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.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Beginning of Season 3: Huancarama to Rio Pampas

As we headed out on the first leg of our third season, I was feeling many different emotions, ranging from apprehension to excitement and anticipation. We had been delayed nearly a day in Florida so spent less than 24 hours in Lima before flying into the small town of Andahuaylas. We made it into Andahuaylas just in time for their yearly regional festival. Parade after parade during the day we spent there preparing for our first leg. We caught a ride on a local van to get to our starting point of Huancarama. The two hour van ride made us and a few other passengers carsick, so we took a few moments in town to rest before heading up towards the pass.

We climbed up along a well-worn footpath and crested our first pass just in time for a late lunch. As we were eating, a man came up and told us about the area. He  mentioned that there were some Incan ruins in less than ten kilometers. As we left that rest stop, we made it our goal to camp at the ruins he had mentioned. We were able to follow another footpath to the ruins and the caretaker allowed us to camp there- what a way to start season three of this adventure!

The next couple of days were generally uneventful as we made our way down into a valley each morning and up out of said valley each afternoon. The clouds and rain had a way of dispersing just as we were huffing and puffing our way uphill. I was glad it wasn't cloudy all day, while at the same time irritated at mother nature's timing.

In three day's time, we made our way back into Andahuaylas. The regional festival had ended so we were able to make our way around town without running into parades, which made our errands much easier. I was able to look over the route to Ayacucho and we were able to head out of town feeling prepared for the stretch ahead.

As you may have figured out, most of the large towns/cities are in valleys here in Peru. So, we had another climb out of Andahuaylas. We were able to make our way up and nearly out of the valley on our first day leaving town. We were also walking through quite a few smaller towns along our way.

Our second day out of Andahuaylas was like a roller coaster in slow motion. We made it up to a route split then down along an old two-track to cross a river and climb up again to follow the Inca trail over a pass and down once more, through a valley and up to go over another pass and down to another river, all in 100- to 200-meter(300-600ft.) increments. It was tiring, and I slept well that night after we set up our tents in a perfectly-sized meadow uphill of our last river crossing of the day.

Waking up to a wet tent had become the norm, so we packed up quickly and climbed up to another pass before beginning our largest descent yet- 2,000 meters (6,500ft.) down to Rio Pampas. It drizzled all morning and the clouds parted just as we made our way into the small town of Uranmarca. We stopped in a small restaurant for lunch. As we paid and made our way to the door, a woman asked us where we were off to. Fidgit told her we were heading down to cross Rio Pampas. She replied that we wouldn't be able to, the river was far too high right now, and it would be better to go a different direction to a bridge and cross there. We've heard many people tell us that we couldn't do things that we've done, so we took her advice with a grain of salt.

We continued our descent towards Rio Pampas, asking other locals along the way if we would be able to cross the river. The answers we got were mixed, some saying no way and some saying oh yes definitely. As we closed in on the valley floor though, we began hearing more 'No ways' than anything else. It was still the rainy season, and another river we crossed near the valley floor gave us a small taste of what Rio Pampas may hold.

We walked straight down to the edge of the river snaking along the base of the valley to see for ourselves what this beast was capable of. The water braided its way through sandbars and was flooding its banks, with white caps popping up all through the main current. I would guess Rio Pampas was about 500 meters (1,600ft.) wide, on average. Fidgit stepped in to test the depth and strength of the current- she was thigh deep four steps in. We decided to walk along the river for a bit and see if anyone along the valley floor had any ideas or options as to how we could cross this river without having to walk the 30+ kilometers out to the bridge.

We made our way to a small town and were told a story by the local shop owner of how a 'strong swimmer' of a young man was swept away a month ago, as well as how there was a mudslide just out of town a couple nights ago. A bit more hesitant to attempt a river crossing, we still made our way along the river to where our route crossed the river, wondering how its creator was able to cross. After much deliberation and taking a good hard look at the chocolate milk water below, we decided to walk along the river to the bridge instead of risk life and limb.

