Saturday, July 1, 2017

Peru- Week #2: Santa Cruz Hike

At 8am on Monday morning, we met Vivian and Malu, our guide and cook for the trek.  We hopped in a fancy Galaxia van/sprinter and headed out on a five our van ride to the starting point of our trek.  Sadly, the van sprung a gas leak about two hours into the drive.  Fortunately, we were able to get to a "cafe" and hunker down until a Collectivo (public taxi/van) could come and take us the rest of the way to our destination.  It was a much less "glamorous" ride, but after three hours of driving up hairpin turns, we got to the starting point of our hike by 3pm.

Here is a Google Image taken by a drone of the road that we took to the start of our trek from Yungay to Yanama:

The views along the way were amazing:

We met our burrows in Vaqueria, an elevation 12,140 ft.   

Below is a map of our trek:

 Our objective was to make it to Paria, a few miles in from the park entrance.  We hiked through the villages of Yanama and Colcobama.  The people were so friendly and many made note of the fact that we were hiking with such small children.

It was already getting dark when we made it to the ranger station and it was clear we would not make it to the goal.  Malu and our burrow driver got to camp early, so when we arrived, there was hot water for tea, biscuits, and the most delicious soup ever.  This was followed by a chicken curry.  There was so much food and we felt gluttonous-- not doing any of the work.

Hazey showing off a hat he purchased from a local quechua woman
Viviane informed us that we'd have a 15 km (9.3 mile) hike the following day-- gaining at least 4000 ft of elevation.  John asked if there was a shorter option...... alas, there was not.  We were in it to win it. 

Day 2:  Punta Union

We were woken at 6:15, served a quick breakfast and on the trail by 7:30am.  We started our journey hiking up a gentle slope in a lovely valley-- filled with sheep and cows.

The kids spirits were great and the views were amazing.

Viviane kept us on a tight schedule.  We were allowed 5 minute snack breaks, but a little bit longer for lunch.  We introduced the kids to the game "20 questions" and everyone was doing well. 

Then we saw the pass- Punta Union  It's in the picture below..... that notch in the rocks in the top center.  It doesn't look like much of a pass, but we had our objective in view.

This is when the struggle really began.  The kids were no longer having fun.  Tommy, Cara, John and I dug deep to keep the tenor positive and boost the kids egos.  Viviane kept pretty uninvolved with the journey..... just kept ahead of us, making sure we kept moving.  

There were tears, there were many "I can't do this" statements proclaimed, but there also really wasn't anything to do but to keep going.  Turning back wasn't an option (our donkeys were already on the other side with all our gear and we had no transportation).  So, we took it really slow, we fed this kids lots of candies, and did anything we could to distract their tired minds.  We talked about how beautiful it was where we were and how lucky we were to be able to be hiking in such an amazing place.  We tried to inspire the kids to hike for all the people in their lives that couldn't be here.  I told them how much all of their grandparents would love to see this place.  I'm not sure how much any of this helped....

But the kids did keep hiking and after 8 hours , we got high enough to find snow.  This totally helped. 


15 minutes later we were at the top of Punta Union Pass-- elevation 15, 584 ft!  I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry.  The journey to the top was like nothing I've ever experienced.  It required all of us to dig so deep into our hearts and bodies, to have faith that we could do it, and to persevere. The smiles beaming across the kids faces were priceless.  They did it!  We all did it!

We still have a two hour hike to our camp site.  It was all downhill, but everyone was tapped.  Because it gets dark at 6:30, I started walking down with the kids.  Hazey was a mess.  He was stumbling and making grunting sounds that I'd never heard come out of a kid.  Cally was hiking strong, so I left Hazey with John, Tom and Cara and I continued on with her.  We had a great hike and fun conversations.  By 5:30, we had our tents in view and we'd made it.  I was worried about H, so I headed back up to help the others.  Cally was happy to hang out with Malu, Viviene, and the donkeys.  

I couldn't believe my eyes, Hazey and John were not that far behind and Hazey was bouncing along down the trail.  It turns out, John emptied his pack and put Hazey inside of it for a while.  He was so exhausted that he fell asleep and snored in John's ear. 

We all were back by 6:30, drinking tea, eating soup and exhausted!  Dinner wasn't all that appealing-- because of the elevation, exhaustion, and stink of it (fish).  We all went to bed by 8:00 and knew the next few days would be a breeze (mostly downhill).

Day 3:

Our campsite

They did it!  That's Punta Union in the background

We did have to hike up a little to get a view of Alpamaya-- the most beautiful mountain in the world- but it was well worth it.


The Santa Cruz valley:  Little vegetation because of big avalanche that busted through a moraine in 2013.  Alas, the lupines seem to be a strong pioneer species. 

The oligotrophic lakes were gorgeous.  Cally said she'd swim, but it was pretty cold, being that it was glacially fed.

Made it to camp with plenty of time to relax and later play music:


Day 4: 

We were sad to say goodbye to our final camp spot, but excited to take a shower, eat a churro, and have a beer.

Dogs are everywhere in Peru.  Malu, our cook, introduced us to this puppy on the last morning of our trek and we fell in love:

Our last day of hiking was an easy 4 hours.  We saw a lot of people going up as we were going down.  The reactions of people seeing such young kids made me feel so proud.  

We finished up at an "Eco Lodge" where we had a bagged lunch and a beer.  

Thank you Viviene and Malu!  You guys were a part of a really important adventure.  I don't think any of us will forget this experience.  It is a part of our souls.  It will get us through lots of life challenges.  If Cally and Hazey could do Punta Union, they can do anything.

For perspective, this is a profile of the hike (backwards from how we did it).  Yee Haw!