Welcome to the 4th excursion that I went on while in Peru. I’ve already written about my experiences with Rainbow Mountain Pallcoyo, Machu Picchu and the “Normal” side of Rainbow Mountain. In this entry, as the title states, I’m going to talk about the most difficult one yet. If y’all thought that the final stretch of Rainbow Mountain was hard, then y’all are in for a treat. This was the first excursion that I went on alone which made things interesting. Let’s dive right in!
My last days in Peru
My time in Peru was slowly coming to an end. The fact that my time was running out really reawakened the adventurous spirit that seemed to have gone dormant inside of me. The fact that I originally technically had no deadline aside from the 90 days allotted to my visa made me lazy and less adventurous than I usually am when I travel.
I spent a month in Europe the previous year and had a set arrival and departure date which made me get up early every single day to explore and see as much as I possibly could before the deadline had arrived. Peru was different because I didn’t have to come back on a specific day. I theoretically could have kept travelling around South America until my money ran out (I didn’t have very much of it by the way). This made me lazy because there was absolutely no rush to do anything at all.
I booked a flight to Medellin, Colombia for the 19th of December and it changed everything. I suddenly had a deadline and suddenly realized how many things I still hadn’t seen in Peru. I decided to try and make the most of the little remaining time I had to go on one more excursion. There were a few, but the hostel that I was staying at was offering a 30% discount for the Humantay Lake day trip, so I decided to do this one. As with the other excursions, I asked around to see if anyone else wanted to go. Everybody was either busy or not too interested. My two American roommates were going on a trek and would be gone for a few days, so that was also off the table. Their trek would ironically be following the exact same route on the exact same day that my day trip would be following, but we’d be a couple hours apart. It was looking like I’d be doing this one alone.
This was the first tour that I had actually booked through a hostel that I was actually staying at. I finally stopped feeling like a traitor! I sat down at the desk and discussed the tour with the lady working there. She explained how everything would work and how much everything would cost. I think it was about 90-95 Soles (About 27-28$ USD) with the 30% discount applied.
They also asked me what my level of Spanish was and I told them that I felt comfortable. They told me that they were asking because they sometimes split up the Spanish and English speakers into two separate groups. This had never been the case before, so I didn’t think much of it. There was always a bilingual guide that would say everything in Spanish AND English on all the other day trips that I had gone on.
I went to pay after the worker had explained everything, but there was no card machine and I didn’t have enough cash on me and the booking deadline was 7 PM and it was already about 6:49. There was no way that I’d make it to the ATM and back in time, but luckily, my two American roommates were getting briefed by their future trek guide in the same office that I was in. I rudely interrupted the briefing to ask if one of them could spot me 50 Soles to pay for my tour reservation and that I’d pay them back right after. They agreed, gave me the money and I apologized to their guide. I didn’t mean to be rude, I was just scared that I would miss the window to book my last day trip.
I booked the ticket and guess what time THIS bus would be picking me up! Did you guess a human time like 8 AM? Nope, WRONG! It would be coming at 4:30 AM. One thing that I don’t miss about Peru is having to wake up before 5 AM to do fun things.
A sad goodbye
My American roommates and I had become pretty good travel friends over the few days that we spent together and this would unfortunately be our last night together. They’d be going on their trek the following morning and I’d be going on my day trip. I was also scheduled to be in Colombia before they would have returned, so we wouldn’t be seeing each other when they got back either. We hung out a little bit and then we hugged each other goodbye in case we didn’t see each other in the morning. We all went to bed at different times and as usual, I stayed up a lot later than I should have. When will I learn my lesson?
We all woke up at almost exactly the same time the following day. It made me laugh because it was kind of like when you say bye to somebody and then both end up walking the same way anyway. That’s more or less what happened here, but it was still cool because we got to hang out a bit more. We all got ready, I packed my daypack and then my bus came and I had to leave. The second goodbye was just as sad as the first one, but we had exchanged contact info when we first met, so it was alright. We would be able to stay in contact!
*** I’ll post links to the daypack and things I filled it with in case any of you are interested***
One thing that I can’t stress enough is that if you have a fun time with somebody, exchange contact info! It can be Facebook, Instagram, Wechat or anything else. The world is huge, but it’s also very small. You never know, maybe you’ll end up in the same place as one of the people that you met on one of your trips. You never know. I make it a habit to try and do this with all the interesting people that I meet. Not everyone that I meet, but the people that I’d be down to hang out with again. Yeah, I know that there’s a possibility that I may never end up talking to half of them ever again, but that still leaves the other 50%. I met a few people on this trip that I would’ve loved to see again, but forgot to exchange contact info, so that will most likely never happen!.
