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Inca Jungle Trek (Day 1): eating concrete

´Did you pay the extra for fancy gear?’ asked one of the girls in my group as I pulled on a full face helmet. ´Because we get to wear these ones´, she said, pointing to a pile of standard helmets. ´Nope,´ I said, ´I´m with you guys. Nothing fancy for me.´ I took off the comfortable protective headgear and wandered over to where the majority of the group were gathered.

In hindsight, maybe I should have paid the extra for the upgrade.

We had spent two hours in the minibus travelling away from Cusco along gravelly roads and through passes cut out into the mountainside. The further we got from Cusco, the more lush it got, huge mountains covered in a dry, dense greeny-yellow blanket, red earthy rock faces exposed intermittently.

The road had followed along the bottom of the valley and close to the train tracks leading to Machu Picchu, but once we passed by the busy little town of Ollantaytambo we started to climb into and above patches of misty cloud. The road became yet more windy, twisting and turning back on itself, making for a lengthy ascent. The rain became heavier, adding fat splashes to little mountaintop pools. By the time we reached our intended drop off point at 4,350m, Rodrigo, our guide had pretty much decided that we should drive down a little further to see if the rain would ease lower down. No one argued with him. The driver crossed himself a few times before we started to descend at speeds that would be considered fast on a dry day. Maybe the crossing stopped us from slipping off of the road, or maybe we were just lucky.

At the new start point we donned raincoats and got kitted out with helmets and mountain bikes. Everyone also got a reflective safety vest to wear over the top, and it was only as I was flying down the hill, barely able to see for the rain and the spray in my face, that I realised I was without. A second sign? On flatter sections I peddled along, wriggling my toes in the puddles that had formed in my shoes and moving my fingers to stop them freezing up. Some people´s brakes were dodgy, another person´s chain was loose, but my bike was tickety-boo.

A few people bailed and jumped back in the van that was trailing us, but I was soaked through already and decided to stick with it. Taking corners carefully, I rode on through big pools of water and saw how the runoff from the road channelled down thick concrete drains. One wrong move, I thought, and one of us could fall into there and end up in a mess.

A friend was having a few issues with his bike and the support team gave him a hand. I slowed down a little and glanced back to see where he was at… and then everything went slow mo as my front wheel hit the lip and I met the concrete head first.

My head bounced about in the half metre deep channel, my face smashed into something, my nose bent and my limbs collapsed, tangled in my bike. I started to move. I could see, my eyes were okay. Relief. I clambered up and out of the ditch and touched my nose. Surely it was broken? And the rest? I could stand. My arms and back were okay. My jaw and teeth were intact. And although there was blood, I was alive.

Later that day at the hostel in the little, muddy jungle village of Santa Maria I assessed the damage. Cuts and scrapes on my hip, bit of a mashed up elbow, bruises and deep grazes on my leg, a bit of a headache and sore teeth. And a fat, cut and blocked nose. But not broken.

People monitored me for symptoms of concussion and came with plasters and ointments and arnica. I barely knew these guys, yet they wanted to help to make me feel better and to check that I was okay. After a bit of flatness in the week leading up to the trek, it was a little reminder of just how good and kind people can be (maybe too sickly for some of you, but in a moment like this, allow me some saccharine).

It could have been so much worse. It was one of those times where you´re reminded of just how quickly your life could completely change. My first thought when I crashed out was ´thank f*** for the helmet´. Without it, this would have undoubtedly been a whole different travel story.

That night it took a while to unwind but I finally fell asleep to the sound of rain pattering on the roof and the lullaby of crickets chirping and frogs croaking. What a crazy day.

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Choosing a tour in Cusco

With an estimated 400 plus tour agencies in Cusco, it can really be confusing to figure out who to go with, who to trust, and who will take your money and run. Most of these agencies, however, feed into one of five or so actual tour operators, so often it´s not the tour itself that needs careful combing over, it´s the cost.

Touts scour the streets with their tour books, agencies with double or triple names occupy many of the shops along the likes of Plateros, and signs suggest that there are trips leaving for all treks the following day (they don´t).

