jueves, 7 de junio de 2012

Santa Cruz Trek

Have you ever had the deep, distinct feeling that you are, at the very moment, wrapped in one of the most beautiful moments of your life? Ever been so present, so captured by your surroundings and the time and place that everything else in the world and in your life recedes into oblivion? Ever felt absolute, utter contentment and peace?

That feeling must arise from a myriad of situations, places and combinations of events, but I cannot imagine geting that gripping sensation more strongly than when in the wild. And more so even, in the mountains. Deep in the Peruvian Andes, for example, three days away from any sign of civilization.

And yes, you may have guessed, that was me, I was there. A four day trek of the Cordillera Blanca called the Santa Cruz Loop. It`s a popular hike and you`re likely to see others on the trail, but trekking sans house, field, or road delivers its own poignancy that a couple other trekkers can`t soil.

After we got back from our more-intense-than-alotted-for Lake Churup trek, Ed and I decided to give ourselves a day of rest and planning. We hadn`t eaten in quite some time; since we missed out on dinner out the night before we decided to treat ourselves to a big fancy breaktfast.

There are two cafes in Huaraz that I`ve gotten raving recommendations for- Cafe Andino and Cafe California. We decided on Cafe Andino for a late breaktfast.

If I could design my own cafe, complete with menu, decor, atmosphere, setting and view, it would look exactly like Cafe Andino. It`s situated up on the third and fourth floor of a building just off the center square, with spectacular views of the Cordilera Blanca out the wide upstairs windows. Its outfitted with comfy, sofa like chair sand coffee tables; they even have a library, specializing in travel and mountaineering books, in English. So..... I could spend a week straight in that place.

I ordered coffee and yogurt/granola/fruit. I was in heaven. On the internal balcoiny rail sit stacks of magazines- National Geographic, the New Yorker, and an impressive array of climbing magazines from around the world. We had a lesiurly breaktfast and a long, reflective chat about PSF: An ideal morning. Could really get used to a lifestyle of trekking for a couple days, spending a couple days at a cafe, and then trekking again. Drinking coffee and reading about montains and then being in mountains. Love it.

Around 2, we leapt into action. We had one day to figure out our trekking schedule foir the rest of the week. We wandered around Huaraz for several hours, popping into a handful of the 100+ trekking companies in the city to compare prices and muse about whether they seemed the type to screw you over or provide ancient equiptment or somehow get you killed. It was easy to get a gut feeling on wheter or not a company seemed reputable. We eventually decided on a very professional agency and made our plan: Four day Santa Cruz trek for three, and a Vallunaraju for two.

We only had four days with Laura as she already had a night bus to Lima booked on Sunday night. So, we`d get back just in time on Sunday for Laura to be on her way, and on Monday Ed and I would do some real mountaineering on Vallunaraju in time for his night bus on Tuesday. It would be a total of six days straight trekking.

With everything sorted, we had fully wandered around all of central Huaraz. Time to descend from its bright streets, down into the market to buy dinner- Lentils, tomatoes, and avocados for a stew. As evening set, we wandered on to try out the other cafe famous among Gringos, Cafe California. We brought journals and books and got tea. The cafe is just as charming as Andnos but with a smaller, cuter, coffee house feel. I could have spent much more than an hour there writing and reading the huge selection of books on the Andes and the Cordilleras around Huaraz. I`m definitely going to carve myself out a “cafe day” after our trek lineup.

The market

Cafe California

As I sipped my Earl Gray, the sky darkened and it began to pour. We still ahd to buy snacks and waters at the supermarket for the trek, so we dashed through the rain and sopping streets to load up on crackers, bread and bananas. With the cold and the rain back suddenly I started to get concerned about our trek- I had discovered the inadequacy of my rain jacket the night before at Churup, and I knew we would all be cold and miserable for days if it rained.

We cooked our dinner int he hostel kitchen, which turend out ot be delicious (avocado makes everything creamy and amazing) and started to pack our bags. We had made arrangements with the guesthouse owner to store our big rucksacks in the hostel during our trek, and had our room rebooked for Sunday night. We had to pack absolutely everything up by ten that night. Of course, none of us had thought ahead to this. We had made ourselves quite at home, and things were tossed all about the floor. It was a girm night. We packed mostly in silence, tired, knowing we had the alarm set for five the next morning. I was terrified that I would be too cold., and I think the others were as well.

