After hearing some disappointing news and wanting to get away from the groans and grinds of the city I went along with my new friend, Jan, on his trip to the mountains north of Lima. The town of Huaraz was a lot bigger than I expected and, although the weather wasn’t great when we arrived, we were told it would hopefully brighten up. But the thing about the mountains is that the weather can change in an instant, as I would see very clearly over the next two days.
We took the first day to explore the town and acclimatise to the altitude after spending the last couple of weeks down in Lima. We then booked our hike for the next day. Now, I’m not that much of a hiking kind of girl. The idea of it always appeals to me: being outdoors, appreciating the scenery and nature. I really would like to be a hiking kind of girl, which means that each time the opportunity comes up I go for it in the hope that I might actually enjoy it this time… And the truth be told, it wasn’t really that enjoyable. Well, that’s not entirely true. There were parts of it that I did enjoy – the gentle walking on flat terrain; when the sun came out; reaching the point we were working towards; and, most importantly, the end.
The problem with hiking is that I have such mixed feelings towards it. While for the most part I feel like I want to crawl under a rock and chop my legs off so I don’t have to go on, there’s another part that always makes me feel better: the achievement of getting to the end point and seeing why you’ve put yourself through the last three hours of pain and misery. In Huaraz I definitely had one of these moments. The national park near Huaraz is called Huascarán – it takes a couple of hours to drive there and there’s an entrance fee of about £5. At the end of the trail there’s a lake called Laguna 69, which is a lake high in the mountains coloured by the minerals of the rocks around it, which make it take on a stunningly impressive turquoise blue that hardly seems natural. A little bit more driving and you get dropped off to start your hike. I was under the impression that we would have a guide the whole time and was left wondering what exactly I had paid for as we headed out for the hike on our own. But, the independent hike turned out to be for the best. So, with my German friend, Jan, and our new Italian friend, Tomasso, we set off through the first part of the trek.
The landscape was absolutely beautiful and the trek can be split into a few different sections, which are most easily described with a rather nerdy reference to Lord of the Rings. The beginning of the trek is like taking a stroll through the Shire, with gently sloping hills, bubbling brooks and grazing cows.
As you head further uphill, everything becomes more and more like Mordor, the grey rocks and harsh ground made the going a bit tougher. Next, were the Dead Marshes, which was the point at which I wanted to give up, turn around, and go home. It wasn’t that hard in terms of terrain, but what I was looking at made the rest of the hike seem impossible. After so much walking, I couldn’t believe that we still had to scale an upsettingly steep gradient to get to the lake.
I had spent the rest of the trek trying desperately to save face and keep up with Jan and Tomasso, but at this point I gave up all pretence and decided to face the final hurdle at my own pace. They were nice enough to wait for me up ahead, but I actually preferred being on my own so I didn’t have to feel embarrassed at my pitiful state of fitness, as I heaved myself up the giant slope. But, after more stops and rests than I’d like to admit, I finally made it to Lake 69.
And it was beautiful.
A sliver of bright turquoise peeks out at you as you turn the last corner and encourages you to conjure up that last bit of energy and reach its banks. Surrounded by grey mountains, the contrast with the lake is stark. We had scarcely arrived at the lake when the rain came on and we had to take shelter with a group of Americans who were also making the hike. But it soon passed and the sun came out for a half hour or so, making the lake shine even brighter.
And so, my love-hate relationship with hiking continues. There are always a lot of hiking opportunities when you’re travelling, and sometimes you can feel like a bad traveller if you decide to give it a miss. I guess it’s that feeling of missing out on something exciting and new, as well as feeling the pressure to experience as much as possible. It’s important to do what you want to do and what you feel comfortable with when you’re travelling, otherwise what’s the point? You’re travelling for you so you have stay true to what you really enjoy doing. In the end, despite my mixed feelings about hiking, I think that 9 times out of 10 I’ll say yes to a hike simply because I don’t want to miss out on what’s at the end of the trail!