Alpamayo Circuit, Peru. August, 2017

Peru – Trekking the Alpamayo in the Codillas Blancas Mountains
Aug 19 – Sept 2, 2017

My birthday celebration continues.  I was eager to get to the airport to enjoy time in the business One World lounge before my flight. This time I was determined to also watch the time and get to my gate early so I wouldn’t have to be paged over the loud speakers to run to catch the bus shuttle to the plane like last time.  On the plane in my “1C” seat at the very front I indulged in a glass of champagne and chatted a bit with the nice man next to me.  He’s from Santiago, Chile and was in Las Vegas for a clothing industry show.  His position takes him all over the world, which he really enjoys.  His English was quite good and further inspires me to learn to be fluent in Spanish.

The plane arrived on time at about 12:30am.  Groggily we all made our way through customs.  I waved to the nice gal, “Sally”, who’s in Peru to “surf the longest wave.”  I hope all is in her favor for the adventure.  So I wouldn’t have to bother with a taxi and such, I spent the extra money to stay the rest of the night at the Wydham Hotel across the street from the airport feeling a good sleep before the trip would be beneficial.  It included a full breakfast so all added up to being worth the extra I think and I could pass on the nagging taxi drivers all hoping for some business from the newly arrived travellers.  Then in the morning about 10am I’ll get a “free” ride to the hotel in Lima arranged by KE Adventure to join up with the rest of the group.

The group is supposed to be small, me being the 9th the last I’d heard. Supposedly I have my own tent and possibly my own room as well.  I’m ok either way, just so long as my roommate doesn’t snore like the dickens.  I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and hoping there’ll be great chemistry and a good bit of humor amongst us all.  The last trip here was wonderful, we all connected so well and had such a fabulous time together.  This is a completely new group and yet unknown, so it doesn’t do any good to have any expectations whatsoever.

I do love to travel and once again find myself generally a happier person whilst on the road.  Yes, there are always some hard bits just as there is in life anywhere, but I get a kick out of being abroad with completely new sights and experiences around every turn, with no “routine” to keep me supposedly “safe” as so many folks are so concerned, yet they venture into the world of OC without hesitation.

I enjoyed a casual morning then the 40+ minute drive to Mira Flores and the El Tambo Hotel.  No message from KE was left, so I headed out for a walk to the cliffs and down to the beach.  I met a surfer dude who wanted to teach me to surf and have me join him for a Pisco Sour later in the evening, but I declined in a friendly way saying I’d be having dinner with others.  Another paraglider guy wanted to take me for a ride, but again a funny feeling about the guy without equipment to show for his story had me decline.  I did stop to watch all the “fliers” along the cliffs thinking what a perfect place for them with the constant upwelling of wind to keep them afloat along the coastline keeping an eye on the surfers below for as long as they pleased.

A nap felt good as did get a little worn after the walk on this typically grey day in Lima.  About 5:30 I headed down to the hotel desk to inquire about a meeting, but again there wasn’t anything.  I did briefly meet a couple who are also on my trip, but it was brief.  I did learn we’ll depart at 8am tomorrow…a reasonable time as opposed to the 6am departure I was thinking might be the case.  Well, I guess we’ll get the run-through in transit to Huarez tomorrow.  Seems a nice welcome letter or something upon arrival with some details would be a nice gesture KE could provide.  I’m also feeling a little funny about the end of this trip, where special arrangements had to be made to get me back to Lima a day early to meet the date that was posted on the website as the last day, but in fact the itinerary is a day longer…an “oops” on my part and I’m glad they are taking responsibility for the oversight.

20 Aug – To Huarez, 8 hour’s driving

Tomorrow is the big day in the US with a full solar eclipse occurring in the morning.  Here in Peru, I doubt we’ll experience any of it. Bummer the timing worked out that way, but I’m guessing another full eclipse will happen somewhere in the world in my lifetime.  This way too, friend’s will enjoy sharing their stories with me about their special experiences.

The drive to Huarez is long and the few hours we spent on the Pan American Hwy, was dull.  Thank goodness I had a good book.  I’ve now met the group of 9 who all seem to be good natured and experienced hikers.  3 women and 6 men on this trip.  Gabby and Helmet from Germany, MaryAnne and Eric from the UK are the couples.  Vaughn, Dave, Trevor from the US and Robert (USA) join me as single Trekkers.  I’m looking forward to getting to know them all as our days together progress.

We lunched at the beach town of Barranca, which felt more like a ghost town in a prime location.  I hope in the summer the place comes alive with more color, people, open businesses and such.  Currently it seemed the Sombrella Restaurant was the only one open with its very friendly owners feeding us with local foods including avocados and veggies for me…locally grown, yummy!

After lunch, we turned inland off the strait and utilitarian PanAmerican Hwy starting our journey into the mountains through more agricultural land and very rocky barren hills.  As dry as it all looks, I know there is much water here in Peru and the lush green valley floor gave hint to good water sources.  We stopped to pick up some local fruits and try some new local “Incan” fruits of the region…yummy.  Enjoyed the best mandarines I’ve had in ages and always love the local passion fruit.  I purchases a bag full of deliciousness from the nice lady to enjoy in the coming couple days.

We crossed the road pass at 4100meters with our first beautiful first views of the Cordillas Blancas Mountain range and the vast expansive gently rolling, golden grassy hills that leads up to the snowy peaks.  The lighting in the afternoon was gorgeous highlighting the dancing grasses and dramatic clouds.

A pink sunset ended the day, the view from my darling room at the Hotel Santa Cruz.  We enjoyed coca tea with a view from the hotel lobby complete with lovely fire in the fireplace.  My room is darling and I’ve indulged in both good wifi and a very hot shower…Ahhh… I like it here!!!  After Gabby talked about the last time she was here in another local hotel without hot water, this seemed extra special.

We dined at a wonderful organic restaurant and brewery offering their own Sierra Andean brew…yummy.  Their food dishes were massive, we all got a bit kick out of some portions including my salad with enough delicious salad to feed a horse!

22 August – Acclimatization day #1

We all are enjoying this darling Hotel with its quite good amenities for the area and a nice large breakfast stayed right in line with things here.  We departed about 8am for the Cordilleras Negras, the mountains across the valley and Rio Santa from the Blancas.  The road turned to a very narrow, winding, bumpy dirt track as we made our way to about 3700 meters.  The day’s walk was an easy one, just shy of 4 miles taken very slowly with only 200 meters of altitude gain in total.  We walked by small mountain lakes made lively by ducks and coots enjoying the calm waters and stunning views of across the valley.  It’s an agricultural area but quite dry this time of year yielding its once yearly crops of wheat and making way for grazing sheep, pigs, cows and horses.  The locals all were working hard and dressed in very colorful traditional garb.

