QuickPeek: Bus Ride. Hiking.

I could have stayed much more days in the little town of Mcusani, but we had to get to Cusco by the 14th and so decided to head out and visit some places along the way too. The thing is that we were on a parallel route to the one heading to Cusco and I have been trying to find a way to cut thro the mountains. There was one positive lead but that did involve a lot of uncertainty and the two other options were safe but really long detours. We thought about the option of going to Mazuco in the Amazonias and then climb back up to cusco, but that would involve 2 long stomach churning rides back to back and we eventually had to settle for heading back to Juliaca and then find a ride towards Cusco.

In the morning, I made a very rare purchase, an handmade vest of alpaca wool! I got it from a young girl who was a seamstress and had been learning to knit from her grandmother. Well, here’s my first purchase of the trip, in many years 🙂 Anyhow, we packed up and headed out to the bus station which was a bit of a workout in the altitude. Luckily there was a bus heading to Juliaca and we hopped on. We reached town around 1 pm and decided to head to the vegetarian place for lunch. It was a good meal and then we took an auto rickshaw (All TVS or Bajaj Autos here) to the bus station. We found one heading towards Cusco and we took it. However they waited more than an hour to fill up before heading out. Our destination was a small village called Checacupe. The reason we wanted to get there was because it was the turnoff to Cerro Vinicuca which has been popularised in the past year or so as the Rainbow Mountains.

By the time we got to Checacupe, it was dark and we walked into the village hoping to find a hostel. The good news was that we found a hostel, but the bad news was that the only two houses who were letting out rooms were pretty rundown. Ah well, it was cheap and we didn’t have much options anyway. I walked about to find something to eat and munched on some greasy french fries and knocked off. We planned an early start in the morning to get to Vinicunca. I had read that there were numerous tour groups heading that way and given the tours were pretty pricy (about 50+ usd), we thought of bypassing the system and catch collectivos that are used for local transport.

I was up at 5ish and waited for the light to come up. We packed a small pack with some water and headed out. As we got to the junction, there was a bus heading our way and even stopped for us. Sweet! Turned out it was a tour group coming out of Cusco, but they had empty seats and were happy to have us. Even better, since they were heading all the way, they were willing to take us for just transport fee! I negotiated with the driver and guide and they would take us for 10 Soles each! That involved transport up and down and about 4 hours of waiting!!

It was a pretty sketchy road up to Vinicunca and we were glad to have a good transport option. Once we got to the base camp, the scale of the tourism hit home. There were literally thousands of tourists, few locals and a huge hoard of Foreigners. They were like ants marching up the hill! Shucks, so much for a quiet hike. Well given I was participating in it too, I suppose it’s just the way it is.

I heard from one of the guides that the tourism just started 1.5 years back and one could see how much it had already stretched the infrastructure. The local villages had a small entrance fee and for the money they seemed to be working hard. They hired out horses for troubles hikers and were pretty much on the run up and down. Old women were constantly cleaning horse poop from the trail and they even set up numerous pit toilets all along the way. Incredible work. Still the sheer number of tourists going up and down was staggering and I suppose it’s going to damage the delicate nature irreparably.

It was a stunning place, but with people queuing up one behind another, it was far from peaceful. I was missing the lovely hike we had done at Allin Capac with just the brilliant nature for company. Here, it was like being in a music festival, every minute or so, one had to pause for someone to move in front. It was a climb from 4500m to 5100m and it was a bit of a huff and puff to get up there. Many people were struggling to get enough air I suppose and were causing bottlenecks. Though it was stunning nature, it was not a nature walk by any stretch.

Once at the view point where one could see the patterns on the mountains, there were about 100 or so people trying to take selfies. It was ridiculous and I was amused rather than annoyed. It was hard to get a shot without people in it. Ah well. On the other side of the hill was the stunning Mountain Ausungate with its ice fields. The vista was incredible. We walked a bit further to a place called Valle Roja aptly named because of the red rocks. It was an additional fee and there were trails one could take to head further down to another village. We decided to just hike about a little and it was really quiet on this side as people were happy to stick to the main attraction.

It was pretty chilly with the winds and we decided to head back to the bus as we had a 2 pm curfew. We headed back to the bus and realised no one was back yet. People started to trickle in one by one and eventually we left at 3:15, Shucks. It was an hour drive to the village of Pitumarca where the stopped for a late lunch. We were super hungry and the restaurant was happy to serve us a meal (for a price) though we were not part of the tour. A 10 min ride form there and we got dropped in the village we were at and we headed back to our rooms.

Looking back, I think we got really lucky with the friendly guide and driver as the alternate transport options to the place looked really slim. The main way to get to Vinicunca is thro a tour group and we were lucky to be able to join one without actually paying top dollar. I suppose one could find collectivos to get there, but that would involve some additional hiking and probably unsure timings, especially on the return leg. Well I was just a bit sad to see the incredible number of people and I have a good feeling the place would be over run in the next few years. But it was awesome to see that the local villages are benefiting from the new found tourism and they are super attentive about maintaining the place well and I can only hope they scale well. All in all, a day well spent!

Track Notes

Expenses: SG$ 41.38
Comments: Vinicunca is an incredibly beautiful place, but the sheer number of tourists almost put me off.