Freeze your ass in Huaraz

At the time we decided to go to Huaraz the country was soon to be immersed in what here locals say happens every 100 years. Basically the sky opens, rain falls as if an ocean showed up in the sky and had a bunch of holes, all placed over Peru, and well, you can figure out the result. The rivers overflow and on their way they get mixed up with soil creating this incredibly devastating mud rivers called “huaicos”. Cars, trucks, cows, pigs, little houses, these freaking nature monsters can drag anything that comes their way. Many people would lose their lives and many others would live to see all their belongings eaten by the mud. For us though, all this we were going to see it through the news, cause in Huaraz, except for a tiny part of the city, things would not get that bad, and it all would remain business as usual.

But before all that went down we arrived to Huaraz ready to explore and hike. So what is it in this place that made us want to stop by?

The city is known for the trekking routes and day tours that are available nearby, and also Huaraz itself is nice and very pleasant to walk around.

We had one of this treks in mind, called Santa Cruz. Many people had told us it was a really beautiful trek to do. Tricky thing of going during the rainy season is that no tour agencies, or almost none of them were offering this tour. From the moment we heard that the trek could be done in your own we didn’t care about the agencies going or not, we’d do it by ourselves. So the thing here would be the rain. We had had a lot of luck with the weather before and thought that it’d last a bit longer so we were in for the big fun.

Besides Santa Cruz, we also wanted to visit Laguna 69 (Lake 69), a day trip that takes you to an incredible lake at 4,600 meters of altitude. The hike starts at 3,800 meters.

After what we heard and read, this seemed like a pretty easy trek.

Our plan was then to do Lake 69 first, camp there for the night and the next day catch a ride to the place where we’d start the Santa Cruz Trek.

We decided to take a tour to Lake 69 and simply not take the ride back. The price between this and going by ourselves was almost the same and it seemed much easier. We paid 60 soles each for the tour. On top of that, we had to pay the entry fee to the Huascaran national park, which applies if you stay there more than one day, and costs 70 soles each.

So the next day, at 6 in the morning the van came to pick us up. I don’t remember how long it took to get there but I’d say around 2-3 hours. Before starting to walk the van makes two stops at a couple of lakes, which are really amazing, can’t remember their names now. That’s another minus of going there by yourself, the colectivo that will drive you won’t stop for you to enjoy a bit this amazing landscapes.

As I said, this trek is sold as an easy one. Proof of that was a woman that was in the van, who had come with high heels, not the thin ones, but some sort of mix between mountain shoes and high heels. Still, not the best choice. I bet she’ll remember that day for a while.

Soon enough after starting to walk you realize this won’t be a sunday walk through the park. In the beginning it rained a tiny bit, but not enough to spoil the fun. The views are just amazing. If the sky is clear you get to see Huascaran, the highest peak, which is above 6,000 meters.

It’s suppose to take 2 hours to go up and 1 to go down. But if you go in high heels, that’s way too optimistic.

The last part it’s pretty hard, but once you reach the lake it’s all worth it. The color of the water is just insane.

Once we went down, there’s plenty of space to set up your tent, right at the beginning of the path. There’s even a dry toilette available. The place is a pretty damn nice camping spot. And if you are lucky and in the morning the sky is clear, well, you wake up to some pretty amazing views.

After enjoying the views, we packed our stuff and went back to the road, to wait for a colectivo (van) to take us to the village where we’d start the Santa Cruz trek.

The village is called Vaqueria. In there there was a little shop where we bought some coca leaves and had a warm tea. They also offer donkeys to carry your bags all the way for the 3 days of the trek. It wasn’t really expensive, I think around 50 soles/day. Anyway, Xavi was going to be the donkey, for free.

If you have the app Maps.me on your phone, the path is marked, which makes it easy to follow it. So off we went, chewing insane amounts of coca leafes, just in case our heades would now start feeling bad due to the altitude.

The trek is really damn nice, we got a bit of water the first part, but when reaching the checkpoint where they check if you paid the entrance to the national park, the sky had cleared and it was really nice.

We were walking alone most of the first day, but before reaching the first camping spot, a little group passed us. Still, it was 5 people, so not that bad.