The skies were a bit cloudy on the mountain side keeping us from seeing many of the peaks, but it still was quite beautiful to see so much of this huge range from a distance before we’d be heading in in a couple day’s time.  The reason for so much acclimatization is that we will suddenly find ourselves at around 15,000 ft elevation, a shock to the system if not at least a little prepared.  With most of the group from England, really none has too much recent experience at high levels.  The Germans (Gabby and Helmut) do seem to spend a good bit of time in the Alps tramping about, but that’s about the extent of altitude preparedness.

We enjoyed an early lunch at a nice viewpoint and old place of sacrifice from Incan times.  Our cook and his assistant showed up in formal “chef’s” garb to serve us a delightful lunch with a grand view.  The day was so relaxed it gave us good time to chat and get to know one another a bit more.  All are good folks, keen on hiking and seem to have good attitudes…an attribute Mother Nature is so good at instilling in folks.  My new shoes are a risk, but I had to have something since the one’s I’d ordered didn’t arrive in time.  It was a good to have a light day to test things out. I may pop into town later to see about buying some Compede or some such foot protection just in case.

Later I did pop into town and on my way down ran into most members of our gang who were quite disappointed at what little was on offer in this “base camp” for Trekkers.  I chilled out when we returned then headed out and found the same result as the others.  There were about 4 of the tiniest stores, closet size, one can imagine crammed with odd hiking stuff, mainly puffy jackets and odd sized clothes and such.  It was all quite random and not one product catering to a hiker’s well being.  What a change from Cuzco!  Well, it was a nice walk and on my way back I ran into Robert who was successful in finding a new pair of hiking shoes, his soles having fallen off earlier in the day.  He asked if I’d like to join him for a beer and so we found a nice little place to enjoy, chat and pass the time before we met up with the others back at the Hotel.  Robert is yet another quite interesting guy with keen interests in learning, traveling, running and so forth.  He asks about me as well, so the conversation was nicely balanced unlike so many I have with most men in OC.

We again headed back to town for dinner this time taking the long route through new neighborhoods with quieter streets.  I was rather turned around, but Dave and Trevor lead us nicely into the Plaza de Armas to meet up with Bilhelios (spelling?), our guide who was taking us to another nice restaurant to try.  A huge demonstration was in progress with armed guards all around.  It turned out to be the teacher’s strike continuing as they demand much higher salaries taking them from $400 soles to $1000 per month.  A big increase, but if one doesn’t ask they won’t receive, so best wishes to them.

My plan this afternoon was to pass on dinner and I kinda wished I had.  Just so much food eaten so late in the evenings.  It’s nice to at least walk back up the hill a mile or so to the Hotel, but still felt quite full.  The dogs continued to bark their nightly choruses throughout the night too.  Well, soon enough we’ll be sleeping under the stars and hopefully in the peace of nature.

We all decided to opt for the longer hike tomorrow, so off to bed we all went.

22 Aug
Hike up to Chopo (?) Lake

We all opted for the pretty and harder hike and super glad we did.  It was quite a climb taking us past 15,000 feet, and with some fun rock scrambling and stunning views.  The weather was quite good, a bit cool, some puffy clouds decorating cheery blue skies and a nice breeze.  So far on this trip we’ve seen American Kestrels, Peregrine falcon and Caracaras…all stunning birds in their own right. Additionally I met 3 very darling friendly doggies today who’ve figured out that Trekkers carry food with them.  They all look quite healthy, so the mountain lifestyle seems to suite them well.

I love the pace we meandered at today…just slow and steady letting our bodies adjust without too much stress.  Even at the slow pace, most of us found ourselves huffing and puffing a good bit.  We were all reminded to drink constantly and with the good snacks of fresh fruit and chocolate in our bags and a yummy lunch waiting for us prepared by our cooks at the lake, it was a perfect day to further prepare for the big altitudes ahead.

The landscape in these parts is quite dry at the moment, but a few little flowers did grace our day and the lovely paper trees, same as the ones planted at SacsayWyman near Cusco by the Incas so long ago, they grow wild and free here.  They’re stunning trees that live quite long, so each holds its own lengthy history of the region.  A bit more rock scrambling along a lovely water fall and the trail flattened out at the stunning Laguna Chopo…???  The colors of the lake are stunning with deep teal in the center and lighter aqua around the edges.  Bright green moss in the shallows added a bit of highlight to the view.  Dominating the view though was the snow capped Chopo???? Mountain.   It’s in the 5,000 meter range, not near the highest, but does receive enough snow to make it stand out brilliantly and its reflection on the lake sharing its namesake partners the two perfectly.

We enjoyed lunch on a point overlooking it all with 2 of our cooks again dressed in their formal chef attire cooking away and serving us all a lovely soup, bread and lunch of rice, veggies and (for me) a tofu dish.  As always meals are followed by hot tea.  It was hard to get up after such delight and I did dream of a helicopter coming to lift us back down the hill to Huarez, but alas, that last bit was not the case and we all had to hoof it up a bit further then down the steep trail to our starting point where the van met us to drive us back.

On the way down, my head started to ache.  This has happened a few times this year at altitude and I’m thinking my high altitude hiking days are looking like they need to be adjusted to stay a bit lower.  The headache intensified as I got lower and was rather painful by the time we were back in the van, to the point of feeling a bit queasy even.  That’s a first and a bit of a worry as well.  I ate part of an orange and felt a bit better.  I have been drinking quite a lot, even with electrolytes…hmmm….  Well, I know even our highest altitudes aren’t life threatening, but I sure hope I’m not that uncomfortable in the coming days.

I plan to stay in tonight rather then indulge in yet another big meal later in the evening.  An early bedtime and healthy snacks I have on hand coupled with lots of water rather than more Sierra Andean beer should he good.

23 August
1st Official day one of our trek

Super excited waking up after an long night of on and off sleep to clear skies and a view of a glowing mountain range including the highest peak in Peru.  She and her stout neighbors glowed pink then faded to bright white against the blue skies as the sun rose in the morning light.  Vaughn and I wished we’d come out earlier to see it in its true morning colors, but with 9 days of high altitude trekking upon us, we’ll have opportunities as Mother Nature allows.  A good article on the trek was passed around the bus on the way spreading more excitement about what’s to come and also the tough but rewarding days ahead.

I’m feeling much better today, the headache is gone and it turns out others had the same experience, so I can take comfort in knowing it was most likely due to the fact that we started the day at 12,000+ feet and by lunch were at over 15,000feet in altitude, so a few symptoms were bound to show up.

In fact this turned out to be one of those “best day ever!” kind of days.  We visited the local market on it’s bustling Wednesday with everything fresh and many household and clothing items on offer to locals as well.  The women all wore very colorful traditional outfits, fluffy skirts and tall hats.  It was a feast for the eyes until we wandered into the building selling slaughtered animals.  Guinea pig is a delicacy and all I saw were the cutest little critters tossed in a netting awaiting their fate. Even the others who do eat meat thought it a difficult sight to see…yet they were keen to photograph the sliced, diced and hung carcasses of other animals.  All I saw and felt was horrible death and I hoped the every being’s soul who’s body was on offer enjoys a free and peaceful next life in whatever form they move on to.