Whilst Cusco is a good base for multi-day rafting trips, it is much more famous for The Inca Trail and treks to Machu Picchu. There are also a couple of other popular options (and I´ve not included the activities at Action Valley or chocolate making workshops or Peruvian cooking classes), the main choices being:

  • The Inca Trail
    Expensive at around $500 for the four-day trek with the need to book months in advance. One girl I met managed to get a shorter waiting period of about six weeks, paid upfront (as you do) only to discover the day before that she had been duped. No Inca Trail for her. She was able to switch over to the Inca Jungle Trek, but was understandably pissed off. The Inca Trail is a tough walk up and down and along narrow ridges at high altitudes (Warmiwañuska or Dead Woman’s Pass is the highest point at over 4,200m). Not an easy option, but undoubtedly a necessary pilgrimage for some.
  • The Inca Jungle Trek
    Offered by every tout in town, this trek does actually seem to leave on a daily basis with tour groups of around ten to fifteen people. It´s a four-day, three night trek that starts with mountain biking from the highest point of 4,350m and includes options for ziplining and visiting hot springs. Some of the walk takes you through the jungle and onto the actual Inca Trail, finished by a wander along the rail lines and towards Machu Picchu itself. Transport, food, accommodation and entry to Machu Picchu included. For the majority of the trek you carry your own bags, so pack light. Treks should cost around the $180 mark, and not the $300 that one agency tried to charge me. With ziplining and entry to Huayna Picchu, the total cost to me was $220. Worth it. I went through EcoTours based inside Eco Packers Hostel, although from the street they are known as Andean Odyssey. Don´t ask.)
  • The Ausungate Trek
    So this  ´trek´ sounded ideal, being considerably cheaper than the others (S/.240 Note: Peruvian Nuevo Sol, not US dollars this time) and predominantly on horseback. What a way to enjoy the mountainscape and lagoons. But wait! This trek does require some walking each day, and the big sticking point for many is the altitude which is predominantly over 4,000m, the highest pass being 5,200m. Sore bums are not unknown and one guy I met who did the trek said he chose to walk alongside his horse because just being on horseback at a pottering pace was ´a bit boring´.

All in, shop around and consider your fitness level and how you deal with the altitude. I did the Inca Jungle Trek and expected it to be a bit of a soft option (I still stand by that hypothesis) but for some group members the climbs up through the jungle and onto the Inca Trail were really quite challenging.

Also think about when you decide to go: Peru´s rainy season kicks off late October and when I was there in late November, many tours were already not running because of rainfall that had caused problems accessing some of the pathways and passes. I took a gamble (how can you go to Peru and not trek to Machu Picchu?) with the jungle trek which did start off as a bit of a torrential, soggy mess, but that, dear reader, is for another blog post.

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How was Huaraz?

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Outskirts of Huaraz – view from Andes Camp

Sitting at an altitude of 3,100m, Huaraz is a stop-off for travellers wanting to do some serious hiking and trekking, with options like the Santa Cruz, Huayhuash and Laguna 69 being very popular.

I arrived early in one October morning and already, at 7:00am, the streets were full of moto-taxis and vehicles and honking horns. The place felt alive. I hadn’t read much about Huaraz beforehand but for some reason I had expected it to be a fairly small place.

Wrong.

With approximately 100,000 inhabitants and a sprawl of buildings, it wasn’t the quaint, little town that I anticipated.

Huaraz is busy and chaotic, especially around the market area where you can buy anything from clothing to vegetables to live cuy (barbequed guinea pig is a South American delicacy).

The main street is full of tour agencies, all trying to sell you trips and treks at ‘best price’. There are plenty of warnings and rumours about dodgy dealings, about collaboration between agencies to push prices upwards. I went directly through Franck at Andes Camp and felt confident that he was being fair and honest. He wasn’t the cheapest but was also far away from the higher quotes.

Alongside tour agencies are places to eat and banks and pharmacies and loads of shops offering photography services (triple check costs! – I ended up paying what felt like an extortionate amount after mixing up a quote for one photo and fifteen photos).

Something that I noticed was even more evident than in other parts of Peru was the massive Italian influence with pizzerias on every corner and shops dedicating entire shelves to pannetone of all different flavours.

But the architecture of Huaraz is distinctively un-Italian, full of blocky buildings and unfinished construction work. ‘Huaraz is Peru’s ugliest city’, joked Franck of Andes Camp (and Italians surely wouldn’t dare to create anything lacking in aesthetics).

Indeed, it is not the prettiest of places. To be fair to the city, as Franck explained, Huaraz has had to try and rebuild itself following the devastating 1970 earthquake which killed around 70,000 people and destroyed nearly all of the buildings.

