Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Santa Cruz: Out

We headed out of the canyon to camp below the highest pass of the trek. It only took a few minutes of climbing on the trail for the views to open up. The snowy peak of Taulliraju dominated the landscape. When the sun shone on Talliraju, it began to creak and groan, heaving serac into the small alpine lake below.

Lift thine eyes
From Santa cruz

From Santa cruz

Not so early the next morning, we started our climb up to Punto Union pass. Breathing and walking got a little more difficult over 4500 meters, but we reached the pass in the late morning just before the clouds, rains, and hail hit.

Punto Union with people
From Santa cruz

Punto Union without people
From Santa cruz

We headed down the far side of the pass, feeling sorry for the groups of trekkers we met trudging upwards in the early afternoon hail. Although they didn't have to carry any packs and had an expert Peruvian guide leading them and cooking their meals, we knew they weren't going to get the kick-ass views that we had gotten just an hour before.

The path became more of a stream bed than a trail, making the 3400 foot descent slow going. Arriving in camp late afternoon, we set about making the worst camp meal we have had in a long time. I don't know how we screwed up pasta so bad, but Andrew couldn't even finish it off...which is saying a lot about quality. We fed the last bit of pasta to the cows, and hit the sack, planning to get back to Huaraz early the next day.

Reflection back over the pass at the end of the third day
From Santa cruz

It dawned a sunny, beautiful morning, and we made good time. We ate breakfast, packed up camp, and hiked the three hours out to a town (Vaqueria) to catch a bus back to civilization. We did this all by 1030 in the morning, and felt pretty good about being on schedule.

Right as we arrived at Vaqueria, a collectivo pulled up and the driver offered us a seat on the van back to Huaraz. We questioned again, and he confirmed that he was headed to Huaraz. We threw our packs on top of the bus and hopped in.

About an hour later, we were in Yanama. We were told that we would be waiting there for another hour before continuing. We got off and ate lunch, returning to the van about 10 minutes before the set departure time. To our surprise, the 12 passenger van was surrounded by about 30 people with varying sorts of items to be loaded on the top rack: bed frames, squash, desks, potatoes. Peering inside the van, almost all of the seats were already taken. The driver assured us that we had seats on the back bench of the van, so we got on and kicked off a few Peruvians that had taken over our with machete in hand.

After much negotiation and a few U-turns to pick up other passengers, we hit the road. Although most of the people wanting a ride had been turned away, there were 25 grown adults, three babies in arms, and a couple of brave souls riding on the roof as we headed away from Yanama. As we got farther from town, the scenery looked very familiar. It took me a few more confounded minutes before I realized we were headed back to Vaqueria, where we had started. Chalk another one up to transportation errors for the trip.

This time we continued past Vaqueria in the right direction: up. We topped out at a 4700 meter pass and began down the snaking dirt road to Yungay. I began cursing my long gringo legs crammed into the back bench of the van as the bus lurched and bounced around curves. Several times my head hit the top of the bus, and several times the girl sitting in the seat in front of me shot me some dirty looks when my knees dug too far into her back. We made it to Yungay around 4pm...a little later than we had planned. With sore knees and a few bruises, we were able to catch a scary, but (by comparison) luxury collectivo back to Huaraz. Showers, beer, protein, and roughage were in order.

The snaking road down from Vaqueria, dropping about 6000 feet.
From Santa cruz

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