A Walk in the Clouds - Peru 2000

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8/19/00 Lima US$1 = 3.50 Sols

August has arrived and almost passed. With a heavy heart and aching feet, I wave goodbye to Amy up on the balcony and climb aboard the van to the airport. My feet? Well, the boots are still not broken in. My heels were torn off last week on a 20 mile hike. Ouch. But they're still better than my other option, those floppy trail runners. And so I may have some pain to look forward to. Hm. But, though the reason still sometimes eludes me, my feet need to move, and my spirit aches for the freedom I feel when the road is long and the sky is high. I seek answers in the clouds. I seek the energy I find in the high, sacred places, the aid of the spirits found in those realms. To dream the dreams of the elements and connect again to the earth beneath my feet.

And so I sit here on a plane crossing the distance between life and the dream zones. And in style, I might add. :-) I'm flying the entire distance in business class thanks to a smile and good faith in people. I'll be in Lima tomorrow morning at 4:00AM, with a ride waiting for me to my hotel. This will not be a trip in my usual style. Freed of the details, I hope to reach my goals with more ease.

And, besides, it's nice to travel in Business! Friendly stewardess, good service, good legroom, and pornography courtesy of the teenager sitting next to me. Ah, the life! Time to close this book as we reach Miami, halfway to Peru. It's going to be a long night...


It actually went easy enough. Quick stopover in Miami, chatting with some other Peru-bound people. Then, I slept the entire flight to Lima. Woke up just as they were starting their descent. I was one of the first out the door and through customs. Outside the terminal, a gentleman awaited me with a sign with my name on it, and off we go! Friendly guy, he was telling me all about the city as we drove in. Telling me not to go out after dark, not to carry much with me around town, and so on. Hm. But I was still wiped out despite my nap, and wasn't too chatty. I just wanted to sleep!

We got to the hotel and he gave them my pre-paid voucher, saw me checked in properly, wished me luck and took off. I think I took the time to get undressed, use the bathroom, and was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow at 6:30. Snore!

8/21/00 Lima

At noon, I was dragged out of a deep slumber by a noise. It must have gone on for several minutes before I figured out where I was and identified it as a phone ringing. A man on the phone said another member of my trek was downstairs, and wanted to know if I was interested in joining her for a tour of town, then lunch. Why not?

I took a quick shower, ran down, and met Dottie, a 74 year old American woman. Wow, not quite what I expected. :-) She introduced me to the Peruvian man standing next to her and he described what he proposed. Sure.

Dottie was an interesting woman. Very fit for her age, she's already done the Everest trek as well as regularly hiking wherever she can drag her husband. Just chatting away. She's already been here for a few days down in the Amazon. To get here today, she had to get up at the crack of dawn, paddle a canoe downriver, hike through some forest, take another boat, and then she was just out of the forest and had to come all the way here! And she wants to take a tour now?!?

  The love park :: Lima, Peru
The love park
Lima, Peru
Our guide took us around some interesting sites. First, to the Love Park. *grin* 20+ foot long statue of a couple entwined and making out at the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Rather nice park, actually. :-) After that, we drove all over town. I didn't catch many of the names, but there were some beautiful old colonial churches, some pre-Incan ruins (Aztec-like pyramid and some enormous spread out ruins), loads of exquisitely carved Arab-style balconies, gorgeous art museums, parks, lots of sites. If I had listened to my Lonely Planet book, I would have just passed this city of 10 million off as an ugly, sprawling metropolis. OK, it was mostly ugly and sprawling, but not entirely.

At one beautiful square, I asked to get out and look around. As he drove off to park, Dottie suddenly gets all scared and unsure, afraid of being left alone here. But I enjoyed it, and took advantage of the opportunity. Cursed that I hadn't brought my camera, as good pictures were on all sides. I would have loved one in particular: An old-fashioned horse and buggy trotting down the street in front of an old, impressive church, being driven by a kid talking on a cell phone. Ah well.

After seeing the sights, our driver took us to Haiti, a great cafe on the street. Good food and good people watching. He had some interesting views on racism in the country. He was half German (and looked it), but had all sorts of opinions on blacks and Indians in this country. How everyone looked down on people of their own race as soon as they, themselves, got ahead. Sad, but the same all over. His final statement, though, was that the most important thing was that they should all think of themselves as Peruvian. That reflected a nationalism I've already seen in my short time here.

After lunch, he dropped us off back at the hotel. We wanted shots of that statue, though, so we grabbed our cameras and ran back downstairs. We ran into Sally, another member of our forming group, and asked her to join us. We got our shots as paragliders filled the air around us. What fun.

