Hiking the Lares Trek - Day 1

Trip Start Sep 08, 2008
Trip End Nov 02, 2008

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Monday, September 22, 2008

22 September 2009 - Monday

A 5am wake up call to get us going. Today was the day we'd begin our hike on the Lares Trek. Most people I think hike the reknowned Inca trail, but we hadn't booked on the Inca trail for two reasons.

1. It was already fully booked when we tried booking which was 4 months prior to the hike.
2. I got the impression (and I think rightly at that) that the Inca trail is quite a bit more commercialized. It is everyone's first choice as it's what you know or have heard of.

The Peruvian government has imposed restrictions allowing a maximum of 500 people on the Inca trail per day and this includes all the porters that carry the bags, camping equipment etc, so really it's 200 hikers and 300 porters per day. I don't believe there are as yet any restrictions on the Lares trek but we did basically have the mountains to ourselves having only bumped into one other group of hikers. Much more preferable in my mind.

After picking up the additional seven from Ollantaytambo and a short stop in Calca to purchase last minute supplies such as ponchos, Coca leaves and some fruit for the people we'd meet up in the villages, we were driven up along an extremely narrow, dusty and windy road to Kiswarani where we'd begin our hike.

All we were allowed to take on the hike was our day backpack (thus whatever you were willing to carry) and a red duffel bag of no more than 7kgs. In truth that's more than you actually need. Along with my clothing, my duffel bag contained my rented therma-rest mattress and sleeping bag, so I had packed very sparsely.

45 minutes after arriving in Kiswarani we were served up our first lunch. It's amazing what the chef mustered up on the hike. This lunch consisted of Quinua soup, trout, rice, veggies and mushroom sauce. It was really good.

At 2pm, we finally started off on our hike. It felt a little bit late to get started, but who were we to say. The day felt very long considering we'd already been awake for 9 hours.

Half an hour into the hike, our 'support team' overtook us. The Lares trek doesn't make use of porters to carry our bags up the mountains but instead use llamas, horses and mules to transport our luggage, tents and food. Our support team consisted of 2 chefs, 4 horsemen, 2 waiters, 2 horse boys and 2 guides. One of the horses didn't carry any luggage but instead followed us around and was available to ride should any of us experience any problems or have an accident. What I found quite funny is that apparently the llamas will not walk if the luggage packed on them weighs too much, they merely lie down, so there isn't much of a risk of overloading or overworking them as they simply object.

We were informed that the first pass was at an altitude of about 4000m. Everyone was permanently struggling for breath on the climb. I was quite grateful that I was relatively fit and not a smoker as I realized it definitely worked in ones favour. Also, you end up enjoying the hike so much more when walking isn't a constant struggle.

We saw many lagoons or lakes along the hike, and other than llamas and alpacas not too many animals. We did spot a few birds however.

We arrived at our first camping spot, Kunkani, two hours after reaching the pass. The last part of the hike was in the dark with the aid of flash and headlights. On arriving at the camp, our tents were already set up and tea was served in an old mountain shed. The food and service on this hike was way more than I'd ever experienced on any hike I've ever been on.

Note to self: If they say that you should bring flashlights on the hike, bring them. If they say you need decent hiking boots for the hike, don't bring sneakers for the hike. There were a few people in the group who were very badly equipped for the hike and though they made it through alright, it's quite hard work and you need to give yourself the best chance of making it without the additional hassle.

Anyway, dinner was served at 19:15, and was another hit - Vegetable soup, rice, chicken and cinnamon apple pudding. Wow!! Went to bed camping at an altitude of 3800m. Though we were provided with foam mattresses, I was grateful to have the therma-rest as an additional layer of insulation between myself and the ground, as it was really cold.

Oh, and I have to mention that the toilet facilities consisted of a... well, I can't exactly call it a tent, bur more just 4 poles planted in the ground with some netting to shield you from others' view. And the toilet itself was just an unflushable plastic box. Not too appealing. Not appealing at all!!

23 September 2008 - Tuesday

At 5:30 we were awoken with some Coca tea and warm water to wash our faces. This was good service. We didn't even need to leaver our tents. After packing up our duffel bags, and then went out for breakfast. I had been craving oats porridge but was very happily surprised when I tried the Quinua porridge, really good. Followed this up with some scrambled eggs. I tell you, these chefs know how to perform miracles in the middle of nowhere.

