The second day would be the toughest one: walking 15 kilometres and going from 3750 meters to 4750 meters above sea level. If I was bound to die of asphyxia during this trekking, that would be the day. And, at some point, I really thought I would. If not by the lack of oxygen, then by the fact that me going so slow, the group would be tempted to leave me behind. After a few hours, one of the Israelian guys offered to carry my backpack. The weight I was carrying on my shoulders, including at least 2 kg of camera, certainly wasn’t helping me to be faster. So I gladly accepted but it didn’t prevent me to be way behind everyone, with Rubén holding me company. He was doing most of the talking though. I was concentrating to the maximum on my moves, eyes not losing the top out of sight. One additional motivation to keep going was that Rubén feared that it would start raining again, and I certainly did not want to do a remake of the previous day. Eventually, I made it to Punta Unión, where the Israelians had been waiting for about an hour. Just as I got there, it started to snow.
Going down was much easier and a lot faster. We were at the base camp in no time. The view from there was great, so we took some time to just relax and enjoy before dinner time. We were also having a lot of tea with coca leaves. Because of the heighth, some people were starting to have a headache. We were sleeping at 4200 meters that night. As we were, once again, cuddling up in the big tent to get some warmth, discussion arose around the duration of the trekking. From the 11 people that we were, only 3 had opted for the 4 days trekking. All the rest was doing it in 3. And the two French who had planned to do it in 4 had changed their minds too. It was only me left now. It wouldn’t have mattered so much if the conditions weren’t that difficult but the cold, the humidiity, and the lack of sleep were killing me. So I announced to our guide that I would finish on the following day, together with everyone else.
Before going to bed, Rubén told us another story. One about the name of the trekking: Santa Cruz. I don’t really recall the details but the name comes from a Bolivian general, who came to help the Peruvians in a war that opposed them to Chili.
I had another very bad night’ssleep. I think those moments, when travelling, are there to make you realise the total luxury you are living in the rest of the time. A bed, heating, a hot shower,… These are basic things for most of us. It’s when you have to do without them, even for a very short time, that you realise how lucky you are. On the following morning, we could see from the crystals attached to our tent that it had been freezing. Making it a day shorter was definitely a good idea. I could do something a little bit more adventurous – and even a bit colder – but I was too badly equipped for it at that precise moment.
Although I was exhausted and it was the longest stretch, the last day was probably the easiest of all. It was 20 kilometers but flat or going down. Amazing landscapes. Again. And again. And again. Each place I had been visiting until now was truly unique. And here, in three days, I had seen everything from a green little valley, to high altitude lakes, rocky and muddy paths, snowy mountains tops, sandy flats and a river running amongst elegant trees. Heaven.
Somehow, conversation with Rubén also drifted to religion and God – now that I was able to breathe and to actually talk. And it only reinforced my feeling that the deeds some attribute to God are really accomplished by oneself, by being conscious and coherent. People should believe in themselves a lot more than they believe in God. Or, to put it differently, to go and search for God within themselves.
My guide was also the first one who told me he didn’t feel the need to travel. What more could the world offer him that he didn’t have right in front of his eyes? I think I tried to convince him of the things you can discover and learn while travelling but, in the end, maybe he was the wise one . Some people don’t need to travel 10.000 kilometers to find inner peace or their place in this world. And Rubén felt his place was in the mountains. Actually, I was wondering if he ever was home. Or if he had a home. From what I understood, he was guiding groups like ours almost 7 days/week. Nevertheless, his real ambition was to become a teacher. The problem was to find time to study and pass the exams. No wonder, with such a life! It was funny to see how he was able to say a few words in a lot of different languages. Being in contact with so many tourists from all around the world, each time, he was grasping a few things, a few expressions, and would practice them with a following group. For some people, “seeing the world” means travelling to the other side of the earth. For others, it means receiving the travellers and showing them their country. Both are equally enriching.
Despite the intense pleasure I felt with the whole experience, the walk, the nature, the lovely weather and the chat, I was happy when we finally reached the village… and had a beer.
Back in Huaraz, as we were a day earlier than I had foreseen, I changed my ticket and took a bus back to Lima on the very same day.