Giving in to the addiction, I asked if the other two wanted to check email. Sally passed, wanting to walk around, but Dottie jumped on the idea as if she had never heard of such a thing. Which she hadn't I guess. I got her started on Hotmail and checked my own. Lovely email from the lass. Sent off some to Mom, Amy, Amy S, and others. All for 3 Sols. Under a buck.

I dropped Dottie off at the hotel and walked around town on my own. Interesting feel to this city. People weren't exactly friendly, but nothing bad happened, just everyone staring. I went to a pharmacie to get some more medical tape, but no one in there spoke English. My Spanish wasn't up to the task, so an hilarious mixture of pantomime and broken Spanish followed. "Blanco... Si, pero... Non, para mia..." But after great patience on the ladies' part, I walked out with what I wanted. Victory! I stopped off at a supermarket on my way back, not willing to go out for dinner later.

Impressions so far? Another typical South American city. I suppose I've seen enough to say that now, barely. The people themselves are not that attractive, short and squat being the norm. Though there were a few lovelies at the supermarket. I saw one man who might have reached four feet tall at most, but slender and normal looking otherwise. I've heard the Incas were short, but I had no idea, if this is what their ancestors are like with modern nutrition! Dottie and Sally seem nice, even if neither would be my normal travelling companion of choice.

After chowing down on my supermarket purchases, I crashed early to the sounds of CNN and MTV on television. Ah, that bed felt good!

Oh, other comments. There seems to be a big American presence in this country. Blockbuster, McDonalds, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, and Pizza Hut might be common, but the phone company is owned by Bell South, the TV is mostly Spanish versions of American TV - CNN, TNT, Discovery, USA, MTV, etc. And the merchandise has a big American slant to it. Hm.

8/21/00 Huarez

Bzz! *groan* 3:45, time to get up. Showered (nice hot showers here) and down to meet the sleepy others for our ride to the airport. We met up with the rest of our group, but not much was said, everyone tired from a long night. We boarded the bus and drove north out of town. Sally and I sat together in front and chatted some between dozing off. Something else. She runs marathons, but has never camped out before. The magazine where she was editor (Women's Sports and Fitness) went under, and she decided to take her severance and go on a trip with just three weeks notice. So far, looks like I'm the least fit in the group!

Very long drive through the coastal Peruvian desert. Nothing but sand and cacti on all sides. And several sketchy towns. It's amazing. Six continents, the shanty towns all look alike. Concrete boxes, with a few beer and Coke signs giving the only color. But the road gradually climbed, until we were high into the foothills of the Andes.

  View of the Cordillera Blanca from the Pan-American Highway :: Peru
View of the Cordillera Blanca
from the Pan-American Highway
We stopped for lunch at the highest pass - Conococha Pass (13,120'). I could feel the altitude! Dizzy and headache. Hey, sea level to this in a few hours? From here, we could see the first glimpses of the Cordillera Blanca. While eating, I met the others. I still don't have all the names. Ernie (Boston) and Justin (Washington DC) - law school buddies. John and Jo, a couple from Portland. Ben, a Frenchman from the Bay Area. Bob, a urologist from Andover. A couple ladies, hm, I'll have to list the rest when I remember them all. Poor people. Half of them were on Diamox, which is a diuretic, and so we made frequent roadside stops. Ages ranged from maybe mid 20's (Ernie and Justin) up to mid 70's, with most I'd guess around 50. As I said, not my usual crowd.

After 9 long hours, we made it to Huarez, at 10,200 feet. Wow! What a view! Gorgeous, snow capped peaks, just filling the horizon. Much better view than from Pokhara, in Nepal. This is going to be good. The hotel was decent enough, though the room I shared with Bob was rather small. It was still a huge step upwards compared to my usual accommodation. :-)

We ate dinner in the evening at a great creparie. I ate so much, I had to practically roll home. Good Andean music being played. At night, I was asleep in seconds, the long day, big meal, and altitude all adding up to a deep slumber.

8/22/00 Huarez

Time to hike! I completely bandaged up my feet, hoping for the best. We took a nice easy hike up to Willcawain, some pre-Columbian ruins up out of town. I didn't care for the hike at first. It felt like a damn rush hour! Too many people, too close together! Augusto, our guide, kept us all close, tagging behind some slow moving Llamas. But thankfully, people fell behind, and we all spread out to a more manageable spacing. For a few minutes, I started getting all disgusted with this scene. People afraid to walk down the street alone, goo-gooing over the sight of a llama, people who have traveled all over, two weeks at a time, but only with their hand being held the entire time. But then, I told myself to loosen up! Enjoy your time here! Don't let this sour a great experience! I looked up, and glorious mountains filled my sight, a dark blue sky stretched above, and my feet felt light under me. It got better.

