Cusco and the Ausangate Trek

23 June 2018 | 0 comments

Tim enjoying the moment immersed in Inca stonework

Cusco. We are struck by some rather touristy areas, with shop after shop selling tours. Tim and I spent a wonderful day out visiting the Inca ruins, both near the town and further away. Enjoyed the experience of catching the ‘collectivo’ bus for one sol  (25p). Fascinated by the inca stonework of course, learnt more about the Inca ‘world’: the symbolic importance of the condor ( to the world of the gods), the puma ( to the world of men and animals) and the serpent ( to the world of the dead) . Cities were built in the shape of sacred animals, Cusco for example, in the shape of the puma. We found a  marvellous art museum/ shop. So very tempted by the brightly coloured and highly symbolic tapestries. Loved the tiny narrow streets winding up the hillsides. ambles into a beautiful church on the hill, only to realise we were in the middle of a funeral, then complete with heaps of flowers, and open coffin, and an extraordinarily lively street band.

Next day, after a bit of confusion, we found the bus to Tinqui. On first attempt, the taxi driver failed to find it, offered us a great price to get there, then realized it was the wrong Tinqui. All was well, the 3 hour journey was an extraordinary ride, schoolchildren piling on and off the bus as we moved away from Cusco, the women piling on the bus to s lol juice, bread and snacks at all sorts of random places, the couple getting off, who then had various bits of furniture unloaded from the luggage compartment, finally explains why there was so little room for our luggage! Houses in the countryside are made from mud bricks, mostly unfinished ( as in Cusco) to avoid taxes.

We arrive at Tinqui where our guide lives, our rooms at his hostel are very basic but adequate, our welcome so warm. Do we want to see the end of the bullfighting fiesta? ( the don’t kill the bull here) Of course. The sight of all the women dressed in their colorful full skirts with fantastic flat hats bedecked with sequins, and fancy shoes, clambering down the steep mud slopes, as if this was perfectly the norm, was worth it, alone. The children were fascinated by us,  not many tourists stop in Tinqui, it simply isn’t fancy enough. An impromtu English lesson develops!

Next morning, after buying some great value alpaca wool products from our guide’s wife, our trekking adventure begins. We’re planning the circuit around the Ausangate mountain, adding on a fairly long extension to view the popular rainbow mountain.

Random sewing machine…honestly

Day one, destination Upis, alt 4600m, was to be a rather dull walk in on the track, turned out to be a beautiful and fairly strenuous hike cross country off path. There are the six of us, plus our guide ( who speaks not a word of English, in fact not much at all, but at least he knows the way) Brian, a friendly American , who is to interpret, five fine horses and 2 more guys to look after the horses and cook. Along the way we see Hundreds of alpacas, lamas and vicuña. This is the main living here. Upis camping has lovely views of Ausangate mountains, though the hot springs were very sad, just a few inches of murky water. I retire to bed for a couple of hours with a splitting headache, no doubt caused by the 700m ascent, but painkillers see me through and I feel quite human by dinner time.

Just spot the trail came over through the snow….

Day two takes us up towards Ausangate, past spectacular hanging glaciers, over a high pass at 4850m. The flora is so different, vast clumps of tight packed mosses of every shade of green, that are as firm as wood, tall tufts of grass that we see alpaca herders use as posts to tether their animals. Waterfalls and mini gorges. Vichacas (think very large squirrel) race about from their hiding places in the rocks. We walked slowly and huffed and puffed at the high altitude) and on to our camp right below the glaciers. The landscape is vast, empty, wild and Unspoilt. A bitterly cold wind but we snuggle down and all is well.
Day 3, another big day of truly beautiful lakes and the rainbow mountain. We leave the traditional circuit and head over a very high pass with a big ascent. This would be a breeze in the alps, but at 4900m, we proceeded very slowly indeed, and Sarah by now is riding the Emergency horse. Spectacular views into a startlingly different terrain, full of vivid rock colours of red, blue, green and yellow.

Barren, but interspersed with beautiful lakes. We spy the rainbow mountain in the distance, and preceded along a massive traverse across bright red scree. Climbing the small hill above the rainbow mountain pass takes us to 5,100m. We look down on the crowds below. These are the first people we’ve seen so far on our journey, excluding the occasional farmer and one other small trekking group. They were possibly a thousand there, it can be accessed by bus plus a 2 hour walk from Cusco, so very ocular and rightly so. Lunch is an extraordinary affair in a commandeered half finished building. Still, shelter from the fierce wind and reasonable loos too – what luxury! We soon head off from the busy trail into a deserted valley and just keep walking rather longer than we hoped as the horses had not been allowed to stop and a camp set where we had planned. Eventually we camp in the football pitch of a tiny half deserted village. Also today, in the middle of nowhere, two small children appear, clearly hoping for something. Hard to know what to do, they clearly had so little, between us we provided bread, the last of our dried apricots and a few sols. Those soulful big brown eyes!

Day 4, onwards, heading up back towards Ausangate, we’re back to the glaciers and dramatic peaks. We set off early as bad weather is forecast. Little do we know what’s in store. The final half hour we are walking in a blizzard, up at 4700m, and dive into the communal tent for a late lunch. We wait and wait for a lull in the storm, which never comes, then retreat to individual tents to get warm. A jovial and mildly hysterical dinner as the blizzard rages around us.

The world has turned white, the snow tried hard to find a way into our 3 season tent ( not prepared for this) but A combined nation of trekking towels, bags and bits of corrugated metal kept it out of the inner tent at least.

6.30am, and all is…still windy and snowy….

We wake to find the blizzard still raging, but forwards was the only way now. We had 19km, 550m of ascent up to 5050m and 7 hours of non stop walking in a blizzard ahead of us. Definitely 3 pancakes for breakfast. Snow drifts were still manageable, only shin deep at worst, the wind gusts at times made us stop and brace. it was a starkly white, beautiful but menacing landscape, the promised blue and yellow lakes were steely grey, the alpacas looked even more cute with snow covered coats. We were overtaken by a local man and woman leading a small group pf horses. the blizzard, she is in her normal local clothes: full skirt, leg warmers, leather SANDALS, beautiful hat with draped cover, no gloves. At one with the elements!

Destination reached: the small village of Pachatta. A dismal place in the blizzard, perishingly cold, but with (very) hot springs and pools. The surroundings are muddy with far too much dog poo, the changing rooms definitely unusable, but the pools themselves look clean and inviting, steaming in the blizzard. We wander over in waterproofs and swimming gear (still snowing) and soak in the piping hot water, hot enough that I could wander back through the snow with just a trekking towel draped around my shoulders.
The rooms in the hostel ( not a hostel at all, just rooms, no water, no heat, no light, no loo) are incredibly cold. Though sad to be finishing a wonderful trip and leaving the beautiful mountains, I was glad to leave Pachanta. And get back to the relative comfort of Cusco, a hot shower and fully functional loo.

Read on for the final week in Peru: our Coastal Road trip


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