More awesome was the actual trek- we just finished a five day hiking trip: the four day Santa Cruz trek and a day at Laguna 69 in Parque Nacional Huascarán outside of Huaràz, Peru. The park is set in the Cordillera Blanca, which makes any trek incredible. The Cordillera Blanca is only 20 KM by 180 KM, but hosts over 600 glaciers, almost 300 lakes, over 50 peaks greater than 5700 meters (there are only 3 peaks over 5700 m in North America, and none whatsoever in Europe), and 25 glaciated summits over 6000 meters. Due to the sheer quantity of natural beauty in this park, we saw plenty of it. Granted, unfortunately a lot of the park's natural beauty has dimmed in recent decades, as the size of the glaciers have decreased and the snow lines receded- the guide book and Casa de Guìas in town kept making references to this, and we passed over at least three ¨rivers,¨ which are now no more than a stream (as glaciers melt and snow stops freezing to replenish them, the runoff diminishes year by year, changing the face of the land completely). Which is kind of depressing. But hey, still beautiful!
The trek itself wasn't too hard, aside from the fact that we were carrying 5 days of food. That made things more difficult obviously. We started out at 2900 meters, climbed to 4760 at the Punta Union Pass by the third day, descended back to 3700 on the fourth day, and then back up to 4550 for Laguna 69. So yeah, okay, it was pretty tiring (we trekked over 40 miles!). But so worth it. The weather (predictably, when we left Huaràz for the beach last week to avoid rain, apparently there was cloudless sunshine the whole time. Oh well) was okay, it rained every night (though only for about two hours, which was weird) but the last three days were pretty sunny, so that was nice. And the rain was okay, as it inspired many cups of hot cocoa and iPod dance parties in the tent.
And the views! were amazing. The second campsite was beneath this towering glacial peak, the Nevado Taulliraju at 5830 meters, which you might know better as that mountain from the Paramount Pictures movies (and yeah, from now on, when watching a movie made by Paramount Pictures I will smugly point at the screen and go, I've been there!, when that little mountain pops up at the beginning of the movie. Sorry guys! Not really though!). It was awesome. Really breathtaking. I mean, even the views from the cab on the way there (okay, I also want to take this opportunity to dwell on the fact that, 1. the other 5 people in the cab didn't so much as smile as we went speeding past towering glacial peaks, like it was no big deal- ahh to be Peruvian, 2. yes, as we wind through terrifying mountain roads the drivers seem to thing they're drag-racing on the Autobahn because there is no way those speeds are safe and 3. Peruvian cabs, for whatever reason, cram at least 4 people into the back seat every ride, 6 if they can manage it- and while this is a great, environmentally friendly practice and maybe one day we should bring it to the States, the Peruvians who are clearly used to the lack of personal space have no problem elbowing you in the eyeballs or sitting on your hands as you go. So that's always an interesting experience. Anyway), the views from the cab are absurd- I hate to be the person who takes pictures out of the car window, especially when everyone else in the cab thinks you're a stupid gringa for doing it, but it was so worth it.
So also, Laguna 69 was just about the blue-greenist (not a word) water- seriously, rivals the Caribbean- I've ever seen. All of the lakes we passed and rivers we camped near were these beautiful jade-green color (also true of the alpine lakes and rivers in El Calafàte and El Chaltèn) because these tiny particles of rocks, scoured from the mountains by glacial action, end up in the water and tend to absorb more light from the blue and green end of the color spectrum (it's possible that this explanation was ripped straight from the Lonely Planet guide..). But Laguna 69 is also surrounded by towering mountains- Nevados Huascaràn at 6768 m (the highest in Peru), Norte at 6655, and Chopicalqui at 6354- and sits at the base of Chacraraju at 6112 meters. So you've got this glimmering lake, these towering white mountains, and 1000 ft walls of granite and quartz surrounding you- it was, as they say, vale la pena. Totally worth the somewhat exhausting walk to get there. Though trying to capture all of this on our camera was actually kind of frustrating, because frankly, the photos just aren't big enough. On that note, being at the base of the valley (never lower than 3700 meters) with mountains towering 10,000 feet above you.. it made me feel very tiny, and in extreme awe.
