tonight… we are young / Peru part 1

It is a little past 11 p.m. on Easter Sunday in Peru, and Katherine and I are heading home via Houston.  As if pushed from a dream into reality, I watch the full moon guide us back. She and I are both in agreement that this has been the best trip of our lives. Maybe we say this after every trip, maybe the freshness of the adventure makes me claim false truths. But, I’ll tell you this: if you really want to get a raw view of a land, walk straight down its belly and taste it. Forty-two miles through the untamed Andes, at times over 15,000 feet in the air. Six days of rain and sleet and a baking jungle sun. Savoring every step. Tonight, as we take off from a country that has become a intimate friend in a short ten days, we are young. Our memories of this trek will stay frozen in time, warmed by our recollection of laughter and preserverance, of freedom that cut through the Andean nights, forever young like the Winay Wayna orchid.

Forever young

I want to tell everyone and tell no one about this trip. Peru is not yet soiled by the outside world. Due to internal troubles in the 1980’s and 90’s, tourism is still new to the country. The feel was rustic and as I get deeper into our tale I will tell you about our horses and porters and cooks that traveled each day by foot with us. It was a expedition that harkened trips of long ago, of explorers of the past. There were a few points, a few steep inclines and early morning scenes, tea in hand as I overlooked the upcoming days terrain that I could feel old Hemingway looking down (0r up) at me, cheering me on, jealous and eager to get back into the action.

Early morning meditation

Peru was Katherine’s pick as she and I go back and forth when choosing our next destinations. As we headed for Peru and struck up conversation with our fellow passengers, I realized our recent excursions, Africa and now trekking through Peru, included us in a new sect of travelers. The hot blonde girl sitting beside me (I know, like Achilles I always seem to be graced by the Gods) was heading to Bolivia and Venezuela. The lady to her left was heading to South America for a month and Nepal in late August. Discussing our upcoming and past adventures, we dripped with excitement about life’s future possibilities. It was in this way, that I sat, on the edge of my seat, approaching Peru.

We arrived in Lima and spent the night there before heading to Cusco. This is where we were to begin our trip. I know I’m emotionally unbalanced because as we landed in those beautiful mountains and disembarked the plane, a single tear of excitement dripped down my cheek. How the fuck had I made it this far?  The mountains were beautiful and the sky and clouds matched perfectly with the plane we arrived on. It is on these occasions, when we arrive at a new frontier, that I fall madly in love with Katherine all over again. Without her, would this life be reality?

Our arrival in Cusco

We checked in to our hotel in Cusco and I found out, shit, I know some Spanish. I’ll have to thank all my Mexican friends back home. I quickly made friends with a bell boy named Roselvel and traded him a pack of gum for a bag of coca leaves. He taught me how to chew them and showed me how to make them into tea. “They help with the altitude,” he told me and I was happy to oblige as at a little under 12,000 feet, my breathing was suddenly labored. With a cheek full of coca leaves, Katherine and I headed out to explore this old city, high up in the clouds.
We walked down the old cobblestone streets, found the squares and marveled at the huge cathedrals. Peddlers and local girls in traditional garb tried to sell us handicrafts and posed for pictures.

Nap break


making new friends

A cathedral in Cusco





















We had lunch and enjoyed some wine. We walked through the markets and gave out candy to the little kids on the street. The day was hot and the air thin. We wanted to head up to the artist district of San Blais. Below is an excerpt from my notebook that day that I wanted to share. This is rough, with no corrections and are just my notes from the afternoon.

San Blais Square

The afternoon sun spotlights us, making us feel warm in our new surroundings.
Dark brown eyes set in dark brown skin stare at us from underneath colorful cottons and wool.
The square is set up with merchants, biding their time and selling their goods. One plays a flute in the shade of the church.
Little children drip ice cream down their tanned faces, their reward for sitting patiently with their mother at her table.
Dogs lie about, unowned, uncared for as the artists with their greasy hair drip sweat into their canvas work.
At the end of the square sits a fountain with steps curling up either side. Katherine and I climb and look down onto the market. A hippie and his girlfriend ask me if I want to buy weed in Spanish. They think I am from Argentina. The sky is bright blue and the suns feels so close you could touch it.
A pink flowers sways in the shade as someone tries to sell me a ring.