From there we headed to Yunama??  A town that in the 60′s was nearly wiped out by an avalanche caused by a earthquake, then in 1970 was completely wiped out with almost 100% of the residence buried in rubble.  Oddly they have rebuilt the town, albeit on the properties next door, but still in the path should that happen again, as it has each decade or so.  Peru’s largest mountain looms above them at over 22,000 feet!!!

We then were on a winding dirt road, passing villages and farmland, then we passed through the gate to the National Park and suddenly all the scenery changed.  The road carries on between two sheer cliffs carved out by old glaciers each cliff topped by massive muscular mountains with thick glaciers hovering above.  Below we pass 2 stunning lakes, a female lake sporting the most beautiful turquoise and surrounded by the stunning paper trees with their bright orange trunks.  The second lake is the male lake, showing off lighter colors and looking a bit more sparse.  The far end tapered off to a shallow area and beach where a few campers were staying the night as their process of acclimatization.  We however carried on in our nice little bus.  Up and incredible long and winding road we all were thrilled to be on with a good vehicle and super driver.

The road is considered one of the most beautiful in the world and if you asked any of us, we’d agree.  We were surrounded on all sides by a mountain range also ranking amongst the most beautiful and later in the trek we’ll see what was voted the most beautiful mountain in the world Almamayo.  My jaw must have been on the floor all day taking with such views.  We’d stop for photos and take them in all directions.  How does one explain such a masterpiece created by none other than Mother Nature Herself?  Mt Huascaran is the highest in Peru at over 22,000′ and this national park is named after her grandeur.  The road as mentioned was windy and also very narrow so as we climbed higher and higher, it looked more like we were flying.

We stopped for lunch at an open space with panoramic views.  Our chef and 4 assistants were already there dressed in their best restaurant kitchen attire with our table all set up for us under the shade of a canvas gazebo.  Food just tastes incredible in a setting like this and in reality, it was quite good.  Simple soup, a salad, stuffed potato thing and fresh veggies.

I had a wander around after lunch and walked into the ruined house that was once used by the military here.  Inside were two darling donkeys snoozing away taking in the sunshine.  Of course I had to spend time with them.  I took my time getting down low and talking to them, letting them sniff me.  The dark one was shy, so I didn’t push it, but the white one who was lying down was ok with me.  I scratched his forehead and he fell asleep with his jaw resting on the ground, a lovely moment of peace and connection we shared. The dark one walked over to us as well gave a nuzzle then walked on.  I then heard our van start up and had to say goodbye.  I could have stayed with them for hours, but alas we had more driving to do, more views to take in and then a shorter hike to our campsite.

Toward the top at nearly 16,000′ a snow that had fallen a couple days ago left the track muddy and slippery.  The car in front of us got stuck and it took all the guys to encourage the minivan to continue up the track.  We were next to pass that section and our driver was brilliant.  Yes, we slipped and slid a good bit, but our heavy weight and his skill got us through.

The pass was a narrow wedge of granite we drove through then to the dryer side of the range with less spectacular views, more winding road and some green lakes.  Our hike started about 4.5 miles from camp and was a pretty gentle descent through lovely foliage singing birds of a variety of sorts, flowers, trees and a gentle river accompanying us.  Peru is only 2nd to Venezuela in number of bird species on offer.  More than Africa, Brazil, Costa Rica or anywhere else…wow!

Our campsite was all set up and tea awaited us in our yellow dining tent when we arrived.  Yes, we are actually “glamping” on this trek, but still in tents, all of a happy yellow in color.  The staff supporting our gang of 9 is rather incredible with the 4 kitchen staff afore mentioned, our guide, 4 muleteers (3 brothers and a friend), an assistant for the emergency water horse who’ll stay behind our group daily and for the 1st 2 days, a lama or two with a handler there.  Apparently the later crew is along for photographic purposes only.  No detail left unturned I guess.  The biggie is that we’ll have 20 horses and donkeys/mules to haul all out stuff.  All this seems overkill, but really does make this experience special not having to be bothers with anything but hiking, eating, sleeping and just generally taking in the experience.

It’s colder up here and will get more so in the evenings, yikes!  I may end up sleeping with everything I have.  On the last trek we were given proper hot water bottles to take to bed with us…fingers crossed they have them on this trip too.  Tonight we’re at 12,136′/3699m. They don’t provide the warm treat, but will fill our bottles with hot water for the same effect.

Evening Chit Chat:  This first night of camping we take our time after dinner to chat using up time so we don’t go to bed too early. Vaughn asked Dave what he thinks his next trek will be starting a conversation about Dave and Trevor’s adventures together…and they’re extreme!  Gabby and I looked at each other and thought, this trek might be a bore for them.  To give a hint, Trevor has done 3 Iron Man’s.  They enjoy huge summits around the world even if it means enduring extreme conditions.  They’re not afraid of a level 11 expedition…this ones ranks an 8 and more a trek than an expedition.  Their gear also shows their dedication to some rather severe conditions being of the highest quality.  I just have what I think will get me through this one in as much comfort as possible.  I have to say, I don’t find that inspiring to me in the way that I want to up my game, but it does make what we have in store seem a bit more tolerable to those of us in the more “normal” adventure realm.  It’s quite interesting to hear their tales and see their expressions when reflecting on their rather grand accomplishments.

24 Aug
1st full day trekking up the Tuctu Valley to 13,497′/4114m.  6-7 hours hiking…up hill!

Another brilliant day of lovely leisurely hiking in the Huascaran National Park. I awoke about 5am to the neigh of horses and the munching of grass next to my tent.  I love waking to such sounds!  The horses and donkeys arrived early to start loading gear.  I woke a bit early as well to get my things sorted so I could go spend some time befriending some of the darling critters.  I spent time scratching the foreheads and beautiful ears of 2 of them, who seemed to cheer up with the kind attention.  I’m so grateful for them and happy they look healthy and get a chance to roam free between jobs.

After brekkie we headed down the valley gently for about an hour through lush landscape and farming villages.  We crossed the river then began the gentle ascent that would continue throughout the rest of the day’s hike.  Bilhelio (Spelling again?) goes at a nice steady slowish pace, which is perfect.  It may frustrate Dave and Trevor a bit, but if it does they don’t let it show.  It’s a pace that keeps the group trucking along together slowly acclimatizing and keeping the slower folks up with the group.  It also kept lookie-loos like me in check and able to stop and enjoy the scenery taking photos and befriending various animals along the way.

The weather was a bit cloudy after a very clear night with spectacular views of the Milky Way about 11pm.  Since we were in a valley without views of the bigger mountains just yet, the clouds were nice keeping the temps perfect for hiking.  As we ascended the clouds turned more puffy white with lovely blue making striking appearances.

