Climbing the Mountain (Literally)

Last weekend I climbed a mountain.

It was a planned expedition—as much as you can plan anything in Peru. We had a destination (sort of), and a map (kind of), and an idea of when we’d get there (vaguely).

This lack of concrete scheduling is very counterintuitive to my detail-oriented personality. But after stress eating for the first three weeks I was in-country, I realized I’d either have to go with the flow or risk diabetes.

So the patiperros in my life got together and hailed a sleek car service outside an old theater in Lima. We drove for three hours through the capital’s Friday night traffic. Unlike NYC (or D.C. or SF or…) cab rides here are incredibly inexpensive. I plunked down 9 soles—the equivalent of about $3—at the end of the trip.

Upon arrival at our destination I was immediately ejected from the vehicle and sucked into the swirl of lightssoundssmells that consumes Chosica every weekend. Chosica is a tourist town, a place Limeños go when the doom and gloom of the capital gets on their nerves. With this influx of out-of-towners, everything is pretty big and bright for a mountain town.

There was a fair in the main square, and blinking, raucus rides flung screaming children in all directions. Along the park, vendors sold anticuchos de corazon (skewered cow hearts) dripping with oil, pollo y papas (chicken and potatoes) and Turrón de Doña Pepa (a pastry topped with candies).

hiking, mountain climbing

For the first hour, we veered away from one commotion only to throw ourselves at another. Along the way, the patiperros picked up fresh cheese, avocado, anticuchos, two bottles of pisco too many and a $1 chicken sandwich. Satisfied, and praying to The God of Food Poisoning for mercy, we made our way to Chosica’s bus “terminal”—a shed just a few blocks from the park.

That night, we had to take a 2-hour bus ride to a much smaller town called San Mateo. The plan was to grab a hotel room and sleep for a bit before our crack-of-dawn jaunt into the wilderness. Reaching San Mateo before bed would also give us a few, precious hours to pay our respects to The God of Altitude. Acclimating to the new, much higher, elevation is important. Altitude sickness is a thing—and it’s a bitch.

So when we made it to the terminal, we were ready to get on the road. But there was no bus. I mean, there might be a bus, we were told. About 30-something people were waiting in line, convinced this bus would appear. They’d been waiting for more than an hour for their chosen mode of transportation to materialize.

Since the patiperros and I weren’t on good terms with The God of Late Transporation (there must be one, right??), we had to slightly alter The Plan.

Now, when I’m having a one-on-one conversation, I can understand Spanish. I won’t profess to know everysinglelittledetail, but I get the gist of the conversation. Add hunger, lights, loud noises and sleep deprivation to the mix, and I don’t even try anymore. At that point, my brain barely responds to English.

So I stood on the side of the road in a city whose name I kept forgetting and dodged cars and foot traffic while waiting for the patiperros—who were chattering away in a mixture of Spanish and Polish—to come to a decision about where/when/if we’d be sleeping.

People generally panic when everything is out of their control. Their cortisol levels rise to an uncomfortable level, their palms get sweaty, and their stomachs churn. But this is Peru. Maybe Plan ABCDEFG didn’t work out, but there’s always Plan H. The same “flexibility” that spirited away our bus also provides plenty of other workarounds.

mountain view

We ended up bunking with a friend of a friend for the night and heading off early in the morning for San Mateo. In San Mateo we bought mountain bread (it’s a thing!) and water and found a cab willing to drop us off in the middle of nowhere.

There were sheep and cows and women tending to a shrine. After realizing no one in our group had cell phone reception, the cab pulled away, and I climbed a freaking mountain.

It actually wouldn’t be so impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that this mountain was almost 15,000 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level at the base. This means there were very few oxygen molecules getting to my li’l cranium. The mountain danced around a LOT during our five-hour trek (less mamba, more waltzy).

There was wind and rain and hail. I not-so-melodramatically thought I was going to die on several occasions, or at least dizzily stumble off said mountain and break a few bones.

The patiperros were hunting for a lake at the top of the mountain, said to have gorgeous vistas. At hour three we figured we were getting close. Halfway through hour four, we knew it was just over the next ridge. By hour five, the sun was beginning to set, and we called it. We’d conquer just ONE more ridge, and then we’d start the two-hour hike down.

In case you were keeping track, we’re now on Plan Q.

We never found the lake, but I climbed to the very top of that mountain, and despite the lack of oxygen (or maybe because of it) felt oh-so alive.

mountain climbing, peru