Leaving for Lima I opted for a local bus just because I still refuse to use the popular Cruz Del Sure company. The bus man said no tourists usually take this bus and was quite confused as to why I would choose it ( I quite enjoy the chaos of it all). He let me sit next to the driver’s seat for the journey so happy days. There was stunning scenery en route as we drove through the desert we got to see some of the Nazca lines. After chatting away to the bus man he offered for me to stay with him in Lima because apparently Lima is v dangerous. My track record in dangerous cities hasn’t been fantastic so I will have the pepper spray at the ready. I was getting some creepy vibes off bus man so declined his generous offer and took a seat in the stuffy bus.
Surprisingly the bus was alright and the time went v fast. This was my longest bus to date; 24 hours!! I got chatting to the cutest Peruvian man and we shared some oranges and crackers for the journey. He sells peanuts for a living and promised me a few kilos on the house when I return to Cusco. When we got off the bus he kindly brought me to a hotel, 8 euro for a private room just what the doctor ordered.
I had awful expectations of Lima but was pleasantly surprised. I paid a visit to the artsy suburb of Barranco on the sea front where I treated myself to delicious seafood and ice cream. This place has really cool vibes and gorgeous cafes and restaurants a different world to the chaos of central Lima. I decided I couldn’t hack being phone-less any longer and invested in the highest tech gold Samsung (no more cherry mobile for me). Delira with it! I mainly hung out by the beautiful plaza where there were a ton of armed guards which I figured was a safe spot. It was a fantastic day for the freebies where I was given free chocolates, cakes , bread and pisco in a number of different bars and restaurants. I finished off the day by meeting up with a lovely girl; Martiza who I met in Chiloe 5 months ago.
Next stop Haurez home to the Cordillera Blanco. I decided to give couch surfing another go. Carlos picked me up from a cafe and seemed nice. His ‘house’ unfortunately was not so nice… You could smell it a mile off. It was in the sticks of Haurez and evidently a very rough neighborhood. His house consisted of one room filled with cats and dogs. The place was covered in poo and flies. I could hardly breathe.My bed for the night was the concrete floor. I immediately decided that the next day I would set off and do the Santa Cruz circuit a 4 day route in the mountains. In fairness to Carlos his hygiene might not have been his strong suit but he was a mountain guide and gave me lots of useful info. My friend Lourenso encouraged me to do this trek solo saying it was almost impossible to get lost and a complete waste to do a tour. Carlos also said the same. So it was time to take the tent out of the cobwebs. Carlos’s other job is he makes Craft Beer in Haurez (Sierra Andina). He took me for a private tour and tasting; amazing beer. So all wasn’t bad with Carlos just his house and especially his cats who were crawling on me all night. Disgusting!
To get to the start of the Santa Cruz trek I had to take a tuk tuk and then 2 local buses. So it was a 5am start. I successfully arrived in a place called Yungay. The bus driver told me to wait 1 hour and we would make the 3 hour journey to the starting point. So I decided to go find breakie in the local market. By accident I ended up ordering sheep intestine soup; a Peruvian delicacy. I had a lovely experience chatting to the locals. It’s so interesting seeing the style in the different regions of Peru. The woman in Huarez are the height of fashion and have the most fantastic hats.
When I got back to my bus man he said senorita we have to wait for more passengers. I went back to the market for more grub carb loading for the huge trek ahead. 3 hours later we eventually set off with a very flustered driver. The drive was spectacular as he drove into to depths of the mountain. The van wasn’t feeling too healthy and 2 hours into the drive one of the wheels fell off!! I wasn’t even surprised and the driver managed to secure the wheel temporarily. We had to make the dreaded 2 hour journey back to Yungay to a garage where the van needed serious help. No one was budging for the afternoon.
The driver offered me a spot in the mechanics house to pitch my tent. I decided to make the most of my time in Yungay and found the most amazing cemetery. I got chatting to the park ranger and explained my situation and he told me this was the perfect place to camp while I waited for the bus the following morning. Obviously camping in a cemetery isn’t the ideal but this was a particularly beautiful one. With tent pitched and settling down with a snack a Peruvian family came over and said it was way too dangerous to camp here that at night it was filled with drug addicts etc etc. They couldn’t believe I was alone so after a game of volley ball, a photo shoot and lots of chat they insisted on taking me home and adopting me for the night.
