The expression Happy Days reminds me of a dear friend of mine, who always said it at the right time! Well then, lately when I think of happy days, I think of mountains, altitude, beautiful landscapes, and undoubtedly hiking!
This year is nearly ending and as I told you in the last two posts, I now love to hike and achieve things I thought I wouldn’t do! Particularly hiking at high altitude and discovering places that were close to me all the time but somehow were at the same time hidden.
The first time I saw Winicunca (known as Rainbow Mountain) was when a friend from Belgium showed the photo as part of her bucket list, imagine my surprise when I found out this mountain is located in Cusco, a few hours drive from my city. Back then I was living in England, so I kept jelously watching pictures of friends on the mountain one after the other.
Until last year, when I came back from Germany, where I had reached for the first time the top of a mountain in the Austrian alps! but that’s another story 🙂 Anyway, I had the chance to fly to Cusco for a few days, so I decided to book myself and my dad (he is 75 years old!) for the trip.
The car picked us up at 3am, after an hour and having all passengers on board we finally departed, I couldn’t sleep much on the nearly three hours drive, because I was too excited, a bit worried for the altitude and also because watching the sunrise was something I don’t get to do quite often.
Our first stop was the little town of Pitumarca, hidden in the mountains, still covered by the mountain’s shadow, we had a well deserved breakfast plus coffee to warm us up and to wake us up! from there another 30 minutes drive to the starting point of the hike.
Once there, the sun was already up, and a lot of other travelers were getting ready. At the entrance it is quite picturesque to see the locals in their traditional clothes offering their horses to those who want to go the easy way, or those who realize for the first time what it really means to hike at 4,400 meters of altitude.
The first stretch is mostly flat and not demanding, though the altitude starts to kick in step by step. In my head I thought it wouldn’t be that bad, so I started to walk faster, I told you, back then I still had this bad habit of rushing to reach the top, I just wanted to leave most of people behind me, which was fairly easy for a few minutes, until the first steep section came, then all my efforts were useless, I started to go slower and slower.
In some way having to slow down allowed me to appreciate more the surrounding landscape, which is another thing that will leave someone breathless. Halfway up, the altitude made its presence more intense, and it demanded even more energy to complete the next section. At this point the transit of people carried by horses starts to be more prominent, exhausted people wait patiently for the next available horse, the poor beasts go as fast as they can, the owners need to make the most out of the high demand, fair enough this is their means of living in many cases but still made me sad for the animals.
I start making pauses more often, I can already see the top, so I try to increase the pace, until my lungs decide that I am perhaps being too ambitious. Behind, my dad comes at a constant pace, he’s just incredible, when we catch up before the final section up, he looks at my with a smile, and says: You should be ashamed to say you’re from Cusco if you are loosing your breath with this easy hike!
Somehow, the last part feels easier, although I have already reached 5000 meters of altitude, it might be the excitement to finally see that spectacle of reddish mountains covered with colorful stripes, rainbow mountain here I am! Up at the very top, after taking lots of pictures, people sit down, after the photographic craziness comes the calm, there’s only place for contemplation and fascination, finally they appreciate what they came from, the view becomes a memory, something to remember the experience, once they’ve ticked Rainbow Mountain off their bucket lists, they finally live the present moment.
Dad and I sit down too, we drink some water and enjoy a long conversation, the wind becomes stronger and colder, the grey clouds get closer, and we know it is time to head back to the car, not before feeling once again that connection that we people from the highlands have with the Apus (mountains in Quechua language), because they are always a source of protection and abundance, and for that we respect them deeply.
On our way down we see people from our group still walking up, it will be a long wait back in the car. We also saw extenuated people walking back to the parking lot, carrying heavy raincoats and struggling with their trainers. I wonder why nobody tells them to bring in the proper gear, they should enjoy the hike as much as the destination, no need for pain.
So I would like to leave you with a few tips to be safe and enjoy your hike up to Apu Winicunca (Rainbow Mountain):
- Make sure to acclimatize for a couple days in Cusco before going on this hike, starting at 4400 meters of altitude is very hard, even more if you suffer of altitude sickness.
- Make sure that the agency operating the tour provides a proper oxygen balloon, it is very important to have one with enough oxygen for several people.
- Take the proper clothes and gear: light, water proof and warm layers, our weather changes a lot specially in the mountains, you never know if it will rain, or even snow depending on the time of year you travel.
- Use proper hiking shoes or boots, don’t risk to injure yourself on the way down, this is not a complex ascend but still there are steep sections for which your shoes need to have a good grip. If you are used to hiking sticks ask the agency if they can provide some to rent.
- Bring in all your excitement and energy! after taking your photos take a moment to contemplate the surroundings, to listen to the sound of the wind, enjoy the warmth of the sun or the gentle touch of rain/snow, more importantly jus live in the present and capture your thoughts, feelings and sensations, for those will be the ones you will remember when you look at your photos.
Well then, finally I’ve made sure to write this post, and hopefully I have inspired you to hike to this beautiful place, but not just because of your bucket list or to capture the photo that will make your friends happy, but because you want to experience something unique!
And if you got some spare minutes I would like to invite you to watch this video, a TED talk by Edward Readicker-Henderson, which I found recently and truly made me reflect on the real reasons why I travel, and why I care to write about my travel experiences. His message may have influenced the words I chose for this post, which by the way I had written a few weeks ago but magically was deleted by WordPress, so I had the chance to write it again from scratch, coincidence? Who knows 😉
I believe that luxury is defined by how we use our time, how we spend every second of our life, and who we share them with. It is not just about luxury resorts, or michelin star restaurants, or private jets, you can enjoy luxury just by sitting still, detached from everything, in a clam and beautiful place, with a beloved one even if for just a little time.
Until the next adventure, one that will take us back to somewhere I belong, can you guess where? In the meantime… Hasta pronto! See you soon! Auf Wiedersehen! A presto! Au revoir! Adeus!