jueves, 12 de julio de 2012

The Great Huayhuash Pt. 2

Day 5 dawned doomlike, a frigid and iced over camp and a shaky group icy with nerves. The night before, Nir and I had laid our bathing suits over the tent, and that morning they were stiff, solid blocks of ice. We breakfast in silence and then gripped our hiking sticks with white knuckles.

Our bathing suits were literally stiff as rock...

The hike started off gradually enough. In the morning the clouds were incredible: they swirled around the sky on invisible air currents, tossing and merging and exploding out with incredible speed. They were the streams of color that coil out from a paintbrush tip when you dip it into a cup of water, the swirling white shapes that blossom when you pour a thin stream of cream into a mug of hot coffee.

We took a break on a grassy hill and behind us, a fan of clouds splayed out over the line of white mountains. Matan, who still had diarrhea, went off into the hills while we waited. It took him quite a while to come back, and his whereabouts turned into something like “Where’s Waldo”. Where is Matan shitting now? Erez pointed out that the campasenos should be paying Matan for passing through instead of the other way around, because he was fertilizing all their fields beautifully.

We passed by flatter glacier topped bergs that looked ideal for snow sports, and Nir and I couldn’t stop gazing at the perfectly smooth snow and reminiscing about skiing and snowboarding. The first pass, 5,000 meters, was a gain of 500 meters in three hours, so we didn’t sweat. At one point we came to a swampy field and lake at the foot of a mountain peak; the trail hugged a cliff that rose up and around the field. Eli, like always, decided to find a better alternative route, and was traipsing through the field and up the grassy cliff to meet the trail.

Usually his short cut attempts are nonsensical, or just really long cuts, or are just complete diversions from the main path. But this one seemed logical, so a group of us followed him. The Peace Corps trip cut through the field too, but made a beeline to the lake where they proceeded to get naked and skinny dip in the glacial waters. Apparently, there’s a long running competition among Ancash Peace Corps volunteers of who can skinny dip in the most glacial lakes. These guys each have almost 10 under their belts, a very impressive and brave umber. We were invited to join in, but politely declined… maybe if it was 50 degrees warmer and there wasn’t a serious chance of catching hypothermia.

We found our own surprise in the field though: a full horse skeleton, complete with main and tail hair and skull. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an intact and connected skeleton just hanging out in nature; usually they’re much more scattered.

About a half an hour later, we made it to the pass. 5,000 meters! My first reaction was that there were just way too many beautiful things to look at and photograph at once, so I sprinted around with my camera for 15 minutes, taking in everything at once like a kid with serious ADD. Right before us, a mountain peak stared face to face with the pass. In the distance, a line of peaks were swathed in sweeping coils of plumy vapor and capped with gossamer clouds that swept across like angel wings. On the opposite side, our donks and our donkey man, Nikol, were already skipping down a steep deserty descent marked with curious orange rock formations.

Jess, who can’t keep herself away from the horses, had mounted one of ours and was trotting about the pass in front of the mountains, framing herself perfectly for stunning photos. Which was exactly the point. Nick had his long zoom out and was crouched at a distance, wildly waving his arms and shouting out directions to Jess, who expertly steered her steed to suite his creative image. They were both completely in their element.
Ten meters away, Nir, Matan and Eli were in their element too: they had stripped completely naked and were posing for the camera with nothing but gloves to cover the sensitive areas; Eli had a popular Israeli magazine splayed out instead. It’s a game among teenage guy sin Israel to take funny pictures with this magazine in interesting places.

Us girls decided we needed to step up and make a comeback: there were 4 Israeli girls in the other group, Gal, Pola, Bar and Dana, and all of us but Gal grouped up in a more secluded spot and did a shirtless shot.

The descent was hellish: 300 quick meters on slick dusty paths. I spent a lot of it on my ass. The valley below was gorgeous, green and vast, but it kept on teasing us by appearing as if it was leveling of and then dropping down again like giant steps. We had lunch at the very lowest spot, around 1. Clouds began accumulating and brooding and then temperature flaked as the sun pulled on and off its cloudy robe. 

We were nervous; we knew what was next. San Antonio. San Benedeto. Over 500 meters of almost vertical climbing, to be finished within the hour. Or we´d have to pick our way to camp in the dark.  It turned out that the famous pass was in fact completely removed from our way to camp; it´s just a mirador off to the side. So, we had the option to go up or go straight back to camp. Erez passed by, shaking his head. “No San Benedeto hoy. The gates are closed. The gates are closed to San Benedeto.” I assumed he wouldn´t be coming.