The farming village is darling with local women dressed in bright hues knitting away making caps, scarves and gloves out of alpaca and sheep’s wool to sell to passing hikers.  Not sure they sell much, but their work is quite pretty and made with love and smiles.  Loads of dogs and children play about.  A little puppy was playing with a little piglet, another tiny puppy came out to say hi and enjoy a scratch. He was good to know better than to venture out on the trail where mules, horses and people trek by quickly.  We stopped at a spot for a snack and befriended another darling dog with crystal blue eyes.  Looking into her beautiful eyes was like looking at and light blue planet.  She loved a belly rub, but even more loved children.  Obviously a mother herself a few times over, when a kid would walk by, she’s run to them, tail wagging almost whining with excitement to be with the children.  What a good mum she is!

We left the village eventually and continued up the lush open valley with huge granite mountains all around.  The open marshy field was home to a variety of birds including black ibis, Andean ducks, Andean gulls and such.  2 days ago a puma took the life of someone’s lama.  Sad, but that is life in the wild.  The puma has to eat too.  At the gate to the National Park, we learned there’d been a theft at one of the camps up the way.  Bilhilio (?) has been telling us to be sure to bring all our gear inside our tents at night to avoid such incidences.  Earlier that morning we’d passed a small group, one Trekker without gear and walking in sandals.  Turns out he was the victim and the whole group had to turn back as everything he had was stollen.  I’m not sure why a person would leave a pack with cell phone and money outside, but he did.  Such things are a shame as they affect the trekking industry as a whole and all who are involved in the industry.  People will stop coming if word gets out too often and people will loose their jobs as a result.

Anyhow, we took a break by a lovely river with some gentle cows nearby in the company of their youngsters.  My favorite trees enjoyed a bit of a community in the upper part of the valley.  Robert and I both mentioned how nice it was the walk in such open peaceful space.

Our lunch stop was up the valley from there at the end of a stint through a fairy-tail-like tunnel of paper trees with rocks and soil covered in thick green moss.  With our arrival in the open pasture, the clouds were parting and the warm sun joined us at our luxurious long table for a catered lunch by our well dressed cooking staff.  Other hikers walked by and mentioned how nice that looked, them having had just a box lunch of some sort.  The big mountains were out from under lifting clouds and we all had to stop now and again and just admire the scenery and the vast valley below.

From there the trail ascended a bit more steeply, but not like that first day out of Huarez that was so hard on many knees and such. The land is blanketed in gently blowing grasses and smaller trees.  A gentle river joined us again as well as the grand mountains.  As we turned a bend, yet another range came into view.  I believe this one is the backside of the “hardest to climb” mountain (Taulliraju 5380m and Rinrigirca 5808m).  Cows and their youngsters were enjoying the grasses there leisurely munching away or napping.

It seemed every ridge was a false one as we continued to climb.  Each time we came to what seemed a summit to the ridge, the rail continued up and around toward the grand wall of jagged peaks.  Knowing our campsite was near one gets a little anxious to see our home for the night.  It finally came into view completely dwarfed by its surroundings.  Our tents mere colored dots on the grass below the towering mountains.  From there we could see the zigzag trail that will lead us to our first big pass of the trek first thing tomorrow morning.  After that we’ll have a pass each day to cross.  I’m so happy we go slowly and methodically.

Getting in a little early allows for come personal clean-up, however after tea rain drops began to nip at the tents.  I only hope its a night time thing and things will be clear for tomorrow allowing more spectacular views of these truly special mountains.  Each evening there is time to kill between tea and dinner…about 2 hours. With the weather cold and as this afternoon a bit wet, one just reads and writes after organizing their things for the next day.

25 August
Crossing Pucaraju Pass (15,367ft/4684m)

Nice climb with some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen I think. Jason M’raz’s “Livin’ in the Moment” playing on my iPod… So perfect!  Arriving at the pass, towering mountains welcomed us with a parting of mysterious, dramatics clouds!  Another emotionally teary moment overtook me with the grandeur of it all and the humility and gratitude I felt being here on this extraordinary planet. Spectacular!

The day started cold, but with hot tea greeting us at wake up and more hot tea at brekkie to warm our hands and insides, its so far been tolerable even for me.  We could see our zigzag climb for the morning and to be honest I was looking forward to it of only to warm up in the shadow of the grand wall of mountains we camped at the foot of.  We all got a giggle out of the Spanish backpacker guy doing his morning rituals which included some rather risqué hip thrusts and directing energies toward his privates. We glanced over at our guys who were also giggling at his boldness right out there exposed to all.  His girlfriend seemed to be in hiding during all that.

The climb took us from Tuctu Valley at 13,497′ to Pucaraju Pass at 15,367′ / 4684m, a good morning’s climb with views at the top that I mentioned in the first paragraph of the day.  I wrote that at the top of the pass wanting to record the spectacle and feelings of reaching such a magnificent place on such a glorious day.  The mountains across the valley remained under clouds, but we could see the base of the snow to know where they were.  In every direction a massive and stunningly spectacular mountain jutted skyward.

We stayed up there at the pass for quite some time taking in the views and watching the fast moving clouds open and close views like curtains in at the theatre.  Eventually a chill set in to most of the group, so we set off down the nice and dry track…the first side being rather wet after last evening’s rain and hail. Lupine bushes grace the hillside in soft lavender and the mountain above took on the same name (Lupine).  The brilliant turquoise lake contrasted in a picturesque way with the flowers and the vast dry valley into which we headed.

We stopped for lunch as usually in a pretty pasture entertaining the local cows, a black one stood nearby watching our every move the whole time, his buddy tried to sniff at a backpack, but was quickly shoo’d away.  Lunch was yummy quinoa salad with fresh broccoli and the tea was lemon grass…yummy!

The rest of the hike down was mellow and delightful taking us down along Laguna Huecrochca at 12,999′/3962m and onward to our campsite along the river in the middle of a ranching community.   We were surrounded by the baying of sheep, barking dogs, pigs with a newly born family of spotted piglets, goats, cows and such.  Our horses and donkeys fit right in to the scene and the smell of it all paid tribute.  The sun was shining and since we got in early, it was a good chance to do some laundry…although I didn’t bring my soap thinking they’d provide their bio-soap as they did on my last trek here, so I did my best with just warm water…good enough for camping.

I set off for a little stroll and was quickly befriended by Aida and Carolina, 12 and 11 years of age and keen to speak some English and quell a bit of curiosity about the campers.  They were darling and we spent some time doing cartwheels.  They wanted to see the camp, so I took them there and introduced them to some of the others.  Robert to the rescue being fluent in Spanish, I’d run out of words I know.  In fact I pointed out the kitchen tent saying “la cochina” to which they turned blush red and giggled shyly.  I knew I’d said the wrong thing.  Eventually they corrected me as “la cocina”…we all laughed out loud.  Eventually, they set off to befriend the Chileans who’d arrived late.

My mind wandered quite a lot to my future and I’m so excited to head off to explore the world.  I do plan to check out the Cayo District in Belize.  Although hot, it seems to offer an organic and outdoor lifestyle with close community I’m looking for. I have a lot to do to close up my life in Costa Mesa, but with good motivation I hope it will all come together in a timely manner perhaps as soon as later this year…fingers crossed.