Yeah for me

San Blais square










We were to meet our group that night at 7 p.m. in a local restaurant for a briefing before we depart the next morning. Katherine had set this all up through a company called Mountain Lodges of Peru or MLP. We had looked at our different options and decided against hiking the classic Inca Trail for a few reasons. First, we heard it was crowded and commercialized; second, it was only a four-day trek, and third you couldn’t shower that whole time. Now I know some of you may think less of us for wanting to shower every night, but oh well. MLP offers a six-day lodge to lodge trek, covering 42 miles and reaching the Salkantay peak of 15,500 which is 1600 feet higher than the highest point on the classic Inca Trail. Each lodge only held our group; besides our own porters and horsemen carrying our luggage, food and supplies, we only came across native Peruvians using the trail for their everyday life. We were one of the first expeditions of the year as the rainy season was just ending. At our group meeting, we met who were to become our partners, friends and teammates in the following days. There was a family of four from Arlington, VA, two Canadians from Edmonton and a solo guy named Craig who also was from Arlington. Together, with our two guides, Ian and Ruben, we were to set out on the road less traveled.

We departed the next morning at 7 a.m. and after picking up everyone at their respective hotels, we headed out of Cusco by bus towards Moyobata. I felt bad for seventeen-year-old Callan who was stomach sick; I can assure you the road was neither flat nor straight. About two hours in we stopped at Moyobata for a restroom, to tour the small village and to purchase some of the local products. It is in situations like this that I would like to remind my fellow 99 percenters that to a lot of the rest of the world you are the one percent. The things many of us Americans take for granted would be cherished items in these villages. It upsets me to think of the arrogance and self-entitlement I see in my own country from all levels of the social scale. Get a grip and try to do some good in the world or at least do us all a favor and shut up. But I digress.

After such a positive experience in Africa with the items we brought to give out, Katherine and I loaded up again on candy, Marvel comics and Disney princess pens and some more soccer balls. In Moyobata as the girls shopped and the guys took pictures I strolled around and tried to breath it all in. Despite what we would consider absolute poverty, I could hear laughter and feel the warmth throughout the neighborhoods. There was a balcony over one shop and a little girl played there. I got her attention and handed up a Starburst and pen with Cinderella on it. She smiled and stared at me with these big brown eyes: “Gracias”. Minutes later I felt a tugging at my pants, I looked down to see the little girl starring up at me holding up a pear. “Mucho Gracias senorita,” I said as I smiled at her. She forced the pear into my hand, giggled and ran away. Her mother smiled down on me from the balcony. I smiled and quickly turned as my face swells up with emotion. To have so little and to offer me a pear, a big delicious pear. It was here that my love for this country started.

From there we traveled to Sayllapta at 11,500 feet. We had a packed lunch overlooking the Andes and our whole group sat in awe of where we were and what we were about to do.

Our first lunch

We said goodbye to the bus that Sunday–the next time motorized transportation would be available to us would be the following Saturday. We started our hike, the family of four pulling ahead which would be a reoccuring theme for the trip. They were about 200 meters in front of us, then Katherine and I, Craig and Ian about 100 meters behind us, with the Canadian women, Corrine and Margaret pulling up the rear with Ruben. We hiked for about 3 1/2 hours, excited, inspired, in love.  We were really going to do this? Around 4 p.m. we came upon our first lodge, Soraypampa at 12,700 feet. We were greeted by an awaiting staff, relieved of our boots and gear and shown to our warm room. A jacuzzi was available outside and although exhausted we felt we deserved it. The moon was beginning to rise above the surrounding peaks and I just couldn’t have felt happier.

Our first lodge, well deserved

We feasted that night on roasted chicken and potatoes started off with a hot corn soup. Katherine and I had some wine and the days exertion sent us to bed after dinner. This would be the only lodge we stayed at for two nights and tomorrow we would go on a short yet difficult four mile acclimation hike to Humantay peak and its glacial lake. Most just sit on the shore at the top; I knew I had to dive in this icy water.

