After a long hike up the hills, towards the Fitz Roy look-out, we were skunked with a cloudy view, cold temperatures and high winds. Many others had made the hike as well, and with no hope for the clouds to break we decided to head down. Half-way down our descent we looked north, over a field of golden grass, and noticed the clouds breaking and the sun beaming on to the mountain. With a fellow hiker, we gazed as the clouds continued to clear. This photo was captured shortly after we began hiking once again, after taking nearly 100 photos of this one mountain, the center of Los Glaciares National Park.
After leaving the sleepy beach town of Huanchaco, We made our way to the high mountains of Huarez, a nauseatingly curvy bus ride up to around 3000 meters. The busy city sits in a valley below some of the most stunning white capped peaks that seem straight out of a movie. In fact, rumor has it that one of the near by peaks was used in the Paramount Pictures opening sequence, where the stars fly around the tall peak, but we wouldn’t see that for a few days.
After arriving early in the morning we found our hostal and rented a pair of bikes. Our hostal owner told us about a fun route, and rode with us to the collectivo that we needed to take up the hill. After 30 minutes we arrived and began to pedal high up the cresting hills, beyond where he suggested (I was following Nic, mind you) to a bridge across a small river. We ate lunch and took in the views, decided that we shouldn’t hike too far with the late afternoon timing and took off down the hill. Fighting off dogs and dodging all sorts of animals, we both flew past local homes and farms with colorful flowers and all sorts of vegetables and fruits. With it’s location relative to the mountains, it’s easy to see on our ride how the village was destroyed by a land slide, being directly in the crux of the sloping hills and sitting at the bottom of steep rocky cliffs. We made our way through town, asked a few times where we needed to ride to find our hostal and eventually made it back.
That night we found our favorite restaurant, with a huge serving of Lomo Soltado (steak with an egg and french fries with rice) and ate our fill to prepare for our next adventure.
The next adventure, a hike to Lago 69, was a long bus ride to a high mountain lake, where we hiked with several other travelers to aother very high, very blue mountain lake at the base of a giant glacier. The glacier was perched high on the top of a mountain, stretching miles across and holding up the numerous waterfalls like stalkings from a fire place. The water and wind were cold, and the hike steep, but we shared a happy Thanksgiving with fun people from across the world, some of whom didn’t realize it was Thanksgiving, specifically the American couple who had just arrived in Peru. To their credit, they had just landed the day before after a day long flight, and traveling like that (not taking a day off) can really wear on the mind.
After returning to our hostal and vowing to do our research on the bus ride length of future treks we prepared for our trek to Santa Cruz, a three day backpacking trip that Nic and I would begin the next day. Little did we know, we drove up the exact same, 4 hour dirt road, past the Lago 69 trail head and well beyond. We chatted with the nice Peruvian gentleman beside us on the bus and were let off at a small tienda at the side of the road, after enduring a trecherous mountain pass in a bus much too large for the conditions.
The trek was great, very little rain, beautiful scenery and amazing campsites. Nic and I had prepared with tuna and crackers for lunch, delicious pasta dishes for dinners and pourage and coffee for breakfasts. The second day we reached the high mountain pass at around 4500 meters and felt proud of our early morning hike. We made it to our second camp after hiking through a raging river that raveged the trail, and the next morning added an extra hike to another glacial lake before beginning the descent down. From this lake we had the best views I have seen since arriving in South America. Nic drew a great picture of the peak (which we assumed served as the Paramount peak I mentioned before) and we treasured the serenity that encompassed the valley.
