The Ausangate circuit - Martin the wonder guide and the bastard with the tent

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August 28th 1999
Published: February 15th 2007
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Martin the Wonder GuideMartin the Wonder GuideMartin the Wonder Guide

Martin & his wife pack the horse
1999……….6wks SOUTH AMERICA-ARGENTINA, PERU..................“This 5-6 day hike has everything: herds of llamas and alpacas, traditionally dressed Indians, hot springs, turquoise lakes, glaciers, ice caves, and even vicunas. Not surprisingly it is popular with trekkers. The route takes you right round the massif of Ausangate and over three high passes before returning you to your starting point, the small village of Tinqui.” Bradt
Ausangate is South East of Cusco. The mountain, which is revered by the Incas, is actually a collection of high mountains with Ausangate the highest at 6372m. The whole area lies above the tree line.

Distance about 80km
Altitude 3,800m to 5,100m
Rating Difficult
Timing 5 days
I met down at the Top Vacations Trekking office at 8.30am. No one else had joined the trek. The girl from the office and the brother of the guide hopped into the taxi to get me organised for the bus. I had my large pack, tent, foam mattress and a huge bag of vegetables in tow. The bus didn’t leave till 10.30 which added another 2 hrs unnecessarily onto what turned out to be a long dusty trip. The seats were too close and so it was quite cramped for 8 ½ hrs including just waiting in the bus. There also was really wonky Latin American flute music turned up really loud, just over my head. There were various religious paraphernalia plastered over the windows and hanging from the mirror. A large picture of Jesus in bright colours adorned the back window…. hands out, with a broken heart. Prior to setting off we were visited by a guy who gave us a long lecture on repentance (from what I could not gather) which also added to the claustrophobic feeling as we waited.

The scenery was quite spectacular as we followed the Cusco valley and then up around & around & up. If someone had said to me to think of the Andes, dusty would not have come to mind but it certainly was- at times you couldn’t even see out of the window. My stomach wasn’t feeling the best, probably from the avocado salad at Govinda’s. The scenery for a lot of the time once we had got to the top was dusty and boring with very few trees except some eucalypts. It was exciting, though, getting my first glimpse of Ausangate and some other snowy peaks. They looked so clean after so much dust.

The bus eventually got to Tinqui where I am staying with my guide and his family. It is very basic with dirt floor. I do have my own room though with 2 beds in it and it has a light. The outside toilet, which becomes very interesting when one has the runs, was a squat one with a dirt floor, no light, and behind a curtain of plastic. A couple of young boys kept lifting the curtain to have a look at the strange Gringo. There was a bit of a mix up when I arrived as I was met by another guy who was waiting for two people and thought I was one of them. There is an association of arrieros here with about 50 members and prices are set, which probably means that the companies like Top Vacations get most of the fee paid. I did get down some very spicy soup that night in the shed like room with dirt floors again and just a table and wooden stool. I explained as best I could, that I was not well & that I didn't want anything
First night's campFirst night's campFirst night's camp

Ausangate massif towering over us
else. I went to bed early and slept surprisingly well.

I was up early at 6am or so but we didn’t get going until 9.15am after loading up the gear onto the horse. There is so much food, it got me thinking and worrying all day whether Martin was the right person to have met me at the bus. I was told there would be a cooking tent and that there would be 3 people as cook, guide, and person to look after the horse. Martin was to do all of these things. I was also told they would have a tent to sleep in. Tonight is not as bad as we have gone to his fathers "house" where he looks after the llamas while the weather allows it at such altitude. It is a small stone affair with thatched roof, barely big enough to sleep in. I was not feeling strong today and found the walk of 6 hrs, a lot of it uphill, quite demanding with the altitude. Language is a huge problem/ my vocab is so limited. The country is a bit swampy with cushion grass and I think peat. Ausangate and the surrounding mountains are quite near and spectacular. There are herds of llamas and alpacas and I saw a few squirrel-like animals (vicunas?)
I had a sleep when we got here which helped a lot although my stomach is still a bit squeamish. While it became dark and cold I tried to explain to Martin that I had paid in full for the trip and that I wouldn't be paying him. I tried to ascertain if he was the guide through Top Vacations but I'm still not sure. It's a worry that he doesn't have a tent & I'm really reluctant to share mine as it's the only time I have some privacy. Tonight’s OK but it will be even colder tomorrow night and Martin won't be under cover. I might get him to use my emergency space blanket.

