Monday, June 30, 2008

Still Alive in Peru

Our entire trip to Peru has now been reorganized so that it flows from the beginning to the end! This first entry is a general intro, the rest follow chronologically. Only the first 10 entries appear when you check into the blog, but if you click on the month of June, you'll get the entire trip.

What was I thinking? I knew that we were spending 16 days trekking in the Andes. I knew we'd be hiking 6 - 8 hours a day from 10k to 16k feet. Our friends Walt and Honoree had emailed us that they were running 6 miles a day and were at their optimum weight. "How were we doing?", they asked. NOT GOOD! was the answer. We had walked 3 - 5 miles a day in Cartagena, but the last month we spent in the islands off Columbia and Panama swimming and kyacking - and that's it, and at sea level.

Well I paid for this ommission in spades. Scott has never had any problem walking up mountains. His lung capacity is amazing - mine is horrible. I'm as slow as molasses at home walking up 6,000 ft. mountains. Basically for many hours each day I felt like I was in hard birthing labor - the breathing is the same for me. Breathe in, step; breathe out, step - legs exhausted and wobbley. Only will power and too many stops for rest kept me going. But we all made it in the end.

It was one of the hardest things I've ever done and one of the most memorable. We look forward to coming back and trekking again with Peruvian Andes Adventures! I can't say enough good things about this organization. See for yourself...go! ( Eli, our guide, and the rest of our crew were amazing, as you'll see if you read the details of our trip which follow.

Our reservations for this trip were made last fall, along with those for the Inca Trail (with SAS) and the train to Huancayo (with Incas de Peru). Other than that we winged it.
We flew to Lima on May 1 and met Honoree and Walt on the next day. On the 3rd we took a 8 hour bus to Huaraz and were met by Esau Morales from Peruvian Andes
Adventures. We stayed at the Morales Family Guesthouse (very comfortable and attractive!) for four nights while we did 3 day hikes to acclimitize.
Our first day we were off early that morning and WOW realization hit. This was an easy day, supposedly. I thought, "They're going to tell me I can't go!"

The next morning I asked Eli Morales, our guide, and his brother how I had done the day before. They laughed and said, "Today is the test!" Shit! It sure was. We hiked up to a hill above Huaraz of 14,500 feet in three hours of very steep rough climbing. Several times I thought I couldn´t go on, but Scott encouraged me. At the top I took Eli aside and asked him, ¨Do you think I can go on the trip?¨ He looked at me like I was crazy. ¨You - you´ll be fine.¨ It turns out that we made it to the top in normal time and down in even better.
The down affects people differently. Three or more hours steeply downhill is exhausting on the legs, especially the knees - but at least I could breathe. Years of skiing has strengthened Scott´s and my knees.

Our last day hike was 7 more hours of way up and way down with, at least for me, a fun breather doing some rock climbing, with ropes to help. That´s Walt here coming up the rope with Eli behind him.

The lake at the top was amazing. We had a father and daughter from the Dolmonite region of Italy with us this day. They didn't speak Italian! Their native language is Ladino and they also spoke English, Spanish and German.
The fourth day was the start of our trek. There were five of us clients, Geoff Spedding from British Columbia joined the four of us. Our team was composed of Eli Morales our guide, Roger, the.

¨sweep¨, Myoume Morales, our cook and Eli's sister, and her assistant, three donkey drivers and around 15 donkeys to start. We had a dining tent, a kitchen tent, three tents for the clients and three tents for the support team. Oh, and a toilet tent of course, which surrounded a deep hole in the ground, dug freshly at each location.

Our trek lasted 13 days and we crossed at least one pass each day, three were close to 16,000 feet and two were in snow. The people we met were equally
important to our enjoyment of the trip, especially the children. We brought candy, pens and notebooks with us to pass out to the children in the high mountains. We were kid magnets!

Walt and Honoree had a wedding anniversery on our trip and we had a terrific celebratory dinner. Myoume (that is her far right above

toasting our happy couple with Roger and Marcello) outdid herself, making a beautiful orange cake, decorated and with a candle! The dining tent was adorned with ballons and the meal was as always outstanding. We had a toast with wine too! Scott and I surprised them with a tapestry we had bought at the market.

After we returned from our hike we felt teary leaving these wonderful friends with whom we had shared such an amazing experiences. Additional entries follow with more details and pictures. But we, after this trek, were off again, back to Lima and then to many other places in Peru. Check out my further entries!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Trekking around the Alpamayo - Part I

After three days of day hiking we really enjoyed our first day of the trek - driving down the valley and up a long narrow dirt road to our first campsite - no hiking! That's Esau Morales with his dog saying goodbye to us. That's Marcello our assistant cook behind him and Roger, our "sweep" on the right. In the group picture from left to right that's Roger, Myoume, me, Ali, Honoree, Walt, Geoff and Scott with Marcello kneeling in front. We made several stops on the way. Our first was the memorial park for the town of Yungay where in May, 1970 14,000 people were buried by a landslide set off by an earthquake. A group of children and their teacher were visiting a mausoleum built on
artificial hill near the town when it happened. They watched while their homes and families were inundated. Now a beautiful park lovingly tended with thousands of flowers covers the remains. The facade of a church was erected with views of the mountains at the end.

