Tairona Inca: Colombia and Peru in 2 Weeks
Day 8 – 10: Hiking the scenic Lares Trek to get off the beaten path. Finding ourselves completely unprepared for the challenging hike primarily due to the effects of high altitude. Experiencing the local culture, villages, wildlife, and nature. Taking in breathtaking views the entire trek.
Today we embark on a three day trek through the Peruvian Andean mountains intersecting parts of the Inca Trail to reach our destination, Lares town.
We selected this trek to get away from the crowds often associated with the Inca Trail.
Our private tour was organized by Llamapath and included a guide, a chef, porters and mules.
Besides the initial research, we didn’t prepare much before arriving in Peru. We reserved the trek with a downpayment and had two meetings with the tour agency in Cusco before the trek.
The first meeting was to finalize the reservation with a payment. The second was an orientation on the trek, what to expect and what to bring along which took place at our hotel.
We did some shopping in Cusco for the trip. A large part of items we purchased were warmer clothes like sweaters, hats, and gloves. We also got walking sticks, ponchos (a must), headlamps (helpful at night), sunscreen, and bug-spray.
It’s also a good idea to acclimate to the altitude of Cusco before beginning the trek. Unfortunately only a couple of us had the recommended three days in Cusco.
When packing for the trip, only bring the essentials as you will be carrying what you bring on you back. The less the better. Most hotels will allow you to store luggage during your hike.
My family arrived in the early morning and went to their hotel to drop off their luggage.
Our guide introduced himself as Alex and led us to our bus. After we started the drive leaving Cusco, he presented our team for the trek. With us was our chef, Gordito, and three porters which included two 14 year old kids.
We then had an hour drive to our starting point, which was a grassy field in the mountains where our pack mules and horsemen were waiting.
We gave the horsemen our red sacks which they loaded onto the mules, along with our tents and other camping equipment.
Alex handed out a snack of a banana and cookies. As it started drizzling, we threw on our ponchos and started the trek!
It was already 10:30 a.m. We had a very late start which unbeknownst to us meant we had a disastrous evening ahead.
We walked up the mountain on the wet pebble path with an innocent exuberance and excited anticipation of the route ahead.
Keeping a moderate pace, we stopped for water and to stuff our mouths with coca leaves, used to counter the affects of altitude sickness.
Our head start disappeared in a matter of minutes and we stood aside as our horses and porters passed us.
Following a stream, we made our way up a mountain and arrived at the Inca ruins of Chupani. The stone walls were all that was left of this settlement.
Continuing up the mountain for a few hours, we eventually found our red dining tent waiting for us with a warm lunch inside. It was 2:30 p.m.
The set up was excellent. We could all fit inside the tent around a table as our cook on the other side prepared the three course lunch. There was even a toilet tent set up nearby.
Shortly after our meal we proceeded to tackle the trail.
Our pace slowed after the first mountain pass across the river. Many of us were feeling the affects of the altitude. I was heavily breathing and my pulse was racing so hard, I could feel it in my neck.
A local Peruvian lady and her son ran by us in the opposite direction. Alex exchanged a few words and told us that they were heading home from Lares.
Now that’s a commute.
As we neared our campsite for the night, Alex broke the bad news. Our campsite was flooded by the recent rain which meant we had two more hours of hiking to reach the new campsite, higher up the mountain.
Normally this wouldn’t be too serious of a concern, but darkness was approaching. We realized that soon we would be hiking with the added challenge of not being able to see our footing, never mind the fact that we were a steep incline where one wrong step would send us tumbling down the cliff…
Soon our fear became a reality and we used our iPhone’s LED light to shine a path.
The last hour of hiking was torture. My legs burned, my head was about to explode and I was hyperventilating. I wanted to stop, but had to continue. Eventually we saw a dim red glow in the distance. It was our dining tent!
The group congregated in the tent and recuperated over coca tea. Many were still stimulated from the endorphins pumping through their systems. We were all excited that we made it.
Everyone was exhausted so after a light dinner we all went to bed.
The night was terrible.
I drifted in and out of sleep and at one point my whole body was shivering. I thought I was in shock. To top it all off, I woke up in the middle of the night and vomited all over my sleeping bag.
I wasn’t the only one to have an awful night. The next morning everyone was moody and many people didn’t sleep at all due to the altitude.
We all had breakfast though no one ate much.
Alex sensed our poor got the group together. He gave us our plan of the day and ended with “your mind is weak but your body is strong”. Powerful.
Then to get the team spirit going, he asked us to pick an animal to represent our group. For some reason my proposed “condor” was vetoed. We were the “pumas”. We put our hands together in a circle and roared like a puma.
