The Rainbow Mountains are still not a very touristic place. Even only few years ago very few men reached them, after an almost week long trekking, approaching the mountains from the Bolivian side. From the Peruvian they were inaccessible.
I have read many various opinions on these trekking trips. A lot depends on the weather. If you catch a dry and sunny day, it might be easier, at least for sure it’ would be nicer to climb the peak. But it’s the end of March, so the weather is… unstable. Although, it’s not the rain that concerns me, but more the huge change of altitude, unavoidable in this climb.
It’s probably the first moment I am ready to quit and forget about the next point on my list. I start to feel the intensity of this journey and its enormous pace.
I’m alsonot happy with the vision of getting up at 2AM and then riding a bus for 2 hours, while it winds on Cusco street, stopping at every motel and picking up tourists who paid for the trip. Not only a waste of sleep, it’s a waste of time too. Besides, meals eaten in a group of thirty and climbing in a close formation (if only no one stays behind and the whole group needs to wait as the rest catches up), in identical high-visibility vests… that’s totally not me. I hate group activities of any kind.
But I need a driver who could take me to the place. I spent half a day going from one tourist agency to another, looking for an alternative to an organized excursion. Finally, I reach a tiny agency, where I was told that for a certain price (of course! solitude costs!) I can get a private car with a driver and a guide and I can even count on meals before, during and after the climb. Quite a big relief, not to think about the food. Especially that I would have to worry more about the climb itself.
We start at 5 AM. After a 2 hour drive our first stop is a village, where we are going to eat a breakfast, prepared by women from a local tribe. We are greeted by five gorgeously dressed Peruvians, who, with big smiles on their faces, invite us to the table.
The house is a modest one, there is only a wooden table, few chairs and a provisory kitchen. The women bustle around, talking to each other and adjust table decorations.
I am amazed how, only with a touch of a woman hand, did they create a cosyclimate in such a simple place. On a linen tablecloth there were even freshly picked flowers, green twigs and symmetrically placed fruits.
The drive to the parking, where the trekking begins, takes us only twenty minutes. From here the first path looks quite light and placid. A typical hill, I can even see a beaten trail. We load our backpacks with water, small oxygen canisters, lunch and we are off upwards. We’re in good moods but only for about ten minutes, until we realize that the trail, we’ve seen from down below, is more like smears of stirred mud. It must have been raining not long ago, as the ground is soaked and drenched and all has turned into a muddy slush. Even though the path is a gentle climb, we wade in the mud ankles deep and slide on a straight way. After twenty minutes (instead of only few, cause it should take only this much) we are already quite dirty and covered in mud. The guide – a local one, who walked this trail dozens times – is surprised and pissed, but of course grins and bears it.
Sure, he wouldn’t dare to turn back at the very beginning. Besides, the trail turns more flat and even in the mud it’s more of a stroll than a serious trekking. The vigilance falls asleep for a while. On the road we walk by a huge herd of llamas and alpacas, belonging to a local tribe. These are rather skittish animals, it’s impossible to approach them closer, because they skedaddle at lightning speed after seeing any sudden move. Therefore, we stand there for a while to admire them.
The Rainbow Mountains are generally a no man’s land. They theoretically belong to Peru, but the government has withdrawn its jurisdiction, because in this country there are simply lots of such small tribes and it would be extremely hard to assimilate them and demand from them to live their lives like the rest of the country does.
But the “invasion” of the western world influenced them and made them adjust… economically. Their main source of income are horses, on which they (literally) bring tourists practically to the peak. And now a huge disappointment, which is almost never mentioned. Do you think that all visitors are so brave and face this trekking on their own feet? No, they don’t. Most of them drop out at the very beginning and they rent a horse from the locals, so that they might be taken to the peak on its back. The sight is tragicomic.
Professionally dressed tourists dangle their feet on the back of the small, scrawny horse, that is being pulled upwards by a freshly looking native, wearing thin sandals. Poor, tormented animals. In my opinion, if you are not able to climb the mountain on your own, it’s simply not meant for you.
As we reach the main climb, the walk is no more a pleasant one. I look upwards and can’t believe how huge this mountain is, but I still think that, damn it, it’s not mountaineering. And it begins. The problem is not in the steepness but in breathing in a constant, short aspiration. The start is at about 3500 meters and you have to climb to the level of almost 5200 above the sea level. And all of this in three – four hours. There is very little oxygen in the air and that’s why you have to take a break and rest literally every 50 meters. Legs get by, the lungs don’t. I seemingly have concentrated oxygen in a container, which I use from time to time but it helps and brings relief only for the next few minutes.
I trudge step by step and I curse the moment, when I decided that I wanted to see these mountains. At least in this moment I really don’t care and only wish that it was all over. And I’m only halfway…
On the road people start to drop out and turn back with sorrowing faces. I admit, I start fantasizing how comfortable it must be to sit on the horseback and simply not choking anymore. Envy mixes with disgust as I watch others, who on the most difficult and steep climb sit back on the horseback and pass me by with pity and disdain in their eyes.
I walk past the next hill and then I see it. The final straight. A more or less flat route, finished with a steep approach, behind which, I can see the rainbow peak in the background.
In front of me there are colors conjured into rocks. These mountains owe their coloration to the variety of minerals, that bring various colors. Mainly shades of beige and red.
I go by tired people covered in mud. Quite a dull view. And then, when I think that it couldn’t be worse, it begins to hail, then snow and finally rain.
The path turns into a muddy river, people wade in the mud up to their knees, the horses flounder into the ground. And all mumble cusses in all possible languages.
I don’t care anymore and I am totally indifferent as once more the mud, mixed with horse and llama feces, pours into my shoe. I am soaked, cold and probably I have never been more dirty.
The guideremainsunshaken, like he just returned from a walk in a park. But he is dirty too and also covered in mud (let’s say it’s mud). But the driver, who drove me to the airport in Cusco two days later, admittedthat the day after the trekking trip he was not able to get out of bed and he was so exhausted that he slept through 20 hours straight.
Well, Rainbow Mountains vs. one particular Peruvian: 1:0. It was an unequal fight.