Nearby we stopped by the side of the road for lunch. Myoume is a talented chef that can prepare terrific meals anywhere. Despite the continuous nausea I'd been experiencing for days, her lunch tempted me. Fresh trout with carrots, onions and herbs, and brocolli.

Next was a stop at the local market in Sucre where we found some local tapestry to put away for Honoree and Walt's wedding anniversery later in the trip and Honoree found a terrific hat which she wore for the rest of the trek (on her head in the picture, third from left).
Our first campsite was at the end of a very long dirt road and the site of a small village. Every child in the vicinity hung around us until dark. Honoree was the ringleader. She had us and the kids singing songs - no mean achievement!

The next morning we started out early - six hours up an endless series of switchbacks. For the first four hours it was discouraging as we could see our campsite below for what seemed like forever. Up above we saw the waterfall we would cross and then the distant pasture with trees where we would have lunch. Today we had chicken vegetable pasta salad - delicious and healthy. Hot tea is served with every meal, even on the trail.

With two more hours of hiking ahead I settled into plodding along, head down. Joyfully we reached our campsite earlier than expected and the gaily colored tents are a wonderful sight. It was a beautiful spot with endless views of the mountains and it was a lovely sunny day. It was the first and last time we were able to sit outside and read before dinner.
It was always too cold or too late from then on. Dinner was terrific but I was still having problems eating. Eli didn't feel it was altitude sickness so Scott diagnosed side effects from the altitude medecine and my blood pressure pills. So I stopped taking both for 24 hours and I felt much better. Then I resumed my normal blood pressure prescriptions and all was well.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Trekking around the Alpamayo Part II

The next day was a very long one and we were on the trail at 7:30. We had two passes to cross, both close to 16,000 feet and a long distance to walk. We passed two beautiful lakes on the way up to Osoruri Pass, 4860 meters. We were all feeling the altitude and huffing and puffing up the slope for two and a half hours.

There were patches of snow all around us as we crossed and started down the steep slope, another two hours to lunch.
That lunch was as usual excellent but we still had another four to five hours to go, Eli took me aside and suggested I ride the horse for a half hour up the last section of the next uphill to "save my strength".

I was by far the slowest member of the group. I knew he was worried about getting into camp before dark that day and was relieved to not be holding everyone back. Did I mention the horse? Our sweep "Roger" leads him by a rope last in our parade in case of an emergency. It was wonderful to be sitting as we climbed the trail but very scary too. Roger led the horse and Marcello followed.

At the top of Vientunan, 4770 meters, Roger returned back in case anyone else needed a ride and Marcello and I started down the 3,000 feet to the valley. Once there we had another hour only gradually uphill to our campsite. What a relief to see the tents ahead!

After a brief cup of tea, as we would many days to come, we all stumbled into our tents, crawled into our sleeping bags and rested/warmed up until dinner. Two of the five chicken that started the trip with us bit the dust this day and featured in our dinner menu. The others huddled around our feet - for safety or warmth?
A special treat before dinner - hot mulled wine! We request a change in schedule from Eli and he acquiesced quickly. Instead of hiking in the morning and having the afternoon off, we would have a morning off and hike after lunch! And it's only a 3 hour hike. What a relief to sleep in! AND the following day was a rest day! Luxurious! Geoff and I played gin in the mess tent after breakfast (bottom right).

The weather the next day was rather miserable, cold and raining. We had hail on the way down the day before too. Unfortunately it continued the whole rest day but we do get lots of rest and we could have been hiking in it!
The morning of day six we wake up to brilliant sunshine and an incredible view of the Alpamayo peak (that's it's distinctive pyramid shape on the left). It's another long day ahead, but we all feel great. To read more, go on to my next entry.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Trekking around the Alpamayo - Part III

There was another long day ahead of us but we were all pumped up for it. Although it was quite cold, the sun was shining and the mountains glistening. The Alpamayo summit (5947 meters) is a white pyramid from this direction and stunning. We also got a clear view of Quintaraju (6036 meters). Our first task was to cross the river close by, made more difficult by the state of the old wooden bridge.

From our campsite at 4200 meters we climbed to the Gara Gara Pass at 4830, a three hour uphill, the last hour in the snow. I followed Geoff who was following Eli, stepping into his footprints, dug into the snow, one breath in, step, then one breath out, step. The donkeys passed us near the top but they were really struggling.
At the top we could see the Santa Cruz peaks, the highest of which is 6241 meters. Looking back we got our last glimpse of the Alpamayo summit with the lovely lake above our last campsite. We sat in the snow for awhile to rest but not for long. Soon we were heading steeply down the other side for another
hour, for some time again in the snow. The last picture below shows Honoree and Walt far in the distance on the trail.
When finally out of the snow we stopped for a break and snack but it was yet another hour before we saw Myoume waiting for us in a sunny grassy spot with our much
anticipated lunch. That afternoon we had a fairly level going for an hour, then a half hour up followed by another hour steeply down. Our legs were really wobbley for that last bit. One exciting event was seeing a pair of condors gliding over the ridges for some time. We also enjoyed meeting a lovely young young woman and her baby up on the ridge. Down below, our tents were set up in a beautiful valley with a few small stone houses and many horses, cows and sheep.

