Trekking in the Andes - Lares to Ollantaytambo

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Thursday, August 21, 2008

The day of the trek arrives and we meet Miguel, as arranged, outside of a café in San Blas for the 5 hour drive to Lares, the start of our trek. With Miguel is Juan who is to be our cook for the next 3 days. The rest of the car is jam packed with tents, gas bottles and food for our trip. We set off out of Cusco in our car to Calca where we stop at the bus station to change cars for the next leg to Lares. Like most bus stations around the world, Calca bus station is chaotic to say the least. Everyone shouting at you to use their bus or taxi. We decide, rather than to take the bus, which can take forever, to take a taxi for the next leg. However, before we depart I visit the toilets. Big mistake! These are the worse I have encountered since Africa! Still I suppose we had better get used to it as the only toilets we will see for the next few days will be a hole in the ground!

As we drive on towards Lares we get higher and higher and the Andean scenery is simply breathtaking. Finally, after mile upon mile of winding mountain roads we arrive in Lares, a small town which has a very forward thinking mayor who is spending some money developing the facilities at the hot springs in the town. Our schedule allows time for an hour or so in the hot pools which are all different colours and varying temperature. I can't help thinking thought that with a 40 kilometre walk through the mountains in front of us; the hot springs may have served us better at the end!

Anyone looking to trek anywhere in the mountains around Cusco and the Sacred Valley really should consider Miguel Jovens.  His treks are professional run, and really do add something to the communities you visit. He can be contacted at SA Explores in Cusco or his full contact details are:

Miguel Jove
Tour Guide
(51 84) 984792227//084-245484
Email: -
C/O South American Explorers
Apartado 500

It is still only 11.00am and time to start the trek. As always the first 10 minutes are the worst as we head up out of town along a steep path into the valley towards our first campsite of Huaca Huasi. After a couple of hours walking we arrive at the banks of a stream where Juan our cook and Alberto the horseman, have already arrived and set up the kitchen, table and chairs ready for lunch. After, a welcome cup of Coca tea, a three course lunch is served and we are truly amazed at the quality of the food which is equal to anything we have eaten in restaurants in Cusco. Juan had even donned chef's whites (complete with hat) for the occasion.

After lunch we are joined by some local children (where do they come from? We are in the middle of nowhere!). For the first time we hand out some notebooks and pencils and some tooth brushes and the kids are delighted. These really are nice kids but so, so poor. It would be nice to do more if we could. Miguel tells us they are walking home after school, which will take them about 2.5hours.

After lunch we continue our hike uphill to Huaca Huasi. We are feeling the altitude a little and are a bit breathless, but taking it steadily it is not too bad and we stop often to gawp at the views of the Andes Mountains. We are really glad that we spent a couple of weeks in Cusco acclimatising before this trek, I can't imagine what these people who come straight hear from sea level must feel like.

Finally, we arrive in the village and our tents (including this time a kitchen/dining tent) are all ready set up behind one family's house who come out to meet us and say hello (or Agi Genchu! In Quecha, the language of the region) and show us their wares for sale.

Yet more food as Juan prepares a "snack" of freshly cooked popcorn (but overdoes the portion size as it comes exploding out of the pan!) and some delicious grilled tortilla thingy's filled with cheese. No sooner are the snacks finished than another delicious three course meal is served up, freshly prepared vegetable soup which is simply amazing followed by grilled chicken, potatoes and fresh vegetable. How this guy cooks all this on a small gas stove I do not know.

It is 7.00pm, dinner is finished, it is starting to get very cold and we are exhausted. Time for bed! Our two man tent has space for two people and very little else. We slip into our all-encompassing thermal underwear, (possibly the most useful purchases on our travels) get ourselves zipped into our sleeping bags which is not as easy a task in a confined space as one might think!

The night is cold, very cold. But, possibly because of our exertions during the day, we sleep well and are woken with a cup of Cocoa tea at 5.30. It is, according to Miguel, going to be a long day! Breakfast, again delicious, is served and we get the opportunity to meet more of the villagers who call around to say hello. These truly are some of the most delightful people we have met upon our travels. A boy of nine or ten demonstrates his expertise with his spinning top - not as easy as it looks! We reward his effort with some writing materials and a toothbrush. As we are about to clean our teeth he also gets a squirt of toothpaste which he seems to like a lot as he immediately runs back to the village vigorously brushing his teeth as he goes!