As we began the death march towards the cliff we were to scale- it literally looked vertical- he strolled beside us, lamenting his predicament. “I really wanted to climb San Benedeto, but they just won´t let me in! They closed the gates on me!” I was genuinely surprised and delighted when Erez continued on and started to crawl up the death pass with us.

 It was a huge challenge- I don´t think I´ve ever climbed anything steeper without using my hands. I did have the hiking poles, and looked absolutely ridiculous hunkering over and stabbing the ground with them like an old man on his last few steps and breaths. All the other girls trotted by on the emergency horses (cheaters) as I gasped and wheezed and crawled over gravel and up the small waterfall that bisected the landslide we were climbing. It took us just under an hour. When I got to the top, I wasn´t quite exhausted to the point of tears, (which means I should have worked harder), but I did plop down on the ground, incapable of speech and pretty sure that I would never be able to stand up again.

Unfortunately, the invading clouds covered much of the view. Siula Grande was right there, and the face that Simpson and Yates climbed should have been in clear view but it was covered in clouds. You could see the lake where they had set up base camp (and where Yates started to burn Simpson´s clothes as he crawled down the moraine field on a broken leg).

Siula Grande is to the right of the lake- the lake is was the camp spot from Touching the Void.

The boys took another naked picture, which was really brave, because this time it was really cold and windy. After a half an hour or so, we spotted Erez´s form, huffing his way up towards us. We gathered at the edge of the ridge and cheered him on to the top. I was so proud! San Benedeto conquered! We sat watching the lowering sun, and deepening clouds cast the mountain and three lakes in dramatic shadows. It wasn´t the clearest, but the brooding sky made the view all the more captivating. I was satisfied.

Nick wasn´t. He had been determined to get ideal, detailed shots of these mountains. We weren´t at all surprised when, around 4:30 when we decided to head down, he and Jess elected to stay at the pass to wait for sunset. Thus commenced another loooong descent. Once we got down to the valley, we still had 2 hours to walk to camp. Like a barrier between the main valley and the swampy arm that led to camp, a mammoth rounded rock wall spanned between the two cliffs. In the center, it dipped into the earth, looping down to provide a passage; on either side it looked like it had been pushed apart like an accordion, or a crooked caterpillar. Through the middle ran a stream, and it dropped off into a waterfall. We down climbed along the waterfall and found that at the bottom, the water dispersed into a lattice of intersecting streams; between, the water seeped up through the grass. Time to get my feet wet. My hiking boots weren´t waterproof to begin with, but now they have gaping holes in the sides, and if I step in a puddle, I´m done for. Of course there was no path, so we had to hop across a small steam every five minutes, some of them not so small, most of them lacking bridges or stepping stones.

Cheering Erez up the pass!

After a bit we ran into Erez and Bar (they both had ridden horses back down) and Angel (the other group´s guide) who was in charge of the caballos. Erez was concerned. “Donde Scotland?” Hmm. True, we hadn`t seen Nick for quite a while, and usually if he stays behind he`s capable of catching up right quick. “Foto,” we guessed. “Always foto. Todas las cameras de Scotland, aqui en Huayhuash,” Erez explained to Angel, who cracked a rare smile.

Nick and I hurried on- we wanted to make it to camp before dark. A bit later we ran into Matan, Eli and Asaf, and walked with them the rest of the way. I was getting more and more exhausted. About a half an hour from camp, we had to cross a wide part of the river. I was so tired and frustrated, I couldn`t believe I had to jump across. I took the boys around 10 minutes to convince me to run and jump. It wasn`t even that far (I`m, a longjumper, mind you) but it was the last straw. I barely straggled to the tents for the last gasping breaths of what was a beautiful sunset- thick clouds dipped in blood red light- and by the time we had dropped our backs by the tent it was dark.

Coming into camp

Complete and utter exhaustion, Nir scolded me, is no excuse to skip our daily stretches. But this time we asked Marco if we could stretch in the warm kitchen tent. I crawled under the flap into the steamy, warm kitchen, dark but fore the glowing red of the stove and Marco`s dim headlamp. Nikol pulled up a thick wool blanket to sit on and I collapsed on to it. I handed Marco my sopping shoes to dry and tried to stretch. This time I cried, quietly, simply out of exhaustion. I don`t know if I`ve ever been so exhausted from a day.
Over dinner, the question remained: Donde Scotland? It was 8 and the couple was still missing. We were getting worried- how would they cross all the streams in the dark? Marco geared up with a headlamp and went out looking for them.

