Day Two in the Andes
We had set up camp in the valley below the snowy peaks looming above. The mountains taunted us with their massive rocky splendor; it was impossible to escape their presence. After dinner the guides wished us sweet dreams, and told us they would send in a “blanket with ears” if we caught cold. The first thing that came to mind was a cute, furry, domesticated alpaca, but I’m pretty sure he was referring to one of the porters. Leaving the tent to pee in the frigid stillness, the tales of Malo Viento recited to us over dinner in the forefront of my mind, I could feel the dark masses around me, beckoning to me. Had it not been for the freezing night and my tired lungs, I may have been tempted to keep climbing on until morning.
We set off from camp right at sunrise, our feet crunching along as the ice broke under us. The climb was not exceptionally steep but felt nearly unattainable due to the altitude. My saving graces were coca leaves, which remained waded up in my cheek until they needed replenishing, and water which I had to sip on every other step of the way. I have never hiked so slowly in all my life, fortunately this left plenty of time for appreciating the glorious scenery of the Andes.
We reached the summit of 16000 feet shortly before midday, and soaked up the delicious rays of sun beaming down, melting away the cold. I felt as if I was literally on top of the world sitting amidst such jarring beauty. The view, the most rewarding gift possible, literally takes your breath away. Andean offerings of coca leaves and corn for Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Inti, the god of sun were scattered around the rocks alongside symbols of Catholic worship, exemplifying the fusion of current day religious beliefs possessed by the Peruvian people. The Incans understood life itself could not be without sun or water, and still often make offerings in sacred places to these natural elements, as well as to the energy that created the universe. The trek down the other side of the mountain range was a welcomed shift. The landscape continually transformed as we descended, passing countless lakes, flora, fauna, and even a few humans. We were headed back toward civilization all too soon.