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I didn’t really know what I was in for when I decided to go back to Huaraz. I lost all my photos for this part of the trip.
Huaraz is my favorite city in Peru, in the Ancash province, and it reminded me of the high mountain areas in California. Ancash is a golden land, splashed with green farms under the strong sun. White mountain peaks slice upward through distant haze, and the slopes of the hill country are dotted with groves of eucalyptus trees. It’s cold, Ancash is the highland, but I thought it seemed to be a less rainy climate than Cusco. Although, unlike California, I would learn it still rains quite a bit here.
I decided, the day I was sitting confused in a park in the city Abancay, that I would give up my convoluted journey through the mountain villages of that province, and just take the bus directly to Huaraz. I would have to take two busses though, and route through the capital city Lima. Both my busses would be overnight busses.
So I spent the rest of my strange day in Abancay feeling better about now having a decent plans for how to spend the weeks ahead. In fact, I had about two weeks before a flight I had purchased, one way to Kauai island in Hawaii. Still I have a hard time finding an excuse for why I went there, but it was somewhere I always wanted to go. I would spend my next two weeks just trying to live a low impact and low cost existence out in the Andes mountains near Huascaran National Park, hiking and camping and such. Then to Kauai where I could plan the next phase of my life and live/ hopefully work there for however long I pleased.
I didn’t spend spend the night in Lima, just a day long layover between my extraordinarily cheap cross country bus rides. 5AM and the bus let me loose onto the streets of Huaraz. Just me, no other passengers disembarked, and I was alone on the quiet streets of the city before it had woken up.
No clouds in the sky, no puddles on the ground like Cuzco. The early morning was dry, the sun was just beginning to shine bright and illuminated the mountain peaks behind the colonial Spanish architecture of Huaraz. I decided even though I was a bit sleepy, to WAKE UP! And take advantage of the day!
All morning I ran around town, but also wasted a lot of time sitting at a breakfast place, then a coffee shop. A trip to the grocery store and I wasn’t left with much more beautiful morning weather before the ominous clouds rolled in like they unfortunately do every day. I still wasn’t getting a hotel tonight, no… I’ll go for a hike and camp in the hills.
I still had food leftover from the Ausangate trip and and I wanted to finish it up. I decided, two more nights, three more days hiking around the mountains here. So i plunged out of Huaraz almost as abruptly as I entered it that morning, and soon found myself lost on village roads above the town. I found it amazing though, that somehow on my phone I had maps of the entire area downloaded without my knowledge. Thanks Amy!
So i hiked away, and partly looking at the maps, partly looking at the surrounding landscape, i decided where I wanted to go. For the most part, i figured I’d just keep following this country road as far as it will go. And it was going up!
It is, in fact, a bit drier/ warmer climate in the city of Huaraz compared to Cusco, but that is because Huaraz is lower elevation, in a deeper valley than Cusco. It didn’t take long to hike upwards into a higher elevation place that was more rainy and cold, and soon a dismal rain began. I hiked in it, but it persisted for 3 hours. Soon I was soaked.
I was on the edge of the villages before they met the sparse, alpine, ungated farmlands of Peru. I took shelter in an abandoned hut, dusty stone floors, mud walls, and a corrugated tin roof. I just sat there in the hut, plants grew inside it, and out of sight from the village people I watched the rain stream off the roof looking out to the gloomy eucalyptus. Waiting… I suppose I could just sleep here, there’s no difference… But I wanted to hike! The rain finally stopped and I went out into the world.
The road became rougher and climbed higher. I sat in the fluffy Peruvian grass and looked at the beautiful view down to Huaraz and all the mountains. The groves of trees, and further still in the direction I was walking, the white peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. Though this time of year they are usually hard to make out through haze or mist, clouds or rain.
