The Andes

Noise. Crashing, blaring, banging, beeping noise all around me. These cities in South America are just so noisy, I don’t know how people can stand it! Traffic is rushing passed, beeping madly as always. Instead of birdsong in the city it’s loud beeping and it never stops. The buses are loud, the motorcycles are loud. It’s dark, and warm tonight. Colorful lights, red and white, yellow neon are all around me. Someone flies past on a bicycle. A man is sleeping on the ground, a lady is calling out from behind her popcorn stand, two people kiss here in the park where I’m sitting with my back up against a tree. There’s people everywhere, the city feels alive. I’ve been procrastinating my writings (I’m very good at procrastinating!) about a couple of difficult days I had in the mountains…I haven’t been down for long and already I’m waiting here for a bus to take me right back to the mountains. I’m sure only more difficult days lie ahead in these high Andes, but of course they’re so rewarding!


Mostly things are difficult because of the cold, rainy weather, but I’m currently in Lima, Peru where the climate is very different. I am happily sitting here this evening in just my tank top and shorts, enjoying the dry, tropical night air. It has been a bit of a journey to get here, where did I leave off…





I woke up at 3AM and gazed out my shelter to see lightning. I dozed off, and a little later checked again to see the stars. That was enough to get me up, the weather outside was clear. There was lightning flashing in the dim light of dawn around one high peak and I decided it wasn’t threatening me.


I vacated the despicable shelter, although I was grateful for it protecting me from the cold… it really was a filthy little hole though. I piled my stuff outside on the ground. I was drowsy, but only for a few moments and by the time I had my hiking clothes on in the freezing morning I felt very refreshed and ready to go! I was excited for this day, which looked like it would be beautiful, and I hiked into the strange alpine world before the sun came up.



The valley I crossed was a typical mountain paradise with a classic rocky beast framed perfectly in the background. I saw llamas and a little village too. I was early enough that the toll booth to charge people to hike this trail was closed! Probably still before 6AM, I slipped by unnoticed and made it to the main road. I hiked into the fresh and damp Andean morning. Ausangate made an appearance very dramatically as it emerged from the clouds, behind the green and red barren peaks. It is unbelievable how huge it is, it stands twice as tall as anything else and is just a wall of glacier snow. Green, maroon/ red, white… this is the landscape, nice colors, short grass, no trees… llamas walking everywhere, the occasional Quechua lady dressed in traditional garb slowly wandering the hills… Green, maroon, white, these should be the colors on Peru’s flag, except the government of Peru seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the people of Peru so it probably doesn’t realize this.  



From there I climbed a trail into the hills and made my way closer and closer to the mighty Ausangate. I arrived at Ausangate Lake where the huge glacier terminated in snow slides and waterfalls right to the shore. I watched avalanches happen into this wild little gray lake, and yelled to make echoes boom off the rocks and hopefully cause more avalanches! The trail went directly up from there and it was quite long and exhausting overall. I climbed up to 5,300 meters, or roughly 16,000 feet, the highest elevation I’ve ever been at in my life. Towards the top of that barren mountain pass I became very lightheaded and had a hard time continuing forward. A massive headache had erupted much earlier in the day and had only been getting worse.


The weather remained fine though, but as I went down the other side of the mountain the clouds were threatening. The view was absolutely fantastic and I looked into a pink lake at the base of a glacier, the mountain wrapping around the scene. I made it down before long, through a valley with farmlands and behind the little farm houses the snowy mountains were framed. Children were running around the fields with their parents and I wondered what it would be like growing up here, with a gigantic rock formation in your backyard and a towering 300 foot waterfall just casually roaring away. Never snowing, but never warm, and no towns or roads anywhere nearby…


I was absolutely destroyed today from exhaustion, perhaps compounded from yesterday as well, and my head was throbbing. I was so fortunate to find this incredible cave on the side of a steep hill. I took shelter there for the night with a view out to all the vast and strange barren land. My home was clean, mossy, totally sheltered and quite comfortable; more than I could have ever asked for.

Nevado Mariposa Ausangate peru cuzco trekking

The view on the backside of Palomani Pass, Nevado Mariposa

llamas ausangate peru palomani pass cuzco

climbing Palomani Pass, the highest on the route




I woke up in my cave but it seemed a little stormy. I had enough food for many days more, in theory I could just stay here and relax in this cave all day. The problem is I WANT to hike! So I left.


