Me and my most trusted traveling companion (and roommate in my new apartment) Laura have begun hiking at mountains on days when we have nothing to do. Since the sun has been shining more now that rainy season is coming to a close, and Laura and I are both taking a week off from volunteering, we have had more opportunities to hike than before.
Hiking in Cusco, at least the way we do it, is a very different experience. Everywhere you look in this city giant mountains are standing in the distance, and so it would seem that there are many trails and paths through woods and along mountain ridges. But you´d be wrong. On most of these mountains, pueblitos go nearly to the top, and then when the mountain faces become too steep to build upon, there is nothing but vegetation. While there are stairs or roads (or dirt alleys or stones shoved into the ground) that lead up through the villages, if you want to reach the tops of any mountains you have to be willing to go without a set trail. This can mean anything from encountering wild packs of angry dogs to sliding down rock edges into trash filled ravines.
I´m going to try and use pictures and descriptions, like I do, to try and give some sort of an idea about what these hikes have been like.
First, a more conventional hike. On one of the smaller mountains, in a place called Saqsaywaman, one of those big white, european looking Jesuses stands with his arms outstretched towards Cusco proper. Typically it costs tourists a fee to enter, but I was lucky enough to have my friend Miguel show me a way to the statue without having to pay. It involved walking into the artsy section of Cusco, San Blas, and taking about 3million stairs up to the road that led to Cristo Blanco.
Finally, after stopping several times to let my sea level lungs gather themselves, we reached the top of the steps and walked down a quiet road until we reached him.
And this is what Jesus is looking over.
I thought it was kind of funny that Jesus had his back turned on some real natural beauty.
And here is my guide and amigo Miguel. He is also the one who often has me help him out at a local bar on busy nights.
And now for an explanation of one of the more difficult hikes I went on. Only a few days before this post, having a beautiful day and minimal hangovers, Laura and I, along with a lovely Canadian named April and a boy we call Nebraska from, you guessed it, Nebraska decided to hike. Instead of taking a typical tourist route like I did with Miguel, we simply picked a mountain peak and headed towards it with the goal in mind of walking until we were on top of it. Previously Laura and I had done this with the Viva El Peru mountain pictured below, and we ended up sitting on the bottom of the “s” in Cusco and taking in the city.
That hike was fairly easy, the hardest part was trying to find a direct path through the city since that mountain is on the opposite side of Cusco from where we live. This time, we picked the only mountain top that was high enough to be seen from inside the courtyard of our new apartment complex. We knew it was going to be higher, but we didn´t know what obstacles would stand in our way before we got there. That´s the thing about mountains, they stoic peaks look like they should slope down gently until they meet level ground. But this is rarely the case.
First we began our trek through the city, encountering once again many steps and scary dogs.
As is often the case, in order to reach the mountain we wanted to mount, we had to cross over several other large hills, or bases of mountains to get there. Unfortunately for us, we came to a point along a path on one of these pre-mountains that ended in a deep, angry looking ravine. Though most of us thought it was insurmountable, fearless Laura said she thought it would be fine to slide down the rocky slope into the ravine, then walk through the crevase until we were on the other side. We were all nervous about it, but from the top of the ravine we could see a road that ran along the base of the mountain we wanted, and saw inviting looking steps running almost all the way up to the peak. Not to be defeated, Laura decided to sit down and slide into the ravine first, to prove we could do it.
Unfortunately, we didn´t anticipate how quickly the rocks could give out into a mini landslide. Laura´s controled slide quickly became uncontroled, and lucky for her the drop off into the ravine at the bottom of the slope was only a few feet.
And the slide wasn´t without consequences, or benefits if you´re one of those people who enjoys scars for their story telling purposes.
The rest of us found our way down alternate paths into the ravine, and mostly arrived unscathed. Though there was some grabage accumulated in the small creek that ran through the ravine, there were no rodents or other frightening creatures to speak of. We did come, eventually, to a small waterfall, and it took some meneuvering to hop down it one by one.
Finally, we made it out and could see the road close by. We followed a slight path down the other side of the mountain that held the ravine, only to find ourselves trapped in an enclosed piece of private property. Two garden hands were outside, and understandably laughed at the four dirty (one bleeding) gringos that came seemingly out of nowhere into the backyard they were maintaining. But a friendly woman inside the house unlocked the gate for us with a smile, and we were on our way. We walked along the shoulder of the road until we reached the steps, about twice as many as I had walked up to get to Cristo Blanco. Here are some views seen as we ascended.
We reached the top of the stairs breathless but happy. It was incredible that there were so many houses, and lots of children on bikes, living quiet lives at the top of this great peak. We speculated that the children, after school each day, had to trek up those stairs to their homes. I wonder how often people descend into the city, seeing that there are small stores on the mountainside.
Though we were all breathing like asthmatics (myself in particular), we weren´t going to stop at the top of the stairs with still a peak ahead of us. We foraged our own path through a small forest only to find that someone was growing crops on top of the mountain.
From the wheat field we saw yet another quiet cross on a ledge, and decided to walk to it and see if there was a view. Well…
Coming up on this bloggy, the new apartment and information on the actual reason I came down here, volunteering.