It was hard to get to sleep last night.
There was a major football game last night so we could hear the porters and locals watching or listening to the game. Every time I was about to drift to sleep, they’d cheer. I didn’t mind — it was a happy time and weather was co-operating. It didn’t help however when one of the locals had a phone that just wouldn’t stop ringing. We were surprised that they would get reception in such a remote area. I figured we weren’t remote enough yet!
When I woke up, it still felt dark but then I stepped out of my tent and saw that the sun had already risen and was shining over part of the mountains. Our tents were still sitting in the shade.
We started off with a hearty breakfast (artsy pancakes with cartoon characters and all courtesy of the chef!) and some coca tea for me. Once we packed our snacks and refilled our water bottles, we hit the trail — eager to tackle day 2 of our trek. I had felt tired already — didn’t sleep very well and was tossing and turning for parts of the night. The pack mules and their drivers passed us immediately but I didn’t care — I was just focused on the amazing view around us.
Passing through the valley, we would see the village settlement and the buildings either established or in construction. Due to the nature of the way buildings were developed here, it was important and vital for the people constructing the buildings to complete them before the rainy season. I’m guessing the combination of clay and mud wouldn’t work out in very wet conditions.
Further along the route, we’d encounter women looking to sell their wares to us as well as children who were off to school. We’d speak with them briefly and share some of the fruit we had. Not only was it such a huge learning experience for us to better understand the people living in this region, the group of us also really appreciated the opportunity to give away some of what we had. The bonus was also a lighter backpack.
There was a moment where the trail went from very quiet to super busy. Apparently, there were alpaca trains (or packs of alpacas) just wandering around. In addition there were also different pack mule trains heading in different directions. I learned from our guide that there are actually multiple trails in the Lares Trek. Although they do converge at certain points, there is a fair bit of variety in the experience.
The trail took us on a gradual incline for some time and during our ascent we spotted a number of pack mules ahead of us. Something must have gone wrong because we suddenly spotted something falling off the mule and tumbling down into the valley. We found out that it was actually a fuel canister so unfortunately the pack mule driver had to stop and go retrieve it.
As we began the major climb, our group which initially stuck together began to ascend a varying speeds. I didn’t want to use up all my energy so soon so I was intent on pacing myself. The sun was blazing so I would feel hot but as soon as the wind blew, I’d feel the arctic breeze — fortunately, my lightweight long sleeve seemed to do the trick.
The ascent was broken into approximately three stages. We were out of the valley now and now up on to what seemed to be the mountain plateau area. Every so often, we’d sit down along the trail and grab a snack or share stories. Sometimes it’d be to listen to stories that our guide would tell us about the spirits and traditions of the indigenous people of this region.
Eventually we found ourselves passing by a very remote farm and were invited into the woman’s home. As soon as we entered and seated ourselves, we heard squealing and the pitter patter of little animals running around. It was hard to see in the dark home but I realized that those squeals were coming from all the guinea pigs in the house! We must’ve excited them because the women in the house quickly shushed the guinea pigs and the little critters soon calmed down.
I know guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru but it’s nice to see that they are treated rather well and have the opportunity to run freely in the home. I knew guinea pigs are generally quite social but I didn’t realize how social they could be.
I have to say that it was such an eye-opening experience and honour to be welcome into someone’s home. Looking back, this also changed my perspective on the way we live in Canada and the way I’d like to live. It was simply amazing to observe how these people and their families live from day to day. Apparently, the older woman’s daughter was visiting and they had some members of the family either working in the cities or attending school. The distance to make that sort of visit is astounding in contrast to what I’d be accustomed to.
Those who are fortunate have the opportunity to attend school but it still comes at a cost as many cultures and societies have experienced the eventual rural to urban migration. Will the livelihoods of the people who stay in these regions remain the same or improve? Will their beliefs and traditions be kept alive? Some believe tourism is in a sense a sustainable economic engine that may help cultures stay alive. Whether this may be the long-term outcome, we’ll have to see.
After wishing our hostess farewell, we set off to tackle the mountain pass (Pumawanka). This was the toughest part of the trek with the peak altitude reaching about 4800m. From a distance, this thing looks reasonable.
That is, until you begin to hike it. Then every step you take — it almost feels like it would your last. The key is really your mind. Your body is constantly telling you how hard and tough it is; how nice it’d be to sit down for a break. No time for that so your mind is really what dictates the outcome in this scenario.
The trickiest part about these sort of ascents is the type of terrain you have to set foot on. Typical mountain terrain is loose gravel with plenty of large stones to step over. It’s a pain but the end is worth the struggle.
As usual, for every hill you tackle on a mountain — there is another one awaiting you. The one thing I had learned from hiking mountains in general is to never really expect the end nor should we focus on it. The focus has to simply be on the next step to ensure solid footing and to embrace the challenge that is in the present moment. Thinking about reaching the end will often just frustrate a person.
As much as this section was painful and my lungs were constantly asking for more air and to take more breaths — I loved the tranquility of this mountain pass, and the power that it demonstrated over us — such relatively minuscule forms of life. I speak of that in respect to not only in physical size but more so span of time.
Once we reached the top, we all sipped a bit of whiskey to celebrate the success of our journey over the highest point of this trek. It was quite the slog up to this point but we had done it and now it was to deal with the descent which made for a potentially risky challenge.
The way down the mountain pass was slushy and muddy (in contrast to the side we came from) so we brought out our hiking poles and began tackling the switchbacks … slowly … down the mountain. There were some slippery moments but we all seemed to manage alright.
After reaching the lake, we were famished. The running joke throughout the hike was that we were eating condor or puma. Either way, lunch was fortunately prepared for us (with checha morada for dessert!) just as we arrived but we were so tired that a couple of the guys kept lightheartedly requesting a ciesta. Surprisingly, our guide agreed and gave us a 30 minute break to just chill. We just sat around chatting amongst ourselves or in some cases, napping. I’m sure the pack mules didn’t mind the break too.
As we proceeded further down the trail, I took a look back at the mountain pass. It’s always stunning to me when I look at what we had achieved physically. It wasn’t as if we were all in tip-top shape but we each tackled it and persevered. I shake my head when I think about it — not necessarily in disbelief — but sometimes in admiration. A reminder to myself of a matter of will.
We were no longer in the mountains and gradually kept descending into the valley where it became greener but also darker as the day went on. Some of the greens I saw just put me in awe. They weren’t vibrant but they had a characteristic about them — maybe wisdom — particularly some of the trees we passed that were so very old, yet their size didn’t reveal their age.
We stopped for further breaks along the way into the valley and listened to the stories or history that our guide would share. Eventually, I didn’t have enough light to take more photographs as we got deeper into the valley — and I was too tired to persist with making adjustments to accommodate lighting.
By the time we arrived at the campsite — it was dark, windy, and cold. We quickly unpacked and rested for a moment before we huddled in the dining tent together over some hot snacks which reminded me of apple and cheese turnovers, but better. After dinner, we enjoyed a sweet tea mixed with rum (té machu) that kept us warm while we shared scary stories and played card games into the night (we were hooked and competitive!). It was definitely one of the memorable highlights of the trek — just the zaniness and hilarity that ensued after a long day’s hike.