August 26
Tingopama and high pass at 14,380′/4383m.  Lower than yesterday and about the same distance of about 6.5 hours trekking

We all reveled in having had the best night’s sleep so far, which makes sense being that was a lower camp than the nights before.  The day was a mix of sunshine and low heavy clouds.  With a gentle hike upward toward our pass, we hoped the sun would win out and clear the clouds for a spectacular view at the top.  The clouds would try to clear, but in the end were just too weighted to lift the dramatic curtain.  We did see the base of many mountains in all directions that was quite pretty, but I can only imagine this place on a clear day with all the peaks jutting dramatically skyward.  Well, this is just our 4th day on the actual trek, so hopefully we’ll have days to come where Mother Nature will display her splendid work.  Fingers crossed we’ll see Alpamayo on a very clear day.

We walked through rolling grassy hills with clouds that would bring shade, then part for the warm sun to shine through.  Cows and horses graced this landscape.  Our water horse (“Hos”) is quite a social chap neighing at all the other horses who come his way.  We named some of the other horses too.  ”Mike” being the white mule, “Bob” the roan horse, “Simon” the black and white horse and “Dennis” the cook’s donkey.

We took an extra long break just after the village lower down toward the valley floor as we’d made quite good time in the day and we needed to give the crew time to set up camp.  Walking up the road (yes, cars can drive to this village), we eventually saw the camp what seemed nearly 2 miles up (1.5 more likely) and at the foot of a massive hanging glacier  with lovely water falls and stunning mountains above…who’s heads were still in the clouds mostly.

Walking up we say kites and as we drew closer we saw crowds of people grouped around our campsite.  Seems this particular part of this vast valley is the place to be on weekends and our being in the middle of it didn’t phase a soul.  In face there were a group of about 16 colorfully dressed local women all sitting with kids dressed traditionally in an arc right in front of the tents. They were there selling Coke and cervesa to campers.  We couldn’t believe how many of them there were, each with about 6 bottles in front of them hoping a few folks would buy.  They were prepared to sit there for hours patiently and hopeful.  Vaughn, Dave and Trevor did give in a buy a beer from them enjoying the indulgence in this rather spectacular location.  We all laughed a giggled, but also kept a close eye on our tents being sure no stealthy local decided to get “sticky” fingers and nick some gear or such.  We all hate to even consider that these darling locals would consider such a thing, but it does happen, just as it did to the bloke a couple days ago.

The clouds remained thick and low making the drying of laundry slow, if at all.  Most of us did a good bit yesterday in the sunshine, so all is good.  Kids continue to play in the area even after 5pm.  A few “vendor” remain hopefully, but begin making their way home when we all head to our tents after tea.  The sheep are herded back to their farms, I suppose the pigs and cows we say also have a place to go each evening.  It’s been fun wandering through these simple villages getting a hint of what life is like for these hardy Andean folks.

Tomorrow is a big day, some day the hardest day of this trek, so hopefully we all will get a good night’s sleep this night like last night.

27 August
One of the hardest days of this trek, heading over the Yanajanca Pass at 15,085′/4598m. It’s not the highest pass, but a long steep climb with about 8 hours trekking.

A fairly challenging day with some steep climbs, but hardly one of the hardest day’s trekking for me.  The morning started clear as a bell, brilliant blue skies highlighting the towering white peaks above which were shrouded in clouds yesterday.  This morning we could hardly take our eyes off the beauties.  Again too, most folks slept quite well and packed up ate and ready to hike a whole 1/2 hour early. I snuck my bread pieces to two skinny dogs, one was the really thin black one the curled up next to my tent yesterday for a bit.  Such sweet dogs that seem to long for a proper home.  Seeing how animals are treated here makes me want to buy a massive piece of land here and let is be a sanctuary for all sorts of animals.  I befriended another donkey this morning, actually I think he was the same one I hung out with the first day.  He has a happy greeting face when I walked up to him.  He practically fell asleep in my arms as I pet and scratched his forehead.  The sun was warm adding to the peaceful moments I shared with him.  Eventually he just lowered his head into my lap and arms and seemed to revel in a tender hug.  I was smitten with this handsome fellow.  All I could do was wish him a good day as much as I’d like to have taken him home with me…along with that little black dog.  As much as animal lovers like myself long to save every animal, or at least teach the world to treat their animals with as much kindness and love as they do their children, when traveling like this, one must turn a cheek and look at the good bits.  These animals to have a lovely place to live with space to roam completely free.

What a joy to trek on such a lovely morning, however it wasn’t long before a few clouds began to cluster and accumulate around the high peaks.  Still the hike was wonderful with good steep climbs separated by lovely walks through open fields.  Cows and horses call this area home and I only hope they get to spend most of their lives roaming free as they were today.

Seems we all are acclimating as time is passing, as the altitude didn’t seem a bother even when up at 15,000′… In fact quite the opposite, I got rather giddy and full of energy, what a fun day…yippee!  Near our lunch spot, we even saw 2 condors!!! Not a great sighting, but at least we did see a couple.

Lunch at 15K’ sitting at a proper set table being served by formally dressed kitchen staff and Chef…what fun!  We were served quinoa 2 times this day now and it seems to have added to the energy, or perhaps it’s just coincidence.  I had an apple left over, so cut it into slices to see if “Hors” and “Dennis” would like them…they loved the treats!  They gave me that super happy look as they were distracted from their working day to enjoy a treat and they deserved every morsel…much more if it were up to me. There was actually a bit of cell reception for one company allowing Bilhelio to call the office and Vaughn to call his wife from way up there…what a hoot.  No one else had any reception.

The pass was rather spectacular in itself with steep angled slopes falling off in each direction.  It took about 15 minutes of climbing steep scree to reach the pass, then came the abrupt decent.  In the end it looked more hairy than it actually was, but did take us down in what seemed like no time flat.  1500 or so foot decline after 4 hours hiking up.  Our camp was just around the corner once we reached the valley floor and were welcomed with a huge heard of llamas belonging to the family who lives in the mud-brick house we walked past.  Another open valley with a lovely river curving through it giving peaceful ambiance to the camp sight…as well a white noise to drown out any snores and such.  I walked up to the water fall at the end of the valley and just sat a while in the warm sun, contemplating absolutely nothing…just taking in the day.

As usual tea at 4pm and dinner at 7pm. We’re hoping for a clear night’s sky again to see the stars, however with the moon gaining in size, it gives off quite a lot of light dimming the Milky Way.  Our fingers are crossed the weather improves in the coming days with the brilliant clear skies as we had early this morning as we have some major peaks we’d love to see, especially Alpamayo.

I’m a little tired of being cold each night, but upon discovering I had more than enough hand warmer packets, this helped loads.  My feet would get so cold during the evenings with little activity they just couldn’t warm up.  I love those warmers…a life saver for a gal with Raynad’s…poor circulation in the toes and fingers.

