The Lares Trek: Exploring Indigenous Peru [Part 2]

Day 1: Lares to Huacahuasi And Getting Lost in the Andes

(Duration: 10 kilometers / 6 miles)

Once we arrived in Lares, our starting point, we began our trek with a soak in hot springs pools surrounded by towering peaks.

While the trek to the hot springs was only one kilometer (about ¾ of a mile), we felt every step of it. Not only were we acclimating to the altitude, but we were also carrying upwards of 30 pounds on our backs.

Some would call it torture, and at times it really felt like it was. But trust me, it was so worth it.

And the hot springs helped us ease into what would be a grueling three days of trekking the Andes. It was an added bonus that we had all the pools to ourselves.

Lares Hot Springs, a secluded oasis

They weren’t meant to be private, but nobody else was there except us, the woman who managed the place and her five-year-old son who had boogers crusted over his nose.

He was exceptionally curious about what mujeres do in the changing room. Even though he was a privacy violator, I was quick to forgive because, well, he was five.

Instead, we became quasi-friends, speaking short sentences in Spanish amongst each other. I asked him which pool was the hottest, whether he was in school (he was), and if he wanted a slice of my orange.

“Lo quieres?”

He accepted it gladly.

After saying adios to the woman and her son, it was another five miles to the first of four Quechua villages we visited.

But first we had to find the trail.

The trek started on a dirt road that we had to share with trucks, motorcycles and other hikers.

We were most definitely the only hikers who decided not to hire a guide.

Despite the diligent attempts at fooling us, we didn’t fall victim to the lies the tourist companies fed us.

Like that we couldn’t hike the Lares Trek without a guide. Or that transportation from town to town would be impossible (sometimes it was, but it wasn’t always… you’ll see).

So, without a guide we had plenty of opportunities to get lost. Three times to be exact. But we also had plenty of opportunities to experience the hike the way we wanted – in our own time, on our own terms.

A cairn I created as a memorial for lost loved ones.

With only about three miles in, one guide leading a group of tourists wished us “good luck.” I’m sure his intentions were pure, but “good luck” is not something I want to hear when I’m embarking on a trip that definitely has the potential to kill me.

“Good luck” implies I need it, as if I might not survive. “Good luck” sounds negative to me.

We said gracias nonetheless. And then we got lost for the first time.

Luckily, it only took a call across a river to find our way.

“LARES?” Maddison asked through cupped hands.

The local man pointed directly at the place where two mountains met in a v-shape.

And straight through the valley we went, ascending a mountain while walking alongside a lively river.

At this point, the trail became skinny, only intended for foot traffic. The grass was a healthy shade of green, and wildflowers abounded in purples, yellows, whites.

And for many miles we were the only breathing beings trekking it.

Maddison and me (above) alone in the Andes

And that’s how we traveled to Huacahuasi: on foot, surrounded by nature.

Almost immediately upon entering Huacahuasi, we were greeted by curious children.

“Como estas?” and “de donde eres?” they asked with rosy cheeks.

We asked them where we could camp, which was a challenge to articulate in broken Spanish.

Nonetheless, they pointed us in the right direction and after asking about 10 more people the same question, we found a place to sleep: on someone’s property for free.

Typically, the guides strike up deals with locals so they can pitch tents on their grass.

But we didn’t have such a deal. Just the generosity of people who had a lot less to give than we did. Which is why I gifted them my camp coffee as a thank you. That was the first of many items I gave away while on the trail.

Things I gave away on the trail:

(Approximate value: $150)

  • Tea
  • Scarf
  • Boots
  • Coffee
  • Nail polish
  • Sanuk sandals
  • Urban Outfitters top
  • OneMama necklace

That night, we lit up the JetBoil and cooked rice and beans over a tiny flame, the only illumination for what felt like miles. We fell asleep listening to semi-wild dogs howl into the night and the faint sound of festive music playing off in the distance.

The next day posed even more challenges than the day prior.

We knew it would be the hardest day because it was the day we would trek over a pass that sat at nearly 14,700 feet, which is hundreds of feet higher than any 14er in Colorado.

Neither of us had the experience or the training.

This is another example of when we thought we’d die.

But we didn’t die… and you’ll see why when you read the next installment of my expedition through the Peruvian Andes – coming soon.

Translations:

  • Mujeres: Women
  • ¿Lo queries?: Do you want it?
  • Adios: Goodbye
  • ¿Como estas?: How are you?
  • ¿De donde eres?: Where are you from?
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