Perusing Peru — Part 2 on my journey

From this point on I’m just going to write what I wrote in my diary as I went along — I’ll edit the terrible grammar maybe and add some fun-facts and extra information for you — and maybe leave out some emotional stuff that doesn’t need to be shared. Italicised words are either edited from or not part of the original diary entry.

DAY 2: Monday — Cusco

After a delicious breakfast, Javier (our guide — and the guide Ian has known for 15 years who always guides their treks in South America) came to meet us — he’s just fantastic. We went on our first acclimatizing walk and were rewarded with “choclo con queso” at the top of the hill!

choclo con queso — mielie with cheese

We then took a taxi up to Christo Blanco — white Jesus — and walked across to SAXAYWAMAN — sexy woman (as most tour guides joke). A beautiful old temple from the time when the Incas were in power — also found out the Incas were a family who ruled before the Spanish invasion and it’s not the name of a nation as I used to think — Javier told us a lot of interesting history from that time, for example that the gold was stripped from the temples to pay the Spanish to release the captured ruling Inca (who was killed anyways) and that most South American religious practices were halted as the Spanish brought Catholicism with them, therefore no one really knows what the SAXAYWAMAN temple was originally used for. Don’t quote me on any of this please.

Christo Blanco — A lot smaller than the one in Rio but still really impressive

We walked back down to town and went for lunch at the coffee shop Ally and Ian went to 5 years ago. Ian — referring to the large wrinkly brown chillies hanging from the roof — “Those bananas were green last time we were here!” what a jokester… Had some delicious TAPAS and got PISSED on one and a half PISCO SOURS!!

The view from the bottom of SAXAYWAMAN

Day 3: Tuesday — Cusco

After another delicious breakfast we went to town to meet Javier for another walk — this one included like 5000 stairs to above the town.

Stairs running from the bottom of town up to the road at the top

We passed through the square where all the hippies hang out and I imagine that’s where Michelle spent ALOT of time when she was here! Lots of beautiful dreadlocked men there. It’s also apparently where all the tourists buy there weed from.

Ian in the SQUARE!

We went back up to the top of SAXAYWAMAN and walked the other way up and around another ruin. Literally never walked up so many stairs in my life. But we saw such great things along the way!! I’ll post a few pics here of some things.

Found this awesome real life cactus in a shop on the way up!
Found these cute puppies!!!! so adorable. Most of the buildings in CUSCO were half finished like this one — but people still live in them.
We didn’t want to pay R350 to go to SAXAYWAMAN so we just snuck in from the side

Then we descended the 5000 stairs back to town. We passed this MOST BEAUTIFUL ceramics shop where my favorite plate cost Sl 5000 — approximately R 25000. We then went to a market and I bought a kg of quinoa and 2kg of chia seeds for NEXT TO NOTHING!!

ANY KIND OF QUINOA YOU CAN DREAM OF!!

Later that evening, back at the hotel, Javier arrived with his boot friend who got me the wrong sized boot — most likely because I didn’t tell him the right size!! His “boot friend” as I referred to him here was actually ADRIAN who owned the company through which we booked the hike. Also anyone who knows me well knows I think I have gigantic feet and I always lie about my shoe size to the point that I may have lied to the man getting us snow boots.

Day 4: Wednesday — TREK DAY

Ready to go!!

Woke up at 6:30. Had breakfast. Javier, Mario (our chef) and Adrian came over to fetch us. We drove from Cusco to the trail head and started hiking. Hiked to Tinke Town where Adrian fetched us and drove us to camp.

Chilled, set up camp, chased some guinea pig, met Adrians brothers — Alfredo and Raoul. What a beautiful day today. Most amazing scenery.

The mountains in the background are where we were driving to!! Left to right: Ally, Ian, Sandi, Javier

We are at 3800m I think. Breathing is still possible. Javier says whenever he debates or chats to his children and they don’t know something they play ching chong cha to decide who has to go research it — great idea.

Day 5: Tinke Village to the bottom of Auzangate

Left the village and walked up through some houses on the outskirts of Tinke Village over lots of hills and through farmland. Saw lots of al pacas, no llamas. We saw flamingos, caracaras, andean geese, and ducks — can’t remember any others.

AL PACA!!

Ian told some great jokes — he told me to write that. Now he says I must write “I had to suffer Ian’s jokes”. Today we had kiwicha and oats (kiwicha is like quinoa — dense in nutrients and used as cereal in Peru, well that’s what wikipedia said atleast!) and scrambled egg and friend plantain (plantains are like bananas — but not as sweet) for breakfast. YUM. The food is great. Lunch was at around 4600m so I hardly had an appetite… You don’t get hungry at very high altitude — although truthfully that was one of the only days I lost my appetite! We sat by the most beautiful lake with a reflection of Auzangate and Cayangate in the water.

AUZANGATE!! we are on our way to camp below that glacier in the middle of that mountain.

It got a bit chilly today — “Oh it’s a bit chilly!” “NO! IT’S PERU!!!” — After about 13kms we arrived at camp under the glacier on Auzangate. There is a group of English Army men — they are crazy — and 2 of them have left already due to altitude sickness.

