In September 2013 when I had set out to see Peru, I hadn’t originally planned to go on my own. My intention was to travel with a couple of friends but that didn’t work out. We wanted to hike the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu but since they weren’t able to make it, I was on my own. I didn’t have time to plan for this trip on my own but I just knew I didn’t want to hike the Inca Trail with so many people — so I opted to join the Lares Trek group offered by G Adventures. I had read from numerous sources that the Lares Trek was slightly shorter than the traditional Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu but would allow me to learn more about the people living in the region.
We started off the day by visiting a local market. Lots of hustle and bustle with practically everything you could think of being sold — perfect in case you didn’t have a rain jacket or forgot something when packing. Our guide encouraged us to pick up some fruits and fresh bread as small gifts for the local children or families we’d encounter on our way into the remote area. Most families in the area would be raising alpaca or growing a type of potato or grain but most would have very little access to fruits and vegetables.
We ended up with over a kilogram of fruit and bread. Not quite what I anticipated when preparing my daypack so I ended up with additional weight to lug on the trail. The luckier folk ended up with only bread in their pack and as much as I wasn’t too excited about the idea of carrying so much fruit, I felt that it was still worth the challenge and the opportunity to meet people along the way.
After enjoying the hot springs (which was very a busy place despite its remote location), we ate some lunch and then set off on to the trail. It surprised me that the trail was literally just a short walk away from the hot spring resort. The valley started off very green and we’d stop every so often to listen to stories that our guide would tell us. He introduced us to the local beliefs about nature and Pachamama (earth/time mother).
As a part of an offering and a wish, we each took three small coca leaves and fanned them out in our fingers holding them together, and then blew at them in different directions. These were then set underneath a rock.
No sooner we set off to trek deeper into the valley, we began encountering children on the way. Apparently, many of them were off to school with some children helping their family with chores or business part of the day and then heading off to school.
Not all children we encountered were off to school. We encountered girls along the way who would spot us from a distance and come running across the valley to sell us their wares. Often these would be some handmade bracelets, water, soft drinks, and beer! Surprisingly, no one opted to pick up beer but I have a feeling it was a matter of weight. No one really wanted to carry something that heavy. Glass + Water is pretty hefty! I also learned that the colourful clothing worn by the local people often helped them identify one another. I wonder what sort of pattern I would be able to wear.
We’d also make some non-human friends every so often with some curious alpacas that would wander over. They weren’t super friendly but they were definitely intrigued. I figure they must be domesticated or quite accustomed to humans passing by.
Our guide reminded us that this was merely training day for us. It wasn’t an extraordinarily tough hike on day one but it was certainly one that made us hungry. I also hadn’t been training as much as I should have over the summer so I knew I wasn’t as prepared for the hike as I should have been but I was okay.
Regardless of how much exercise we may have take on back home, it really dawned on us how it paled in comparison to the fitness level of the children who ran up and down the hills and mountains of the valley as if it were merely just walking down a flat street. We would watch as we trudged into the village the many children who spotted us and would scamper across streams and over large rocks from a distance just to come greet us. It was both a bewildering and wonderful feeling.
Once we hiked to our campsite which was set up in the middle of a yard, it was a perfect time to simply chill out and wash up before dinner. We were really fortunate to have our gear and food carried by pack mules so we ended up with food for a fantastic dinner which then led to some fun card games and hilarity between the handful of us until everyone decided to call it a night. It was going to be a long day of hiking tomorrow — the longest actually for the Lares Trek.