That night my wet hair froze me from my shower as I slept. I was plagued with anxiety ridden dreams of not having enough warm clothes to bring along; of shivering for days. I was awake far before the alarm rang.

The sun rose pale orange and we geared up and sat on the doorstep in the bitter cold. I shivered in my fleece shirt, fleece jacket, hat, wool socks and long pants.

The bus was a half an hour late. When we got on, we were surprised by quite a crowd- our group of six had somehow morphed into a thirteen head party. After picking out the Hebrew floating in the air, we realized the addition was a group of seven Israelis, all decked out in the fanciest of outdoor equiptment, but all relatively out of shape from months of partying and beaches. Three remained.

One was our buddy from Churup, Sebastian, who we were to discover had managed to arrive in Peru from Germany without taking a single plane. He also has a canny knack for getting away with doing pretty much everything for free. He has only slept in a hostel once; instead he knocks on doors of locals, flashes a smile, and asks if they have an empty bed. That`s what he`s been doing in Huaraz. His trick for the Santa Cruz trek was simply to offer his services as an “assistant guide” (of course he has zero guiding experience), and consequently only had to pay the 65 sole park fee for the whole trek (which he tried to get around as well but got caught).

The other two were 1) a Swede also by the name of Sebastian, confusingly enough- He was taking a work break to try to jam in as many countries and experiences he could; quite the opposite of German Sebastian. He apparently hadn´t slept in a bed for months; had been trekking and night bussing. 2) Clement, a French student off from a University internship in Lima, who trekked so fast he missed lunch almost every day and we frequently lost him out in the beyond among the hills.

We rolled out of Huaraz and began one of the most spectacular bus rides of my life. Halfway along we made a pitstop in Yungay for breakfast. We had been warned of this surprise additional expenditure, so we had come prepared with our own food in rebellion. On the other hand, I was more than happy to grab a cup of coffee.

It was my first exposure to a common phenomenon in Peru- you ask for “cafe con leche” and instead of getting coffe with milk on the side, you get milk with coffee on the side. I was annoyed at first, but then realized that the “coffee” bordered on espresso, and I had what essentially was a whole milk latte. Really cannot complain about that.

Back in the van, the road began to climb massive green cliffs splotched with green puddle like fields in amoeba like squiggles, so much more aesthetic than our plain patchwork farmland back home. They were a million different shades of brilliant green, some red; the foreground to turquoise and blue receding cliffs. They dripped down into a lush valley pepered with cottages. The mountain tips were just the level of the clouds, and massive cottonball cumulous puffers climed up and over the raggedy peaks. One looked like a lamb prancing over a hill like counting sheep, fluffy face in the air and hooves kicking over towards the valley.

Our bus climbed and wound up and up, along a terrifyingly thin road carved into the mountainside. Below, the scene became more and more idyllic, like a dream. Peruvian men and women in rainbow colored traditional dress led miniature sheep and cows through their villages; little streams trickled through the lush canyons. Tiny bungaloes perched on the hills amidst the sloped, clinging terraced pots. From our vantage point it was a miniature world out of a storybook. The people were like the woven worrydolls you put unber your pillow to ward off bad dreams; the arimals adorablye diminutive. I was entraced by this miniature world when I realized the seemingly shrunken sizes were really just an optical illusion; a contrast to the massive hills and towering mountains, the oversized nature surrounding and dominating human influence.

The ride anded and our trek begain in Cashapampa. It´s the quintessential Peruvian mountain village; I really couldn´t imagine a more beautiful place to live. Forget my anxieties over blizzards, howling winds and subzero temeratures- the sun was beaming brilliantly enough to remove all my layers and even put on some sunscreen. The dark, stormy night and frigid morning seemed ages ago.

Me and Laura and Ed Before Picture

Trekkers were only required to carry our clothes, lunch, snacks, and toiletries; our tents, sleeping bags, dinner and breaktfast were all loaded onto the backs of donkies. (I later learned that some of the hikers deposited much of their personal gear onto the donkey`s backs as well, but with a group of 15 it was probably good we didn`t all come up with that sneaky idea.

Myself, I couldn`t beleive the luxury of our setup. I was more than overjoyed to be going backpacking as a CLIENT- no stress, no responsibility, just walk, look around at the incredible naturaleza, and be pampered. We got off on a great start- in the first 20 minutes I had already decided this was one of the most beautiful treks I´d ever done.

