Trek to Yanacocha, cows, bears, muna and the Canadian Flag

My first trek in Peru could have been pretty epic, had we made it.  But there is a clear difference between trekkers and adventure racers.

1.) ARs will continue until they find the checkpoint (in this case Yanacocha lake), regardless if that is 2 hours more than they expected, and dark and rain my come.  ARs are prepared for that.

2.) ARs will plot barrings on their topos and not just rely on written directions by previous trekkers.

3.) ARs don’t care if there isn’t a trail.

Just a few differences I learned and why I am more an AR than a trekker.

Regardless we had a great and gruelling day.  It was by all accounts a pretty ambitious trek and since the other 5 had been in Peru for one month and much more they were a little concerned I might not be acclimatized seeing I had arrived only 2.5 days ago.  I assured them I was fine.  So packed with loads of water, extra clothes, waterproofs, safety blanket, whistle, compass (AR checklist) bars and gummies.  I was ready to meet the others at 7a.m. for a 9-13hour trek, 14km (assuming we are on course) to Yanacocha (4200m) from Ollantaytambo (2800m).

However, since we has just decided this late last night I hadn’t been able to tell my host family.  So, I woke up poor Poncho at 6:30a.m. to let him know.  He ran down the stairs buckling his belt buckle and hurriedly made me breakfast of scrambled eggs, bread and tea.  I felt so bad, but I wasn’t going to refuse the food.  As I left he handed my 2 bananas and an orange for my trek.

Meeting the others to go over the instructions which were written by some previous volunteers, we soon realized we’d have to print them out and pick-up the topographic map. So off the office we went.  It was on the way after all.  Just for some background we are testing out this trekking guides in order to sell/distribute to tourists instead of paying for local guides.

Finally at 8a.m. (an hour late) we were heading out of town, along the dirt road,over the little bridge and up a newly built set of stairs to the edge of the mountain.  The next 5 hours were all up hill.  Climbing sometimes at  60+ degree angles and creating our own switchbacks.  About 2 hours up there was a house and about an hour after that we found the agave plant where according to the trail guide we get back on a trail.  Agave plant as a trail marker, too funny.  The scenery was amazing, so much green, waterfalls coming from the sacred Yanacocha lake and a powerful smell of muna.  Muna is the local mint and if you didn’t know is what gives Andes candies (you the mint chocolates we used to get on hotel pillows or after your dinner at St. Hubert’s) it’s name.

Unfortunately, some dissension began after we lost the trail,  But after some persuasion I managed to get the to mover forward towards through the field and towards a circle of rocks indicated in the guide.  Phew!  Then it all went wrong.  According the guide we pass the rocks and move towards another rock out crop, but just ahead was a local on a trail.  We think now he was headed towards the lake.  We trekked towards the rock outcrops which ended up being about an hour of rock scrambling and then on to a false summit.  Dark clouds began to roll and the group was getting hungry.  It was clear at this point we were off course and probably 1.5 hours away from the lake.  We decided to head back to a grassy knoll and have a late lunch.  Arriving back where we had since a large Sun Bear foot print in a pile of cow dung we settled down for a rest and some food.  While we ate and looked over the edge of the rock face into the village below I couldn’t help just loving being there.  As the old saying goes it is not always the destination but the journey and this journey was beautiful.  I am truly happiest on a mountain. 

Consequently, while we were admiring the view and acquiring new energy a flock of cows and some angry looking bull had surrounded us.  So much for our story that we didn’t make it to Yanacocha lake because the Sun Bear scared us off, it was really a bunch of cows. We joked they liked my red Salomon pack.  So Graham tested the theory by running around with my bag.  I thought he was going to sacrifice it.  But all was good and we were back down the hill, each carrying a rock just in case.  A couple of cows and bulls did come charging at us but we managed to loose them at the stream, expect for the bull that was ahead of us calling for reinforcements.

Down the hill took another 3+hours, loosing the trail only once.  Ah…the agave plant, almost home.

So I may not have a picture of the sacred lake this trip I do know what a sun bear foot print looks like.  I do know cows can call for reinforcements.  I do know muna is used in Andes candies and when rubbed on exposed limbs and face and deter nasty horseflies.  I do know that after rubbing muna you should reapply sunscreen.  Lastly, I will never go into the hills with 3/4 length tights and short sleeves again.  I am so burnt that I look like the ends of the Canadian flag.  Only a red maple leaf on my mid-section is missing.

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