PASEO Program Adventure—Day 45: Huaraz, Peru

Today (Monday) marks our last full week here in Peru. So of course, the best way to make the most of our time here is to spend hours trekking nearly 9 miles, thousands of feet above sea level.

We were outside our hostel at 5:00 in the morning waiting for the tour bus to pick us up. Mind you, when you’re roughly 9,400 feet above sea level in the mountains during wintertime, it’s pretty cold in the morning. The bus arrived at 6:04am (not that I was staring at my watch for over an hour…), but we did stop for breakfast along the way, which definitely helped. After breakfast, we continued driving further into the Cordillera Blancas in El Parque Nacional Huascarán, where the bus would drop us off to begin our trek. As cameras and phones started snapping pictures on the bus during the drive, we stopped at Lake Chinancocha first for some pictures—every tourist’s dream.

Before beginning our journey (at around 9:15), our tour guide informed us that most people are able to make it to Laguna 69 in three hours, and some people even make it in two. The tour guide mentioned that he would walk behind the group, so as to help us keep a steady pace. He then informed us that if we were not at the Laguna by 1:00pm, we would need to turn around and return to the bus, because the bus would be leaving at 3:30pm with or without us. Considering the fact that there is nothing around the Laguna or throughout the trek, someone left behind would essentially have to wait to catch a ride back with another tour group (likely the following day). And since you’re thousands of feet above sea level in mountainous areas close to glaciers in winter-time, the weather is just as cold as you might expect.

So you know, Laguna 69 (located at the base of a glacier called Pisco Peak) is nearly 15,000 feet above sea level, which is higher than anywhere else in the continental United States. This elevation is merely 2,000 feet below Base Camp on Mount Everest (practicalwonderlust.com). Huaraz is known for its incredible hiking and trekking, and Laguna 69 doesn’t disappoint the countless amount of backpackers and tourists who stop by to give it a shot.

We began the trek through a valley (bottom right photo), which was fairly easy (aside from not being able to breathe). After making it through the valley, we came across steeper zigzags of mountainous terrain that was somewhat difficult to navigate. In realtime, I would absolutely say that it was extremely difficult to navigate. However, since it only got increasingly difficult, I have to save the use of any word synonymous with difficult, hard, impossible, scary, out of breath, can’t breathe, please save me, and/or send help.

After making it through the first half of the trek (mind you, I’m tying fast. This is now two hours later), we came across a small glacier lake (second photo on top) that was pretty stunning too. By this point, it truly was difficult to breathe (even though this kicked in minutes after beginning our trek) since the altitude was only getting higher as we progressed.

After trekking through zigzags and mountainous terrain for what seemed like forever, we finally arrived to an area of flat terrain. When you can’t breathe and everything hurts, it’s the little things in life like flat terrain that would really put a smile on your face. But again, when you can’t breathe and everything hurts, you smile internally. We walked through the flat terrain and came across another mountain that had to be climbed.

I read in a blog post that the last part of the trek involved walking over rocks that make you feel as though you’re about to twist your ankle, and constant thoughts that you’re better off quitting and not continuing. As we began walking up the pathway of rocks, I thought this was it. The thoughts of quitting were popping up (even though they were there for more than two hours now), and I had the number of a local podiatrist ready to call at any given moment. People around me were saying that this must be the last mountain before making it to the Laguna.

Excitement and anticipation were building, as was my tolerance for pain. We were so close. As we made it to the top of the mountain, I was so excited to see the beautiful Laguna that everyone had been talking about. But of course, nothing in life is that simple. As we crossed over the top of the mountain, we saw another mountain across from us, waiting to be climbed.

We made our way downhill, ready to do it all over again. The rocky path was even harder to navigate on the second mountain, and the feeling of wanting to give up was definitely real. We had to stop every few minutes due to the altitude, which had become quite the obstacle (that’s me sugarcoating it). As we continued to hike up the path, we saw people walking down telling us “Casi están allí. You’re almost there.” Those walking around us were also out of breath taking numerous breaks along the way. But we finally made it. And when we did, the view of Laguna 69 in the distance almost made me want to run towards it. Keyword: Almost.

