Posted by: stacylynn12 | January 23, 2012

A Walk in the Andes

Huaraz, Peru, our new “home” for a while is a wonderful city. Aesthetically speaking it doesn’t stand out like many South American cities that are famous for their Spanish Colonial architecture.

In modern history there have been several tragic natural disasters affecting the area. 1941, an avalanche triggered a dam failure at the city’s water reservoir. The resulting flood and debris destroyed the northern end of town and around 5,000 people in the city and surrounding small villages lost their lives. Then in 1970, the Ancash earthquake registering a 7.8 on the Richter scale, devastated much of central Peru, killing almost 80,000 people. As many as 30,000 people were killed within the city of Huaraz. The quake left historical casona homes and narrow streets in ruins. Rather than restoring these buildings to their former glory, much of the city it seems was rebuilt quickly and in concrete block style. The result is less than inspiring but our delight in Huaraz is not diminished by the lack of physical beauty.

Indeed were it to be the most spectacular city in the world, it would still be overshadowed by the stunning, almost surreal peaks of the Cordillera Blanca – the real reason most people visit Huaraz.

The Andes stretch over 4,000 miles from Venezuela in the north to Argentina in the south. I have been captivated by them for years – ever since hearing the music of the Andean Highlands. The traditional pan flute music is hauntingly beautiful and hearing it conjured up images of the people and landscape of this majestic mountain range. That and I just like mountains.

(Click here to hear a short clip of Andean Highlands music)

So, here we are. Since we have recently met new friends who work in the “trekking/guiding biz” we were able to arrange for a 3 day trek into the hills, before beginning our volunteer work up at the Lazy Dog Inn.

Having left most of our camping gear in the States we needed to rent a good bit. We also decided to splurge and hired a cook and an arriero – or “a donkey dude”. So with 3 burros to carry our gear and 1 to carry our children, the Earlywine family set out with Manuel, the arriero and Giovani, the cook (both of whom spoke only Spanish) up the beautiful Quebrada Quillcayhuanca.

Entering the Quebrada Quillcayhuanca

Now, try to say that three times fast. It’s one of the fun and funny things about traveling. Trying to figure out how to pronounce all the names of places and things – words that wrap themselves around your tongue and won’t let go. Let me help. I think I’ve got it figured out now.

Kay – bra – da… Kill – kay – wonka. A quebrada is a valley. At least here in Peru it is. In Costa Rica it is a creek. Go figure.

The morning was sunny when we set out….mas or menos (more or less). Since we are south of the equator it is now summer but this means little as the temperatures are relatively consistent year round. What is more pertinent is whether it is the dry or the rainy season. Unfortunately for us (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), it is the rainy season. This means less views of the magnificient peaks and more rain – obviously. It also means less crowds, lower prices and more time to spend with friends who would otherwise be too busy in the dry, high tourist season.

So as I was saying, we set out up the valley while Manuel and Giovani loaded the burros. The Quillcayhuanca is a large, flat, wide open valley and the walking was easy.

Quebrada Quillcayhuanca

Giovani caught up to us with one of the burros for the kids to ride while Manuel quickly passed us leading the three additional burros carrying our gear. A drama ensued. Both kids had been led to believe that they would have their own burro to ride. Sharing one was clearly out of the question in their mind. Oh dear. After much crying, pouting, refusing to go one step further and more pouting and crying,  Bodhi decided to walk and Joshua to ride. Once mounted on the patient creature, Joshua immediately wanted off and Bodhi refused to get on. Oh dear.

After the disappointment faded and the fear of this new adventure subsided, both children returned to their rational, amicable selves. They decided sharing a ride wasn’t so bad and actually yammered away together for an hour or two while we made our way up the valley.

Bodhi and Josh ride Negro the Donkey.

The afternoon skies grew more ominous as we neared our camp for the night. Hiking in the rainy season is like playing roulette with the weather gods. Would we make it before the skies opened up? After gaining a bit of altitude we arrived at a flat, open pasture filled with large boulders and lots of… poo.  Lovely. 

