Saturday, May 6, 2017
After seeing the ruins at Pisac, we continued by van to our drop off point for our Lares Trek hike. When we arrived it was pouring rain. The guide asked if I had water-resistant pants and shoes? My only rain gear was a rain jacket and the orange plastic poncho Sam Travel Peru gave each of its hikers. I was definitely nervous that this was going to become a very long two-day hike.
Fortunately the rain cleared soon, the sun came out, and before I knew it I was hiking in a tee-shirt. Throughout the hike rain would come and go. Typical Andes mountain weather.
Lower Lares Trek
The trail on this part of the Lares was more gradual as we hiked uphill. We were surrounded by lush vegetation and fast running streams. Narrow trails would open to sprawling valleys with streams and rivers running through the middle.
At one point a pack of llamas came bustling down the trail toward us. Seeing us, the llamas scattered to both sides of the trail, began eating leaves, and looked at us passing by as though we were the curious sight.
Along the trail we were also passed by horsemen with their burros and horses.
On our first day it rained off and on. The reality of the Andes is that it can be sunny one minute and pouring rain the very next. Weather changes fast and frequently above 12,000 feet.
Upper Lares Trek
As we began to climb higher, the lush vegetation gave way to wide open valleys with short grasses on the mountainsides. Trees were replaced with rocks. Rocks are the major building materials used high up here in the Andes.
Rock walls for an animal pen, or used as a barrier to a garden, dotted the landscape all around me. Small, square homes built with rocks for walls and straw for roofs look the same as when the Incas built their homes here over 500 years ago. The people living here, the Quechua, are descendants of the Incas and little has changed in how they live over all this time.
We stopped for lunch, and the horseman, chef, and porter had arrived ahead of us with the food and supplies. Our food was amazing! Hot soup, fried trout, fresh baked bread, and stuffed avocados were just some of the things waiting for us.
Children in the valley ran to our campsite to see if the gringos had any treats for them. Two women traveling ahead of us had candy they passed out to the kids.
When lunch was over we still had about 2 hours to hike before making camp. As we began to go, it down poured…hard. For the next 20 or 30 minutes I just stood inside my orange ark and hoped the rain would let up, which it did. So far today we have been lucky to not be hiking during the worst of the rains.
We passed lone rock homes as we continued forward on the trail. One little boy knew our guide and when he saw him, came running over from his house. His name is Alfonso and he lives with his grandmother. Our guide met him awhile back when the boy approached him, crying that he and his grandmother had no food. The climate is rough here to grow anything other than potatoes. A walk into town takes days.
I noticed that the locals all wear a basic leather sandal. No one seems to wear a shoe or boot. The temperature is cold, the mud is everywhere, and yet their feet don’t seem to be bothered. Alfonso’s feet were covered in mud and he just took it in stride.
It was a hard uphill climb to our campsite for the night. We had only hiked about 10 miles total today, but with the altitude around 13,000 feet I was feeling it. And regardless whether the terrain was a steep narrow trail or a wide open valley, it was wet and muddy. The streams in the low-lying valleys spread out like flat fingers of an open hand. The water in these places wasn’t deep, but if I didn’t find the right stone to step on, wet feet were the consequence.
In Good Hands
I believe I picked the right company for this hike, Sam Travel Peru. Not only was every meal delicious with appetizers, soups, multiple main dishes, and desserts, the service and attention to detail in our sleeping arrangements was every bit as good.
In the middle of a rain rainstorm, the porter, horseman, and chef had our tents pitched with appropriate water protection above and below, the inside arranged with a very comfortable pad, warm sleeping bag, “mummy” liner for the bag, thick blanket, and small pillow…and all done under 15 minutes. The real over the top part was the hot water bottle I received before going to bed. You know, the red rubber kind your grandma may have had? I put it at my feet in my sleeping bag and was warm all night long. Ahhhhh.
In the morning, I was awakened with a porter offering hot coca tea at my tent “door”. He also left a large bowl of warm water to wash my face. Am I really in the Andes? As I said, the service is over the top.
After a great breakfast, and a little shopping, we were ready to hit the trail again. Onward to the summit and 16,000 feet!
