In the snow at 5,000 metres

I woke up this morning, after a restless night, feeling a bit down and wanting to go for a walk in the mountains. However, I hadn’t arranged anything as I hadn’t seen Guilf last night. Consequently, when I was talking to him after breakfast, it was already too late to join a tour as they all leave very early for the day hikes. He suggested I either walk to the nearby ruins, which wouldn’t have been in the mountains, or get a taxi to the start of a track and walk up the mountain to a lake on my own. However, on thinking about the latter, I decided I wouldn’t be comfortable walking on my own so far away and high up in a remote area, so Guilf suggested a trip to the Pastoriri Glacier and Puya Ramondii instead. This trip, too, could well have already left as it was then 9.30am but Maruja rang around and found one that was just departing. This meant a mad dash to get ready and get into town. Guilf accompanied me and the whole tour group had to wait until I arrived! (This seems to be a bit of a theme of my stay in Huaraz.)

The group consisted of 3 Peruvian ladies, who kept referring to the rest of us as ‘the gringos’, a young German chap and 3 young French girls, plus the guide. Everyone spoke Spanish, except me, but today, I could pick up the gist of much of what the guide talked about, unlike yesterday. Today, he also attempted some English, which I appreciated.

In Huascaran National Park on the way to Pastoruri Glacier
In Huascaran National Park on the way to Pastoruri Glacier

We headed in the same direction as yesterday, but went further on and stopped at a cafe along the way where we could order food for later. I had a cup of coca de mate (my first) which was very like a herbal tea but with a lot of sugar. I chatted to the German boy (I should say, young man) whilst drinking it as he had translated for me on a few occasions already. He had been travelling for about 5 months and had been to three different language schools so his Spanish was infinitely better than mine.

Bubbling cold water spring in Huascaran National Park
Bubbling cold water spring in Huascaran National Park

Back on the bus, we continued along the main road for a while before turning off onto a gravel track that headed towards the Huascaran National Park. Once again, we had some very dramatic scenery, with high mountains and long stretches of pampas. Our next stop, after paying the entry fee, was at Peru’s one and only natural ‘soda’ fountain. Fizzy, cold and very clear water bubbled up from below the surface. Around it were plants that cleansed the water of impurities, of which there were many, including iron, which made the surrounding soil an extremely strong, rust colour.

Puya Raimondi!
Puya Raimondi!

We also stopped at a small lake, in a beautiful area, where the extraordinary Puyo Ramondii plants were growing in abundance. These are of the pineapple species, grow exceedingly tall and look somewhat unreal. However, it was drizzling and very cold at this point so we didn’t linger long before continuing on to the glacier.

On arrival there, all layers of clothes were donned, as well as a hat and gloves. It was extremely cold, being at 5,000 metres. One or two of the Peruvian ladies had looked unsuitably clad to me, especially their footwear, but the path was better constructed than the road so it wasn’t a problem, although they were so cold that they eventually hired horses to take them back to the bus.

A bit of snow at Pastoruri Glacier
A bit of snow at Pastoruri Glacier

I was a little breathless to start with but soon overcame that. However, by the end of the walk, which was 2.5km each way and about 45 minutes walk, I had started to get an altitude headache. Thank goodness for ibuprofen, which I now always carry with me.

Pastoruri Glacier
Pastoruri Glacier

It started snowing on the walk up and, together with the wind, this made walking a little unpleasant. However, it was good to get out as I have been doing far too much sitting in the last couple of days. By the time I reached the lookout, the glacier was almost invisible. There was another group or two there, including the Frenchman, and another couple I thought I had met in Trujillo. Most of our group walked down to the waters edge where we were alone, the other groups having already left. There was a fair amount of fun with the young ones, who decided to have their pictures taken jumping between a couple of icebergs. I decided not to join them as, to me, the gap between the two they were playing on looked decidedly perilous and I really didn’t want a dip in freezing water!

At Pastoruri Glacier
At Pastoruri Glacier

Once they had finished, we walked back to the van, the weather having now improved i.e. it had stopped snowing. We then drove all the way back again, passing several of the huts, in which local families live, along the way. These huts have reed roofs that come almost down to the ground, with walls built of the stone used for their farm walls. It certainly looks a very cold and bleak existence for them. Another van followed us down the mountain and this seemed to be dropping off the ladies who had had clothing and food stalls at the top.

We stopped again at the cafe. I hadn’t ordered anything so just waited for the others to finish eating. I wasn’t alone in not ordering and once we got back into town, I went with Mathias, the German boy, and Lucy, one of the French girls, in search of soup, which is what we had all decided we wanted. Lucy had very little money left, until she arrived in Lima and met her parents, so she was looking for the cheapest possible option. We found a very nice cafe that supplied us with a large bowl of excellent chicken soup for 4 pesos. My coffee cost 6! It was good talking to them as I had missed the chat where I have been staying. Maruja and Guilf are very nice and go out of their way to please, but there has been no one else staying there and it is a bit too far out of town.

Walking back from the glacier
Walking back from the glacier

Once we had eaten, I made my goodbyes and caught a taxi back (took 3 attempts tonight to find one that understood me and knew the casa). I was let in by Maruja who offered me some mate. Whilst I was waiting for it, Luis, a Venuzuelan/American, who had arrived this morning came in. Earlier, Guilf had asked me if I would be interested in doing the 3 day Santa Cruz trek, which I hadn’t considered, as Luis wanted to do it and it required a minimum of two people. I had agreed but Luis, in the meantime, had booked with another company so there was no trek for me. As I was getting desperate to do a proper hike, we both decided to do the Laguna 69 tomorrow. This meant a 5am breakfast so I had to make sure of an early night!!

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