The bus ride
This bus ride definitely was on the longer side and to my surprise, I ended up in the Spanish speaking group. I had no problem with this, but was simply surprised. Everything was conducted in Spanish and not one word of English was exchanged.
***Make sure you tell them that you don’t speak Spanish, so that you end up in the English only group if you’re not confident with your level of Spanish***
The bus took a breakfast stop just like all the other tours. They brought us to this really interesting village with really thin roads that could only fit one car at a time. It was a really cute town and it had cellphone service which was nice. They brought us to this really small, but cute courtyard-like backyard which is where we were served breakfast. There was bread, coffee and jam once again. There was no meat, but I think you guys can guess what the protein was… again!… You guessed it! It was eggs. Everyone got one egg and my body and dietary restrictions had once again foiled my plans to have a protein fuelled hike. I had to just stick to bread once again.
I’d normally use the breakfast stop to try and meet and socialize with my fellow travellers, but the people in this group seemed to be more on the quiet side compared to the last couple day trips that I’d been on. I couldn’t really see any opportunities to chat anybody up that didn’t feel too intrusive.
The Anglophones arrived!
I noticed that another group had begun to trickle in while my group ate. I quickly learned that it was the English speaking group. They all seemed very outgoing and were all talking to each other. I honestly would have assumed that they all already knew each other had I not known that they were also going on the same day trip as me and probably all met each other that day. I was honestly kind of jealous. My group kept to themselves and the English group seemed to be a lot more social and fun. Although I love hearing Spanish, I honestly wished that I could have switched groups at this point.
A lesson learned on Rainbow Mountain
The break was coming to an end. Our guide asked us if anyone in our group was vegetarian. I contemplated raising my hand because I wanted to make sure that there would at least be something that I could eat for the lunch that would follow the hike. I pondered it for a bit and then explained what I could and couldn’t eat and he assured me that I’d be fine and that he would talk to the cooks. He gathered everyone and led us back to the bus shortly after this.
I was walking out and I had a flashback to getting pounded by hail and soaked by rain on Rainbow Mountain and decided to grab two ponchos from the lady working near the exit. She was surprised that I was buying two for myself, but I wasn’t about to play any games after that 3+ hour bus ride that I endured on the way back from Rainbow Mountain a couple days earlier. I was prepared this time! I would not be driving back into Cuzco wet!
Back on the bus
The second half of the ride was definitely interesting. The scenery was really nice, but we drove through some weird areas with weird rules. The bus got stopped by two men at a gate and from what I was able to understand, the guide needed a foreign passport to proceed. He asked a random person on the bus if he could borrow their passport to show to the guys at the gate. He did this and then they let us go through. I don’t know if I understood all of what happened correctly, but it was still strange nonetheless.
I spent the rest of the ride just listening to music because nobody else was really talking to anyone outside of their groups. I’m 100% aware that I could have changed that by attempting to strike up conversations with people, but I just didn’t have the energy to make the first move. The lack of social stimulation made the bus ride feel even longer and I kept falling asleep only to be jolted awake by the bumps on the road. Eventually, the bus arrived at the place where we would all start our hike.
The Pre-hike briefing
Everyone got off the bus and most people went to use the washroom. I made sure to use the bathroom because I remembered how often I had to pee while climbing Rainbow Mountain. After using the bathroom, the guide rounded all of us up and explained how the hike would go and what we should expect. He told us that the ascent would take about an hour and a half in total. He also told us that the first 30 minutes would be extremely difficult and that the last hour would be insanely difficult. It’s funny thinking back to all of this NOW, but I was STRESSED in the moment. This was the first time that a GUIDE had said that the hike would be difficult, so I knew this was going to be a formidable one. He also explained how people could be taken up on horseback if they pleased, but that the only way down was to walk back down. I remember that 3 people in our group decided to go up on horse back. They also handed out walking sticks. I made sure to get one because they had been indispensable on all the other hikes.
He wasn’t lying
As promised, the first 30 minutes were NOT easy and the trail tricks you. I remember that the first little bit was flat as you walk through this really small town and camping area. I was told that the camping area was normally used by people doing the treks. There were also hostels in the area that were apparently also popular amongst people on treks. The guide told us that this area would be the last area with proper toilets. He informed us that it would be “Inca toilets” from that point on. I made sure to pee again. I didn’t know what an “Inca toilet” was, but the guide made them seem like something that I’d want to avoid if I had the choice.
Anyway, all of this made me think that it may actually be kind of easy and that the guide may be exaggerating a little bit. Besides, I had learned on Rainbow Mountain that if I just controlled my breathing and walked slowly, flat terrain could be relatively easy to walk on despite the altitude. Oh boy was I wrong!
