Peru: Breathtaking Huaraz and The Stunning Santa Cruz Trek

Published: June 13th 2018
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Huaraz (25/05/2018-03/06/2018)
I wandered the empty streets of Huaraz at 5.30am in the dark looking for my hostel, but I felt totally safe. I climbed the steep cobble-stone street up to Alpes Hostel, gasping for breath (oh hello, altitude issues!) and checked in to this beautiful hostel. Whilst searching the long corridors (and many floors) for the baños, I accidentally stumbled onto the hostel rooftop... where there was a gorgeous sunrise over the surrounding jagged, snow-capped mountains. Wow.. Huaraz, you are beautiful! What a view! Still tired from the lack of sleep on the night bus, I napped in the cold, breakfast room until 9pm when the staff (so much love for the staff here) let me check in early. I went for a second nap (in my bed this time) before rising at 11am to the sound of two gringos (one German, one English) planning a trip to local thermal baths. "Come with us" they said, "we have a van!" I was sold.

The German was crazy and rarely spoke, but when he did it was always something bizarre and unrelated to the topic of conversation. The English guy was the absolutely bonkers, highly-strung, ADHD-diagnosed Thomas from Staffordshire. I liked him instantly when he told me he'd snuck into Glastonbury festival wearing a paramedic outfit (complete with NHS lanyard and badge) he created.. not once, not twice, but three years running. Tom has been on the road for 14 months already, traveling in a van he purchased and converted in Chile. I couldn't get over how cool the van was... it had a pretty ceiling tapestry, pretty gold tassels, and an epic, ear-splitting, sound system.

Chancos Thermal Baths
30km north of Huaraz, these Peruvian thermal baths were a very... unique experience. Not entirely sure exactly what we were paying for.. we went round the "spa" to experience the delights that were on offer (whilst the locals didn't take their eyes off our pasty bodies)! Firstly, there was us three (basically total strangers) hilariously huddling together in a "pozo" - a large bath tub (akin to a coffin), full of green water and floating bits of "plants", and a large pink plunger which we quickly learnt was the plug. We also had a soak in the warm, thermal piscina and lastly, we checked out the "cuaves" (caves); large, terrifying, pitch-black, natural sauna caves carved into the mountainside. There were a variety of cuaves, one even at 54 degrees! As we reluctantly entered our chosen one, the smell of urine immediately filled our nostrils.. limiting our ability to relax and enjoy the moment. We squished together on a tiny bench in the middle of a large cave, surrounded by the dripping wet, steamy, stone walls. Hilariously, these smelly cuaves are believed to cure respiratory inflammations. Regardless, we totally embraced (and enjoyed) this unique experience (bar the German who couldn't hack the smell and left after 2 minutes). Feeling super clean and super soft, we left the fun baths and headed back to Huaraz for cervasas, tasty food, and to recruit some new pals for a trek to Laguna 69 that I wanted to.

Laguna 69
The hostel's tour to Laguna 69 left at 5am. Scrap that, we thought! We want a lie in! The 6 of us had breakfast and left at 10am (too late upon reflection) to drive to Huascarán National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The drive was long.. (but every second in the van was a blast!).. it was out of town and up very, very bumpy roads. It consisted of gorgeous scenery, very loud music, and us often shouting "SPEED BUMP!!!!!" at Tom to ensure he used the break pedal in time. Thanks to no signage and hidden bumps, sometimes he did not. Sending absolutely everything in the van flying, including the pins in the ceiling tapestry - which later pierced the bums of our new pals being thrown around in the back. We stopped at a stunning blue lake upon the way, then continued onto the start of the Laguna 69 trek and said hasta luego to Delia The Van. This strenuous trek started at 3,800m with a steady slope. Within minutes, I was out of breath already. Crap. So I stocked up on coca leaves from the little hut to chew to help with the altitude issues.

Laguna 69 sits at the base of a giant glacier in the Cordillera Blancas called Pisco Peak. At 4,600m (15,100 feet), Laguna 69 sits higher than anywhere in the continental USA. In 2008, I jumped out a plane in New Zealand and I still wasn't as high as Laguna 69. Muy loco! I couldn't get over the beauty of this National Park - it is absolutely breathtaking. Grey snow-capped mountains with topaz
Cuave FunCuave FunCuave Fun

Imagine this in the pitch black!
coloured lakes... it was impossible not to fall in love with the scenery.

