I just got back from two weeks in the remotest parts of Peru. Sounds cool, right? Well it wasn´t. It was a combination of the hardest and most miserable two weeks of my life, with a few sprinklings of sunshine. You know how in hindsight, you tend to forget the bad parts? Well, I will never forget. Ever. I´m being a little strong here, but let me explain.
Starting about two weeks ago, we set off on a five day trek through a region called the Cordillera Blanca. Its a gorgeous area, full of picturesque views, indigenous women herding sheep and knitting hats, llamas and alpacas, beautiful rivers and lakes, and a number of small self sustaining mud villages. Each day covered different terrain, some relatively flat trails and some trails that were entirely vertical. Though it was tough, it was gorgeous and extremely rewarding. Each day we would arrive at our campsite around four, pitch our tents, cook dinner, and be in bed by seven. The days were long but believe it or not, I love treking. It gives you time to think, to sort out your mind and your body, and the nights give you a chance to scare people in their tents. Treking also gives you an excuse to eat all day long, as there is not a minute when you´re not burning calories.
But, the problems started at night. At around five o´clock, the rain would start. Not a big problem if you have shelter, but we did not, and alternating our campsites between fields in small towns and construction sites meant that we were either sleeping on rocks or in mud puddles. We were split into groups and were meant to cook our food each night, but many went hungry because of the rain, or as was the case in our group, because of poor pre-trek shopping.
About four days into the trek, the sicknesses started. I got a bad case of the shits (excuse me, but I have no modesty left), which lasted until about two days ago. On the final day of our trek we practically ran the trail, imagining a number of exotic sites at the bottom (many of which involved toilets and showers). In reality, though, we arrived in a small town made entirely of mud with no shelter, bathrooms or showers for us, where it constantly rained and smelled of dead chickens and cow manure. I cannot tell you the disappointment that swept over the group upon our arrival. The town didn´t even seem to know we were coming and spent the rest of the day scrambling around trying to find us some kind of accomodation. In the end, I slept in a storage shed with four other people and the rest of the group slept in a local chapel. Our bathroom was a field in front of the church and showers were nonexistent. While we were meant to teach children English and plant trees at the project site, upon arrival we found out that there was no functioning school and plenty of trees. We ended up building a fence for a future campsite for the many many tourists who trek through that area (note the sarcasm). It was a bust and I do not feel as if we did anything except busy work. Lastly, about a day after we arrived I came down with a bad cold and soon after came down with some kind of terrible stomache bug. Hmph.
I do want to point out some positives, though, because who wants to read only about misery?
The town. The town was pretty quaint, filled with old women with so many stories in their faces I sometimes couldn´t look away. One morning when I was sick I went outside to get some fresh air at about four thirty and I watched the sun rise and the village come to life. I watched the old women, who wear the same outfits every day, slowly come out of their tiny homes and tend to their pigs and chickens. There was one particular woman who I loved to watch, she was about three feet tall and over ninety years old and looked as much like a witch as anyone I´ve ever seen. Next to her house was a pile of rubbish where a family of pigs lived and she would wake up in the mornings and feed them, shuffling around slowly and speaking the traditional mountain language which is rather whispery and harsh. Everything she said sounded like a curse. On that morning I watched the shephards herd their sheep from a small mountain town below up to where we were staying. And lastly I watched all the village kids come out looking sleepy and bored with their lazy south american eyes and their brightly colored clothes.
Lets see, what else? On our final day, I almost killed a chicken, but at the last minute I couldn´t do it. I was standing over it, one foot on its feet and one on its wings, holding a rambo blade in one hand and its head in the other and at the last minute it opened its mouth and cawed and I just couldn´t do it. I did everything else, though, from plucking the chicken to removing its insides. We made a football with its throat (remind you of anything?) and I spent about three hours cutting it up to make a traditional Peruvian dish for the last night of our stay. It was delicious and I shall make it for you when I get back! After everyone finished eating Wilson (the good trip leader) took me to the center of town with the leftovers and called everyone to come try it. About 20 kids came running from all over with their bowls and we filled them up. Then slowly, the old women came out of their homes looking sly and as soon as they saw the food they whipped their bowls out from behind their backs and smirked a toothless smile at us. Everyone looked so incredibly happy at the prospect of good food and that is truly what made the last two weeks worthwhile. I have to say, though, with only a few rays of sunshine a miserable few weeks doesn´t do much for your mood while you´re traveling. And I will never do it again.
But, as Bob Ross says, ¨We don´t make mistakes, we make happy little accidents.¨So I´m going to continue with my trip and hope that the rest is better than the last two weeks. And if it isn´t, I will still come home with some great souveniers, some good stories, a new perspective on how to live, and a little Spanish under my belt.
Love and bugs,