For the entire first day we followed a river, which at moments is a stream, then a rushing waterfall, then barely a trickle.- We climbed over bleached white rocks deposited by the river´s former rainy season strengh; just months ago it had filled the entire valley, and even created landslides which rendered the path impassable. The Santa Cruz trek was closed for much of late winter.


Can you see Tiny Ed

Message left behind for Laura and I! :)

Rising over the valley, dark granite cliffs chipped with gold raked the heavens like claws, slightly overhanging the green valley. We hiked about 4 and a half hours the first day- just a stroll. In the last hour, our first snowcapped mountain showed its face through the valley. As we neared our home for the ngiht, an array of multicolored tents revealed themselves in the field- The guides had run ahead with the donks and set everything up for us. The glaciated Cordillera Blanca danced on the horizon, our motivating jewels for the next day!

See our tents at the bottom?

We arrived around 2:30, so we had an entire afternoon to kill; so did the wild ponies and shaggy cows that roamed about amongst the tents. Unfortunately, it got cold almost immediately after we arrived, and the layers went back on.

The guides had set up a common tent complete with table and chairs, and we gathered inside to pass the time playing cards. We were served popcorn and coca leaf tea; we taught each other tidbits of French, Hebrew, German and Swedish. I only remember a handful: The Hebrew expressions BENZONA!! (F%&k!) and SABABA!! (COOL!), only effective when delivered with force and emotion; and the only French phrase easy enough for me to remember (also easy to remember because I was able to use about a million time sin the next several days): “Le Montan e si bel” (The mountain is beautiful) (Probably nothing close to the actual spelling).

Dinner was soup, chicken and rice. No surprise for Peru but quite a luxury when camping. To my dismay it started to rain at about 5:30. At least we all had our gear in the tent- it`s fine, right? Wrong. Our tent was a bit shabby and as we sat cozily in the common tent, rain was leaking through our rainfly. It also didn`t have stakes in the sides, so the rainfly pressed in on the tent itself, rendering the waterproofeness completely useless and soaking anything touching the walls. By the time we noticed, one sleepingbag was soaked. Luckily someone had an extra. The guides kindly slapped a loose sheet of plastic over the roof of the tent to solve the problem, and we tried to pull the fly out by pinning it with rocks. Thank the lord it stopped raining around 8 and we hopped off to bed.

I slept badly again. At first I though tit was the coca tea- Coca leaves give you energy, rght? I mean, you make cocaine out of them. One day on Earthbags, Isaias, a Mexican doing his masters on adobe and earthbag construction, gave us all coca leaves to chew, insisting that we would be “superhuman” and have boundless energy all day. Not so. I was a bit confused. So when Laura explained that the leaf itself is not a stimulant but rather just contains loads of vitamins and antioxidants, I beleived her.

We were woken up at 6- “Amigos! Desayuno!” and made the dash to the warmer breakfast tent for coffee, rolls and scrambled eggs. Anyone who has been camping understands the horror of having to extract yourself from a deliciously warm sleeping bag and a deliciously warm sleep and venture out into the frostbitten air. Once again I had every single layer on.

 After breakfast we packed our bags and all realized at about the same time that we hadn’t been given water. We had been told by the agency to bring only water for the first day; I assumed that meant water would just be handed to us at some point. It became apparent that wasn’t going to happen. We filled our bottles in the river while watching a cow take a poop in it upstream. Thank god Clement had brought enough water purification tablets to share, or I’m pretty sure we would all have had the runs within hours.

The six non Israelis in the group were packed up and ready to go, freezing our asses off and huddling like penguins. Let’s move, let’s go! The guides finally let us go early and we broke free like racehorses and practically jogged down the valley. The rising sun streamed through between the peaks and splashed us in white rays and long black shadows. We walked towards the sun and towards the mountains. Our goal for the day was Alpamayo, the legendary “most beautiful mountain in the world”- possibly the second most. I want to know who is put in charge of making these decisions.

As we walked, glaciated spires began to peek out of hiding; they peered over the rock cliffs, friendly abominable snow monsters with teasing toothy grins. No more hiding, we know you’re there! The cliffs were diamond coated where the sun hit their faces. We passed through swamps and lakes reflecting brilliant cobalts, through fields of wild mountain flowers.

Sebastian the Deutsch, being the assistant guide, had been put in charge of leading the horse by a rope. You could tell he was loving it. He was supposed to hang out in the back of the group to make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind, but he kept popping up in front with his trusty steed an particular hiking outfit: Beret, zip up hoodie, shorts and fuzzy striped alpaca socks pulled up to his knees.

