5 Day Huaytapallana Trek
Huancayo Travel Blog› entry 9 of 36 › view all entries
5 days with... Lucho (guide, cook and man of the people), Ann (mother of two from Belgium, currently living in Lima, smoker) and Sofie (dreamy 21 year old from Denmark).
Day One: Almost one down. A rough taxi ride found us at La Estancia, a little cabin at the beginning of one of the trails into the Huaytapallana range. Forgive my use of adjectives like ¨spectacular¨ and ¨awesome¨ because they´re necessary to describe what we saw, particularly on that first day. The mountains are rugged, and the path trailed around many a lake. We lunched at a lookout point over a beautiful lagoon that constantly changed colours according to the sky. Lunch was made in a plastic bag - tuna, tomato, spanish onion, chilli and a squeeze of lemon, eaten with the little hard bread rolls that are so popular here. The feature of the first day is the glacier; we left our bags by a large rock and followed Lucho up to around 4,600m right to the edge of the ice. Every now and then you could hear cracks from the ice. There was a rock used as an altar, where we sifted through a bag of coca leaves, found the whole ones, and sent well wishes to our friends, family and pachamama (mother earth). Lucho took Sofie right up to the ice, while Ann and I rested near the altar; then Ann decided to get a head start back to the bags. However, when the three of us started back on the trail, we couldn´t see her anywhere and began to fear the worst. And then the mists started to roll in, making visibility very poor and the air cold; it would only be an hour and a half till darkness. It´s hard to describe in retrospect, but it was pretty awful thinking poor Ann would be left out on the mountain by herself. Lucho went back to look for her and we yelled but couldn´t hear anything. Eventually, we made it back to the bags (some 20-30 minutes away) and there she was, waiting for us. It was hard to believe that she could have taken the trail back without getting lost, so difficult it was on the rocks to see which way we´d come. I think we were somewhat impressed, frustrated and relieved to find her. We set up camp by the most magical little lake that had mist rolling off the surface, and dinner was pasta soup and calientito - apple and cinnamon tea with rum and sugar. Just the thing to keep us warm. I don´t think any of us were fully prepared for how cold it would be, and we woke up with ice everywhere - even the shallow parts of the lake had frozen over. But we survived...
Day Two: We climbed a mountain. After breakfast of coffee (Lucho swears by it), a chocolate energy drink with quinoa, and toasted bread with strawberry jam, we head off to conquer the mountain. From around 2,700m we scaled a rocky cliff face, then edged our way across loose dirt to a little pass at the top - some 4,600m again. There we rested and had some snacks before picking our way, slowly, down the mountain. It wasn´t too bad - some parts were slippery with dirt and small stones; the worst bits were the big, loosely packed rocks. Nothing strenuous, but oh so tense - you have to think about where you´re putting your feet and weight every second. Once we reached the bottom, we followed a trail along a dirt road to a little group of huts where some Andean mountain people live. They take care of many animals - llamas, cows and sheep, plus several dogs, 3 amusing ducklings and a tiny black puppy. There was rather minimal interaction with the people themselves, as they were quite shy. Dinner was strange but nice: some 7 varieties of potatoes in a bolognaise sauce with beef and tuna, followed by more calientito. The four of us slept in the storage hut (the huts are made of rock, with a thatched straw roof), on top of sheep dung, sheep skins and our sleeping mats. While it was a lot warmer and cosier than the night before, it was also somewhat suffocating, and sleeping for 12 hours when you´re not the least bit tired is a challenge.
Day Three: Mountain life. The beautiful blue skies and strong sun make you forget the cold of the night. In the morning, the women milk the cows and make queso fresco (the common cheese in this area) - by putting cow intestine, or some other acidic body part, into a bucket of milk, and moulding the curdled bits together to form a big wad of cheese. The llamas had some sort of itchy disease so were herded into the stone circle (almost every mountain hut will have a stone circle, where the animals are put in for the night to keep out foxes and whatnot), where they were lassooed one by one and given a shot. Our porters forgot the food for the day, so we ended up having a breakfast of potatoes and onion fried in butter. Our packs were carried by llamas, so it was an easy walk along dry grassy hills and then along a riverbed. Sofie and I developed an obsession with rocks - there were rocks of all colours, particularly dusty blues, pinks, purples and even greens. Lunch was bread rolls with cheese, ham and mayonnaise, then it was a short walk to the next group of huts where we would stay the night. Two sisters live in the huts - they´re only 15 and 26 and they look after a large group of animals - llamas, cows, alpacas, horses, a rooster and hen and the obligatory dogs. It´s hard to believe that they lived such isolated and (what we consider) lonely lives, just the two of them, up with the sun to milk the cows and let the animals out, and surviving every freezing night with little more than a pile of blankets. They were very shy, although Marta, the older sister, was hospitable enough to let us into the kitchen hut to warm up by the llama dung-fuelled fire. We all slept in the same hut, a long rectangular mud-brick building with a corrugated iron roof and a door that didn´t close properly. Not exactly the warmest of places to sleep, but dry and comfortable with hay and extra blankets to lie on top of.
