Thunder and Lightning on the Lares Trek
During my time in Peru, I was lucky enough to become good friends with a Cuscanean local and G Adventure guide named Rudy. He was a huge reason I was able to do all the treks and adventures that I did. We did the Lares Trek slightly differently than normal - we bussed out of Cusco to Calca (1.5 hours for 3 Soles), then taxied to the Lares hot springs (45 min for 50 Soles) and camped at the hot springs (10 Soles). The Lares hot springs were much hotter than those on the Salkantay trek (Cocalmayo hot springs). At Lares, they were also a deep yellow due to the different mineral components. We enjoyed a few smaller hot pools, one big cooler pool..and stayed away from the cold pool since it was late at night.
The next morning we taxied to the village most groups camp at for their first night. It’s a 45 min drive from the hot springs. We gave a papaya to a small boy and his mother who lived there - most groups are encouraged to bring some fruit for the kids who live near the Lares trail since it is very difficult for them to get any due to lack of money and the long distance from any town. From there we began the hike up to the pass. Typically, this hike up takes a group around 6 hours, but we did it in 4. The Peruvians I was with said they usually take 2-2.5 hours. The way up wasn’t too bad, uphill but still undulating and we took a break every 45 min - 1 hour. The view was ever changing. It started a little misty but the sun was peaking through and glowing off the river in the valley below, looking like a gold shimmery snake. As we hiked up further away from the valley, the clouds opened up and we were blessed with views of beautiful white capped mountains and glaciers. Up higher still, there were many small alpine lakes, all a stunning blue. At one of these lakes, we all sat for a break and had a traditional Andean breakfast - baked potatoes and cheese. It was delicious and comforting. We continued up further still and the rocks turned rougher and more jagged. It reminded me of hiking Yamnuska in Alberta and the Cullin Ridge in Scotland. I was thinking of my dad, and how much he would love this.
The summit of Saddle pass (Siqllak’assa) at 4820m, was breathtaking. It’s so satisfying and humbling to be surrounded by these giant beasts of rock. We paused for a few minutes to put on extra layers, scarf down avocado on a bun and stock up our cheeks with coca leaves. As we sat there, we were passed by dozens of mules and llamas all carrying big loads on their backs. The horsemen stopped for a minute as well as we shared some fruit and bread with them. A few pictures and we were off to the lunch spot (about an hour down). For lunch, we were very fortunate to join the cooking tent of another G Adventure group. We helped them with some food prep in exchange for a big, hot lunch. Just as we arrived at the lunch spot and put our packs down, the hail started. It began gently but turned savage. It was deafening on the tent roof, only put to shame by the ferocious thunder that made us all jump. It lasted maybe an hour before turning to snow then rain, leaving us with 2 inches of slush to walk through after lunch. We didn’t mind since we were protected for most of the storm!
Another 3 hours down the other side of the valley and we were at our second camp spot (3700 m). It was in the middle of a village called Paqchayoc where there were lots of sheep, rock/mud houses, and hanging laundry on the trees. We gave a few more oranges to the children in this village. Rudy explained that there was a kindergarten here, but when the kids got older they had to hike at least 1 hour to and from Urubamba each day to attend elementary and high school. After we set up our tent, the altitude hit me hard, as it always does from the descent. I laid down and physically couldn’t get up until the next morning. I was so nauseous and my head was pounding, about to explode. I managed to eat a bit of dinner, thanks to Rudy for bringing it to the tent. Just before bed I got up to pee and brush my teeth and was amazed when I looked up...the sky was a beautiful blanket of stars, surrounded by the black jagged outline of the mountains around the valley. I could not recognize any stars or constellations, which was very strange. After a few moments of standing there, just gapping, the lightning started to flash behind the mountains from which we’d come. The lightning blinded the faint sparkle of all the stars when it cracked but also accentuated the silhouettes of the mountain edges.
That night, it rained hard. Sometimes it was so loud I had to cover my ears with my sleeping bag. The morning greeted me with a clear head, but thousands of tiny midges...what little buggers. I don’t know why, but for some reason, they like to fly right up your nose and into your eyes. After breakfast (and cake) with the G Adventure cooks, we had an easy 3-hour walk further down the valley to the bus that was waiting to take us to the lunch spot. We walked next to a river for a large portion of the hike down which was so comforting, the sound of flowing water against the rocks. We walked behind the group of mules and horsemen, a couple women dressed in their traditionally decorated dresses and flowery red hats. Again, we got to join the group and were fed in exchange for beers and food prep. While waiting for the bus to come pick us up for the 2 hours back to Cusco, we got to relax while drinking a combo of dark wheat beer and coca-cola. I must say I am a fan of Cuscanea cerveza!