At one point along the trail, there were people threshing wheat. With a novel method, a team of horses! Running in circles, trampling the wheat under hoof. At another, a family was smearing some gross looking green goo over a horse's back. But no one wanted their picture taken, shaking a finger at anyone who took out their camera. To the immense frustration of some. :-)

We got to the ruins in no time. Not much, but interesting due to their age. Still standing, even with roofs. They certainly were a small people. Those ceilings looked too low for a large dog!

Lunch time. What did I say about guided tours? Well... A van pulled up, coolers, tables set up, and lunch was served! Meat, salad, potatoes, tea. This is stylin! :-) Then, over all our protests, a ride home. "Don't worry, tomorrow, you'll have enough to walk!"

Back in town, Sally and I walked around, trying to find her a few t-shirts, buying souvenirs, etc.

Clothes dry fast here. Stuff I washed two hours ago is already dry. Thanks to the zero humidity and intense sun.

OK, the sun has set, and it's getting chilly. Time to change and meet a few of the others for dinner...


Good dinner in the evening with Sally, Ernie, Justin, Bill, and Ben. Good food, decent company. Home straight to bed.

8/23/00 12700m
  Carhuaz market :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Carhuaz market
Carhuaz, Peru
  Carhuaz market  :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Carhuaz market
Carhuaz, Peru
  Road to trailhead at Quebrada Vaqueria from Portachuelo de Llanganuco at 15,580' :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Road to trailhead at Quebrada
Vaqueria from Portachuelo de
Llanganuco at 15,580'
Cordillera Blanca, Peru

And it begins! 8:30, we were packed and on the road. Stopped off along the way in Carhuaz, famous for its ice cream. Cerveza ice cream? No thanks, I've already tried it. Funny, Sally started telling me about this town in Venezuela... :-) We took a walk through the market. Very nice. Though we lost a couple people and the others had to go back to look for them.

Several miles down the road, we turned off onto a dirt track. For the next ~35 km, we drove along the most amazing, dusty switchback I've ever seen. Awesome views of Huayaz and other mountains along the way. At lunchtime, well, we drove to lunch. Along the way, the distinctive orange tablecloth was all set. Yum.

We climbed some serious elevation today. From 10,000 to 15300 ft at the pass. Surprisingly, I felt fine, so I might be acclimating fast. Good. We drove down a ways over the pass, and it was time to walk. Finally. I'm sick of buses. Just a short walk today, an hour or less. My feet feel fine so far.

We arrived at camp. What did I say before about stylin? Everything was already set up for us. Big Eureka tents, Therm-a-rest mats, toilet tent, dining tent - with table and stools! Soon after we arrived, it was tea time. Cookies! :-) Oh yeah, and tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. What decadence. Ah well, enjoy it.

Lying in my tent now, almost too dark to write. It's cold outside! I have two jackets, long sleeve poly, and t-shirt on, and I'm just comfortable. Colder nights to come. I hope the sleeping bag works!

8/24/00 ~14700 ft Above Paria under Taulliraju

Badew! Badew! "Tea!" The new day begins with the crew bringing around hot tea, then bowls of hot water. One could get used to this! The night passed OK. I was nice and warm though the night was frigid. Must have slept 8 hours. Not bad for me. Brr! Cold morning. Out came the cap. Up at 6:00, breakfast at 6:30, on the trail by 8:00.

Long day today. 7 hours. From camp, we hiked downhill about an hour, passing through many small farms where people must have barely eked out a living. At one point, Augusto stopped to rescue a bull who had somehow completely tangled himself up in his rope so that his hind leg was up to his nose and he was lying on his back. The local people, for some reason, paid no note. Hm.

After the too-short downhill hike, it was time for up. And up, and up. I was trying the two-pole technique for the first time today. It worked OK. They were a big help on the uphills, though my shoulders are sore now. We ate a big lunch in a meadow next to a nice clear stream. Took my boots off and walked around in my Tevas. Ah! :-)

  Huaripampa Valley from my tent near sunset :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Huaripampa Valley
from my tent near sunset
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
I'm sitting now in my camp chair with a clear view of Taulliraja filling the entire end of the valley and more snow capped peaks at the other end. It's already cold at 4:00, though the sun feels very good. It's the winds off the glacier that hurt. Brr. I just looked up again. Really impressive. The level valley goes right to the end. Then, a long scree field rises sharply up to sheer cliffs with water cascading down in many rivulets. Not just one peak, but many form a daunting ridge. Snow fills all spaces and a short, deep glacier rolls down the side. The ridge gradually drops lower, but still towers above us. The scary thought is, we have to climb over that ridge tomorrow. My god.

Nothing to do but chill now until dinner. Feels nice and mellow. I just hope Jon and Jo don't go all pissy again tonight when conversation doesn't agree with them. *shrug* Time for some drawing...