What saves Huaraz from being truly ugly is the striking, beautiful backdrop of snow-capped mountains that reach high into the bright, blue sky and glisten in the early morning sun. The light here, like much of Peru, is penetrating and brilliant.

After a week in Huaraz, I wouldn’t say that I had fallen in love with the place but I was really quite comfortable there, although much of that was to do with the hostel and the host himself. Andes Camp was a friendly, social place to hang out, – use of the kitchen and free movie screenings being a definite draw. Watching Touching the Void in the actual area that it was set added to the intensity of the film.

And it put me off ever wanting to do any serious mountain climbing.

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Altitude effects: Sad about the Santa Cruz

After some bad times dealing with the altitude around and about Huaraz, I realised that doing the five day Santa Cruz trek wasn’t going to be the best option and that what I needed was to get back down to lower ground. Others had managed to do it propped up on altitude medication but I didn’t fancy filling up with a load of drugs at this point. Churup and Pastoruri had been amazing, some good experiences and memories to take away from the area.

When chatting to others about how the altitude had affected them, the most common symptoms included:

  • A thick head with a lot of pressure around the frontal section. For me, going over bumps in the road was incredibly painful as my whole head bounced and hurt. One guy had a throbbing pain down one side of his face, particularly around the forehead, eye and jawline. A bit scary, particularly when you read up on what can happen when your body can’t cope.
  • Many people experience dizziness, particularly when standing up too quickly. Our guide suggested never taking a rest sitting or lying down, but rather to stay standing.
  • Shortness of breath. Going uphill is a real challenge as breathing in enough oxygen in the thin air is difficult (I was told that at 5000m there is only 1/5 of the oxygen here compared to the coast)
  • Feeling nauseous and actually being sick were common complaints. One Israeli woman I talked to couldn’t stop being sick on the way back from Pastoruri. It seems that coming back down from high altitudes can trigger altitude effects rather than just being at the highest point.
  • Accelerated muscle fatigue. Climbs in particular can seem like a real effort, even if you’re a fit person. Strangely, muscle aches (and shortness of breath) seem to quickly alleviate once you take even a short break.
  • This is a funny one but for some reason you can get a runny nose and a good case of the sniffles when reaching higher altitudes. Bring tissues!
  • Dehydration. You need to pack more water than you would usually think necessary and ensure you drink regularly, although I have also read about the risks of overdoing it and damaging your kidneys. (In terms of food, it is recommended to only eat light meals to help with the acclimatisation process).
  • The need to wee is an effect that many people experience when going to high altitudes. And I mean needing to go very, very often. It’s a weird one.

Some of the solutions to dealing with the effects of altitude, as offered by guides and sufferers, include taking a deep breath in to full lung capacity and trying to breath in a little bit more before holding it, and then releasing the air as slowly as possible.

Drinking coca tea, chewing on coca leaves or sucking coca sweets is also recommended.

Sorachi is a local medicine sold in capsule form to help alleviate negative effects of altitude (approximately S/.3 per capsule) but there is some scepticism about its usage, suggesting that it actually relies on caffeine and aspirin to perk you up. People who go for the full on treatment usually take two doses (either 125mg of 250mg) of Diamox per day, but again some of the side effects are really questionable including serious dizziness and strange tastes in one’s mouth.

Finally, many shops in places of high altitude sell oxygen in a canister. In Peru the most common is OxiShot, available in two sizes and costing upwards from S/.20. They’re a bit bulky but super light (of course!) and can be helpful whilst on a high altitude trek.

Some people are absolutely fine with the altitude, some people only feel light effects and others are just no good with heights at all. Like me. Another thing I’m figuring out about myself.

A useful site for information on altitude, its effects and possible treatments is The Travel Doctor (also great for any other medical travel questions). If you want something more in-depth then take a look at the Institute for Altitude Medicine’s website.

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Stone drawings, giant plants and ice caves

I’m sitting in Restaurant Turistico 7 Hierbas, a 40 minute drive up and out of Huaraz, my head in my hands. I am in pain. My entire brain feels like it has swollen and is threatening to explode. I feel sick and my eyes can’t focus. And I am so, so frustrated because it’s been such a beautiful, interesting day but my body just isn’t adjusting to the altitude. Dammit.

Earlier that morning I had travelled in a little yellow van alongside a wide, dry river and an old Inca road with a German girl, an Israeli guy, two Brazilians, a few Peruvians and a street kid from Huaraz who had been invited along on the tour.

