In Peru, it still never ceases to amaze me where taxis will go, because in the time it took to walk most of the way up to Lake Wilcacocha (I didn’t manage to walk all the way up, read on), the same taxi must have passed us at least three or four times. Each time he would beep in the hopes I would do my lungs a favour and just hop in. The last time we saw him, he was driving a group of five (two in the front) up the pothole ridden dirt road.
It’s been over two weeks since I moved to Huaraz, and the altitude (let’s be honest I have lost a lot of my fitness these last two months) still affects me in small ways. I wake up in the morning a bit snotty, which goes away by mid-morning and doesn’t really trouble me too much. It’s most noticeable when I have joined Christina and Isobel (the Aussies) on our days out exploring Huaraz’s beautiful mountains.
Lake Wilcacocha (Laguna Wilcacocha) is south west of Huaraz, located in the Cordillera Negra or the Black Mountains. Why would you walk just over 3 km to this remote lagoon? At 3,725m above sea level, most use this as an acclimatising hike for the more renown Santa Cruz trek, and for me it was the promise of the panoramic views of the famous Cordillera Blanca (White Mountains).
We left the house early, although catching a colectivo (the cheapest way to get around) near the central market wasn’t as straightforward as we hoped. When asking for “Laguna Wilcacocha” got us nowhere, I ended up Googling which route we had to take (look for those marked Route 10 or E, and ask for Chiwipampa, that’s where the track starts). Let’s be honest, we’re not exactly pioneering pilgrims here and definitely not the first confused tourist trying to make sense of the public transport system. Beware, because at 1 sole a normal 12-seater van will often pack a lot more people, so think about getting a taxi (costs about 30 soles) if you’re not fascinated by just how many humans can squeeze into a van.
Isobel and I ended up getting a seat at the front in the last fifteen minutes of the trip to Chiwipampa (Christina was lucky and got one earlier on). Even though the driver knew I didn’t really speak Spanish, through gestures he managed to tell me that the lake was high in the mountains. Not long after, the van came to a stop in front of a small shop, he then smiled and told us that we had arrived at the start of the road which leads up to the lake.
We followed the road all the way to the top - stopping along the way to let my lungs recover. Christina and Isobel have been really encouraging and supportive during out outings, especially when my ears would ring with my deafening breathing. Isobel would often tell me to listen to my body, and to slow my pace as soon as my breathing quickened. I’m really grateful for those two. There is actually a track that takes you straight up to the lagoon, but the girls opted to take the road as it was less steep and seemed more achievable for me.
About three quarters of the way up, I told the girls that my legs were really struggling and if another taxi drove past, I would take it. The jelly in my legs just kept on wobbling, and my sister’s words of listening to and respecting my body rang louder with each step. As I stopped for a breather, a truck drove past and Christina flagged it down. It turned out one of the guys (there were two brothers and their mother) spoke English and she asked nicely if I could catch a ride to the lake. They were nice enough to let me in and we had quite the conversation.
Abel, one of the brothers, lives in Lima and his brother (whose name I forget) lived in Huaraz. Their mother lives in an adobe brick house in the valley a few minutes from Lake Wilcacocha - living off the land by planting potatoes and other produce to sell locally. I was told that about 50 people lives in the valley, mostly old people or families with young children. Both brothers studied Economics and hoped to promote eco-tourism and sustainable communities, one valley at a time. Eco-tourism and working with locals is something I’m passionate about, so we exchanged numbers and promised to reconnect in the future.
We arrived at a freshly plowed field where two adobe brick houses stood. Abel explained that this was his mother’s house, and his father, lived in the house across the field. They pointed to where they wanted to build another house for tourists to stay in the valley, and my first question was how sheltered it was from the wind. How did I suddenly develop a technical mindset? Abel explained that it could blow from all directions, so I took a few photos for reference in a future conversation.
I met up with the girls at the top of small ridge that overlooked another valley. In front of us was a panoramic view of the Huascaran National Park. Three dogs who were clearly used to tourists insisted on posing with us on the rocks, and tried in vain to convince Christina to share her lunch.
The walk down was definitely a lot easier, taking about an hour. Luckily, we only had to wait about ten minutes before a colectivo heading to Huaraz came along. The colectivo stopped at the central market and all passengers hopped off. The heavens decided to open up as we walked home, so we decided to take a detour to have ice cream on the way home. Nothing like a sweet treat to end another cool little adventure!
Ronna Grace Funtelar is a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and slam poet currently travelling in Peru. She is a hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.
Basically, a shorty who knows her life purpose.