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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

The Urubamba Cross: Fate or Fortune?

In the past few weeks here in Urubamba, a few of us have taken the time to go out and explore the natural marvel that is the Sacred Valley and the magical places that one can visit.

The most magical of all, in my opinion, has to be the hike up to and the view from the cross that overlooks the city of Urubamba. The lines of switchbacks that seem endless as you rise up the mountain are a great way to get your exercise for the day, and the view once at the top is truly breath-taking, as you look down at the city of Urubamba deep within an extensive valley. From the cross, one can see the church of the Plaza de Armas, the Plaza Pintacha, Reiner’s house, the hostal where the instructors are currently staying, the stadium, and you can just about approximate where everyone’s homestays are, even if they aren’t visible. I vividly remember climbing to the top of that mountain with Hugh for the first time, then twice alone, and once more with Zoe and Molly.

My first time going up was on our fourth day in Urubamba, on the census day where the entire country stops (10/22/17). The day prior, Hugh had attempted to find the path in vain, and I had waited for him to meet up so that we could go together. However, I hadn’t told him ahead of time that I was down to go, so he attempted without me.

The day we went, we got up bright and early, with our bottles well filled (or so I had thought). Departing from the square at some time between 6:00am and 7:00am, (I don’t remember exactly) we followed the main road up to Chicon and strayed off when we saw a path through a field. We followed the path into the trees, where we moved in the general direction of where we thought the trail to the cross might start. As we went along, we came past a gate with a pack of about 6 dogs, barking ferociously. As we menaced to throw rocks and yelled our way past them, we finally found the beginning of the trail up to the cross. After a 2o-ish minute hike up, we enjoyed about a minute of free time before our soon-to-be friend Richard and his brother-in-law came up as well.

Richard is an American man from Pittsburg whose wife came from Lima. They had traveled around a little in the U.S. working in kitchens before moving down to Urubamba and opening up a restaurant called Uru, which is approaching its first anniversary. He offered us classes on how to cook if we were interested, and, since that was going to be my ISP topic anyway, I leaped at the opportunity. I managed to get ahold of his contact information and started coming in to sight-see and learn a bit about his experience and see if we could sneak in a meal as well. Soon Ned and I would be coming over for 2 exclusive in-the-kitchen sessions, and set up a joint birthday party for me and Ella on the 17th of November (which went as well as it possibly could have!) The food was delicious and he was just a totally awesome guy, so I can’t say how thankful I was for meeting him at the cross.

Anyway, back to the cross adventure. After meeting Richard, we moved forward to a rather steep ridge that connected that “peak” to the mountain next to it. Then for about an hour and a half we walked up to a satelite tower on the mountain, cutting through fields and “pastures” with grazing bulls. We took another, longer break, as we were starting to tire due to the steepness of the terrain and the altitude. Continuing on, I made it maybe another 45 minutes, and then dropped on the spot next to some trees about 3 and a half hours and 3000 feet up from where we had started. Hugh continued up, reaching for the peak, and returned after about 30 minutes, confident in saying that it had not been worth it.

Meanwhile, I had just finished my first liter of water and realized that I only had about 300mL of water in my other bottle. It had also started to rain and thunder in the distance was menacing a difficult descent. When Hugh returned, we came down running, and, after about an hour, when we reached the bottom, we were absolutely drained. I came home walking in the street like a zombie, exhausted and completely dehydrated.

Needless to say, that was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in the past two months. The views and Hugh’s persistence and encouragement just made it that much better.

After this, I returned twice to the cross whenever I needed alone time and had an hour to kill, or just whenever I felt like I needed exercise. I just plugged in my Sandisk, which has become a part of me over the course of this trip, and, as Hugh would say, “gripped it and ripped it” up those switchbacks. Pausing once I reached the top to take in the view, I will never forget those moments of peace and incredulity at the landscapes that laid before me.

Of all the experiences that we have had on this entire journey in the past two months, I must say that, surprisingly, the cross has been one of the most memorable and personally defining (not to mention lucky, with getting the meeting with Richard providing another mix of incredible experiences).

I guess the moral of the story is: whenever Hugh goes on a hike, follow him. 😉

Thanks for reading this super long yak, I’ve been waiting a good while to post this one, I just had to wait for the Uru dinner to make sure I didn’t jinx it (it’s incredibly difficult to organize 13 people who don’t want to do anything you propose…)

I got these photos off of Google images, but they’re pictures of the cross and the view of Urubamba from it.

Thanks for reading and ’till next time! 🙂

-Louis