Daniel was our guide, an animated man in his forties with a rhythmic, musical voice and a face and body full of expression. He spoke only Spanish, rolling his rs and accentuating each syllable, barely stopping to take a breath. He outlined the plans for the day and commented on the landscape features as we passed by.

Daniel told us about Huayna Capac, the last great Inca ruler, a powerful, ferocious and social man by all accounts who also managed to find the time for 700 wives. ‘I’ve a problem with one wife’, joked Javier, our Brazilian-tourist-cum-translator (it was his wife that had volunteered him for the role of translator, although he seemed truly happy to put his English skills to practise).

We took a quick pit stop to grab a bite to eat and stock up on warm clothes and coca leaves and altitude sweets. Most people opted for the sweets. I chewed on a coca leaf. It was not as disgusting as I had expected, just a little bitter. ‘It takes 1.5kg of coca leaves to make 1g of cocaine, so you won’t get high’, assured Javier, ‘It will just alleviate the altitude sickness’. Maybe I should have bought considerably more?!

Before we continued, a village funeral procession passed by, a car at the front followed by a coffin carried by some of the local men. Children in school uniform played percussion and brass instruments to give sombre structure to the march by which to remember and send-off the deceased.

The road passed between two mountain ranges: Cordillera Negra and Cordillera Blanca. The Cordillera Negra stops some of the warm coastal air from hitting the second range, which as a result sees much more snow and ice (therefore blanca – white). Initially the landscape was rolling, with craters in the hillside where underground lakes had erupted through the earth’s crust. The ground was dry and stony with tight tufts of porcupine brown and green grass. There was an occasional collection of cattle. ‘There used to be more’, explained Daniel, ‘but many people have now chosen a different life in the city’.

It got increasingly colder as the bus climbed ever higher along winding roads with open, empty views. We made various stops: a natural, fizzy spring where a woman with a dressed up child and lamb asked for money for photos; a small, clear and deep, deep lagoon; a ‘forest’ of Puya raimondii  whose one hundred year lifespan sees the plants grow up to ten metres in height (how they find the nutrients to grow on the inhospitable ground is a bit of a mystery); and 14,000 year old rock paintings alongside some graffiti from 2007.

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By the time we arrived at the pathway to the glacier – our final destination – the weather was starting to get moody. We disembarked and some of the group opted to ride horseback for the first kilometre whilst the rest of us walked slowly up the gentle incline to the 5,000m mark.

A further kilometre later, a wander over muddy, stony ground with snow lightly falling on our faces, and we reached a mammoth wall of ice surrounding a lake. Known as the Pastoruri Glacier, this huge chunk of ice is said to be shrinking due to the effects of global warming.

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The light shone blue on some of the ice caves, gigantic icicles hanging and threatening to plummet into the water below. You could hear the occasional sound of cracking and whooshing as pieces of the glacier gave in to the spring melt. It was stunningly beautiful, a true wonder of nature. Having never seen anything like it, I was in awe. And then I ruined it all by trying to do some ice climbing where I got told off by a little old lady in traditional dress, the acting guardian of the glacier. Lesson learned. (There are, however, options to do ice climbing in the area, just not here, obviously).

Back in the café, and after some medicine I start to feel a teeny bit better. We make the last downhill stretch back down towards Huaraz and one of the Peruvian tourists starts to puke. The altitude has got her too. Daniel helps her out, strokes her hair and continues to keep the mood light by joking.

I guess he’s seen it all too often.

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The long way round: Laguna Churup, Huaraz

It was 5:50am and my alarm was buzzing and I didn’t want to get up. I had arrived in to Huaraz a couple of days earlier and had planned to do a one day test hike – the Churup trek – to see some of the area and to assess how I dealt with the altitude. But now my alarm wasn’t shutting up and I’d had a bad night and I was finding reasons to talk myself out of going. I could do it another day. What was the rush? But I did get up, and I’m glad that I did.

Getting to the starting point

It was bright morning. The distant razor ridges covered in a smooth, snowy blanket stood out vividly against a brilliant blue sky. A taxi to Pitec cost S/.40 for a fifty minute ride up rocky, unrefined roads and narrow passes through villages. The jolty ride rattled the taxi interior, and my teeth rattled in my head.

