Monday, September 17, 2012

Exploring Peru - Trekking in the Andes Mountains I

I hope you enjoyed the kickoff post to my "Exploring Peru" series that will recap our recent trip. You can check out that post HERE if you haven't seen it and want to catch up.

Also, I've posted a new round of pictures that correspond to this new post in the "Peru" set on my Flickr Photostream. See them HERE for more visuals from this and earlier portions of the trip.

And now, picking up where my last post left off, on to...

My initial thought was to do one big post retelling all of our hiking adventures, but then I thought that might be way too long as we did and saw quite a bit. I mean, I know you're interested, but I'm not going to make you read through one massive post. So, I'll divide it up a bit...probably three parts. Today, we'll look at our trip to our first trail head and Day 1 of trekking.

Hitting the Road
Awaking in Cusco on the second day of our trip, the group had a delightful breakfast at the hotel and then loaded up into two vehicles for a drive through the Peruvian countryside and to the first trail head. REI Adventures advised that each of us "pack light" for the hiking portion of the tour as donkeys would be carrying our bags for a great deal of the journey. I scaled back my pack and left a lot of stuff in Cusco for when we returned. Diane took a different approach, which was to bring her whole bag. We kind of laughed about it, and I said to her, "I want to shake the hoof of the donkey that carries that bag on our hikes."

Typical scene on the side of the road
In any case, off we went. Driving up out of the city, our guide Miguel informed us that the street we were taking was also the route that the Spanish took in the opposite directly when they arrived in Cusco the very first time. Soon we were in the countryside and whizzing past fields, farms, huts and brick-built villages. It was along these roads that you could see how much of Peru lived their daily existence - buying produce on the side of the road, waiting for a bus, walking to a job and more.

Some in our group had not brought bandannas for the hike, and we stopped in a town along the way to so they could pick some up. Miguel assured us that we'd want them on certain portions of the trek where it was dusty. Back on the road, our vehicles wound up and down hillsides, cresting passes and circumnavigating ridge lines...ever deeper into the Peruvian wilds. As the green and brown valleys came and went, towns gave way to villages, villages gave way to clusters of two or three huts. Suddenly we rolled up and stopped at a valley site that featured Inca ruins, a spot called Tarawasi.

Tarawasi Ruins
Inca Tarawasi Ruins
In a valley, near a river and strategically placed on an Inca trade route radiating out from Cusco, one could easily see why the Incas decided to build a temple and other structures here. Similar in construction to what we saw in Cusco at the Temple of the Sun, the ancient structure featured tightly fit stones and alcoves. Because it was an important location to the Incas, the Spanish of course built their own structure here when they arrived in force. That building was also still standing. Interestingly, here the Spanish did not build a church or chapel over the top of the Inca structure. Rather, they built their building alongside near by. In any case, the two structures offer a stark contrast of the two cultures and styles.

Another important thing Tarawasi included was a restroom. Yes, the family living right next to the ruins had a restroom that we could use. Remember, we're drinking, drinking, drinking water continuously to avoid altitude sickness...and this creates a pretty much continuous need to, well, pee.

Relieved and educated, we jumped back in our vehicles and continued onward.

Mollepata market
About an hour later we disembarked out of our transports and alighted in the town of Mollepata where we learned a little bit about how Peruvian artisans color their wool yarn to create the hats, scarfs, sweaters and sock they are so well known for. Turns out that most the colors come from various plant leaves, bean innards, molds and other natural compounds. Next we walked through the town square where there was some sort of festival or town market happening.

We popped in the front of a little shop and then quickly out its back door into a quiet courtyard where we had a snack and some hot coca tea. That's not chocolate tea people, we're talking "coca" - as in the same leaf that cocaine is made from. To my mild disappointment the tea did not have a "cocaine affect," but it is supposed to be good for avoiding altitude sickness. It tasted OK too. More on the importance of the coca leaf to Peruvian culture in a future post in this series. For now, suffice it to say it was a pleasant and very mild stimulant (like any tea really) addition to the round of snacks we were having.

"Cuy" in Mollepata
We humans weren't the only beings in the courtyard either. Right behind our tables stood a hutch with, mmm, I'd say about 30 cute little guinea pigs ("cuy" to the Peruvians). Now, the shop owner didn't have these as pets. No, they were future meals for him and his family. You only needed to look at the rather explicit poster on the wall showing the steps of a sanitary butchering of a "cuy" and you knew that these little critters were on borrowed time.

At this point we changed into hiking gear, slathered on sun screen and slapped on our hats as we were finally near our first hike. After about 20 min. of driving outside of the village, we got out, geared up and hit our first trail.

First Hike, First Lodge
Today's hike was billed as a "4 mile warm up," but the group consensus was that it was more like "a 7 mile challenge." No joke, even one of the guides said it was actually seven miles. And, for the first part it was all up, steep. That's challenging for people still acclimating. But I'm not complaining. The views were spectacular as we ascended up through meadows to the first ridge, then we hiked along that ridge going up sometimes, down others as we paced our way toward our first lodge destination.

First valley of our first hike
Perhaps the highlight of the hike was the lunch stop. Situated at a bend in the trail, this vantage point offered views of where we had came from, but - enticingly - where we were going...with the main feature being our first view of both the Humantay and the towering Salkantay peaks. Yep, from where we sat on the hillside munching our lunch, we could see the simply stunning peak and ponder its beauty, its history and, well, just how tall it is.

First hike, nearing our final destination
Speaking of the history of the mountain, the Andes range was formed by two great tectonic plates running into each other and the land being shoved up...way, way up. So, similar to the Rocky Mountains in the U.S., there are not any volcanoes. Also, the Incas worshiped the mountains given their obvious immensity and proximity to what people thought of as "heaven" or "the spirit world." This practice endures today among the indigenous people of the Peruvian highlands.

Anyway, we packed ourselves up after lunch and moved out toward the lodge - eventually arriving at Salkantay Lodge about 4 p.m.. With sweeping and spectacular views of the mountain, llamas plodding around the grounds, a warm and welcoming interior, private rooms and a hot tub...the lodge was a welcome oasis. We would spend two nights here as further acclimation before heading up to Salkantay Pass.

Our arrival at Salkantay Lodge
The next two days would bring hikes up to Humantay Lake and then the big push to the tall Salkantay Pass at 15,000 feet - subjects I will cover in my next post. But for this evening, we rested, ate well and called it a happy night. Slipping into our bed, contented with a tough day of hiking and views, we drifted off in the absolute darkness only possible when you are literally out in the middle of nowhere.

Check back in a week for my next post!

NOTE: All pictures included in this post were taken by Marc Osborn and are not permitted for any use by any part without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

1 comment:

Krishna Thapaliya said...

Trekking in Nepal is still the most favorite adventure holiday activity in the country. The two classic trekking routes either to Everest base camp or the Annapurna circuit are not easy and the challenge you'll face on either route will have a lasting effect. The Manaslu route trek around the world's eighth largest mountain is more remote but no less beautiful passing through stunning bamboo forests, villages filled with prayer flags and culminating with spectacular views from Larkya La. Mustang is an easier cultural trek, suitable for those with good general fitness but not necessarily any previous trekking experience. The language, culture and tradition of the Mustang region are still mostly Tibetan making this one of the most culturally interesting treks. There are shorter treks up the Langtang Valley and Helambu which are still hard work but also deeply rewarding. They generally begin in Kathmandu, leading through large grazing areas covered in flowers, dotted with stone huts used for butter making, Sherpa, Tamang villages and the homes of yak herders, right up to the Tibetan border.