a head for heights. We want to say a massive ‘Thankyou’ and give big hugs to Karen and Jimmy for both finding, arranging and sharing this amazing ‘thing’ with us. We loved it all (yes, even the scary bits) and are thrilled to have managed the challenge together. Top marks also go to the Skylodge team who could not have been more helpful, understanding and encouraging throughout the ordeal… sorry… did I say ‘ordeal’ ? I meant ‘fun’ 🙂
Next adventure… the four of us head for a two day hike at over 5,000m/16,400 feet to Rainbow Mountain!
Sleeping on a cliff-face Gallery