Sebastian´s horse in the campsite

The river bed widened and the river thinned until the valley was something like a desert. Trains of donkeys from other treks crossed the vast dry expanse, tiny under the mountains, like a procession out of the bible. Before our crossing we stopped to wait with Sebastian for the others so he could resume his duty as back guide. Ed, Sebastian the Swede and Clement grew impatient and trekked on. Indecisive, I waited a bit longer and then started off on my own. The valley was wider than I thought and I actually had no idea where I was going- we were supposed to meet at a spot called “El Cruz” where we would split up into two groups, one to trek up to Alpamayo basecamp and one to head straight to our camp. Obviously I was going to see Alpamayo. The Swedish dude had just insisted that the mountain was the very mountain in the Paramount Logo! I pictured a snowy, pristine campground and Alpamayo’s handsome face beaming down, dramatic Paramount music thundering in the background.

I sort of just kept walking along the river valley until I heard my name screamed out of the bankside trees a bit behind. “Emma! In here!” Definitely would not have known where to turn off otherwise. Far behind, Laura ended up making the whole crossing on horseback, karma for waiting with Sebastian like a patient friend.

We snacked and waited under the trees for the guides. When we were given permission to start up the hill to the “mirador” we cracked on. Not once during the trek were the guides in front. I’m not sure whether that’s good protocol, especially because we kept on losing Clement, but it was sure nice to be able to go at my own pace for once.

I was expecting an arduous climb up to the famed Alpamayo basecamp, but basically it was just a series of switchbacks and we got to the top in less than an hour. Looking back, you could see the whole yellowed river valley and a gigantic yellow slide slicing into the mountain like someone had cut the best slice of cake out of the middle; it dumped sandy soil into the valley, sediment that I suppose was deposited by the rushing glacial river of its former grandeur. Geological features of unthinkable proportions from a bird’s eye view, put into a perspective our human minds could just begin to wrap around.

I was incredulous when we arrived- this is it? We were on a grassy field, and Alpamayo was still in the distance and covered with clouds. Oh. I don’t think that’s the Paramount logo. I was also getting a bit suspicious of our guides time and difficulty estimations. Today was supposed to be the hardest day, eight hours uphill. I’m pretty sure we walked less than an hour uphill. Although I’d rather have my guide underestimate my speed so I can feel like a machine.

We waited and waited for the others. A passerby told us there was a beautiful lake just about an hour’s walk up. Sweet! If Alpamayo didn’t do herself justice, maybe the lake would. Should we go? Yeah probably not the best idea without the guides knowing. Me, Ed, Laura and Sebastian squared sat there starting to shiver. It felt like someone was missing. Clement! Again! After quizzing a downclimbing hiker, we deduced that he was already at the lake. Alright, now we had to go.


River valley aerial view

A bit later the guides arrived with lunch, which of course Clement missed again. As soon as we were set free we dashed up to the lake. THAT was absolutely worth it and made up for any anticlimactics regarding a certain second most beautiful mountain in the world. The lake was pooling straight out of the glacier, only feet away, and parts of the glacier came along- gigantic floating chunks of ice like mini icebergs.

 The water was a fluorescent turquoise, the surrounding mountains pure white crystal, the sky a piercing blue. It was incredible. Our guide Valerio, at once a mischievous little kid, ran down to the water and started throwing ice blocks about. He swung across a line of poles like a monkey and skipped across the floating ice. I followed him but only dared to stand on the ice for a couple seconds at a time. Unexpected events are always those to blow you away; the lake was 100% the highlight of the day.

Our walk down involved traversing a grassy hill on a basically nonexistent dirt trail for hours, every five minutes of which we had to leap up the slippery hill to avoid passing wild cows who apparently also take advantage of our footpath (or perhaps it’s really theirs?)

That day, it started to rain before we even go to camp. GAH! Ed arrived first and was quick to lay claims on a different tent from the night before. Of course, minutes after we had arranged all our stuff inside, we discovered it had the exact same problem. We fixed it in the same way. Not much more we could do. Ed, Laura and I claimed seats in the dining tent while the others huddled in their tents; that night we literally couldn’t all fit inside. I was perplexed until I realized that the night before Ed and I had been fixing the tent during dinner and we had done something of a swap out. At first a couple Israeli girls surrendered unhappily to eating their soup out in the rain. Ouch. Then we removed the table so some people could sit on the floor.

