George flew down to join me for the last weeks of my 6 months in South America.
I tried to kill him on one of the highest, coldest, best hikes on the continent — the Ausangate Circuit south of Cuzco. It has 4 passes between 4800 – 5165m. (The highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, in comparison, is about 37m high.)
Dangerous clap-trap buses, dust poisoning, heat stroke, hypothermia, exhaustion, pneumonia, HACE, HAPE; George somehow survived them all.
How? Through stubbornness & astonishingly perfect weather.
Despite the cold morning, George managed to chip through the ice to shampoo.
Far better were the natural hot springs at the beginning and end of the 70km trek.
A hard core day hiker, George thinks nothing of 30km without water bottle or day pack. Acclimatization day hikes to the great Inca ruins of Sacsayhuayman, Ollantaytambo & Machu Picchu were no problem.
The first day hiking with full pack was uphill only 30 minutes — so I told George. Wrong. Turned out to be hours up a dusty trail crowded with pilgrims & pack horses headed for the spectacular Qoyllur Rit’i festival.
Check out the 50,000 revellers with fireworks. Or guns?
That first hiking day was our toughest, actually. Old Indian ladies with huge loads, wearing recycled tire sandals, passed us by. We arrived after dark to find a steep valley with no available tent sites.
Why a fiesta in this God forsaken gorge? Jesus choose the foot of this glacier to appear to a Shepard in 1678.
After some grief we managed to wedge our tents between others on a 30 degree slope.
It was like an Andean Woodstock. But with music far inferior to Janis Joplin.
Tens of thousands of Peruvians dance & perform for 3 days & nights without sleep. It is bitterly cold at night.
The festival is a riot of colour, a cacophony of sound. Truly the best & most outrageous Indian festival in South America.
It was not easy to spot a gringo though there were a few of us there.
One toilet block had to suffice for 50,000 pilgrims — and their horses.
Bolivia was road-blocked again so we decided to head to the Amazon instead. George craved the heat, high O2 content and, surprisingly, is a butterfly aficionado.
I feared the expen$e & a biodiversity of biting insects.
Of the 3 big Amazonian destinations we chose the least well known, Puerto Maldonado. It is a 40 minute flight from Cuzco — or a 24 – 124 hour truck odyssey.
Rivers are highways in the Amazon. We lived on the Mother of God.
Actually, the proposed Trans-Oceanic highway may bring this region into the modern world linking paved Brazilian highways to Cuzco & the west coast.
Of course this road would transect the 1000km mega-conservation corridor on the eastern flank of the Andes established by Peru & Bolivia in 2003, the most ambitious scheme on Earth. The Mother of God drainage is arguably the most bio-diverse anywhere.
What ill-effects will be wrought by a through highway?
Yet I am less fearful for the Amazon than I was before I visited. It is HUGE & has the capacity to one day reclaim the land mucked up by man.