After another oh-so-entertaining 16 hour bus journey, entailing no onboard bathroom and a complete lack of internal temperature control, we arrived into the small beach town of Mancora, ready to partake in one of the first activities of its kind thus far this trip: Nothingness. Arriving at the highly recommended Loki Backpackers, the next 5 days were spent avoiding any departure from the confines of our $10/night backpacker resort. With a full-service restaurant, pool, bar w/nightly parties, as well as easy beachside access, there seemed no reason to leave the hostel that seemingly has stolen business away from the entire city of Mancora (despite the gap between 1:30-2:00AM whereby the early closing of Loki’s bar allows countless "after-party" bars to steal their 30 minutes of business before curfew).
After 5 days of excessive partying and next-day hangover control (i.e. hammock lying, beach lying, pool-side lying), we departed once again, enjoying the confines of yet another night bus, as it straddled the coast of Peru southwards towards the city of Trujillo (a city famous for the least impressive "ruins" known to man – Chan Chan). With 7 of the 10 hours of the bus ride filled with the intoxicating smell of either dead fish, garbage and/or sulfur, our time spent in Trujillo and along the Northern Peruvian coast encompassed all of half a day, before departing once again to our next destination, and the highlight of this blog post: Huaraz.
As the hiking mecca of Peru, Huaraz is a small mountain town enveloped by two of the most impressive mountain ranges in Peru: Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra. With the towering 22,000 ft Huascaran peak off in the distance (the tallest in Peru for you summit seekers), I decided to depart from my initial plan of several day hikes, and partake in the infamous 4-day Santa Cruz hike – One of the most scenic hikes in all of Peru. After wandering around Huaraz attempting to find a "reputable" agency with which to hike, I was ready to take off the following morning, leaving an unfortunately parasite-ridden, bathroom-frequenting, Laura behind. Alike to my summit post of Kilimanjaro several years ago, I leave you with a timeline of my journey:
Day 1 – Bus from Huaraz (10,000ft) - Vaqueria (12,100ft) – Paria (12,600ft)
5:30AM – Wakeup at hostel, pack all the "necessities" required for the 3-day journey -- inclusive of a few days of fresh clothes, ½ roll of toilet paper, and my $20 ¨hiking shoes¨ purchased in Colombia that provide as much cushion on rocks as a piece of 8x11 paper wrapped around my foot.
6:00AM – Depart for 5-hour bus journey along mountain pass road of almost 783 switchbacks. Proceed to meet my fellow-companions for the journey:
11:30 – Depart for hike, after loading the backs of our loyal donkeys with tents, sleeping bags and food for the journey. Israeli mother almost through ½ a pack of cigarettes, complaining curiously about the difficulty she is having breathing at our 12,000ft starting altitude.
12:15PM – Israeli daughter unable to continue on what has been a relatively simple descent down a gravel path, as her previously unworn, 1-day old hiking boots have already ridden her feet with blisters (surprise value = 0/10). Mother sighs, smokes her 12th cigarette of the day.
12:45PM – Israeli mother unable to continue, as the first uphill section of the day is too strenuous. 14th cigarette smoked in order to debate how best to overcome the effects of altitude.
12:46PM – Myself and Brits decide it best to continue along on our own, as our frustrated guide (who luckily encompasses an English vocabulary of about 17 words) is left to deal with the Israelis (who even more luckily encompass an English vocabulary of 18 words).
4:15PM – Arrive at campsite, after 4 hours of a relatively easy hiking, passing by endless amounts of cows, donkeys and unavoidable mine fields of their post-grazing aftermath. Several toothless children beg specifically for caramel (packed in our day lunches), which apparently has started a cavity-endemic in the 11-family village which we pass.
5:30PM – Israeli´s arrive, apparently suffering from extreme altitude sickness despite the minute 500ft elevation gain encountered during our day. Following hour spent practicing my Spanish as I assume role of translator between our guide and the family. Summary of 1 hour translation = "There is no f’ing way in hell you will be able to do this hike tomorrow."
7:00PM – Awkwardly silent, carb-overloaded dinner of pasta soup, extensively-cooked dry chicken, and about a pound of rice and potatoes. Desert encompasses Mate de Coca = Cocaine Tea (apparently works wonder with altitude sickness).
8:00PM – Attempt to sleep, fighting off the urge to go have a rave party thanks to Mate de Coca.
Day 2 – Paria (12,600ft) – Punto Union (15,600ft) – Taullipaumpa (14,000ft)
6:30AM – Wake-up after 4 hours of restless sleep, thanks to a sleeping mat that provides as much comfort as my shoes, and a sleeping bag which apparently has an air conditioner built inside to combat the below-freezing temperatures during the night. 5 minutes spent removing "down-filling from my clothes which has not-so-surprisingly leaked from my overly-inefficient sleeping bag.
6:45AM – Israeli’s depart after a failed sleepless night spent with our guide in our "dinner tent," attempting to "cocaine-away" their altitude sickness. They appear miserable, but quite energetic.
7:00AM – Breakfast – Two pieces of stale bread, ice-hard butter, jam, and more cocaine…tea.
8:30AM – Depart alone as my toes are already frozen, and I am unable to wait any longer.
9:00AM – 9:45AM – Chased by angry moo-happy cow, who has the unexplainable ability to sneak up upon me anytime a rest is required. Tall rock/shelter found until remainder of group catches up to ward of nteenth angry animal encountered this trip.
12:30AM – Summit – It was hard, views were amazing
3:00PM – Arrive at 2nd camp, take photos of donkeys, play cards, refuse persistent offers of Mate de Coca as sleep is desired on this night
7:00PM – Dinner – Double portion of soup and spaghetti bolognese. Thank you Israelis.
8:00PM – Bed – Double mat – Thank you Israelis.
Day 3 – Taullipaumpa (14,000ft) – Llamacoral (12,300ft) – Cashapampa (9,500ft) – Bus to Huaraz
5:30AM – Wake-up after another amazing night sleep, spent violently shivering in sleeping bag #2. Highlight of night includes freezing cold midnight "dinner relief" into one of the many, somewhat-hidden, holes in the ground (NOTE: Campsite #2 = No Baño).
6:00AM – Depart from the Brits as to finish the 4 day hike in 3 days (unable to imagine another night in "tent of paradise"), join group of other hikers, 3 of which have already succumb to altitude sickness, and the others (1 Spaniard + 2 Brit guys) I join for the day.
6:30AM – Detour to viewpoint of mystery mountain (see picture below)
8:00AM – Informed that one of the others in our group, 1 hour ahead of us, is in dire need of help as she has fallen ill of Pulmonary Edema (if you don't know what this is, google it, it's a big deal). Following 4.5 hours spent hiking at extremely rapid pace, unknowing that horses have now joined the sick girl, keeping them steadily ahead of us.
12:30PM – Finally catch-up to group, only to find ¨deathly sick¨ girl happily riding a horse while taking photos. Urge to throw her off the mountain, as I am now utterly exhausted, is battled internally.
1:30PM – Arrive at the end of the Santa Cruz hike, 3.5 hours earlier than at "normal pace."
4:00PM – Arrive back in Huaraz, with a thankful 6 hours to kill (aka shower, shower and shower) before my night bus to Peru.
In summary, the 4/actually 3-day Santa Cruz trek was quite possibly one of the most entertaining, and stunning hikes I have ever done. I leave you now with photographic evidence of my journey, as I´m pretty sure this is my longest blog post to date.
Next Stop: More Peru
Onto the pics: