On the following day I was leaving for my first trekking of several days since I had started traveling. I had been walking a lot, had seen a lot of nature’s wonders, been on one-day excursions on foot or several-days excursions by car but an excursion of several days on foot, that was a first. And I was pretty much looking forward to it. It also made me a little nervous. When in Bogotá, I stopped smoking – well… not completely. But as good as – because I could feel how the heighth was affecting me. That was at 2,600 metres above sea level. It did get better after I stopped deliberatly insufflating smoke into my lungs but I still found it exhausting to climb stairs in Huaraz, at 3,100 meters. And the excursion required me to walk uphill to 4,750 meters. I think I asked the guy who was organizing the excursion at least 3 times if they ever had a problem with someone suffering severe high sickness; if there was a danger; if in case of emergency I would be able to take a horse to quickly get at a lower level; if he was sure I was going to be fine,… Most of the time, I have my hypochondriac self under control. But, sometimes, there is just no way I can reason myself.
– We have been organizing this excursion for people in their 70’s.
That was as good as saying “can you please shut up, now? You’re going to be perfectly fine.”
I – obviously – did survive the trekking but I doubt my physical capacity to do it repeatedly, as I was very often – not to say always – amongst the last walkers of the group. Of course, if you compare yourself to a bunch of young Israelian guys who have just completed their 3 years’ military service, you are bound to feel bad about yourself. I don’t think I have mentioned this before but the number of Israelians you meet while travelling is, for such a small country, quite unbelievable. I came to think that there are constantly about ten times more Israelians travelling, than there are within the borders of their home country. The rest of the group was composed of four French, one Irish, our guide Rubén, the cook, and one guy in charge of the 7 or 8 donkeys that were carrying our stuff. I was amazed about how quick he was getting through the hills with the animals, leaving the camp after we did, walking with sandals and having to deal with living creatures known to be very stubborn. When you live in a certain environment, you develop very particular skills. If that place happens to be Brussels, you learn to find your way accross political and administrative complexity, or come up with alternative routes to avoid traffic. Skills which are totally useless when you are 10,000 kilometers away, in the Peruvian Andes. There, I would have given my kingdom for better trained legs and stronger lungs. Let me remind you: Belgium’s peak is at a mere 600 metres and some of the mountains surrounding me now were ten times as high.
The first morning was one very long drive to the place where we would start the trekking. On our way, we stopped at a lagoon with an amazing blue colour. I had never seen anything like it before. The kind of blue that lakes only have in children’s drawings, because everybody knows that water is only blue due to the reflection of the sky. Right?… Wrong. Well, in Peru at least. We made another halt to admire the lake from higher up, at 5,000 meters, then stopped to take breakfast and then, finally, started to walk. I think we were able to really enjoy it for one full hour before it started to rain. We were taking a little rest when we felt the first drops. Soon, it was pouring. We tried to find shelter as we could, until some of the Israelians found a rock, which could prevent us from being soaked to the bones. The majority of us were sitting there, hoping it would get over soon, so that we would be able to go on. Then, suddenly, we saw Rubén and the rest of the group passing by. I have to admit I thought “Noooo way. No, no, no. I will not.” but then realised that the truth was I had no choice, because we needed to get to the camping site before nightfall. So I tried to protect myself and my bag the best I could and tried to think about the joy of being able to take a natural shower in such a beautiful environment. Guess what. It didn’t help me feel any better about the situation.
Once we got to the camping site, we realised that it was not only us being soaked. Although covered with a canvas sheet while carried by the donkeys, some of our belongings had not been able to escape humidity. As was the case of our sleeping bags. After trying to find impossible ways to get dry and warm feet – I kinda gave up hope for the rest of the body -, and cuddling up with the rest of the group in the big tent around a faint lantern for dinner, it was time for a bed time story from Rubén. Something about goblins trying to frighten humans, so that they wouldn’t come in the mountains to destroy the environment extracting minerals – like that was something our peers are capable of doing. Nonsense – So, of course, the moment I was left no option but to experiment the joys of relieving myself in the outdoor, all I could think of were goblins.
They, however, were not what kept me awake that night. I accomodated myself with my Irish and Israelian room mates in a donkey scented tent. I was so tired that I didn’t even notice the smell. But one of the girls tried to get rid of it, covering it with a fresher one, emanatig from a little spray she had brought along. I learned a new word that night: “glamping”. A combination of “glamour” and “camping”. Though, except for that little girly touch, the experience was anything but glamourous. The night was cold, the sleeping bags were damp, I couldn’t move as I wanted because I didn’t want to wake the other ladies – who, as I heard the following morning, hadn’t been sleeping any better than I had. There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to recover from a well filled day! So I leave you to imagine how I looked, how we all looked, when we woke up at 4.30 the following morning, after having been able to shut an eye – only one of them – for about two hours. NOT a happy bunny.