The amount of horse poop on the ground is insane. You literally can’t avoid it no matter how hard you try. It had also rained before we got there, so there was a tremendous amount of mud that mixed with the horse poop. I tried to avoid the horse poop as best as I could, but soon realized that it was a losing battle because I couldn’t differentiate the horse poop from the regular mud. Sometimes it was very clear, but the horse poop that had been trampled by the hundreds of hikers that go through this area was impossible to spot. I also remember that we also had to walk through a very small stream that went through the path. I did my best, but my feet still got a little wet. We also had to cross a very thin bridge over a small river. The horses just walked right through the river itself. That river would be my undoing on the way back down…I just didn’t know it yet…
saw… I mean I felt what the guide was saying as soon as we’d crossed the river. The terrain became steep all of a sudden and as promised, we were going up for quite a while. This part quickly separated the strong from the weak. Some people were able to just walk ahead and the weak people (including me) kind of straggled behind.
Friends at last!
The guide and I talked a bit as we climbed. He was a really nice guy and I genuinely enjoyed talking to him. We covered a few topics which included Quechua, Peruvian culture and why I was even in Peru. This warmed me up and got me into a more social mood. We got split up at some point, so I began talking to a Brazilian girl who was also from my group. I forgot to mention this earlier, but the guide had us all introduce ourselves and say where we were all from before we actually started hiking. This was super cool and useful because we all got to learn a little bit about everyone and where they were all from. It also gave me a good idea of who I’d want to try talking to later on in the hike.
The Brazilian girl ended up being really friendly, but it was hard to keep the conversation flowing because neither of us could breathe. We talked for a bit, but I eventually somehow got ahead of her because she needed to stop for a break. I kept walking and ended up talking to an Australian girl from the English group for a short time, but then had to take a break and she ended up ahead of me.
Losing people due to differing levels of fitness was a very common theme here as y’all can see.
I pushed on.
He still wasn’t lying…
That was the first part and I was quickly reaching the “60 minutes of hell” that everyone talked about. This part was insanely difficult. Quitting was NOT in my vocabulary this time around, but I don’t think I’ve ever taken so many breaks during a hike in my entire life. It was way more difficult than the Machu Picchu steps. It was honestly just like doing the last stretch of Rainbow Mountain, but for 60+ minutes. It even seemed difficult for the horses! They also walked really close to the edges, so I was really happy that I opted out of going on horseback. Nobody got injured and no horses fell off while I was there, but it just looked a little too risky for me. It had also begun to rain around this time and I saw a few horses stumble near the ledges a bit as they walked through the fresh mud. That was NOT for me.
This was where my problems began to emerge. I was already sweating buckets from the physical exertion and then it began to rain… Ponchos really retain heat, so I had to decide between staying dry or overheating. I decided to just get wet. It looked like I WOULD in fact be taking the bus back to Cuzco wet after all, but I pushed on.
I kept going and heard a bit more English being spoken ahead of me. I was originally going to take a break, but decided to try catching up to them because I assumed that they were from the more social, English speaking group. I caught up to them and we began talking as we all took a long break to catch our breaths. They were from America which was cool. I asked them if I could walk with them, so that I could try and maintain a better pace and they agreed. We caught up to a few more of the people from their group and one of them was a Russian guy. I wasn’t feeling confident enough to speak Russian to him, so I didn’t even try. Normally I would, but I was just too physically exhausted to push my comfort zone. At least that was the lame excuse that I gave myself at the time.
The hike seemed to get harder as we got higher. I swear it progressively got more steep. It was so weird. The guide really wasn’t lying about the difficulty. I don’t know if I can say that enough times. He was NOT lying.
We’d gone quite far and the end still wasn’t in sight, but I had to pee. I decided to take my chances with one of the “Inca toilets” that the guide had mentioned. I couldn’t find any anywhere, so I decided to just pee outside when nobody was looking. I assume that having to pee outside was what the guide was referring to when he mentioned using “Inca toilets”.
We kept hiking and the morale was starting to drop because we all felt like we’d gone very far, but still hadn’t made it to the lake. We eventually got to this one area where the trail kind of dipped a bit and then it kind of leads you around a corner and then BOOM! There’s the lake.
La Laguna De Humantay
Don’t panic, that’s just the Spanish name for the lake, there’s no need to bust out google translate! The lagoon itself was AMAZING. It was so beautiful that it almost didn’t seem real. It felt like we’d somehow walked into a painting or maybe even a video game. Words don’t describe how amazing it looked in person. I tried to take pictures, but my camera did not do the place justice. We relaxed and took tons of pictures here. The Brazilian girl and her mom caught up and we talked for a little bit. They were really nice and the mom even agreed to watch my bag when we went off to take more pictures.
