From a veranda, in Bucaramanga, Colombia.
A few days ago, Orlando showed me how to turn on the speakers here at the farm. These things are big. If we had them in the living room of our Penn State house, the police would have showed up far more than twice a month. I’m alone on the farm – Orlando left two nights ago. He’ll return tomorrow evening. The salsa music is back ON, and it is LOUD. Pianos and saxophones and drums and bongos and trumpets. It just started raining again too.
I first heard about Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash when I was at the end of the world. Carey and Lobo and I were deep into the epic of Los Dientes de Isla Navarino, and Carey kept comparing the hike to the Huayhuash. He said the ‘Huash was the best hike he’d done in South America, and the Dientes were a very close second. Carey was a dude.
See. I resolved to make the Huayhuash a priority.
About three weeks ago, I arrived in Huaraz, Peru, the jump-off point for Huayhuash trekkers. In fact, Huaraz is sort of this mecca of mountaineering, where super badass girls and dudes come to climb any of the, let’s say, fifteen 6000+ meter peaks in the area. As such, trekking is kind of the wimpy, momma’s boy afterthought; the Buster Bluth of the situation.
If you’re familiar with the movie Touching the Void, this is where it took place. While both guys in the movie did survive, there are many people that do die climbing in the region. In fact, the day I finished the trek, and was eating chicken-heart skewers at my favorite convenience store/street-side mini-grill, some guys told me that a European couple had just disappeared on one of the mountains the day before. The only thing left was their empty tent.
In any event, I was not in Huaraz to climb. I had come for the Huayhuash – one of the best hikes in the world.
There are tons of agencies in Huaraz that run Huayhuash trips, employing the brawn of donkeys to carry your gear and a cook to cook you food. They give you clothes and supplies and a tent and all that stuff, and they are expensive. Something like $50+/day. Carey did the trek with a backpack and a friend and a map and no agency, and I wanted to do the same. Seriously – it’s much more fun this way.
So, for the four days following my arrival in Huaraz, I was in recruitment mode. I was talking to every hostel owner and white person and dark person – “busco alguien con quién hacer el circuito Huayhuash sin guía; te interesa?” – inquiring thrice daily in the Casa de Guíasand posting notices in Café California and Café Andino. I was in that finals-esque go-mode – stopping only for the odd baggy of quail eggs or some fresh-squeezed orange juice. Maybe an ice cream cone too. Who wants to do the Huayhuash with me?
After four days, I had come up fruitless – if you don’t count the orange juices, that is. So, instead of just hiring my own donkey and donkey driver and going solo, I decided to do it with an agency – the “Israelito” agency. The Huayhuash is pretty popular among the “Israelitos,” so a few companies decided to join forces and run trips for them (the groups aren’t restricted to Israelis by any means, but yes, almost every one of their groups is all Israelis) at a seriously low price. Like, half of what I would have paid had I done it on my own. I decided to give them my business.
I’m often hiking by myself – mainly because I don’t like waiting around, and because I prefer not to go with agencies. It’s also because it’s more of an adventure this way, and because not having someone with whom to do something is just never ever-ever a reason not to do it. So, I figured that at the very least, trekking with a group of 10 people might be a different, worthwhile experience.
At the last second, I was approached by a guide – 24-year-old Santos Requejo – who said he’d take just me with just backpacks. We’d sleep in my tent, cook our own food, and explore some areas that weren’t part of the traditional circuit. Santos was born in one of the Huayhuash villages, so he knew the place well. He also didn’t speak English, which was preferable. In all, I was to pay about what I would have paid had I hired my own donkey driver and gone solo. So yes – it was a go. We went to the market, bought our food, checked my tent, grabbed some gas, tested the stove, divided the supplies, zipped the bags and got a good night’s sleep.
The next morning – 4:00am wakeup. The public bus it was.
The ride lasted about 5 hours, and the hike started early that afternoon. I grabbed some construction workers I didn’t know for a picture, Santos grabbed some fishing line from some villager in a nearby hut, and off we went.
The hike lasted for 8 days, and something like 100 kilometers. Santos originally quoted me 140, but it just didn’t seem like that much. I’m not going to do a day-by-day of the hike, but instead, post some pictures with some blurbs and captions, and then write a paragraph at the end. This seems best.
