I met Mario in Santa Maria where he spent a night with two British tourists returning from Santa Teresa. Maria is a professional guide with 23 years of experience. He is a bit younger than I and we connected well. The next day, before he left, he offered me a place to stay at his house on my next visit to Cusco. When I arrived at Cusco a few weeks later, I called him and he picked me up at the bus station. We went to his house in a far neighborhood of Cusco by bus.
During our dinner that he prepared so well, I learned the story of Mario. Guide for 23 years, with a daughter and a son graduated in tourism, he finds himself having to work very hard for local agencies and ends up making very little money. He wants to open his own Guided Tours Agency and run it with his children. Mario needed to be put on the road so that he could reach his goal. I offered to build, with the assistance of his children, a website and to train his boy to administrate, design and improve the family Tour Agency’s website. Mario’s boy is very computer oriented and he learned how to handle it in a week. I was very pleased. The web site was online on a free host of quality that I have been using for other projects, including this one, and the boy was the administrator. “If you keep learning at this pace, in 2 or 3 months, you’ll be able to design and run other people’s sites!” I proudly told Mario’s son.
Mario offered me to take me to the Ausangate Mountain. He only needed me to cover the housekeeper’s fees and the food. We took the bus to Tinke at 6h00 am. Mario met me at the bus station with two huge bags full of all the equipment. I was bringing the food for three days. We arrived by 9h30. Gregorio, the housekeeper, was getting the four horses ready. They both loaded the horse carrier and we left the village walking up a very steep hill. On top, we started to ride through the hills and mountains. The view on the snowy mountains, so close to us, was really spectacular with the large extended valleys, all these stone walls for kilometers dividing the occupied lands and other forming circles to enclose the lamas and sheep at night and for shaving.
On the first day, we got hit by a hail storm around noon. We were freezing to the bones, all covered with hail on top of the icy horses. We arrived passed the storm at a first stop to eat some lunch. I was freezing. We were close to 5000 meters high, lots of water soaking the soil, lagoons and humidity in the air. We rode and walked for two to three hours after lunch and set camp at a shepherd farm. Shepherds are very cautious about their grass fields and they didn’t like our four horses eating their grass. We kept them into the same enclosure where we set the tents. We all went to bed very early after a nice hot supper. We were in bed by 21h00, just to feel warm inside the excellent sleeping bag that Mario brought me. I went to bed after a good look at the amazingly starry sky.
The next morning was all cleared and sunny. “It usually starts to get cloudy around lunchtime and stormy after. Then it clears by the evening and the night,” was saying Mario. And he was perfectly right. We rode all day until about 15h00. My derriere was screaming for mercy every time we would get into a trot. My horse was the sweetest with me. I soon recognized that he preferred to walk on some terrains and I let him follow his wishes, but he also accepted my control when needed. We got to understand each other and he learned fast to respond to my voice commands. A very nice and sweet horse indeed!
The site was totally gigantic, with these high snowy mountains, and their sisters, rocky or covered with pastures. These large valleys with kilometers of stone walls and enclosures here and there were astonishing. The valley that comes down the Ausangate is covered with hundred of small grass islands floating on a vast river that fills up the valley. The scenery is breathtaking with all these shapes and lines that the water forms in between the pasture.
On the second day we stopped and had lunch before the first hail storm hit us. We were going to the Ausangate. We got refuge for half hour in a small adobe hut with grass roof and full of sheep or lama shit. Then, we rode for almost two hours and arrived at the top of a hill that faces the valley at the foot of the snowy mountain. From where we stood, we could see the storm falling on the valley. The valley got covered with a white coat of icy hail in 10 minutes. The storm was leaving but it got us in a final wave. We got covered by hail in seconds! When it stopped, we walked down the valley as it was far too slippery for the horses. We were all freezing. That second night, we spend it in a small adobe house that a shepherd offered us. It froze during the night and the floor was covered with ice at sunrise.
Mario and Gregorio were extremely protective and caring of me, making sure at every instant that I was comfortable and safe. Mario cooked excellent meals and provided me with all the clothes and equipment I needed to be warm and cozy. The trip was a challenge at time because of the extreme cold and my lack of experience riding. But I saw so many sites totally gorgeous and I felt in a very powerful place where nature is just majestic. Peru is definitely a beautiful country, and the Andes an extraordinary place.
People in this rough living area live very simply and they all very smiley. They live in rock and adobe houses with grass roofs. They bring the wood to build the roof from lower lands and the grass from the heights. They work from sunrise to sunset. All women wear the traditional clothes of this area. Men use occidental clothing but wear very unique hats, some extremely colorful. What is surprising is that they all wear a lot of clothes but go barefoot with sandals. They always laugh when I ask them how they keep their feet from freezing.
At the end of this journey, I wish that I would have enough cash at the bank to get more of these nature adventures.