The weather had completely improved, the place had dried, and it wasn’t long before I needed to find my camp. Unfortunately it was chillier up here, and I had left the tree cover below me accidently… All I had was rocky alpine places, and I set up camp behind a huge rock. It gave me a semblance of a cave, and I decided to take it. I figured it was probably done raining. I set up a tarp over me just in case…
Then the rain came. Damnit… Stahhp… It didn’t stop. It just kept raining and raining so persistently. It would get stronger and weaker without pause. It was 4PM when it started, and I stayed dry through 6PM and the sunset.
I fell asleep not long after, but when it was still raining at 8PM I saw as my shelter was beginning to fail. This tarp is new, I actually bought it from REI (of all places) for 5$. However, once it becomes totally wet it completely fails me every time. I watched as raindrops would simply bleed right through onto my bivy sack. The bivvy will keep me dry for a while but is also old and doesn’t work great.
I woke up and slept many times, but then upon waking up when it was really late at night, and the rain was still insanely, maddeningly, persisting without fail, I pretty much flipped out. It rained solid for 8 hours on me until I was completely soaked, although the cave was protecting my head and backpack, but my sleeping bag was only getting wetter.
I was angry, but then I realized fireworks were happening far down in the valley below at Huaraz. I watched transfixed from my perch above the valley at the far off sparkling lights through the misty night. I had forgotten tonight was New Years. More fireworks appeared from different parts of the city. I had a unique, mountainside view to see this display from very high up and very far away.
Then more fireworks appeared and I was in awe. South America knows how to put on a show! In the US, in a city, we usually have one place, doing a big fireworks display, but here- every place was doing a small fireworks display. The entire valley erupted before my eyes below me, and fireworks were coming from the hills all around! The whole place filled with smoke before long and towards the end the show was disappearing behind it.
I had been very mad at the rain but now I was just laughing at myself and figured it was a memorable way to welcome in the New Year, at least!
The rain stopped after midnight and everything was okay through morning when the sun came out. I got up and tore apart my campsite to set everything to dry in the sun for a while. I saw this mountain spike rising from behind the enormous hills above me, I think that’s the one… The one according to my map that has the trail to the top. My plan is to hike over to it tonight and climb up that trail tomorrow morning. Vallunaraju is the name.
So I went cross country for a while through the alpine grass and mucky marshlands. I connected with a trail towards the glacial lake Llaca. I crossed the border to the national park. I saw a huge wall of rock that I was hiking to, and it had a crack sliced through it- an epic canyon.
The trail switch backed a bit, and soon it was entering the mysterious place high along the rock walls of that canyon. The canyon widened as the trail went back into it. By now, unfortunately, misty clouds had rolled in as always. The summits and tops of everything had vanished, but the waterfalls were fantastic pouring down the sides of this enormous mountain valley.
Also the plant life here is amazing; a tree grows among the moss with a reddish bark that resembles piles of ripped up parchment paper, it’s leaves are almost blue. Vines grow throughout with bright red and orange puffball flowers. Some different plants grow here in the alpine lands of Huascaran N.P. than anywhere else in South America (or the world).
I met two Canadian dudes, and they were so hilarious that I wound up making friends and hiking with them all day! Together we made it to the Llaca glacier. There was a strange grey lake with icebergs floating in it where the glaciers came down from the enormous snowy peaks and terminated. It was raining on and off but the mountains were still impressive, though more tame than Ausangate.
My two friends and I hiked back out. We took a different trail down the opposite side of the canyon to where I saw a small shack on its own. Oh maybe, just maybe, it is the perfect camp spot for me on this extremely rainy night to come. I said goodbye to my friends and made my way across the valley to it.
I was travelling the side of a hill for a long way before I came to streams I had to cross… I crossed a few in a row that were pouring down the hill, then I came to a stream that was too huge to cross. I scouted for a long time and as I found a suitable spot, my tarp decided to fall out of my backpack and get carried away in the raging waters. I chased it, and it had become pinned under an enormous rapid. I couldn’t reach it, I tried to get it unstuck from under the small waterfall with sticks. It was no use at all! Although I could see my tarp right in front of me, the stream was too strong and it was literally impossible to retrieve it.
