Sunday, 17 June 2018

Oyon to Huallanca, Including a Section of the Huayhuash Circuit

From the city of Cerro de Pasco, Fidgit and I rode a bus west to the small town of Oyon. We bounced and wound along the dirt road road for hours, including some hairpin turns that the bus had to back up a bit to get around successfully. We were very grateful to get to Oyon and rest for an evening before walking into the mountains.

Leaving Oyon, we walked up a dirt road that meandered along the valley floor. We followed the road as it narrowed and then ascended into a higher valley, walking below and then alongside a dammed lake. As Fidgit and I ascended into the mountains over a few days, the weather seemed to enjoy playing games with us. The clouds blew over quickly, spritzing rain at us before the sun would come out long enough to fool us into thinking it would stay before ducking back behind the clouds. 'Rain gear on, rain gear off, over the pass, oh now it's snowing' became our daily routine of sorts as we made our way to the well-trod track of the Huayhuash (pronounced why-wash) circuit.

Where we intercepted the tourist circuit happened to also be a hot springs. As we descended towards the hot springs/campsite, we had an aerial view of the multiple giant tents that two groups were already setting up. The number of of people in the middle of this wilderness was overwhelming for Fidgit and me - we've gotten spoiled being the only travelers most of the places we've been through since Cusco. We tried our best to be cordial, though being charged money to camp and one of the guides coming over as we were setting up our tents and openly staring from three feet away did not help. We did enjoy the hot springs and were eventually able to settle in for the night.

Waking up early to the sound of the guides and trekkers packing up and heading off encouraged us to get moving- it was the edge of the rainy season and the weather patterns get less predictable later in the day. Fidgit and I left camp soon after the last pack burro was loaded and led off by a guide who cursed it up the trail.

We made our way along the slippery mud of the well-rutted trail and ascended most of the morning to our first pass. Making it over the pass, we then began our descent, running into another un-guided duo that were excited to see us and shared information on what was coming up. The couple told us that all the camp areas charged fees and how much, as well as the terrain to expect coming up. Fidgit and I shared what little we knew and headed our respective ways. Walking on, we decided to pass through the next camp area to avoid paying- we didn't have much money and didn't think they would charge us for walking through. As we walked through the next camp area, however, a local man came up and tried to charge us. For walking through the camp area. He couldn't tell us what the money was used for, other than "It's for the community", and also wasn't able to tell us why we should pay to walk through other than "everyone else pays". We (mostly Fidgit, with me standing there looking sad) talked our way out of paying to walk through and continued along the route.

As we ascended to another 14,000+ foot pass, we had most of the valley to ourselves. We went up and the valley turned into more of a marshland reminiscent of the turba bogs we slogged through in Patagonia. We made it through the bog/river/trail to the pass in time for the sleet to come in, so the steep descent was....interesting, to say the least. We made it part way to the valley floor, found a flat spot and set up camp. Everything I had on was wet so I stripped down and curled up in my sleeping bag to try and warm up before dinner. The precipitation had stopped and Fidgit said, "Whoa!"- the clouds had cleared, giving us an awesome view of the valley we would descend into as well as the glacier-draped mountains towering around us.

After dinner and a restless night of sleep, we packed up and descended into the damp valley. The morning was astoundingly beautiful and I understood why so many people had been drawn to this area. This included the Shining Path Rebels that had formerly robbed trekkers in this area until the Peruvian government had recognized its tourist potential and cracked down on the group's stronghold.

Fidgit and I made our way down along the valley floor, following a well-worn footpath and passing ways with a couple more guided groups to a kilometer-long lake. The trail went along three sides of the lake, so we decided to walk through a shallow marshland to avoid going out of our way before beginning the ascent to another pass. After our shortcut, we were able to meet back up with the trail, which was terribly rutted out from pack stock traveling through the mud so regularly as well as the lack of trail maintenance. We slip-slid our way up to the pass and descended (once again) as the clouds rolled in and spritzed us enough to dampen our clothes.

Fidgit and I at this point were cold and tired of the elevation/terrain as well as being asked for money at every 'campground'. As I mentioned, we've gotten used to being the only non-locals in the area, and the constant expectation of money for seemingly doing nothing from the locals was reminiscent of negative experiences we'd had in the past. We had seen that we could potentially get off the circuit before originally planned, so after we walked past another campground (where a local again requested money for passing through), we crossed a small stream and walked along a dirt road to get out of the area. We met a few locals along our new route- none of them requested anything of us and they all wished us a good trip as we passed. We felt reinforced in our decision to divert from the Huayhuash circuit even though it meant leaving the beauty of the mountains earlier than planned.