I went to sleep to the sound of dogs barking, llamas’ snorting and the horse munching. The tent is pitched in a small paddock made by rocks and in the next one are a herd of alpacas. I went to bed early as it was dark and cold. By 11pm I felt it was time to get up. It got down to
2nd night's camp, Luguna Pucacocha2nd night's camp, Luguna Pucacocha2nd night's camp, Luguna Pucacocha

One of the tiny dots in the foreground is the tent. This is the camp at the base of Ausangate where the horse took off from
at least 0 degrees last night and that was inside the tent!
I awoke at 6am to the sound of birds singing in Spanish. The view from the tent was spectacular with the alpacas bobbing their heads over the rock wall, the view down the valley from Upis that we had come up the day before and the view from the front of the tent of Ausangate massif towering over us, its white snow lit up by the sun. We finally set off at 9.15 after breakfast of a stale roll with sweet strawberry jam that hadn’t seen too many strawberries and a horrible drink of chocolate or something. It was really chalky and I had to throw it away. I still have diarrhoea and so I took some gastrolyte. I am still feeling weak and just packing up got me puffing.

It was a relatively easy day today as we stopped to camp at 1.30pm. There were a couple of hills, which were hard enough that at some stages I was just putting one foot in front of the other just to get there. We went over the Arapa Pass at 4700m and the view afterwards
2nd night's camp2nd night's camp2nd night's camp

Looking towards the base of Ausangate from the tent
was lovely with its desert-like valleys: colourful but quite dusty and stone corrals at amazing heights on the side of the mountains overlooking the even higher Ausangate. We descended the valley with the jagged rocky spires of Nevado Sorimani and lake Luguna Vinococha with its turquoise waters spilling over in a waterfall to the lower valley below. We continued over another small hill (they don’t seem like it) until we came to Luguna Pucacocha where we are camped. It’s been quite nice to arrive early as the view is amazing as the lake is at the base of Ausangate. Everything here is on a grand scale with people, the ever present llamas and my tent being absolutely dwarfed by mountains on each side.

By this afternoon I was finally starting to feel better, although I couldn’t eat too much dinner- spaghetti with a very rich (again), salty (again) sauce of egg and onions. It started to snow quite heavily until the ground was white. It melted quite quickly once it stopped as the ground was still warm from the intensity of the sun. The wind then came up and one of the tent poles broke (what a hopeless tent.
Luguna Pucacocha from campLuguna Pucacocha from campLuguna Pucacocha from camp

Martin's 'bed' amongst the rocks.
never repaired, not enough pegs, frustrating entrance) and I pulled it to bits, fixed it up with some tape I had and moved it to a more protected spot. I'm pretty lucky to have a tent at all as I have selfishly resisted in letting Martin share the tent even though it’s going to be below zero tonight...hopefully the snow won't start up again. I have given him my gloves and an emergency blanket that he can wrap himself up in and have taken most of the cooking gear into the tent so he can cover himself up properly instead of worrying about the food. He has no socks, just sandals and is sleeping with just some wind protection of rocks, a bit like a bird hide. While Martin, the wonder guide was helping me to drag the tent over to its new spot, he noticed that the horse had taken off and he ran off to try to fetch it. He disappeared up and over a hill in the distance, finally returning with the horse as someone had stopped it up further.

Our Spanish/English, English/Spanish is just as hopeless and even the words that are really obvious and I say as correctly as possible he doesn't even recognize. I still don't know if he is the guide that I am meant to have had. I’ll just have to see what happens at the end. It’s 6.20pm and already 5degrees in the tent, although I feel quite snuggy. The problem of being by myself and getting dark and cold early is that there is nothing to do and if I try to go to sleep now it will be such a long night. A game of cards would be good.


15th February 2007

what an adventure
this sounds like a real adventure. I hate feeling like I can't communicate - you mentioned not having enough vocab - especially when things seem strange or like some mistake has been made, not being able to clear it up. Martin probably does this job all the time, but I can't believe he didn't have his own tent.

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