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Ausangate Circuit

8 Apr

ausangate masstif

In the book description of this trek, it reads that you get pretty much everything on this trek – from seeing indigenous villages, alpaca herds, snowy mountain ranges, vicuňas (wild alpaca-llama ancestors), hot springs, and hiking 80km at 3500m or higher.  They did not lie.  This was one of the better treks that I have been on (and, as my faithful readers know, I have been on some good treks this year).

have i ever mentioned how much i love mountains?

one of many small alpine lakes along the way

The Ausangate massif is a large chunk of mountain – with 4 or 5 summits, some huge glaciers and lots of snow and rock.  Over the past 5 days Joseph (a recent college grad who has spent the year in South America who I met through a post I put on the lonely planet forum looking for a hiking partner) and I hiked around it all.

early morning mountains

Though the weather was not perfect – we had everything from snow to hail to sleet to rain to sun – we got some great views of glaciers, alpine lakes and mountain tops. Our highest pass was 5100m, but the other two were 4700m and 5000m. We did see several vicuňas– strange sounding animals that are in the camel family.  We saw herds and herds of alpacas (funny looking animals that they are).  We spent time in two thermal hot spring baths.  We saw locals living their lives – tending to their alpacas or sheep.

little man we met on the trail

llamas up on the pass (they are carrying people’s gear)

Our third night, we meant to stay by a lake that was below our last past.  Earlier that day we had climbed up to our highest pass of 5100m and then down through a beautiful green valley.  On our way to the lake (that the book said had an excellent campsite), we had to climb back up.  As we continued to climb, we slowly realized we were approaching the last pass and somehow had missed the lake.  However, when we reached the pass, we found a tiny stream that would suffice for our water needs and decided to camp at 5000m – knowing that if the clouds cleared we would have some great views.  Though this made for a chilly night, we did have some great views in the morning and a beautiful walk down through the valley below.

sunrise over campo pass (5000m)

This trek can definitely be done in less than 5 days (the book even recommends backpackers to take 6 days!) – as we ended up having lots of tent time.  We only saw three other groups out there – one on horseback and the other two with horse teams (carrying their gear).  They all looked amazed that we were without guide and without horse support, but really, it was not all that hard of a trek.  The hardest part was the route finding – which accounted for about 25-40% of our time on the ‘trail’.

high alpine cactus

The mountains here are definitely amazing and I know that I need to come back (ideally during the dry season to maybe do some climbing!).  In the mean time, I have a ticket to Machu Picchu for Thursday and hope to do a trek to get out that way for three days in the Lares Valley – which is suppose to be beautiful.  Then I will hightail it (as quickly as one can go in the buses here) up to Lima and then Huaraz for one final last hurrah in the mountains!  Hard to believe that it is coming to an end….

hot springs, peru style


Traveling solo

31 Mar

I knew something was wrong when walking up 10 stairs winded me and left me sweating and needing a break.  The  young Peruvian woman carrying a a full load of goods to sell up high, who passed me, asked if I was ok, assuming it was the altitude.  No, no, I responded.  Only a week or two ago, I was at 6,000m.  She looked at me dubiously, but passed on.

ruins in pisac

I pushed thoughts of sickness out of my head – not now, please not now.  I am visiting the sacred valley for just two days and then a trek, I thought to myself.  I racked my brain for what I could have eaten in the past few days that would make me sick.  I tried to think of others around me who were sick. Nothing came to my, no reason why I should be feeling this way.  I hadn’t even been eating street food (well, not that much!).

As I reached the top of the hill, I collapsed onto a rock (yeah, it was probably sacred, but I really needed a place to sit at that moment), coated in sweat  and shaking slightly.  What was wrong?  What was wrong?!   not now, please….

more pisac ruins

After taking a few pictures (to remind myself I had been there), I made my way down and caught a bus to Ollanta, the town where I planned to spend the night.

the ruins at pisac

After two bus rides and a conversation with a man on the bus (who told me that my spanish was good — whoa, he must not be used to gringas speaking spanish!) — I clumsily made my way to a hostal.  At that point, I was ready to collapse….

Fortunately, the first hostal had  a room at a good price (though I might have paid anything!).  Shivering, I crawled into bed with all my clothes on and prayed for sleep.  It was 3:30 in the afternoon.

17 hours later, following shivers, sick dreams and worries that I was really sick, I decided I had to get out of bed — at least to make it back to Cusco.  I tried a light breakfast, I did see the ruins in Ollanta and I did make it back to Cusco (though I skipped the ruins in Chincero in favor of more rest).

impressive ruins of Ollanta

But during those 17 hours, in between worries that I had the flu or worse, giardia,  I realized that no one knew where I was at that moment.  There I was, sweating it out in Ollanta, feeling like hell, and no one who loved and cared about me knew where I was at that moment.  No one was going to come in with chicken noodle soup (which I desperately wanted).

the view down into the impressive village of Ollanta (which has not changed much in 700 years!)

I have lived on my own for a number of years.  I have traveled, I have been independent (fiercely so at times), I have taken care of myself.  But, for the most part, people have known where I am.  People can get in touch with me.  I can get in touch with people.  I might live alone, but I am not alone.

Traveling solo, I have had a few moments like this — when I am acutely aware of how alone I am.    I love traveling solo.  I love the freedom of choosing where I want to go, when I want to go, how I want to go.  Traveling solo has given me the freedom to talk to strangers, to meet people and share dinner.  And also the time to spend with myself, to get a sense of what I want and where I am going (more on that in a week or so….).