The hike began at the bottom of that valley. This is about two hours in, looking back.
At the top of the first pass, at something like 4,600 meters. A pass is where you hike up and up for a long while, and then go down the other side. In 8 days, we did something like 9 passes.
I take a lot of pictures, and some people tell me that some look nice. For me, since I was there and took it and edited it and looked at it many more times, it doesn’t “wow” me. However, there’s a very select few pictures I have taken that do “wow” me, every time I look at them. Like, less than 5, probably. This one is included. We had gone to bed at about 6:30pm, since there’s not much else to do when the sun goes down, and I woke up around midnight and went out for a pee. This is what I saw. That gorgeous, juicy-fruit Milky Way. Nice work, nature.
Golden lights the next morning.
Santos starting up breakfast. We ate oatmeal every morning. I fell in the nearby river when washing the used dishes. Those rocks can be slippery.
The next day, about three hours in. Nice little lake.
One more from around the bend.
The aquatic triumvirate of holy emerald. It’s sometimes wild to think that this stuff exists on Earth. This scene is the Huayhuash’s most famous.
There were mountains too.
At the top of our pass for Day 3 – something like 4,800 meters. Super dorky picture.
More gorgeous mountains. Day 3 still.
Starting our pass for Day 4 – the hardest of the whole trip. Some English climbers died a few years ago trying to climb that peak, when an avalanche did what avalanches do shortly after they began. The only survivor was their cook, who was hanging back at camp.
At the top of the pass, looking down the other side, at just over 5,000 meters. More emerald lakes. Santos and I recorded ourselves singing Happy Birthday to Evan at the top. Check his Facebook wall for the video!
This was the first half of the second pass for Day 4; we started from the valley below. Most groups just pass across the valley and continue forward. Since we just had backpacks and no donkeys, we went up. The view was worth it:
This was where the story for Touching the Void took place. Simpson fell in a crevasse in one of those glaciers.
So, there was trout; Santos really liked trout. In fact, every time the word trout was mentioned, Santos could not help but smile. He’d wake up early, and go catch us trout. He’d hike an hour further just to bring us back trout. We had steamed trout, fried trout, trout soup, trout pasta, trout everything. There was always trout.
Fresh trout and homemade French fries.
Huayllapa – the village in which Santos was born. We spent a night here, restocked on food and supplies, and met his mother. Upon arrival, Santos promptly handed her a trout, which she cooked for us:
Typical Peruvian food.
This is where Santos’ mother lives, in the house on the left.
This is where I slept for the night. Nice little potato cellar. Comfy blankets though.
We had just hiked about 5 hours straight uphill. This was the second to last pass of the trip. In this picture, we are heading down the other side.
New Phish logo?
Santos self-reflection time, at the top of the last pass of the trip. Day 7.
The last camp. This was the second time we actually camped with other people.
A scene from Llamac, the town from which the circuit begins and ends. School was being let off for the holidays, so there was a celebration. When Carey was there about 9 months prior, there was also a celebration; internet had just been brought to the town for the first time!
Another shot of Llamac.
A little ceramic mochilero, situated on the side of the well in the Plaza de Armas. Every main square of every (I believe) city/town in Peru is called Plaza de Armas.
From Llamac, we sat on another bus for 5 hours, and arrived back in Huaraz. I got a big carton of peach juice, ate like 3 ice cream cones, inhaled some chocolate, and went to bed. An epic 8 days; well worth the effort.
I promised Santos I’d give him a shout, so here goes. If you’re Huayhuash-interested, and want a slightly different experience, I give him my highest recommendation. You can negotiate on price, decide on a route that works for you, and have his Mom cook you trout. His name is Santos Requejo, and you can get in touch with him through the Casa Jaimes hostel located in the center of Huaraz. If you’d like any more information, feel free to send me an email.
Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how much hiking I’ll be able to do in the next few months. From the beaches of Colombia to the frozen tundra of a Scandinavian winter to the desert of West Africa (this one is like 95% happening), there might not be much. I’ll definitely pick it back up in Israel and India, though, and in Nepal for sure. The 3-week Annapurna circuit is firmly on the list.
From a crisp evening in Colombia – with Wale on the speakers, crickets yelling loud and the butterflies dancing psychotically around the porch light,