I’m loving our group.  There’s not a single person who isn’t delightful to be with who has a boat load of good stories to share about their adventures, life and the world.  Vaughn is an organizational expert having worked for the likes of the national aerospace program and the NHS.  He’s full of stories and witty fun.  Trevor just retired 2 months ago and so far has been on the go ever since.  Ian cracks me up.  A retired geologist, he’s full of opinions, British grumpiness and a demeanor I find humorous as he emphasizes a particular word dramatically in every sentence spoken.  Maryann is his wife and full of vigor as well.  The two of them have hiked some pretty spectacular hikes around the world in their lives…as have others.  I think Dave and Trevor take the cake for the most big treks accomplished worldwide.  Helmet and Gabby are German and delightful too with stories of their varied treks including many via ferata treks in Italy.  Robert is quite interesting in his own way, very educated and unusually well travelled for an American.  His job has had him living in quite a few interesting places in the world.  He lived here in Peru for a stint and has done the “Hwywash” a couple times. He’s quite a strong hiker, so takes to the front most of the days and seems to prefer being on his own.  Loads of laughter prevails each day and evening…what a joy to be with these varied folks.

28 Aug
To Moyobamba at 14,698′/4480m. A short day like the one after.  They do that in case an extra day is needed for some reason along the way as this day and the next can be combined into a single day if needed.  I think that a far better idea than taking a whole day off somewhere.

The clouds closed in last night and finally drizzled a good bit throughout the night.  Of course hopes are that the clouds have emptied their heavy load and drifted off by morning, but unfortunately that was not the case for the day.  Instead it was rather gloomy.  Rain came and went along with a very chilly wind.  It put us all in a bit of a somber mood as today promised “glorious views of Mt. Alpamayo North East Face” and other surrounding higher peaks as well.  When the weather is good, this truly is a stunning mountain heaven, but today didn’t come through.  Seems Mother Nature is keen on transitioning the ares into wet season even thought their dry season started later than usual.  One cannot expect too much on high mountain treks keeping in mind eclectic weather famous for doing what she wants and much of the time it won’t be in line with what we want as hikers.

The grand mountain will be in sight the next couple days as well, so all we can do is continue to hope and do what we can to stay warm in the meantime. The hiking is nice and we all so feel good altitude-wise with high passes to cross daily.

I feel for the horses and donkeys though as I don’t think they are treated as well as the ones on the Choquequirao.  I’ve become friends with a few of the lovely critters and they seem to recognize me a bit as I went to visit “Buddy” and I ended up with about 6 donkeys gathering around me looking for a bit of kindness.  A darker donkey has a really fun sense of humor. I just want to see them go to a good home, enjoy a peaceful free life, but if for some reason I were to save these guys, they’d just be replaced with others.  I’m happy to see some friendships in the group like “Mike and Bob”.  At least the next two days are shorter giving them longer time to roll, frolic and eat during the days.

With the cold wind biting through my clothes, I think of the warm shower that awaits us in 4 day’s time.  I also let my mind wander toward places I look forward to checking out to live like the Cayo in Belize and some beach towns along the Pacific as well as places in Asia such as the Philippines and Bali and further down in New Zealand.   Also a road trip north to visit friends and family.  So much fun awaits.  A return to Peru to hike the Salkantay lodge to Lodge trek, then the Sky Lodge experience.  Perhaps a return to this area to see Alpamayo if she doesn’t show her beautiful peak in the next couple days, than down to Arequipa and perhaps the Nazca Lines and Amazon.  I’d like to visit Lake Titicaca too, but from the Bolivia side.  With time on my side once I “retire” I can keep venturing onward…I can’t wait!!!! :-)

We lingered over lunch an Ian took the lead to handle all our tips for the guys and Velhelio (Starts with a “V” it turns out).  We chatted played the “10 countries with 4 letters” game and lingered a bit more as the rain was starting up and later froze to icy snow.  We all headed back to the shelter of our tents for the afternoon and when I stuck my head out to say “hi” to a couple donkeys grazing outside my tent, the icy snow was accumulating more.  It was cold and again, I was ready for that warm shower and a warmer climate.  Alas, we have 4 more nights…3 that’ll be cold like this.  Thanks to all the hot tea, I’m avoiding any majorly frozen limbs, but also ready for warmer climates.  Our good guide has an alternative plan to give us more time in the next valley should the weather remain bad to give us a little more chance to see Alpamayo.  Currently the clouds and so low we can almost touch them.

There was chat about enjoying the last night in Huarez together.  I won’t be able to join them having an early flight so I’ll be heading to Lima that night instead, while the others remain in Huarez and extra night.  As much as I’d like to join them in the fun, especially in the company of hysterical Vaughn, I’m also really looking forward to moving onward.  Perhaps I’m just a bit down because of the weather, but I think my next few trips are going to be in warmer climates.  If I do head to somewhere cold, I’d like it to be in a place where there is a warm spot to return to enjoy a nice boat or hotel.  Funny how our minds easily wander to greater comfort when in tough places and long for more challenge when in too much comfort.

29 August
Carrara Pass at 15,797′/4815m is the second highest pass of the trip.  Fingers crossed for super clear blue skies as we reach the viewpoint for the Alpamayo.

We went to bed in the snow last night.  I swore I’d never snow camp again, but I guess life had other plans.  I was cold last night and feeling a bit “over it”, but there was nothing I could do about that except change my attitude.  It was nice hearing the pitter-patter of snow on the tent as the outer sheet began to freeze in place.  With this weather, who knew what the day would bring.  I had to get up for a “comfort” break about 3am and saw a few stars in the sky…a hopeful sign, but also a few lingering clouds.  No Milky Way or moon.

Crawling out of my tent after getting sorted with my bag in the morning, the clouds were low again, but looking a bit lighter too.  A few patches of sun were shinning as well making the icy crystals sparkle like diamonds.  Seemed the weather wasn’t quite sure what to do this day. We all just hoped we’d get the chance to see Alpamayo at some point.

The early morning climb was steep and after saying hello to the horses and donkeys and having yummy granola and fresh fruits for brekkie, we set off slowly up the steep incline. The sun and clouds played a game of tag and the cold wind took over here and there too. Up we trekked and before we knew it the summit of the pass was in sight.  At 15,797′/4815m, it is the second highest of this trek, but because we’d been spending so much time now at these higher altitudes, it didn’t feel that high at all.  The first big day out of Huarez still seems to me to have been the hardest since none of us were acclimated.

At the top, the winds howled telling us to hurry and take pictures of the views we did see here and there of Santa Cruz then started the very long steep trek down.  A few horses hesitated at the sheer incline at the start of the descent and I felt awful for them having the lug awkward heavy weight down an already challenging trail.  At least that hard part didn’t last long and it eventually turned to easier switch backs.  It had snowed heavier in the night on that side (the Amazon side) of the mountain blanketing the ground in a fresh coat of white. The wind was cold and we remained bundled for warmth.  The clouds continued their game of “now you see mountains, now you don’t”. The views we did see were stunning.  The valley below, to where we were headed, was so far down it gave perspective to the grandeur of this rather stellar mountain range.