Dinner was mashed potatoes, and I slurped them down with a scowl until everyone forced me to go to bed. It wasn`t until after I drifted off that we heard Nick and Jess tromp into camp. Apparently they had explained their plan to Angel, who hadn`t passed the news to Marco, and they were upset that Marco had felt the need to go out searching.

That night we got a solid 10 hours of sleep- we didn`t have to wake up until 7. It was an easy day. Four or so hours downhill to a little town for lunch, and then another 3 uphill to camp. It was the hottest day yet, and I stripped down to a T shirt and hiking pants (NO long johns!) We climbed down a waterfall towards a valley carpeted in messy patchwork fields in different shades of green, and took a break on sun soaked rocks in the valley.

The village was a genuine little mountain village, and right as we walked in we ran into a traditionally dressed family doing their washing in the river. Next to them were the toilets- planks with holes in the middle so you shit right into the same river. I sure hope the family was doing their washing upstream from the baños, but I didn`t think to check at the time. Whatever the case, we were sure to make a note not to fill our water bottles in this one.

Lunch was in a small, dark, cavernous restaurant, and as soon as I was full I ran off to explore the sunny town. It was tiny, poor and slow; I barely saw another out on the dirt road. I ran into Jess and Nick, who were looking for a traditional style hat for Jess. We wandered around town hunting for hats from one dead end to the next. “Si, mi hermana tiene gora! Si, mi esposa tiene!” and once we found the sister, the spouse, the daughter, the mother, always the answer was “No tengo!” I gave up before them and was greeted back at our meeting spot by a video of Matan shitting in the river potty complete with an explanation of how the system works, all in Hebrew.

The proceeding climb was the most pleasant of the whole trek- gradual and warm. About half way up, I looked back and saw Erez sprinting after a horse, one that he had just been riding. What? There was a fork in the path, and the horse was running up the wrong trail. Apparently Erez had dismounted, and the horse had continued on its way; it`s own way. Up ahead, Marco noticed and galloped past us in a storm of dust to rescue the situation.


See our tents below?

Mountains began to rise up in front of us and we found our camp right at the foot of the glacier. That dinner, Matan entertained us with his special talent: On the go translations of cheesy Arabic songs to English, in a wavery but expressive voice. It was hilarious. Asif had been making friends with the Peace Corps trio, and had been invited over for some whisky before dinner, so he came back a bit tipsy. Apparently, Michael had brought along whisky but was the only proponent of consuming it. They had three donkeys, and one seemed to have a small but heavy load; we joked that it was Michael´s booze donkey.

Asif was tipsy but clear headed and ready to talk, and we had a good serious chat about Israel. Despite the hopeful stories we`re told; the happy documentaries on Israelis and Arabs bonding over their differences and striving for peace, he told me that the reality is the two loyalties just don`t mix. There are Muslim Arabs in Israel who have full nationality, and full rights, but they mostly live in cities separate from the Jews. There are a couple cities where the tow mix, but it`s extremely rare. Apparently, the only place in Israel where an Arab is like everyone else is in the army, where rich and poor and Northerners and Southerners alike wear the same clothes, have the same shaved heads, sleep in the same tent.

The conflict is as deep seated as a conflict can get. It`s rooted in religion and ancient history. No one sees the end of the conflict any time soon. Every Israeli I`ve talked to about it insists that their sons and their son`s sons will be in the army to protect the country against Muslim terrorists. Against the “enemies on all sides”. 

And it`s true, literally every country in the Middle East is a danger to Israel. They used to be able to visit Egypt`s Sinai Peninsula, but not any more. They used to be able to visit Turkey, but not any more. Hostility surrounds tiny Israel on unimaginable levels- on, literally, atomic levels- no wonder they are so protective of each other. In the Gaza strip, which has its own sovereign government, missiles are constantly fired into Israel. I couldn´t imagine growing up with such inborn fear and hatred.

I`ve been told, though, that it`s relatively peaceful now, and none of the Israelis I`ve met have had to actually fight in the war, on the front line, during their time in service. It`s all training.

As a commander, Nir had to march up and down the Northern desert mountains, loaded up with heavy artillery, and practice strategies in surrounding the hills and zoning in on the enemy- just in case the war spreads there. If you don`t sign up to be a “fighter”, you can watch video cameras on the border, do “field intelligence”, paperwork, be a trainer for the fighters, or a myriad of other positions.

