MIMI AND I HAD a hometown friend who we hadn’t seen in a while. We wondered where he had gone. One day when we bumped into him in Jackson we asked if he had a minute for a cup of coffee and a catch up. He told us that he had taken the job of a lifetime. His job was to prepare areas in Peru for missionary groups to come over and do their work. He made sure the kitchen and lodging areas were ready for the next group to come in. He would let the locals know they were coming and why they were coming.
He would travel from village to village assessing the needs of each community and report back to the churches so they could decide what expertise would be needed to successfully complete a project. They provided him with a four wheel drive truck so he could get around in that rugged terrain, most of the remote areas in Peru have no paved roads. Our friend knew us pretty well so he knew when he said “y’all should come see me” he knew we would most likely go see him.
We went straight home to check our passports. All four of them were still valid. We knew we would be able to go when the kids got out of school and our garden center slowed down. August here meant winter there since Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere. We have found traveling in the mountains during the winter months was usually the best time because the sky is generally clear and the ice is more stable for climbing on. We would be headed the opposite way from Machu Picchu, for two reasons: that’s where he was stationed and we weren’t interested in seeing some clogged up hiking trails since this was the peak of the tourist season.
WE LANDED IN LIMA and spent a couple days seeing the beautiful city. It seemed very European with its brick streets and Catholic churches. Some of our time was spent figuring out how to get out of Lima on a bus that would take us on the 16 hour journey to meet our friend high up in the Andes. There’s not much to tell about that ride other than it was a very fast and furious as they generally are in developing countries.
The view out the windows was of a very dry and aired, rugged mountain scape. The Andes mountains get up to 22,000 feet with an average height of 13,000 feet. We would be concentrating on an area where the mountains we would be hiking would be 16,000 to 17,000 feet tall. The village we met our friend in is taller than 10,000 feet surrounded by much taller snow capped mountains. No matter where we looked there were massive mountains beckoning us to come closer.
We were staying at a really cool, hostel-like hotel our buddy put us onto. There was lots of glass aiming towards the views all around us and lots of places to sit outside on the sunny side with some coffee or coca tea. Coca tea is tea made from the leaves of the same coca plant that cocaine is made but the process that makes coca into cocaine turns it into a completely different beast. The tea that is offered everywhere in Peru is a very mild stimulant, about the same as a cup of coffee. I tried chewing some and still didn’t get much out of it, didn’t taste very good.
We met up with our buddy the next morning. It was really good to see him in his element. He drove over to the village where we were staying in his truck. We had breakfast together and took a walk through town while he familiarized us with how things were done around there. He gave us great tips and some ideas about where all we could hike up in the Andes. He said he would like to guide us on a trip or two then he would leave us his truck so we could do some family time on our own. That’s why we liked him. He knew us well enough to know we would enjoy both of those things.
We started driving with him early the next morning before the sun was up so we could get where were going with plenty time to climb up to 16,000 feet.
The most striking things we saw in that region were the mineral blue lakes. If you’ve been up high in the mountains you’ve probably seen some dark blue lakes but whatever minerals are in the Andes makes the deep mountain lakes a blue that is blindingly bright. I’ve never seen water so blue. It really makes you look great as a photographer. I will have pictures of some of the lakes on our website by the time this article comes out if you want to see them.
We had a great day hiking and climbing on ice. We explored caves and enjoyed listening to our buddies tales of his two years there. We traversed the rocky roads back down to the paved roads and back to our village. We were all beat and hungry. The kind of hungry that hiking makes you feel. Hot food is so satisfying after one of those days. We came on this trip with no intentions of backpacking with tents and all that cooking stuff. We decided to do day hikes, bringing prepared lunches and snacks but generally keeping our loads very light.
The main reason we decided to go this route was because I could not find any great information about hiking and camping in this undeveloped area of Peru and its hard to travel around with all that stuff on buses and taxis.
The next few days we decided to go on some hikes without our buddy. Time to turn our brains back on. We caught a bus to another region he told us about. We got there and found someone who would take us to the town where the trail head was. We stopped in at a little shop to get a few provisions and some directions to this trail. The guy sitting in this little shop kind of laughed when we told him our goal which was to get all the way through to the next village, about 15 miles then catch a ride back to where we started. This hike would take us over some pretty tall passes and through a couple villages that were self sustaining without electricity or piped in water.
The guy specifically told us about this one village that we would pass through that had a particularly mean dog. I guess the dog had reached some level of notoriety for having chased and bitten enough through hikers that this guy felt like it was worth mentioning. He even knew exactly where this dog would be hiding.
