Today was an extremely lazy day. After breakfast, which took even longer than usual as Maruja had to go and buy the tomatoes to put in my scrambled eggs, I pottered in my room in the morning, catching up with various things on the internet, and then caught a collectivo into town. This was relatively quiet as it was Sunday. Guilf had told me of a festival somewhere around, but I decided not to go to it as it was quite late by the time I set off.
Instead, I found a cafe for lunch and then strolled up to the plaza where I ended up sitting on a park bench for well over an hour. This is the centre of activity on a Sunday afternoon and I never feel out of place just sitting and watching as so many other people are doing exactly the same.
I was joined on my bench by 3 ladies and a small boy, who was playing with a squeaky ‘ball’. It transpired that the three were sisters and we had a very limited conversation with their small amount of English and my very small amount of Spanish! The little boy, who was 3, was quite amusing as he had obviously been watching football and was trying to do all the tricky foot moves around the ball. There were occasions when he fell over his own feet and also managed to hit me with the ball, not having honed his motor skills to the finest degree as yet!
Eventually, I took my leave and walked to the Movil tour bus depot to buy my ticket to Lima for tomorrow. After that, I decided to walk back to the Casa as it was such a beautiful evening and I needed a bit more exercise. However, the walk was fairly unpleasant as it was along a busy road so I was quite relieved to arrive back at the corner store where I bought a very large bottle of beer (there being no small ones), and some bread and adjourned to my room for consumption. When I looked out my window, the sun was reflecting off Mount Huascaran, which is the highest mountain in Peru and the second most difficult mountain in the world to climb, apparently. It was very beautiful and a fitting end to my stay in Huaraz.
The alarm went off at 4.30am and I had to think for a minute as to why this would be. I still lingered, reluctant to get up. However, there was no avoiding it, so up I got, dressed and went downstairs where breakfast was waiting. (This was the fastest breakfast I had during the whole time I stayed there!)
No sooner was that finished, than it was off to collect my bag, put on my boots and out the door to meet the bus at the end of the street. When it arrived, I discovered it was the same guide as yesterday and the bus was already full of young people, including Koreans, Germans, Canadians and Australians.
We travelled as far as Yungay before turning off onto a gravel road and driving up and up and up. After about 2 1/2 hours, we stopped for breakfast. Having had mine earlier, I decided just to have a much needed coffee, which, as usual, was instant with evaporated milk. Yum……! Half an hour later, we continued on into the Huascaran Park, where the weather slowly deteriorated.
On arrival at our start point for the walk, it was looking a little ominous. However, whilst the rain threatened all day, we actually had very little. It was just a shame that the mountain tops were obliterated by cloud most of the time.
The walk was spectacular and took us first along a flat plain and then ascended up a zig zag path, passed waterfalls, cows, flora and fauna and various small lakes. The pattern then repeated itself – flat plain, zig zag path, onwards and upwards. At one point, I couldn’t see anybody else at all and it was wonderful to be completely alone with mountains surrounding me. It was also very hard going at times, principally because of the altitude. We started walking at 3,900 metres and finished at 4,500 metres. Needless to say, I acquired a headache without too much trouble, which I kept at bay using ibuprofen. Even so, by the time I returned to the bus 7 hours later, it was throbbing.
However, the pain was worth it as, when I arrived at Laguna 69, I was impressed and, coming from NZ, I am not easily impressed, as we have so much spectacular scenery there. The lake, fed by a glacier, was a magnificent turquoise with sheer black and grey scree surrounds. It was topped by very high, snow capped mountains, which appeared, as if by magic, when the sun miraculously shone whilst I was having lunch. It was the only sun we saw all day so couldn’t have been more timely. It was impossible to capture the splendour in any photographs.
I sat for as long as I could, admiring the view. As we had all walked at our own pace, many of the young ones were starting their return to the bus when I arrived as they had got cold. I’m pleased to say, though, that I was not the slowest as some of the Korean ladies were a considerable way behind me. One or two of that nationality were also decidedly not appropriately attired, with one chap, who must have had wet feet the entire way, wearing canvas slip on shoes and another lady carrying a handbag. It was most definitely a hiking boot type of walk!
This friendly cow followed me up the track
Down on the flat land
Looking towards a glacier and down to a small lake
A bit of blue sky makes all the difference!
There were lots of different coloured mosses on the rocks
Looking back to the way we had just walked up
By the time I arrived back at the bus, it was after 3.30pm. We waited for the last of the Koreans and then set off for our return trip to Huaraz. This took a little less time than our ride out this morning but still seemed a long way and I was very relieved to arrive. Whilst being tired, it felt wonderful to have done such a long walk and actually be out in the ‘real’ mountains.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!!