The rain continued on and off as Fidgit and I descended the rest of the way into the town of Huallanca. The dirt road disappeared into a field and we followed faint animal trails to another dirt road that then took us the rest of the way into town over the course of three days. After being cold and wet most of a week, it was relieving to take a warm shower and curl up in a dry bed for the night.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Ayacucho to Paucara

Leaving Ayacucho, we walked past the bus station at the edge of town and down into a narrow river 'quebrada' then ascended a small mountain to cross into another river valley. It was a hot day, though thankfully a cool breeze was blowing through the valley as clouds built in the distance. We stopped in a town to sit in the shade and drink cool beverages before continuing up to the tiny town of La Vega. There was no hostel in town, so we asked about camping and were told we could camp in town and they would keep an eye on us. As we wandered towards a place to camp, a local shop owner came up and offered us their neighbor's house. We weren't sure, but followed yet another stranger into their house. His wife was sweeping the floor, preparing for our arrival. We ended up camping out in their front room. As a thunder storm rolled through ouside, we chatted with the family inside before going to sleep for the night.

Waking up the next morning, we ate a quick breakfast and walked on. During the night I had gotten ill, so I was moving slowly and not feeling great. The weather commiserated with my mood, and a slow drizzle began as we made our way along. I was shuffled along at what felt like a snails pace. Thankfully there was a larger town ahead and a shortcut to it. We made it into the town of Huanta as the skies cleared that afternoon and found a place to stay. I immediately took my soaked clothes off and fell asleep, only waking to eat a bit of dinner and drink some water before the next morning.

I felt infinitely better the next day, but still didn't want to push it. We opted to carry less weight and walk down to a bridge, then come back to Huanta to give me a chance to rest more. We walked most of the day, descending into a wide river valley. As we descended, the weather got hotter and I was glad to have enough water and my umbrella for the last stretch. We made it back to Huanta that evening and I was able to get some more rest.

We set out the next day, shoving ourselves and our stuff into a moto-taxi to get back to the bridge. The valley florr sat at 2,100 meters(6,800 feet) and we had a 2,000 meter(6,500 foot) ascent to get out of the valley. The sun was relentless and the shade non-existent as we made our way up and up. Criss-crossing the road, I was glad to have shortcuts to bypass the multitude of switchbacks. The aridness of the climb was intriguing- though it was obvious water shaped the land, there was no water along the mountain sides, only in the river snaking along the valley floor. We ended up camping before the small town of Marcas because I was still recovering from illness and ascents are exhausting.

Making it through Marcas in the morning, we were able to get some supplemental foodstuffs and walk on. We left the road and began following the Inca trail to go up and over a pass. Lunching at the pass, a local man came up to chat with us for a bit before making his way back to his herd of sheep. As we made our way along the descent, I noticed an ominous cloud across the valley, slowly but surely moving towards us. I watched the lightning strike the far peaks as we curved along the mountainside.
Fidgit and I began hearing the thunder roll across the valley and the breeze picked up. The clouds covered the sun and we began looking for a spot to take refuge. We happened across a dirt road and a passing local told us about a nearby town. We made our way to the pueblo as the rains began. By the time we made it to town and found our way to a small room in someone's backyard that they sometimes rent out, the skies had opened and the downpour lasted a couple hours. We cooked dinner by the light of my headlamp dangling from the ceiling (because the power had been out in town for a couple of days) and tucked into our beds for the night.

Waking up to partly cloudy skies, we made our way along after breakfast. The Inca trail and road were the same at times, though sometimes the trail was straighter as the road wound into the nooks of the mountainside. It was always nice to be off the road, and finding the Inca trail and seeing the centuries of wear along it is amazing. I'm so glad to see these routes still being used today. We made our way into the town of Paucara in the midst of a hail storm, thunder echoing off the steep valley sides. Rainy season is nearing an end down here, but the storms are still nothing to scoff at. We have been lucky along this stretch to be mostly off-road while still being near towns if we do need to bail to avoid lightning strikes/gnarly weather.

Paucara to Huancayo

Leaving Paucara, I nocticed we had made our way into the 12th parallel, meaning we were at 12 degrees south from the equator. I was so excited because we had been moving through the 13th parallel since the end of last season. The Andes in this part of Peru curve to the west, causing our route to do so as well, and not making northern progression as quickly had been wearing on me. "We're finally going north again!", I thought excitedly as we made our way along the edge of the road out of Paucara.

We made our way up a wide valley, short-cutting the switchbacks of the road before finding a more direct pathway up to a pass at 4,100 meters(13,400 feet) where we stopped for lunch. It was the day before easter, so the campo seemed calm and quiet as we continued our way along our route, finishing the day at one of the more beautiful campsites we'd stayed at in a while.