About an hour after we left the lake it began to rain, and with a long hike ahead we didn’t know what we were in for. After 5 more hours of hiking along-side a huge river, one of which kayakers dream of, we arrived soaking wet in the tiny town of Cashapampa. There were no collectivos, no taxis and no options for us to get back to Huarez that night. We walked along the road and saw a small family cooking chicken feet on the front porch of their tienda in the rain. They told us there was no way to make it back, and with darkness consuming us, we went in and bought a beer. One beer turned into three. The father approached us, and speaking in Ketchwa, offered us his back covered patio, where we could set up our tent and at least remain dry. His generosity raised our spirits, his wife cooked us some chicken feet, liver and rice which tasted like a Thanksgiving meal after being cold and wet, and we made our way inside our sleeping bags. The patio was barely large enough for our tent, and at the foot was a large, three story cage full of Cuy. Cuy, a Peruvian delicacy, are large guinea pigs. We still haven’t tried it, but it’s not because we haven’t tried. The chirping and scurring of the animals made it difficult to sleep, but it was sooo much better than what could have been.
After saying our goodbyes to the three daughters of the family and thanking the father for his hospitality we hopped into our collectivo and headed back to Huarez. We recovered, with sore legs and damp clothes we booked our ticket to Lima on an overnight bus departing that night. No rest for the weary.
That was the easiest bus ride we have endured. Lima, a booming metropolis, reminiscent of a town on the west coast of the US, was clean, bright and bustling with activity. It is situated on the Pacific coast, with millions of people and opportunities to visit historical museums and classical cathedrals. We walked around, tried genuine Pisco sours, with egg whites and all, and ventured into many cathedrals. We used the mass transit system, which we learned was brand new, and ate some great food, which was soothing after our ‘night with the Cuy’. Lima was an awesome change from the mountain scape we had left just days earlier. We met lots of people at our hostal, which is one of the many brands of Peruvian party hostals that fill with young, partying 20-somethings each night (also, a few creepy older people).
Our next town, after getting our fill of busy city life and expensive drinks, was a small desert oasis called Huacachina. It lies outside of another town, Ica, and serves as a vacation spot for Peruvians from all over the country. It’s small, sandy and is wrapped around a small watering hole at the center. It’s extremely small, all of 98 citizens, and is filled with the loud, uninhibited sounds of muffler-less dune buggies carrying vacationers out into the desert. We relaxed, sand-boarded and eventually broke down to ride in the obnoxious vehicles. It ended up being wuite a trip, racing across the sand and riding on small, hand-made boards down gigantic dunes and seeing a desert sunset. We found our favorite pizza spot and then made plans for our exit, tired of the sand taking over our gear.
Our next bus ride, towards Cuzco, was a 16 hour overnighter that started off as if we were sitting in a sauna. The bus was 2 hours late and then the sweaty conditions on board became unbearable. Luckily, our friend Eva from Argentina, whom we met at the bus station, was able to convince the steward to change the temperature. We stopped for breakfast at some point, and then continued our journey. We arrived in Cusco late in the afternoon, split with Eva and found our hostal, Eco Packers, located close to the main square. It’s also a bustling city, significantly smaller than Lima, but much less developed and very focused on tourism. Hostals and tour agencies around every corner, even when you think you’re walking down a quiet neighborhood alley. We just returned from another trek, this one, much longer and more difficult, and are recovering from the physical exhaustion that has brought both of us into sickness. I’ll have to develop my thoughts and decide how I want to tell that story. Until then…
It´s been quite a ride towards Peru. We have visited the mountains, beach and desert along the way, and thanks to Nic, have eaten a lot of dessert as well. Our first stop after leaving Latacunga was in a town called Cuenca, a small town in the foothills, filled with college students and lots of opportunity for mountain biking. We ended up meeting up with some friends that we saw in Latacunga, visited a bike shop owned by a friend of Nics and walked around the market. We only spent one night there, and mainly took photos and ate food while continuing to recover from Cotopaxi.
The next day we arrived in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, a gringo filled hippy oasis that made us feel very welcome. Nic had been in this town before so we were lucky enough to meet up with Steve and Elsa, friends of Nics, and have a good dinner at Pura Vida, a delicious natural eatery that seemed to serve as the hippy hub of the town. The next day we hiked to Steve’s house above the town and saw his unique view of Mt. Mondongo, the mountain in the center of the San Pedro valley. It was a peaceful place with a calming atmosphere, more peaceful than any vacation spot I had experienced and this was his house!
