Huaraz – Those campesinos will kill you

A few of us went to Huaraz for the weekend with plans to do some hiking.  It’s this cute little town in the middle of the Cordilleras, where we planned to eat well, relax and hike in the fresh air.  We arrive at 6am via the overnight bus, and things are going well.  Too well.  A tour company that works with our hostel offers to take us there for free and when successfully arrive at the hotel, un-robbed and alive, they don’t even want anything in return.  No promises that we’ll tour with them, no payment, no tip.  They just drop us off and leave.  Despite the early hour we’re allowed to check in and sleep off the night bus fog.  The hostel is the nicest I have ever stayed in, a big fireplace, floor to ceiling windows overlooking snow capped mountains.

There is no heat, as such a things don’t exist in Peru, but our very comfy beds in our private room have huge fluffy down comforters.  We are warm and happy and pass out.  The boys get up at 8am and knock on our door wanting to do a tour.  No chance.  I am on vacation.  We let them go ahead and sleep ‘til noon, eventually wandering over to a local café that’s been recommended.  The café is the perfect blend of alpine ski lodge meets hippie granola hangout.  They serve homemade bread and some of the tastiest breakfast options around.  And coffee!  Real coffee!.  We each have two cups and take a third to go.

This late in the day we’re not sure what to do.  We head over the local tourist office and the very helpful woman gives us a map and directions for an “easy” two hour hike up to a small lake.  She tells us we can only do this hike today, because tomorrow we’d have problems on account of the “paro.”  I’ve never heard this word before but decide it means parade.  Pa-ro = pa-rade.  Sure.  Why not?  So I’m like, “oh, awesome.  I love paros That’ll be cool to see.”  She looks quizzically at me.  “You love paros…?”  “Er…yeah…”  And we’re off.

The hike is awesome and just the right amount of difficult for our first day acclimatizing.  It’s a beautiful day and we meet all sorts of happy and helpful farmers along the way who direct us to the lake when we’ve made a wrong turn.

We meet a little girl with an armful of puppies

Ladies on donkeys returning from the market.

And see a shepherd(ess?) heading home with her sheep.

We make it to the top and the lake is so pretty. A guy rides by on  his horse and offers to let us ride him (the horse!) for a photo opp.  We decline the offer but it’s a nice gesture.

The day has gone too well really.  It does not bode well for tomorrow.  This is how I live life in Peru, either things are going wrong, or they’re going much too well for me to feel comfortable.

The next day, we all get up at the crack of dawn and head to the café for breakfast.  After we’ve ordered, two of us head out to the local tour offices to book a hike.    The woman at the tour agency looks at us as if we’re nuts.  “Nothing today on account of the paro.  The miner’s paro.”  Ooooh.  Paro ≠ parade.  Paro = strike.  No wonder that woman was looking at me like I was insane yesterday.  “Oooh  strikes!  I love strikes.  Civil unrest is my fave!  How very Latin America!”  Lord.

The tour agency lady continues to explain why we can’t go today.  “The strike starts at noon.  We’d be able to get out of the city, but we couldn’t get back in.”  It must be clear to her that we do not understand the magnitude of the situation, “Do you understand that these are campesinos (farmers)?  Campesinos.   You understand how these people are.  They’re uncivilized.  They’ll kill you.”  I like the idea of a group of people who are nuts enough to kill people over labor rights, but civil enough to at least notify people in advance so everyone knows about what time to expect the slayings to begin.  A very orderly bunch of murderers indeed.

“Those campesinos will kill you.”  Clearly this woman is a somewhat prejudiced city dweller.  All farmers are uncivilized, murdering, hooligans seems to be something of an overgeneralization, but all the same, she looks at us as if she might be explaining the most obvious of clear and present dangers.  Like “Those sharks will attack you.”  “Those dingoes will eat your baby.”  It’s just in their nature.

Okay, so we leave and try to make a new plan.  We befriend a very granola Brit back at the café who is also at a loss for what to do, and we all head back to the tourist information desk to figure out what our options look like.   Of course the woman to whom I proclaimed my love of civil unrest is working in the office today.  I feel compelled to tell her that I know now what the word really means, and actually, I’m reallynot as into strikes as I seemed yesterday…..but as a general rule, trying to convince people you’re not crazy will always make you seem crazier, and I know this, but I am usually unable to stop myself.  This time I manage to hold back.

She gives us the option of a hike that won’t be affected by the paro, but points out that it’s about a 2 hour drive, and then 3-4 hours of “pura subida” (straight up vertical ascent of about 1,000 meters!) followed by what she thinks is a “somewhat difficult” rock wall, before we can get to Laguna Churup at the top (14,763 feet.)   As the resident cobarde, it’s my job to voice all the concerns (possible issues with paro, too much ascent in a short time, my inability to rock climb, not enough days of acclimatization to be going that high) and then to immediately be shot down by everyone else and eventually fold under the peer pressure.

Okay fine.  We find a collectivo driver and he agrees to take us, picking up piles of other hikers along the way who’ve realized their day’s plans have been ruined by the strike.  Our collectivo driver stops off to get gas.  Then to get air in his tires.  Then to drop off some beer bottles.  A little light shopping.  Drops his wife and baby off at home.  Standard fare.  This turns it into more like a three hour drive.

