On the first day, we met at 6 AM for our bus departure to the valley. After a nice breakfast (a hint of things to come!), we drove into the valley, disembarked, and began hiking. The group included 6 of us from the Academia and an American brother/sister combo. It was great to chat with other Americans! The hike began with a steep, but not long, first hill. It was quickly apparent, though, that the altitude would be a challenge on this first day. As a group, we huffed and puffed our way up the hill, scrambling and struggling all the way. We were much relieved when the terrain leveled out a bit and we arrived at our first rest stop.
In what would be a common trend at our rest stops, we were met by a local family. The children seek out pencils amd candies while the adults sell or try to sell traditional goods or beverages. At this particular stop, we tried a small taste (more would be risking illness for our unaccustomed stomachs) of Chicha, a very common Peruvian beverage made from corn. One person described it as tasting like tobacco. From this point, we continued slogging our way up a steady incline and were thrilled when we came upon tents set up next to a lake. A beautiful spot and a chance to rest!
Lunch was a surprise. The quality of the food provided by our cook was amazing. All hike long I found the food to be excellent and interesting, and all cooked on camp stoves carted out for the trip. We also had a cozy dining tent. All of this, and some of our equipment, was carried for us by porters and horses. Really kind and hard-working locals who helped make our trip outstanding. Unfortunately, I don´t remember all of the meals, so I can´t give details, but they all included fresh fruit and vegetables and were brilliantly cooked (how do you do pizza on a camp stove?) Our campsite also included the surprising ¨purple tent¨ a small private bathroom. We felt like we had ordered the luxury tour!
After lunch, we began to hike again. Up, up, up... Not yet adjusted to the altitude, quickly approaching 4000 meters, we struggled to get our air. I had to totally change the pace that I learned to hike at in the White Mountains. For some perspective, the tallest of the Whites, Mt. Washington, is around 2000 meters. We were consistently hiking around 4000 meters and that was through passes, not to summits! Finally, we climbed up to our first pass of the trek. We were thrilled and exhausted.
A few of us climbed up a tiny, mini-peak next to the pass and just rested and enjoyed the scenery. A short descent later, we arrived at our first campsite set up near (a mile or so) from a small Andean pueblo. Once again, we were met by a local family. If you look closely at the picture, you might notice something about the boy´s hat (it´s much clearer in my camera). It makes an interesting commentary on the state of the world.
TRIVIA: What did I find interesting about the hat?
The first person to either comment here or email me with the correct answer will receive a small prize from Peru!
Here is another picture of the campsite.
Notice the immense amount of fog. The weather was pretty much like that the whole first day. It led to some fairly cold conditions at the campsite.
It also meant that we woke up in the morning with little idea of what surrounded us. One of the best ¨Oh my!¨ moments of the hike came in the bright sunlight of the morning as we looked around and saw what surrounded us.
After that breathtaking moment, we had another wonderful breakfast (how much we ate became a running joke on the hike: What did you do on the hike? Well, I ate, then I walked a bit, then I ate...) We then set out on our longest day of hiking. Our first stop was a local inhabitant´s home where we saw first hand what life was like for the descendents of the Inca.
From there we began to climb and climb and climb. Imagine our shock though when we discovered how much we had acclimatized to the conditions. A much longer day of hiking to altitudes not dreamed of before seemed so much easier. The weather conditions were not perfect, but the cloud ceiling was much higher allowing us to see the valley´s beauty spread out before us.
We also saw some of the evidence of climate change in the Andes. Places which had only a short time before been glaciers are now black smears of rock. Also, the marsh in this picture used to be a glacially fed lake. It is now become a marsh. Rain season comes earlier as well (thus our cloudy conditions). Unlike in Asia, the Andes are not in danger of drying out. The snow has been replaced by more rain, but the impact of the climate change is clear.
Shortly after skirting the huge lake, we began to climb towards the final pass of the hike. The pass is located at 4500 meters above sea level. That´s quite close to 15,000 feet, and it´s only a pass not a peak.
This is the pass as we approached it.
We were thrilled to reach the pass amd celebrated, despite the intense wind whipping around us. Our guide also showed us how to build a cairn and offer coca leaves in a traditional Incan ritual.
Before we left the pass, I took a moment to see how far we had come in one day. I took a series of photos that show neatly how much ground we covered.
In picture 1, look at the notch to the left of the tall peak on the farthest ridge. That was the pass we came through.
In the second picture, I pulled back on the zoom a bit.
In the final picture, I used no zoom at all.
We climbed down from the pass, past yet another beautiful mountain lake and arrived at our campsite on the site of an Alpaca farm.
At the campsite, we were quite cold and spent some time trying to warm up. We were going to spend the night at 4100 meters!
As night approached, seemingly on their own, the alpacas came down from the hills and bedded down together just outside the home of the farmer. It was really neat to see that many llamas and alpacas moving not so gracefully down the mountainside. They really are fun to watch and are not particularly smooth in their movements.
As the sun set, I was able to take a couple of pretty neat pictures for a not even amateur photographer that displayed the silhouettes of the farm and the alpacas. The first shows a couple of our porters bartering rice for potatoes (yes, that night we ate locally grown, fresh from the earth potatoes). The second shows the alpacas.
Soon, possibly tomorrow, I will post part two of the adventure - on to Macchu Picchu!
Finally, a chance to record my thoughts on the Lares trek. The Lares trek is a three day excursion in to Lares Valley in Peru, followed by a trip to see Macchu Picchu on the fourth day. The trek was designed as an alternative to the overly popular Camino Inca. Most of the guides feel that the Lares Trek is superior in terms of scenery and tourist load. Indeed, as you will see, the scenery is breathtaking, and we only came upon one other group of tourists during our three days in the valley. The trek was all around exceptional.