My and my friend Sarah met for the first time on Tuesday…
Let’s just stop here and let this sync in. The sheer ridiculousness of what happened over my trip to Rainbow Mountain is something that can’t be planned.
This all happened
2 days..... Here’s how it happened:
Before I can start to begin my tale, I first need to introduce my companion during all of this. We’ll call her Sarah. This tale can’t be shared without telling a little bit about her, because she was such an intricate part of this amazing journey.
Before Tuesday I didn’t know Sarah at all. By Thursday, I had gotten to know her a lot better.
Sarah is an amazing person. A friend of my sisters, I had only brief contact with her over facebook before she briefly mentioned that she heard about this hike from a person she met near Machu Picchu, and wanted to see if I would join.
For the last 6 months, she’s been rugging it on her own around the world on her own and will soon head back to the USA to begin working.
We met on Tuesday where she outlined the basic logistics of what she was planning to do. She heard about this trip from a person in Machu Picchu, and all she had was a piece of paper with notes.
There were no check-ins on the internet, or normal itinerary. This was "real and raw" traveling. We would show up at our destination (an alpaca farm) and ask if we could stay the night. If she said “no”
we would be stuck in the middle of nowhere and have no accommodations! We picked up some food from the market and prepared to head out on Wednesday at 12 pm.
Keep in mind this is all from someone who she barely knows. What could possibly go wrong?
We managed to get to a custom location roughly 3.5 hours away from Cusco for around 33 sol ($11) a person. To do this, we had to get creative and I had to rely on Sarah’s spanish. Because this is an off-the-grid location that should remain off the webs, I’m going to obscure some of the specifics. If you want to be a detective, you can try to piece things together from my tracker app map.henosisknot.com or email me and I’ll give you the specifics.
Keep in mind: None of this was scheduled with a tour agency or reserved in advance. This was all done on the fly with whatever we could piece together.
Getting to *******:
There was no reservations, no phone number, no electricity. This was a true “off the grid” destination. All we knew was that there was an alpaca farm in the general location of this area.
The good news: We found the alpaca farm!
Off in the middle of nowhere, the alpaca farm luckily was distinguishable. When we arrived there, the owner started trying to charge us twice what we were told it was last week ($6.66 vs. $3.33). Once again, Sarah haggled down to 15 sol per person per night ($5). Her spanish/negotiation skills were clutch.
The Alpaca farm was amazing!!! Alpaca, for one, are hilarious and generally passive animals. Their long necks, small heads, and disproportionate feet make them hilarious to stare at for long periods of time. Since coming to Peru I’ve been trying to figure out which animal is more funny to watch: Sheep or Alpaca? In the battle of sheep vs. alpaca I think I’ve taken the alpaca as the more hilarious of the two.
Outside the farm, you could see Ausangate, the largest glacier in Peru. Elevated at 6,384 meters, it is a beautiful site. Coincidentally, I believe it was the first glacier I have ever seen.
The owner was named Carmen and let us stay in for the night. No power. No service. Check it out:
At night, the stars were incredible. I couldn’t get them on my little phone camera, but I was able to make some art out of the stars.
Once I got there, the first thing I noticed besides the alpaca was a giant glacier in the background (turned out to be the largest glacier in Peru: Ausangate). I had to see it for myself. As it was nearly 5:30pm, I decided to immediately head over to the best vantage point of the glacier and see if I could find it before it got dark. I walked for about 30~50 min.
The good news: I got a decent view.
On the descent down, it started to get dark quicker than I expected. Before I knew it I was in the middle of nowhere and it was pitch black. Trying to find my residence, I walked randomly coming across giant herds of alpaca. Alpaca at night appear as if they are giant moving rocks. About 4 times I was chased by dogs that were protecting the alpaca, and I soon had to give up and head over to the nearest road and retrace my steps.
Ok. Just in case you have never been in this situation: Getting lost in the middle of the dark in the middle of nowhere sucks. This was the second time this happened to me (last time in Tahoe) and it’s a pretty hopeless situation.
After about 1.5 hours of walking around trying to get my bearings, the owners of the farm saw my phone flashlight randomly moving back and forth, and managed to save me from sleeping a night in the cold outside.
Sarah and I had a good laugh as I got back, as Carmen, the owner, humorously started cursing me out in Quechua.
As we left the farm there was an amazing view of the sunrise. A 30 min walk and we were one of the first to the base at Rainbow Mountain.
The hike up is really steep, and at 5000 meters it became really hard to breath. We had to take many breaks during the hike, as the elevation was evident from our labored breathing. We pushed ourselves pretty hard, and by 7:50 (approx: 1hr 45 min of hiking), we were the first people to summit to the top of the mountain. This included two women behind us that used horses to summit the mountain.
As we progressed up the mountain, we even had the company of a dog, which was awesome. Because we were there so early, we pretty much had the mountain to ourselves.
At the summit you can also see another view of the glacier Ausangate.
Rainbow mountain is the more popular of the two tourist destinations, but right behind Rainbow Mountain is Red Valley and Red Valley for me Red Valley is the real highlight of the area.
Our beginning was a little rough:
First we start off on the wrong path. Then Sarah’s ticket got picked up by the wind and she ended up chasing it for a while. Finally, on seemingly no observable path we decided to “ski/slide walk” down a large red sand hill.
At the base of the valley, you will be surrounded by crimson hills and lush green plant life. If fairies existed, this would be the place.
Red Valley is stunning. It’s about a 4 hour walk down, and for about 3 hours we were accompanied by a dog. By the end I had given him a name “Benjamin” and shared with him some of our food.
Four hours later, we were ready to get back to Cusco. The problem was we didn’t have a ride back.
What do you do when you don’t have a ride? At first we thought maybe of picking up a ride with a tour group.
Instead, we ended up hitching a ride at the back of the trailer of a car that was transporting alpaca. After such a crazy few days, we couldn’t have been happier for such a fitting end to an amazing experience.
I’m not the greatest story teller, so no amount of writing I do will do this story justice. Moreover, I had to omit some of the story for discretionary purposes. I think however, I can safely say this was an adventure and story worth telling. Between getting lost, riding with alpaca, hiking greater than 5000 meters, and seeing the beautiful scenery of Rainbow Mountain, Red Valley, and Ausangate in just 2 days, it was a jam packed and amazing experience. So far it has been the highlight of my travels.
A couple things to remember if you manage to get to Cusco/Rainbow Valley:
Additionally, I would have liked one more day to go to the glacier.