We passed so many alpacas along the trail today. Their shaggy hair partially covers their face, and their short ears stick up like spear points. Unlike llamas, they cannot tolerate lower elevation living. And as cute as they are, they are the food source for the people here. Seeing so many of them dotting the hillsides reminded me of cows dotting green pastures in the States.
We passed a girl, about 10 years old, standing on some rocks in the middle of a heard. She didn’t have a hat or gloves, and wearing what only appeared to be a light jacket. I however was layered 5 articles of clothing deep, with a hat and gloves. I’m sure I would die out here left to my own devices. 😉
I asked Elio, our guide, why she was standing out here. He told me that there are pumas in these mountains and it is her job to scream if one approaches the herd. If she screams, others in the area will come running and chase away the puma. Personally, I don’t get it. The closest house looked so far away the damn puma would have been able to have an alpaca appetizer, main course, and dessert before anyone got close. Not to mention that if I would have put my 10 year old out in a field to ward off pumas, I would probably be in jail. This is definitely a different life.
At this point, our hike began going up, very vertically, the last 2000 feet to the summit. The air was thin and I could hear and feel my heart beating hard in my chest. Let me tell you a story about Peru and the Guides who trek us on these trails to the summit peaks. The Guide is responsible if you die. Like criminal liability jail time. Not the company, but the Guide himself.
I had a conversation with our guide Elio at dinner last night and he said to be a guide in Peru, it requires five years of schooling, and that includes training in emergency medical care. The way he described it to me, it sounded like more than an EMT but less than a Paramedic. He told me of a guide who took a group and one man had a heart attack and died. That guide is now serving 15 years in a Peruvian prison. Really?!
In Ecuador it seems no one is responsible for anything concerning someone else. This doesn’t seem to be the case here in Peru. Anyway, all I could think about, as my heart was pounding in my throat climbing this mountain, is that I CANNOT have a heart attack because poor Elio might end up in jail. Obviously I made it. 🙂
Pursuit of the Summit
The clouds pretty much engulfed us before we reached the summit. We did rest for a bit and Elio played his flute as wisps of clouds passed by us.
I thought I had made the summit when I saw this sign…
However Elio told me this was the fake summit. You know…it’s been “the year of fake news” so a fake summit wasn’t hard for me to get my head around. I didn’t care, we celebrated anyway. Then headed up another 200 meters to the real summit.
It was a crazy effort for me to get to the top, but once there it suddenly didn’t seem so bad. It was cool to be on the peak of an Andean mountain along an Incan trail to Machu Picchu. I had seen a lot in a very short time and felt great that I was here now.
After a lot of picture taking at the true summit…
…and quiet appreciation for being here, we headed down the other side of this mountain.
What Goes Up, Must Go Down
Going down was very steep, extremely muddy, and a surprising amount of work considering gravity was working with me. It began snowing at one point…and I thought we were in the clear! We were passed by two different caravans of burros packing supplies needed for the camp sites at the bottom. One of these was our own horseman, porter, and chef making their way to have lunch ready when we arrive. These local Peruvian guys can practically run down the side of the mountain.
On the way down we passed a beautiful glacier lake the color of sapphires. It surface was like glass and reflected the surrounding mountains. There was also a crazy beautiful multi-drop waterfall that just begged to be the background of my picture. 😉
Oreos Are Universal
On one stretch of the mountain we passed a herd of sheep on our way down. It wasn’t too long before we came upon a 5 year old girl headed up the mountain. Elio asked her where she was going, and she said she had to go watch the sheep. Sounds like it is the puma thing again…and she is five!
Jenea gave the little girl some Oreo cookies, and she wouldn’t open them in front of us. As I watched her climb up the mountain trail, however, I saw her start to eat them. Hopefully they took her mind off the pumas!
We finally made it down from the summit and our chef had a hot meal ready and waiting for us. It started with vegetable soup, followed by platters of beef and chicken, with onions, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower. We were also served homemade pizza. I have to admit, being done with the hike I was ready to eat large!
Looking over at the nearby river, I could see our driver washing the van that would be taking us for an hour’s drive, to then catch a train, and then into Aguas Calientes where we would be going to Machu Picchu tomorrow.
…To Be Continued.