The hike is intense.  We’re all dizzy and feeling the lack of oxygen, but the day is perfect and we’re trying to take it slow.  We run into a guy from our hostel and he hikes along with us.  A 20 something hip British guy who recently quit his big firm job to spend a year traveling South America.  He is literally doing the hike in pair of beat up Keds, which is insane.  He confesses to me that he’d been planning to get proper hiking shoes, but the more people told him he couldn’t hike in the Keds, the more he wanted to do it, so eventually, he did six days of the Inca Trail in them, limping all the way, and he was just planning to continue his bad-assery (I’m not sure he’d call it that?) by wearing through ‘til the end of the trip.  Very impressive.

So we hike.  At about 3.5 hours shit gets serious.  The hike goes from uphill ascent, to a scramble using your arms and legs, and then we get to the “wall.”   I wish I’d had the presence of mind to photograph what it looks like at this point, but fear set in, and I’d stopped thinking altogether.  There hike turns into just sheer slate at a 60 degree angle, with permanent steel ropes in place so you can drag yourself up.  To get up though you have to sort of pull yourself up over this huge boulder that is chest high (on me).  And if you lose your footing, or those permanent ropes should suddenly not hold up, that’s the end of you.  You’re done.

Herbie and I have minor panic attacks at this point and refuse to go further.  Another girl I’m with, who is very athletic and a full foot taller (not hyperbole) than me, pushes us out of the way.  “Come on, guys. No big deal.”  She puts one leg over and heads up.  I realize I’m doing an awful job of explaining what it really looks like here, but basically the mountain is windy at this point, so once she’s up and over we don’t see her anymore.  You can’t see what’s up past the ropes.  I know the lagoon must be close, and I want to make it over, but I’m scared.

Herbie works up the courage and leaves me.  I tell them to forget it.  I’ll just wait here for them to get back.  I’m not going to be able to get up the mountain and I’m so scared I’m shaking at the thought of it.  They leave.  I start getting worried.  How long will they be gone?  How long am I going to be here on my own?  What if it’s another hour before anyone comes back?  What if it gets dark, or they find some other way to get down, and they don’t come back for me, and I get lost, and then I freeze to death?  I make a few half hearted efforts up the ropes.  On try two my foot slips on the rock and I freak out and sit down and start to cry.  I’ve just done the hardest hike of my life, and I’m so close to the top and my un-athletic self is unable to do it.  I’m chickening out.  Just like always.  Me.  The cobarde.  I cry like a baby for a few minutes and then pull it together.

No.  I did not come all this way to not make it to the lagoon.  I must make it.  It’s one rope.  One rope.  It will take me under a minute if I can just be brave for exactly one minute it’ll be over.  I can do it.  I can do it.

It’s just one minute.
It’s just one rope.
One rope.

I get a running start and hurl myself onto the rock and drag myself up and around the corner to the next level…(I did it!)…only to find….

….four more sets of ropes, each attached to a progressively steeper and more death defying area of the mountain.

Of course.  I try to put the fear out of my mind and pull myself up and through the rest of the ropes, because physically I couldn’t turn back now if I wanted to, and the ledge I’m currently standing on is so precarious that I don’t have time to think about it.

When I finally get to the top I see another group of people on their way back down.  “You’re almost there,” they encourage me.  So I basically just start running uphill and finally make it to the lagoon.  I see my group on the other side and yell to them and jump up and down, like Rocky at the top of the steps, I fully hear Eye of the Tiger playing in my head.

It beautiful.  We’ve made it!  I made it!  I’m alive!  WEEEE.

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The same volunteer who mistakenly told the children to go play in a small vagina, had another doozie during her last week here.  Over drinks one night we were teaching people how to play the card game “Bullshit,”  which we were translating to “mierda de toro.”

After a little while the art director looks horrified, “Wait.  Mierda means shit?”  I thought that meant ‘scary’?!  Oh no!”

Her last week of classes involved kids making paper fans with dragons on them.  She’d asked someone in the house how to say “How scary!”  so she could compliment the kids on their good work.  “Que miedo!”    Except she thought she’d heard “Que mierda.”  Or “what shit,”  so basically she’d taught six art classes that week and told a bunch of kids what shit dragons they’d drawn.

“Some of them did look a little upset when I said it,” she remembered, “I thought maybe I was pronouncing it wrong.”

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The new guy is super musical and is always practicing, it makes me so happy.  It’s really peaceful to hear the sounds of soft piano chords and Spanish guitar floating around the house in the morning.  I’d like him to just follow me around and score my life.  It makes the whole house seem quieter and calmer somehow.  Whereas we’d normally be 10 girls chatting and yelling and laughing, everyone just sort of curls up with a book and sits quietly while he plays.  It drowns out the noise outside, the roosters, the mototaxis, the man selling papas rellenas, everyone seems to take a break for a minute.  Music really does soothe the savage beast, even when that beast is Huaycan.

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I got bit by a puppy yesterday.  Obviously this was bound to happen.  This kid was trying to hand me his few month old puppy, but he picked it up like a maniac and hurt the little guy in the process, so the dog turned around and lashed out at the closest thing…my face, biting me through the lip. Nice.  And I have a Skype job interview tomorrow.  That’ll be cute.  Thankfully I’ve had all my shots and packed boxes of anti-biotics.  Will this stop me from trying to hold stray dogs you ask.  No.  It will not.

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A new kid came to class the other day and I overheard Franky (of Franky and the turtle) explaining to the new kid about who everyone was.  Then he points at me.  “Esta es Abby.  Ella es medio payaso.”  (Abby is half clown.)  Insulting!  I am a full clown, thank you very much.

One thought on “Huaraz – Those campesinos will kill you

  1. Oh! I love reading your blogs. Have i told you lately how proud I am of you? The pics are so very beautiful…such a contrast to the very poor and hurting population of Peru. Please: take care of yourself! You’re almost done…xoxo ARobin

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