Conquering the Andes

Trip Start Sep 30, 2009
Trip End Dec 04, 2009

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Saturday, November 21, 2009

I was picked up on time and after having collected some other passengers, we continued in our 19 passenger shuttle bus into the highlands from Arequipa. The first part of the road was fine as we were gently winding our way up into the Andes.

However, it was the first time on my trip that I was really kind of nervous. Not in a bad way, but I was just very focused on the fact, that I was going to reach the altitudes seriously this time, and had no idea whether my body would be fit for it or not. I have heard horror stories, but the thing is that neither age nor physical condition can predict how your body will react. We had barely gotten inside the bus, before our wonderful guide, Liliana, told us that we would stop to buy coca leaves, and then she showed us how to fold and chew them. You just chew them a few times, and then tuck them in the side of your mouth from where you suck out the juices. I managed to chew 3 portions before reaching the highest point, and the taste was quite indistinctive, although I did feel somewhat calmer.

So I made it to the much feared pass at 4920 m above sea level. OK, I was dizzy when I got out of the bus, and did my best to walk very slowly. I had my picture taken, and even made a little tower of stones as so many before me had done. You were supposed to make a wish when you did it, but I was so focused on not tripping over that I totally forgot to make a wish.

Thereafter, we continued down into the Colca Valley towards Chivay. On the way we saw wild alpacas, and plenty of domesticated llamas and sheep - not to mention all the indigenous people dressed in beautiful clothes. I got to take some photos, but always had to slip a little propina - although that had to be some biscuits when I took a picture of some kids and was short of coins. Typically, I forgot all about the pencils I have brought with me all the way from Denmark in order to give them to kids...

The landscape was spectacular and beautiful, and throughout the entire trip I justed looked out the window, amazed. At about 13.30 we arrived in Chivay, where we had lunch. I used the opportunity to call home and had a great talk with Claus and my nephews - just that made my eyes misty. There was also this young boy, Juan Carlos, hanging around outside the restaurant with his young llama, and after I had taken a couple of pictures of him, he did the same of me. And I have to give him credit: He took the best composed and zoomed pictures of me taken on this trip - and imagine that for a 10 year-old...He has a future as a photographer. Provided that he ever will get a camera of his own, which is far from possible.

After all the others had been dropped off in Chivay, I was driven to nearby Yanque, where I checked in to the very nice little place called Tradicion Colca. It turned out that the manager, Thomas, was French, and finally - after having cleared my had for some Spanish verbs - I was able to speak French again.

I had the option of walking to some nearby hot springs, but I felt more like relaxing in my room - and have a massage and use their jacuzzi. Yanque is at app. 3400 m and after having cleared my ears, I actually felt fine. Of course you could feel that it was easier to get your pulse up than normally, but that was just an excuse for taking it easy. I had a nice conversation with Thomas, and even told him of my intentions of quitting the cigarettes when I hit the altitudes. We made a lot of fun about that, because I did not quit. Because, I was feeling OK, and honestly, my heart had not been in it, as I already have indicated in a previous post.

A large Belgian group checked in, which meant that Thomas gave all the dinner and dance introductions in French - me like - although the Belgians were Flemish speaking. 3 local children performed a dance, and then we had a very nice set menu - I selected the alpaca again.

However, my appetite was ruined, when the local guide from the Belgian group seriously questionned my possibilities of making it from Chivay to Puno the following day due to the farmers blocking the road. And I questionned him back, because I had not heard anything from my local agency, Cooltural Immersion/Inkas Travel, and I would have been convinced that they had informed me if there would be a change of plans. And they had not. I had Thomas call them, and he came back to me and told me not to worry. But I still did a little bit. To be honest, I had heard of the road to Cusco being blocked by these farmers opposing to a company ruining their water supply - quite understandably - but I expected it to be a very temporary problem. I should turn out to be nothing but temporary. So to calm myself, I went to bed early - again - preparing for the day to come with hopefully a good night's sleep.
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