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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.

Trek in the Cordillera Real

This past week we went on a trek in the Cordillera Real region of the Andes. We have now made it to Hostal Sol y Luna, just above Coroico, all showered and clean after 7 days of camping.

We began the trek by ascending to altitudes of more than 5,000 m with the help of our guide, Percy, and a group of mules which carried our big packs. In between gasping for breath, with less oxygen in the air, we were taken aback by views of snow-capped Huayna Potosí. The first few days of the trek were challenging, as we crossed multiple passes and temperatures dropped below freezing overnight.

By the fourth day, we had descended to 3,700 meters and entered tropical forests. We were all surprised by how suddenly the landscape changed as we lowered in altitude, from arid mountains to lush greenery. In the tropical areas of the mountains, we crossed many rivers in various ways–by bridge, by foot; by zip line.

Every day was an adventure. We’d wake up at 6 to gather our things, lace up our boots, and walk for 8 hours. Sometime around noon or one, we’d settle down by a stream for our much-anticipated lunch break. Exhausted, we’d much our PB&J, avocado, or salami sandwiches. Sometimes, we’d even sleep. We usually arrived at camp by 3 or 4 PM, at which point we’d sit on our packs or set up our tents. Dinner crew would start boiling water (cooking is quite an ordeal at altitude), and some time later everyone would gather round to enjoy pasta, rice and beans, or quinoa and chickpeas. After eating, we’d all squeeze into one 3-person tent, and stay up talking until the late hour of 8 PM at which point we’d all collapse of exhaustion.

Overall, the highlights of our trek were the “hanging out with the mules” (Fiona); “breathing” (Barrett); “the basket zip line river crossing” (Chris); “la transición de los Andes al verdor subtrópico” (Paola); “the night stars” (Meagan), “the smells of the jungle, the freshness” (Abi), “the baby alpacas” (Sage); “everyone in the group helping each other make it to the top when we had a big climb” (Ella); “tent hangouts at the end of a long day” (Sarah); “my umbrella was pretty solid, would recommend, #inspiredbynick”(Dave); “joy mission” (Zack); “transition of the landscapes as we descended” (Audrey); “the diversity of smells in the jungle” (Eoin); “the abundance of living things in the warmer climates” (Catarina); and “breathing as well” (Lila). At the end of the day, what stuck with us most were the connections we made with each other and Pachamama.