Supposedly our coldest campsite. I believe it! I have on a t-shirt, long sleeve poly, light jacket, heavy fleece, hat, and gloves, and my teeth are still chattering! Tasty dinner with chicken, rice, yams. We all turned in early, though. I was cold even in the dining tent.

8:00, and I was curled up in my sleeping bag, with long johns on. Didn't sleep well, but nice and warm.

8/25/00 Next to a lake

Early morning again. That morning tea is certainly a nice touch. I was creaky this morning, joints all achy. Breakfast of porridge, bread, and PB. Sounds good to me!

  Pucaraju Pass (15,252') :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Pucaraju Pass (15,252')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Time to hike. Packs on, we slowly trudge across the field to the cliff we're about to climb. OK, not a cliff, but pretty rough looking! Tons of switchbacks, up over 2000ft to 15,800ft. I was feeling the effort. Poor Dottie, she was far behind with Victorino. At the top, wow! There was an awesome view down into the next valley. We didn't get the view of the mountains the other way, unfortunately, due to some serious clouds. Ah well, the view was still worth it. While waiting for the others, Augusto told us stories about climbing Everest. One day, the weather was so fierce with snow and whiteout, they had to stay put. But he had to go take a shit. He made a brave attempt, dropping his down pants for an entire minute, before running back inside. He had a frostbit ass and was constipated for days. Ha! :-)

  Wow! :: Pucaraju Pass (15,252'), Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Pucaraju Pass (15,252')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Once the group all made it to the top, it was time for downhill. Straight down. But it was fun. I paused to gather my gear while some of the others took off. Then, I grabbed my poles, tightened my laces, and ran down after them, my feet and poles a blur. At the base of the rough stuff, there was a cow pasture of all things - a big field just covered in dung. One bull in particular didn't like our presence, and kept calling out, coming closer and closer... So, we took off again. Down around the corner of the valley. We stopped for lunch with a grand view of the valley stretching out before us.

  Laguna Huecrococha (13,000') :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Laguna Huecrococha (13,000')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Augusto told us our destination of the day was a large lake, where we could supposedly go swimming. Yeah right, with this glacier water? But walking around the corner, an enormous lake filled the valley. Clear and clean and beautiful.

Augusto told Bill (74) to lead the way with these directions: "Go to the end of the lake and cross a bridge." I like those sort of directions! :-) We took off almost at a run, and reached the end of the lake in less than 20 minutes. Good campsite. It had the least amount of dung of any so far. What a criteria. :-) After dumping my kit, I walked down to the lake with my sarong, towel and soap to *shiver* take a bath. Nice and clean! No problem. OK, I may have let out a few whimpers... I was dry in no time under the intense sun.

  Campsite near Laguna Huecrococha (13,000') :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Campsite near Laguna
Huecrococha (13,000')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Right now, I'm sitting on a hillside watching the shadows stretch long out in front of me. Some shepards shoo their sheep down out of the hills, their whistles and words filling the valley. A scent of garlic is in the air, our dinner being prepared. There's trout in the lake, so I'm hoping that will be our meal.

Brr, the sun just went below the hill. The temperature has dropped 10 degrees. Time to go back to camp. My poor feet are in rough shape. No blisters, but the new skin is taking a beating, and I fear this won't last for long. Oh boy.

8/26/00 Below a glacier

Good night last night. Not so cold, I slept well. We have a tough hike to go today. Given the circumstances, this is a good crew. Everyone was packed up and ready to go on time.

Long hike down the valley. It's a cloudy day. Augusto predicts rain, and I'd agree. After reaching the far end of the valley, we reach the site of an old lake, the glacier much diminished above, but still majestic. Nowhere to go, but up. And up, and up. Poor Dottie, she looked wiped out at the top. Augusto insulted her by asking if she'd care to ride the horse. She made it just fine on her own. At the top, another great view into valleys beyond. This trek is really a series of valleys rather than the tops of ridges.

After a good long rest at the top, we had a steep downhill into one of the valleys. Just before lunch, a condor appeared in the sky, with a wingspan of over 8ft. He had discovered a dead horse and was enjoying his own lunch before we interrupted him.

Further on, we passed through a small village, with children lining up begging for candy. This region is ruined by earlier tourists. Fascinating scenes, though. Very primitive loom, farming, sewing.

  Observing the aliens :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Observing the aliens
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
We were aliens dropped out of the sky. From our fair skin to our outlandish clothes, to the space-age domes we slept in. Arriving at camp, we were greeted by hordes of kids, all sitting around and staring at us. In fact, there are two of them right now lying two feet in front of me. Make that four. Sally and Ernie entertained them for a time with a frisbee, but they stuck around afterwards.