The next day we got to sleep in until 8 a.m. We didn’t. The group was up and ready, excited to begin. We set out from the lodge on a small path that led over the Rio Blanco. From there we headed up at a pretty decent incline. A light shower would fall every once in a while as we made our way up the hillside which was peppered with yellow mountain daisies and only shared with grazing horses. Our group was acclamating slowly, to the altitude and each other. Walter and his horse Pizzaro followed close behind but always pulling up the rear. He was in charge of following us with our needs for the day’s hike, water, our rain gear and extra tools.

Walter and his trusty steed Pizarro

I liked Walter from the first time I saw him. He and I could not communicate but he always smiled and that made me smile. When he would arrive at a stop or a break, close behind whomever was last in our group, I would yell out “Walter!” and hold up my hands. He would give me that big smile and a thumbs up. Over the next six days he would become one a my favorite new friends in Peru. We will come back to him and trusty Pizzaro.

Some friends, the thumbs up, and some snow capped Andes

We made the lake at about 11:30 a.m. and it was absolutely beautiful. Serene, pure, quiet, the lake sat beneath a huge glacier.A cold rain began to fall as Katherine and I, along with Callan, her mom Sandra and her dad Kevin, stripped down to our bathing suits to prepare for the plunge. Katherine had to go behind a rock to get into her suit and was actually standing in snow while changing. We were the first ones in and our bodies were in shock. I swam out a few yards and convinced Katherine to follow. We posed for a few shots, then quickly swam back in. My whole upper chest was numb. We dried off and got back into warmer clothes. The rain was still falling as we ate our snack in the company of the lake. As the adrenaline wore off, we all ate in silence, spending time with ourselves, with our spirits. We headed back to the lodge and arrived at 1:30 to a delicious hot lunch.

A mid mountain dip

Glacial lake










For an extra $60 per person we were offered horseback riding at the lodge for two hours. Uh, let me think about that, $120.00 for two hours of riding horses through the Peruvian Andes? Sign me the fuck up! Victor, a local rancher, showed up despite the forest rain at 2:30 p.m. with three horses. We were tired and wet but as soon as we saw those horses approaching youth came in for a night cap. Victor could not speak one word of English. We saddled up and smiled as consent.
Victor lead us up a mountain pass, turning around frequently to make sure we were following. He would point out things and speak in Quechua. Katherine and I tried our best to communicate. My horse’s name was Amida, Katherine’s was Deba and Victor’s Lemochello. The mountain side was beautiful and as the rain had let up different parts of the earth were steaming. We were surrounded by snow cap peaks on all sides and Cara Cara falcons flew overhead. The day was gray but our bodies were warm against the horse. Victor led us through some tight paths and across a few streams at which our horses drank. I asked Victor if we could go “mas rapido” and he smiled and led us back down to the dirt road that just the day before we had walked in to the lodge. We trotted and then galloped away from the lodge, Victor pulling up every half mile or so to make sure we all stayed in control. At last we turned around to go back to the lodge. It was here that my real ride began. It turns out Amida, like her rider, always likes seeing the end of her workday. This horse was a bullet and I rode her hard.  We flew down the road, into a meadow, over a stone wall.  Katherine said I held one hand in the air and was just yelling “Yah, yah, yah.”  The mountain peaks surrounded me as I flew across the terrain.  I had never ridden a horse like this and the whole ride seemed surreal.  It was my horse and me alone in the universe. Again, I felt that some of my dead heroes were smiling down on the scene.I gave Victor a few soles for a tip and an LED flashlight. He gave me a hug and the best horseback riding experience of my life.

Amida and I

Katherine and Victor


2 Responses to “tonight… we are young / Peru part 1”

  1. 1 Charlotte
    April 10, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    your trip looks amazing! I really enjoyed reading about it.

  2. 2 Missy
    April 11, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Trulyl amazing! I felt like i was there with you, wish I was! One day I will take a vacation like you two do. I’ll make sure to let you go on a few more and then you tell me which one was the absolute best!

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