The second day in Santa Cruz started with rain, not pouring rain, but a tiny bit that wouldn’t stop. We packed up, covered our bags and started walking. This is the hardest part, the one that takes you up to 4,750 meters in what’s called Punta Union, a Lord of the Rings looking pass from one side of the mountain to the other.

My poncho broke, so my bag got freaking wet, Kasia’s didn’t break but her stuff also got wet, and on top of that my stomach was giving me a real hard time. If that wasn’t enough, we got lost. The thing is that because of the rain, you couldn’t see any freaking path, it was all little rivers, where water was flowing down the rocks. Thanks to Maps.me we could more or less go back to the right path. It was definitely the hardest physical effort I’ve ever done. The bag with the wet tent, wet sleeping bags, clothes, etc, and I had to drop it and run every now and then thanks to my lovely stomach. This picture Kasia took of me kind of shows what I went through.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, I was like, we can do this! this is hard as fuck but we’ll do this damn thing and it’s gonna be amazing! As a side note, we started walking way too late, so then we kind of feared for a while that we’d have to sleep almost standing against the mountain, cause in the part we were there wasn’t even a little flat spot to set up the tent.

But we kept on moving and made it to the top. That really felt good.

The views were incredible, it made it all worth it. We rested there, enjoyed the moment and kept moving down to the campsite.

We set up the tent, all freaking wet. The sleeping bags were soaked wet, so no chance of using those. Luckily we had some clothes in plastic bags that remained dry, so we changed clothes and started to realize this would be a really long night. Temperature at night dropped to around 0 degrees. I asked the guys from the tour if they would happen to have an extra blanket, but as it turned out, their stuff also got wet so they didn’t really have any to spare. At least it was a really nice camping spot.

So yep, with nothing more than the inside part of the jacket to keep us warm, we did our best. I don’t think we’ve hugged that much ever before. It was simply impossible to fall asleep. When I laid down, after a minute I needed to sit down and start rubbing my chest or my legs. And that’s how we spent the night. So with the first rays of light we packed up and started moving. Luckily, the sky was clear. We had 20 km ahead of us, but almost all would be going down.

The last part of the path was kind of scary, as you could see shit tone of rocks piled up in the path and up in the hill, some where big ass rocks, and it was really easy to realize a landslide had caused that. So basically we just hoped no huge rock would crush our heads and started moving a tiny bit faster than usual.

Finally we made it to the town and there took the same van the tour guys had, we paid 20 soles each for the ride back.

Definitely worth doing this trekking, during the dry season it’s supposed to be packed with people and during low season there’s nobody, but yes, it can rain like crazy, so it’s a matter of choice. I prefer a bit of rain than a tone of people, so it was a good choice.

After coming back from the trek, we saw in the news all about the huaicos happening, and the crazy stuff going on in the country.

The only thing that made us be fully aware of the situation happening in Peru was that even if we wanted, we couldn’t leave Huaraz. Simple reason, while Huaraz made it out almost intact from the rains, the roads that connect the city with the rest of the country disappeared under the mud. And by disappeared I really mean it. There were two roads out, one had a bridge that collapsed due to the mudslide and the other, the pavement was washed away leaving an impossible road behind.

So while being in town, we decided to spend the days walking around the city and making a little escape to the viewing point up in the hills.

With the current situation of the roads, many foreigners were asking the local authorities, some even demanding,  that the army would come and fly them out o things looked pretty bad for us, but the Canadians got us out. The Canadians you say? Oh yes, Canadian dollars paid for the road to be cleared real quick, incredibly quick considering the situation. And what drove this beautiful act? Their big hearts? Not really. Turns out there’s a huge mine called Antamina very close to Huaraz, that uses these same roads to move their trucks in and out. Each day the trucks didn’t move, the mining company was losing loads of money. So they paid to clear the roads, and to clear them fast. Seems like Canadians have a taste for Peruvian mines, as there are more than 80 Canadian mining companies in Peru. Anyways, it took them less than 10 days to clear the whole thing, which trust me, was a lot to clean. Good thing was that in the hostel we stayed, it was just us and two other guys, Nico and Jonathan, with whom we shared this time learning how to play the guitar, watching films and eating delicious Argentinian and Philippine meals.

So thank you Canadians for allowing us to leave Huaraz, next stop: Cuzco!

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