Participants in a KU-sponsored trip to the Peruvian Amazon and Andes say it was more like an adventure than a vacation.
A small newspaper ad grew into a big trip for Franklin Finks.
The 47-year-old Overland Park produce distributor had never taken off from work for more than a long weekend.
Then he noticed a newspaper advertisement for a trip to the Amazon.
"The more I thought about it, the more fascinated I became," he said.
Weeks later, Finks and his wife, Georgia, both afraid of heights, found themselves 100 feet above the treetops in a rain forest canopy walkway watching dozens of species of birds, and later ascending 2,000 feet along a winding road to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas.
"For the amount of money I spent, I wasn't going to stay on the ground," he said.
Franklin and Georgia Finks were among about 25 people who explored Peru on a trip sponsored by Kansas University's Natural History Museum.
The group left April 2. A tour of the Amazon rain forest was held through April 8, led by Bill Duellman, curator of herpetology at the museum. Many participants also stayed for a tour of Machu Picchu before returning home April 14.
"Everything we did was so completely different than here," said participant John Sprengelmeyer, a 25-year-old 1992 KU graduate. "It was cool. It was well-worthwhile."
Participants on the first part of the trip rode boats on the Amazon and its tributaries, saw hundreds of species of animals during several hikes during the day and night, and traded T-shirts and baseball caps for handmade items with native peoples of the region.
On the second part of the trip, they traveled to Cusco, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Western hemisphere, and then to Machu Picchu and other Inca sites in the Andes.
"I think they're the prettiest mountains I've ever seen," said participant RaeAnn Douglas of Colorado Springs, Colo. "Our mountains are beautiful, but the Andes are unique."
Lawrence resident Joanne Wise, a backyard bird watcher, said she was amazed at the variety of birds in the rain forest.
"I can't describe how beautiful it was," she said. "But it just sort of diminishes my bird watching here."
Wise said she wanted to see Machu Picchu many years.
"In the fifth grade I had written an oral report on Machu Picchu ... and I've always been fascinated with the Incas since then," she said.
Sprengelmeyer said he's been recommending a trip to the Amazon to everyone he sees.
"It was hardly a vacation," Wise said. "It was more like an adventure."
The trip was the first of its kind sponsored by the museum.
Another trip to the Amazon may be planned for next year, said Kathryn Wiese Morton, coordinator of marketing and public relations for the museum.