While I wish I could say it more gracefully, the truth is, I schlepped over to the Laguna and laid down alongside the most beautiful view I had ever seen. The tranquil turquoise-blue water below the most narrow waterfall, carrying clear glacier water into the Laguna was absolutely breathtaking. It was truly a shame that the trek took my breath away first.

Seeing so many people accomplish the goal of trekking 7 kilometers (roughly 4.5 miles) towards Laguna 69, 15,000 feet above sea level was truly incredible, and it felt rewarding to be able to reap the benefit of seeing such a spectacular site. We arrived at 12:52pm, so fortunately, we got to stay a while and enjoy the Laguna, without having to turn around and return to the bus beforehand. Some people jumped into the glacial water and swam, but I was perfectly content putting my hand in and leaving it at that.

After enjoying about 30-45 minutes by the Laguna, our tour guide mentioned that it was time to return. I had completely forgotten that we had to make our way back and walk another 4.5 miles without an oxygen tank. I’ll spare you the details of our hike back, but will say that the views were incredible, and that I laid in the middle of the parking lot upon our return, thankful for the experience, and thankful for the opportunity to not have to walk anywhere else for the rest of the day.

Throughout the trek, I was fortunate to walk alongside one of the students from our program who continuously pushed us to keep going. Just like anything in life, having a support system—whether it be friends, family, or even an internal support system—is truly important, because at our seemingly lowest moments when we want to give up, oftentimes we need a push to get back up and continue where we left off. Fortunately for me, I had that on this trek, and was able to enjoy incredibly beautiful sites along the way. Find and/or create your own support system, and don’t be afraid to utilize it. It will come in good use when you least expect it.

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PASEO Program Adventure- Day 2: Leaving Lima for Huanchaco

Seeing as my flight from Fort Lauderdale was delayed (I feel like you can no longer have expectations when using any type of transportation these days), I arrived in Lima, Peru shortly after midnight. By the way, if anyone is actually out there reading this, this post is a day behind- so as to live in the moment. (I figured writing that would be a good, understandable excuse. And if not, stop by tomorrow to see what I’m doing today.)

I was able to spend the morning with family friends from the city, as we shared breakfast together in Moraflores, overlooking a beautiful city and ocean view (top left photo). Since it is wintertime in Peru, the sun doesn’t shine as often in Lima, which explains the cold, overcast weather. 

My flight to Trujillo was scheduled for the early afternoon, so shortly after breakfast, I had to head over to the airport to make it to my final destination. The owner of the house we are staying in picked me and the other students up from the airport, and drove us to Huanchaco, which was a 15 minute drive, at most. 

We took a quick tour of the city, which is known to be a fisherman city with great seafood. (I’ll keep you posted about that). While the size of the city is small, it is seemingly filled with life, as you can hear Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, and many other classics playing from inside the restaurants by the water. At a time like this, I’d say it’s fitting to hear the words, “La vida es un carnaval.”

The other students (from across the country) and I had dinner at a restaurant called “My Friend,” which offers a variety of Peruvian dishes, as well as hamburgers and pizza for visiting Gringos. I ordered pollo a la plancha con arroz y papas (grilled chicken with rice and French fries) for only 16 soles (around five dollars). The cost for food in the area is pretty inexpensive, so here’s hoping I eat well before any Amazon/Whole Food buyouts and mergers make their way over here. 

Tomorrow starts our first class with a local psychologist in Trujillo- Psicología en Peru. Until then, hasta pronto!

Day 2 At Canyons Village In Park City, Utah

Upon waking up in Utah on our first official day there, I looked outside the window and saw so much snow. This could mean only one thing (besides knowing I would freeze once I walked outside); it was time to ski.

I had never skid before, so it was quite the adventure putting on skis, walking around outside, taking a ski lift, and getting off the lift all decked out in ski gear. Fortunately, my uncles were very helpful in showing me the ropes and teaching me everything there was to learn about skiing. I started on a green mountain (which is the easiest course to take), and tumbled most of the way down. But with much more practice throughout the day, skiing down mountains became much more enjoyable than falling and uncontrollably sliding down the route. By the end of the day, I had skid down a few blue courses (the next level up), and was having a blast!

Nighttime was much more relaxing (not having to worry about falling down any mountains), and as you can see pictured below, the scenery was absolutely beautiful.

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