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Heather’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Location: Huaraz, Peru

MapHola to everyone!
How are you all doing?
I am really good. I have finally made it to Huaraz, one of my fav. places in the entire universe. The weather could not be better, I have re-united with the amazing Angie, Jared is here to rock it with me, and I also got to meet las Mexicanas, Ana and Isa, who spent un poco tiempo with us here in the begining and provided an influence which kept the party hats on (you know you did girls!)
Yesterday I returned from one of the most magnificent experiences of my life (ahh again, how does this keep happening?)
The cordillera Huayhuash was one of my main goals here in Peru.
It is a range in the Andes which has some of the most rugged, stellar views. The daunting and somewhat discouraging peaks have claimed the lives of many, and enriched the lives of many others. To wander through the glacial carved valleys and breath this desolate and oxygen lacking air gives one an inherent sense of smallness. The trivial things which make up stress in my life dissappear here and I am left to contimplate every single step to a higher altitude, which at times felt a bit tricky.
There was fairy tale scenery, at times I felt like I was in the Legend of Zelda. Trees which spiraled and grew at seemingly impossible angles, strange quagmires which required expert navigation- or the possibility of being sucked into the earth by the vacuum of mud which lay beneath existed. Some of the lakes were more aquamarine than I could imagine, such richness, with incandescent ripples glistening from the surfaces (excluding the lakes with chunks of glacial ice poised ever so chillingly on the surface). Seeing the lakes, the minerals, the slow process of the formation of a moraine, the death of a million year old enormous chunk of ice by avalanche, was so very exciting. Thought provoking. If I had all the time in the world and indespensable income for education I would study and research plants which grow at high altitudes, and/or geology. SO COOL!
The begining of our adventure seemed to point us in the direction of DO NOT GO ON THIS TREK. Our group was very cool, Jared and I, Angie (Wisconsin), Dan (Wales) and Brett (Aussie) International, but also team not 100% prepared.
At the last minute our stove (absolutely necessary for cooking) was unavailable and we did not have a map to guide us through this formidable terrain. With my luck, and the luck of the others, the stars alignied and we set off with a borrowed stove and ...umm..still no map. We were able to navigate with the help of our excellent arriero (donkey driver...we had 4 burros to pack our food/tents/wine...hehe...yes, wine). We even did some routes off the beaten path, passes ranging from 4700m to 5200m every day, and seemed by the grace of someone watching out for us to make it unscathed, quite content, and proud of ourselves.
The experience was on the whole perfect, but there is one aspect I must share with you that really demoralizes the indigenous communities of the cordillera Huayhuash.
Nearly every day we were harrassed for money at various checkpoints. This is understandable, many parks, whether it be Banff or Monument Valley, have fees, but the disorganization, and slipshod manner in which the money was received was dissapointing. Many times we would ask for a discount, which is common here, but every time we all knew that the extortionate and profiteering man at the gate put our soles (dinero Peruano) into his pocket.
There is no system of organization or way to break down the income from tourism into the various communities. The communities will not reach a solution in the near future, so at every post where they asked us for money we gave them our opinion of the negative impacts their behavior is creating. I try to understand their side, and how it actually has to be an intrinsic idea to form a better solution, but seriously the chekpoint men at each stop have nothing better to do than to argue with the tourists and take their money (which they REALLY profit from).
Hopefully one day it will be sorted out so that the misuse of money is lessened and tourists feel less hassled on the trail.

The zenith (in terms of food) for the Huayhuash experience happened on the final night. On the sixth day we were sitting in our campsite, when (not unusual) a herd of sheep passed through. (half)Jokingly we asked Messner (our donkey driver) how much a lamb would cost, as dinner was good (Brett has crazy culinary skills) but meat sounded really tasty. Next thing we knew, we had purchased a live mutton (about $25 CDN) and over breakfast the next morning watched it be slain, skinned, and cut into fresh cuts of meat. What a day. The look of the eyes of the sheep were intense to see before its death, but the taste of the meat made me forget all about it. Messner was a pro when it came to Pachamancas (traditional style of cooking in a hole in the ground, practiced for centuries since the dawn of cooking by tribes all over the world...process which involves a hole, extremely hot rocks, and a pile of dirt on top of our cooking sheep and potatoes).
Que rico!
Such flavor.
We ate like kings that night by the light of our headlamps, and to our surprise we were also able to purchase beer.

I can not explain to you the feeling of connectedness I feel when I am in places like these, but I can tell you that these places really make me wish some of you were there with me. The beauty gives such an overwhelming sense of adrenaline mixed with content. Everyone...go outside, smell the fresh air, and take a minute to remember who you are today.
I love you all and will post pictures soon,
big kisses from Heather!