Ausangante Trek

6 Sep

End of the first week of September. Middle of a 5 day trek into the Andes. Sitting in a grassy valley besides a river.

Things are looking uo. What was a dangerously cold night that had my tent freeze over turned into a beautiful day.  Things are looking up with my guide too. After a brief hustle yesterday over where we’d camp, we’re back to calling each other amigos, sharing coco leaves, and making plans for a two week trek to Puno.

The trek to Ausangante is around one of the highest mountains in Peru. We’d never ascend it fully, but we’d weave in and out of the range to whitness breathtaking views.  breathtaking literally, with passes as high as 5200 meters, the highest I had ever been. Coca leaves were a must this morning for me – just around the time we hit the 5,000 meter mark.

We were supposed to be three, a cook, a horesman, and myself.  But on the early morning of the treak, my agent of wide eyes and a crooked smile introduced me to Vaciliio, an indigenous man of about 50, and told us it was just going ot be us two.

It would be the first od several things to change in rapid fire sucession. But the truth is I had a feeling the agent was a scheemer. Maybe it takes on to know one. It was the look in his eyes, his eagnerness to please that gave him away.  But it was already late in the day and I was determined to lead off on the trek.  And after seeing tons of other agents intown, I knew the honest ones were going to be few and hard to come by.

The bus ride from Cusco to the mountains was long and dreamy and I barely remember any of it after a 6 am wake up call.  Tinki, our departure point was a small and poor town with nothing astehtic to see.

We had lunch across the street from where the bus had stopped in town and the shack that housed our meal to be even gave me pause.  Being an adventrous eater, i’ve had meals in plenty of questionable places but never really asked too many questions.  but the outdoor bathroom made out of mud and thorough decoration of flies around our dishes, combined with a bone in my soup from questionable sources made me quease for the first time in 9 months.

While I ate Vacillio hung out outside, chatting with two other man who both seemed to to from the area as well.  I had cheaped out of an english speaking guide and instead hired a local, a man who had spent his entire life in the area.

I thought it was odd that he didnt introduce me, but I didnt want to interere with his reunion of sorts, and opted to sit out of it instead.  Plus they were spoeaking Quechua, the ancient tongue of the Incas, and I have a hard enough time ecommincating in Spanish without attempting Quecha as well.  I felt like an outsider from the very first moment I arrived – which was honestly surprising given the hospitality I’d recieved as a stranger before.

Eventually, I met one of Vacillio’s friends, by far the coolest looking one with a wide brimmed sombrero concealing a colorful winter hat.  Feather, or perhaps cotton balls hung off of its sides.  Secretly, I had wanted to meet him earlier.  It turns out I was being ditched.  Vacillio was going back to Cusco to lead a group of Israelis (they need a more experienced guide to manage the usually racarous group of recent army vets), and Jose would be my new guide.  Dammit, I knew I should have been more talkative on the bus ride over…

In the meantime though, Vacillio would stay the night and the four of us, including another one of his friends that I still hadn’t met, set off to the mountains of Ausangante, the three catching up in Quechua and me trodding behind alone.

A few minutes later, we came upon our horse and a small, dirty little girl dressed in red brought us our rope which had been elligently wrapped in a blanket drapped over her back.  She was filthy and willing to sit anywhere.  She had smudges on her cheeks and pieces of the earth still attached to her dress.

She was shy, or indiferrent perhaps as she refused to make eye contact with the strange looking gringo in her group.  I found out later she was Vacillio’s daughter.  I was surprised hat he hadn’t introduced me to her right away.  Actually, he never did.  It was only after she’d been walking with us for over an hour that I started to wander what she was doing and where she was going and it was only when I asked the less than hospitable guide who she was that I confirmed my suspicions.

Then after just a few hours of walking, the three local muskateers stopped to have a beer.  Hey I’m all up for drinking, but I thought I paid for a trek into the mountains, not to a local tienda.  I told the guys I’d rather keep walking, that we’d already had a late start and that I wanted to make some ground before sunset.

My words that afternoon probably determined my relationship with the locals for the rest of the week.  The unhappy trio muttered their grievances to each other but had no choice but to keep going.  That night Jose would pitch me a tent outside his home.  Though we were hours behind schedule and had barely walked for two hours, I felt bad for Jose if he’d walk right past his house and camp alone without his family.  Jose expressed his thanks but stopped there and never invited me into his home.  When I asked him outright to see his home in the morning, he laughed and reluctanly showed me his kitchen.  The rest as it happened was off limits.

I wasn’t sure whether hospitality of this sort was simply an Andean custom, or whether our disagreement earlier had set the stage for our relationship.

Bored and wishing we had kept on walking, I finally fell asleep amidst beautiful views of the countryside.  Through out it all, the mutlitide of grievances and disputes that I collected with Jose never took a thing away from the magnificient scenery abound all around us.  It was simply too nice not to enjoy.

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