We met lots of nice people, shared a wild experience with a fellow Colorado State grad named Emma, and hiked high above the village a few times during our stay. Our hostel, called Rumi Wilco, was a nature preserve located fairly centrally in the town, but backed up to the national park on the north west corner of the valley. When we climbed up above our hostel to peer down on the town, we all were stunned by how similar the scenery appeared to Yoshi´s island. With surrounding hills and valleys climbing to shallow peaks and the colors of the night sky seeming to carry the clouds through in a fairytale like manner. It´s difficult to describe, but after having spent a long day at our hostal it felt great to see such an amazing view.
We took a few more hikes, cooked many great meals and visited a waterfall on our last day. We scheduled an early, 6 AM bus to Jaen, where we would stay for one night on our way towards the Peruvian boarder with plans to arrive in Chachapoyas, known for the precarious location and high number of surrounding ruins. We traveled with a large group of people through these towns, but met a nice French girl, Melo, with whom we enjoyed many meals and adventures. Visiting Kuelap, the ´second greatest´ ruin in Peru next to Macchu Picchu, was the highlight. We learned about the complex and diverse history of the high alpine fortress that protected ancestors of the Inca, Chachapoyas and even Spanish people. Our guide was great, and after our return to the town ( a 2.5 hour, one way journey) he took us high up to his friends property with an amazing view of the town. It was a special moment shared with great people, a friendly dog, and also a not so friendly dog (we each carried a big stick in case he decided to charge, but his bark was worse than his bite). We walked the many miles back to town and said our fairwells to our friendly guide, returned to our favorite restaurant with cheesy chicken fried chicken and ate to our hearts content.
We left Chachpoyas on Friday evening on a 7 pm overnight bus. That day Nic and I had hiked along the rim of a ginormous canyon towards the maximum security prison our guide had pointed out the previous night. We didn’t realize until we were walking along the fence what we had found, but it was a great view of the mountains none-the-less. We prepared for our trek, hopped on the bus and woke up in Trujillo, about 15 minutes shy of our destination village, Hunchaco. It is a sleepy beach resort town where locals and backpackers flock to escape the hustle of daily life in Peruvian cities. We relaxed after our early morning arrival, set up camp at our hostel, Neylamp, and met a family we had encountered in Vilcabamba just days prior. A nomadic family, who has been traveling and working on farming and sustainability projects around the world to survive and maintain, that has one son, Nel, who was very interested in my camera. He and I shot video and looked over what we had created. It was a fun experience, one that instilled in me the simplicty of traveling and connecting with others.
We went surfing with Renee’, the father, and his friend whom we met at the surf shop. The sunset and pink clouds were magical, and the break in the heavy clouds was a good escape from the foggy weather of the day. We returned and made a tasty breakfast style dinner, shared some rum with Renee’ and sat by the fire late into the night with he and his wife. We will continue to visit sites today, specifically Chancha, just outside of Hunchaco, and probably surf more in the next few days. I’ll post more pictures as we capture them!
It has been a long time since I last posted, so I´ll make this one action packed and talk about Volcanoes!
Nic and I made it past Banos, which was a great adventure in itself. After our hike in Banos to the Virgen Mirador (from my last post) we met up with some friends of Nics, as well as some new ones we met in Banos. The best part of this trip so far has been meeting so many new people from across the globe; Ecuador, Chile, Australia, England, Iceland and Switzerland just to name a few. We shared a few beers, visited hot springs and hiked around with these new friends and talked about life and our future travels.
Nic and I also rented some ATVs to explore the canyon and waterfalls below this mountain town. After quickly losing each other (within the first 3 minutes) we each ventured on our own for the next 3 hours, searching for each other and just taking in the scenery, which included upwards of 10 waterfalls. We spent a total of 3 days in Banos, most of which I was sick and slept through, but enjoyed our stay non-the-less.
