Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Sacred Valley, Pisco Sour, Machiavellian Sheep Dogs, and a New Remedy for Altitude Sickness

 Sunrise in the Andes
Friday, March 19th - After a 17 hour bus ride, followed by a quick flight from Lima to Cusco and a taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo I am now approximately 2 miles higher than I was when I enjoyed my last morning surf in Lobitos on Thursday.  Foregoing more traditional methods for combating altitude sickness I've been concocting my own remedy. The "remedy" consists first and foremost in ignoring any imminent signs of altitude sickness, including, but not limited to, dizziness, general malaise, shortness of breath, nausea and lightheadedness. From there the remedy becomes slightly more vague, but seems to call for 2-3 pisco sours, followed by beer and pizza to taste, and what seems in retrospect to be a strangely large bottle of hard cider.

Saturday, March 20th - Day 2 of this remedy should find you wholly regretting the decisions of day 1, at which point slightly befuddled thinking may cause you to climb aboard a van with fellow volunteers to notch another couple thousand feet on the altimeter as you head up to the Quechua village of Patacancha. During the drive to Patacancha, it is advisable that one listens to nothing but soft rock ballads and boy bands, and that you stop at least once to dig the van out of the mud. After an afternoon spent photographing the women's weaving community in Patacancha, and shooting a short clip to put on Kickstart in hopes of sending two of the girls to a textiles workshop in Santa Fe, we pile back in the van to head back to Ollantaytambo. Halfway down the mountain we meet Kennedy, Will and Frederick chugging up the road in a an overladen taxi filled with camping gear. Enter phase 3 of the remedy. Brazenly concocted in suspicious conjunction with the aforementioned pisco sours, this part of the remedy consists in driving back into the thin air of Patacancha and from there proceeding to ascend into even thinner air on foot. Eyeing the late afternoon sun suspiciously, and regretting the fact that I was actually prepared with a backpack for this very reason, Emma and I joined the others in the taxi and headed back up the mountain. Not equipped with the raw power and formidable clearance of the 4 cylinder van that had taken us up earlier in the day, our taxi got stuck multiple times, providing us ample opportunity to warm up for the coming hike with dead-lifts and lunges against the rear of the car. Eventually we arrived back in Patacancha, and after shuffling around gear and eating a quick meal, we set out under a waning mountain sun.

 Kennedy, Emma and Will leave me in the dust

One more ridge and surely we'll find a flat spot to camp...

Resting and hydrating above Paracancha

Frederik figures out where we are

I quickly established myself at the back of the group where I hoped my huffing and puffing would go unnoticed, and from whence I could pretend to snap photos while surreptitiously stopping to gulp a couple lung fulls of air. Acclimated and undoubtedly in better hiking shape than me anyway, Emma and Kennedy set the pace, stopping frequently to let my new born lungs catch up. Shadows crept across the valley, and as we continued to climb, the road and river below shrank to white ribbons where they met lush green of the mountain steppes. Legs like jello, and lightheaded, I wondered if perhaps my "remedy" was not as brilliant as it had seemed in my mind. Perhaps I was better suited to the surfing life I'd left on the coast. A few moments later we came over a last shoulder of the mountain and were greeted by a large meadow, sheltered against a hollow ridge. Dinner, the gradual return of oxygen to my system, good company, and a night sky sparkling over the mountains quickly assuaged prior doubts of the "remedy".

Sunday, March 21st - Up at sunrise....[click "read more" for photos and day 2]

Up most of the night for that matter - four sleeping bags and five people in a tent that was made to sleep two is not particularly conducive to sleeping. Hike up along the shoulder of the ridge to photograph first light. Clouds moving quickly over steep mountainsides, and snowcapped peaks. Morning color paints the sky pink, then fades quickly as the sun creeps along the highest crags. Across the valley mist rises, alternately obscuring and revealing a Quechua farm.
Oscar's Farm
Breaking Camp
Coca Conference
The Prince with owner. "Better to be feared than loved."

Later in the day an overzealous farm dog (see above) mistakes me for a rebellious sheep (a forgivable mistake given my wool fleece and scraggly hair) and has a go at my heel. Punctured, but not deep, we wash and dress it and head on. Rabies vaccines in Cusco to follow. The rest of the day is laid back as we reach the lake, luncheon and then begin the decent back into the valley. As we near the valley floor our encounters with other humans become more frequent. By far the most memorable was Veronica, a boundless abundance of energy and laughter stuffed into a five year old's body, she found us resting in a field and proceeded to entertain us for the next half hour until the calls of her mother sent her scampering off to hide.
 Lone Quechua
Oscar overlooking his masterpiece

Self-appointed guide                                  Veronica clowning in Frederik's shoes


  1. Hi, I discovered your blog and site just few days ago through a friend, gioadventures. Your pictures are stunning and overall you do the kind of life I would like to do. I already travel a lot but I want to be photography my only job. So thank you, you are one more beautiful proof that show me that this is possible.


  2. Absolutely amazing! You really have a gift!!!

    ~ (steph) jhala beans

  3. @Andrea Thanks for your good words, and keep on down the 'way less traveled'. In the words of Dan Eldon, 'the journey is the destination'.

    @Steph Sherafe! Look out Vancouver, I feel a visit is imminent.

  4. Sometimes, when I look at your site, I wish I were 21 again, Forest! Thank you for the continuing inspiration....and have a blast!

  5. @Mindy thanks! but wait, I thought you were 21? Did you have a birthday?

  6. I want to go! beautiful photographs. I could feel the crisp air and the feelings a wide open space provides....mmmmmm