And as simple as that, we were out of our daze and ready to tackle the day.
The morning started with an ascent to the peak of the mountain pass. We passed through a picturesque high-altitude forest where we spotted viscachas (a Chinchilla-related creature).
Our pace was slow but steady, with frequent short stops to rest. My mom was having some difficulty so she rode one of the mules up the mountain.
Soon we were on an incline on our approach to the peak. We passed by small bodies of water reflecting the blue sky. The last incline was difficult due to the pebbles on the path.
Eventually our whole group made it to the highest point at 4,380 meters!
The rest of the day downhill was a piece of cake. Though we still quite a distance to cover.
We passed the largest lake on the mountain pass as rain came and went. The rocky terrain transformed into green pastures dotted with grazing lamas and alpacas.
Down the valley we spotted our tent where we had lunch.
After which, we started back down. Everyone was doing fine at the lower altitude and we made good time.
The trail followed the valley on a narrow path on the mountain side. We could see our destination, a small village cradled between the mountains.
As we neared the village, we saw more livestock, wild birds and two villagers selling handmade articles of clothing.
The village was named Cuncani. It was very small with a dozen houses and a small school with a soccer field. A man walked by leading his two horses to the market to sell for 200 sols (~$70) each. A river ran through the village and provided the water for the community.
We walked by the soccer field where local kids were busy in a frantic game. A couple of village children watched us with curious eyes.
At the entrance of the town where the road starts, our van was waiting for us. We boarded and drove to the nearby hot springs.
Lares Hot Springs
Arriving at the locally run hot springs, we paid our entrance and rented some towels to use.
Our crew set up the campsite on the lawn of the property which was where we would spend the night. I was looking forward to sleeping on the flat ground cushioned by grass. We were across the bathrooms and next to the roaring river.
Taking advantage of the location, we changed into swimwear and jumped into one of the steaming pools. There were five pools, with varying temperatures.
Everyone joined in, even our guide Alex.
Soaking in the hot natural pool and breathing in the sulfur fumes was extremely relaxing. It was a perfect way to de-stress and relax our muscles after all the hiking.
After a shower and changing, we had dinner in the dining tent which was also set up.
We had dinner, then Alex taught us a card game that we played as we drank freshly made sangria.
We tried to stay awake as long as possible, but the day was taking a toll on us and one by one we retired for the night.
The whole group woke up well rested partially due to the lower altitude thus increased oxygen.
The porters brought coca tea to our tents, which we sipped on as we got ready for breakfast.
We had a quick breakfast in the dining tent.
After that Alex took us for a twenty minute walk to the final destination of the trek, Lares. We saw some local wall art (graffiti?) and some exotic plants on the way.
The town was very small with a few main avenues. It is the capital of the district with a small central square, an adjacent government building and a simple statue of the Quechua people.
Alex took us to a beer bar or chicheria that serves “chicha”, beer made form fermented corn. Apparently it is apart of the culture for workers and farmers to stop by the chicheria after work to drink and relax before going home.
It was early in the day so no one else was really drinking, except an old woman and a young construction worker who stopped in for a quick beer.
Alex explained the process of how the chicha is made, demonstrating with raw materials like sprouting corn. Surprisingly the concoction only ferments for 15 hours before it’s ready to drink. Some places add strawberries to flavor the chicha.
We entered the small room on the first floor which served as the drinking area. The owner lived upstairs on the second floor. There was a table and small benches. It was very dimly lit so we could barely make out the guinea pigs scurrying about under our feet in search of corn byproducts.
The young daughter played with her kittens by the stove that provided the heat for the fermentation process.
The jolly owner scooped a glass of beer and handed it to Alex. He then introduced the custom of pouring a bit of the beer on the floor before drinking to give thanks to Mother Earth. One for his homies.
We then all had a chance to sample the corn beer. It was sour and tasted a bit like yogurt. It was curiously refreshing. In fact, I ordered another glass.
Returning to the hot springs, lunch was ready and waiting.
We enjoyed our last meal prepared by diligent Gordito. After lunch they brought out a cake, which happened to coincide with my brother’s upcoming birthday. So we sang and ate in honor of his birthday.
After lunch, we stood on the lawn in a circle facing our hosts and had a chance to thank them with small speeches of appreciation. This was also the time to provide the tips which is explained by the tour group.
We shook hands with everyone communicating mostly with our facial expressions. They gave us Llamapath shirts with a map of the trek on the back.
Our tents and equipment was packed up. We loaded up into the van and that concluded our Lares Trek.
Next we were headed to Ollantaytambo and then Machu Picchu!