We traveled to the town of Latacunga, where we are currently, to celebrate the Mama Negra festival, a celebration of the town´s existence after numerous volcanic eruptions in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The festival is focused on men (many police men in fact) dressing up as Mama Negra, with white and rainbow striped masks dancing around, cleansing locals and tourists along the parade and spraying alcohol everywhere. It was one of the most amazing cultural festivites I have witnessed, celebrating the strength of a community to overcome the devestation of unending volcanic destruction. It was also great to share this experience with Nic, shooting photos, capturing priceless sounds and drinking some local liquids.
After resting Sunday, the day after the Mama Negra festival, we decided to sign-up to climb the Cotopaxi volcano. At a whopping 5,897 meters (19,342 ft for you Americans) it is the tallest active volcano in Ecuador and is covered in snow year-round. Our friend Luis, an Ecuadorean climbing guide who lives in Europe, recommended a guide company and even visited us, to assist in our pack on Monday, as we were preparing for our journey. We met our guide after Luis had to leave us (to guide a trek of his own on a different mountain) and we made our way towards the Refugio de Cotopaxi, around 4,800 meters. It was only an hour trip from Latacunga and after arriving we began to eat and drink constantly. Nic and I had never been so full, with slight head aches and anticipation for our midnight excursion to the highest point either of us had explored. Every step upwards we took was the highest either of us had been. We were excited, so falling asleep at 7pm was difficult, especially in a bunkroom of 20+ people all preparing to do the same trek. After a restless (and bathroom break filled) night, our guide woke us up and we began adourning our many layers, gators, headlamps and harnesses, but only after one last bathroom break.
We were about the 5th group to begin our trek, but being a group of 3, we were able to stay nimble and focused. Early on we passed a few groups and stayed slow and steady. Hiking to the refuge the prior afternoon, we learned that slow and steady pacing was the key to success. The hike was a 6 hour, all night venture, and the goal was to top out before the sunset. Knowing that sunset meant nearing the top, it was a long and arduous night hiking in the dark. The stars appeared as headlamps of climbers much further ahead, and the diziness and headaches made understanding the difference much more difficult. Every step was painful, and our boots seemed to get heavier, and our breaths shorter. At some point it began to feel as if my heart was going to thump right out of my chest, and that feeling amplified as we gained altitude. There was no reprive from the pain except the frequent breaks; with sips of gatorade and small bites of Snickers bars we were able to continue.
At around 5:45am on Tuesday, after just passing the only group of two ( a guide and a Denmarkian*) Nic, our guide and I were the first to summit Cotopaxi. The rush of endorphans made it all worth it, and the pride of arriving on top of such a steep and difficult climb was much needed after nearly succumbing to the pain for the previous 2 hours. After less than 15 minutes at the top, with one of the most amazing sunsets I´ve seen and a moment shared with Nic, our new friend from Denmark and the guides, we began our descent. It was just as, if not more, painful than the ascent due to the pounding of our brains within our skulls and the relentless cruching of our knees. Luckily the snow compressed and our crampons slid at a rate which made descending relatively quick. Nic and I still needed many breaks, as our hearts were still pumping profusely, but our guide pushed us, “listos?” he would ask, meaning “ready?” in spanish. After a painful, but short two hours we arrived at the refuge, barely able to move and tired, we still had to pack our things, hike down to the road and travel back to Latacunga. We both fell asleep along the short journey, and upon our arrival at 10:30am we walked to the hostal (after purchasing some ice cream), asked for a room, each took a shower and I fell asleep.
We woke up this morning in a lot of pain, our legs barely able to move, but our hearts full after our succesful journey. We are now planning our journey to Cuenca, a 7 hour bus ride we will begin this afternoon as we make our way to the Peruvian border. We have both enjoyed Latacunga and Cotopaxi but are ready for new scenery and even more fresh adventures. Until then…
I had to pee really bad when we arrived here. It was a coincidence, and had a lot to do with the 4 hours of transportation by bus we endured earlier. We woke up in Quito this morning, repacked our bags, went to the ATM and walked to the bus stop our hostal keeper suggested. It all worked out as we arrived at the “big” bus stop and got on the tour bus within 5 minutes.