 Every Israeli I`ve talked to insists the army was an amazing growing experience, and singularly turned them into adults. And how could it not? At 18 years old, you`re given a gun, thrown into a war; in one millisecond you are handed responsibility over the life or death of thousands. At 18 years old, Nir was in training as a commander of the army. By the time he was my age, he had his own soldiers. How can you wrap your head around that?

In the dining tent.

That night, we were given two choices for our last big day- One passes or two passes. “The first one`s nothing,” Nick cut in- “I just climbed it to take pictures of the sunset.” No surprise there. Of course I was in for both. Matan was of a different mind. “There is absoluntely now ay- if a helicopter came right now I`d take it straight to Israel. It`s been great, but…” You really couldn`t blame the poor guy, with his digestive problems. Eli struck with his friend, even though we all know he could climb both passes 5 times before we did it once. Asaf also declined dude to his hacking cough. In the end we split both groups. The Two Passers ended up being Nir and I, Nick and Jess, Gal, and two Israeli guys from the other group.

The first pass started off by a climnb straight up the side of the cliff nedxt to our camp, but wasn`t challenging. We climbed up and over rolling green hills strewn with gigantic boulders from some sort of ancient eruption- Nick kept mentioning it reminded him of Scotland. We passed by the mountian Diablo Mudo, skirted a lake, and lowered down into a grand yellowed valley facing layers of serrated mountain ranges in fading deep blues. 

The second pass was straight up a vertical looking wall of gravel, but it wasn´t quite as difficult as day 5. And I could chant a new mantra as I wheezed: Last climb! Lat climb! Half way up we came across a pristine glacier lake, perfectly still,with a distant mountain´s triangular peak reflected perfectly in the water. Nick was already down there taking pictures; it was a real catch.

Nir and Marco, best friends. At every break, Nir tells him: RESPETO AL CIGARILLO. And then Marco caves. And our breaks last about 5 times longer than they would have.

And finally, we made it to the pass. There they were! The real, huge, celestial, mystic peaks of striated ice and cornices, brilliant white ridges and heavenly summits. The clouds were just starting to lower, but we could till see the line clearly. Just below the snowline, smaller ridges formed perfectly triangular spikes of deep reds, like spike collars protecting the mountain´s pristine white faces. Red, yellow, black and white sediment flows streamed down, striping the sides. The range flowed up and down across the horizon.

 We climbed up to a better vantage point to take some pictures, and then continued along a ridge to the mirador. The sun was sinking; the wind whipped; we were on the top of the world. On one side of the ridge, the line of ice queens, on the other, layers of spiked mountains from brown to sky blue, white capped in the far distance. It was incredible. I think the walk along that ridge was the most beautiful stroll I've ever taken. And when we got to the Mirador, our jaws really dropped.

We were looking down at three bright turquoise lakes, lined up under a spectacular peak. The cliff our group sat on dropped off sharply into the valley below, so it was as if we were balancing over the view. We were floating on a golden field in the center of the crown of the world: The sawlike blue lapiz lazuli ranges behind, white diamond spikes to the right, and in front of us, lakes for emerald studs completed the crown´s centerpiece. 

As we sat and watched, clouds started brooding over the mountains, and it got chilly fast. It was an incredible spot, but where in the world do you go from here? The only seemingly walk-able direction was right where we had just come. Everything else seemed to drop off below us in sheer cliffs. But then I squinted down into the valley and vague colorful splotches came into focus, too small to catch in a camera lens- Our tents. They were directly below the mirador and next to the lakes, straight down the cliff. It seemed like the only possible way from here to there was quite literally to fly. 

So when Marco announced that he was going down and took most of the group, my reaction was "They think they´re going down there but it´s obviously impossible. I´m staying here." In retrospect, that was not my best critical thinking moment., If I had been thinking I would have realized that following the guide helps when the way seems impossible.

 So everyone got off to slipping and sliding down the steep grassy hill and quickly disappeared over the hump,and me, Nir, Nick, Jess and Gal stayed behind. We were probably there an hour or so after they left, and then it just got too cold to stay still. A veil of clouds was lowering slowly and steadily over the mountain, but Nick is a positive thinker and just had to stay up there with his camera until sunset, just in case the sky cleared. Nir, Gal and I started down about an hour after everyone left, and Jess started down about half an hour after that.

After some careful scouting, we found that there was indeed a trail, but it disappeared after about 2 minutes. Over and over, we would shuffle down sideways, carefully, and all of a sudden a cliff would drop off below us. What now? We would split up, scope out the scene, decide on the path that seemed the least suicidal, and keep sliding down. I assumed that at some point the way down would become clearer, but it just kept getting more and more confusing. 

