27/01/2018 0 Comments
Chip and Katrin, trekked in June 2012
"This really couldn’t have been a better trip and we were very lucky that Katrin found Los Amigos"
“Katrin”, I asked, “Do you want to go to Peru for some hiking in the Cordillera Huayhaush?”
That was how the adventure began, after hearing a hiking buddy rave about his trips to the area some 10 years ago. Knowing my friend, I should have realized that this innocent question would initiate from her a flood of questions, daily Web-based searches and wildly ambitious plans for my second trip to Peru. Fortunately, Katrin’s frugal nature and generally solid instincts about people quickly pointed us to Los Amigos de Huayhaush. The special hospitality, familiar expertise with the area, friendly disposition and excellent organization that we found with Abner, Adolfo and Anamin turned what could have been a rather dull forced march into a wonderfully invigorating and yet calming experience in the high Andes of central Peru.
The special treatment began when we arrived by bus from Lima to Huaraz. Anamin met us at our hostal, somewhat surprisingly, to find out if our trip had been pleasant so far, explain preparations for the trek and let us know that she would be available for any questions that arose. This friendly approach and Anamin’s excellent command of English helped in allaying our remaining concerns about the trip and compensating for my shamefully impoverished Spanish.
Several days later, after acclimatizing around Huaraz – a pretty little town with wonderful day hikes accessed on foot or collectivo – we met Adolfo, the youngest of the Valdez clan, for a morning of shopping in the local markets. Katrin and I were used to backpacking in the Canadian Rockies, where excess weight is a costly luxury and so we expected to be eating rather Spartan fare. We had also heard that some trekking agencies in the area were in the habit of serving 10 days of pasta and tomato sauce to their clients. And so, we were pleasantly surprised when our food cache included local cheeses, fresh fruit and veggies, quinoa and a few sweets for extra energy.
Later that day, we boarded the bus with Adolfo and made the 3-hour trek to Chiquian, where we got some additional supplies and made bus arrangements for the trip to Llamac, the start of the trek. We spent the night in the Valdez family home, a spacious but simple dwelling on the outskirts of Chiquian, but one with hot running water and a warm bed. Abner’s wife, Erika, made us a great dinner, a skill of the entire family, as we were to find out later.
Early next morning, we headed by bus up the treacherously curved, steep and rutted road to Llamac where, due to bus “irregularities”, we were unable to connect for the final bus segment to Pocpa. There we were, stuck with all of our gear, 10 days worth of food and no way to get it to the burros, already in Pocpa with Abner.
Not to worry. Somehow, Abner had gotten word of the difficulties and, within 45 minutes, could be seen coming down the narrow road on Tipi, the lead horse, accompanied by our burro team, Juan, Toledo, Richimbo and Alan. A few minutes lagter, we had loaded the burros and were hiking, a bit later than expected but happy that our adventure had begun in earnest.
Over the next 10 days, we fell into a pleasant, almost meditative rhythm. We would wake at around sunrise, have a solid breakfast of mate de coca, local bread, eggs, cheese, or quinoa, help pack the gear and burros. Then, as Abner led the burros to our next camp, Adolfo guided us past waterfalls and pastures, over 5000 meter passes, along the length of wide valleys and under the snow-capped peaks that define the Cordillera Huayhuash. It is really quite impossible to describe the area and even photos can’t do it justice. We are blessed with innumerable and majestic mountains in our Canuck homeland, but the Andes certainly rival the Rockies for jaw-dropping beauty.
During our daily walking, we traded language lessons, with me getting the better end of the deal because Adolfo’s English was pretty polished compared to my halting and error-prone efforts. The descents were generally easy but the up-slope segments, generally between 4000 and 5000 meters, required slow-going even after our acclimatization. Adolfo seemed to have a very natural sense of the pace we needed and, on those occasions when we wanted a bit of a break, Tipi the Wonder Horse was ready to provide the transport option.
At day’s end, generally after 5-6 hours on the trail, we arrived at camp that was already set up by Abner. It was a real treat to have a good tent to crawl into when the rains started, as they generally did, about 4 p.m. It was even better to have a tidy little toilet tent that afforded privacy, protection from the elements and allowed us to avoid the crowded and sometimes less-than-pretty privies that we found at some campsites.
Dinners were a real treat, thanks to the creativity of both the Valdez brothers. Usually, we’d start with a hearty soup, followed by chicken and veggies and, on a few occasions, we were treated to freshly caught trout. Desserts could be fruit salad or pudding but were always refreshing. I don’t know where Adolfo learned his cooking secrets but every meal, done over a two-burner propane stove, was as delicious as it was filling. And, while we ate around the cook tent, Abner filled us in on politics, farm life and scuttlebutt on rival guiding agencies.
Although most days involved a change of campsite, we managed to treat ourselves at Laguna Juahuacocha, perhaps one of the prettiest settings on the circuit. This site allowed easy hikes to the toe of a glacier and let me wander the lakeshore looking for high-elevation birds, including Tit-like dacnis and White-cheeked cotinga, Mountain caracara, Cinereous ground-tyrant and several hummingbirds.
The trek ended all too quickly, back at Llamac where again we had some…er…confusion with the bus. Adolfo, in his usual patient style, was able to round up another bus to take us, filthy as we were, back to Chiquian. By afternoon were in Huaraz, met by Anamin at the station, curious to hear about our exploits and ready to escort us back to our hotel.
This really couldn’t have been a better trip and we were very lucky that Katrin found Los Amigos. From start to finish, we were in experienced and gentle hands, fed like royalty, entertained around the camp tent and, of course, treated to one of the best high-altitude treks in the world. We learned a little about handling animals (I really wanted to load Tipi on the plane!). More importantly, for the entire adventure we were treated like family and not just customers. We got to know Abner and Adolfo and their perspective on living in rural Peru. If you are considering the Cordillera Huayhuash for your next trek, I can’t think of a better agency to help you realize your dreams than Los Amigos de Huayhaush.