Day Four: Rock and more rock. I learnt something very useful this morning. Don´t get out of your sleeping bag until the sun is up. The two sisters were up with the first light, and not being able to sleep, I decided to get up and watch the sun rise. However, it takes a long, cold time for the sun to peep over the mountain even though visibility is normal. Marta let me sit in the kitchen again. Ahh, the smell of llama dung smoke. Once the sun was up I felt a lot better and we thawed ourselves on the grass in front of the huts. Breakfast was freshly made queso fresco with strawberry jam on bread. I´ve had queso fresco before, but the stuff sold at the markets is a lot older and harder and I think they add salt. Freshly made, it has a soft, creamy texture and not much taste, which makes it quite nice to eat with jam.
Another beautiful day as we headed off. We came across quite a big river that we had to cross and it was decided that shoes off was the only way to go. The water was awfully cold, which made me jump out of the river and onto a bed of prickly grass needles. Ouch. Our llamas soon overtook us. We skirted several large grassy hills and the landscape began to change - it became rock. Lucho says this area used to be covered in ice, and eventually they´ll become fertile land. It certainly fed our obsession with rocks - we found some beautiful quartz and other stones whose names I don´t know. Lunch was potatoes in a nutty, creamy, spicy sauce, on a bare rocky pass overlooking a new ice mountain and more rocks. We then descended down through the rocks, skirting another lagoon (Ann and Lucho were whizzing their way around the lagoon while I was trying to concentrate on not falling). The landscape changed again to a lovely fertile green valley littered with big boulders. We started heading upwards again - stunning scenery, and opposite us a big bare rock mountain from which we could hear dynamite explosions.
Finally, we reached the place we were to stay the night - another mountain folk home, except this time we set up our tents on the soft grass in front. Nice and open - ie. beautiful view, and lots of wind. An older couple and their daughter live here, and we were joined by our two porters and the llamas. It became dark and cold far too quickly, but luckily their kitchen was big enough to fit all of us; a pity that it had terrible ventilation and we came out reeking. Dinner was bacon in tomato salsa on spaghetti - luxury. It was that cold outside that when Lucho was frying the bacon, the fat had frozen while he cooked the next lot. This place had a toilet - a hole in the ground surrounded by planks of wood, and don´t mind the sheep! But an incredible view. I was determined to be relatively warm and put on all my clothes. It worked.
Day Five: Back into civilisation. It was a very pleasant morning, following my little rule; I got up with the light but didn´t leave the tent till we could feel the sun come through. Breakfast was rather meh, old bread and jam and the usual coffee and chocolate drinks. We got an early start and were cresting grassy hills - very very windy and cold. We reached the top of a rock cliff and took a detour off to the side - for the view. Quite unnecessary, Sofie and I thought, as we picked our way slowly across the gravel and loose stones. I suppose falling wouldn´t be so bad, it´s more the tension of having to be so careful. My legs ache just thinking about it. Back at the top of the cliff, we added rocks to the piles as offerings, again sending good wishes to friends and family. Then we began the long, slow and lovely descent into an incredibly beautiful valley, following a stream which wound its way between several mountains. Very green grass, big boulders, purple flowers and lots and lots of cows grazing. We had lunch in an open patch of grass - papas a la huancaina. Potatoes in a slightly cheesy, nutty sauce. It´s a good thing I like potatoes. Another hour or so down the valley and we started to see houses, and also people walking the other way with their animals. The path eventually led us to the town of Racracalla (pop. 2000) where we were stared at by the locals (in a curious, friendly way). Here, Lucho treated us to the freshest yoghurt I´ve ever tasted, and some cheese, and we sat in the main plaza while a local showed us a million variety of potatoes.
Eventually, we got into a car headed for Concepcion, a town some 30 minutes from Huancayo. Except Lucho made us take a detour (along a winding gravel road with a sheer drop on the side, mind you) to a newly built waterfall lookout. We declined to do the walk (another 45 minutes), and although I´m sure it was lovely, I´m glad we didn´t; we ended up driving along a very rough road for another 1.5 hours, facing the sun, just to get to Concepcion. (At times the sun was so bad the driver had to look out his window at the side of the road to see where the car was. And we inhaled dust for 1.5 hours.) It wasn´t really the ending to the trip that we´d expected, especially as two of us felt somewhat sick when we made it back to the hostel. But nothing that a good pizza, red wine and a Pisco sour couldn´t fix. The only downer of the night was that Lucho refused to join us because Ann had started smoking again (she had quit smoking early on Day 4, at Lucho´s insistence). Quite unreasonable, I think, as it should be her choice to quit in the first place.
and... the verdict? It was such a remote, isolated trail, it was terrific. Every day the scenery stunned us; who knew mountains had so many colours? Glaciers, ice mountains, lagoons, little lakes, marshy swamplands, dirt tracks, green valleys, open fields, rocks and of course dry grassy hills - just amazing landscape. The nights were difficult to get through but it only makes you appreciate and respect the lives that the mountain people lead. I would highly recommend this trek to people looking for something that´s truly off the beaten track. And do it soon before Lucho retires, because he has a wealth of knowledge that he´s more than willing to share to the inquisitive trekker.