Dejectedly, we walked on.
Resting along the road near Huancarama

Smiles on the first climb

Who wouldn't want to camp here?

Descending into another valley

Many of the roads are a dense clay that
stick to your shoes in clumps after the rains

Walking along some trail

Looking back at Andahuaylas

One of the many river crossings

Fidgit and a gnarled tree along our route

Another River crossing before
reaching Rio Pampas

Fidgit tests the waters of Rio Pampas

Looking down at the giant river along our walk
to the bridge

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The final stretch of Season Two: Pisac to Abancay

Fidgit and I were able to rest in Cusco. A big part of going into Cusco from Pisac for us was to get a backlog of work done so we could have fewer stressors in the last section. Pisac had been our original end goal, but arriving there a month ahead of schedule, we decided to push on after our 'work break' in Cusco.
The Sacred Valley spread before us as we walked out of Pisac and across corn fields of varying heights. The Peruvian farmers help each other plant crops and share their equipment, so each field was planted at a slightly different time. We passed field after field and through the small towns that dotted the valley floor. I was on a mission: to get to Aguas Calientes and see what Incan ruins I could along the way. I wasn't terribly excited that our track swooped south after that, so I tried to stay positive, keeping my sights on the most northerly point we would reach.
Along the valley floor, we were able to see some amazing ruins, including salt mines that have been in use since Incan times, the Ollantaytambo ruins, and ruins spread along the valley along Rio Vilcamayo/Urubamba. These were some amazing highlights during an otherwise tension-filled section. Fidgit and I, even with a week's "rest" in Cusco, were struggling. I no longer had the energy to work with another person in most capacities, and from how she reacted to many things I could only assume she didn't either.
Fidgit and I are both stubborn women, and sometimes (read: nearly all times) we go well beyond the limits of what a normal human being would attempt in many capacities. We had been in new territory for me for a while, and I was dangerously close to toeing the line between my growth zone and my panic zone. As I edged along that line, I had to work with being physically and mentally exhausted, as well as working with another person and their struggles. Some days felt like pure drudgery, usually with an outburst thrown in for extra wear and tear.
On the other hand, I was SO grateful during our last section to have so many beautiful and wondrous things to see. We walked along the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calientes, got to pretend to be statues for the passing tourist trains, remember what it was like to be in a forest again, and re-learn that bugs exist after being in high/dry places for so long. As we descended into the forests after Aguas Calientes, I was so relieved to have an easy to follow track for a while. It was nice to be walking along and letting my mind go blank for a while. We visited some hot springs that had a pet parrot, then walked along the Salkantay Trail for a while, seeing the areas and prices set up purely for tourists.

As we neared the town of Yanama, Fidgit and I had some amazing vistas of nearby mountains. We stopped for lunch in Yanama, which has a small store with a little bit of everything a local would need. The town is situated at the end of a road, so we made our way back onto trail. The trail took us up along cliffs and passed some mine entrances (we never did find out what they were mining) to a pass and then we began an immediate descent into a jungly valley, dropping 1,000 meters before setting up camp for the night and another 1,000 meters to the river at the base of the valley the next morning.

We were nearing the ruins of Choquequirao, and I was inadvertently nearing my breaking point. As I awaited Fidgit at the bottom of the 2,000-meter descent, I was looking forward to telling her what I had seen and about the guides I had spoken to. When she did arrive, she breezed right past my seat. When I caught up to her along the valley floor, all she said was "GO!" so I went. I was frustrated and confused and hurt and beyond my capacity to continue these negative interactions, so when we met up once again for lunch, I told her as much. Fidgit took what I said to mean I was done with our journey entirely, so we ended up not walking together for a couple of days. I stopped by the Choquequirao ruins and was able to make my way into the next town. In the town of Cachora, Fidgit and I met back up and discussed how we could move forward.