Oh well, the tarp was crap anyway. But as I crouched there trying to get it, my flip flops jumped right out of my pack and into the stream! One I retrieved, the other was completely carried away and lost. Grr… I angrily threw the recovered, lone flip flop back into the stream. I abandoned the tarp and went on my way.
This wretched stream had split into a dozen streams, and soon I came to one that was truly impossible to cross. The perfect looking cabin was just on the other side. It took me an exceedingly long time to find a way, but I found one, if not a bit treacherous, hopping across on rocks. The problem is the water is very high because January here is the height of the rainy season, so all the streams are flowing strong.
When I got to the cabin it was locked and only served to house some kind of power generator. I was pissed. I left and made my way directly up the steep hill behind the cabin which would connect me to the main trail. Back on the main trail again- earlier I had seen an empty building. Let’s go check that out for a camp spot. When I arrived there was a park ranger. “Oh fuck!” was of course my reaction.
I told him I wanted to camp and he said that was fine, but I had to pay. Alright no problem, I knew I was supposed to pay 10 soles to be in the national park… He wanted 65 soles!! I realized, oh, that’s the price if you are planning to camp. Well, this actually was my downfall in the end, I refused.
“No, I’m not paying that!” I told him. (No puedo pagar para esto!) I was pretty angry too… If there had been a good spot to camp then I would have paid but since there wasn’t… “Puedo caminar mas, salir el parque… econtrar un otra campamento.” He knew it was a long walk to leave the park, so he knew I was lying! But It didn’t matter because I truly refused to pay. I gave him the ten soles for the simple entrance fee and left the area.
Maybe sometimes I’m too cheap, but I don’t like getting my money stolen when I’m out in the wilderness. I wasn’t quite sure what to do now. I would try and get down out of this alpine world and look for a cave. Looks like I’m giving up my plans to hike this Vallunaraju mountain trail tomorrow though, I’ll be in trouble if this guy sees me again. I’ll just do something else……
I found the most incredible cave! It was high up on the hillside with a stunning view. It was an enormous rock that people had built a rock wall on the side of. It was OLD! The wall was covered in moss, this cave looked like it could possibly be from ancient Inca times. I setup camp in it, and spent the rest of the evening cooking dinner and looking out to the mountain world through the curtains of heavy rain. I stayed totally dry in there.
In the middle of the night however, I realized the cave was haunted. I heard spooky voices in my dreams and then would wake up to a drop of water dripping right on my face from the dank ceiling. I would move and then later in the night the drop would still hit my face!
Then I dreamed someone was sitting in the cave with me on a rock, just a dark shadow of some Inca man. Ahh! Then I woke up and he was still there, until I realized it was just the shadows, as he “vanished” into the night.
In the morning I packed up into beautiful weather as always in morning, and left.
Today I hiked out of the canyon in the national park, and decided to hike back to Huaraz, but to take the long way. I saw a distant road across the sweeping mountain valley. I would take that road back to Huaraz, but first I’d have to hike very far to the distant end of the road I’m currently on, in order to connect to that road. I’d make a big loop of this whole area, and it looked from my map that to actually connect the two roads I’d have to do a little cross-country. It was early, but I realized this was a very big mile day so I better move! Even if I’m just walking on the deserted mountain roads.
The hike took me along the edge of where the grassy highlands rose up into huge hills of granite, and up to make the mountain peaks behind them somewhere. There were other mysterious canyons in the rock wall similar to Llaca, where you could see a raging stream had carved a rift in the granite hills.
I passed the Churup trail and kept following the long lonely road. The road finally entered a canyon, and I could see the other road I wanted to take, and how I would have to get to it. I had to cross a stream, and then I’d have to cross another.
