The Clueless Camper

Never had I had less of an idea of what the hell was going on.

We couldn’t be more in the middle of nowhere. After four hours of driving up windy roads, Roi and I were dropped off in a field. The only things in sight were the rolling yellow hills, a few brick huts, and the distant white of the mountains. The man we had thought would be our guide calmly unpacked our stuff from the trunk, waved farewell, and drove off.

We stood outside one of the huts. On the way, we had picked up a local guy from a market – we assumed he was hitching a ride. He had gotten out of the car with us and as it drove away he picked up a few bags filled with food and motioned us towards the hut. We threw our backpacks over our shoulders and, without the slightest inclination as to what we were doing there, followed the stranger into his yard.

We decided to get a guide and horses for the Ausangate trek through an Israeli agency after learning that it would cost about three times less than the other tour agencies in Cusco. It was nothing like Huayhuash – there was no going over the trek map, meeting the guide, or checking out the equipment beforehand. But the price was super cheap and the local woman with surprisingly excellent Hebrew assured us that everything would be perfect.

Ausangate Trek, Peru
Ausangate Trek

We were picked up at our hostel at 4:00 o’clock that morning by a driver who didn’t exactly bother to introduce himself. He didn’t speak a word of English. We didn’t know what the plan was – if he was taking us to a bus, if he was driving us the whole four hours to the start of the trek, if he was our guide or just a driver. Cursing our abysmal Spanish kills, we dozed off in the back seat.

Four hours later, we woke up at the start of the hike up to Rainbow Mountain. We had known that it would be part of the four day trek, but had no idea that it would be on the first day. This wasn’t what had us worried, however. Completely clueless, we looked at the sign at the trailhead and saw that we were at an altitude of almost 4,500 m, and only going up.

To our total bewilderment, after two and a half hours of breathless climbing we reached the top of Rainbow Mountain at over 5,000 m. No one had informed us that it would be this high. We sat slumped on the ground trying to see the bright colors of the mountain through the throng of tourists.

Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Rainbow Mountain

After returning to the car, our guide – we were positive that he was our guide now – drove us another four hours, the snowy mountains drawing closer and closer with each bend. Towards the end of this drive is when he picked up the guy from the market, and then dropped the three of us off in the field and drove away.

Our situation as we saw it was that we were standing in a local hitchhiker’s yard without a guide, surrounding by chickens, a baby pig, and some guinea pigs. The man motioned us through a wooden door, where there was a single room containing two double beds in opposite corners covered in alpaca blankets, a fold-out table, and a pile of sheep skins in the middle. Awkwardly, we shuffled in, unsure of what to do.

Ausangate Trek, Peru
Our guide’s house, where we slept the first night

The Quechuan pulled out a camping stove from one of the bags, attached it to a small gas canister, and began to busy himself with pots, pans, and vegetables. Roi and I were still awkwardly standing in the middle of the room next to the sheep skins. Uncertainly, we perched ourselves on the edge of one of the beds, pulled out Roi’s phone, and Google translated how to say, “Are you our guide?” in Spanish. With trepidation, I uttered the phrase hopefully. The man looked confused. I repeated the question. There was no change in his facial expression. With one last effort I pointed at him, then at us, then outside, then asked, “Ausangate?”

His face instantly took on an expression of comprehension and he exclaimed, “Si, si! Mañana!” That, at least, we understood. Slightly reassured, we leaned back on the bed and gazed around the room as our new guide prepared dinner.

Ausangate Trek, Peru
Our guide cooking dinner in his house on the first night

The walls were decorated with a few overly-colorful, 90’s-style posters of farm animals photoshopped into various green scenery. There was also a calendar from 2014 and a poster of domestic animals with their names in Spanish and in English written underneath them. A tiny, box TV sat in our corner of the room.

After a satisfying dinner of soup followed by chicken and rice, we were ready to pass out and put off our uncertainties about what lay ahead until the next day. We lay out our sleeping bags on top of the bed, and I was ready to change into my pajamas when the door behind me creaked open and in filed a plump, Andean woman with four children in tow.

The family instantly made for our corner of the room and all began fiddling with the ancient TV. Once again, we took up our silent seats atop the bed, still fully dressed in our trekking clothes. After a few minutes, they managed to get the contraption working, and all six of them perched on the other bed and eagerly started watching the miniature screen from across the room.

The TV showed a throng of traditionally-dressed Andean people crowded into a small room. There was only one camera angle – it felt a bit like watching security footage only with sound and in color.

“Matrimonio,” Our guide informed us. We took that to mean we were watching a wedding, a suspicion that was confirmed as we watched a young couple sign a document. The camera then switched to a scene outdoors, where a parade of people followed the newlyweds down a street, throwing candy and – possibly- confetti. There was still only one, constant camera angle.

The family stayed there for close to an hour watching this rather monotonous video. Eventually, I got so tired that I craftily changed into my pajamas inside my sleeping bag, smiled and waved goodnight to the little girls that were regarding me like an alien, and attempted to go to sleep.

Finally, the video ended with “2016” written across a black screen. The family slowly shuffled out just as the video started to replay from the beginning. Roi quickly turned it off and the older woman closed the door behind her.

After that strange evening – although we still had not the slightest hint of what was going on at any point – the remaining three days of the trek seemed positively organized. When we woke up in the morning we immediately felt apprehensive after only seeing two horses in the yard – one saddled and one unsaddled, presumably to carry our equipment. After Huayhuash, we were still feeling quite lazy and the thought of trekking for three days on foot when we had anticipated doing it with horses was not exactly welcome. We had already steeled ourselves for the difficult journey when out of nowhere another horse appeared, fully saddled, and we let out a breath of relief.

Ausangate Trek, Peru
Roi’s horse admiring the view
Ausangate Trek, Peru
My horse being a trouper

Subsequently, I decided to let the remainder of my anxiety go. I figured that part of the adventure is not knowing every step of the way, and as soon as I stopped caring so much about what would happen next, everything flowed easily.

We didn’t know many things. We had no idea that our guide was buddies with the caretaker of our first campsite, and that we would get to sleep inside a hut again instead of freezing in a tent. We didn’t know where we were going most of the time, but the scenery never disappointed. We didn’t expect it to snow, but laughed, bewildered, as the flakes fell on top of us.

Ausangate Trek, Peru
Camping on the last night of the Ausangate Trek
Ausangate Trek, Peru
Ausangate Mountain

On the last day we reached a village after only a few hours, and were altogether surprised to discover that it was the end of the trek. Finishing just as confused as we’d started, we got into a car which drove us all the way back to the dispensable clarity of civilization.

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