Anyway it was grim. The cuisine of the night was tuna pasta, which a good amount of campers had major issues with. The complaints were increasing and I was starting to get frustrated. For the love of God, we’re camping, and I’m pretty sure the food I was being served on that trip was better than any food I’d had while camping, and I didn’t even have to make it.

I started to wonder about the group dynamics. How would this have been different if it had only been six of us like promised? Big groups on treks are almost never your friend. We probably would have gotten water boiled for us as a small group, but with 15 there’s just no way. The dining tent was too packed for movement, and the few Hebrew words I had learned didn’t help much when all I could hear was Hebrew on all sides. Ever so often I would pick up on something: “Steim! Three! I know that one! You want three spoonfuls of sugar?!” That was exciting.

Again, sleep eluded me. I was awake before the sun rose and lay there listening. Our tent was next to the guide’s tent (they slept in the groundless cooking and eating tents, and as far as I know didn’t have pads or maybe even sleeping bags). There was a radio on, or someone’s cell, and they were laughing (most likely at our expense). I unzipped the fly and pushed my face right into the fuzzy black face and shining eyes of a cow. Jesus! It must have been sniffing at the zipper.

I withdrew and waited for it to move. When I finally wriggled into the cold, the mountains were glowing in the predawn light like phantasmal ghosts. I stood gazing at them in fascination until I could feel the frostbite coming and ducked into the kitchen tent with its gaslamp.

We had two guides, Valerio and Isabela, and two cook/donkey guides (and most importantly, Sebastian). All four Peruvians were kind, gregarious, and passionate about the mountains. If they wanted to, I’m sure they could have flown through the Santa Cruz circuit in four hours. I couldn’t fathom their patience. I know what it can be like. I was talking to another guide the other day about the profession, and he offered wise council: “You just can’t confuse your passion with your work,” he explained. At first I wanted to retort, almost defensive. “Look, guides who only work, who spend all their time in the mountinas they love with clients, who don’t go out in those places with friends and have a good time, they get bored of it all. They lose their passion. They begin to associate the treks they used to love with their annoying clients.” Hmmm. There’s a lot of truth in that. I definitely got sick of El Hoyo, Telica, and Cerro Negro after only 3 months; I could imagine that after ten years even Santa Cruz could become routine.

I felt pretty bad for them when certain members of our group managed to find problems with the very tasty breakfast rolls- there was a bit of yellow in the center. It wasn’t mold, probably more like freezer burn, but it was as HUGE problem. Ay. I still couldn’t understand Hebrew, but I could tell that conversations were revolving around hummus and falafel more and more every minute.

Campsite in the morning

It was the third day, and would be our highest- we were told we would have six hours of uphill climbing to the pass, Punta Union, at 4750 meters. Of course our six hour climb took two hours. I ran ahead, a bit behind Clement, and that feeling struck me: I couldn’t believe where I was. Into the Wild was in my head; the sun burned behind the mountains, below, small lakes in different shades of blue pooled in the valley, arranged in an arc. I teared up a bit again.

The six of us got to a vista point and soaked in the moment in silence.We starte talking about Into the Wild and how the film and book had inspired us. It is so great to be able to talk to people who feel the same way about the spirit behind the story, who had been inspired to travel by it, even if Chris McCandless may hae been unprepared or made some self destructive decisions. It doesn’t matter. It’s not about that. It’s about THIS. It’s about HERE. It’s about NOW.

Punta Union was even better. A valley on one side and a valley on the other, each different and majestic in its own way. We could see everything- the Cordillera Blanca, the Cordillera Huaywash, everything in between. Ed and I climbed onto a boulder where we could watch each person approaching miles and miles away. We waited for two hours for our group to gather- they were still two hours faster than expected. We celebrated with avocado sandwiches- delicious- which apparently were too horrid to be eaten by certain members of the party who seemed to think they would starve on that sort of fuel. The guides were obviously getting pretty mad about all this, and it dampened the blissful, euphoric mood.

The wind whipped us on the other side of the pass, but the sun was strong. We ran ahead and sunbathed on some massive flat rocks in silence before everyone else caught up. Only as peaceful, blissful, content as you can be in such a place.

From that point on, it was downhill. I slowed my pace and walked alone between the fast and slow groups, trying to drink in the last of the mountains. Deep blue lakes reflected brown razorblade ridges, and we walked down along a building river and through marshes and into a bit of forest.