We ended up walking to Abancay, where I stopped and she kept walking for a few more days. I was so mentally and physically exhausted by this point that I laid in bed for two days straight. It felt like all the effort I could muster to get up for food and to make sure I drank water over those days- I've never felt that depleted before.

I was relieved for my season to be over and to be able to get the rest I had so badly needed for too many months at this point. I was also quite useless and didn't care, which surprised me- I can usually muster up some sort of motivation. After a few days, I ventured out again and was feeling better though still definitely ready to have some time off. I went out and got some ice cream and sunshine the next day as well, and then we headed back to Cusco to rest some more and wait for our friends and family to arrive for a planned Machu Picchu tour.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Macusani to Pisac

Fidgit and I weren't feeling great leaving Macusani, though that had become the norm. Our bodies were breaking down, our nutritional needs were not being met in this area, and the attempted breaks were no longer restful. At this point, we had been walking through South America for nearly a year, walking our way step by step toward our season's end goal: Cusco, Peru. We had made it to Peru, and parts of our trips were becoming more arduous as we closed in on our goal. We were making it, though, and continued to try and focus on the positive while acknowledging the rest of what we were experiencing.

So walking out of Macusani was difficult, though I was bolstered by the knowledge that we were closing in on a goal, which can sometimes be a great motivator. Especially if you're closing in on the goal ahead of schedule, which we were! I had taken to the ritual of crossing off each town and doing the math every day to count down our kilometer-age. That means I had some idea of what we had left, not anything definite because Fidgit had made an educated guess on our distances, and sometimes/most times we didn't follow our route to a T.

We walked for a couple days- honestly, they ran together at this point- and went through towns regularly. We thought the towns along this section would be small, and we were correct. We had planned accordingly and stocked up on items you usually cannot find in small towns: oats, drink mixes, salami. etc. I tried to find something enjoyable in each day, and the changing terrain helped with that.

We made our way across some beautiful landscapes and skirted some amazing mountains, though there was one mountain in particular that I was waiting for- Nevado Ausangate. I had read that the Inca believed this mountain to be the birthplace of llamas, and it was also the highest peak in the Cusco region. As we neared Ausangate, I began checking to see if each snow-covered peak we passed was the mountain. A few days after this continual checking began, I finally saw the majestic, glacier drenched Cerro Ausangate. It was a view I savored as we walked around the western side of the peak. For three days we navigated around the massif and found our way to the small town of Ocongate. To me, reaching and then passing Nevado Ausangate was our last marker before we reached Pisac and the potential end of our season. The mountain was not only beautiful in its lore and aesthetic, it was also a sight for sore eyes in this worn-through adventurer's mind.

From Ocongate, I just felt like I was on auto-pilot, with "Just get to Pisac" being my mantra. There wasn't energy left for much other than one foot in front of the other through the next few towns. Fidgit and I weren't on good terms as we crested our last pass and descended towards the Sacred Valley though as we neared Pisac, I found a small reserve I didn't know I had to make it up and then down through some amazing Incan ruins. At the end of a very long day of mostly descent, Fidgit and I stumbled into Pisac, Peru.

We had made it at last to somewhere that had at one point just been a spot on Google Earth Pro, and was now a real, tangible place! The couple of days we spent in Pisac were the first in a long time that we were both more relaxed and able to take care of ourselves. I headed into Cusco with renewed energy.
Are you Ausangate?

Old tracks and new shrines

Everything is wearing out

Are you Ausangate?

Are you Ausangate?

Are you Ausangate?

Full Moon Rising

Are you Ausangate?

These gentlemen let us stay in their storage room during a Lightning snow storm.

Some post storm snuggles

Are you Ausangate?

Post storm views

The local 'wild life'

Are you Ausangate?

We also made it to the 7 Color Mountain

There it is, Ausangate!

So Glaciated

Farewell for now, mountains

Finding our way through another town

Fidgit crossing the last pass

Andenes in the Andes

We are going the right way!

Hello, Town! (Coming into Pisac)