Santa Cruz Trek Days 3 and 4

P1140757Day 3:

Margarita, our wonderful guide would rise an hour before everyone else. I would hear her happy laughter at 5AM from her cooking tent. She and the cook would boil water from whatever river we were camped near for the evening meal, breakfast and hiking water. At 5:45AM she would go around to each tent and slap on the side of the fabric and say in her feminine Quechua lilt: “Gud mording, tyme tu gad ap… gad ap naow… bregfast ready 10  meenoots… gad ap naow.”

The morning ritual of renewing water for the hike from the newly boiled water happened sporadically as one camper after another shuffled over to fill their bottles.

After painfully stuffing my feet into the damp boots, I rose and did my ablutions quickly and quietly. Rolled my bag and stuffed into sack, rolled the thin rubber mat, and took them to the tarp where all the common gear would later be loaded on the donkeys. Breakfast this morning consisted of very thin oatmeal and a piece of bread with butter and jam… and a cup of tea. I finished quickly and hobbled around getting my ankle prepped.

Part of my preparation that morning was taking two pain medications generously offered by Eddie. I was reluctant to take anything… but I also knew there were seven hours of hiking to do and I didn’t want to ruin the day being nagged by ankle pain.  I am grateful to both Eddie and the young French lady for offering me the pain meds that they (wisely) included in their trekking gear.

It would often rain at night, sometimes very hard. Sometimes the wind would then partially dry the outer fabric of the tents. The donkey driver and cook would be the last to leave camp. They waited for the sun to dry the rainflys before stuffing the tents into their respective bags. Then, they would pack the gear on the donkeys before beginning their trek.

Eddie and Ian, the men from England and I  began our trek before the rest of the group. We set out on the path around 6:30AM. I knew that I would eventually be passed by everyone shortly. Eddie and Ian got a lead and I lost sight of them and hiked alone until others caught up and passed me.

Margarita stayed with me for a while and informed me that there were two paths ahead. One, that went uphill to a ‘mirador’ a scenic spot. There was also a lower trail. The two trails would converge. She recommended that I take the lower trail describing that I would eventually come to a log and rock bridge that crossed the river below. She then went on ahead to be with the main group.

P1140762Above: The clouds obscured what would have been a view of Alpamayo

The previous afternoon, at the camp, while others were busy paying attention to other things, I did catch a glimpse of the peak of Alpamayo.  It was late in the day. There was an opening in the cloud cover for about ten minutes. The perfectly formed shape appeared, like a ghost… and then it was gone. Did not have time or presence of mind to get a photo. I did record it in my memory. Beautiful.

Sound file morning of 3rd day. River, insects, bird sounds and me clomping along the rocky trail

P1140767Day 3 trail gradually descends to the base of the Santa Cruz river valley

 A half hour or so after making the above sound file, I had finally reached a flatter area parallel to the river. As I proceeded, I saw a person standing within 40 yards of what appeared to be the bridge. As I drew closer I recognized that it was Ian. He had also taken the lower route.  I don’t think either of us missed much in the way of scenic vistas. There was a low cloud cover obscuring the tops of the mountains.  We both saw movement high above us and recognized that our companions would be along shortly.

I led the way across the crude log bridge and picked my way through the not very obvious path. Now the trail paralleled the river. The floodplain was wide and the way was 75 yards wide. I followed barely recognizable footprints and occasional donkey scat.

Eddie and Ian had passed me and were probing ahead. I could not discern the correct path. One other couple passed by. Finally, I heard Eddie shout… “It’s here… this is the way”.  I followed others. The way required one to squat and carefully duck under a low rock outcropping. If one were to fall, it would only be a 15 foot drop, but you would be in the river.  I carefully and slowly made each move.  Taking care to remain in balance the whole time.  After this one precarious area, the path continued a gradual descent parallel with the river.

P1140775The path follows the ever descending river

The path gave way to wider vistas.  The vegetation changed. The microclimate was a bit warmer.  Huddled in the clefts were different kinds of shrubs and small trees, agaves, and cactus. Saw small birds, tiny butterflies,  and even a fleeting chameleon. The sound of the river was ever present,  Natural symphonic background music to enhance the spectacular valley scenery.