After tea (Myoume made guacamole!) we retreated to our tents and sleeping bags for a rest before dinner. But before Honoree and I hit the sack we did a few pieces of laundry and spread them out on our tents to dry. For a change it was sunny and there was still two hours before dark. We started really early that morning. That's Scott getting some much needed ZZZs.
I got up an hour later to write in my diary and managed to grab everyone's unfortunately still wet laundry off the tents when it started pouring. Dinner was perfect that night - soup, mashed potatoes and beef stew and baked bananas with caramel sauce. Talk about comfort food!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Trekking around the Alpamayo - Part IV

Every morning Eli and Roger come around to wake us and serve hot tea. Fifteen minutes later Roger returns with two basins of hot water to wash. This morning we were up at 6AM and breakfast was at 7.

Before we leave the tent we pack all our things up, ready for the donkey drivers, who fold up the tents and balance everything on our donkeys. Four of our donkeys and one of our drivers left the day before to head home. That still leaves us with two drivers and ten donkeys though!

Breakfast always starts with hot porridge, oatmeal or quinoa. Quinoa is a high altitude super grain, high in protein and now available in supermarkets in the U.S. We ate it as cereal, as a substitute for rice and in soup. Quinoa is shown growing in the picture top left. There is a basket of bread with margarine, jam, honey and peanut butter. Next, we alternate omelets with pancakes.

Because we especially requested it, there was perked coffee as well as all kinds of tea. Most of the time we drank matte de coca to help with the altitude. Scott chewed coca leaves on the trail as well, but he was the only one of us.
We were back on the trail at 7:45 heading slightly downhill for an hour through the valley. We passed two stone huts, each with one family and lots of animals - llamas,

horses, sheep, pigs, cows and bulls. One of the men came over to ask for some pain killers for a tooth ache and we gave some to him. Eli explained that in the past they had more knowledge of herbal medecines but now they are becoming used to modern types. Then we started uphill to the Yanacon Pass (4610 meters). The two pictures above are deceptive.

The distances are squashed somehow and it's hard to understand the perspective. That waterfall is huge in the top right photo and the photo under it to the left is taken once we had climbed above it - if you double click on that photo you'll see the donkey train in the distance. We stopped at the beginning of a steep section and Eli suggested I ride for awhile.

It was really scary this time. Once the horse and I almost fell backwards! Only quick action by Marcello pushing and Roger hauling saved us. I got off and finished the rest of the way on my feet. We were in loose scree from landslides and it was challenging. Even more so on the way down. But way below us Myoume and lunch was waiting by a pretty stream so we were motivated. On this side of the mountain the water goes to the Amazon and the Atlantic, rather than the Pacific and it was much lusher and greener.
The pastures looked like gardens with lupine everywhere, purple spikes with grayish green leaves and tiny yellow & white flowers. There were small trees with bright yellow flowers that smelled like chocolate!
Seriously! Yellow and white daisies in bunches grew profusely close to the ground. Scott loved this spot so much that he talked to Eli about coming back here, with me
to camp for a week some day. I should mention that there were white mountains hanging over and cliffs surrounding it with waterfalls everywhere - paradise! It was a short break for lunch as we had 4 more hours of downhill, sometimes steep, but always beautiful. Everyone was exhausted at the end but there was a lot of excitement at the campsite. Several women with their children were waiting for us with a few bottles of beer and coke to sell. They sure tasted good and the profits from this enterprise must be very helpful for them. Especially since Walter bought one bottle of beer for everyone in our group! This was the only time on the trip we had this opportunity.

This campsite is on a big flat plain surrounded by mountains (see above right with horses grazing). At the end of the valley is an enormous handing glacier and above it, only occasionally seen are the three jagged white peaks of the Nevados Pucajiria, all over 6,000 meters.
The next morning we were up at 6 and on the trail at 7:30 again, another long day. As we went down the valley the homes became more prosperous and women in native dress were driving the sheep and cows up the hills to graze. We followed a group of them up a long side valley for 3.5 hours to the top of Tupatupa Pass (4360 meters) and found Myoume setting up our lunch at the top. The sun went behind the clouds (that's a view from our lunch spot on the right below and Scott, Geoff and Myoume on the left above),

and I was really chilled and unable to warm up, even with the tea. So after only a brief stop, I started down slowly.
After a while I heard Eli yelling and turned around. He was running down the slope and gesturing frantically! One more turn of the head and the sight of a big bull heading my way appeared. Happily Eli threw some stones and he veered off. My hero!
More adventures in the next entry.