As we dropped my faith in our survival dropped to near nothing. Below us and to the right, a deep river cut through the V shaped valley. I had assumed that we would be able to lower to the river and then follow it to camp. But 200 meters from the spot we could access the river, it disappeared in a careening waterfall. Even if we got down to the river, there was still an impossible drop off down to camp. Nir climbed a mammoth boulder to get an overview of our options, and it seemed that we might as well slide down tot he river anyway and figure it out from there, because there were cliffs all around.

Meanwhile, the clouds broiled and continued to seep over the mountains pretty face; it looked like rain. And the entire time we could see the tents, tiny but there, right there. Should we just jump? 

We had to cut through a herd of cows, with sharp horns, to get to the river. They freaked me out a bit but fortunately did not use their horns on me. Every 5 steps I slipped on the slick grass and fell on my ass. When we finally got to the river,  Nir figured we had to cross it. But how? It wad deep, wide, rushing, and dropped off the cliff less than 100 feet away. He found the best spot to cross- there was a rock in the middle you could step on; only problem, the rock was completely submerged and the river flooded over it with alarming speed.  Somehow Nir hopped right over, and then it was my turn. It took me about 10 minutes of flipping out before I made an attempt. I would have to put all my weight on that rock, completely submerging my boot, before I would be able to lean across and grab Nir´s hand to pull me out onto the bank. I was positive I would fall into the river and disappear over the waterfall. Finally I just went for it, and made it to the other side. 

Gal was next. She stepped into the rock, and slip- whoosh- just what I had feared. She fell completely into the  river, and NIr had to drag her and her backpack out and onto the opposite side of the shore. Jeez. Now we were really shooken up. I looked up to the cliff on the now opposite side of the river, and lo and behold, there was Jess, along with the 3 American Peace Corps volunteers. They were walking along the cliff and didn´t seem to be about to come down to the river. Jess waved and I waved back wildly, a gesture she assumed to be an enthusiastically friendly greeting instead of a frantic S.O.S. 

But now were were on the opposite bank, so we continued on our route. No need to cross that godforsaken river again. We climbed up onto the bluff and surveyed the scene. Oh god. These cliffs were even steeper than before. Nir scouted ahead, trying to descend, and shouted back that it wasn't possible, then tried another spot. We slowly crawled across the bluff away from the waterfall, but a way down eluded us. Gal and I were crouched clinging to plants at a steep section and Nir was farther down- suddenly where was a crash and a grunt, and we heard him calling up- "Ok, this one is dangerous, but it´s ok... do it on your ass!" 

Hmmm... From the crash it sounded like there wasn´t much choice. We picked our way towards him gingerly- it was literally a rock face. Guess we would be rock climbing. Nir had fell down it and crashed into a spiky agave plant. It took me about half an hour to figure this one out. It seemed crazy to climb  down with my backpack on, but if I dropped it I'm  pretty sure it would not have stopped until it reached the valley below. 

I don´t know how, but eventually I made it down to Nir. Behind me, Gal was stuck clinging to tiny handholds. Nir reached up to help her and they both topped down, crashing into the same agave plant.

 The descent continued. From here on it was difficult, but our chances of survival seemed higher. By now the storm blanketed the heavens and it had started to rain. I was so relieved to get to the valley. As we started across the field, Nikol appeared and guided us along. He had been watching us, he said. Nikol, the guardian angel, the sweetest man. We ran into Jess, who had made it down half an hour before. What?! Apparently, there was a relatively easy path on the original side of the river, and the Peace Corps guys had a map. They hdan´t been without problems, though- Sarah´s knees hurt so bad from downclimbing, she had been in tears the whole way. 

This is what we were supposed to climb down...........

Our tents are at the left along the river

Looking down to Nir

The rock we had to climb

Back alive and looking back up at what we just came down

But we were back, safe, and alive. Nir stalked off in a rage to smoke a cigarette alone; Gal crawled shivering into her tent to put on dry clothes; I ran around camp like a chicken with my head cut off announcing to everyone that we had almost died and telling exaggerated stories of our death defying descent. 

It was really raining now, and the mountain was invisible behind a sea of mist. We gathered in the dining tent for tea, and there was a thundering roar. We ran outside, and right in front of us, a giant avalanche tumbled down the mountain face.. At the same time, a rainbow arched brilliantly across the field. We could see its end inside the field- I think that was the first time I saw the real end of a rainbow, close enough to run and touch. Jess joked about finding a pot of gold, and then said she figured here it must really be true, Peru being so mineral rich. NO energy to dig, though. We had also just been informed we would be up at four the next morning. Nir was sleeping, and I went over to tell him the news. His reaction had me in stitches. "WHAT?! Four?! What for? For what? FOUR? What!! What for?!" 

