October 4, 2005
It was a long day. I had to get up at 6:00 AM to meet up with the rest of the people for my trek. After being up late the last several nights, getting up at sunrise was really rough. There was good news, though. I thought I was going to have to take my big backpack for the trip because one of the shoulder straps on my daypack ripped apart on my flight to Peru. I took it to a tailor the night before, but I didn't think I'd be able to pick it up in time. However, not only was the tailor awake, but he had fixed my backpack, and he only charged me 1 Sol (30 cents) for the privilege.
After throwing a few items in my newly-fixed daypack and putting together a bag for the donkeys to carry, I headed out to the tour agency to meet everyone and get our gear together. The tour would consist of seven people besides me:
Morad, from France, who had been traveling with me to this point
Erik, from France, who is currently living in Australia, but thinks he is Bolivian
Mickey, from Israel, who despite not speaking Spanish has an uncanny ability to bargain for everything from this trip to a night's stay in a hostel
Benjamin, from Germany, who will be returning to Berlin soon to continue studying electrical engineering
Carolina, from Switzerland, who has been traveling around the Americas for over a year
Gregorio, our quiet 18 year old guide
Our donkey man
Everyone in the group was traveling independently, which made it easy to get to know each other. Also, everyone except me spoke at least three languages, so I'm pretty sure they were all talking about me in French or German behind my back the whole time.
To start our trip from Huaraz, we rode a typical Peruvian bus for an hour to a small town where we ate breakfast. No sooner than we had gotten there, Benjamin was nowhere to be found. It turned out that he had just gotten into Huaraz that morning and hadn't gotten a chance to do such essential things as go to the bathroom or use the Internet. Morad went looking for him, but then he didn't come back. One by one, people kept disappearing. It was like one of those cheesy horror movies from the '80s where the killer just sat back and waited for people to leave the main group. I decided to stay put. After finally getting everyone rounded up, we ate sandwiches with beef and onions at eight in the morning, and took off in another bus.
Most Peruvian buses aren't buses as we know them in the US. They are really just ten-passenger vans that are not made for people more than five feet tall. I counted thirteen people in our bus for the majority of our trip, but I was told that it would take twenty people to meet the Peruvian definition of "full."
We rode the bus for three hours. The majority of the trip was up a mountain. There were no guardrails on the narrow gravel road, so I got a little freaked out at times. Everyone else seemed calm, though, so it was probably a safe road, at least relatively speaking. The road kept twisting and turning up the mountain, slowly but surely. Along the way, we passed a majestic lagoon and some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen, but we never stopped. I was told that the bus driver was in a hurry. The way the road wound up the mountain, I kept seeing the same scenery over and over, smaller and smaller. Finally, we got to the top of the mountain and began our descent. We had to go back down the other side of the mountain for thirty minutes until we reached the start of our trek.
After the three hour bus ride, we arrived at Vaqueria, our starting point. The only problem was that our donkeys had not yet arrived. This tour already seemed very unorganized. I guess that's what you get for going the cheap route. We ended up waiting for over an hour before being able to depart. Why were we in such a hurry to get there that we couldn't even stop to take a few pictures?
The first few hours of the trek took us through several native villages. There were people doing laundry, farmers working in fields, local children following us, and of course lots of animals being herded. It was very interesting to see how the native farmers go about their daily lives.
After walking across rivers, through forests, around lagoons, and past mountains, we arrived at our camp. We walked for a total of four hours. The walk itself wasn't very difficult, but there was little daylight left when we got to camp. That's when I really noticed how disorganized the tour was.
With dark setting in and the temperature quickly dropping to below freezing, our guide and donkey guy worked quickly to get the tents set up and cook dinner. The only problem was that they didn't have a flashlight, a pocket knife, a scissors, or enough silverware for everyone. We had to stand around with our flashlights and give them enough light to cook. There also were no chairs, so we had to eat on the ground.
Despite the few problems I had with the lack or organization, I still enjoyed my day. I saw some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen, and I got to enjoy getting away from civilization for awhile. The group was still in good spirit going into day two, which would prove to be the toughest day of the trip.
The complete photo album for this entry is here.