I had a nice bath in the river, nice and refreshing. Then, back to the tent to be stared at by kids who kept demanding my pen. Time to get rid of them...

Good evening. I took a nice long walk with Dottie and Ray, both over 70 and amazingly active. We walked out toward the glacier at the end of the valley. It was an unusual experience for me, but felt like a real elder-youth discussion, something I never took advantage of in the past with my grandparents.

We made it back in time for dinner, complete with wine! 2 reds and 1 white. Nice touch, Sobek. We had been kidding today about having wine with dinner. We thought Augusto was joking as well. I guess not!

Mild night, I didn't even have to zip up until close to morning.

8/27/00 Above Huilca

Rough day today.

  Local fan club :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Local fan club
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
When I got up, we already had our fan club ready and watching. Usual morning routine.

Long soggy slog down the valley to the end. Not sure why Augusto didn't lead us up the other side where it was nice and dry, but there must have been trouble closer to the glacier.

At the end of the valley, it was up, straight up. For over an hour, the ants climbed the hill. People were getting on my nerves today. Usually, I hiked with the front group. Ernie, Justin, Jo, John, Ben, Bob, Bill, and Sally. Then, Margaret and Ray would wander somewhere 15 minutes back. And at the end, a half hour or more back, Dottie and Edna would bravely march on. You could hear Margaret from a mile away, and the front group never stopped talking. But in the middle, I found a nice quiet zone to hike in. No sounds but the wind, birds, and my own breathing. Nice. I kept this up until lunchtime, struggling over the hills and wearily trudging down into the next valleys. Above me, another glacier shone in the intermittent sun.

When I crossed over one hill, however, an unwelcome, yet gorgeous site stretched before me. Another large valley extended in each direction with waterfalls, steep cliffs and grassy fields. Yet as far as I could see, the only way out was up one end, which appeared to nearly be a cliff. Yet that was the direction the distant group traveled. Oh boy.

I caught up with them at the base of this pass. Everyone looked wiped out, myself included. Augusto commented that we were fast. His last group didn't reach this point until 12:30. It was only 11:30. Not bad. Even though it was early, we decided to eat lunch. Just an excuse for a long break. Good yogurt, noodles, and crackers. Just the carbs we needed.

All too soon, it was time to continue. Ooomph. My feet were dragging, and my arms felt too tired to help out with the poles. A local couple came over the pass just then, her bright red poncho vividly standing out. The two of them and their horse rapidly came down the pass, making it seem easy. Whatever. It was tough. Near the top, the shale turned into scree. It was so steep, my body was practically parallel to the slope. One slip, and you'd go all the way to the bottom. Scary business.

  Sally and Ernie at Yanajanca pass (15,088') :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Sally and Ernie at Yanajanca
pass (15,088')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
At the top, a magnificent view of Pucajica's glaciers and yet another extensive valley, with several ranges of snow capped mountains on the horizon. I was exhausted, yet still managed some pictures. The others all went camera mad, taking admittedly splendid shots of the grand surroundings.

But it was bitterly cold at the top, the wind whipping through, and the warming sun hidden in the clouds. So I checked with Augusto, and took off down the pass towards the distant, visible tents. I started slow, but once I found my stride, I literally ran down. Slipping on scree, hopping boulders, saving myself time and again with my poles, running like I had four legs. There were weird Peruvian rabbits, fossils, soft dirt and ankle turning rocks. Yet I made it to camp in 20 minutes. After fixing up my tent, I took out my chair and lounged outside. I even fell asleep in the calm, quiet valley, the others long behind me. They didn't show up until about an hour later. Guess I was moving fast! Felt good to go at my own speed. This mule train style hiking is not for me, people huddled together on the wide open trail, chatting away a mile a minute. Give me a solitary trail any day, or companions who share my enjoyment of the sounds of nature. In this day, I watched waterfalls fall, rivers wind, mountains grow. I heard birds calling, filling the air with their completely different chatter.

  Yanajanca pass (15,088') :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Yanajanca pass (15,088')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Right now, I'm lying out in my tent, gazing down the valley. The sun has gone behind the hills now, so it's more than slightly chilly. But it still shines on the rugged hills at the end, shadows casting dark relief to the glacier scraped hills. One of the dogs keeps chasing a bull around, barking ferociously until our camp is once again safe from the intruder.

We're halfway through this trek now. This life appeals to me. No TV, no computers, no traffic, no work. The wide open sky, my own feet taking me across the country. The idea that looking out over these hills, I could be right there in under an hour. These thoughts don't occur at home in the city. There, I feel closed in, the hills too high, the distance too far, the people too many. I'm not an outdoorsman, I enjoy my comforts too well. But in that far ranging, completely open path I see as my life, this is one trail I intend to take whenever possible.