Two little boys appeared carrying fish on a line. I smiled and then did a double take- how did THEY get here?! What’s going on… We walked farther and a little girl appeard. Then a couple traditionally dressed women. I was beginning to understand. This, my friend, was the fringes of civilization. Our escape into the wild was soon to come to an end.

Really shocking, though, was what was going on at our campsite. Just about ten feet away from where trekkers sat chatting in the grass, a group of village women sat with a spread of for sale items on blankets. Coca Cola, artisan crafts, beer… Absolute culture shock. The guides brought us popcorn again and little kids wandered over to beg for food.

To my immense delight, Laura and Ed had already claimed an awesome tent. Its previous owners were pissed: NO swapping. Hey, first come first serve! We spent about thirty minutes admiring the features of our new home: Pockets! Zippers! You guys, look- I can straighten my legs! It was just like Christmas.

The cooks went on strike that night; they had had enough. We didn’t get fed until about eight, at which point I was already asleep inside the dining tent. I slept well that night. I credit the tent.

Our last camp area.

For our last morning, we got PANCAKES! The guides must have bought fresh eggs and butter from the nearby town. The whole day was supposed to be downhill, and it ended up being uphill the entire time. I wasn’t complaining, I’m not a fan of downhill at all. The guides let the six of us go ahead again, which probably wasn’t a good idea. The trail wandered up emerald grassy hills into a town, and suddenly trails and streets diverged everywhere. Luckily one person remembered our destination was a town called Vaqueria, so we were able to ask locals the way.

What a beautiful place to live. I peered into houses and saw farmers sipping coffee on hill-facing balconies that should haave cost a million dollars. I saw hills fading from brilliant green to brilliant blue in cascades. I saw classic adobe cottages with red tile roofs and washing blowing oin the breeze. I saw guinea pig breeding cages (you know what that means).

Vaqueria is way, way, wayyyy up. I had no idea. When they said “highway” I didn’t expect it to be basically in the heavens. We climbed and climbed and felt like we were going to wrong way but finally made it at about 9:00. Vaqueria is not a cattle town, as its name would suggest. It’s a cluster of huts along the highway at the top of the mountain. We sat in the sun just looking at the scene below, something you’d think only exists in postcards and calanders. The bus was a couple hours late but it didn’t matter; we were it in the most beautiful place in the world.

I expected a long and boring busride home. NOT so. We actually managed to climb even higher, passing right beside scores of 6,000 meter peaks, including Mt. Huascaran, the highest in Peru. The bus stopped at the highest point so we could jump out and take pictures. Above, the Cordillera Blanca lined the horizon. Below, a squiggly white line zigzagged haphazardly down the nearby vertical cliff. What is that? Some insane river? Oh mother of God it’s the road. We actually have to drive on that.

Yes, it was just as scary as it looked. My mind kept jumping to a book I had just read, “Learning to Breathe”. It’s about an American journalist nearly being killed when her bus clipped another on a highway just like this in Tibet. Let’s just say that during that ride I was very, very acutely aware of my mortality. The driver careened around the curves, blasting the horn as a warning.

I’m no pussy when it comes to adrenaline and my heart was in my throat and I was crossing myelf every five seconds and chanting silent prayers. And there it came, my worst nightmare: Another bus barreling towards ours. Holysh*tholysh*tholysh*t we weren’t going to be able to pass.

Unlike in “Learning to Breathe”, our bus actually stopped. (That’s why I am able to write this right now.) Now what? No. It can’t be. Our bus was BACKING UP. I was sweating like a pig and clutching Ed’s hand white knuckled. My life flashed before my eyes. At least I get to die in a beautiful place. We backed up for about 2 neverending minutes, and then it was over, and the other bus passed. Still I didn’t breathe until we were on flat ground.

Then the rest of the ride was a bore. I slept a bit but was exhausted by the time we arrived in Huaraz. NO time to be exhausted though, we had half a million things to do that night: It was Laura’s last night in Peru, and Ed and I had to get ready to climb a 5,700 meter peak the next morning. Our plan was to have a leisurly evening in Café Andino playing scrabble, but that didn’t exactly happen. We did go to Café Andino but it was after 8:00 and I could barely keep my eyes open to swallow my quesadilla. We said bye to Laura and packed, and then I got to sleep in a BED! And I slept more deeply than I had in weeks.

Mt. Huascaran

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