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What is it like to arrive somewhere after walking kilometers through the dust, dirt and thin air?

Maybe the altitude is sucking your breath away, maybe you have blisters or an ingrown toenail, maybe you are feeling good, or terrible, and maybe you are thinking What did I get myself into? as you realize that the only way out is more of the same mule trails stretching on in a seemingly perpetual pattern of ascents and descents.

Here is a brief description of each of our arrivals:


We saw Llanca first from across the canyon. We were going down a slippery gravel road in the back of the cattle truck and looking up at the crisscross of the line that was to be the next 4 hours of a nice little hike/climb. It's always discouraging to go down before you have to go back up.

After climbing up in the dust and wind for a few hours, we started to pass the fields and a few of the towns people came running down the path to do the afternoon chores and shouted encouragements to us along the way. To us, panting and breathless, straining to climb up, the fact that they ran down so effortlessly was a bit discouraging.
"10 more minutes señorita!" Said one
And then another, "10 more minutes!" This was 45 minutes later. 
The last, "Hey, your compañeros are up there already. And you know what? They have chicha up there!"

We always seemed to get offers of Chicha (a fermented corn drink that tastes like kambucha) in the weirdest places.


The walk to Ucuchachas is relatively flat. And by that I mean you only go up a little bit (30 minutes) and then you go across the side of the canyon, and then you go down, and then you go back up. Here's the first view of Ucuchachas.

Arriving in Uchuchachas was like walking into a ghost town. The first person I saw was the teacher in the school after I had walked through half of the town. It seemed like there were more dogs in this town than people.


The walk Choco was an 7-10 hours, depending on how many times you went off trail (to be fair, the trail was pretty hard to follow). First, we climbed the relatively mild ascent with it's amazing panoramic views and condors shadowing our shoulders with their 9 foot wingspan, and then the descent; the grueling, knee grinding crisscross of mule paths that strung our team out along the trail and broke us into groups of ones and twos.

 And then, down in the canyon we started to smell the flowers and shrubs. It's so much more temperate than the higher pueblos and from far away we saw the aqueducts and cement buildings.

In Choco they have a government sponsored health clinic (un puesto) and perhaps the best lukewarm shower that I have ever taken in my whole entire life.


From Choco we climbed up higher into the canyon. The wind came down through the pass in warm and cold gusts of air, and the river sped its way over rock and stone. It was probably the shortest and easiest hiking day that we had all trip.

One of the ladies offered us Chicha as we stopped to chat with her outside of her home just outside the village. We drank it from a communal red Tuperware mug with the outside cracked and caked in earth. It fizzled a little against the back of my throat. 


Next we went from within the more temperate and sheltered climate of the canyon up to the Alto Plano, the high planes in the altitudes of the Andes. Our method of travel?

It is a little known fact that cattle trucks are actually faster and more comfortable than passenger vans. By faster, I mean that the rocks that get lodged in the undercarriage are easier to bang out with a hammer, and by more comfortable, I mean that you can lay on your back over piles of luggage and have an amazing panoramic view of the mountains.

After 2-3 hours of wind, dust, diesel fumes and viscacha sightings we arrived in the high grazing grounds of Sihuincha.

Sihuincha is a government built community that serves as a way-station and school for the families of miners and grazers that live around. Nobody seems to live within the tin roofed buildings of the complex apart from a very dedicated teacher. The families live out in the hills to have better access to the grazing grounds for the herds of llamas and alpacas.


Our last arrival was to the outpost of Ojuyo. After spending the night huddled without electricity in our nests of sleeping bags, 5 million layers of clothes and alpaca wool blankets, we climbed into a warm passenger bus and were on our way over the strange landscape of frozen rivers, lakes, and rock boundary lines of mossy pastures.

Somebody said, "I can actually feel my toes." And we all laughed.

Ojuyo was even more remote, and- I'm convinced- even colder than Sihuincha. People appeared walking to our clinic from out of the hills, a diagnosis of arthritis visible in the bent posture from miles away.

And maybe we will be back here someday for una llegada mas


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