Volunteer Leah Hughes in Cusco | Part V
This weekend I had the most amazing adventure. I’d even say it was one of the highlights of my time here so far. Last Wednesday we had a weaving meeting in Amaru. Johanna, Elizabeth and I traveled from Cusco and met Ashli and Stuart en route from Ollantaytambo. The meeting went well and I was impressed by the quality and variety of Amaru’s textiles. The weavers were warm and hospitable as they fed us a tasty lunch and tied a bracelet onto each of our wrists to say goodbye.
From Amaru, Stuart, Johanna and I travelled to the town of Lares, which is known for its hot springs. We arrived in town after dark, but our combi driver was kind enough to wait for us in the plaza for an hour while we had a hot meal in a restaurant bordering the square. Once we had some food in our bellies we hopped back in the van and our driver took us straight to the hot springs, which are about 20 minutes out of town. We were delighted to find that we could set up our tent right in the garden, mere feet away from the largest pool. A soak in the warm baths was delightful in the cool night-time air, and we indulged again in the morning. What a luxurious way to start the day!
From Lares we began hiking and the real adventure began. The first day we climbed upward past the community of Quishuarani to the “Siete Cataratas” or seven waterfalls. It was pouring rain and we were basically walking up a creek, but the scenery was so beautiful that I hardly noticed. We had lunch huddled under the eaves of a house in a village at the top of the falls. The homeowner came out and motioned for us to sit while speaking to us half in Spanish, half in Quechua. We got up from lunch and found the clouds had lifted to reveal an incredible vista. A spectacular snow-capped mountain loomed on the far side of the lake. The vivid shades of green and brown on the surrounding hills were sharpened by the morning’s rains, and the reflection on the glassy surface of the lake was unbelievable.
That night we camped next to huge boulders in a dry lake bed we affectionately named “Llama nook”. The drinking water from the lake was highly suspect (it needed 2 filtrations and chlorine drops before we even considered it) but we feasted nonetheless. There’s nothing like hot chocolate under the stars in the Andes.
The next day we set out to reach the greatest altitude of the hike. A whopping 4421m, the furthest above sea level I’ve ever been. You could say it was the “high point” of our trip…. Climbing uphill with a backpack on is sure more challenging when you feel like your lungs aren’t filling all the way. But we took it slow and gave ourselves plenty of time to admire our incredible surroundings. Beautiful peaks soared high above us and the glaciers were spectacular. In some places it seemed we were walking through a strange moonscape. If you looked closely you could see bright flowers poking out of the gravel beneath our feet.
On the last evening we camped on a grassy knoll overlooking a valley and three pristine lakes. After a period of slushy rain in the afternoon (most of which we escaped by huddling in the tent) the evening was clear and cold. The stars filled the sky and we could see the glacier above us glowing in the dark. It’s strange to look up and not recognize a single constellation in the southern sky. I could have stared at the heavens all night but my feet were burning blocks of ice and my sleeping bag called.
On our final morning we rose in the wee hours, packed up camp, and ventured up for a closer look at the glacier and the terra cotta-coloured lake below it. Then we descended into the valley far below. The valley floor was green and spongy with little pools that reflected the rocky cliffs around us. We enjoyed a victory breakfast of hot chocolate and oats by the shores of “lake blue lake”, the name on a map that first sparked our imagination. From there we headed to Cancha Cancha. On the way we passed herds of alpaca and admired the interesting hill formations around us. We arrived in Cancha Cancha right on time for our second weaving meeting of the week. It had been a glorious three days in the mountains. As the meeting began I took my seat on sheepskins near the cooking fire of a dim stone house. Guinea pigs scurried on the dirt floor beneath my feet and I gratefully accepted the hot tea and potatoes passed my way. I stretched out my legs, opened my notebook, and listened as we were introduced in Quechua. I thought back on our adventure and realized that I had arrived at our final destination tired, soggy and so very happy.