Huaraz: Laguna 69

Trip Start Sep 08, 2012
Trip End Nov 27, 2012

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Monday, October 15, 2012

A young woman was dead set on spreading out across both of our seats... as if she was entitled to the personal space I was occupying. I had the inner seat on the night bus to Huaraz and before I knew it, I was practically pressed up against the window- much like this guy. I miraculously managed to reset the boundary then held the line for the 9 hour ride. Despite her obvious discontentment, I also miraculously managed to get a tiny bit of sleep. When we arrived at the bus terminal, I noticed my trusty "bus pack" (what I use to carry items I need to keep an eye on at all times) was all wet. I was uncertain of the cause but it wasn't from anything inside the pack or from anywhere close to what would remotely make sense... Hrmm. Ah well, it least it wasn't puke. HA! I was so happy to be met by Madie, the Seeds of Hope Volunteer Coordinator when I got off the bus. We hopped in a cab and headed to the volunteer house. Once there, I was shown to my room where I settled in for an all day napfest. I was starting to get a cold and rest was very much needed. Later in the evening, I met my fellow "Seeds" volunteers. It was Friday when I arrived which meant there was time for a tiny bit of weekend exploring before officially starting my stint on Monday.

I heard about an amazing hike to a place called Laguna 69 that I very much wanted to check out. Actually, I came across a picture of the famed laguna one day at work... for ummm a project. Yeah! Definitely, it was for a work project! Anyway, I had a few days to re-acclimatize before I attempted the high altitude walk. Funny how quickly you those extra red blood cells. I had been in Puno only a week(ish) before. I suppose it didn't help my case that I had been visiting cities/towns in much lower elevations before I returned to the mountains. Huaraz is at about 10,013 ft.

Madie arranged a discounted tour for three of us volunteers to go up to Laguna 69 Sunday morning. Even though I felt like crap, I was GOING! We were picked up bright and early then crammed into a van -a la South American style- with random people from various hostels around town. Tourist side note: there were tons of Israelis both on our tour and in Huaraz. Who knew! I usually encounter tons of Australians and/or Germans. It was nice to mix it up a bit. 

Along the way we stopped at a breakfast place (it's common to shuttle tourists to restaurants for one reason or another) to buy our tickets for Huascarán National Park. From there it was a difficult 3+ hour bumpy drive but absolutely beautiful. I am very partial to back-of-the-van window seats but since there were so many of us, I came down with a mild case of claustrophobia. Luckily, I was able to keep a full on freak out at bay by focusing on the views. Did I mention there were great views? 

Huascarán National Park is one of the most magical places I've ever seen. It is part of the Cordillera Blanca, the second highest mountain range in the world! Laguna 69 is at about 15,400ft! Once again, I was higher than Mt. Rainier or anything in the lower 48 for that matter! Neat! I know... I am an altitude nerd. I didn't realize it at the time but in retrospect it made sense that I felt as if my chest was going to explode the last few hundred meters to the top. Not bad for a gringa struggling with a cold. Especially considering some of my other trailmates were really struggling. Perhaps it is possible for me to climb in high altitude? It was this thought that inspired me to add Mt. Rainier to my official "to climb" list. Never thought I would ever say -or write- that... Ellen and Amber- it's on for next spring! 

The hike was one of my favorites of all time! I was in awe of the jagged peaks and the turquoise color of the water. We were so close to several of the glaciers we could almost touch them! Erin and Zack- crazy adventurous souls from Seattle- decided to jump in when we arrived (they are pure AWESOME! by the way). If I hadn't been sick I would've followed suit. We had lunch and hung out for a while. I was getting cold and decided to depart ahead of the group. I was itching for some solo hike time anyway and so descended to the upper valley alone... well except for the cows, always the cows! 

Walking the path down, I felt very much at home. To be in the moment and fully present for such an experience was a great gift-- it was impossible to not be 'there' with such beauty staring back at you. The best way I can think to put into words is to say I felt completely at peace-- my mountain soul was fulfilled. If I were a nature poet, I would write 'loads of odes' (mock hash tag insert: #whyi'mnotapoet) about the Cordillera Blanca. I am curious to know what the poet Mary Oliver would think of this place.

The sun decided it was time to wake from its nap and spread some afternoon love on the rest of the descent into the lower valley. I had just enough time to rest by the stream and wait for the others before having to be jammed back into the van for the long drive back. The spectacular finish to our day was finally reaching the pavement again so we could enjoy a steady view of the sun setting on the highest peak in the Cordilla Blanca, Huascarán. And that is why you always try for a window seat (and leave a note!). 

Darkness followed shortly after and for the remainder of the 45 minute drive everyone was quite and/or sleeping. As I reflected on the day I was reminded of a beautiful song by Eddie Vedder from the soundtrack for the film Into the Wild. I've always liked "Guaranteed" but it's only recently that it really resonated with me (think: smash over the head with one of those giant squeaky inflatable hammers). It's now on my list of all time favorite songs. Thank you Eddie Vedder, the world is a better place with you in it. And thanks for this new theme song... I'll close out this post with the question of the day:  

Do you have a theme song? 

Thanks for reading!

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Ro on

Why so sick all the time? Wishing you were feeling better. Mischief is muddled when you are too mellow.

mc1rvariant on

Unfortunately, sickness is a common thing for gringas traveling in South America; rest assured it hasn't really stopped me from doing anything. The good news: I'll have a stomach of steel when I get back. :)

Tamara on

Stomach of steel, eh? I'm keeping my fingers crossed for that!

As to your question: Do you have a theme song? Yes, mine is "An Unfinished Life," originally by Kate Wolf, and I love Laurie Lewis' rendition of it.

The photos of Laguna 69, etc., are incredible. Thank you so much for posting and sharing your journey, Kellie. ... And no doubt you can do Ranier...!

Blind Bill E. on

Laguna 69... wow, the color of that water is amazing. Glad you were able to get up there despite not feeling perfect.

By the way... picked up "The Globe Sessions" and am liking it a lot... thanks for the album recommendation bud.

mc1rvariant on

Thanks for sharing! And thanks for reading! I am unfamiliar with that song and will look it up. Stomach of steel not so much... See Last Days in Peru post. This is an adventure indeed!

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