Planet Hiker
2004-12-22 Treking in Santa Cruz Valley of Cordillera Blanca - Part 2, Peru

The following day I let myself sleep in (till scandalous, by trekking standards, 8:00am) since the rest of the way was pretty much downhill. After a warm breakfast, I packed and headed out, enjoying the feeling of control and clear mindedness that was desperately lacking last night. All around me were thick white clouds that hid the mountain peaks on either side of the trail. But I did not have to see the peaks to appreciate the grandeur of the landscape. The vertical walls, bursting hundreds of meters into the sky, were teaching me how to look, stretching my mind's sense of scale and reminding my eyes how to focus on something enormous.

With the descent came the change of fauna. While previously there was only wild grass, now there were dwarf trees and even blooming flowers. Given the altitude, it’s a bit strange to be seeing so much vegetation. However, the generous rainfall and soft climate of Cordillera Blanca is creating plenty of fertile soil, which Indians are taking advantage of, even at altitudes of 4000m. The evidence of this soon appeared as I passed through a large meadow. There was a mud hut with a straw roof, just off to the side. It was a two story structures, with the second floor used as a containment area for rabbits and guinea pigs. Chickens and dogs were calmly roaming around the vegetable garden and small children, ages around 3 to 4, were playing with each other in the mud.

As I was passing by, the children noticed me and stood up to wave. They were smiling joyfully from underneath coarsely cut clucks of hair. I waved back and without slowing down continued, so as not to loose my walking rhythm. A few minutes later a small herd of sheep appeared over the hill, guided by 3 Indian women. The realization that I am a few seconds short for unpacking the camera, left a sorrow taste in my mouth. Yet there was nothing left for me to do other than to memorize the scene of scarred glances and colorful mix of clothes on the background of wild Peruvian landscape.

By mid afternoon I entered a small village, comprised of a few mud huts around a soccer field. An old man, completely toothless, greeted me without hiding his amazement and wander, as he closely examined my face as much with his eyes as his hands. He was so happy to see me that he did not even bother to annunciate words. Only giggles and childish sounds came out of him as he called for the other villagers. Not wanting that much attention, I stumbled on, noticing that the soccer game has halted and everyone is intently starring at me. "Hola... Buonas tardes... Hola" - I kept mumbling at random intervals until I got to the other side of the village, where a road took me up a steep hill.

Huffing and puffing, up I went, once again having ran out of water. Almost as a mockery, it started to rain. About an hour later, I found myself breathless but still nowhere near the top. Even though taking breaks while it's pouring as if from a bucket, is not the most pleasant thing in the world, with my head spinning and my eyes blurring, I stopped, hoping for some divine intervention. And that's when she came to me. Full of grace, elegance and a colorful aura around her, she called for me to continue. Her companion, dressed in gray, radiated warmth and compassion, yet remained silent. I forced myself to focus and in another moment began to recognize that a donkey, with its fur wet and sticking out in all sorts of directions, is about to lick my face. Next to him was an Indian woman, wearing a large white hat, a red woolen sweater, a few layers of skirts, green stockings and light brown shoes. In one hand she was holding a spindle and in the other was some wool, from which she was making a thread. Even though the donkey was drenched just as much as I was, the woman appeared to be dry and not at all bothered by the rain.

“Is it to Vaqueria you are headed”, she asked, “Follow me, it’s this way”. Leaving the main road, she went up a tiny trail, barely identifiable to my eye. The donkey trailed obediently and I followed its example. Traversing the hill at a much steeper rate than before, the trail aggressively took hold of all of my attention, forcing me to double my breathing rate and concentrate on each step. Up in front of me, the Indian woman effortlessly glided over the path, while threading the wool, with the spindle whirling close to the ground. Partially hypnotized, I faithfully followed, until the trail crossed the main road once again, this time in Vaqueria.