Now that I’m back in the Estados Unidos, I have a chance to actually update on some of the trips I had the opportunity to take while living in Ollantaytambo.
The organization I worked with, Awamaki, is a nonprofit dedicated to working with the women artisans of the Andean highlands to give them the independence to make their own profit. With our model, we sell the products that they produce both in Ollanta and the States. In addition to having a store in town, we also take tours to both Huilloc and Patacancha–the locations of two of our weaving cooperatives.
As new volunteers, we got to participate in a weaving immersion, which I would ABSOLUTELY recommend to anyone visiting the area (there’s also a discount for students). During the immersion, you weave with the assistance of the compañeras, eat Pachamanca (honestly the best part of Peru), and go on a hike into the mountains if you’re daring enough. We drove up into the mountains to go to Patacancha, and after meeting the compañeras, went to our homestays for our first meal.
I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever been that cold in my life, as I was that evening. I know that I have Floridian blood, so it doesn’t really count, but my roommate was from Montreal and also felt the chill. We slept in over 7 layers, and with a hot water bottle at our feet, still barely felt warm. At 12,000 feet, the town of Ollanta down below felt like a summer coastal getaway. Our host dad, Marselino, gave us ponchos to wear so that the alpaca wool would keep us insulated (idk that it helped me, but I did feel stylish).
If the cold wasn’t enough to battle with, our hike to Ipsaycocha was. For those reading this, I am no athletic superstar (those I’d say most probably know this). I don’t think you have to be a serious mountaineer to be a hiker, but you did have to have some strong mental perseverance to complete this journey. Ipsaycocha is a lake at 14,000 feet, nestled among the mountains and estancias, where locals watch over their alpacas in the nights and early mornings. The climb took us about 2 hours (give or take with our many breaks), and required a lot of positivity and good company. Everything you expect (as least as a beginner) is proved wrong. You might be freezing, but by the end you’ll be in just a shirt because of how strenuous the hiking is. Drinking a lot of water is actually NOT good for you, or so my friend told me when describing ways to beat altitude sickness. Breaks are so important–once you can feel your heart in your head, you really need to stop.
I loved it. It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done physically, and I found myself pulling every sports-related helpful tip I knew to make it past the next mountain peak. Having good people with you is especially important, particularly for me when my fear of heights kicked in about halfway through. It is not impossible, or probably even particularly steep, but everything changes at higher altitude. What’s simple walking at home becomes something that gets your heart pumping. In no way am I surprised that Olympic athletes do their training at such high elevations.
Though I haven’t been, I felt like I was in the bogs of Ireland when we drudgingly stumbled upon the lake. The grass was bright and squishy, and when you jumped on it, you could watch the whole ground floating upon the lake move. Shallower ponds had frozen over in the cold, though you could still see fish swimming underneath the splintered ice. It was incredible and untouched by the outside world.
With a granadilla in hand, everything was perfect.