Chronicle of a Happy Birthday

Chronicle of a Happy Birthday

Hello fellow hikers, and bikers and outdoorsy people, my name is Eva and I am from Perú, specifically from a small city called Huaraz which is located at the heart of the Peruvian Andes.

Last year as it has been for all of us, I had some plans that changed dramatically due COVID-19 crisis. Maybe as you did, I was planning to engage in a long-time dream/trip, leaving my city to bikepack all the way until Ushuaia – Argentina, going through the remote areas possible and exploring the Andean Cordillera. In my head I had a picture of how all that could have been, I did a lot of research about the route, was hoping to purchase the last items needed for my camping, I was asking bikepacker friends and strangers for tips and also left some other stuff to be a surprise to know during the trip itself. I had my date set for July 2020.

And things rapidly changed, what look like an international alert soon became a national problem, what looked incredible to my eyes were that countries were closing borders and a lot of people were dying quite quickly; in my head I thought, this cannot last that long, there is new technology, great science, how is that this invisible virus became so strong with every day passing by? Nothing was really clear, in some cases there no were answers at all. The whole world stopped and we all had to do something we didn’t expected, change our plans.

In Perú quarantine was official since middle March and very strict at the beginning, just little bit before the trip I planned, to be honest didn’t expect it can last almost a year now. I had my times of hope, hopelessness, joy, sadness, peace and rage. Now that I look back, I feel very grateful to have a house and my family around, food in our plates and even if work became very scarce, that’s better than nothing. A big number of Peruvian families sustain themselves with everyday work or informal jobs and are very vulnerable in this crisis. Now that I look back, I feel like I’ve experienced so much feeling and changes of mood like years condensed in a few months! Did you guys feel the same? That made me think that somehow my previous life had been a routine of the same feelings, and there were so many thoughts I hadn’t had in a long time or didn’t have at all, and even sometimes painful, now I know, this moment is good for me before a long trip as I plan to do, because now more than ever, I want to see the world that is out there, sooner or later.

Last November me and my twin celebrated our birthday, and every year since I turned 31, I decided to celebrate going on a hike somewhere I have never been before, is like my little personal tradition. As the Cordillera Blanca is one step away, and restrictions were less severe that time, I decided that was a good time to go on a hike. I saw in the news as part of the economic recovery plan, local government hired local people to ‘build’ hiking trails for new routes, they had a new one called ‘Ruta de las 4 Lagunas’, in fact that was something I wanted to do long time ago, but the path didn’t exist. I walk with a crutch, so if they are making the trail more accessible, I was like, this is my chance!

For months of months I hadn’t done any physical exercise, my muscles felt all atrophied, maybe the comparison is not good enough but I felt like a mushroom, but in my head go hike just made total sense, after buying some food and organize my backpack I was ready to leave.

My planned route was like this, walking to Ahuac lake then do the new pass they were building towards Mullaca lake, and from there going down to Radian lake a healthy person can make it in 2 days, I was calculating sleep 2 nights and walking slowly. Although at the beginning of the hike I was very afraid (I won’t make it, is too far, if people see me alone, if a rock hit me, if I fall, and so on and so on) I kept walking and walking. The first day there is a gradient of like 1000 meters. Walking slowly help me to silent those inner voices, I was out of my mind thinking that the city behind me was looked farther and farther, and the wind was getting colder and the sounds around me were fewer, it was like at some point it was just the kingdom of the silence.

Something that I love about hiking is that there is always a moment when the mind goes completely blank and is like a switch has turned it off and you only feel yourself moving, it's something that really does a lot of good for the soul, it took me 6 hours the first day to get to my camp, totally worth it.

Once the camp was settled, I wanted to start cooking but, my alcohol stove didn’t work, what happened was that as alcohol became so useful because of COVID so, some people start to sell alcohol mixed with water, my stove didn’t work, that night I had chocolate and broken pretzels for dinner, I was so tired anyways that I fell asleep quickly. At some point during the night a heavy rain woke me up, can’t remember how long it lasted, later on silence, total and absolute silence, the full moon came out to illuminate everything and I there in my tent with the door open and wrapped in the sleeping bag watching how everything shone, the mountains, the lake, all the rocks around there. Total magic.

The next day some voices woke me up very early, like at 5 or 6 in the morning, in head made no sense, hikers? Locals? What for? I left my tent and I met some people who were walking, they were workers from the Paria community, boys, girls, men, women, were walking calmly, they were working on the new trail. I took advantage of the situation and asked them a few questions:

Ma’am and the Paso will be very hard to find?

Noooo is quite easy

And is it possible to get lost around there?

We have painted arrows, you will not miss them

It is very cold?