WE STARTED OFF ON this hike going up and then we went up some more and just when we thought there couldn’t be any more up we rounded a bend and went up even more. The view back towards the village we had walked out of was amazing. I didn’t realize we were in a pretty wide valley that was planted up in some crops from one edge to another. It was a gorgeous green. I think it was mostly amaranth or quinoa.
From way up there I could see a soccer game going on right outside of the tiny school that every village had. Most of the schools and churches were built or improved by either Peace Corps volunteers or missionaries.
Ahead of us the trail seemed to be leveling out for a while. We were up pretty high. It was getting hard to catch our breath and the vegetation was beginning to change. I was beginning to see more spruces and plants typical of higher elevations. According to the notes I was taking while the shopkeeper was filling us in about the route the village with the mean dog should be coming up pretty soon. We talked about how to avoid getting bit by this infamous mongrel of a dog. We were psyching ourselves up to not run if he came after us. We knew that sometimes a dogs bark is usually worse than its bite so running away from it would be the worst thing we could do. We also didn’t want to need medical attention way out here, not sure what that would have been like…
The guy’s description of the mean-dog village sure fit the village we were entering. We started getting a little nervous while trying to “walk with purpose.” Walking with purpose is our family joke that came about when Chip and I were riding through the ninth ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I asked Chip if he thought I could walk through that area without getting myself hurt by someone. He said I could for sure walk through there with no trouble at all. He said “you just gotta walk with purpose.” I laughed and told him he would have to show me how to walk with purpose some day.
When we got back to his house I told Mimi and Mia and Max that Uncle Chip was going to show us all how to walk with purpose. He got out in the middle of the street in front of his house and did this crazy swagger, walk, dance down the street that had us all on the ground laughing. We all wound up in the street trying to mimic him which made us laugh even harder. Now we have a running joke that whenever we are all four walking somewhere together and any one of us hollers out “Walk with purpose” we all start doing the Uncle Chip swagger.
This time we were trying to do the swagger with seriousness which made it even funnier but we were looking out for that dog. I reminded everyone to try not to run if he came after us. It would just provoke him into doing what dogs do best, chase things that are running from them. I had no sooner gotten that out of my mouth when that dog came out of nowhere right on Max’s ankles. The dog was barking and snarling and raising Cain which made Max take off running as fast as he could while yelling at the dog and us and anyone nearby. All the three of us could see was a giant dust cloud left behind by a dog chasing a sixth grade boy down a dirt road. Then we heard a scuffle, Max had slipped on the rocks and fallen. Uh oh, now we had to stop laughing and get the dog away from him. The dog was as confused as we were and was still barking at him but not coming any closer. I got a little closer and stooped over like I was picking up rocks to throw at the dog, a trick I learned in other third world countries where dogs roam around looking for trouble. This worked and the dog slinked off to whatever hole he came from.
Max was covered in dust and had a pretty good raspberry down one side of himself where he slid across the gravel. He was pretty mad and scared and generally bruised, ego and physically. There were runs in his dust covered face from the blood, sweat, snot and tears but he was okay. We got him cleaned up as we told him we had never seen a little dude run so fast. He now had his red badge of courage.
Some of the town folk came around to see if they could help us out and to apologize for the rude dogs behavior. In these smaller, more remote villages unfettered by modern gadgets the Peruvians were extremely kind and peaceful. We saw a lot of farming and water hauling, wheat thrashing and firewood splitting and hauling.
When groups of women would pass by us they wouldn’t stop. We would get a friendly smile followed by lots of laughter after they got well past us. They were probably wondering what us weirdos were doing way the heck out there. Mia and Max both had tow heads so they really stood out.
We spent a few nights in this region mainly just picking a road and walking on one until there wasn’t any more light to see. We would wind up back in whatever village we started in for a rest.
WE HAD ANOTHER really cool incident that happened to us on this journey, one that probably changed our lives or at least left an indelible mark on all four of us. I’m going to have to save that one up for next week. It’s a story in itself and I don't want to have to squeeze it in to this page.
Until then, we hope to see y’all at our annual Plants, Pumpkins and Pinot event this Friday evening at our place. Looks like the weather will be kind to us so it should be a pleasant, laid back evening to celebrate fall and anything else you may need to celebrate. Mimi and I are feeling the need to celebrate lots of great stuff going on in our personal lives and our business lives. Hope you and your pet or favorite person can join us.