Entering Huascaran National Park
The alarm sounded all to early. Actually, I woke up the sound of Sadhbh and her mates coming in from the rave at close to 6 am, and when I woke I felt a critter scuttling over my hand, one of the bedbugs that has been making a pox of my body over the last week. I have bites all over that itch like the bejeeses. Before leaving for the trek I paid my bill and told Anita, the owner’s wife that a thorough cleaning of sheets and blankets needed to be done.
We got on our way, more asleep than awake. The collectivo was packed and our food bags and beer were rolling every which way on the curvy roads. Sadhbh immediately put her head down and nodded off, despite the bumps and swerves. I had a conversation with the girl sitting opposite me, a veterinarian from New York who was doing a stint in Peru before going to Tibet to work with native vets there and also do some trekking.
She was very interesting and talking to her made the long drive pass a little more quickly. At Yungay we turned north into the valley towards Vacqueria, our starting point for the trek. Mt. Huascaran loomed above us the whole way. It’s the 3rd highest peak in South America and the highest in Peru. There is a legend that the twin peak are brothers that fought and split up, and when there is an earthquake it signifies a fight between them. This is the indigenous peoples’ understanding of the mountain. It truly is impressive. We checked in at the entrance to the national park and paid our fee before continuing on. Rounding the bend we had our first view of the Laguna Llanganuco and it was breathtaking in the true sense of the word.
Andrew at Llanganuco
I’ve never seen water of such color. It was a brilliant sea green and it sparkled in the morning light. Standing by the shore and looking at that water framed by snow-capped mountains was overwhelming and as silly as it sounds, I was almost moved to tears at the beauty. Pictures cannot convey how beautiful it is. This laguna is one of the must-see sights of Peru. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful natural sights I have ever seen. These lagunas are formed in the narrow valleys by runoff from the glaciers and they derive their color from the minerals. They are crystal clear though and you can see quite deep.
The ascent up to the pass was both beautiful and terrifying with numerous switchbacks that had no guardrails or anything, just a cut into the mountain for a road.
Any mistake and it was all over. I found it exhilarating though and quite an adrenaline rush, and not scary at all. The bus had lost its shocks in a former decade and the ride resembled an amusement park ride as we bounced up and down on the gravel road that had numerous washouts and depressions. At some points we were even bounced into the ceiling, all to the accompaniment to a very bad Peruvian 80s soundtrack. The whole thing was surreal and I had to take a video, which doesn’t really do it justice unfortunately. Finally we arrived at a cluster of houses and the bus stopped. We were in Vacqueria.
Sitting in Vacqueria and waiting for our trek to begin seemed like another world. Chickens wandered around our packs pecking, dogs meandered about, and there was the omnipresent campesinos looking on in amusement as another group of foreigners arrived to set out for another trek.
View of the valley
A couple of men had a table with registry and were taking 5 soles (about $2) from us. “For what?” we asked. “For maintainance of the village road they said. What else to do but pay up. The village had to make some money somehow off of all these tourists, so I didn’t mind. The group of Israeli’s was a different matter. They were quite indignant about and a lengthy discussion about it ensued. I don’t speak Hebrew but it was clear what was going on. Finally they paid up and let it go. Our donkey drivers began loading up their beasts of burden as I pulled out my fiddle and entertained the local people and bored trekkers with some tunes. It passed the time anyway.
Finally it was time to leave.
We got off the main road and began a rapid descent into the valley where we could hear the rushing water below us. On the way we passed the houses and animals of the people that live in the valley, near the village. It was a very picturesque scene and no one could help taking pictures. At every turn the kids ran up to us with their well-worn clothes and ruddy cheeks and begged for “caramelle” or sweets. What was it about me that they always ignored the others and ran up to me first? I couldn’t help stopping each time to talk to them and give them a piece of candy, they were too adorable. The poverty was so evident in their faces, it is heartbreaking. They live a hard life, these mountain people, and the children grow up fast.
Hills and valley
When they are old enough, so many leave for Lima and that’s why you see only children and older people there. It’s not a place for young people, there is just so little work or future there.
After a few hours we descended into a valley with a lovely stream and groves of trees bordering it and then arrived at camp, and none to soon as my legs felt like jelly. I flopped down and took 2 ibuprofen to dull the pain in my legs as well as head. I suspected that I had altitude sickness or “soroche” as it’s known here, as one of the symptoms is a persistent headache. At sunset the air quickly cooled and we put on our layers including long underwear. Oliver, our guide, was cooking in the main tent and we stashed our stuff in the tents that the donkey driver had set up for us.
View to valley below
They drive the donkeys on early and fast and arrive at the campsite well before the trekkers. Unfortunately I couldn’t eat dinner as the soroche was really affecting me and my head was just throbbing in pain. I went out to use the pit toilet and the stench made me retch, so by that time I was feeling truly miserable. The other were so sympathetic but there was little anyone could do. I took 2 acetaminophen and headed for the tent, bundled up in all my layers of clothing, ready to get into my sleeping bag and try to get some sleep.
It turned out to be an extremely cold night and we were all shivering in our tents despite all the layers and the insulated sleeping bags.