Our campsite under AUZANGATE — those are the horses that carry our stuff

There is another couple — a Brazilian girl and an American guy who are cycling the route we are walking. Sounds AMAZING. They have both been cycling round South America for close to a year — just quit their jobs and went. Ah... the dream. I guess I need to get a job first before I can quit one…

Our bicycle friends — they were cycling about the same speed we were walking so we kept bumping into them
The valley we walked through to get to our campsite

Day 6: Auzangate to the otherside of Auzangate

What I learnt today:

  1. If you think you’ve reached the top of a hill, you haven’t.
  2. Vaseline or lipice can make all the difference.
  3. Going down a mountain too fast gives you a headache.
  4. If you think the view you’re looking at is the most beautiful thing in the world — wait ’til you turn the corner.
  5. You’ve never been cold.

So Sandi got pretty ill today. She has been struggling with the altitude since we arrived in Cusco. Then she had a neck pain but today it all just went downhill. It’s pretty scary. I’m so glad the altitude hasn’t affected me much — I mean sure, I miss breathing through my nose and having ample oxygen all the time but nothing too serious has happened yet.

Altitude is so strange. It’s like nothing you can imagine. You walk with tiny footsteps going slower than a tortoise and you need to slow down because all your breath just suddenly leaves you. If you say too many words out loud without breathing between them you start to feel lightheaded. If I walk too fast or talk too much my whole body starts tingling and I feel as if I’m drowning. You know when you’re under the water just a second or two too long, and you can see the light of the surface but you just can’t quite get there — and then the moment just before you get there it’s like your whole body awakens to the fact that it has no oxygen and it feels like every cell in your body is in panic mode and then you break the surface and your body gets the oxygen it needs and everything goes back to normal — well that feeling. Every two minutes. While walking up a hill you would laugh at at sea level. Sometimes tying my shoelaces leaves me breathless — I don’t know why I said sometimes. It’s all the time. Anyways enough about altitude, let’s move on to GLACIERS!!

The glacier under which we were camping.

We are camped under a glacier which constantly has avalanches (has avalanches?) It’s incredible. It’s so loud. It’s like a crash, like a crack — but bigger that what those words describe. Like the Earth is splitting in two, and then a thud and then a few smaller cracks, thuds and crashes while big chunks of ice fall down the glacier into the lake below and powdery snow follows. The lakes here are the bluest blue — I would even venture to say turquoise! Even though no one actually knows what turquoise looks like... Javier says it’s because it has a mineral in it but I can’t remember its name right now. Anyways it’s already DAY 7 so I’m going to end this chapter and tell you what happened today.

Day 7: Same camp. Unplanned rest day.

Sandi being led by Gustino.

Sandi left this morning. It was very emotional but a good decision. Ian reckons she was verging on H.A.P.E — High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. Her lungs were bubbling and this was a good spot to go out from so Javier, Mario and Gustino (spelling?) took Sandi on a horse over the rainbow mountain to the spot where tour groups come to see the colourful moutains. I cut Ally’s hair this morning while Sandi was packing.

4000M HAIRDRESSER!!

She got on the horse and Ian was obviously very upset. It was all very emotional and no one really knew what to do. Ultimately it was tough but I’m certain Sandi wanted us to carry on enjoying the trip. It was difficult but we had to remember we came here to see some MOUNTAINS!!

ANYWAYS. Soooo Ally and I then packed our day packs and went with Raoul to the top of the mountain Sandi, Javier, Gustino and Mario went over. WOW! WHAT A VIEW! It was around 4900m high and overlooked the most beautiful and colourful valley.

Ally and Raoul on top of the mountain!
There you can see the tiny Raoul and Ally just in front of that patch of snow.

We had a few snacks there and came down. Just been hanging at camp ever since. I need to stop writing because Ally is falling asleep and I want to play CANASTA with her. YAY! Oh and it’s freezing, 2:30pm and we thought it was 4pm. Maybe it’s 3:30pm by now. Javier hasn’t returned yet but we are expecting them at around 4pm. Anyways, off to play canasta!

Day 8: Auzangate to random other camp.

Woke up at 6:00am today to leave at 6:30. It was FREEZING! Found out I have athletes foot… Boo. I’m taking that to mean I am an athlete and not a gross fungus infected wort. So to recap — no Sandi, Ally beat me at canasta, it’s bloody freezing, and I apparently have athletes foot.

Leaving camp through that pass in front of us.

Today we walked and walked and walked and walked some more. Then it started snowing. We went up this beautiful pass to 5100metres! The highest I’d ever been and my word was it high! We set up the camera on self-timer and quickly documented our achievement!!

5100m and the highest I had ever been!

We then went down the other side in the snow and carried on walking. I saw my first VISCATCHAS (spelling?) — these tiny rodent like things which look like a cross between a rabbit, a rat, a dassie, and a squirrel which ally had been talking about non-stop! Got lost a few times and had to back track — walking like AL PACAS on the side of these super steep and slippery slopes — and then about an hour from camp someone (Gustino) came and brought us some cheese toasties and tea — COCA tea made from the same stuff cocaine is made from. Everyone chews it here to help with the symptoms of being at high altitude.

