Here donkey donkey donkey.........donkey?

Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
Trip End Dec 22, 2010

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Flag of Peru  , Lima,
Monday, October 25, 2010

"When you arrive at the start of the trek in Llamac, you can hire a mule or donkey to help carry your things". This quote from an adviser in Huaraz, one I would soon re great listening to, one that ran through my thoughts over and over again for the next 11 days.

I'm not sure if you've read my Canyon De Calca entry, but Ive recently figured out that there is no need to explore remote places in an extreme manner. No need to push myself beyond or to prove something to myself. Sometimes taking it easy; some say smarter alternatives can be just as satisfying.

With an eleven day hike through the Amazing mountains range of Cordillera Huayhuash on the cards and with this new revelation in mind. I was soon buying ample amounts of food and shoving extra equipment in my pack. For I had planed to hire a mule or donkey to accompany me for the following days around said mountain range.

I arrived in Llamac with my seventy five liter pack bursting at the sides and more things hanging off the outside; in search for help. Within five minutes of arriving I was faced with the harsh reality that no body would trust me with their donkeys. I had to take an arrillio (the person who controls the donkeys) as well. This require feeding him and housing him in my tent. After considering this option for awhile, I was approached by some arrillios with the news that none of them wanted to go into the mountains with me for eleven days anyway....

My profession being logistics, I was disappointed in myself once realising my fate,that even though I planned to "take it easy" I had in fact put myself into the typical position I'm always in; carrying ridiculous amounts of weight, heading into the extreme elements and alone....sigh.

Karma had decided to lighten up on me a little, maybe it was all the vegetarian food I ate with Jhon and Mary in Lima. I had soon found another solo traveler Joe, form the US.After being warned time and time again about security issues amongst the mountains, armed robberies, murders even shoes being grabbed from under the tent. I was glad to have found a hiking companion just as crazy as me, maybe more so.

We paid our first "protection fee" of many and were off on our hike. "Protection fee"a complete load of bull shit. If you don't pay them,your not protected and something might happen to you. I'm guessing its the people who you don't pay, that carry out these acts of criminality on travelers, In order for these protection services to exist.

My pack was so heavy, crawling up over the 4685m pass was damaging to my soul. I could only manage about ten steps at a time. However with plans of eating copious amounts of  food that night and freedom to finally cover ground using alternative routes with tracks, utilising ridge lines, re entrants, saddles and knolls; I felt energised and free. For the first time in South America I was using my skills I had gained in the past form the military. Crazily enough, I was glad I wasn't restricted to the limitations of a donkey.

Waking up to the glorious mountain of Jirishuanca, its jagged peak pointing towards the heavens. The tranquil tri coloured lake Mitueocha at its feet, we were off on our journey, energised by said view.

"Money" a child held out his hand and spoke one of the few English words he had in his vocabulary. Another check point, another "protection fee". How on earth are these kids suppose to protect us? we took unique roots to dodge these fees.... Apparently some of the money goes towards the communities and maintenance of the tracks. But when one is hiking over muddy unmaintained  traverses at high altitudes, almost slipping over in immense amounts of actual donkey shit, dodging holes filled with rubbish, one wonders where on earth the money is going? Not on the track that's for sure.

As usual, unsurprisingly so; the kids tried to rip us off,telling us to pay twice as much as we were meant to. The real cost on the top right hand side of the receipt disallowing them to get away with such disgusting behavior. Cant we just hike around remote mountains in peace without this crap? oh the other words in the kids English vocabulary " excuse us" his apology for trying to rip us off twice after. One shouldnt be angry at such children, its not there fault. I mainly feel sad for them that they are subjected to such pressure from their parents to lie on a daily basis.

Setting up camp at the northern edge of the teal blue lake Carhuacocha,its ripples pulsing in rhythm with the prevailing wind. We gazed upon what must have been on of the most magnificent set of mountains that's ever be fronted me. But the strange climate here in the Cordillera Huayhuash had wrapped these peaks in thick dark ominous clouds. Every day at two to three in the afternoon the clouds roll in and it starts to rain. We sat there watching the mountains unravel themselves seeing piece by piece slowly take form as if it were some complex jigsaw puzzle. As the evening sun dropped in conjunction with the temperature.The clouds disappeared and we were rewarded with one of my most memoriable moments to date. The splendid peaks of Yerupaja and Jrishuanca all above 6000m. These towering monstrosities giving birth to immense glaciers all reflected in the now still lake of Carhuacocha.

Sitting on a small green peninsular over looking grand mountains, their reflection enhanced in Lagona Siula. The suns rays on our backs, encompassed with my recent revelation that one can cook old stale bread, giving it a delightful crisp smokey taste. A feeling of appreciation overcame me and I felt one with the environment around me. Just as you think life cant possible get any better, it has this peculiar way of showing you it can. A thunderous crack echoed through the valley and our nervous systems alike. We stared up towards one of the several glaciers to witness a propulsion of white particles fly through the air; followed by loud rumbling noise,s giving birth to an immense avalanche plummeting over 1000m down the steep face of Yerupaja. The white ice almost changing form during its decent as if possessed by a mystical being.

The most glorious avalanche I have ever witnessed. A true testament to the power these mountains.

Arriving at our fifth camping spot tired from the trekking, sick from the high altitude, cold and hungry we were in need of some motivation.The "beautiful views" concealed by the weather. our only light at the end of the tunnel was some slimy sticky hot pools, fueled from the thermals underneath. Although refreshing to finally wash and relax, the terrible weather wouldn't quite and plans on hiking over the 5050m pass the next day were plaguing my mind.