The early morning sun was streaking through the trees as the taxi driver skilfully dodged other vehicles and avoided steep drops. Donkeys blocked the road and dogs ran along with the car, barking madly. A man sitting in a field waved as we passed by another village of low mud brick buildings with red tiled roofs where another man led three sheep on a lead and carried a cockerel under his other arm.

Thirsty shrubs and trees and parched grasses decorated the landscape, the overall colour scheme yellow, orange and brown. The landscape started to open up to reveal far reaching views and rolling hills and mountains, a coarse landscape with fewer trees, tufts of spiky grasses and the odd hardy shrub and chunky rocks. We had arrived!

‘Take only photographs
Leave only footprints
Kill nothing but time and mosquitos’

The hike itself

It was a confident start: a definite pathway and a point in the right direction from the ranger who had taken our details and a S/. 5 entry to the reserve. Within a few moments the path sprawled into a multitude of possibilities.

It’s really obvious and easy to see’, another traveller, Raz, had said when we had discussed it yesterday. Really? We made a choice. It was the wrong one. Pathways disappeared and then possible pathways reappeared. We pushed on, not wanting to backtrack. And then finally, after two hours of scrambling over rocks and pushing bushes to the side, Pacha Mama guided us and we saw her, and she was beautiful. A proper, well-trodden path. Amazing.

Spirits lifted, we pushed on, but steep climbs and increasing altitude meant that every ten to twenty metres we had stop to catch our breath. I felt dizzy. I had a serious case of the sniffles and my head hurt. I popped some paracetomol.

A gentle downhill stretch passed a more rocky landscape brought some respite, winding slowly down to a waterfall that split and then trickled over boulders into a little pond. It was to be our picnic spot. And it was where we were overtaken by a group of fit, acclimatised Peruvians, who stopped for a quick chat and then marched onwards.

The path took us to the left of the waterfall and put my limited climbing experience to the test with an unavoidable ascent passed patches of snow. Although there were plenty of footholds and ledges to grab, the drop was steep. I didn’t look down. Grabbing thick wires bolted into the rock face and launching up to the next flatter section reminded me a bit of via ferrata that I had done a few years back. I wished I had brought a carabiner. The drop down would have been horrific: no helmet, no first aid kit, no way of calling for help.

A further ten minutes on from the climb and I arrived at Laguna Churup (4,450m). Finally, a destination success! And wow! Cliffs on the far side rising straight from the lake that sparkled in the sunshine, the bottom visible with black and turquoise and yellow patches, the water icy cold from the snow run-off of Mount Churup in the near distance. A stiff breeze rippled the surface, the lapping water on the mighty boulder peninsulas and the distant rush of the waterfall the only audible sounds.

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Re-energised, the way back felt like something out of an action-adventure film: swinging from branches, sliding down rock faces and running and bouncing along like a mountain goat

Um, okay, I can’t think of any action-adventure films with goats and I really wasn’t that agile, managing to lightly sprain both ankles on the way down.

We took the right path all the way back. Phew.

If you do this day trek then – if you want to do the regular, less adrenaline filled and random route – take the path to the left and up once you’ve paid the ranger, and not the tempting one to the right. Or take the one to the right and enjoy an unmapped scramble and ramble. Why not?!

Afterword

Bouncing along in a shared taxi-minibus (S/.8) the 3:00pm rain accompanies us on our journey back to Huaraz. The collectivo bursts a tyre and we sit on the roadside whilst the driver changes the wheel. We continue onwards and a young girl waves from the field as we drive by and I wave back. And we smile and wave at each other. I think about the altitude, about getting lost, about the walk in general: it was tough for the body, but good for the soul. I feel great.

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Walks and warnings in Vilcabamba

Tourists are drawn to Vilcabamba for the hiking and the laid back atmosphere. At Hostería Las Ruinas de Quinara I was provided with a map detailing five different routes, ranging from an easy stroll to Agua Hierro to a full day bus out and trek to the Solanda Waterfall.

Mandango Peak, a four hour looped hike up to an altitude of 2,050 metres sounded like a great option for some activity after a few city stops and long bus journeys. I arrived at the starting point on the outskirts of Vilcabamba with another traveller to a sign that read:

WARNING!

Before you climb the Mandango Mountain be advised.

The last reported violent robbery on this mountain took place in in broad daylight at midday on Thursday the 21th of July 2011 on the top of the mountain.

