Sunday, September 6, 2009
Chillin’ and freezin'
Most people come to Huaraz for the amazing trekking around the area. Now Adrian and I weren’t trekkers so we were here for the day trips. The first one had been so good that we decided to do more. However we got back so late from the other tour that we missed Vicky from the hostel to book another one for the next day. Instead we just hung around the hostel chatting with Kiwi, Derek and LA girl, Carrie. Derek had been on the road for the last two years and was heading out to do a multi-day trek the next day while Carrie was heading back to Lima and then to LA having just finished a 3-month archeological study around Machu Pichu. Pretty cool? With such great company no wonder we didn’t feel like leaving the hostel.
When it came time for dinner the four of us headed out for chicken and chips. Pretty amazing since we’d all been woken up every morning by the chicken slaughter just over the fence. But chicken and chips was about $1.50 for a breast and mound of fries and a tiny side salad. Take that Swiss Chalet. Afterwards, Adrian and I headed to the tour company office to book a tour for the next day. Even though there were other places offering tours in English we booked with Hugo’s company hoping he’d be doing the Pastouri glacier tour tomorrow. The clerk didn’t know for sure but we crossed our fingers and headed back to get some sleep.
Good thing too because unlike the first tour, we were picked up right on time and taken by taxi to meet the bus in the middle of town. There were many familiar faces, including the American kids from the first tour. We chatted with a couple of them, Melissa and Joel, and found out that they were all on exchange with a university in Lima and were traveling around on the weekend trying to squeeze in some sightseeing. Most of them had homework in their bags that they were attempting to do on the bus. They had to be back in Lima for Monday morning so like us they were on a night bus. Who we didn’t see was Hugo, until the bus opened the doors and we realized he was driving today. Boo he wasn’t our guide but yay he was were for comic relief (that was probably just our opinion because I’m not sure everyone else thought he was as entertaining as us). Our new guide was Grigorio. He was nice and tried hard, but he was no Hugo. He wasn’t as fun and his Spanish wasn’t as easy to follow. So when we stopped in Catac, I was a little confused what we were supposed to do. Was it a snack break? Or were we ordering for later? Would they come to us or did we have to go up to the counter? That’s when Joel stepped in to help me out. And called the waitress over to take our order for lunch when we returned later in the day. Phew.
That over and done with it was time for the long ride up into the mountain. The scenery was much different this time. For an hour it was nothing but scrubland with the snowcapped mountains way off in the distance. We kept going up and up on the dirt road. Passing some prehistoric rock paintings. Unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the bus and couldn’t see them. The road was too narrow so we weren’t allowed off the bus for a closer look – maybe on the way back. As we rounded the corner we got our first peek at the glacier. It was still a long way off and a long way up. The bus slowly made its way towards it dropping us 2km away at the start of the path up. Immediately, I noticed the thin air and worried that the trek might be too much for us. It was also freezing col. Adrian and I started walking and about 200 metres up we turned back. No we weren’t giving up (yet). But we decided to rent some horses to take us up. Apparently three days were not enough to acclimatize us to the altitude especially since we were now 5000 metres up. Back at the beginning of the path, it was a case of you snooze you lose. All the horses had been rented out already so we were forced to walk up unaided. Yikes.
We looked at the glacier way off in the distance and told each other that we’d walk as far as we could and didn’t pressure each other to make it all the way. We walked slowly bringing up the rear of the group. Grigorio walked with us and told us that it was best to keep walking but we couldn’t and stopped every couple of hundred metres as we headed up. The effects of altitude are hard to explain – your body isn’t tired but you feel as winded as if you’d just run 10 km at top speed trying to escape a pestilence of touts or a plague of taxi drivers (they really are the best descriptions). Up ahead most of the young students were already at the glacier, except Joel. We caught up to him about half way up. The altitude was buggin him too but he also said he wanted to appreciate everything. And there was a lot to take in - snowcapped mountains, the path back down (photo above), and of course the glacier. The vista was endless.
It took us a good hour to get up to the edge of the glacier and the last bit was the worst. It was steep and rocky and the horses didn’t even go up so I was glad we hadn’t hired them. And we didn’t need it because we made it up on our own. With burning lungs we made pushed ourselves the last few metres arriving at the edge with a huge sense of accomplishment. The glacier had obviously receded in the last few years and the large bit that overhung the path had an ominous crack in it. Eventually this too would break off shortening the glacier by another 20 feet. We took it in and took an awful lot of pictures and then it was time to head back down. The way down was almost as treacherous but much easier on the lungs. But it still took a good chunk of time to get down, leaving us just enough time to use the bathroom before being whisked onto the bus for the slow slog back down the mountain. We stopped back in Catac for our preordered trout dinner and arrived back in Huaraz before dark.
After killing 5 hours at the hostel we headed to the Cruz del Sur bus station. It’s the company that is always recommended to tourists as being the best so I had expectations. The security wasn’t as tight as at the Linea station – there were no fingerprints or passport check this time. just photos and checkmark on the passenger list. And the bus wasn’t as comfy or nice as the Linea one. It was not what I would call a semi-cama since the seats barely reclined. As we pulled out of the station, the onboard tv played a slick safety video which talked about the onboard luxuries like wifi which is I guess what made the bus one of the better ones. But since the security getting on hadn’t been the tightest, there was no way I was going to pull out my computer to try it out. I curled up under the tiny blanket and tried to sleep while the silly Cheetah Girls movie played on screen. Through some miracle of central heating it was both too cold and too hot at the same time. But I drifted off, my dreams alternating like the heat between freezing glaciers and scorching desert.