20.05.2011 - 25.05.2011 15 °C
We did manage to stay in Lima for as little time as possible. But even so, in that 12 hours I managed to offend the disgruntled officials at the US embassy and be refused access to get extra pages in my passport. It's encouraging to see how our embassies abroad adapt to the local customs by matching the level of ineptitude of the local officials. When in Rome...
After a pretty decent all night bus ride northwards we found ourselves in Huarez, the gateway town to the Cordillera Blanca. After finding a place to stay in a zombie-like state from the night bus, we set about planning a trip into the mountains. We soon found the local trekking agencies lacking. One Czech couple described the horrors of their experience with the 'best' trekking company in town. I've planned a few treks in my day- like the 2500 mile CDT, so we talked it over and decided to try to hire mules to carry our stuff and a mule driver at the trailhead and do all the rest ourselves. We rented a tent, cooking gear and a stove and carefully planned out how much food we'd need. Our Salkantay guide was adamant that Peruvians all love rice and beans so we stocked up on plenty of those as well as other provisions for ourselves and our yet to be found mule driver. Tough decisions on what to bring? Oh, we'll have mules so just pack it!
The following morning we went through the typical Peruvian gauntlet of 'public transport' (shared taxis) and 2 rides and 3 hours later we found ourselves in the thin mountain air of Cashapampa- a village of a few farms and supposedly plenty of mule drivers to accomodate tourists like us. Only there were no mule drivers or mules in the village. All of them were hired out by the agencies and unavailable. On a lot of trips this seems like a total plane-crashing-into-the-mountain-disaster, but in Peru this is just another normal day of travel. Without much disdain we simply sorted out most of the rice and beans set aside for the phantom mule driver, as well as a lot of heavier food items the luxury of a mule made possible- apples, oranges, avocados, carrots, zucchini... and gave them to a peasant woman and a couple of kids. Jackpot for them! And only a few dollars of extra food costs for us. With that we paid the man standing on the trailhead (entrance fee to the 'park') and started hiking with our still too-heavy packs.
The following 3.5 days were marked by a lot of hiking, some rain, some misery and some breathtaking views. When the weather was clear the jagged snow-covered peaks pierced the blue sky and the contrast of colors made it all worthwhile. Almost everyone else hiking was with a group, but the way was nearly impossible to lose and I appreciate the added freedom and sense of adventure. I highly recommend skipping the guided hikes.
The way back to Huaraz was longer than the way there due to the direction we hiked. After 4 hours of collectivos and sitting in very uncomfortable positions over 4700m passes we made it back to town. A hardy group of Czechs also hiked the trail independently and made for good company for the trip back. Petr spoke the best English and talked enthusiastically about hiking legend Andy Skurka and the PCT and CDT (long distance trails in America). Thus concluded the independent adventure that was the Santa Cruz trek.