The kids and I waited with anticipation at the minuscule airport of Anca, just outside of Huaraz. A few minutes before Darin’s scheduled landing, I tried not to show my concern as the airport’s only fire truck was geared and ready to go, spraying it’s hoses, firing some sort of canon and testing it’s ability to get a move on.
Our relief to have Darin back with us was multifaceted. As he acclimated once again, we hung out in Huaraz doing Huaraz appropriate things.
The day after Darin’s arrival, we found ourselves as spontaneous participants in an ultimate frisbee game. The game took place in a field shared with sheep, cows and pigs and the two teams were made up of local Peruvians, backpackers, and Darin, Simon and I. Darin and I felt like old folks among these whippersnapping frisbee throwing ultimators. Marco took pictures as Simon, the youngest player by over a decade threw himself into the end zone to score a hero’s goal.
We were picked up at 6am the following day for the Santa Cruz trek, by a vehicle equivalent to a Sprinter which was carrying our guide, Javier and Juannan, a trekker from Belgium. The 5 hour drive to the trail head, was windy, bumpy and vibrated with 80’s dance music…”If you want my body and you think I’m sexy come on baby let me know!”.
We arrived in the middle of nowhere, in a pueblito made up of about 4 houses. As we sat on a couple of crates eating avocado sandwiches prepared by our mule driver, our 2 donkeys and horse were being outfitted with our gear and supplies. We all felt spoiled by this luxury, particularly Darin since he tends to assume the role of mule on our trekking trips. I do think that from now on, I’ll take on the role of mule driver instead of assistant mule.
As the clouds opened up and the rain made its’ first of many appearances, our group of 2 donkeys, 1 horse, 1 mule driver, 1 guide, and 5 trekkers headed toward the Huascaran National Park boundary by way of backyards filled with donkeys, horses, pigs, laundry up to dry and “cuy” (guinea pigs).
Two hours later, we crossed into the National park and spent the rest of our time in the Cordillera Blanca wonderstruck.
Our four days and 50 KM on the Santa Cruz trek was filled with the stuff made of daydreams. When we weren’t socked in by clouds and looking and smelling like wet donkeys, we were surrounded by rugged, white peaks everywhere we turned. The wildflowers were in bloom, and the blue lagunas contrasted the white glaciers with a dramatic splendor that rendered us speechless.
The meals prepared by our guide, Javier, and the mule driver, Freddy, were prepared with an attention to detail that made for a backcountry taste explosion. The cooking was beyond impressive, regardless of the fact that Freddy used his cooking knife to help Darin cut out a rain trench around our cow and mule shit adorned tent site.
The boys were taking lessons from the donkeys, climbing and hiking like this was their backyard. Marco spent time hiking with Freddy and the mules, which were always fast and in the lead, even over the 4700 meter pass, which left me a bit dizzy in my attempt to harvest oxygen.
On the third day, Darin and I chose to hike a 5 KM diversion to a laguna. The boys weren’t interested and therefore spent 7 hours hiking 15 KM with our guide to that evening’s camp. When Darin and I met up with them that afternoon at the riverside camp, with a full on waterfall tent view, the kids were munching on fresh popcorn and drinking hot chocolate, joking around with our guide like this was just any other day.
The kids also spent hours playing with the eleven year old son of a mule driver who was tending to hikers sharing our camp area. The boy had clearly spent most of his life on these trails and with just a smile and a slingshot, he shared his life with Simon and Marco. Ok, so they were killing cacti and trying to convince our guide to cook them…I just kept thinking about John Muir and how he killed seagulls with a homemade gun.
On our fourth day, we hiked out and got a three hour ride back to Huaraz. As we descended back to 10,000 ft, the curved, cliff hugging road left us all quiet and reflective of what it was we’d just experienced together.