We slept well and in the morning continued along the valley edge, following a conveniently placed aquaduct to another trail. These paths led us along and down to another valley floor and a small town. It being Easter Sunday, we didn't expect anything to be open so were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a Grandmotherly woman standing in front of her shop. She sold us cold sodas and some bread and we sat in the shade of her awning to consume them before moving on. We stayed along the valley floor the rest of the day, passing through a couple more small towns before finding camp along the railroad tracks. I had developed a nose and chest cold, so I was grateful for the lower elevation(we were down below 9,00 feet!), though the heat of the day had taken its toll and I was ready to stop when we did. Fidgit and I looked at our route versus following the railroad tracks and decided to continue along the tracks. We would make it to the same place with only a few kilometers difference in distance to do so. We would also avoid an unnecessary 300 meter elevation gain, so we were excited.

Leaving our campsite the next morning, we were interested in seeing what kind of ground we could cover on a railroad gradient. As we progressed through the day, the railroad grade was nice, but the loose heel-sized stones that covered the tracks were not. The railway wound its way along the side of the valley with multiple tiny pueblos along the way. The views were amazing when I had a chance to look up from making sure my next step wouldn't cause me to trip and fall. We had lunch at a stop building along the tracks, and found some water in a fifty-five gallon drum to replenish our empty water bottles. Our feet were struggling, especially Fidgit's- she had developed red splotches between her arches and the ball of both of her feet which were painful every step at this point. After lunch, we walked on as best we could, finishing our day with an admirable 37 kilometers(23 miles) logged.

After asking in the nearby pueblo, we slept in the railway station at the edge of town. The next morning we attempted to sleep in only to be woken by a local woman dropping something off at the station, presumably to be picked up by a passing train that day. We grunted and grumbled as we packed up, sore and dehydrated from the previous day's efforts. Since we had covered so much ground the day before, we were able to walk/limp into the city of Huancayo by early afternoon. I hadn't showered since Ayacucho, and with the heat I felt bad as we made our way through town to our accomodations for the night. We made it, showered, stuffed our faces and slept comfortably in another new city.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Rio Pampas to Ayacucho

Not only were Fidgit and I rejected in our attempt to cross Rio Pampas, we then had to walk along the same taunting river for a day and a half to get to the bridge crossing. Along the way, we were told about a few years ago, when the previous bridge had been washed away. As we crossed the new bridge, we could see the leftovers of the old bridge just a few meters downstream. Even more grateful to have a bridge to cross this river, we immediately began our 2,000 meter (6,500ft.) ascent out of the valley. The trend of sun and heat during our uphills continued through the afternoon, with a cooling breeze coming through just before we made our way into the small town of Chumbes. We ended up finding a small Hostel and spending the night.

The fog was thick as we made our way along the next morning, with cars honking as they sped along the two-lane highway through town. Since we weren't able to cross Rio Pampas at the base of the valley, we were using the road as our main navigation aid, following along it and cutting off the extraneous switchbacks whenever possible(which, thankfully, was often). We walked up and along the route until we came to a small town, where a local woman told us about a shortcut up to the pass we were headed to. We then followed a narrowing valley up and up. The creek became a constant as we wound up the valley, though meadows and scrub brush until we got high enough to be wading through knee-high grasses and back to the highway for the last kilometer to the top. Exhausted from a 1,500 meter climb, we set up our tents in the first safe flat spot we found and slept soundly, with a few cars passing through the night.

Waking the next day to once again being in a cloud, we packed up and followed the one and a half lane road we had turned onto the evening before. It descended from the pass and the skies cleared as the day went on. We were now meandering slowly down a long valley. We wound  down and through many small towns, most of which had at least a shop, many had small restaurants as well. Not many options, but more than nothing was useful to us as we were running low on food because of a longer than planned stretch.

As we made our way through many of these small towns, we were stopped by the curious community members. They would ask all kinds of questions, beginning with the usual: "Where did you come from?", "Where are you going?", "Where are you from?", and "Why are you walking and not taking a car?" We try to keep our answers short and succinct to be able to respond to all of the questions. The people we walk past have been in the midst of their harvesting season, which has been interesting and educational to us. We now know what Quinoa looks like in plant form and all the crops they grow down here, as well as how the locals harvest them.

We followed the small road along and (mostly) down through the lengthy valley for multiple days towards Ayacucho. As we neared the city, things got busier. More people tried to stop us to talk so we had to pick and choose when we would stop. Right before dropping down to Ayacucho, we had lunch at a small restaurant where the proprietor sat down with us for a bit. She told us tales of her life and shared with us a short cut to get to the city faster. We thanked her, paid the 10 Soles for lunch and were on our way. Kindness seems to be everywhere. As we walked into the edge of the city, the staring became more intense, though no one bothered us as we made our way along busy roads to the center of the city, reconnecting with the original route we had planned through this area.