The trek took 3 exhausting hours, during which I spent sucking and chewing the life out of my coca leaves (which did help a little). We all really struggled from the altitude. Big time. Likely because most of us had only been at sea level just over 1 day before. The altitude sent one of our pals, Sam, a little crazy and he started seeing spots. During one of the many snack breaks, he lobbed his phone over his shoulder down the hill. He hilariously (and worryingly) had no recollection of doing this, even when I told him what happened. Acclimatise, guys!

Luckily, because we were so friggin' slow to the top, we had the lake to ourselves. Jackpot! Although my hands were totally numb (it was freezing), my head felt dizzy, and any higher I would have started hallucinating... damn it was the most incredible feeling to finally be at Laguna 69. A beautiful, light blue colour lake, with a thin waterfall gushing icy cold glacier water from the most stunning, snow-covered mountains. The guys (one was Tom, of course) took off all their clothes and had a very quick, skinny dip in the icy waters to celebrate (I have it all on video for those interested). We made a celebratory cup of English tea and after 30 minutes we headed down, reaching Delia in the pitch-black. Guess that's why the hostel tour left so early afterall, hey!

The Stunning Santa Cruz Trek
I convinced Tom into joining me on this tough four day trek through the mountains. Lets do it self-guided and without donkeys! How cool would that be. Let me tell you my friends, it was hard work. Hard. Work. But totally worth it for the four fun-filled days of incredible scenery. Day 2 was the hardest, with a 900m ascent, we ALMOST made it in one go, but gave up 162m from the pass and camped at a pretty lake a few meters down. The nights were below freezing but I was cosy in my 5 layers (3 long sleeve tops, 2 fleeces) and in the comfortable hired down sleeping bag. The days were hot and sweaty.. yes I got sunburnt on my shoulders, which definitely did not aid the process of carrying my 12kg backpack.


Pit Stop Pit Stop Pit Stop

Stunning lake on the way to L69

• My waist strap snapping on my bag at the start of the trek (10 years I have had this bag.. the only time I REALLY need this strap, it breaks, tut!)
• The altitude headaches (ouch!)
• Forgetting the spices we had prepared (I had spent muchotime grinding pepper in a pestle and mortar in the street at the back of the van.. which got a lot of funny looks from the locals).
• Tom not being able to get the fire started, then spent the next 20 minutes sulking in the tent (aww! haha...)


• Tom and a local attempting to fix my waist strap, then Tom's finger getting well and truly glued to the clip (I was dying with laughter... inside).
• Our "mountain" food.. the other trekkers were so jealous (I made a delicious porridge breakfast every morning, with differing amounts of nuts, golden berries, raisins, sultanas, milk powder and coco).
• Getting to the pass in the gorgeous morning sunshine (hello, 4750m!)
• The super curious dogs/cows/donkeys trying to sniff and steal our food (Tom was totally surrounded by 3 cheeky donkeys at one point).

What a trek! I was so incredibly proud of us, we nailed it! The first trek carrying all our own equipment.. tent, stove, sleeping bag, mattress, and 4 days worth of food. We returned the hired goods and celebrated at our favourite pub (13 Buhos) with a huge pizza, some locally brewed home beers, a shot of coca whiskey (on the house!), and some delicious pisco sours.

Other activities involved dancing to reggaeton in the local clubs with our pals (now one of my favourite things), some Spanish lessons (Tom gave me mp3 files to listen to) and one day was spent watching the football (the boys made me do it, but I did get into it).

Goodbye Huaraz
Huaraz was easily my favourite city I have visited so far. I just loved the jagged white, snow-capped mountains surrounding the town. I felt safe, totally comfortable, and was reluctant to leave my awesome new pals and the incredible staff. They gave me a hot chocolate and we said our sad goodbyes, and I got on my next night bus to Lima.... Peru's capital! Woop woop!

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