After chatting with the 2 Netherlandians on the bus about travel and where they have been, we found some common ground and learned some tips about travel time and fun cities to visit in both Peru and Chile.
The bus ride dropped us into a wonderful valley, shrouded in the glory of a huge, and erupting, volcano. It turns out Banos is right at the bottom of that erupting volcano. After asking the hostal keeper in Banos, we figured out the name of the volcano (and more importantly how to spell it!) – Tungurahua.
We are going to grab some food and take a quick hike up to “Virgin Mirador”. Hopefully out of the way of the volcanic lava…
The last words most people said to me were “Be careful” during my travels, “Take care of yourself.” Then I started thinking about the shooting at LAX a few days ago. I was told today that the really dangerous ones are in the US. She wasn’t talking about shootings; all shootings a dangerous. She was talking about the people. I’m sitting in DIA waiting for my flight to Houston, where I’ll catch a flight towards Quito. As I looked at my ticket and itinerary it read:
DEN – IAH
IAH – UIO
And the way it laid on the page, the blank white space, after UIO left me feeling nervous. It made me realize that I get to fill in that space with my own text, my own colors, my own story. I will meet hundreds of people, most of whom will appreciate our meeting, others who won’t care, but the interesting part is I won’t be shot in this airport. I’ll travel on my own volition without the interference that those people at LAX faced, and I will be leaving behind the most dangerous part of my journey, an American Airport. As I fill my white blank space I’ll remember to keep my wits about me, pay attention, but also to relax. It’s the ones I’m leaving behind that need to stay safe, that’s what makes me truly nervous. I may be in a safer place than you.
See you in Quito.
It was a process, loading all of this gear into a few small spaces. It didn’t help that I was carrying double the camping equipment (Nic needed some extra) and some extra camera gear along with me. All of this:
Fit into one large, and one small backpack, and so far it’s fitting pretty tight, going to weigh a lot, and I have a lump on my right shoulder (on my collar bone) that is starting to ache, and creating backpack carrying issues. We’ll see how that unfolds as I go. Only about 24 hours now until my flight leaves DIA to head south and I’m going over and over my equipment to make sure I brought enough.
I also can’t help but wonder what to begin shooting first. If we don’t begin shooting early and often we may miss our story completely and have to come up with a new plan. It will be important to get a lay of the land and acquainted (more so myself than Nic) with Ecuador, but I don’t want to waste too much time looking with my eyes if I could be capturing it with my camera. Hopefully I can share more very soon. For now, I’m off to breakfast.
It’s happening, I’ve packed my bags, kissed my family and now I begin traveling to Ecuador for what I’ve built up in my mind as the best option for me this winter. I will be traveling for 10 hours to Quito, where I’ll meet up with my good friend, Nic Tapia, who has been traveling both with friends and alone for over 3 months by the time I arrive. Here is a pic of Nic and I a few months ago, but you get the idea:
Other than the basic plans we have set, including climbing Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second tallest volcano; and seeing the Mama Negra festival in Latacunga, we are flying by the seat of our pants. Our original plan was to begin the process of filming a documentary, but as I consider what we could encounter along the way I have no idea how we will return, and what we will be carrying. Follow along here at zachnewton.com or subscribe to this page by adding it to your bookmarks! I’ll also post on Facebook and you can share individual posts as well!
Short Pineview falls swim lesson I was taught this week. Fun edit.
Shot on GoPro HD Hero 3
720p at 60 frames
Edited in Final Cut Pro
I do not own, or claim to own any rights to the Daft Punk song “Get Lucky”, it was also tweaked. ‘Don’t sue me bro’, as they say.