I got lost around that massive waterfall first thing in the morning and wound up tromping through muddy bog lands, but eventually found my way. The sun came out strong as I was looking for a spot for breakfast, and I saw a tent pitched in the meadow. It was my friends! Carmen from Alaska, and Michael from Germany, glad to finally have run into them again, I hadn’t seen them since we parted ways for rainbow mountain. We had some good stories to share, and we relaxed and ate breakfast together in the sunshine. Oh yeah, Merry Christmas, we half-heartedly acknowledged… Maybe way out in this wilderness alone was not where we were supposed to be on Christmas, but here we were. We drank wine together to celebrate it!


I stayed with them for a long time but eventually went on my way. I had a mountain pass to climb and even though the sun was out, YESTERDAY was the nice weather day. Today, I predicted, would then be the stormy day. Sure enough, as I neared the top of the pass the storm came. It was dark and menacing, and the pass was extremely high. My headache had returned as well, it was pounding mercilessly. Interesting, this headache: it was definitely from elevation sickness which almost never affects me, but being up here above 13,000 feet day after day… I thought I would become accustomed to the elevation. The very opposite happened, where for the first few days at high elevation I felt perfectly fine, and then the last few days I had deteriorated to this condition.


The mountains at the pass were like daggers; razor sharpened peaks standing on both sides and the trail snaking through them. They were menacing mountains, rarely does one see mountains as sinister as these. The clouds were black behind them, and lightning bolts arced through the sky one after another, with thunder following. I was very nervous and terrified, as well as in pain, as I ascended into the lightning storm among the horrible mountains but what could I expect. It was afternoon, and I had been slow all day, so this is what I get! Hopefully not struck by lightning but I’ll just keep walking and try to get down.


On top of the pass the snow storm broke on me and I was lost in the whiteout conditions for a while. I just kept hiking, the snow wasn’t so bad because it wasn’t as wet as rain. It eventually stopped, and left the ground a snow dusted winter wonderland. The jagged, insane mountains with their twisted glaciers and flowing rock faces finally popped out of the clouds. The view was very distracting as it slowly changed while I hiked. I took lots of pictures but unfortunately lost them all! Except this one-



I saw some teal and turquoise lakes that I was hiking towards, and these lakes meant the Ausangate trek was nearly finished. I was still in terrible pain from my head and just needed to stop hiking. I looked for shelter as I neared the farmlands.


Dogs would come out and bark at me all the time, but then one ancient Quechua lady taught me what to do. She yelled at the dog and threw rocks at it! That did seem to work, the lady did not speak Spanish, only Quechua, and her mouth was fearfully rotten black with no teeth. Of course she was wearing bright woolen clothes striped with pink and green and red, under a huge rainbow sombrero with silver bangles hanging off it. I passed some houses and contemplated spot after spot but nothing was sufficient. I passed a barn that would have been good except it was full of llama poop. I considered it, because aside from the poop it was a great shelter. …No! Damnit, no, I am not going to sleep in the shit house, I have to have SOME standards. I kept searching.


And searching, and searching, until the light was leaving the sky and I had hopped over countless streams and crossed through a maze of alpine boulder fields. I was lost among these boulders for what felt like hours just looking for one I could shelter behind. The pain in my head had become numb with the adrenaline I had from the stress of not being able to find a spot. It was turning out to be a really lousy evening, and I was ready to just collapse. I was almost unable to continue any further, almost to the breaking point. I had seen two Quechua people that evening, young people my age. I wonder about the young people living out here… The man was pushing his motorcycle through the streams across the rough road, and the woman was holding her baby away from the cold fog. And they both got back on the motorcycle and continued up the mountain. Must be a hard life up here, but it’s hard to quite imagine…


Finally, at long last I found the most perfect cave I could ever ask for. In it, I was completely sheltered with a view out to huge snowy monsters of mountains which were obscured by wet white clouds. I setup camp and laid down as the sun was getting low around 5PM, but I fell completely asleep. I slept through dinner, and all the way until 10AM the next day!




In the morning, I decided to get down and go to Cuzco. I had enough food to spend days longer, but it was about time to go. It had been 6 days in the mountains. I hiked down. A few weird occurances happened to me, a young boy walked out into the street from nowhere, with no people in sight for miles. He was very dirty and had red on his cheeks which I see a lot in the young children here, he was probably about 5. “Darme plata,” was all he said to me, and I understood right away what he said, “Give me money,” but it took a minute for that to register. I didn’t give him any money… I also met people who were picking mushrooms and who made some comment like they had no food. Sad stuff up here, especially the state of these peoples teeth sometimes, you see such bad teeth problems, but what’s even worse is when you see children with black and rotting teeth. How can that happen, is what I wonder…                  


I made it to the tiny town of Tinke at long last, the place this crazy mountain journey had started. I got on the road and hitchhiked. I was taken right away and brought to Acongate where a magical bus was waiting for me, so cheap it might as well have been free, and heading right to Cuzco.