As you walk you won’t be cold

And they convinced me, I started walking at 8am and this time I put music to motivate myself. I walked and walked, definitely one of the most beautiful trails I have been on, the silence again, such a silence that fills everything with joy, it was so beautiful and I was very lucky because it is normally quite rainy that time of the year. At some point I met some other group of workers who helped me and encouraged me to continue walking, then I saw a lot of people working on a section of the trail, when I get there I asked them if the paso was still away, they said this is the paso, I felt so happy even did some dancing, even like a robot making a bit fun of myself and laughing a bit with the workers. They asked me some questions.

Why do you walk alone?

Some friends are busy or can go on more than one day hikes…

And are you not scared?

I know that around here people are good, so I am not afraid

Why you walk with that crutch?

I was born with a problem, I just need to use it

Are you not scared of animals?

Maybe animals will be more afraid of me…

I told them it was my birthday too, they sang happy birthday to me and they made me an express birthday cake with the snow that was left from the night before. Here in Perú and I think most Latin countries we have a bite of the birthday cake after your family and friends sing happy birthday, so I did that to with icy cake. Workers were very kind and they gave me some cookies and candies, we were chatting and they asked me how I sleep, and what I eat in such adventures, I told them about my fatal misfortune with the adulterated alcohol and my stove, a couple of young workers said, Ohh but we have alcohol here maybe it’s better than yours, and they gave me some, It was such a lifesaving thing! and I thought how amazing is that these people that without knowing me, were so kind and helpful, sometimes people with the less possessions are more generous that other that have but don’t share.

I crossed the pass and said goodbye shared some of my chocolates and then carefully went down, they also told me that the name of the paso was Paso del Zorro or Atoq Paso (the pass of the fox). The view from there, It was stunning down there I could see the lake Mullaca and the Lake Carhuac, so bright and beautiful colors, a big feeling of happiness and tranquility, such a huge sensation of freedom, that after a long time locked up was what I needed. The trail going down was very clear, they did such an amazing job moving stones and making new stone stairs with their own hands!

At some point descending I started to feel bad, like dizzy or just unwell, I didn't know exactly what it was, then I realized that I was very hungry, I was just longing to be at the base next to the lake Mullaca to cook something. Far in the distance I could see a human figure, alone with some cows or bulls, when I was very closer, I realized that it was an old man, his name is Maximiliano, and little sooner we were philosophizing talking about life, COVID, work, family, traveling at some point I told him that I was going to try to cook something.

 

Ohh so you are hungry, Do you like soup?

Yes of course! I love soup sir

Then I'm going to share with you some soup

And he didn't bring a plate, he brought a big Tupperware full of a spectacular soup.

I am a very lucky person, and I am so, so lucky to meet people like this on my way, the good ones, who without any extra agenda are only willing to help this stranger. This is a tremendous life teaching, for me to be the same every day.

I think I looked very hungry that he shared a second round of soup. I decided to camp next to the lake, Mr. Macshi told me that he had to go so, I was alone again, this time the weather was harder, hailed, strong wind and snowed, with my tent no problem I manage to keep cozy, meanwhile I was just listening the sound of nature. Later that night was again full moon, warm and stored inside my tent, I peeked out, it was again so pretty, all bright and covered with snow, it was really beautiful.

Next morning, I woke up and began to sort my things, dry the tent, put all things inside the backpack, eat breakfast, with the alcohol they gave me it was possible to boil water to make tea, I ate some mandarins that they gave me and the last birthday cookie. The path to go down is very beautiful, long but just majestic, and although the day was cloudy, I could see some of the highest mountains here as the Huascaran, Huandoys, Chopicalqui, Copa, etc. The trail down also leads to the last little lake Radián. By the time I got there a very crazy hail started, even with waterproof layers, I ended up soaked, Mr. Macshi had given me the number of a taxi friend and I was able to reach him before my cellphone died. He took me home and that was the provisional end of my birthday adventure.

Some learnings, walking alone not always means you are alone, you find people most of the time and even if you don’t, you can always carry your loved ones in your mind.

There are so many good people everywhere, there are bad people too, people of all kinds, I think what is fundamental is just to trust all and pay attention to what your guts say.

Everything that scares you is most of the time in your head just go and let things happen. Fear can also be a big impulse, it is really true when they say everything is possible, it is! even with crutches.

Nature is the best medicine, maybe you don't have to take a walk for several days, but go to a park, walk a little, take a nap under a tree, put plants in your garden or pots, do what you can, it will make you feel good, promise.

If you have garbage during your hike bring it back, if you find garbage even if it is not yours, pick it up.

Sending a big hug to for all you, even if I don’t know you, maybe we will see each other along the way.

Photos and words by Ambassador Eva Valenzuela.