Last year on my second trip in South America I ended up in a place called Huaraz in Peru.
I arrived with my only plan for the whole trip in mind;
Have no plan.
This is largely how I have travelled over the years, arriving to a place and taking it as it comes.
I had a hostel recommended to me by a few fellow travellers (from Argentina, not Tuam).
The hostel is unlisted online, down a back alley with no signage, cost about 5euro per night and was one of the best hostels I have stayed at which is exactly why I stayed for over 2 weeks.
I have learned that the people in a hostel tell how good a hostel it is.
In the first few days after settling I ended up doing a day hike to Laguna 69, a glacial lake sitting in the valleys mountains.
“Laguna 69 is a breathtaking turquoise lake that is literally hugged by snowy mountain peaks, jagged rocks and trickling waterfalls some 4,600 metres above sea level. It is both a steep and demanding ascent beginning at 3,800 metres, but the overriding challenge is being able to cope with the high altitude”
I took the above description from this travel blog because they describe it better than I was about to.
There were a lot of tourist groups who did the hike, it was fairly tough but I managed to win the race to the Laguna.
Oh and I jumped in and got out all in under 5 seconds because glacial water is fairly cold.
I look happy for the few seconds of it.
Santa Cruz Trek:
After getting back from Laguna 69 I had a think about what I would do before leaving Huaraz.
There was another hike people went to Huaraz for called the Santa Cruz trek.
50km of a trek through the Andes with the altitude reaching up to 4,750 metres.
That’s only 5,250 metres less than 10,000 metres and no mountain is 10,000 metres.
The most popular approach for the Santa Cruz trek was a 4 day hike people did in tour groups with tour guides carrying all your stuff, setting up tents and cooking your food and all the other challenging things so you can enjoy the scenery and relax.
Then a Taiwanese girl told me how she had just done it solo and taking the reverse route which was more difficult.
This got me curious and sparked the side of me that loves challenges.
I asked her about what gear was needed, where she got it, what food she brought, what other recommendations she had and I took notes.
Then I went to a hiking store to hire gear.
This consisted of a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, cooking stove, gas, cutlery and all that kind of stuff.
I was almost ready.
I had everything needed apart from hiking boots which the shop didn’t have in my size.
After looking in several shops and being caught between €250 North Face Boots and €50 hiking boots which threatened to fall apart on impact with the ground I was stuck.
I was looking for a place to hire hiking boots for 3 or 4 days which would last that long.
He listened and then told me to come back to the shop at 9pm and then said something else I didn’t understand.
So I asked him to repeat what he said.
Come back at 9pm when the shop is closed and I will give you my boots.
Ok I said before saying thanks and leaving.
Now I understood as much as you do now at the time about what was going to happen at 9pm that night.
This was a test of that.
I walked in at 9pm and the Carlos, the man I had spoken with earlier was there with a few more people.
One a customer who they were dealing with and also the owner of the shop Marco and his wife.
Carlos welcomed me with a hug and then introduced me to Marco, another hug and then they pulled up a seat and asked me to sit down until they are ready.
Ready to kill me was a possibility that entered my head as I sat down on the little stool.
If you could ever have felt highly amused with a decent touch of fear then that was how I would describe the feeling I experienced in that moment.
After locking up the shop the three of us walked in the city of Huaraz for a few minutes before coming to a big gate which Marco the shop owner opened and led us down to a house.
They sat me down in the kitchen and stuck on the kettle.
I wondered whether boiling Peruvian water could kill me or if it was just a torture technique before they finished me off.
5 minutes later and that thought gone I was sitting across from Carlos, eating bread and pate with a cup of cocoa chatting away.
Marco joined in the conversation from standing.
We chatted for nearly an hour, with long silences and plenty of laughter at my basic Spanish ending the flow of conversation.
The funny thing is it was not in any way awkward, it was entertaining and I was relaxed.
After the hour, Carlos stood up said something which registered as sound alone to me and then a few minutes later he came back with his hiking boots which he had polished off after using them for cutting the grass in the garden during the week.
Size 9, perfect.
Then he put them in a bag and grabbed a few pieces of fruit and stuck them in my pocket.
Carlos was working in Marco’s shop and living in his house so it was necessary to hide them in my pocket although judging from Marco’s character he wouldn’t have cared.
Then the two men got up and walked me back to my hostel, wished me good luck on my solo hike and then each gave me a warm hug before saying farewell for a few days.
I walked into my hostel questioning what had just happened, smiling all the time and feeling incredibly grateful.
I had heard of brilliant travel stories before and had a few of them myself but this was different, it was better.
The Hike Summary:
Fast forward through the hike as that is a separate story.
After 4 days of being in my own company, seeing more animals than people, eating plain foods, sleeping under a star filled sky, witnessing avalanches, having inner silence turn into deafening noise and physically pushing myself in the altitude, heat and cold I got back to Huaraz.
The Gift That Keeps On Giving:
Another embracing welcome followed by a quick summary of my 4 day solo trek and then
he asked me to the house for dinner that night.
The man had an unlimited amount of kindness, I said I would prefer to rest today and said I would call in during the week before I left and said thanks again multiple times.
Then he told me tomorrow is dia de la Madre (Mother’s Day) and that he is having a BBQ at the house.
The next day myself, Carlos and Marco sat outside their house and ate good food, drank red wine, chatted and laughed more than I thought possible.
Sitting in a garden in Peru in such a unique setting with people who allowed me to feel at home.
We spent that whole Sunday in each other’s company and I could not thank them enough for doing this.
A New Perspective:
They had an abundance of what is important in life and little of the unimportant.
We often get these two piles mixed up.
you things you didn’t know were possible.
That experience is one of my favourite ones I have ever had.
A few friends have asked me how this happened and my only answer is that I was open to things like this happening, I can’t put it into words better than that.
It’s the very reason I travel, to seek new experiences and when one happens as this did, it gives you a new lens to look at life through, a better one.
Strangers connecting and becoming friends.
Maybe strangers don’t exist.
Moral of the story: Being open to the unexpected and seeking discomfort can teach you the most.