Posted by Jonathan:
Six intrepid trekkers, five liters of water, four noble steeds, three long days, two local guides, and one completed Santa Cruz trek. These were the ingredients of our latest adventure. Day one, we left at 5:45 A.M. on a three hour, bone jarring, nail biting bus ride across the Cordillera Negra to the Cordillera Blanca where the trail began.
We loaded our noble steeds (read donkeys) with food, tents, and extra clothing while we carried a daily ration of food, water, and personal effects.
After four hours of hiking through a valley shadowed by towering mountains, we set up camp for the night.
Even though our guide only uttered two sentences during the three day trip, she sure could cook up a mean dinner on the camping stove. Also, Jenn and I were introduced to coca tea on this trek. You drop the coca leaves (amount varied by consumer discretion) into boiling hot water, stir, let sit, and then drink up. The leaves are said to cure altitude sickness, increase alertness, reduces hunger, coldness, and pain - pretty much handles everything but upset stomachs and cancer. I personally didn't feel the relief after downing a cup but I can't knock the leaves too hard since the coca leaves can be processed a bit and presto... cocaine. We awoke early the next morning and began our six hours of hiking (most of it was uphill). The glacier peaks surrounded us on three sides, retreating wasn't an option, the only way on was up, up, up.
As Jenn and I finally drug our lifeless bodies to Punta Union at 4,750 m (15,584 feet) we were rewarded with some of the most spectacular mountain scenery that I have ever seen. We rested at the pass for a while until a storm swept over Paramount Peak (the peak that inspired Paramount Motion Pictures logo as told to us by our guide - this was sentence one) and pelted us with frozen rain sending us down the mountain in a frenzy in search of shelter.
After another large meal and cups of coca tea we all retired early for some much needed rest. We awoke the third day to meet the sun bursting over the glacier peaks and into the valley, melting the layer of ice that formed on our tent the night before.
We gobbled down another pan (bread) breakfast and downed some more coca tea - it isn't an addiction unless it is habit forming and you have withdrawals - proud to say I am three days without and only have a slight twitch. We had originally planned to hike the remainder of the trek in two days - making the total trek in four days. Since the rest of our group was finishing the trek on the third day and I was on the receiving end of a mean case of altitude sickness we decided to cut our trek a day short and hike out with them. A brisk walk (read jog) for seven straight hours was all it took to finish... at least each bend in the valley rewarded us with one postcard photo after another.
At hour five without a break longer than two minutes our guide asked "esta cansada?" (are you tired) - and there we have it folks - sentence two. After completing the trek and getting a couple of warm showers in Huaraz we destroyed a few pizza pies with our four trekking companions.
From Huaraz we caught an over night bus (this time we got tickets 24 hours in advance and secured seats one and two - which are located furthest from the infamous bano) to Lima and then another on to Ica. Five kilometers west of Ica is Huacachina - a desert oasis complete with palm trees and a lagoon surrounded by towering sand dunes. This little desert oasis (pictured on the back of the 50 soles note) is home to sand boarding and dune buggy riding. A nice place to thaw out for a few days.