Possible? I don't like that word. Almost anything is possible. My limits are only those that I set for myself. I want so much out of my life, but my feet feel sluggish when it comes time to take a first step towards something. Inertia is strong, and I feel weak to change it. All that's necessary is for me to take charge. I like when I do, yet it happens far too infrequently. Maybe this trip can be the trigger.

The night is cold here, and my hand begins to cramp as the fading daylight is leached out of the sky. My hand begins to shake too much to write in the cold evening, and I must end this for now. *shiver*

8/28/00 14900ft Moyobamba

Last night was frigid. It was still freezing cold this morning. Everything was covered in frost. Puddles were frozen. Dottie said the outside temperature was 29 degrees this morning at 6:00. Brr. Breakfast tea warmed me up enough to get moving, but my hips were in agony from sleeping on the ground so many nights in a row. I was still in better condition than some of the others, though. Dottie's cough continues to grow worse, and Bob is feeling worse by the day. Could be altitude sickness, poor guy.

  The leaders - Victorino and Augusto :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
The leaders - Victorino and Augusto
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  Most of the group :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Most of the group
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  Campsite at Moyobamba (14,900') :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Campsite at Moyobamba (14,900')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  On the way down to Moyobamba at around 14,900' :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
On the way down to Moyobamba
at around 14,900'
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
We started out hiking down the valley towards the sun. At the end was another populated valley just filled with sheep next to a rushing river. As we approached, the children ran out screaming, "Tiennes caramellos?" I think even Sally is getting tired of that. She's already given away more than she wanted.

Crossing the river, we climbed out of the valley, with Alpamayo showing itself for the first time as well as more impressive views of the other glacier. We all stopped for a group photo. Then, a short, hard climb up to the pass. I love the views the passes provide. We rested up there for a while, snacking, but it was chilly with the wind, so we started down the other side, a nice gentle slope down into the valley. At the bottom, the lunch crew already had lunch cooking even though Augusto had said we'd eat at camp. Tasty soup and spicy potatoes.

Only another hour to camp from there, but it was a rough one. I was feeling knackered. So was everyone else. My stomach was rumbling away as well, worrying me slightly.

When we reached camp, I pretty much pulled out my chair, covered my face with the bandana, and snoozed off. So did everyone else from the sound - or quiet of things.

Poor Bob, though. He's just gotten worse today. Headache, nausea, short of breath, he's worried. I got Augusto for him, but he thought it was just sickness, not altitude sickness this late in the game. I have a different opinion. Hm. Ernie's feeling rather poor as well. The rest of us at tea confessed a common fatigue, everyone's slept the afternoon away. But other than that, we seem OK.

Sitting in the tent now, listening to the sleet falling on the tent outside, and Bob's labored breathing behind me. Tomorrow could be extra rough if the weather doesn't improve. Blegh. Bob's on oxygen now. We're seeing if this helps. It's helping me, that's for sure. This has become an oxygen tent, and I feel more alert than I have in days. :-)

Bob's breathing grows normal, and he says he's hungry for the first time in days. Good signs, and yet worrying ones as well, if they indicate altitude sickness, as we are about to proceed to a higher elevation. Yikes. But damn, that oxygen feels good! :-)

At dinner, everyone wrote on a napkin to make Bob a get well card. Address:
Tent #1
Altitude 14900ft

8/29/00 Below Alpamaya

  Winter wonderland :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Winter wonderland
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  Caracara Pass (15800') :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Caracara Pass (15800')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  Climbing down from Caracara Pass :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Climbing down from Caracara Pass
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
    Climbing down from Caracara Pass :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Climbing down from Caracara Pass
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  Climbing down from Caracara Pass :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Climbing down from Caracara Pass
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
I woke up this morning to a winter wonderland. Everything was covered in a coat of white. Only a couple inches but enough to transform the landscape. It was cold, but the sun soon appeared and the day immediately warmed up. The snow was short-lived in that light.

Our first challenge today was a high pass - Caracara Pass - 15800 ft. Along the way, we passed some pre-Incan ruins, dating back to 1800-600BC. Not much more than some stone circles, but still impressive. Archeologists speculate they were either way-houses, temples, or homes high above the flooded valleys.

The pass itself wasn't too bad. I checked with Augusto and took off ahead. Much less tiring at my own pace. I had the top of the pass to myself for an entire 15 minutes before others arrived. Impressive snow capped mountains, glacier lakes, broad horizon. A photo couldn't do it justice.

The horses passed us at this point, hauling the embarrassing volume of gear this endeavor required. I forgot to mention before. Bob's on the horse today, resting up. He feels better today, but still short of breath. And the O2 is gone, so no one else better need it. He believes it was never completely filled before the trek. Hm.