At 7:15am we were off for our full day of hiking. The briefing was that the hike would consist of one long uphill hike, peaking at about 4780m and then only downhill from there onwards. This route was said to be more scenic from the other option we were given.

We were rewarded with a magnificent view of a glacier on one of the higher mountains right at the beginning of the hike. Hiking in the valley in the shadow of the mountains it was a very cold beginning, with all of us wearing gloves, beanies and many layers of clothing. The minute we stepped into some sunlight, the layers pealed off.

Romero, one of our guides, led the way. And though he walked much slower than our other guide, David, he took fewer breaks. I couldn't quite work out which of the two hiking styles was more exhausting. Our mule had to work a fair bit to ensure that some of the people managed to make it up the mountain and stay with the group. I found that walking at a pace that was slower than your own, tired one out just as much as walking too fast.

Our longest stop was halfway up the mountain to eat our snack packs. We finally reached Pumawanka Pass at 11:15 (4780m) where we spent about 45 minutes waiting for the rest of the group to join us and to take some scenic photos. The photos don't nearly tell the story of the views that one is rewarded with when you're on top of the world. From this point onwards, it was all to be downhill. Quite a relief.

We arrived for lunch about 2 hours later, where our lunch tent, toilet tent and all was pitched up and waiting for us. After lunch we had about a 40 minute siesta before heading off for our final stretch of hiking. We arrived at our campsite in a beautiful part of the valley, and again our tents already pitched up and ready to go. How do these people do it?

It didn't take long for the sun to disappear behind the mountains and for the cold to set in. While the guys played boy scouts making boats, most of the rest of the group snuggled up in their tents and had a snooze. When I came out for dinner I literally wore every item of clothing I had with me on the hike as it was freezing!!!

The dinner tent did offer some protection, but not too much. We were surprised by some hot chocolate pudding at dinner and bonfire that was lit outside. Needless to say we all huddled up closely to the fire to make full use of it. The sky was incredibly clear and we all had a chance to spot some shooting stars before tucking into our freezing cold tents.

24 September 2008 - Wednesday

Another coca tea and warm water awakening for the chicos and chicas. However, crawling out of our tents we were surprised with a cold layer of frost on and around our tents. However, it didn't take too long to disappear once the sun came out. The morning's hike was only to take round about two or three hours.

Following a breakfast of pancakes, we were fully introduced to our hiking crew (the porters, horsemen, chefs, hiking guides etc) and then handed over their tips. This country seems to live on tips, but not only that. Tips are expected regardless of what anyone's doing for us. Our guide told us the amount each of the crew should be given. I thought that to be somewhat cheeky and that the tip should be given at the discretion of the giver really. Additionally, having booked through GAP adventures who mentioned how much our own guide, Angel, should receive, there was no further mention that we should expect to hand out tips for all the other hundreds of guides commissioned. So needless to say, some people were a bit strapped for cash, and as a result were carried somewhat by the others that weren't. Not exactly a fair situation.

The final part of the hike ended through a cloud forest and a short break beside a really fresh looking stream. We were picked up by our shuttle and taken through to Urubamba where we had lunch. This was quite a good experience. We sampled some chicha (home brewed corn beers) and some frutella (fruity strawberry flavoured beer). Both of these really nice. While waiting for lunch everyone was taught how to play Sapo del Inca whereby you're given a few round coin discs which you needed to throw through a frog's mouth. Although I didn't think my throwing skills were too bad, this was a bit of a challenge and required a fair bit of luck in getting any points.

At 3pm we caught a train at Ollantaytambo train station, heading through stunning lush green forests through to Agua Calientes. This was where we'd spend the night before heading up to Macchu Picchu early the next day. Agua Calientes is very tourist oriented with markets everywhere starting right at the train station through to the little village. And once the markets die away, you're presented with tourist shops, loads of restaurants and some more sporadic markets. It's all about the tourist!!!

Agua Calientes is reknowned for it's hot springs but we were told that there had been a landslide not too long ago, and that the water no longer was hot but more on the luke warm side. After the experience in the Colca Canyon, we didn't think it could be beaten with warm'ish water.

It was here that I had my first shower in a while. However we didn't exactly have all our little luxuries with us so, for the first time that I can remember, I washed my hair with soap.
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