Peru – Day 9

My FitBit reads approximately 9 miles for our Day 9 trek up to Rainbow Mountain (Montaña de Siete Colores o Vinicunca). We had to be in the lobby by 5:15am to meet our driver and guide which really sucked because I am so not a morning person. Oddly enough, the morning started off great! And the whole day was challenging, yet awesome. Challenging in multiple ways actually…1) the long hike itself, 2) fighting the cold and altitude, 3) getting over the idea that I was going to eat Guinea Pig on my last night in Peru. So how did it taste you ask??? It tastes like quail!

  • Van pulled up right at 5:15am in front of our hotel
    • NOTE: We didn’t do a large bus tour to avoid the 4am pick up and driving around to pick up everyone and their mother.
  • Left hotel at 5:24am because my friend was late…hahaha…
  • Picked six others up at two stops and yes, there was actually a daughter and her mother on our tour but at least we didn’t have to ride around picking people up for an hour or two
  • Our 120 Soles tour included breakfast and lunch so after 1 hour and 40 minutes, we kind of reached the restaurant, for a light breakfast of fruit and cereal…our driver passed the restaurant and got lost and had to turn around but we would have been on time
  • Another hour in the van and we reached the trail head
    • NOTE: If you are close to 6 feet or taller, I suggest you go with the Coach bus option and NOT sign up for a private tour in a 12 person van. There were only 8 of us plus the driver and our guide, Sara, but it was a tight fit. I suspect that the other compact car following us, filled with people over 6 feet were also not very happy with the ride up to the mountain.
  • After a half Sol pee, we started walking up the trail and I immediately felt the difference in the altitude and weather
  • We struggled at times with it being so cold and the high elevation. The altitude sneaks up on you and makes it hard to breath and your heart beats faster. Good thing I had on jeans, a tank top, two long sleeved running shirts, a jacket, gloves, a knit hat to cover my ears, a cap to cover the sun from my eyes, and a scarf for the late August cold
  • We made it to the first vista point and then I decided to hike up to the highest point and actually reached it. Then I heard someone call out to me – it was the girls we met on the train
  • After a few minutes, another voice called up at me from the ground. My friend was resting after she didn’t give up on the trek and joined me at the top
  • YAY!!! We both made it to the highest point of 17,000 feet in elevation!
  • The clouds came in and it got really cold but the walk down was much easier on the lungs
  • We packed back into the van and headed down to the same restaurant for lunch
    • I have no idea why you would want to bring your big ass backpack on the tour even if you leave it in the van. Just leave it in your hotel room. It barely fits under your legs in the van and then some of you have to lug that thing on the entire trail. My friend and I have been strapping on a fanny pack and taking drawstring backpacks with us and it’s enough to carry our necessities.
  • Celebrated my achievement with a Pisco Sour and Pizza, and then tried Grilled Guinea Pig for a once in a lifetime thing

When I ran down to the lobby this morning at 5:15am, the hotel host handed me breakfast in a bag for our trip, totally unexpected and appreciated! And it wasn’t just any plain ol’ breakfast either. The brown bag contained two each of an egg sandwich, crackers, banana, candy, and a juice box! Torre Dorada set us off on the right foot and gave us energy for the long hike of 9 miles round trip starting from the trail head and up approximately 17,000 feet of elevation.

The altitude shift came on very suddenly. I literally had just finished peeing in a hole in the ground in a private stall and tried to run back up the small incline and got winded. It was only 5 feet back up to the flat surface and I had to use my inhaler. My friend took off in front of me and I decided that I was going to hang back. My goal was to finish the trail and reach the top without a horse ride and I didn’t want to overdo it in the first 10 minutes of the trail. We had a very accommodating guide named Sara who hung back with us and helped the mom and daughter when they needed to ride a horse part of the way and helped us when we struggled a bit. There were a total of 12 in our group that we named Pacha Mama. You have to give your group a name so that your guide can get your attention.

About a third of the way up the trail, you can already see the colors in the mountain range. The destination was really pretty to walk towards and the trail itself is cool, though very steep at times and scary along the cliff parts. The altitude gets to you but once you make it to the top, you suddenly feel normal again. We passed a villagers in their bright colored garb trying to sell you snacks and water as well as rides on the horses. The colorfulness of their outfits and fabrics on the horses is nice against the white snowy backdrop. It’s amazing that you see snow on one mountain range and then colors of sand on opposite mountain range.

Once you reach the stairs, you are almost to the first lookout point. The stairs aren’t that bad but at this point, the altitude got to my friend. I asked if it was cool to leave her and hike to the top and she told me to go ahead. I was about to take a selfie when I heard someone call out to me. The girls on the train were at the highest point too and were getting ready to take pictures. How funny is that? After some group photos and selfies, my friend was resting on the ground at the top and she called up at me. She didn’t want to give up, and joined me at 17,000 feet in elevation.

It was such a breathtaking and beautiful sight from up there on Rainbow Mountain. All the colors and the view were just awesome. The challenge itself of hiking all the way up without the horse made me feel really accomplished. On the descent down, you bounce back to feeling completely normal. Even when you reach the vista points, your breathing regulates and your heart beat does too. We can also say we played with snow in the Andes Mountain! We walked down a path to snow so we could make a snowball! I was very pleased with myself and am so glad we decided to make the trip up the mountain. Thank you to Carolina at Adventure Heart Peru for making our last minute trek up the mountain possible.

After our lunch, we headed back into downtown Cusco and we got out with everyone else. I was starving so we went to a Grilled Meat restaurant based on Gina’s recommendation called Meson de Espaderos. I started off with a Pisco Sour and free salad bar. Veggies again! Woo hoo. And I rewarded myself for the trek by sharing a Trattoria Pizza for starters and then splitting Grilled Guinea Pig (Cuy). They brought it out whole for me to see and take a picture but then the server brought it back to the kitchen to have them cut it up. The Guinea Pig actually tasted pretty good and reminded me of Quail. I think that totally makes sense since people often say Alligator tastes like Chicken so why wouldn’t this meat taste like another bird? I thought it was juicy and seasoned well but my friend thought it was too salty and dry. While the taste of Cuy was similar to Quail, it did have a slight gamey after taste that I simply washed down with my Pisco Sour. I’m glad I tried Cuy and likely won’t eat it again though.

We went on our quest for final gifts and found ourselves at a HUGE marketplace right by the sun fountain on Avenida el Sol. On the ride back to town, I noticed Centro Artsenal Cusco and saw stalls outside so when we walked through the entrada, we were amazed at how many stalls there were. We finally found my friend’s table runners and I picked up some additional gifts for people back home as well.

Mañana is our last mañana in Peru. Though I am sad to say goodbye, I am looking forward to seeing and holding my little boy. He thinks mommy lives in a Chromebook.