The Punta Union pass itself, pretty much the highlight of the Santa Cruz trek, gave a spectacular view of the Santa Cruz valley, which we spent the first two days hiking through, and... this other valley... whose name I forgot... which we spent the third and fourth day hiking through, so that was cool. One drawback to the Santa Cruz trek is that it's by far the most popular trek out of Huaràz, and thus we were surrounded by guided treks the entire time, which have their pros and cons (by guided treks I mean, a group of 10 tourists with fancy day packs, a guide or two, three or four mules men, and a small herd of donkeys or horses carrying all of their gear). On the one hand, it's nice to have guides around just in case you have questions, ie. how much longer to the next camp?, or, are there little frozen mummies in these mountains too?, and, what delicious breakfast is your group having this morning, cause we're having an orange and PBJs?, and it's also nice to have groups that can help pace you up a mountain. On the other hand, they crowd the trail (four groups of 15 people is kind of a lot of people on a single trail), they make you spiteful (1. their meals make delicious smells that waft out of their dinner tents while you sit eating rice and dried mushrooms, 2. the groups always leave earlier than you in the morning, because they don't have to cook their own breakfasts or pack their own gear 3. they only carry daybacks and they smile at your heavy backpacks as you go by- though this made me feel really cool and tough, so also kind of a good thing, sort of), and most importantly, the donkeys and horses poop. everywhere. At the campsite, on the trail (when you're climbing uphill with 30 lbs of weight the last thing you want to worry about is stepping in a steaming, elephantine sized crap-pile), everywhere. And they will also destroy your gear and eat your food (the donkeys, not the tour groups) if you're not careful- at the Punta Union pass, a donkey got into one of our packs and ate two pieces of our bread (while a high school tourist watched- he reported to us later, ¨Oh, yeah, a donkey attacked your bag.¨ Yeah, we can see that. Thanks for chasing it off, you little jerk.) which was okay, but still. Stupid donkeys.
What else... I hurt my ankle (the one I sprained in March) coming down from Laguna 69, which luckily was about an hour from being done with out last trek of the trip. So it's kind of a bummer (I hate hopping around on one leg in front of Peruvian men laughing at me. Obviously. That's not the kind of attention anyone relishes.) but in a way it's good that it happened at the end of our trip. I am of course wearing the ankle brace Eliza brought me from the States and staying off of it and eating way more banana bread than is necessary to compensate. Also, my tent's zippers are completely busted (through no fault of our own- I'm going to exchange it at REI when I get home), my sleeping bag is ripped all over (I left my sewing kit in Lima- stupid, stupid), and my hiking boots are so busted I left them in Lima too, and hiked in my sister's old running sneakers (thanks Gen!). So yeah, REI gonna be seeing a lot of business when I get home. Also, I bought this awesome display of Amazonian butterflies! So things are going pretty well.
One quick note on Huaràz cause this post is getting really long- this town is awesome and I love it. The people here are super nice- a Peruvian American couple basically offered us their house for free accomodation (no, pretty sure they weren't try to rob/murder us. They were from Elizabeth!), and a group of Peruvian/Spanish trekkers shared a delicious lunch of cheese, ¨pan con pan,¨ and cuy with us coming down from Laguna 69. Such nice nice people. The town itself has a very apline-mountainy feel, lots of really good food (which considering I can't really eat anything in Bolivia or Peru or I'll spend two days with stomach cramps ralphing up the weird medicine they prescribe at the farmacy- one time they gave me intestinal muscle relaxants- really?- is AWESOME), cool crunchy little moviehouses and coffee shops (I'm so bourgie) and great hostels, and the most this-meat-still-looks-alive market we've been to yet. I really like Huaràz and don't at all mind being confined here for a few days by my ankle- if I wasn't hurt, I would want to stay our last two weeks here just to trek, which wouldn't be nearly enough.
And while we're on the topic, we're not entirely sure what our next step will be- either the Yoga Resort, where we'll volunteer for a few hours a day and do yoga for the rest of it; Iquitos, in the Amazonian jungle; Mancorà, the surf capitol of South America with some actual warm weather; or hitting up Ecuador for ten days, which is definitely not enough time to do it justice (let us know if you have any suggestions!). Yah, and photos of the trek are here. They gonna blow your top off.
AND home in 14 days (which is bad news for my little sister, because when I video-chatted her earlier today, she looked very comfortable lying in my bedroom wearing my clothes. No worries little GracieLou. I don't mind). Cannot wait!