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THE LARES TREK (DAY ONE)

PERU

THE LARES TREK (DAY ONE)

THE LARES TREK (DAY ONE)

So we woke up this morning at four am in order to be ready for a pick up at five, made all the tougher by the fact that last night was the premiere of, well, this and I was weeping like a little boy late into the night, finally secure in the knowledge that my childhood seemed once again in safe hands. Also, Chewbacca. The packing was slow but sure-footed, as we crammed our essentials, consisting of the gear gleefully and prematurely acquired months ago, as well as hastily put together first-aid kits into our duffle bags, to be carried by country horses and more pressing equipment such as moisture-wicking shirts and additional socks, into our daypacks to be carried by us, expressly not to exceed five Kilos. With the whole house in effervescence, even those who didn’t have to wake up lending a hand, we finished checking our lists as the damn fireworks started to echo through the streets, as if announcing to the world our departure, and probably certain doom, into the great unknown. We were told the climb is mostly a mental challenge and as excited as we were, I could see in my brother and son’s eyes that indeed the psychological barriers standing in our way were Berlin Wall-high, with the barbed-wire on top…

For as long as I’ve been away from the USA , I’ve wanted, nay needed to get lost, to find places, experiences, even people, that are odd; not strange per se, but rather unfamiliar to the context I have grown to disparage, the one I have a temporary restraining order against (could be the other way around,) the one boiling over with incessant ambition, salivating sales, and constant opportunities, all of which I allowed to replace my neglected senses of sight, touch and taste, either become unavailable from disuse or seemingly unimportant in that context. I was nervous too this morning, for I was about to get what I wished for…

We climbed into the van, met a quartet of Swiss younguns who would be our companions for the duration, and on our way we went… After about an hour of mountain road, we stopped at an incredible local market in Calca, displaying only a few, but an impressive few, of the rumored four thousand kinds of potatoes available in Peru, and got for some basic supplies, a bit of breakfast and the most luxurious toilet stop we would get for the next few days…

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After three more hours of driving and about forty miles away from our point of origin, we arrived in Lares, the start of our twenty one-mile trek, at the Baños Termales, a hot spring fed by volcanic water deep within the Andian crust. Unlike other springs I have visited, like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, this water was muddy and at first quite unwelcoming, but once we dove carefully inched into the various pools, one after the other in slightly escalating degrees, finishing at 43C, our bodies were cooking so slowly that we started to relax, delightfully forgetting that the physical challenge of our lifetime was still ahead. Of course, I speak only for myself when qualifying this endeavor as life-redefining, because once again, mine is mostly spent googling “best USB-C dongle,” not exactly a straining activity. But back to the bath…

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After showering, and our bare white shoulders meeting the hard-hitting midday sun, we noticed a man preparing food under the dried-grass roof of a small veranda and discovered that he was to be our cook for the adventure. Armed with a gas bottle hooked up to two portable burners, he amazingly succeeded to make a four-course meal out of seemingly nothing, surprising even Sebastien, who is like us but with added experience to his résumé, wasn’t expecting much from this setup and the ingredients we saw hauled in nondescript plastic bags. It was delicious.

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We finished the meal by sprinkling a few Coca leaves into boiling water, told that the ancestral plant would give us the necessary strength, and a little bit of magic, to get going, which needed to happen in the next few minutes. So we got dressed and right behind the hot springs, our Lares Trek began…

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Steep at first, we started to walk along a dirt road but a road nonetheless for the first hour of this five-hour romp and even though I wouldn’t quite call it a stroll through the countryside, it was as pleasant as it was challenging. The pack, incline and lack of oxygen all conspired to make it clear this expedition wasn’t designed to be fun. It could be, it even might be, but it certainly wasn’t designed to be. Alternatively flat and up we went, until the road eventually disappeared and led us into the wilderness, one so well laid out, with turf seemingly cut so close to the ground and plants and flowers positioned just so that it all felt a bit landscaped. We soon discovered the gardeners of this lost eden, its original inhabitants…

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After geeking out on the walking sweaters of God, we continued, stopping every half hour for a water and Coca candy break, allowing us frail gringos to keep on going in this beautiful land.

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As we pushed though, we started encountering the other indigenous population, its people. Super cute, colorful, but surprisingly unresponsive when addressed with a friendly “buenos dias!” Had I said something wrong? Was my obviously Madrilene accent as offensive to them as it is to my wife? It turns out a lot of the tribes in the Peruvians Andes do not speak Spanish but Quechua, a descendant of the Inca language, how cool is that? On the other hand, not quite that cool was that these children, sporting traditional colorful clothes and rubber sandals, upon closer inspection, had mangled feet from years of walking up and down these mountains, hygiene levels which would make Angelina Jolie shudder and homes with, more often than not, only three sides or at the very most, no doors. Poverty not unlike what we witnessed on Rosario Islands in Colombia a few weeks back and which gave Zoel pause then and again now. With much sadness, he protested the apparent unfairness, not finding much of a reassuring counter-argument in me, but not much of a solution either. He suggested for us to give them all our cash, reflecting upon his, and our own plentiful life, one in which we want for nil, one in which we complain, whine, protest even when the latest gadget is not had, when too long an effort has to be furnished to get satisfaction and here he stood, in front of a child with nothing. Nothing to even complain about… This dichotomy devastated him and he wept for a bit, nestled in my arms, under the gaze of the kids, oblivious of course to the cause of his sorrow for they probably only cry when hurt, not distressed. My son is a twelve year-old boy who feels at once entitled yet guilty, proud yet easily humbled, persuasive yet frail; like most of us, he is a contradiction in terms, one he is learning to understand and take advantage of, actively, intently and awkwardly. I love him, I love him so.

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It is a couple of hours later that we finally arrive, not just a little disheveled, in a small village as the weather was turning to a deep and menacing grey. Sebastien, wearing his Wimbledon whites, because Sebastien, was rapidly surrounded by more children who might have mistaken him for Apocatequil, the Inca God of lightning, descending the mountain to bring life-giving water and light to Huacawasi, the small village we would spend the hours of darkness in. He was not, they disappointingly quickly discovered.

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After climbing over a small stone bridge, we entered the backyard of a seemingly abandoned house and found our tents, set up by the cook and horsemen who had gotten there long before us.

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When I say a “backyard,” I am stretching my vocabulary prowess here, for it was in fact a field of horse manure, where our quadruped friends were free to roam, and defecate all they needed. Our habitations for the night sat atop the fertilizer and as soon as we entered, the town pre-teens, like most pre-teens, rushed in to setup and sell their woven wares, in case we needed more scarves and knit Alpacas. There, we changed into non sweated-in clothes and had another well-made dinner in a larger tent raised for the occasion, a dinner once again well-made in a kitchen not so…

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At about 7pm, the last of the girls packed up her souvenirs…

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…Zoel and I went for one last and quick, post-dinner tour of the neighborhood…

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…and our sleeping bags were ready to be entered for our first evening under the Peruvian stars in the middle of the Andes. It was very cold, it was by then very dark, it was certainly all very odd… and I was in bliss.

Good night and see you tomorrow.

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