The start of our journey into the mountains started the way I initially wanted it to end. The hot springs of Lares are deep in the mountains and just outside the tiny town, which is the starting point of the Lares trek. The complex is surprisingly modern with several pools of differing temperatures, one so hot it makes your hair stand on end.
With a belly full of food, we set off; energetic, excited and full of confidence. We had stopped at the markets to buy small gifts for the local Andean children. Our guide had encouraged us to buy hair ties, marbles, pencils and fruit for the children who only had potatoes to eat at the best of times. It wasn’t long before we were met with the grubby, snotty, beautiful little faces of the mountains. They were wrapped colourful scarves and wore only sandals or bare-feet despite the chilly mountain weather.Bananas and apples are something particularly special for these children who live on a staple of potatoes and corn. They stuffed their treats in their pockets to save them for a special time.
We continued to walk further along the mountain path and ascended through streams, past herds of llama and alpaca until we finally reached a small village built of adobe bricks. Our camp was ready and waiting complete with a dining tent which had been set-up by the horseman who had left us in the dust earlier in the day. From the zip-open door of our tent we could see two Andean women who had setup a stall to sell the six of us beer, drinks and hand-knitted scarves.Several children skipped around them chasing a bicycle tyre, uninterested in our presence until Stu brought out our video camera. They delighted at being able to see themselves on the camera screen and crowded around in fits of laughter.
We woke the next day to a blazing blue sky and as we walked we watch the sun rise over the ridge. Today promised to the be most grueling day with four solid hours of ascent to reach the mountain pass at 4600 meters above sea level. It was tough. It was really really tough but incredibly spectacular. All of us chewed mouthfuls of Coca leaves and finally made it to the top. I actually cried when we got there… it was so tough but it was so beautiful.To one side we had the deep valley with herds of Llamas and to the other side of the narrow ridge we had a still, deep, blue mountain lake.
The rest of the day was a descent towards our next campsite. The mountains to the left of us held several glaciers and a spectacular rocky peaks.Again, the horsemen and porters passed us on the way up the hill. They arrived at our next camp at 11.40 am, leaving after us and we rolled in at around 3.30pm, exhausted. Fitness in the high mountains is a whole other story!
We were very lucky with our guide. Guido is from Cusco and very passionate about the local area. He offered a plethora of information along the way and brought to life some of the long and complex history of Peru. He taught us about bringing an offering for “pacha mama” or mother earth for when we pass the highest point of our journey. We all carried a small stone from where we started the trek and placed them on a pile at the highest point, along with three Coca leaves, one to represent each level of life the Incas believed in. These are the things that really make you feel like you are in another culture and help you also to understand it.
We ended our journey in a small town in the Sacred Valley in a Chicheria. Chicha is almost like a religion in this country. It is an light alcoholic drink made from corn which has been made and drunk for hundreds of years by farmers. A Chicheria is marked by a red plastic bag on a stick and is much like what we would call a pub. Of course every drink must have a game to go with it and the Peruvians pass their time not with billiards but with Sapo. Sapo means frog in Spanish and the idea is to throw gold coins into the open mouth of a small frog mounted to a table.Around it are several holes which carry a certain amount of points. And as with most drinking games, the more you lose, the more you drink, the more you lose etc.
We are back in Cusco now and have visited many archeological sites around this great city. One of the most fascinating things is that still to this day they are uncovering more and more Inca remains that have been covered by earth and vegetation for hundreds of years.
Tomorrow we head off to Puno for a swimming adventure at Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake and also the largest in South America.
See you soon!
Em and Stu