“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” – Carlos Castaneda (a Peruvian writer of Journey to Ixtian)
That same day when I went inside Machu Picchu and climbed Huayna Picchu, I took the train going to Cuzco to spend the night there. I arrived around 8pm already, very exhausted and still damp! I was drenched from the rain that day when I visited Machu Picchu! When I reached my hostel, I am glad that I have the twin bedroom for myself because in times like this you just want to be alone in the room moving freely as you please.
Amazingly, after a hot shower, I felt recharged and asked the receptionist at my hostel, if they can book me an excursion hike to the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain the next day. She looked surprised because she just saw me few minutes earlier looking like I’m about to break down already and here I am asking for an excursion hike, a very strenuous hike if I may emphasize.
My hostel, Mama Simona, do not have this excursion because this is still quite new excursion to tourists like me. She asked one of her mountaineer friends who does these trips if they can squeeze me in because it was already 10pm at that time. When the mountaineer guide met me and saw me how exhausted I looked, he warned me about the strenuous climb and the weather, he told me that it may not be as colourful as I might have expected it to be because it’s rainy season so there is also a tendency that it might snow.
Fingers crossed, I took the chance because if Machu Picchu was too foggy when I visited, perhaps this time with Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, the sun will appear like when I visited Patagonia, it was raining the day before and was sunny the next day when I visited.
The guide was also kind enough to bring me to one of the good authentic restaurant at Plaza de San Francisco, from my hostel. I had the popular delicious Peruvian friend chicken and the only soda available in Peru (or South America), Inca Cola. I avoided Ceviche this time because I can’t afford to have a bad tummy again during my hike in the next few hours.
On my way back, I got lost because I forgot to bring a map, this was already around 11pm night, I was a bit nervous because the area was a bit dodgy but I’m proud of myself for finding my way back, of course I had to ask for directions, in Spanish! :P
The tour operators picked me up as early as 5am. We arrived Ausangate, the town where Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain at around 9am already! During breakfast at the trailhead, the Team Leader of the climb told us the nature of the trek. They warned us that this hike is not for the weak lungs! It is mostly flat terrain but the altitude gets higher so breathing can be more difficult. It has 5,200m altitude! It’s almost like Mt.Everest Basecamp already, but of course we started hiking at around 4,300m altitude at the trailhead.
And despite of discouraging us to hire a horse, I still hired one because I am not in a good shape anymore. If I realize I want a horse halfway, it might be too late. He discouraged us to hire a horse because the horse will just take you on a flat terrain, when it gets muddy or steeper, you have to walk on your own, plus they are not responsible when you fall as the horse has the tendency to run and if you are not good in horse riding, it can be more dangerous. I didn’t care anymore, I still hired one, at least I have an option when I’m already dying, lol!
True enough. We just started hiking and in the first 10 minutes I was already panting hard, there were 2 old people who backed out and returned to the trailhead/basecamp already. I told myself, I’m not going to quit that soon, especially with 2 old people, duh! Hahaha I need to walk at least 10 minutes more lol! Because of my “pride” I carried on.
My horse, Chaco, is indeed fussy, he only wants to carry me when the terrain is flat and easy, when it gets muddy and/or steep, he doesn’t want to move forward, so what did I actually paid for? Lol! But still, it was a HUGE help for me to at least cut the amount of walking even on a flat terrain as you can still get very tired because of the high altitude.
The views along the way are magnificent though, you pass through some small villages and farms. And since terrain is just mostly flat, you can barely see the summit and it’s so gorgeous it makes you want to just go on and get there! It’s just frustrating sometimes because it looks so near yet it’s so far, my horseman kept on reminding me that it’s a 2-hour hike in about 8km long…
As soon as I reached the ascent to the summit, I was doing half steps already and in every 5 steps, I think, I’d stop and grasp some air, no kidding! I see the people at the summit and I hear people who are on their way back already telling me to go and push some more as it’s so beautiful up there.
Anyway, slowly I made it to the summit, then as soon as I got there, the most dreadful thing happened…it started to SNOW!
At this point, I know photos may not be able to see the rainbow colours of the mountain anymore because it may be soon covered with snow and worst is I know I have to rush going back because I wasn’t dressed for cold of the snow, rushing back is a bad idea too because even if the altitude will get lower, I felt sooo exhausted already and my energy was super drained that I might just pass out. It’s possible!
Then I started crying and laughing at the same time! Hahaha! Crying out of frustration and laughing because Peru was so funny to me, it was a perfect sunny day the day before I went to Machu Picchu then it rained all of a sudden the day I went, and now is its time to make it up to me but rather it’s giving me snow!?! WTH Peru? Why do you hate me so much!? Hahaha!
On my way down, I can see how quickly the snow covered the mountain I was just walking on it few minutes back. It’s like being back to Antarctica, it’s all white! It was harder to walk too because it’s not just muddy now but it’s also slippery. When I finally reunited with my horse, I did not realised that I was already about to have a panic attack! I was ignoring the numbness on my fingers because I thought it was just the cold, it was only my horseman noticed that I was already about to pass out because I am already pale and not sitting straight anymore.
My horseman immediately let me smell 3 kinds of chemicals, one of which is ammonia and the other 2 chemicals I do not know now. It was a big help though, he gave me his water because I ran out, and a couple of coca leaves to chew. I would still dismount my horse from time to time but I do not recall anymore how I managed to come back to the trailhead/basecamp without passing out!
I was very thankful to my horseman for looking after me, it’s a shame that I do not have more cash to give him, the rent is 80 Soles but I gave him 100 Soles but that’s all the cash I brought that time. I could’ve given more because I feel bad for the horse too, it looked exhausted too but if it wasn’t for both of them, I may be dead now, lol! Again, not kidding!
At the trailhead/basecamp there were many who backed out halfway, and many health or lives were put on risk because of the effects of altitude sickness, some looked healthy and some were even younger than me. That’s the only time I knew how dangerous was my decision to go for this hike :O
Despite my ordeal, was it all worth it? Definitely!
Peru is not a country I can always go back whenever I want to, from where I live now (Dubai) flights are not cheap and will consume one to two full days just to get there because there is no direct flight from here. The advantages though of going there is I don’t need to apply for any travel visa and prices were very cheap when you get there. So if I only have a week in Peru, I have to make the most out of it even if I went at a wrong time.
I booked this trip alongside my trips to other South America countries and Antarctica, it’s the best time to go to these other countries because it’s summer but not a good time for Peru because it’s rainy season there. But I don’t want to miss Peru especially Machu Picchu for this trip so I pushed it through despite of.
I have expected the worst but I was hopeful that I will have a good time visiting the places I want to see during my stay. The Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain though was just my back-up plan only in case I still have time and energy from climbing Huayna Picchu.
I didn’t have much time and energy left actually the night I arrived Cuzco, but then after a hot shower, I realised that it will be great if I just stay in Cuzco the next day and have a relaxing day sightseeing around this lovely town but my mind will not be completely satisfied and happy if I will not hike Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain on this visit especially if I do not know when will I visit Peru again, I may not be strong enough anymore to hike it right?
So no matter how “miserable” my visit at Machu Picchu because of the rain, I decided not to stay miserable by not climbing the Vincunca Rainbow Mountain the next day. I’m not dying anyway, I felt fine, exhausted but fine, so I went for it. Staying miserable is only a result of you deciding to stay miserable.
There will be many forms of adversity that you will have to face in your life, and sometimes life will try to lend you its biggest knockout blows. If you allow for yourself to be miserable and if you allow for yourself to keep a negative attitude, you will only cause your heart more destruction than it really needs. Choose your happiness :)