I plunged off the side of the Hill through someone’s farmland and made it to the first stream I had to cross. Right away I found a bridge. Oh spectacular! And looking at the stream as I crossed over the rickety bridge, it looked like it would actually be exceptionally difficult to cross without this bridge.
So I continued. I was in the bushes. I bushwhacked and found bits of trails, and made it to farmland I could cross. Before long I was on top of a hill.
The rain was just starting and I was trying to get through the area quickly so I could find shelter if I needed to wait it out. I went down the other side of the hill into the next valley. The road I needed to connect with was just on the other side. I thought I saw a main trail that was headed down to the stream, and if I took it down I would probably find another bridge. I plunged down and made it to the stream.
There was no bridge. I kept walking downhill and that was a bad choice – I should have hiked uphill to where the stream would eventually get smaller. I looked for somewhere to cross and around each bend in the river, I couldn’t find it.
This stream wasn’t so wide, but it was incredibly swift and I couldn’t tell how deep it was. I couldn’t risk fording it, it just looked too strong. It was just slightly too wide to jump. All I had to do was cross it – one time! And then I could climb up the other side of the valley to the road and it’s downhill all the way to Huaraz.
Rocks to jump across were always placed just a little bit wrong, sometimes they were covered with the rushing rapids. I went far, way too far, downstream. I crossed terrain and bushes and was a bit frantic/ rushed in the rainy weather. Then I saw a place where I could jump.
It was a spot where the river was narrow enough between the grassy banks on each side… but it wasn’t ideal so I kept searching. A bit farther downstream and I came to cliffs and a bad area where the river fell away in waterfalls.
So with that I turned back. Upon arriving back at the spot to jump I hesitated and contemplated it. I decided to do it. I had done this method before, but I’ll never do it again!
I took my backpack off to throw it across first. The problem was the backpack was pretty heavy, containing all my stuff… I thoughtlessly, even on a whim, let it fly. It landed on the opposite bank standing vertically, but then it toppled over and rolled away. It rolled right into the river of course.
Now this was a very stupid idea in every way because my backpack had fragile things in it, like my camera and laptop, that if I had been thinking clearly I wouldn’t have thrown in the first place. Of course, I’ve learned, you can’t turn back time, so the instant it was thrown it was a little too late.
I watched in horror as my heavy backpack floating on the raging rapids was slowly pulled into motion. I chased it downstream very upset. Wow this sucked. The river was too wide, and the banks too steep, the bag floated just out of reach. I should have jumped in, but then again I didn’t want to die. I watched as the (broken) waterproof bag containing my laptop and journals, as well as all my camera memory cards from times gone by, and external hard drive with my backup files, as well as my passport, wallet, and all other papers, separated from the backpack and went over the next waterfall on its own.
Alarm bells were going off in my head of course! The backpack with my beloved camera was coming in and out of the water. I watched as the rapids tore apart my alpaca Inca sweatshirt. My brand new sleeping bag and bright blue raincoat floated around on their own too, and a blue bag full of my clothes. I had to run through bushes to chase it as it snaked around the riverbends.
At a bend in the river where it widened, I was able to rush out into the water up to my waist. Shoes and all I plunged in, but didn’t dare go out any deeper into the current. I snatched the blue bag of my clothes. The sleeping bag passed just outside of my reach and became pinned under a waterfall where it was impossible to reach for a while before vanishing downstream.
Trash floated around in the river. Though I searched extensively, perhaps it sunk, I never saw the backpack or the laptop bag again.
Needless to say I was very unhappy as I wandered aimlessly, completely traumatized, clutching that soaking bag of clothes I recovered. Useless clothes too, my rain gear had washed away and it was currently raining on me. I’d be cold soon. I walked back and forth up the river. I had lost everything.
I came to the spot with the cliffs and waterfalls and navigated passed them to continue following the river, searching in vain for my stuff. It was no use. I hiked far and the river only widened to become truly uncrossable and finally I met the spot where the river converged with the other river I had crossed earlier in the day.
