Trekking in Peru

After 5 months of pedaling the time has come for some changes. I left the bicycle in ‘casa de ciclistas’ in La Paz and headed to Peru for a planned month of trekking. Getting on a bus felt strange at first, but soon I felt at home as a full time ‘mochilero’. Read on for the highlights of the different treks we did or skip the rather lengthy blabber and go straight to the pics.

Cachora to Machu Picchu:

This is the hardest trek we did and it so just happened it was the first one. It didn’t start that well. We teamed up with 3 Israeli backpackers for this one and as we were getting off an early morning bus to Cachora it was snowing (quite unusual for this part of Peru). An old lady desperately tried to stop us saying we will all die in the snow. We managed to calm her down and slip out. So far so good. When I was collecting our backpacks my mathematical skills had to be impaired either because of the snow or because of tiredness, I don’t know. In any case when the bus started rolling somebody said ‘where’s the fifth backpack?’ Shit! Luckily one of the guys was a good sprinter and fortunately the bus went uphill so he managed to stop it and get his girlfriend’s backpack. Not a good beginning indeed.
Bad beginnings aside, the trek is absolutely marvelous, leading through the lesser known ruins of Choquequirao (controversially ‘rebuilt’ by the Peruvian government) and then joining the more popular Salcantay trek leading to the (in)famous Machu Picchu.
I was quite reluctant to visit The Lost City. The ‘you just have to see it’ line that I’ve heard so often didn’t really convince me. After finding out about this trek though I thought that if I have to do the most touristy thing in South America then at least I will have some less touristy way of getting there. And indeed we only met one group of other trekkers on the way which is probably due to the trek difficulty. Almost every day 1000 or more meters down and 1000 or more meters up. Not everybody wants to go through such a torture. Machu Picchu itself was probably a great place to visit once, but now it’s nothing else than mass produced experience for ‘only 99.99′. It is as authentic as a cardboard figure with 800 thousand people visiting every year. Similarly disappointing experience as Foz de Iguazu falls in Brazil/Argentina. Not my thing.

Colca Canyon:

This was supposed to be a few days trek down what’s one of the deepest canyons in the world with some opportunity to see the mighty Andean condors soaring around. Well, as luck would have it, after the first day, when we were looking for a place to pitch our tent I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my leg. I looked down and I saw a round piece of cactus firmly attached to my trousers. I pulled out 2cm long thorn from my achilles tendon. Game over for me. Instead mighty condors we spent a night in thermal waters place. Why not, screw the condors. I am still not sure how you can walk into a cactus like this or maybe this was some predatory species that jumps on you when you don’t look. I guess I will never know.

Santa Cruz trek in Cordillera Blanca:

We decided to do the most popular trek in Cordillera Blanca with some little detour to have a look at the sexiest mountain in the world – Alpamayo. As it always is the case in the mountains the weather makes it or breaks it and we weren’t the luckiest this time. On the second day the weather broke down. Rain, snow and what not. Wet and cold and being denied the supposedly breathtaking views by the clouds and barely being able to find the route we did it in 3 days in a rather low spirit.
As for the Alpamayo itself it is a curious thing. In the sixties some German magazine had a survey amongst its readers to choose the most beautiful mountain in the world and Alpamayo won. I am not sure what other mountains took part in this rather ludicrous beauty contest, but the label ‘the most beautiful mountain in the world’ sticked. Now don’t get me wrong, Alpamayo is a very attractive and sexy mountain, but so are all the others around judging even by what we saw on the first day of the trek when the weather was still nice. Since the readers voted based on photographs, it would be fair to call it the most beautiful picture of a mountain contest, but there you have it. Silly people like us go there expecting god knows what and the seasoned mountaineers have their share of laughs because of that. Nothing new here.
I can’t help but mention the way back to civilization after the trek. We finished early afternoon in Vaquería a little village of few houses. The only bus that goes through the village had already left so we decided to take our chances hitchhiking, which s not that easy when there’s only one car passing the whole afternoon. Resigned we decided to stay in the village for the night being offered a bed in what was a storage room of a small food store. The owner promised to wake us up for the 3am bus. When we crawled outside in the morning, there was another guy already waiting at the bus stop. The bus was actually a small van and when it pulled over it was packed with people. I mean full… or so I thought. The driver jumped out of the car, opened the side door, put a blanket just behind his seat and invited us in. I got ‘the best spot’ in the middle, sitting on what was a raised bit of floor, where the heating air flows (I only realized that when the driver turned on the heating and my ass started to roast). I counted 18 adults and 3 children inside. There was so little space I had to put one foot on another and my one leg was between legs of a lady in front. The child she had in her lap fell asleep and slid down on my knees, no bother. As we were going uphill for the first part of the trip over an over 4000 meters pass and since there was more potholes in the road than the road itself, the seat which was put between the drivers and the front passengers seat was pushing on my back, sliding me off my ‘seat’. And it would if there was any space to do that, instead my knees just pushed more into the two poor women sitting in front of me. They weren’t too happy and I couldn’t blame them. Still, there was nothing I could do and the only thing I was really concerned with was to catch those gusts of fresh air coming from a half opened driver’s window, the only air conditioning available. This ride from hell lasted for nearly four hours and when we got off I wanted to kiss the ground.