Once again, I raced down the other side of the pass, using my poles to their fullest advantage, and leaving the others far behind. But still stopped to enjoy the marvelous views along the way. It really was quite incredible. Some of the best views of the trek. At one point, I climbed up to a square stone seat for a stunning view. Later joined by Sally, Justin, and Bill, but Ben, John, and Jo continued on, not enjoying what to my eyes was an irresistible view.

After a very long descent, we crossed a river and some streams, and lunch awaited us. I tell ya. Bill and I had a great chat as we raced down the valley. I still find it hard to believe this guy, 70, is in better condition than myself. Wow.

I had been feeling great all day, with tons of energy, but after lunch, I developed a brutal headache at the base of my skull. Too much sun, I think. From the lunch place, we had the choice to just hike to camp, 2 hours away, or climb up to an old base camp for Alpamayo. I'd normally check out the base camp, but not today with this headache. Some of the others went, and the rest of us continued on to camp. Again, Bill and I had a great chat as we loped over the remaining miles. But the 2 hours Augusto told us really took 2 hours, even at our pace. The others took closer to 3.

Average sort of campsite. On a hill looking over a raging river and a nice valley. Horses roll in the dirt down below, donkeys play, and the wind whips through, continuously rattling the tent. A dog just howled, adding to the atmosphere.

After cleaning up, I sat and read some from "The Road Within". There was a quote in there along the lines of "You must always remember to teach yourself joy." I thought back to that day in Baguio, Philippines, when Amy was feeling glum and sour. How I pointed happy things out to her, things that she could see as positive. In a similar way, I opened my eyes and looked outside my tent door. Suddenly, things took on a new lustre. I caught myself grinning at the way a nearby plant resembled a bad hairdo, gazing wide-eyed at the sparkle of the sun off the shale on the far side of the river, smiling at an enthusiastic bark from the white wonder-dog. All here before me, but I had forgotten to see it. Remember to teach yourself joy.

A required lesson, as the winds blow dark clouds over us, and the rain begins to pour down. We've been lucky with the weather during the days, but it looks like our luck may be running out. The rain stopped just in time for tea. Sigh, might as well.

Long quiet afternoon. Just dozed, read, wrote, and relaxed. After dinner, I walked outside to the now-familiar yet still amazing night-time skies. Packed with stars, the Milky Way a clear streak across the sky. With no electricity for days around, there is nothing to drown out the stars' glory. Very nice.

"Beddy-bye" - Ben

8/30/00 14800 ft

Short hike today.

  The wonder dog :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
The wonder dog
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  Highest campsite :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Highest campsite
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
I woke up early. I didn't sleep too well last night. Strange dreams and a deflating thermarest didn't help. By the time 6:00 rolled around, I was more than ready to get up. I've decided that I'll miss the hiking and the scenery, but I've had enough with the camping and the group. I'm ready to go home.

After breakfast, we shouldered our packs and hit the trail. We had to climb 2500 ft today. It sounded far worse than it was. It ended up being just a series of shallow switchbacks. In no time (10:30), we were at the top of the pass. Well, the front group was, at least. The others were far below.

Augusto surprised me by saying camp was just 45 minutes down the trail. I guess the next pass is too soon, and to do it all would be too far. Ah well. We were there in no time. Not a great site, but all that's available. We have the tents scattered over a number of small ledges, some too small for two people. We got here before they had a chance to set up, so we all pitched in and set up our own tents. The ice hadn't even melted yet.

The others arrived just before the swirling hailstorm hit. I watched it arrive, dark clouds rushing across the skies. From my tent, I had a great view across the valley to a snow capped peak and the glacier.

We had lunch at camp. I was feeling wiped out, though, and just sat quietly in a corner. Afterwards, I listened to the sleet and wind buffet the fabric of my tent as the sun blinded me from behind. Weird weather here. It must be the altitude.

Only two days left in the mountains. Sad. But I'm ready to finish this and get back to life. I needed an adventure before to push myself. I've done it. I've taken the time to think and reflect that I needed. I'm not sure I've gotten all that I've needed out of this, but I've gotten more than I'd find at home. Sometimes, you must leave the world to discover your place in it.

I wasn't in a social mood this evening, so I ended up skipping both tea and dinner. I've had enough with all this "togetherness". Augusto checked up on me, but I assured him that I was fine. I just turned in early and caught almost 12 hours of sleep.

        Cuillicocha Lake (15,252') :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Cuillicocha Lake (15,252')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
    Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  Sunset behind our last campsite near Huischca (13,100') :: Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Sunset behind our last
campsite near Huischca (13,100')
Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Last big hike. It wasn't so cold this morning. Just two jackets worth. I could feel the altitude, though. Short of breath whenever I moved too fast.