After our brilliant breakfast we continue our hike up to the Ipsay Pass 4550 m. The hike takes us through many small villages where we meet many of the local Quecha people. All the time we are in the company of alpacas and llamas (sometimes up close and personal), and are now quite deft at spotting which is which. Throughout the whole trek we encounter only two other treks which is exactly the trek we were hoping for. There seems to be a far amount of "local traffic" on the trail as we meet a number of Quecha people leading horses or mules laden with goods.

About halfway along the valley to the pass we bump into some friends of Miguel. They exchange a few words and the lady immediately bursts into tears. Miguel had already told us the story of her daughter who was 7 months pregnant and had been involved in a car accident where she fractured her spine. A heartbreaking story in any country, but here were health facilities are limited and, those that there are, have to be paid for the situation is unbelievably tragic. The mother was distraught, not knowing whether her daughter and her unborn child would live or die and, if she did live, what sort of life was ahead of her. Tragic!

We continue our trek ever upwards to Ipsay our rest stops are becoming ever more frequent as the increasing altitude takes its effect. We chew Cocoa leaves which taste OK but do make our mouths go a bit numb like the after effects of a trip to the dentist. The Cocoa does however appear to make our breathing a little easier and provides a boost of energy as we push on to the top of the pass.
As we reach the top of the pass the feeling of exhilaration is fantastic. We look around at the snow-capped Andes and back down the valley we have just walked up and feel on top of the world. Just as great is the view in the other direction as we see that it is all downhill from now!

We continue down the valley soon realising that, whilst less demanding physically, walking downhill really does take its toll on the knees. As we approach the Lake Ipsaycocha, towards the bottom of the valley we see, in the distance, the horses tethered by the lake and the boys setting up camp ready for lunch.
Miguel has brought his fishing rod along with him and is intent on catching trout for our dinner that evening. Try as he may, the trout were not being cooperative and remained safely in the lake. In the meantime, Juan, our redoubtable cook, however had decided on a different approach and was attempting to catch the trout from the stream leading into the lake with his bare hands! Amazingly, after a few minutes we heard a delighted yell, followed by a lot of splashing and saw a gleaming trout flying through the air onto the bank. Five minutes later he repeated this extraordinary feat! Trout for dinner after all!

After lunch we Juan, Carolyn and I set off to continue our hike, leaving Alberto to sort out Ronaldo (named apparently after the Manchester United player) who was lying down seemingly on strike. Ronaldo is one of the horses carrying the baggage. Miguel was still busy with his rod trying to catch the elusive trout and would catch us up later.

A couple of hours later as we were approaching Juan's home village of Patacancha, we heard someone calling from across the valley. Juan said that it was his small nephew who came hurtling down the hillside to meet us like a bat out of hell. We sat awhile and chatted with Juan's nephew again a great kid and so lively. We took a few pictures of him and showed him how to take a picture of his uncle - a natural photographer in the making. As we sat chatting Miguel appeared and started to tell the tale of the 5 massive trout that got away. Yeah right!
We continued to walk down hill until reaching Patachanca at 3800 metres (which looked a little like parts of Tuscany) in the late afternoon. We camped on a piece of ground next to Juan's family's house and all the family came out to meet us and to share yet more popcorn and snacks. After dinner (trout AND chicken!) we were invited into the family house to meet the rest of the family, including the resident Guinea Pigs (still haven't tried one yet!). After spending some time with the family we move next door to the Patachanca community radio station which broadcasts to the area in Quecha. We were both asked to say a few words over the air - I can't recall what we said but it was translated into Quecha and Spanish - Note to self - must work on the Spanish.
After yet another early night we are woken equally early with the obligatory Cocoa tea and, after a few words with the family, particularly Juan's mother, a lovely lady who also has nine other children, we head off on the last leg of our trip to Ollantaytambo.

For the last 15 kilometres of the trek we more or less follow the dirt road to Ollantaytambo, passing through small villages along the way. Perhaps it is the knowledge that the end is in sight but our feet really do start to ache. We resist the temptation to cheat and jump on a collectivo for a ride into town (and regret that decision an hour or so later, as it was the one and only opportunity for a ride). As we approach Ollantaytambo we start to see the Inca terracing and ruins for which the town is famous.

Arriving in the main square we check out a couple of hostals without success so Miguel suggests that we sit outside his favourite restaurant, Hearts Café which is right in the corner of the main square. We order a couple of beers and sit down to watch the world go by. We have made it! Never have two beers been more welcome!
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