The trail down was long, a bit muddy and wearing on my knees, but that was balanced out with more gorgeous views and warming air as we descended.  We arrived at camp before 11am…about 1.5 hours ahead of schedule, but then again we did leave camp about 1/2 hour early this morning motivated by cold temps an a need to move to warm up.  Our camp site was nearly set up and faced up the valley with tents facing the elegant Alpamayo Mountain.  She keeps trying to peek out from behind the curtain of clouds finding a bit of success now and again, then a sheet of white covers her up again.

The plans after lunch were to hike up to the bright turquoise lake that is fed by the glaciers of Alpamayo.  Pasta for lunch then a short break before heading off up the steep moraine that was much larger than it looked.  It felt funny with one person opting our of the afternoon’s excursion, but up we went feeling good and eager to see the brilliant lake up close.  The clouds were still playing games hiding Alpamayo, but by the time we reached the top, the sun began to shine on the grand lady and out she came for a short time. She’s a bit shy, or was this day, so we were so darned grateful to see her majesty as we did.  Without trying to be greedy, we’re really hoping to see more of in the next day or two.  Her famous “fluted” side and what awarded her “the most beautiful mountain in the world” by a German outdoor magazine, we could have seen a couple days back if the clouds had allowed, but this “Pyramid” side was quite striking too,

We had the afternoon to chill, do some laundry, clean up, read, whatever.  The sun kept popping out adding warmth to the day and warming our bones after last night and this morning.  That said, we have a couple more big days ahead and we have already spent 8 days now above 13K’  with multiple summits over 15K’.  Well done to our exceptional group!

Again during long walks, my mind wanders to my future and things at home.  I’m so excited to be in the position and with the knowledge to cut cords and head in a new direction in life..yippee!

30 August
Jaquan Vieto Pass (15,249′) to Osurui camp (14,800)

A pretty awakening with Alpamayo dressed in a bit of pink as the sun rose…but just for a moment before turning to a gleaming white in the morning sun.  A few high clouds lit up a back drop to the snowy range.  We all seemed a bit happier today with the sun coming out and not a rain cloud in sight.  As the day progressed, the sky only cleared more.  After another nice brekkie, we set off down the valley walking away from the mountain we’d come so far to see.  Free ranging cows and horses enjoyed the grassy valley as we meandered through the lovely scenery and along the beautiful icy river.  I hope all the animals get to live most, if not all, their lives free and happy.

The and of the long valley trail lies a large area of Inca ruins, many of the terraces are still in use by locals growing various crops. A small school sports a fancy new roof to educate the kids of this town of about 6 houses.  From there, the trail turns up the steep slope toward our second from the last summit.  The 46+ long steep switchbacks make this one of the trips longest climbing days and as we gain in altitude and lost sight of the bottom of the valley, it became so clear how truly grand this mountain range is in size.  The weather was mostly warm and sunny, then a cold wind would blow through keeping us from peeling off every last layer of clothes.  After the cold from the days prior and likely the cold that’ll set in come evening, the warmth was quite welcomed.

Looking up we were gifted by Mother Nature to see a few more Andean Condors gracing the skies the soar through so elegantly.  At about switchback #27, our chef and assistants met us with yet another delightful meal in a surprise locale.  No long set table this time as we were on a steep rocky slope that didn’t allow for such luxuries.  I was feeling pretty tired at this time, the switchbacks being very long and steep…not the short ones more often thought of on mountains in California.  Here the thought of “5 more” is a long haul, but a I guess rewarding getting to each new turn up a new direction.  The top switchbacks sort of melded into a rock scramble coupled by cold winds and wonderful views all around from our perch at 15,249′/4648m in the air.  Gorgeous mountains to one side, striking rocky peaks another direction and a long view down the valley and across to the Cordillas Negras.  We also could see our camp for the night, which was just a short distance down.  Some new flowers I hadn’t seen yet seemed happy to enjoy the views as well.  They were covered in a sort of soft fur, that perhaps helped keep them warmer in the cold climates of these altitudes.

Honestly, I’m quite looking forward to the end of this trek.  It’s been lovely and I’m so glad to be here, I’m just ready for a shower, warmer weather and to get down to a more normal altitude. 9 nights in a tent has been ok, but I’m ready for a cozy bed and a new set of clean clothes.  Others are chatting about big future hikes, like to K2 in Pakistan and such, and I’m looking forward to taking some time off from all this.  Perhaps it’s my tired-ness and sore feet speaking at the moment.  Tomorrow is supposed to be really pretty after crossing our highest pass of the trip and a over 3,000′ of gentle downhill afterwards, so our last day is something to enjoy.  Then a final night camping at a lower, warmer locale followed by a short hike the following day before we’re picked up and taken back to Huarez…with nice lunch stop on the way.

31 Aug
Highest pass and last full day of hiking (and camping)

A frigid night left a thick layer of frost on everything in camp and made getting up a bit of a challenge.  Even being ready for a bed, I’m getting used to my little tent and have been nicely warm and cozy even on those frosty nights.  Once up (assisted by hot tea served in our tents), everyone seemed in a hurry to eat brekkie and get going to warm up. The day started with the climb to our highest pass at 15,906′/4848m, but with all the time we’ve spent near this altitude, it all seemed easy.  In fact a couple of us were getting antsy staying behind Velhilio and his deliberately slow and steady pace, keen to keep the group together.  The pass itself is uneventful, it’s the bit a few minutes after the pass that begins to take one’s breath away.  Just as the itinerary says, the descent down to Cuillcocha Lake is sublime.  Azure-blue lake framed by the 3 stunning peaks of the Santa Cruz (other side from before).  The fluted edges the Alpamayo is so famous for, but we didn’t see, were present in full beautiful view on the largest Santa Cruz Mountain.  The clouds were puffy and white with stellar contrasting blue skies to accent the brilliant white mountains and huge glacier below.  I’d be a hard guess wether we all took more photos this morning of the mountains or of the Alpamayo the other day, either way it was a complete honor and privilege to be there to witness such outstanding natural beauty.

We descended to the dam holding the lake back, as the water feeds agricultural land in a couple villages down in the valley way below. We sat at the lake’s edge to just bask in the wonder of this glorious place.  I felt so darned grateful to be there on that perfect day sharing with new friends, especially after having had a couple days we’re such views were not possible.  Vaughn and I tried to find rocks to skim along the flat surface, but flat round rocks were not part of the surrounding beach makeup, we put our hands in to feel the temperature, which wasn’t too cold, but I’m sure it was icy a foot further in.  We pondered where that water has been in its 10s of thousands of years of life.  Likely it fell as rain once on a powerful T-Rex, or blew off the wing of a pterodactyl.  It was such fun just taking it all in, we could have stayed for hours, but alas, lunch beaconed and we had some hiking to do to get to our next special locale.

