Lares Valley Trek (Day 1)
3:40 am – Pick up from my hotel. This dead of night departure is not the norm, but a construction project on the road to Lares mandated it. Original pick-up was scheduled for the much more sane 8 o’clock hour. Unfortunately, most of our drive through the Sacred Valley was in the dark. On the bright side, the inordinate wake up time did add to the overall sense of adventure we were embarking on.
Most of what I remember of the 2.5-hour drive, bouncing in and out of REM sleep, was on a decently paved road. The last forty-five minutes we climbed higher into mountainous terrain. The road turned to gravel, our pace slowed, and despite my best efforts sleep was just not possible.
By sunrise we were nearing our start and we pulled off the side of the road for a proper breakfast – Café, tea, Milo, fruit, crackers, cheese, ham, toast and jam – sitting ourselves in a section of sun to warm up. The landscape was so vast that it took our guide, John, pointing out the herd of alpacas off in the distance and those two blue specs that were children probably running to school and the smoking stone hut from which they come from. The Andean bustle of life.
As we enjoyed our last cups of Coca tea we loaded back into the van for the final haul to the start of our trek…
Allowing enough time for full acclimatization is crucial to the enjoyment of any hike. The Lares Valley Trek, while considered moderate compared to other treks in the area, does boast of a couple 4000+ meters (> 13,000 ft) passes. My trekmates had come from sea level and only just arrived in Cusco the afternoon before. So today was all about acclimatization.
We started off a steady uphill path and slowly made our way to the small village of Quisuarani, stopping along the way to let the local sheep herders pass and, often, just to catch our breath. The trail crosses the road on several occasions. And so van support is an option this first day for those that are really struggling. But as our guide said, just find your rhythm, don’t push yourself, and slowly, steadily you’ll get there.
We reached our campsite – the futbol field of Quisuarani – at approximately 12:30 pm, where the women of the Quechua community and their weavings greeted us. We had worked up an appetite and had lunch (some chicken and vegetables) before setting up camp. With our bellies full and the warmth of mid-day sun we all retreated to our tents for a much needed siesta.
We passed the rest of our afternoon with a hike to a nearby waterfall; and, for me, the full weight of just where we were set in. As we labored uphill, women adorned in monteras (traditional hats) and brightly colored lliclla’s (hand-woven shawls) trotted passed us with child on back spinning yarn for their weavings. The men of the community carried the makings of power lines for a future hydroelectric project to get power from the falls. And little kids hustled their way home from a full day of school.
I knew the Lares Valley Trek offered an authentic Peruvian experience, but I still wasn’t quite prepared to see these well-established communities with people living off the land amidst such a stark and stunning landscape. Everything was so grand and spread out that you could take in the whole scene from afar or rather from above as you hiked down into these ancient communities.
We returned to camp where a group of local boys were playing futbol with a beat-up old deflated ball. We joined them for a competitive game of monkey in the middle. Let me say being in the middle when you are not from altitude was ridiculously tiring. The kids loved this and I swear they had it out for me! For those that want to bring something to share with the communities, I think a soccer ball would be a great gift**. I would talk to your guide about whom in the community to give it to so that all can share. Each of the communities we passed through had a futbol field.
Our game fizzled out with the setting of the sun and our campsite cleared of all the local kids as they made their way back home. Dinner was served not long after – fish and rice with a peach dessert. We lingered in the warmth of the dinner tent sipping hot cocoa, but most of us were pretty pooped from the early morning start. We filled up our water bottles, paid a visit to the toilet tent, and were in bed by 7:30 pm.
** You will get ample amounts of snacks to carry with you as you hike during the day. You’ll find many kids running up for candy and whatever treats you’re willing to part with. We strongly suggest avoiding giving candy. They don’t have the same dental care we do. Fresh fruit or nuts would be much better.