There was about 20 of them in the family and they lived in this farm shack. A true authentic experience. The little kids were giggling with me in the house and it was a novelty for everyone involved. I’d say there was about 8 of them per room and some poor fecker was kicked out of their room and I was given a bed. Such a luxury for the night and a huge step up from Carlos’s smelly dungeon. The mam couldn’t stop feeding me and I was served the largest portions which I obviously wasn’t complaining about. At 5 am the following morning I was woken to the smell of fish and little did I know this was my breakfast. A mountain of rice, 2 whole trouts and homemade camomile tea. A breakfast of champions for the challenge ahead. What amazing generous people. I wish I had a way of thanking these people for taking me in and plumping me up.
I eventually made it to the start of the trek (second time lucky) and set off with my ludicrously heavy back pack. There was 1 other american couple doing the trek so I tried to keep up with them so I wouldn’t get lost but they were way too fast for me and after a few minutes they were nowhere to be seen. So true to nature I got lost after 9 minutes and ended up in the house of a man with dead guinea pigs on the roof? I eventually got back on the main route after an hour of trying to figure it out. I was going good guns for a while. This famous route was surprisingly quiet with absolutely no tourists with only the occasional local. At one point I got lost again luckily after a while I saw this kid called Joseph who pointed me in the right direction. He was obviously looking for some kind of a payment. I offered him a banana but he refused and settled for the last of my chocolate bars ( Fiona Spain they have been life saving). Joseph has good taste, a kid after my own heart. We said our good byes and minutes later Joseph was back with his comrades who obviously got wind of the freebies….
I kept trekking for the rest of the day where I was told by Carlos to walk 1 km further past the main campsite there was another more scenic campsite. I took his instructions on board and pitched my tent. I didn’t realise I pitched my tent in a field covered in cows and their poo. That’s all I needed was more poo . The poo was actually the least of my problems… What I didn’t realise was the state my tent was in and the poles completely snapped. I managed to squeeze into the tent and tried to get shelter under a tree but to no avail. After a few hours the rain got stronger and stronger and my sad excuse of a tent started to fill with water and my sleeping bag became absolutely drenched. It was one of the grimmest moments of the trip so far. I half considered walking in the dark and figured it would be a better than lying in a pool of rain but I abandoned ship on this idea because I had no flash light. I endured the night and got up at 5am to get an early start for the challenge of the next day. I was completely alone for the first half of the day and luckily found a guide who pointed me in the right direction. At this stage I was really worried about my sleeping arrangements. Typically people do the 50km trek in 3 nights which is what I had planned because I was carrying all of the equipment and was quite slow. With the tent out of action I knew I would only last 2 nights maximum.
Despite the challenges, day 2 was stunning with beautiful views of snow-capped mountains and lagunas. Scenery like this reminds you why you put yourself through the elements it is so worth it.
With strong sunshine on day 2 I tried to try out sleeping bag and tent and just like that it started snowing! Typical Andean weather. I walked for about 10 hours on day 2. I considered sleeping in the toilets (wooden huts) but then figured it might be an issue if someone wanted to use them and of course the obvious issue of smell so decided against. Just as light was closing in I thought I was having visions but saw the most perfect cave. It was as if all of my problems were solved, there was this beam of light shining on it was like someone was watching over me. I set up camp (albeit wet) and slept (with the cows) solidly for the next 11 hours. An amazing cosy sleep.
Day 3 started off a little rough. A guide I met the previous day told me you can’t go wrong and all you have to do is go straight and follow the lake. I did exactly this which involved me having to cross raging rivers. I figured this couldn’t be right but couldn’t see any other option. I ended up destroying my boots on one of the river crossings. I changed into flip-flops for the remainder. It was scary because they were quite deep but I wanted to continue because I couldn’t face turning back. On one of the crossings I lost one flip-flop, my hat and sunglasses. I scrambled up onto a cliff and amazingly to my left I saw the most obvious pathway!!!! A terrifying experience only an idiot like me would make. Once on the pathway I knew I was home and dry and enjoyed the rivers from a far. The views this day were amazing and I had them all to myself. It’s hard to believe beauty this spectacular is so un spoilt by tourism. I loved this day maybe because I knew a bed awaited me at the end and not a cave filled with cow shit. There were moments I questioned my sanity and why I was doing this to myself and all I had to do was look around and I would instantly understood. This place is special if you come to Peru you need to see for yourself the photos don’t justify it.
Santa Cruz I will never forget you. You were almost impossible to get to and to complete but your beauty compensated for the pain you put me through. Now for a much-needed shower, sleep and most definitely a DRINK. I promise Una and Dom no more solo hiking!!