Sunday, 12 May 2013

Lares Trek

The highlight of my time in Cusco was the opportunity to go trekking up in the Andes for 3 days on route to Machupicchu. Rather than go on the classic Inca Trail, where you will be trekking with 500 other tourists, I decided to go on a more cultural and quieter trek which takes you through a number of small villages and where you have the opportunity to see how the local Quechua people live.

Day 1 was a very relaxed start to the trek as we had the opportunity to visit the natural hot springs at Lares, close to the start of the trek. A good opportunity to relax your muscles ahead of all of the walking. After a dip and nice lunch, it was uphill for about 1 ½ hours to our campsite at the village of Quishuarani. We camped in the grounds of a local family, so you had the opportunity to see what a typical farming house was like. Dirt floor, mud brick construction and guinea pigs running everywhere. A bit different to your normal British farmhouse. Due to the cold weather above 3,000 meters the only crop that really grows are potatoes and therefore farming consists of potatoes and livestock; sheep, cows and lamas.

We had 14 km to cover on day 2 with lots of uphill and therefore it was an early start with a 5:30 wake up call and 6:30 departure. A really nice aspect of the trek was how well we were looked after by the local guides, cooks and porters. You were woken up with a cup of fresh coca tea (tea made with coca leaves), had a bowl of hot water for a quick wash and all of the normal camping chores (putting up the tent, washing up etc) were done for you. The food was also good considering the basic equipment the chef had to work with and lack of fresh food available.

Day 2 was the big one where we had to climb to a pass at 4,650 meters and then descend to our camp at Cancha Cancha at 3,900 meters. The actual walking was not too tough, but being above 4,000 meters makes a huge difference with altitude leaving you short of breath after the smallest of exertions. Thankfully we were rewarded at the pass with an amazing view of snow capped mountains as far as the eye could see. The weather throughout the trek was excellent, which makes a big difference when you are trekking in high mountains and ensured some great photos.

After a difficult descent on loose stone and scree, we reached our campsite at about 14:00 after 7 ½ hours of walking. Thankfully we had the rest of the afternoon to recover our strength for tomorrow. In the evening we had a Peruvian style barbeque which involved a whole sheep and potatoes being cooked with hot stones for about an hour. Not something I would recommend at home as making the oven was quite a process, but it was interesting to see a style of cooking unchanged for over 500 years.

In Cancha Cancha we camped in the grounds of the local school and therefore had the opportunity to meet some of the school children before they started lessons. Up in these mountain villages everyone speaks Quechuan (the main native language of Peru), with most people only understanding basic Spanish. Unfortunately as with a lot of native languages Quechuan is not supported by the Peruvian government and therefore is in danger of dying out in the next 100 years or so.

We had about 4 hours of walking on day 3, but thankfully it was all downhill to the town of Fundo Huaran. As we descended in a glacial river valley it was amazing to see the ecosystem change, with fertile farmland and thick green forest below 3,500 metres. After a nice lunch at Fundo Huaran it was into the coach and off to Ollantaytambo where we were catching a train to Machupicchu. I will cover Machupicchu in my next blog.

As most of you will know, I really enjoy mountain trekking and therefore the Lares Trek was definitely my highlight of South America so far. The scenery was amazing, the local people really friendly and you got to see the real Andean Peru away from all the tourists. A truly magical 3 days.


First camp site

Inquisative lamas

Group photo at the high pass

Stunning mountain scenery

Photo with local porters and cooks


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