Trekking in the Andes

Trekking in the Andes

Obviously coming to Peru I was keen to go trekking in the Andes, and the only hike I knew about was the Inca Trail. Lots of other people are obviously in the same position, as it’s by far and away the most popular trek, so now restricted to 500 people per day, with permits selling out months in advance. So based on not a lot of internet searching I selected the Lares Trail as an alternative. It’s a three day hike, and on the fourth day you visit Machu Picchu, which sounded perfect.

It was an early start on day one, with a 6.00am pick up from the hotel in Cusco, and a two hour drive to Ollamtaytambo, which was a pretty little town in the Sacred Valley.  The next stop was at Calca, a small town with a thriving local market, to stock up on some recommended essentials. It was suggested that we each buy a bag of coca leaves each to chew on as we walked, both for energy and to adjust to the altitude, as well as some bread rolls and fruit to give to local children we would meet on the way. Then after about another hour of driving we finally we arrived at the start of our trek in the Lares Valley, eager to get underway.

The first day’s walking was fairly easy. We stopped for lunch and I was amazed to find that the simple clearing had been transformed into a fully set up campsite.  The crew and horses travelling with us had gone ahead, and the loads carried by the horses included gas bottles, tables and chairs and a large tent which doubled as both a kitchen and dining room, not to mention a special bathroom tent which had been set up.   Our chef was also a small miracle worker, as lunch was a two-course meal with cream of asparagus soup, rice with vegetables and a delicious trout with pesto sauce.

After another couple of hours’ easy walking uphill we finally arrived at camp. Our tents had already been set up for us and to my amusement we were soon joined by around a dozen local ladies selling bottles of beer, water, Gatorade, woollen hats and gloves and other little tourist trinkets. Lined up along the stone fence their colourful local clothes made a lovely contrast.

 

Then it was time to meet our crew: Julio, the chef who was like a magician, conjuring up delicious two-course meals using only a couple of gas rings; Timoteo the ‘waiter’ who also seemed to be in charge of setting up and running the camp site; and our horsemen – Eugenio, Lorenzo and Axel, all from local villages, who run the team of horses that carried our packs and all the gear. Each introduced themselves in Quechua and our guide Jason translated for us. Then Jason explained what was coming up the next day – an early wakeup call with coca tea and a big day of walking. It was a very early night for us.

The next day was much tougher. We had a very early start at around 5.00 am and then headed up….up…..and up! We climbed from 3800 metres to 4800 metres over rough stony pathways, as the clouds rolled in.  It became very cold. At one point it started to rain, then this became hail, and before too long it was snowing.  It was a very hard day, and I was puffing and breathing hard due to the altitude, chewing on the coca leaves hoping for some energy!

The walk was very challenging, but the reward for all this was the stunning scenery over the valleys, beautiful lakes, lush green mountains and snow-capped peaks. We also passed a number of local children, all very quiet and shy and whispering their names in Quechuan to Jason who would translate for us.

It was exhilarating to reach the high pass, although there was a very cold wind so we didn’t spend long at the top to celebrate despite the stunning scenic views, it was onwards and downwards from then on.

While it was good to be heading downhill, it was slow going as the path was very slippery with loose rocks and gravel or at times very muddy and wet. However after about six hours of walking we reached the lunch spot, which had unbelievable views over the valley.

After lunch, it was literally downhill for the rest of the trek. That afternoon we had an easy walk of about 2 hours, before setting up camp in one of the most scenic, yet coldest places I have ever stayed in. Some of our group had been advised that they should have two sleeping bags, and at midnight when I was woken because of the cold and I had no more layers to put on, and was lying on the hard ground shivering, I am not sure I have ever been so envious of anyone else in my life. Oh for the luxury of two sleeping bags!

However apart from the cold for a few short hours, this trek was absolutely spectacular. It felt like we had the Andes to ourselves, as apart from the local children and villagers we only saw two other trekking groups.  I couldn’t have wished for a better experience on the undiscovered Lares trail.

 

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