Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cruzing for a Bruising

[Editor's note: Judging by the unprecedented number of comments and page views generated by Kristin's last post, I trust that you will all be disappointed to learn that is again I, Kevin, who is back at the controls. I'm not jealous. Let's move on.]

We have just left the charming mountain town of Huaraz in Peru, which served us our base for trekking in the Cordillera Blanca, a picturesque mountain range sporting 35 bad-ass, snow-capped mountains that top the 6000 metre plateau. Our trek of choice was the 4-day, 3-night Santa Cruz circuit, to which we added an additional day and night that allowed us to incorporate a trek to a nearby glacier lake and postpone showering for another day.

We brought the usually assortment of goodies for the trek. We each had a few layers of clothing (necessary, since it got down below -5 degrees Celsius at night), some water purification pills, some snacks and some digestive issues. Kristin also brought a feminist novel that even she had to admit was awful and give up reading, and I brought a head and chest cold that made me feel as close to death as I had ever been in my entire life when we camped at 4200 metres on the second night.* [Editor's note: I'm not sure whether it was (i) a combination of head congestion and altitude or (ii) the chemical withdrawal from my burgeoning addiction to Coca Tea, but every afternoon on the trek I developed a headache that was out of this world. Thankfully, as I hammer out this blog post at lower altitude and sip on my Coca Tea, I feel a lot better.]

Our group for the trek was a good one. In addition to the KLongs, there was a father/son pair from (more or less) Canada, a French/Austrian couple from Montpellier, a honeymooning couple from Tel Aviv, our guide, our cook and two donkey "drivers". Everyone got along very well and brought complimentary items that made the experience all the more enjoyable. For example, the French/Austrian couple brought hard alcohol for the evening, the Canadian son brought a Spanish phrase book with a hilarious section of sexual/romantic lines, and the honeymooners brought young love. These items were complimentary in the sense that they allowed me to call out "Easy Tiger" in Spanish, which I learned from the phrasebook, whenever we heard noises coming from the honeymooners' tent, which I probably wouldn't have done if booze hadn't been involved. Good times.

I'm not exactly sure what I can say about the trek itself other than it was spectacular. It is also the first place I've visited where I was truly upset that we didn't have a really nice camera. While I think our pictures of Huaraz and the trek are pretty nice (you can check them out here), they just don't do justice to, and couldn't really capture, what there is to see. At the same time, I don't believe the trek itself will even be my most vivid memory in the Cordillera Blanca. That honour goes to the road/pass which took us from the end of our Santa Cruz trek to the beginning of the glacier lake trek and which I have dubbed for this post "the Scariest Road of All-Time". Now, while we have been assured by our Peruvian friends that there are many worse roads than the one we took, the ride was one of the most spectacular and harrowing experiences of our lives. The drive in our overloaded (both in terms of cargo and people) taxi van took us from 3900 metres to a mountain pass at 4750 metres and then back again, down a terrifying series of switchbacks complete with a smattering of crosses in memory of those who didn't make the corners. On the way we had a flat tire (on the way up, thank goodness) and saw vans similar to our own that had broken down or had their axels snapped in half by the rough road. While it was bit difficult to focus on the surroundings as we were driving, the road winds down to a chain of beautiful, turquoise mountain lakes, while majestic Nevado Huascaran, the largest mountain in the Peruvian Andes, towers above. It was a lot to take in, but, having survived, I highly recommend it to our readers.

A couple of lists to finish us off:

Lessons Learned/Reinforced on the Trek
  1. There is an incalculable benefit in being the first person into the toilet tent each day;
  2. Eating lunch in a cheap Peruvian restaurant is not always a good idea right before beginning a trek;
  3. After your third cup of Coca Tea in a day, you are no longer taking it to combat the effects of altitude;
  4. If your wife has to pee a minimum of three times each evening, make sure that your sleeping bag is not positioned between hers and the door of the tent; and
  5. If you are not feeling well on a multi-day trek, make sure everybody knows about it so you can get the maximum amount of sympathy (and medication) from others.

My Santa Cruz experience by the numbers:

Max altitude reached - 4750 metres (once hiking, once driving)
Highest camp site - 4200 metres
Showers - Zero
Momentary lapses in concentration leading to falls - 1
Number of times I thought I was going to die - 1 (but it lasted nearly the entire duration of our trip down the Scariest Road of All-Time)
Cow Patties - literally, tens of millions
First time I was forced to put on all of my layers - Day 1, 5:30 p.m.

We're in Lima now and are going to hang out in Southern Peru for a few days. Will the KLongs find adventure there? Find out by tuning in early next week - same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.

*Only two days later, the Scariest Road of All-Time replaced Camp #2 as the closest I think I have ever been to death.


  1. Your near death experiences don't thrill me much............I do however love to read about your adventures and glad that you are living your dreams. And your photos are wonderful. Please bring me one of those cute little donkeys. Love to you both!

  2. Maybe you should come rescue a donkey. If properly maintained, we were told that they are good for 20-25 years of back-breaking labour, which probably explains their long faces.

  3. Great to hear from Kristin, too. Always nice to get 2 perspectives. The pictures are terrific and sometimes surprising. We have experienced some of those scary roads, Costa Rica comes to mind, but I'm guessing your scary road wins the prize. The mud covered bodies and the Coca Tea explain a lot - enjoy!

  4. Scary roads are scary roads the world over, made all the more terrifying in some developing countries by scary cars and scary drivers. Glad to hear you're enjoying the pictures - they've captured some pretty special moments for us. Thanks for commenting and say hello to Rick for both of us.