I love lunchtime on this trek, it’s always somewhere very special with grand views, a long proper table to sit at and formally dressed kitchen staff to serve us, it’s a bit surreal really.  I’d been collecting a few apples as have a couple others to cut up and feed as treats to “Horse” and “Dennis”.  They loved the sweet treats and looked at us happily in hopes of more.

It was only an hour’s walk down to our final camp at 13,097′/3992m, which seemed nice and low compared to where we’d been. The temps were warmer, the views expansive of the valley below and the Cordillera Negra across the patch worked agricultural expanse below. The horses and donkeys seemed to know the trek was coming to an end and headed down the trail on their own quite happily it seemed.  When we arrived, they were all loose enjoying the grasses around camp, rolling in the soft soil and relaxing in the warm sunshine after another hard day’s work.  ”Horse” came into our camp area to hang out a while with us, now that we’re all friends.  I spent time giving him scratches in places horses tend to like, as did he.  I’m going to miss all the hoofed friend’s I’ve made on this trip. Each morning I say hi to a couple donkey’s I’ve had the pleasure of getting acquainted with, I wish them all the best.

A leisurely afternoon on this beautiful plateau, the air is filled with sounds of a nearby waterfall as well as much laughter from the staff as they prepare a special dinner for us that includes a beautiful array of local potatoes.  Fun fact: The domestic potato first came from Peru and there are over 2000 different types here!  The guys dug a ditch, filled it with stones, lit a fire under it to head the stones, keeping the first going for a few hours, and will use that to cook their traditional meal.  Perhaps they’ll cook a little tofu or something in the pit set aside from the rest of the ingredients for me (they did).  The fun bit is hearing the guys have such a great time, as they seem to regularly work together so make up a wonderful team.  Tonight is the night we present the tips and kind words to each member of our staff as well.  A “thank you” they well deserve.

1 September
Final day’s trek of about 2 hours, then the long journey home begins…but not without celebration and a well-earned shower mixed in.

In many ways, this was the hardest day of all as it was the day I had to say good-bye to my new friends whom I’ve really become attached to and enjoyed their company completely.  We woke at our usual time, served hot tea by Vergillio (that’s the real spelling we learned…like “Virgil”), served brekkie by the wonderful cooks, I spent time with the donkeys and had a very special moment with “Dusty”, sharing a tear, he let me rest my head on his then gave me tender kisses (licks) on my hand.  I will miss all the hoofed friends I’ve had the great pleasure to get to know.

Our walk was only 2 hours and after a really hearty dinner last night, energy was good.  The Czech girl, Veronica, who camped amongst us last night was fortunate to score a ride to Huarez with our auxiliary van.  I don’t know how else she’d have gotten out of that hilltop village that took a good hour of crazy zigzags to get down from in a car.  She was carrying some 26 kilos and her feet were thrashed with blisters after doing the trek we did all alone getting ready for a bigger mountain summit in 4 days time.  I wouldn’t even consider doing such a trek all alone and carrying so much weight.  It made me all the more grateful to have had the great privilege of hiking with KE Adventures and being so pampered all the way through.  With a staff of folks working so hard on our behalf.  The flip side is that we employed some 10 local Peruvians and around 20 hoofed helpers contributing to the economy as well as being challenged by a truly special trek in the rightly named “most beautiful mountain range in the world”… Or one of.

We took our final group photo with the gang and headed down the mountain to altitudes that made our lungs quite happy.  We thought we were stopping at a restaurant for lunch, but it turned out our cooks were meeting us at yet another beautiful natural locale looking up to the mountains we’d just spent 10 days living amongst and had an alfresco lunch ready for us with long table and all.  We’d picked up a few beers on the way to celebrate our accomplishments.  I think I was drinking to mask my sadness of departing the group early, leaving in the evening for Lima and missing out on the final farewell dinner at the yummy restaurant we’d been to before the trek started.

The weather was hot and sunny, with temps well above what we’d been in making everyone a bit uncomfortable and sleepy as we headed back to Hurarez.  Back in the city, we picked up our passports and headed to the hotel.  KE was so good to get me a room for a couple hours so I could take that long awaited hot shower and repack my things into a proper suite case, better suited for lugging through airports than the big duffel.  It felt wonderful to be property clean and enjoy that as I went through my messages and things on the local WIFI.  Bringing a sad but grateful heart, I learned that my great Auntie P had passed away August 24th. It was beyond time for her to pass, but alas it is a loss and I hope she is off in the freedom of the skies riding a golden unicorn with diamond studded tack jumping over glorious clouds feeling free and wild as she once was as a youngster.  Mom has been so wonderful to oversee her care over the years and I know Pat is beyond grateful.  I hope to have some similar care when I’m at that age and in need.

Looking back over the trip I’m mostly feeling truly grateful to have been born where I was with such opportunities in life to be able to take advantage of.  I was blessed with an education, a wonderful family, good health, big dreams and a situation in life that allows me to pursue such adventure.  It’s a responsibility to make the most of the truly exceptional life I have. I’ve learned to face challenges, find ways through, learn and overcome as well as appreciate what I have and take responsibilities for myself and my actions.

I had a 7+ hour taxi ride back to Lima after sharing a beer with my new friends and saying a tearful “see you later.”  I wish each of them the very best, as they have been so inspiring in their own ways.  All are accomplished in their own rights, many retired or about to retire, all are extremely well travelled and have filled their lives with adventure and ticking off dreams in their lives. 6.5 long winding, construction filled hours got us to Lima, another 1.5 or so hours to get through the blasted, crowded, long-traffic-lit, late night city! The longer we spent in traffic the less I liked Lima, not that it’s anywhere on my list of enjoyable cities to begin with.  We left Huarez as the sun was beginning to set, it seemed all the majestic mountains of the Cordillras Blancas came out to bid a graceful pinkish farewell to both the sun and myself as I parted ways with this memorable locale.  It was a vision I hope to remember always.  I felt honored to be in their presence once again and was awed by the sheer number of truly beautiful mountains laying claim to this area.  Such a change in scenery from that humbling, peaceful scene of nature to the barrage and assault on the senses of high rises, casinos and traffic lights that overwhelm my calmed soul there in Lima.  Peru is certainly a land of contrasts and Lima compared to the rest of Peru is just that. To top off the arduous drive, I had to pee so badly and the driver struggled to find the little Hotel Tambo…oh, was I anxious to get to my room  I spent what’s left of the night after the long drive at Hotel Tambo then headed to the airport the next morning for my lovely flight back to California in a style unlike my accommodations on this trek, both special in their own way.

The driver was scheduled to arrive to take me back through this grey city to the airport at 9am giving me a few hours to catch some shut-eye.  Nighty night and adios to a country I look forward to returning to again in the near-ish future.  So much to do, see and experience here with such kind and welcoming people to help and share.

Categories: Latin America

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