If you ever go to Rainbow Mountain Pallcoyo, you’ll probably notice that the locals stack rocks into small piles and leave them along the path. I never really understood what that meant, but the guide explained that it was a way to give thanks to a higher entity for allowing a safe ascent up the mountain or something like that. My Spanish was really failing me at this point and I don’t want to disrespect the culture with my ignorance, so please google this to get more accurate information.
He explained to us how it all worked and gave us each a few coca leaves. He then stacked a few rocks and said what I think was a prayer and then placed one of the leaves on the rock and then placed another rock on top of it. He went around in the circle and had us all do the same thing. It was all really interesting and I’m glad that it was finally explained to me, but I just wish that my Spanish hadn’t decided to fail me at that moment. I think it may have been due to how much Portuguese I had just spoken with the Brazilians beforehand.
Alright, so going down was definitely waaaay easier than hiking up, but it came with a whole new set of problems. It had started to rain again, so we all got kind of wet. I finally decided to put the Poncho on at this point. Overheating wasn’t an issue at this point because I had gotten really cold while we all relaxed and chilled by the lake. The second issue was how slippery the terrain was thanks to all the mud. I don’t know about the others, but I was determined not to slip and fall into the horse poop. I ended up with the Americans, the Russian and now a French guy for most of the descent and one of the poor souls completely wiped out in the mud. I almost slipped and wiped out too. My walking stick and fast reflexes hardly saved me.
The guys and I covered quite a few interesting topics as we walked. They were really open minded and interesting to talk to. It was cool to hear the American and Russian points of view on a few topics. That really made the time go by a lot faster.
It was all fun and games until we got back to the small, wobbly bridge over the river. The rain had caused the water level to rise to the point that the bridge was now almost completely submerged and it was even more wobbly than before. There was no hope of returning with dry feet. I swallowed my dry pride and walked across. My feet, shoes and socks were SOAKED by the time that I reached the other side.
I ended up somehow losing the Americans at this point, so I spent the rest of the walk with the French and Russian guy. We had to part ways once we got back to the buses.
The drive back to the courtyard was uncomfortable because of how wet I was, but the thought of food kept my spirits high. We arrived back at the courtyard and everybody began lining up for food. The food was fantastic! The selection was completely made up of Peruvian dishes as per usual. Peruvian food was really growing on me and I was sad to be leaving this country’s culinary magic behind. I was actually able to eat a few of the dishes and the girl who was serving the food actually seemed to care about making sure that I didn’t accidentally eat eggs or dairy.
There was vegetarian food, but not too much from my understanding. I say this because I overheard the Australian girl that I’d met earlier complaining about how few vegetarian options there were for her. I went up to get seconds and bumped into the French guy that I’d spent the last stretch of the descent with. I actually wanted to just go and sit at the English table because they STILL seemed more social and like they were having more fun. I ultimately just went back to the Spanish group and sat in almost absolute silence and envy. The break ended and we were back on the road again.
The Road to Cuzco
The road back to Cuzco was nothing special. It was long, but nothing special. I spent the majority of the time listening to music as usual, but did get a chance to chat a little bit on the bus, but then it was silence again for the most part. People talked amongst themselves, but they mainly stuck to their own groups.
Back in Cuzco
Soon I was back in Cuzco! The bus coincidentally dropped me off 5 minutes away from my hostel which was amazing. I made my way back to the hostel, showered and put on dry clothes. I then made my way over to this lovely, family owned laundromat that I had found during my first week in the city. I asked if I could have my clothes and shoes washed and they literally went out of their way to make sure that everything would be ready for me later on that same night instead of the following day. They always did an amazing job and always had my stuff ready for me quickly. They even folded my clothes! I had to unfold them in older to roll them so that they’d fit into my bag, but I still appreciated the kind gesture. I really wish that I could shout their store out on here, but I can’t remember the name and there were 3 other stores right beside them. They were down the steps from the legendary Wild Rover hostel if that helps!
Alright, so although this was the hardest excursion that I’d attempted during the entire time that I spent in Peru, the end made everything worth it! The lake was magical. I highly recommend this day trip! It was definitely one of the most satisfying day trips that I had gone on.
My last minute recommendations are that you should NOT wear your favourite shoes because I can almost guarantee with 95% certainty that they’ll get ruined by either the mud or the horse poop. Make sure you get a walking stick because they are honestly and truly indispensable for this hike as it is extremely steep. I’d also recommend bringing snacks to eat once you get to the actual lake. I personally didn’t really feel much hunger during the hike itself, but felt famished once I made it to the lake and stopped exerting myself.
Overall I highly recommend this one! It was one of my favourites!