20th Anniversary – 5 Star Camping!!

Our tour guide for our hiking and camping trip, Juan Carlos, was at our hotel promptly at 7:00. We loaded the van with our duffel bags that he had given us a couple of days earlier and we on our way.

The first part of our trip was traveling for about four hours to our starting point in the village of Lares. We passed through several small villages. One was named Pisac. This region was all agricultural. They grew corn, quinoa, kiwicha and potatoes. Peru has over 2,500 different types of potatoes and over 400 different types of corn. Most of the house we passed had ornaments on the roof of two bulls on either side of a cross. The bull was the strongest animal introduced to Peru by the Spaniards. So, by placing this ornament of bulls and a cross, the homeowner is hoping that his family and home will be blessed with a strong family and home.

In the village of Calca, we stopped so our cook could purchase some supplies. Calca is a village of about 10,000 people. Juan Carlos said that it has grown a great deal in the past few years that he has been coming to the area. We visited the local market where Juan Carlos introduced us to some new fruits. One was granadilla. It looked sort of like a small orange. We peeled it and then sucked on the fruit. It was full of seeds but had a great taste. Very sweet. Juan Carlos said the inside of the fruit looked like “monkey brains”…not very appetizing! The other fruit was a small banana. There are several different kinds of bananas down here. When we first arrived, I tried a banana that was kind of reddish in color. I didn’t care for the flavor at all. These little bananas that we tried in Calca were called biscochitos – loosely translated….little sweet cakes. They were good and very sweet.

Another thing that we have noticed on this trip were the variety of hats that people were wearing. These hats represented the region that a person is from. Also, if a women is wearing a white flower in her hat, she is single; a red flower means she is married. For the most part, house in this area were made from adobe bricks. We passed a man making the bricks out of grass and mud and leaving them in the sun to dry. The roofs were either tile or thatched with a grass that grows in the Andes Mountains and repels water, so it is a good choice for a roof.

After about a half-hour in Calca, we continued towards Lares. Calca was at about 9,000 ft. Our ride to Lares one continuous climb up the mountain on switchback roads to 12,000 ft. Needless to say, we had incredible valley views!

In Lares, we took a dip in the hot springs that the town is known for. While we were enjoying the warm, soothing water, our crew was preparing our lunch. We had bread, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and veggie escabiche. This Peruvian dish can be made with fish, chicken or veggies and has a vinegar based sauce. It was delicious.

With lunch over, it was time to begin our hike. I failed to mention that the whole morning it had been raining and overcast. The afternoon was no different….David and I had brought warm clothes and rain proof windbreakers. We also purchased plastic rain ponchos at the hot springs. Silly us….we have LL Bean Gor-Tex jackets with us here in Lima. Do you think that we thought to take them with us???? No….they would have been helpful as for most of the trip, we had rain. According to our guide, this was very unusual weather….great!!! One of the reasons we didn’t do this trip at Christmas was because it was the rainy season in Cusco. May is suppose to be the dry season. Someone didn’t get that message!

We started to hike around 1:30. Our destination was Wacahuasi at 13, 300 ft. Although it was raining, it was really pretty and interesting. One part of the path took us over roads built by the Incas. Juan Carlos, told us of the Inca history along the way. One of the interesting storied he shared was that the Incas believed that gold was drops from the sun and silver was drops from the moon. When the Spanish arrived, they gathered up the gold idols and melted them down. There is a legend that the Incas hid there gold and mummified kings in the jungle. Supposedly, there is a “Lost City of Gold”. The Spanish heard of this legend and sent a group in to find the lost city. They never returned. No one really knows if this is true, but there is doubt to the story as the Incas were afraid of the jungle.

I guess our most favorite part of the whole hike were the children. Now, many of you know that David and I are not real “children people” but oh my gosh, these children were so adorable. I had read that it would be good to take school supplies to pass out along the way. Great idea, but we were hiking with just a day pack and at high altitudes. School supplies and be bulky and weigh quite a bit. Our travel agent suggested color pencils and stickers. What fun we had passing them out! I took about 100 colored pencils and two to each child. Then, I had sheets of happy face stickers. I would ask them in Spanish if they were happy and they would say yes, so I put a happy sticker on one hand. Then, I asked if they were very happy….and put a sticker on the other hand.

If the children were under five and hadn’t gone to school, they didn’t know Spanish. The ancient language of Quechua is spoken more in this area than Spanish. The children learn Spanish when they attend school. Quechua is a very difficult language. I know one Quechuan word….Cusco, which means navel!!!

These children must have had some kind of signal to let others along the path know that “gringos with gifts were coming”. It was so cute, we could see them running lickity-split across the fields to catch up with us. The picture of this little boy is my favorite photo in all of the 400 pictures I took on this trip!!!

The children had so little but they were so happy. Modern technology hadn’t reached their villages or homes so they don’t know what they are doing without. Colored pencils and stickers thrilled them. Another thing, in the villages there is usually a primary school. When the children are older and attend middle school, they have to walk close to two hours to a town that has the middle school.

So, around 4:30, we arrived in Wacahuasi our destination for the first day. It had been a long, uphill hike in the cold rain. Still, our spirits were good. Even better when we arrived at our campsite to find our tents set up, hot water waiting for us to wash our face and hands and a snack of hot tea and cookies!

I guess this would be a good time to explain about our “support team” we had for this camping trip. I am almost embarrassed to tell you….we had six (!!!) people for the two of us. Three horsemen, five horses, a cook, a waiter (who served us with white gloves) and a guide. The support team was amazing….never have we been waited on like that before in our lives.

The food was amazing. The chef accommodated my vegetarian lifestyle. We ate so much delicious food…and believe it or not, still lost weight…wooohooo!

Our first night of camping, it poured all night. Breakfast was at 7:00…damp and dreary. Fortunately, we had hot quinoa cereal and coffee to warm us up. While eating, another guide came by our site and asked if we were going to continue on. Juan Carlos said yes, why not? Evidently, this tour groups equipment got soaked during the night and because of the weather, there was no way to dry the sleeping bags and tents out. We were very fortunate to have top of the line equipment. We later learned that this group turned back for Lares. Talk about a major disappointment!

At 8:00 AM, we were on the trail for our second day of hiking…….

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