I was hating traveling. There, I’ve said it.BUTJUDRETRAVELISYOURLIFECALLINGHOWISTHATPOSSIBLE?!?$&/$%
People do have this popular belief that your entire travel experience is nothing but a time full of wonder, happiness and sense of awe of everything around you.
And it is…majority of the time. You disconnect from the mundane routine of normal day-to-day life, you occupy your head with to-do lists of visiting all the museums, natural wonders, markets, beaches, cities, cafes and bars that have been recommended to you by the people you’ve met along your way and the countless books/blogs/documentaries you’ve gone through. Majority of the time you are ecstatic by what surrounds you.
And then there are times when the entire world seems to turn against you and all you want is to give up and go home (whatever that means to you).
It all started back in the Amazon, during my second 3 day boat ride from Iquitos to Yurimaguas in order to return to civilization. By that point I had already spent nearly 3 weeks in Peru but I felt as if I hadn’t seen anything apart from the lush green Amazonian landscape. I did enjoy it, but I anxiously wanted a change of scenery, which made me restless. Then my phone got stolen. After that I also got ill. Everything just seemed to be going to shit. All I wanted to do was to just leave and be in a familiar place, somewhere where I felt like I could have control over my life (home). I realize just how insignificant all of my problems were now that I’m all happypappy again, but we humans tend to dramaticize it all, just looking for abit of sympathy to get us through the rough patches.
Nevertheless, I made my way out of the jungle, out of the heat and humidity into the cold, dreary high altitudes of the majestic mountains. Huaraz is a small city resting at the feet of the Andes. It is known to be the hiking/trekking Mecca with it’s abundance of snowy peaks, turqoise lakes, glaciers and breathtaking scenery that one can explore.
I started my time here by acclimatizing to the sudden altitude of 3000 m.a.s.l. The Laguna 69 day trip you can do here is perfect to getting your body used to the hights. It is a beautiful glacier lake, that sits at an impressive 4600 meters, and can be reached by a 3 hour hike through the unbelievably gorgeous Andean valleys and mountains. We got ridiculously lucky with the weather as we were able to admire the pointy snowy high peaks as we made our way to the lagoon.
After that I embarked on what turned out to be a huge questioning of my will power; the Santa Cruz trek.
After the Inca Trail, Santa Cruz is the second most popular hike in Peru. It takes you through the mountains all the way up to Punta Union, a mountain pass resting at 4750 m.a.s.l. It is not an easy trek. It normally takes people 4 days to complete, and most of them choose to go with a tour, where all your equipment and food is carried by donkeys from one campsite to another, with a guide to lead the way, or go with someone to share the equipment weight.
Now, as you can already guess, I did the exact opposite. I went by myself. No guide. No donkeys. Just me, lugging my 20kg backpack full of essentials to help me survive the hike. I don’t know who or what I was trying to impress, but mainly I wanted to prove to myself that I am perfectly capable of living the wilderness life for a few days. Well…
Trekking during the rainy season was a dumb idea number 1. I started alright, strolling my way through majestic nature until the first campsite. It then started to rain; nothing too intense, light drizzle. By roughly 4pm, which is when I reached my sleeping spot for the night, I was soaked. Everything I owned was drenched in ice cold water; my feet were freezing; I had to set up my tent in the pouring weather and the only thing keeping me sane was the fact that I could loudly swear as there was not a single soul around. I finally took shelter in my tent, and then came the first meltdown. I never thought a hike could make me cry, but there I was, curled up in my sleeping bag, eating a soggy bag of chips and balling my eyes out. I have never felt more alone and willing to just give up and go back. It was rough. I think I fell asleep at about 7pm.
The morning after was chilly and unfriendly. I was seriously considering turning around. I even tossed a coin to determine the faith of this hike. It landed on “to go back”. Three times. In a row.
But something in me managed to make me put on my cold damp hiking clothes, put my heavy bag back on and move forward. I draggen myself up rocky slippery paths towards the Punta, making frequent stops as the weight of my stuff and shortage of breath made me cry once more. But then I saw something that made me ecstatic. My own shadow. Yes, the sun finally broke through the grey clouds above my head, playing the role of a weak, but encouraging spotlight to my performance here in the remote Andean mountains. I picked up my pace and gradually kept moving up to the peak. I didn’t make it to the Punta on day 2 in time, however. I was still a few hours away, but it was getting late so I made the sensible option of camping for the night at 4200 altitude, with the plan to make it over the peak the next day. Second night was abit better, my belongings were not as wet, however the coldness of 4200 meters resulted in me sleeping with 4 layers of clothing. At least it only falls to about 0 degrees at night, instead of -5 or more you’d get during the dry period of the year.
Day 3 came with a high sense of hope. The weather was decent as I began my journey up. The last couple of hundred meters of the path were covered in thick fog and a little bit of snow, but my God, I made it. I reached Punta Union, and I don’t know what universal forces took pity on me, but the view of the valley and glacier lakes below me was clear. Happiness filled me up, and as I was admiring the view infront of me, a tour group made their way to the top aswell. I got admiration and handshakes for the fact that I did this by myself. Actually, as I came to the end of my hike, I realized that, apart from the few guys I ran into along the way trekking, I was the only girl doing this solo.
The way down was great. The weather cleared up, it did not rain during the night, my stuff was finally completely dry. The remaining part of the trek is relatively flat, taking me through a scenic valley with a roaring mountain river, with snow capped peaks to admire at the distance. I could smell civilization as I walked the last kilometers through narrow rocky roads, crossing streams, pine forests and cliff edges to make my way back.
And I did. 62 km, 5 days later without getting lost, I ventured out of the mountains. As I looked back, I could see the dark pointy shaddows towering in the distance. Some of the highest peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, looking at me as I sat myself on the ground, waiting for the bus to take me back to Huaraz. I was smelly, sweaty, had lost some weight, my good travel towel and some amount of dignity, but damn was I proud of myself.