TODAY WE SAW LLAMAS!!!

We then carried on and got to camp in the dark. Everyone was exhausted and ratty and stressed for our peak the next day. It was horrible. Anyways we got our gear ready — helmet, harness, boots, ice axe and crampons —ate and went to bed.

Day 9: Random Camp — Village with Hot Springs

SUMMIT DAY!! 3am wake up. Have breakfast. Pack tent. Get ready. Get headtorches. Walk a lot in the dark. Everyone was cold and stressed and EXHAUSTED!! At some point I thought I was going to fall asleep while I was walking. We had slept at 4,600m and had to get to 5,450m-ish for the peak. That’s a lot of height to get through at such a high altitude.

Sunrise at 5000m — walking to the point of ascent! SO EXHAUSTED.

Interlude: SHOOWEE the air is thin up here. It’s so hard to breathe and so hard to explain. Because OBVIOUSLY we can breathe, it’s just SUPER hard. For example, Ally and I found a bench at the next campsite where we are both writing in our diaries, we are staring at our tents, in front of a massive long line of washing, in front of the village we are now in, in front of a hill we climbed down to get here, in front of the supremely majestic AUZANGATE mountain. I just HAD to take a photo!! So I ran to my tent to get my disposie to take a picture — now the tent is about 10 or 15 metres away from where I’m sitting. I’m fit, climb mountains, run races, 15 metres is not far for anyone. I bent down to get my camera and ran back — now when I say ran, I mean slow jogged — and then had to spend the next minute getting my breath back before I could take the photo!! But you pant even when you are sitting down. There’s never a moment when breathing is easy. And don’t even think about breathing through your nose.. Those windpipes are far too narrow for all the air you need to get through. Anyways, back to yesterday!

That is the photo I JUST HAD TO take.

Exhausted — walking, trying to keep up with Javier. Ally is doing great, Ian and I are struggling at the back and Raoul is so far ahead it’s a joke. It’s beautiful though! Incredible. Sunrise at 5000m, snow-filled mountains everywhere you look, vicunyas in the distance, rock piles — whatever they are — filling up the landscape. Ally says the rockpiles are offerings to the mountain gods. She made one for us while she was waiting for us to catch up to her and Javier although Javier says you’re supposed to bring a rock all the way from your campsite to make it. Javier adopted two dogs today, they followed us the whole way! Oh I’m back to talking about yesterday as if it’s today, bear with me…

Okay so then we arrived at the bottom of this peak. We climbed up the most ridiculous steep slope of broken granite from the remnants of where the glacier used to be. Walking sideways on the slippery steep slopes too. We then got to the bottom of the glacier after this terrifying ordeal, put our snow shoes, crampons, harnesses and helmets on and tied ourselves to each other.

Me — so ready to climb a glacier

Javier, then me, Ally then Ian. I was freaking out already. We climbed up some ice and I freaked out and fell, Javier was shouting at me to calm down, I was on the verge of tears, oh my it was horrible. Then we climbed up this other super steep part and I freaked out again and then I for real started to cry. Oh gosh it was so awkward. Then they all said I couldn’t come this far and not carry on so I stopped crying, sucked it up and pushed on. Then eventually we got onto the glacier proper. Walkin’ up all LA-DI-DAH trying not to panic, freak out and let the fear take over and then I saw a crevasse. I ignored it. Then I saw another. I ignored it. They’re pretty small and I knew if I acknowledged them I’d freeze. Anyway, we got to this top section, 45m from the summit and there’s a face of sliding granite rocks which we were supposed to then climb. So off went the crampons, off went the rope, we ate some snacks and Javier attempted the rock face — about 10 rocks fall and he’s like… uh… let’s not. Also it’s 12pm and that was his turn around time. So we got to 5405metres. Which is bloody high.

Set up the self timer again!

Took some pics — I had a photo of Skyla with me so I took a pic with her at the top. Skyla is my dog who I put down a few months ago and who LOVED mountains so I thought I should take her to the top of one with me.

Skyla and me at 5405metres with Bob — our new dog in the background!!

Then we put our crampons on and roped ourselves up again and headed down. Now I don’t know if the angles I saw the crevasses at earlier were just different or if we were in a completely different area but the crevasses going down were HUGE!! And then I was standing right on the edge of a crevasse, plucking up the courage to step over it and Ian says, “Stop everyone I want to take a photo!” HA!! Terrifying — but we got a rad photo.

walking down a GLACIER! Left to right: Javier, Me, Ally

All in all — very scary but we made it. We put our normal clothes on — went down to the horse, ate lunch and walked to the HOT SPRING village. What an incredible walk — we were all exhausted but, wow, when the landscape around you is so beautiful you can hardly think about how tired you are. We eventually got there in the dark, Ally and Ian weren’t feeling well. So we had some dinner and went to bed. Very much ready for our rest day the following day!!

Walking down to the HOT SPRING VILLAGE and this is the landscape. WOW.

END OF PART 2