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Published: October 11th 2010
Towards the end of an eight hour bus ride to Huaraz I opened my eyes from a fitful sleep and glanced out the window. Light was only just skimming the edges of the sky, but I didn't need much light to see their bulk towering out of the night. I was back in the magical Andes. I went back to sleep with a smile on my face.
When I woke again I knew I was well and truly in the midst of these mountains; driving into Huaraz I could see four giant snowy peaks looming over the town, the light bright on their whiteness. And I had a smashing headache. But with an altitude of over 3,000 metres, a mild altitude headache wasn't that surprising.
Exhausted and crabby we were led to Andes Camp hostal by a lovely local guy named Benji. At first we weren't impressed, but a lovely communal area, a strong pressured hot shower and the friendliness of the three brothers and one uncle who owned the hostal convinced us.
We had made the right decision. Throughout my stay in Huaraz I had more showers in a day than I can ever remember having and made lots of friends with both the others staying there and the men who ran the hostal.
We spent two days acclimatizing so we could do some hiking. Those days were mostly napping, reading, chatting with our lovely new Israeli friend Ori, eating and wandering. The town itself is rather haphazard, having been floored by an earthquake just over 20 years ago. The town had been hastily rebuilt and now they are trying to remodel it to give it back some charm. But sitting in the plaza with my ipod and a book, and looking up to see the afternoon sun glistening on those snowy peaks was all the charm I needed.
On our third day, we woke up at 5am (eek) to set out on our hiking adventure to Laguna 69!
The lovely brothers walked us to the area to catch a camioneta and made sure we were on the right one. Crammed in between locals we sat tiredly for about 50 bumpy minutes to get to the town of Yungay. There a taxi driver pounced on us and we struck up a deal for the journey there and for a pick up at 4pm for 90 soles. And we thought the road before had been bumpy! The car shuddered and guttered its way rapidly uphill around tiny winding corners on the worst road in history. I tried not to watch the oncoming traffic and instead revelled in the beautiful blue skies, sunshine and amazing views as we ascended further and further. Before long, giant craggy mountains towered on either side of the car, some surfaces totally sheer and some covered in dense scrub. We seemed so tiny in our little car in between them. And then, you turn a corner and you see them. Those snowy summits that before had sat on the horizon were upon us, totally dwarfing the previously giant mountains and taking our breath away.
The hike was beautiful, difficult and rewarding. At first we meandered through a relatively flat area, following a surging river and gaping like fish out of water at the mountains that were straight ahead. Even though it was flat the huge altitude was palpable, it felt a little like walking through water. Ori was struggling even more than I was and we both heaved and huffed as Adam (totally unaffected by altitude) skipped and roamed all around, at one point getting stuck on the wrong side of the river. Soon the path got steeper and steeper and the landscape even more beautiful, something we didn't think possible.
It was hard. My calfs ached, my lungs fought and my head pounded but we made it. We met a group of people from Israel who were also finding it difficult, and together we all laboured and groaned up the mountain (except for Adam who got soaked by a waterfall and jumped and hooted around). But every time you looked up from your shuffling feet you saw giant waterfalls cascading down the sheer sides of mountains, a valley getting smaller and smaller at your feet and those summits drawing ever closer.
And then we arrived. I had been walking over the path of white rocks feeling exhausted and grumpy when I looked up. I actually gasped out loud and covered my mouth. I thought my breath had been taken away before. It was blue. No green. No aqua. Whatever it was, the water of Laguna 69 was impossibly bright, still and incredible. The laguna was nestled in a dip between the monolithic snowy peaks. It sparkled with the afternoon sunlight invitingly. Only Adam was crazy enough to swim in the freezing cold waters. I put my feet in and they felt like they were going to fall off. Instead the rest of us sat on the shores, eating sandwiches and basking in its beauty. I can honestly say it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
We didn't want to leave, but after about an hour we needed to if we were going to be back in time for our taxi. The walk that had taken almost 4 and a half hours up took only 2 hours down! Ori and I both started developing pounding headaches again from our rapid descent and we fell abit behind, getting lost once but eventually making it. After about 3 more hours of bumpy, head splitting car rides we got home, bought lots of hot Chifa and Gatorade and collapsed on the couch in our hostel. It was 8:30pm. It was time for bed.
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