Five tourists were robbed by three men with machetes. They received light injuries and lost all of their valuables, including cameras, money, I-pod, cell phones, backpack and more…

The information went on to recommend that ‘you do not climb Mandango’ or, if  determined to do the trek, do it with a group of at least four people and carry absolutely no valuables (‘it is forbidden to take anything with you’).

In a place known for it’s safe, tranquil atmosphere, this was somewhat of a surprise and disappointment. We could go back, dump any valuables and try again, but it still remained that there were only two of us and the likelihood of recruiting two others was slim: there didn’t appear to be any other gringos in town. That, and the fact that the offenders were still on the loose. Great.

The next option that would work time-wise was a relaxed three to four hour walk to Cascada del Salado via the village of San Pedro, home of the notorious and intense hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, something the locals aren’t keen to promote to travellers.

Unsigned, this route took us down through the village and out on to a dusty dirt track alongside a gentle river. The sun shone, the water sparkled, and we hit a dead end. Wrong way. Butterflies and bees flitted about and occasional gusts of wind made the heat bearable. On the other side of the river, four young men lounged in the shade, machetes placed to the side as they took a siesta. We paddled, and picnicked on empañadas and then retraced our steps to another potential route.

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The path took us away from the river and along a more established road. We were on the right track, assured a weathered rider on horseback, just another hour to the waterfall. Turning back down towards the river, we followed a stream past fields of giant cacti and into the forest, eventually reaching a house.

Buenos tardes’, said a guy who was tilling the soil as we trudged by. I’m not sure whether I imagined it, but I picked up on some warm amusement and wandered if we were in fact trespassing on private land. He didn’t object as we followed a path up and out the back of the garden, past a mini waterfall and water collection system, and onwards along a narrow, overgrown track with a steep drop down to the river below.

The flow of water was intensifying; surely the waterfall was close. But again, the path reached an end. No waterfall.

Dusk arrived bringing with it some drizzle and a sense of defeat. It wasn’t meant to be. Not this time.

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Getting physical: Cotocachi and the Cuicocha Laguna

Time to get those legs working again

Time to get those legs working again

After more than two weeks  in Quito, I was feeling a real need to get my legs moving and even a walk right across town to Parque La Carolina hadn’t given my muscles enough of a workout. A ramble around the crater lake of Cuicocha at the base of the inactive Cotocachi volcano seemed like a perfect opportunity to check my legs still worked. A bus and taxi ride later followed by an entrance fee to Cotacachi Cayapas National Park and we arrived at a ghost gathering of market stalls. Some travellers jumped onto the boat to take them around the lagoon but a couple of strong lads and myself headed off in search of the starting point for the five hour hike. Who needs a map?

The first hour or so was vicious with constant climbing and sections along the route which seemed to be purposely designed for respite. I quickly lost my breath on the steeper ascents, but rapidly regained normal breathing once I stopped momentarily. The lagoon sits at an altitude of 3,200 metres and we were getting a good height above it, although nowhere near the summit of Cotocachi itself. The sun was beating down and the air was thin, but the far reaching views across dry, craggy edges and across to the surrounding volcanoes were spectacular.

First resting point

First resting point

The next section of the walk took us around the back of the mountain along dug out pathways and away from the lagoon. Completely different in character, I loved this section because, despite not having the grand views, it provided such a contrast and you felt close to the plants and the rocks and the dirt. Finally winding around the right side of the mountain again, we picnicked above clouds as they wafted in towards and above the lagoon.

Lake Cuicocha, Ecuador

Lake Cuicocha, Ecuador

The final part was the most bizarre. In amongst trees and constant up and downhill scrambles, it was beautiful and brought more birdlife to our attention, but as we progressed it also brought us back to the reality of human life with the presence of fencing and horses andcows. By the time we got to the end of the pathway and had trudged along a dusty, dirt road for half an hour past local land workers walking in the opposite direction, we started to suspect that we had taken a wrong turn. But where? There had been no obvious split in the path. Maybe, after all, a map would have been useful. Arriving finally at a deserted restaurant, the owner offered to taxi us back to the bus and I got to sit up front and practise my Spanish a little with some small talk.

I still don’t know if we got lost. Another guy I talked to at the hostel did the same route. It just seems to be a most disappointing, strange ending to an otherwise stunning walk. The one thing it does provide though, I suppose, is a continuation of the diversity of landscapes and views. I would, however, love to know if there is another way.

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