At dinner time, Nick was till on the hill. Donde Scotland?! We were all pretty worried- if the descent had been so hard for us in the light, how would he manage in the dark and the rain? Well, we were all worried but Jess. "He´ll be find," she kept saying. "You´ll see, he´s good at this kind of stuff." And she was right. Around 7, Nick showed up without a scratch. He had admitted that it had been very confusing, but had made it down in 45 minutes in the dark and in the rain. We were very impressed. 

The next morning, we really did get up at four.  It was dark and cold. But not too dark, because the full moon lit everything in a sallow glow. And not too cold, because we were at a lower altitude than the previous nights, only just over 4,000.

I woke up to Nir's shout: "Where's my backpack?!" It was gone. Very strange. We got headlamps out and searched the tent, around the tent, the whole field. No where to be found,. We went to ask Nikol. "Los perros se llevo," was Nikol's serious reply. What...? The dogs took it? How did they unzip the rainfly and take it from the porch area of the tent, and then re zip the fly...? Never mind, we found the bag all the way across he field, completely ripped up and missing a strap. I immediately knew what had really happened. There was a full moon, and Nir had the look of a werewolf. He obviously had a little episode the night before.

The first couple hours of walking were an eerie wander through the dark landscape. Behind us, the mountains loomed glowing. Our destination was Llamac, a tiny village and our bus stop, and Nikol's home. We followed a trail that wound higher and higher above the river valley, and walked along the cliff edge. It was a total of about 5 hours- our bus left at 11. I was wiped and walked like a zombie. Every 10 minutes or so we had to climb over a brick wall put in place to keep donkeys off the cliff, to prevent them from pooping into the river below, which is used as drinking water. As we descended into town, it got hotter and hotter until I was positively dying. 

When we got into Llamac, 3,800 meters, everyone was there- Matan, Eli, Asaf, Erez... I had missed them. The trek was over. Four hours on the bus would bring us back to Huaraz. I organized a dinner for that night, at Cafe Andino (of course) at 8. I invited everyone, including the Peace Corps guys.

 After 4 windy hours on the bus, and a long walk back to El Jakal hostel, after 8 days of hard core trekking and 8 days of freezing our asses off and after 8 days without a shower, El Jakal didn't have any running water. Was it a joke? No, he even showed us the dry tap personally. Well, it's Peru. Nir scouted up and down the street and came back with bad news- no one on the street had water. The owner of El Jakal hostel- (who by the way is truly the nicest man in the world)- called the  water company and announced that it was just our street that had been cut off. Thank god. Nir and I ran off to find a new hostel and ended up in Piramid hotel, a fancy looking building right in a center square I had passed by a million times and wondered about but always assumed it would be too expensive, and it wasn't at all. Gotta love Huaraz. 

Then off to our separate missions- Nir was supposed to meet Angel at 6 to fix his dilapidated boots; I was supposed to get back to Andes camp to return gear. After 45 minutes of waiting, Angel never showed up: after inquiring of 15 taxis, no on knew where Andes camp was (including me). A failure of an afternoon. We didn't actually shower until 8, and hurried to our dinner. 

To my surprise, there was quite a turn out- literally every single person showed up. We couldn't all fit into one table and basically took up the whole restaurant, but it was so good to see everyone. Nick and Jess showed up late with beers, Pisco sours, and a jug of wine. They had seen our jugs of lemonade and had assumed it was alcohol, and wanted to "catch up". We had a great chat about the trek, about traveling, mountaineering, boats, skiing, photography, and all those kinds of wonderful things. 

At one point during the evening, I realized it was the 4th of July! After dinner, we moved to the Trece Buhos Pub, right across the square from the Piramid hostel, where Americans got half off on coca beer. Never been so proud to be an American. I thought about home: The family was at Devil's Lake together, laughing and watching fireworks,. swimming and picnicking and road tripping to Culvers, and I missed them and smiled. I thought about here: In the heart of the Andes, triumphant after the most challenging and beautiful trek of my life, surrounded by wonderful, hilarious and kind people I love; a lone American celebrating the fourth of July with a raucous group of Israelis, Englishmen, a Scot... raising a cheer to good ol Amurica. No, raising a cheer to to LIFE. Lecheim! 

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