After my brief stint on the sand-ridden barren landscape of the coast, it was nice to see some green. I arrived in Huarez and immediately felt thr difference in altitude. Altiyude sickness is a common problem for tourists visiting the highlands and according to wikipedia, Huaraz is the 11th highest city (over 100, 000 people) in the world at 3100m above sea level. It wont be the highest community I visit on my trip (La Paz in Bolivia is 4100m) but perhaps the 3km rise from the coast will be the most dramatic one-day difference in elevation I will experience.
And I felt it!
Being at altitude makes you feel chronically out of shape. Gotta take 10 steps up the stairs to your hostel room? Cool, but you will have to catch your breath at the top. I usually feel a bit congested and have to drink lots of water to keep headaches aeay. And risking a TMI moment here, it makes me super gassy. Though that could also be the food. The good news is that it subsides as your body gets used to it and before you know it you can go on adventures!
Huaraz is nestled among mountains and is really quite beautiful. I wandered the town, checked out a museum and walked (slowly) to a lookout.
I soon learned that you can´t possibly come to Huaraz and not do at least a day hike into the Cordillera Blanca (the name of the mountain range). So I booked a day trip to Laguna 69, based on a recommendation from some folks I met along the way.
Pick up time was early (it always is…) at 5.15am and off our minivan went. We stopped at a couple lookout spots and drank some coca tea (the plant that cocaine comes from, that apparently eases altitude sickness… I´m on the fence about its actual effectiveness).
We started the hike at around 3800m above sea level and started the 3 hour journey upwards. Literally nothing but up (save one 10 minute flat section after a false summit) – and it nearly killed me! The altitude caught up with me and my lungs felt like they would explode and my heart pounded like crazy. Slow and steady though I made it to the top, but not after a few mental battles.
The lake itself was nearly a kilometre higher at 4,600m. It was a crazy turquiose colour but to be honest I was so exhausted by this point, with a headache and some nausea that I just wanted to go back down. So I did! The return trip was much easier on my lungs, though not my knees!
It was a relief to get to the mini-bus… as beautiful as this hike was, it kicked my butt. I chalked it up to Inca Trail training. It didn´t tke long for more altitude sickness to hit me – probably the worst hedache I´ve had in a long time. I cancelled my night bus to Lima and crawled into bed as soon as I could and slept it off. I was fine the next morning and hopped a bus for the next leg of my journey – Lima to Cuzco with a group of other backpackers, organized through Peru Hop!