Day six, rain, rain and more rain. We absorbed natured furry the entire day whilst hiking over the muddy pass; dodging the newly developed streams, which seemed to have chosen our track for its decent. It didn't let up whilst setting up our tents either. With no beautiful view for the past two days to admire, I started to wonder exactly what I was doing.

"Ive never been so happy to see cow shit in my life" it was five in the evening, cold, rainy and Joe had just arrived from a pass soaked to the bone. I looked up at him from my nice warm, cozy sleeping bag inside my water proof tent, thinking I was glad I took the easier route.....He would of arrived much sooner but took the wrong re entrant down into the valley. At times clinging onto steep cliff faces looking down into the thick misty abyss below. His amping energy on arrival displaying his joy to be on flat ground...

If you have read the book or watched the movie "Touching the void" which is basically about a guy who broke his leg upon the mountain called Siula and crawled back to base camp over four days. Then you might be interested to know that that mountain is in this mountain range and I happened to be staring at that very mountain, surrounded by others just if not more so beautiful. I tried to imagine just how he managed to to survive that crawl back. No solution came to mind, just that he was pretty much the man.... I have to watch the movie or reed the book on my return to NZ for sure.

Slouching on a moraine created by the path of a now smaller glacier; Joe and I watched in awe as a dog scampered around vast ridges and jumped over rivers in chase of a deer. Mystified at the endurance of both these animals, I felt slightly embarassed of my own endurance. Walking around Lagona Sarapococha to capture a better view of Siula, I saw the owner (Jose) of the dog pulling out his dog from the ice cold glacial lake ensuring, he doesn't reach the same fate. I noticed the deer floating in the water, obviously the loser of the previously battle. We waited for its corpse to float to the edge and assisted Jose in carrying it etc. I never got to eat any of the venison,pity i haven't had some venison in quite a while.

Joe decided to go over an extra pass for a better view of Siula and I decided to go around, we once again split. I blame the guy who said I can hire a donkey. I had to many extra things in my pack and my energy levels had been depleted over the past 8 days to follow him. But I was in luck, I stumbled upon some locals who had whiskey and coke in the middle of a lush green valley. What else does a guy need to revitalise energy and mind ? I do miss a good whiskey..

Sitting down in a small dark room eating freshly cooked rice and egg for breakfast(1NZD) an arrillio approached me and offered help. The towns altitude 3400m the next pass 4650m, a 1250m climb if your to lazy to figure that out; obviously it was the main thing on my mind. After chatting to the arrillio and figuring out he earns 20 soles per day (10NZD) for plowing fields of potatoes and my curiostiy of how to control a donkey; I offered him 25 soles for help up to the pass, from where I would carry on.

In general the donkeys are free to roam,follow old tracks and arnt constrained to ropes. Over a fast three hour climb to the pass, he only diverted off the path twice. They can carry up to 30kg and can accend at an alarming pace, keeping up with him was a challenge in itself. When you decide to stop, they stop and occupy themselves by munching on grass and drinking water. Its not very difficult controlling them, just don't get to close to their behind or you'll be unpleasantly surprised by warm parcel on the upper thigh.

I felt sorry for my donkey, Jose treated him poorly, kicking him, whipping him and not letting him drink water when he was thirsty. But they have been treated this way for centuries, its just how its done down here. Im still developing my opionion on this subject.

If Joe is reading this, he is probably finding out for the first time I used a donkey for help the day, while he was hiking over a difficult pass... sorry bro; my inquisitive curiosity got the best of me, it wasn't because I was tired or anything....honest.

An early rise the next morning to climb a peak just over 5200m to encounter my best view of the hike thus far. The southern flank and center of Cordillera Huayhuash. Sitting on a natural protruding rock hanging over a 1000m drop to a deep valley below, a condor gliding below me and the beautiful Cordillera Blanca in the far distance ; it was a truly poetic experiance. In this one spot I can see the two highest mountains in Peru. That of Huascaran in Cordillera Huayhuash and Yurupaja in Cordillera Blanca.

I stopped suddenly, my hart rate increased rapidly. I was navigating through a valley of bulls who had been trained from the locals for fighting. The sheer power of the two bulls 10m in front of me was astonishing. Fighting each other as if their lives depended on it. After checking I wasn't wearing any red, I slowly sneaked through the valley, with one large stone in my hand.

The locals have an event similar to the Spanish, the matador and the bull. However with a slight difference. A condor is tied to the back of the bull. It then pecks at the bull until the bull dies and the condor escapes. the reason for this insane ever more painful tortuous experience for the bull; is that it signifies the local Andean power over the Spanish. The condor fighting for its freedom and winning.

Night 10, the clouds departed from the skies as if some gift from above, a prize for the pain endured. Its rays lighting the face of the mountain to our front and our moral alike. I turn around to see a deprecate cross; its consistancy hanging off broken wire, re enforcing its significance for me, maybe a sign of future progression?

The Cordillera Huayhuash, although only stretching a total of 30km from North to South is the most scenically exiting hike in the Central Andes. However in October its beauty is obscured by terrible weather. June, July, August and September is the optimal period for hiking and climbing. If one decided to travel to Peru and happens to be here during those months. I highly recommend you make the time for this mountain range. Outside these months, bring a good book...

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