Augusto was keen to move out. I'd hardly finished breakfast, and he had already hit the trail. Most of us were left behind.

Relatively easy climb, though. Up to the highest pass. 15,900 ft. Lots of switchbacks as usual. Augusto shook each of our hands as we made it to the top. Most of the front group felt fine, though. We even climbed another 100ft more to check out the view while we waited for the others. From the top, we could see Santa Cruz and Cuillicocha lake.

After everyone made it to the top, we started our descent. Again, Augusto just took off. I was the only one keeping up at one point. Beautiful scenery along the way. Azure mountain lakes, the mountains, and the distant hills all combined into one killer view. I took off ahead at one point to get some shots of the lake and the mountains behind. Scampering over the rocks, gasping for breath. Great view. There was some sort of natural dam there that they had tunneled through, creating an aqueduct that went all the way down to the valley. It looked like one of those water chutes you see at amusement parks. I was just looking for the logs to go racing past. The water even went uphill in spots due to the pressure.

On our way down... Wait a minute, we're not going down! From the lake, it was a rather brutal, if short, climb back up into the hills. My body wasn't braced for this. Ugh. Along the way, though, we passed another bright blue lake. This one with a brilliant waterfall filling it. Augusto said it was our last view of the mountains, so I made sure to savor it. As much as I was able, that is, with the swarms of killer horse flies covering us. Blegh.

Then, a fast descent out of the mountains and into the hills, reaching more civilized lands. Fields covered the hills here. We reached our last campsite far sooner than I expected. Not sure why they didn't make this our last day. I made it to camp around 12:30. Dottie (the last) made it around 2:00. Poor woman. Not only is she sick, but she fell today, and thought she had broken her hip. I don't think she should have done this trip. She's suffered the entire way. My respect, but maybe not a good idea.

OK, the scene now. Sitting in my tent, looking out over the hills, as intermittent rain and intense sunlight cover the distance. As far as I can see, misty foothills of the Andes stretch. It almost looks like one of those painted backdrops movies used to use. To the left, out of sight at the moment, the hills are covered in fields. You can just make out the road we'll hike out to tomorrow morning. We're camped out in yet another cow pasture. I certainly won't miss that when I get home.

Tonight, they're fixing a special meal for us. Traditional Peruvian style. A small structure of stones is built. They light a fire inside until the stones glow red hot. Then, they clean out the stove and place three kinds of potatoes in layers inside. Then three kinds of meat. And cook the entire thing until done. Sort of like a Maori hagi. It was delicious, but far too much food for our group.

9/1/00 Huarez

A short, fast jog out of the hills this morning. The group was scattered far over the trail, with most people hiking either alone or in two's. We finally hit civilization, and trudged the rest of the way into some town on a paved road. We had a long wait for the rest of the group to filter out of the mountains. As we waited, local kids gathered around us, trying to engage us in conversation, but most of our Spanish wasn't up to task. Besides, I'm not sure they were exactly speaking Spanish, so it might have been a lost cause anyway. *chuckle*

Eventually, a truck and our shuttle bus arrived to pick us up. The donkeys were going to walk all the way home on an easier trail up in the hills on the other side of the valley. But everyone else was going home the fast way. Vroom! We all stomped up into the van, quickly opening windows to keep the air breathable. It felt so luxurious to sit on a real cushioned seat again! OK, it hasn't been that long in the mountains, but I'm not much of a mountain man, so it was enough for me. I want a hot shower! :-)

The drive back was too long for me. Even though we covered more than a weeks worth of hiking in a few hours, it still took too long in my book. We stopped off for food along the way, and also stopped again in Carhuaz, but were in Huarez not long afterwards.

That hot shower felt luxurious. I used to take very short showers growing up, or else my dad would turn the water off. But as I've gotten older, I've noticed I take longer and longer showers. I think it is because of times like this.

That night, while the others went out for the last group dinner, I went off on my own to get more of a feel for the town. I watched the sun set behind the mountains, sitting by a park. I had dinner at some dive joint down off the main road, then grabbed a couple drinks at a bar I found further back. I was going to try a dance club after that, but some local drunks started to hassle me as soon as I went in, so I decided it would be wiser to just call it a night and say goodbye to Peru.

9/2/00 San Francisco, CA, USA

We all said our sad goodbyes to Augusto. He wasn't coming back to Lima with us. He's a good guy. I may ask him to guide me up Aconcagua (the tallest mountain in the Western hemisphere) next year if he's willing. He's a regular guide down there every year.

The same long drive back up to Lima. Then a long wait at the airport, and one by one, our group split off for their separate flights. For one by one, the hike was over. Then, for me, it was over, and I was home.

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