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The Santa Cruz Trek May 25, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Peru, South America, trekking.
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The Santa Cruz Trek is a very popular trek in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.  The Cordillera Blanca are a chain in the Andes that are reputed to be some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.  Indeed, one mountain within the range, Alpamayo was named the most beautiful mountain in the world by UNESCO in 1966.

Alpamayo, the most beautiful mountain in the world!

Right at the start of the trail I spotted a dead snake and a dead lizard.  I took this as a bad omen.  I wasn´t far wrong, within half an hour we were drenched in sweat, our lungs burning in the oxygen deficient 3,000+ metre air, as we struggled up the steep path next to the Santa Cruz River.   We had been spoilt by the luxury of trekking the Inca Trail and my pack weighed heavy on my back.

The start of the Santa Cruz Trek    The first day´s trail up the Santa Cruz Valley   Jason making friends on the trail!     

After about 2.5 hours the gradient eventually eased off and the narrow valley opened up into a flat grassy plain.  Another 2.5 hours and we reached the campsite. 

The next day we headed off confidently armed with our Lonely Planet Trekking Guide.  At lunchtime, we could already see the campsite within spitting distance from where we were.  We relaxed in the sun for ages knowing we were on the home straight.  But on trying to make the campsite we discovered the small matter of a raging river separating us from the opposite bank.  The wooden bridge the Lonely Planet had promised was nowhere in sight.  We spent an age trying to find a safe place to cross, but eventually had to admit defeat and head back down river to where the plain flattened out and it was safe to wade the river.  We finally made it to the camp, soggy shoes and all, just as it was getting dark.

Day 3 took us at last out of the lush valley and into high mountain territory of snowy peaks which had until then just teased us over the tops of the valley sides.  We went to the base of Alpamayo and camped in a beautiful spot called Taullipampa at the foot of the Punta Union Pass.

Our first glimpse of Alpamayo   Day 3 camp site at Taullipampa below Nevado Talliraju   Cheryl approaching the Punta Union Pass with the vista behind

The pass was the highlight of the trek, a rocky gap in the ridgeline at an altitude of 4,760m.  Going up, we had beautiful blue skies, but it had clouded over by the time we reached it and we didn´t get much of a view of the other side. 
The temperature plummeted as we descended and it was soon snowing and then hailing.  It suddenly came to me just why I carry all this gear in my backpack as we piled on extra layers of clothing. 

We got to our next camp at 3pm and chose a quiet corner for our tent.  A few hours later a big group arrived and chose the space not 1m from our tent to pitch their own.  I really can´t understand why people insist on doing this to us!  And then staying up half the night singing raucously and screeching with laughter (I am getting old).

The helpfully provided Hygene facilities!

At these campsites the National Park Authorities have kindly provided stone structures with “toilets” or “hygiene services!” These involve a hole in the ground with not so much a long drop but a short drop! Few if any walls separating the different holes, so communal toilets must be the rage around here! The smell is foul and there are no doors.

The toilets at this camp were the worst. So much so that many people chose to go behind a large rock in the campsite! Rather gross!!

We were up at 6am next morning as our Lonely Planet said we needed to leave by 8am for the 4 hour walk to the road in order to ensure we got transport back to Huaraz.  The walk was through picturesque rural villages without road access, with the locals herding their livestock along the way and guinea pigs designated for the dinner table running in flat boxes beneath the houses. 

Jason with Nevado Talliraju behind

Duly arriving at the road at midday we sat and waited for some transport.  We waited for 2 hours without a single vehicle going past.  On closer reading, we discovered the Lonely Planet somewhat ambiguously said that there was only transport between 6am and 9am and 3pm to 6pm.  So why the need to leave by 8am?  I thought I was bad at Maths, but even I know that 8+4=12 and that 12h00 is a full 3 hours short of 15h00.  So, we sat around, with only the fantastical stories in the Lonely Planet to entertain us, imagining the restaurant that was supposed to be in front of us and wishing we´d stayed in bed for an extra 3 hours. 

When a collectivo eventually came by we were treated to an amazing journey back to Huaraz.  The scenery on the road was much better than any on the trek.  The road climbed steadily through a beautiful valley with huge snowy mountains at every turn.  On the other side of the high pass, the land dropped steeply away.  Our jaws dropped as you could see the twists and turns of the road laid out almost on top of one another to the valley floor far below.  I can´t imagine who thought it a good idea to put a road here.  We gripped our seats as the minivan bounced around on the dirt road and we drove passed numerous crosses on the U-bends to signify memorials of people who had previously gone over the edge.  The pan flutes of the Andean music – soundtrack to all journeys in Peru – droned on and the beautiful Huascaran (the highest mountain in Peru) towered over us.

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