a vacation is JUST what the doctor ordered

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November 3rd 2007
Published: May 28th 2008
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Trek Number 1, Halloween Day:

Wednesday morning started off promising. Local transport took us nearly three hours outside of Huaraz, into the Cordillera Blancas. My friend Rachel and I, along with a guide, took a 3 hour trek (and 2 hours back down) to an absolutely stunning lake (called Laguna 69 for anyone who knows the area and/or may have been to this area before). We hiked up a total of 700 meters in some light rain, which, on the final 1/2 hour assent to our destination (and the hardest!), we actually got hailed on!

The mountains surrounding this turquoise lake were snow-capped and stunning. We ate lunch by the water, but because it was about 5 degrees, we only stayed about 20 minutes so as not to freeze to death! A quick bite to eat, a few photos of us huddling together for warmth, and it was all downhill from there. Whew!

At the end of the trek, our trip was not quite over. There was no public transportation in sight (think remote, think remote), so we proceeded to walk another 1.5 hours and 4 KM down the hill in the rain (my thin goofy rain poncho was ripping in the wind and Rachel´s garbage bag over her top half was as well), the wind and the ever-increasingly darkening sky. It was late in the afternoon and even our guide was beginning to wonder if we were going to make it down to the valley in time to catch the last combi (minibus) back to Huaraz. Fortunately, after an overcrowded bus passed us by without slowing, and our hopes beginning to dwindle, we were able to flag down another bus who took us down the hill to the little town of Yungay.

We caught a combi after only about 20 minutes of waiting, freezing standing by the side of the road. Rach sat in the aisle and I (barely) sat with one bum cheek on the left seat and one on the right side of the aisle, with only about an inch or two of actual seat on either side. There were 6 people standing in front of me, hunched over in various positions (including one gal who was practically in my lap!) a bit like a human game of twister in a small section of the front of the combi. As is typical of third world public transportation, when someone from the back of the bus needs to get out, everyone in the front has to clamber out first, then clamber back in once said passenger has exited the vehicle. Yeah, this happened more than once. All in the name of adventure.

Driving through Huaraz to the combi station, I saw a stream of people crowding the sidewalks. The town was overtaken by witches, goblins, ferries and even a purple Barney. Halloween revelers carrying tiny plastic orange jack-o-lanterns were darting into and out of every business that was still open, hoping for a bit of candy to fill their containers. Once we were out on the street all we could hear were the kids shouting "Halloween, Halloween!!" to each other, including us. NOT Happy Halloween, just Halloween, guess that would be too much English to speak. It definitely put a smile on my face.

Trek Number 2:

Let the horses walk today. We did our trek -- and then some -- yesterday. : ) Rach and I left Huaraz early in the morning, with thankfully no rain in sight, to a junction in the road only about 20 minutes from town. We saddled up our horses, met our donkey driver and guide (who turned out to be his 14 year old daughter!), and headed up the rocky path for the most glorious ride I have had in a long time. We passed through picturesque villages and various climate zones. One minute we were in the desert with cactus and scrub brush all around us, next we were ambling down a path surrounded by eucalyptus trees. Green pastures, endless plots of land with various vegetables and corn growing in abundance, and the most breathtaking vistas of the Cordillera Blancas and their snowy mountain tops all laid out in front of us.

Cows, sheep, and burros lined or blocked the rocky, other times grassy, paths in front of us. They were often tended to by young kids, boys as well as girls, and heaven forbid, if any one of the animals strayed, they would get pelted by a stone. From a Western way of looking at it, it seems like animal cruelty, but if you grow up this way, you know no better.

The riding was fantastic, the scenery picture postcard beautiful and the hillside women were all gorgeous, all dressed in their brightly colorful outfits. No, this was not for tourists, this was for real. They really wear these dresses high in the Andes. The knee-length dresses were in every color conceivable: blues, pinks, reds, yellows, greens, all bright and all bold colors. The thick tights they wore were solid in color. Women worked in the fields in these dresses, they climbed up the roads and dirt paths in these dresses, they tended to their sheep herds in these dresses; everywhere we looked, there they were. Gorgeous. Like a postcard. And with the snowy mountains in the backdrop, and the green pasture lands in the foreground, it clearly took my breath away. I nearly forgot I came to Peru to VOLUNTEER. Ooops...

We slept last night in a tent in the near-freezing weather in the middle of a sheep/horse/cow/burro/ grazing pasture with the most incredible views of the higher Cordillera Blancas and their snow-capped mountain tops. The sunset was an incredible shade of orange then red, and the tippy tops of the mountains were bathed in a gorgeous pink hue just after sunset. Simply breathtaking! No rain in sight (it rained the first three days I spent in Huaraz, the "big city" of the valley, with a population of close to 80,000 or 90,000 people), which was a blessing.

Earlier in the ride we let the horses take a rest and we were served a snack half way up the mountain. A simple lunch was presented to us once we made it to camp, and roasted potatoes and guinea pig (called CUY -- pronounced like koo-eee -- here in Peru and is considered a luxury and quite expensive in "touristy areas") found its way on our plates for dinner. We ate on the folded horse blankets on a grassy area and talked after dinner with our donkey driver and his three daughters. Two younger sisters of our "guide" followed us up the hill when we passed through their pueblo, where most of the houses were made with adobe brick and either red tiles or GI roofing (galvanized iron). The family all speak Spanish but Quechua being their first language, we took the opportunity to learn the numbers 1-10, and a few other words, much to everyone´s delight. Needless to say there was much laughter until it got too cold to sit outside much longer. We crawled into our respective tents at 8:30 and were asleep not so long afterwards.

We woke up to a gorgeous sun rise over one of the snowy mountains, and after a hearty breakfast, we headed on horseback back down the hill, taking a different path down to a different hillside village. . Another sunny, blue-skied day, worthy of sunscreen -- lots of it!

All in all it was a wonderful trip and even though we are both tired, I needed to get this email out to let you all know how wonderful a vacation really feels. I urge you all to take one every now and then. They really are good for the soul. : )

Enjoy the weekend....I´m off to find dinner. Thanks to all who have written these past few weeks. YOU are my inspiration, with all your kind words and snippets about life back in the working world.

I miss you all and keep writing! It really does keep me going!


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