I spent the next two nights in a hostel in Cuzco, what luxury! I had hot showers and made lots of friends, I was able to do some writing and enjoyed the free french breakfast each morning of crepes and crusty bread with butter, jam, and dulce de leche, coca tea and tons of coffee. It was a shame to leave, but I had to carry on, and I shouldered my heavy pack for the journey ahead.


I had made sort-of a plan of what to do; I wanted to travel to Huaraz, another town in the mountains. However, I really wanted to spend as little money as possible, and I didn’t want to just purchase bus tickets to get there… It was extremely far away, and I didn’t really have anything to do once I got there either…So I figured I would try and hitchhike, I had about 2 weeks left before I would leave Peru, and my next adventure would bring me to Hawaii…I wasn’t totally sure what I was doing, but going forward and hoping it would all someday become clear. It was all I could do!


So I walked away from my hostel in Cuzco, and I walked. I walked all the way across the city and began to climb the mountains on the highway. Before I knew it I was high above Cuzco looking over all the red brick sprawling ghettos built into the mountainsides. The alpine land was sage green and the dark storm clouds were menacing as usual. I kept hiking and finally left the city boundaries.


It rained on me. A little girl formally told me buenas tardes. A taxi driver told me what I was doing was dangerous, trying to convince me to get a taxi ride but it wasn’t happening! Two ladies gave me fruit from their stands for free! Praising me for all my hiking. The fruit was a bit rotten but I ate most of it. But the rains have a way of getting you down and I sat beneath some eucalyptus trees on a bench feeling sad, and watching the rain drip from a tin roof sheltering me. What am I doing?


Still don’t know, and I kept walking, then I hitch hiked and was picked up two times. I was brought to a small town called Anta. Some little girl yelled “gringo-gringo!” and pointed at me. I just hate that more and more as time goes on, I don’t like being called upon and singled out because I’m white. I was feeling real crappy, and I stood in the rain hitchhiking longer until I decided to give up. I wouldn’t be such good company in the car anyway…


I walked back and broke down to tears for no real reason, and decided to medicate by getting a bunch of fast food chicken and just purchase a damn bus to the city of Abancay. I knew Abancay, I had been there with Amy. It was next on my journey to Huaraz. It rained a lot on the entire bus ride and when I was let off into the night time streets of Abancay, I got completely lost and soaked. The city really is a maze. I eventually found the same hotel I stayed at with Amy, and they even gave me the same exact room we had been in. That made me feel better and I had a restful night.


But in the morning I was crazy again after leaving the hotel, I just didn’t have very good plans. I couldn’t figure out how I would take the roads to get to the next city on my way to Huaraz, the city is called Andahuaylas. There was a bridge which was out, it would involve a long detour, and then I realized it was like a 16 hour drive anyway. The reason the proper route to go between Huaraz and Cuzco always involves a trip to the coast and stop over at Lima, is because travel THROUGH the mountains is really difficult. I really didn’t want to hitch that far, and it would cost more and take much more time to take busses. Someday I’d love to travel that route, but I’m about sick of it right now! So I gave up my hitchhiking journey.


Before I really settled to give up my hitchhiking journey though, I drove myself super crazy and became lost in maze-like Abancay, until some lady finally asked me what was wrong and just pointed me to the bus station. I checked all the bus prices, and decided, yup! I give up this plan! Off to Lima! Bought the ticket and went to go sit in the park for a while and calm down. After that I spent the day wandering and wound up really exploring Abancay. What a great town, quite a bit warmer than Cuzco with more tropical plants and flowers. I walked off the edge of town and met two old drunk guys who forced me to come and hang out with them, and I wound up sitting there for a very long time. They got me completely drunk, which is what I needed. So I was perfectly happy to visit with them in my bad Spanish, and really thankful, and they hugged me goodbye at some point and told me about how Abancay is the best place in Peru. After that I went and climbed a small mountain and spent the rest of the evening looking out at the view.
Then about 11PM I got on my bus. It took me down out of the mountains to a different climate. It was a really comfortable bus ride, I had two seats to myself. What luxury! In the morning I was in a familiar city.