P1140798…And at times the way would ascend briefly above the river

P1140799…Only to descend again and return to the rivers edge

 My senses were tingling from the whole experience of this altogether amazing Natural encounter. I found that I was not in a hurry to ‘be done with it’. I was savoring every vista, every sound. My right ankle was cranky and wanted me to pay attention to it’s pain. The only thing to be done was to enjoy as much as possible of this incredible experience and to ignore the sharpening aches. Some trekkers covered the same (or longer) distance in 5 and half hours (or less). It required 7 hours for me to finish the 3rd days hike before arriving at camp.

We all knew that this night’s camp would be the last time to enjoy this temporary community of international companions. We stayed a little longer in the meal tent. We laughed, and ate, and drank our tea. A bittersweet mixture of the shared joy of our mutual experience and sadness at knowing we would soon go our own ways was present.

Above: sound file of the trekkers coaxing our guide, Margarita to sing a little in her beautiful Quechua voice

Above: The trekkers and Margarita coax Alecia, the cook, to sing with Margarita. Trekkers joined in as impromtu percussion by clapping their hands to the Andes inspired song.

The evening meal over, and the spontaneous concert ended; one by one, we retired to our respective tents knowing that the next day’s trek would be much shorter and our journey together would shortly be over.

Day 4:

The next morning Eddie reported that he had seen the Hubble telescope and the international space station dancing across the early morning sky.  I was up around 3 AM and had seen a dazzlingly bright partial moon with stars visible even with the moonlight.  The sound of the river ever sang it’s powerful lullabye to each still in their respective  dreamlands.

I had taken a few generic xtra strength ibuprophen tablets with my morning tea. My right ankle is almost always cranky and stiff in the morning. I knew that I  had hiked the most difficult part of this trek. Today was the last day.

I have learned that it is unwise to lose focus on matters at hand. At hand, here, was the reality that although my trek was ALMOST over… there remained perhaps four hours more… all downhill and on trails which overhang a river valley, in places far below.  This would still require a ‘careful’ attitude.

The thought uppermost in my mind was caution. I was passed by everyone during my hike.  The French ladies, the Korean lady and the couple from French Guiana stayed with me for a time. They too seemed to not be in a hurry.  Margarita stayed with me the longest. Then she informed me that the rest of the hike would be fairly easy, well marked, and all gradually downhill. I reminded her that I have a whistle if I felt in need of assistance. She went on ahead.

The sun was bright and the canyon was lit up brightly. My job was to carefully, cautiously, and more or less continuously to put one foot in front of the other, use the trekking poles judiciously, and eventually catch up to my companions, somewhere ahead, in a small village below.

The last day’s hike took me three and a half hours. Eddie and Ian reported arriving in the small village about and hour and a half from departing camp.

The following photos are of the last leg of the journey:


Ian and Eddie had been at this place for almost two hours  by the time I got there. They had the proprietor of this tiny establishment putting as many beers as could be found in the freezer. The rest of the group had trickled in at their own pace. Needless to say, by the time I got there, most were not feeling any pain.

Today was the only day that the donkeys did not beat me. They and the gear showed up about a half hour after I arrived. They were unloaded and the gear went back up on the van. It would be another three hours in the van before we arrived back in Huaraz.

A group tip collection was taken up. Eddie officiated. Some offered their own gratuities according to their own inner assessments. I felt it a privilege to offer Margarita my own personal offering of gratitude and respect for a job well done.

P1140912The van ride back to Huaraz

It must be said that the locals of Ancash and all those that serve in the tourist trade near Huaraz show extraordinary patience with these strange invaders from other parts of the world who bring their money, their different languages, music, and  who exhibit a range of actions illustrating differing  ideas about what it means to ‘have a good time’.

I felt that the van ride home was a bit ‘over the top’, and might have been a little too loud and crazy for the driver, Alicia the cook and Margarita, our guide… but Eddie was bent on sharing his stored music with a captive audience. He was displaying the knowledge of his many years spent in the music industry and the new technology available to do that sharing.

Everyone went away with an unforgettable experience. No one was injured.  I felt that as a group, we served as an example that Humans have as much ‘in common’ as there may exist ‘differences’.  We were kind and patient with one another. We showed respect for our hosts and for their incredibly beautiful environs.

We came, we saw, we shared, we enjoyed.

Next up: Huaraz to Huanuco

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