Cordillera Huayhuash:

Our last trek in Peru was the 8 days circuit in the legendary Cordillera Huayhuash. It is legendary I suppose mostly because that’s where the dramatic events described in the ‘Touching The Void’ book took place. It is also one of the most remote treks you can do around Huaraz. This time we teamed up with a German couple. We decided to take it easy and hire mules and a muleteer to carry the food and our stuff. We went to few agencies and finally made a deal. The muleteer will wait for us where the trek starts at 10a.m. Right! We bought 8 days supplies of food for 5 people and off we went. We arrived in Pocpa around 10, we put all the stuff at the only bridge in the village – the meeting point and we waited. Around 11 we got impatient. It didn’t calm us down that nobody from the locals that we chatted to didn’t know a muleteer with a name we were given by the agency. We decided to call them to see what’s going on.
“He’s waiting at the bridge.”
“Well, we are at the bridge and there’s no muleteer.”
“Then he must be in the square.”
“We are calling you from the square there’s nobody here.”
“But he is there!”
“We ARE here and I am telling you he isn’t!”
“OK, call us in 30mins we will see what’s going on…”
After few calls of that sort the agency finally agreed that the guy isn’t there and that they are organizing a new muleteer for us.
“What’s the name of the new muleteer?” we asked sensing something was wrong.
“Ivan… more less”
Oh no, I thought, here we go, screwed over by the agency and with heavy bags of food that we cannot carry on our backs. We were sitting by the bridge thinking what to do and around 14 a guy comes over with 4 mules. This is our guy! Wow, he made it at last… but he’s behaving a little bit weird. It didn’t take us too much time to realize that he’s totally drunk, He could barely stand on his feet and in fact he even managed to fall down once. Luckily some other muleteer was passing by and he helped to load the stuff on the mules. We still weren’t convinced we should go with him, but then we thought we didn’t have much choice if we wanted to give the trek a shot. On that day after reaching the camping spot we saw a rather amusing scene. Our muleteer sleeping in his horse which is walking around looking for juicy grass ignoring the extra weight on its back. So are the mules with all our stuff on them. Each of them in different part of the meadow. We did our best to get the mules to one place and try to take the stuff off their backs. Have you ever tried to persuade a mule to go somewhere? Impossible. No matter how hard I pulled, the animal just stood in one place indifferent to my desperate efforts. Luckily there was another group camping in the spot and the muleteers took a pity on us and with some magic whistles and sounds the mules were in one place in five minutes. They even tried to talk to our wasted guy, but they gave up as he was beyond reach of any verbal communication. He appeared the next day and simply apologized for his indisposition. Fair enough. It was fun.
The trek itself is definitely the most beautiful I’ve ever done with jaw dropping views every corner culminating with the view from an over 5000m San Antonio pass to Yerupajá, Siula Grande and other mountains the names of which I forgot :). Even though the nights and mornings were quite chilly we were very lucky with the weather. Magical experience.

So my holidays from the holidays in Peru passed rather quickly. Other than walking, I used the free time mainly trying to make up for my lost 12kg eating absolutely everything and in large amounts. Chocolate cake was on top of the list, with fatty churros just behind. The time had come to get back to my other girlfriend waiting for me patiently in La Paz. I decided to turn back south and go all the way to Ushuaia to the ‘end of the world’. It’s the right time of the year.

Cachora to Machu Picchu.

At Choquequirao.

Camp spot on the trek.

Cachora to Machu Picchu.

Going up the switchbacks was challenging.

Railway tracks leading to Machu Picchu.

These ants are surely walking to visit the most amazing tourist attraction in South America ;).

Cusco, meat stall marketing. Smile!

Colca, the land of the cacti.

Agricultural terraces in Colca region.

A skilled donkey rider and what an outfit!

Santa Cruz, Cordillera Blanca.

Alpamayo. Isn’t she lovely, isn’t she beautiful :).

Memento mori, Cordillera Huayhuash.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

An attractive cow.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

Cordillera Huayhuash

Some mornings were quite chilly.

“Do things differently” this time meant “let the donkeys carry your stuff”. I enjoyed it.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

Weird plant.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

Cordillera Huayhuash.

8 Responses to Trekking in Peru

  1. Lulis says:

    Impressive histories and landscapes, my friend. Keep moving, so we can keep loving to follow your big latin adventures ;) Niemuviepopolsku!

  2. Miriam Costi Ribeiro says:

    Wonderful pictures, miss u!

  3. Kirill says:

    Well that’s amazing!

    Just talked to Esteban and we thought about you.

    That’s quite an adventure! Some pics reminded me of our little hillwalk Roundwood-Enniskerry :)

    • Wojtek says:

      Thanks! Yeah, there’s not that much difference between what we did in Eire and what I am doing here…. it’s only a matter of scale :). Glad you guys still think about me.. aaaawwwww :)

  4. Federico says:

    Good to know you two are still alive!! :D
    great trip, great pictures, great adventure… I have to admit, you sound like an interesting person now! :P hehehehe… I’m sure you were missing my comments :) Let me know if at some stage you are around the Atlantic coast (Mar del Plata or San Bernardo), I know some people around ;)

    • Wojtek says:

      Cheerio! I will be moving down the Chilean coast now, so I am not sure about if I make it to visit your sisters in AR :). Thanks though! Greets!

  5. Lucas says:

    Stunning pictures ! Peru indeed has a lot to see. All the best !

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