But, there have also been these other moments, when I am sick or tired or scared….  when I feel utterly and totally alone.  When I cannot (due to lack of connectivity or sickness or distance) reach out to others around me.  Those are the tough moments.  Fortunately, there have only been a few of those.  But after I recover (which I seem to have now — fever and pain free!), I am always so happy to connect with friends and family — I have new appreciation for those connections.

old rocks, new flowers

I have not always made people my thing, opting for skiing or climbing, hiking or travel — by myself if need be, in order to get out and go!  But, one of the big lessons on this journey for me, has been to start making people my thing.  To start opening my world to those around me and, maybe not less to the things I want to do, but more sharing in the things I want to do.  Being in that room, 17 hours of utterly-alone-time, I know that I do not want that. 

So, here’s to Inca ruins and traveling solo and making people my thing!

and special thanks to C.P. for reminding me of that!

Land of the Incas

29 Mar

One of the delights of this year has been traveling in places where the history is OLD.  Where it is almost unfathomable how long stories have been passed down and how rich the history of the land is.  To be in places where everyone is tied together by a common past that roots them in their present.

woman overlooking Lake Titicaca

I sometimes feel lame coming from America (and don’t get me wrong, I love my country) as our history is not as long, not as old.  Sure, we all come from a deep, rich history – and we live in a land that has its own deep, rich history.  But we are not all united by ONE story, by one creation, one myth.

kids playing on the shore of lake titicaca

So, I love learning about the stories that unite other countries, other lands.  What I have found fascinating is the mixing of cultures through history.  For example, when I was in Ladakh, India (not this trip – but when I went with Sarah and Lindsay with Fund for Teachers), I found it fascinating how religions were combined.  When Buddhism took over the region, the people simply incorporated it into their own beliefs and mixed the two.  The same in India, as well as probably most of the world.

a cross on one of the hilltops on the island

of course I don’t totally know what this represents, but since it was in front of a church — it seemed to me to be “inca meets virgin mary’. but i could be wrong

Seeing the relics of the Incas is similar – where they took over from the Waris (the people before them) and then how the people here incorporated Christianity and their own Inca beliefs.  Whether it is the black Jesus in the church (because for Incas black was the color of purity) or the crosses on the hilltops of Isla del Sol (the birthplace of the Incas), there is an amazing mixing of cultures in order to keep the peace.

flowers left in front of a cross on the mirador in copacabana

pre-Inca temple on Isla del Sol (probably from 2000 A.D.)

Here is some of what I observed and learned in traveling to Copacabana, Isla del Sol and now in Cusco:

mountains from Lake Titicaca

  • The incas were amazing stone masons – these walls?  No cement or mortar or whatever you call it between the stones.  They cut, measured and lined them up perfect. Impressive work.

the incas were quite the stone masons

  • Lake Titicaca – though seemingly sounding like it means differently from what it actually means – it means Rock of the Puma – named after a rock that looks like a Puma, which is the birthplace of the Incas.

Inca trail across the ridge of Isla del Sol. I hiked the ridge line following this path.

  • Many of the traditions of food, native plants, animals, and festivals are still practiced.  And many of them have just incorporated Christianity into the mix.  For instance, Carnival, which is celebrated throughout South America – is partly a festival of abundance (a la mardi gras) but it is also a festival based on traditional, Inca times (time of harvest, etc.).  Coming up is Santa Semana (easter week) – which is a big festival with lots of partying and has both Inca and Christian rituals.

this is an example of the blankets that the women use to carry everything from food to babies. This one was full of the native, traditional plant that grows in the highlands

terraced hillsides. Terraced since the Inca days

  • Cusco is a beautiful city with 512 churches.  Each church was built over the site of an Incan temple.

Inca ruins from their administrative headquarters. This was where the highest Inca king ruled from (outside of Cusco)

  • The math, the planning and the skill that went into the Inca buildings is pretty incredible.  For instance, their walls were built at an angle so they could withstand earthquakes.  They built irrigation systems that are still working today.  They moved HUGE rocks over great distances.  Pretty amazing stuff.

inca ruins with Cusco in the distance

I have enjoyed Cusco so far — mostly just walking around, sitting in the plazas.  I have a fruit stand I have gone to each day to buy my daily avocado.  I have had lots of conversations with locals (starting to be able to speak a bit more spanish — though it is a bit painful to listen to!).  People are warm, friendly and quick to smile (it could be because it is the most touristy city in South America!).

more flowers, more crosses

Tomorrow I am headed to the Sacred Valley for an overnight journey — a DIY – which I hope works out well (mostly tours around here for all the tourists) and then I will come back for two days in order to prepare for a 6-day trek, called Ausungate, which looks amazing.  Then, I hope to do another trek which will hopefully take me into Maccu Pichu, but that is still up in the air!

In any case — hope you enjoy the pictures and that you are well!

much love — AK

Change in Plans

23 Mar

Note to self….  if you are quoted a price, always make sure you ask if it is in dollars or in bolivianos or pesos or rupees or whatever currency you are currently using…..

Yeah….  the quote for the second climb – WAY out of my budget.  Like, out of the ballpark.

Unfortunately, I have been hanging out in La Paz waiting for the climb for two days.  And though it is a great city, I am so ready to get the hell out of dodge.

So, tomorrow, I will head to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca and then visit Isla del Sol before heading into Peru.

My time is quickly dwindling, which is very sad indeed.  For those of you who don’t know — I am leaving  South America on April 30th to fly to NY to then fly to Denver.

What???  you ask?  well…..

On day in Vietnam, on a whim, I applied to present at the National Expeditionary Learning Conference ( .  To my surprise, I was accepted, which will be a great experience — however, it meant cutting my trip short.  But — since I am returning to South America – to Ecuador — in July with a group of students, I figured I would be still getting 5 months in South America.

So — that means that I have just 5 weeks left….  which is a little mind-blowing to me.

Better start livin’ it up…..