The land ended like I was on an island, my only option was to turn back. There was a Quechua lady farming across the river and she was yelling directions at me. She could tell I was in trouble, although we could not hear each other. All I could hear of her over the churning rapids was a faint screechy voice. She signaled to climb straight up the hill behind me… so I did that.
She watched me scramble in my panic up the wickedly steep hill. At the top I surveyed the landscape. It was good advice to climb this hill… up here I have removed myself from the lost situation I was in down there. I collected myself… and slowly started hiking back towards the way I came. The rain had stopped and would be off and on all day. It was a long way until I would be hiking on a road where I can hitchhike a ride.
I went back through all the bushes retracing my steps from earlier and made it eventually to the road. I hiked back. What a feeling I had, with nothing. A dismal feeling, but then again there was no weight on my back. I tormented myself about the things I had lost. Now I understand that feeling people have when their house burns down- to have lost all your stuff.
I was cold, wet and hungry. I had run out of food this morning and hadn’t eaten a proper meal all day. Well, happy new year, I guess I’ll be making a fresh start, but before doing anything I need to get down this mountain first.
It took all afternoon hiking on the road, but finally I saw a big van coming and I stood in the road and forced them to stop. I talked to them, told them my story and they gave me a ride. “Perdido mi mochila y todas mi cosas,” that would become my new catchphrase! They brought me to Huaraz.
I went to the bank first, and they wouldn’t help me. Unfortunately, I am in distant country, because if I had walked into bank of America with no bank card or ID they still would have helped me. But there’s no Bank of America in Peru, just Scotiabank, although they are the same bank… They wouldn’t help.
I need money! Because spending the night on the cold streets in the rain with just my T-shirt and shorts is REALLY going to suck. I waited in a lot of long line and was reduced to tears. I realized I had three soles in my pocket, and with them I went to the little internet tienda and paid to use the computer.
I successfully contacted my mom! Oh yes, without her I would have frozen on the streets. She called a hotel and paid with her card over the phone. When I went to the hotel they charged her card and gave me 60 soles cash! I went immediately to go eat some chicken and noodles at a restaurant, I was starved. So much was wrong, but to start, I took a hot shower.
Strange days would pass for the rest of my time in Peru, and I became very familiar with the classic Peruvian bureaucracy. I might have learned a lesson or two… For one, don’t throw your backpack across a river, that one’s uh, obvious… But another moral…
My original plan had me climbing a mountain trail in Huascaran National Park and if I had stuck with that plan then this wouldn’t have happened. I changed plans because I was too cheap! Well, I had been cheap for this whole trip and now look, I just lost more money than all I had penny-pinched in an instant. And then it all came back- because two days later, my brother Jimmy started a GoFundMe to raise money to replace my stuff.
I didn’t think he needed to do that, or that it would really work, I’m not sure what I thought but within 12 hours of him creating it he had raised 1800$ for me. I hadn’t checked the internet in that time or even shared the link myself. I was in disbelief, and seeing as how that’s enough money to replace all my gear, it’s kind of like I lost it all and in a way it came back like magic.
Maybe life is a little magical, and to all you guys who donated, I owe you all a postcard and sincere thank you letter. Seriously, thank you!! It puts into perspective being “cheap” for me, and how maybe in life things and money come and go. Everything… is temporary. Maybe worrying about it is not the most productive thing.
So I accept that I lost my stuff, and today I’m here in Hawaii writing this, and trying to get my life back on track. Whatever that means. It’s a gorgeous morning of sunshine and light rain but I’m dry in my new tent which I got for 20$. I may have no camera to take pictures here, but I’ll spend that donated money soon and buy a bunch of stuff. What a privilege to get new stuff and I don’t know what I did to deserve this but I promise I will pay it forward. So really thanks again.