Since the Quillcayhuanca is so wonderfully wide open, it is the perfect place for villagers who live in the small communities below the valley to graze their animals. One local woman told us that 180 families have grazing rights in the valley. That amounts to hundreds and hundreds of cows, horses, mules, donkeys and sheep and a lot of poop. It seems to be a good deal for the animals as they live a relatively free and easy life but it makes for a slightly less appealing camping setting. Nevertheless, we kicked aside a few large patties and pitched our tent just before the rain began.

Our camp in the Quillcayhuanca – this photo was taken in the morning so the skies were brighter. This is looking up valley toward the high peaks but most of them are still obscured by the clouds.

Camping with Cows!

After setting up camp, we hunkered down inside the cook tent, sipped hot tea and watched Giovani whip up an amazing feast before our eyes. My typical backcountry camping fare is rarely more than pasta with a jar of sauce. Giovani has raised the bar. Then again, I don’t usually have 3 donkeys to carry cooking supplies! For dinner we had a delicious freshly prepared squash soup followed by a main course of sautéed chicken, an amazing array of veggies and homemade french fries (which thrilled the kids). Giovani lost points with Josh though as he forgot the ketchup. Over the next few days he wowed us with tasty breakfasts, interesting and new (to us) Peruvian fruits and popcorn. Really, who would think about making popcorn on an MSR camp stove? It’s so simple though and so delightful.

Giovani cooking up a storm!

In the morning we set out on an excursion to Laguna Tullpacocha. (yes, I’ll help… Tool pah ko cha… it’s not so hard once you get the hang of it.) Giovani stayed in camp to keep the cows out of the cook tent and Manuel accompanied us, this time with one donkey for each kid. How dreamy. When the donkeys could go no further the 5 of us hiked the rest of the way to the lake. The skies were cloudy and it felt like it could rain any time. Laguna Tullpacocha sits at the base of the peaks of Chinchey and Puntacuerno (go ahead, try it!) and is fed by the glacier spilling over cliffs to the waters below. As we ate our lunch I stared hopefully up at the sky as if I could will the clouds to part so I might get a better view of these icy, towering peaks. They remained mostly hidden behind a veil of clouds, as if modesty was preventing them from standing tall and proud. I could sense their presence despite their shyness and it was clear that I was small in their shadow.

Randy on the shore of Laguna Tullpacocha.

In the presence of these giants, I am reminded of my mountaineering exploits and of how much I hated getting up at 1:00 AM, crawling out of a cozy sleeping bag into a cold, dark night on the side of a snowy mountain.  Climbing into a harness, tying into a rope and strapping sharp crampons onto cold feet, we’d begin the long, slow trudge up the mountain. There would be moonlight if we were lucky. I’d try to choke down a power bar for energy but it would sit in the pit of my stomach threatening to reverse direction. I’d wonder why the hell I couldn’t take up some normal sport like running or tennis, like normal people. Then the sun would begin to come up, we’d climb above the clouds, if there were any, and we’d reach the summit. The feeling of accomplishment was immense and any pain and suffering was easily forgotten in the exhilarating moments on top. Of course it didn’t always go quite like this and there are numerous variations on the theme but climbing always involved significant effort, mental and physical challenge, good friends and the making of memories… a combination that is hard to beat.

I have to stop myself as I could easily wax on nostalgically about my former climbing life. I’m still a climber I tell myself but I wonder if I’ll ever dust off those crampons and sharpen that ice ax again. I like to think so. I like to think about returning to these mountains some day in the not so distant future with two boys who are taller, stronger and more capable. I like to imagine the 4 of us trekking up and over some high pass. Perhaps Bodhi and Joshua will be leading the way.

Ok, ok, back to the present. After returning to camp and another delicious dinner we retired to our tent. We went to bed under relatively calm skies but sometime during the night it began to pour. It rained hard and did not seem to want to let up. I imagined us making the 5 – 6 mile trek back down the valley in the pouring rain. As the day dawned however the rain did stop and we awoke to a fresh dusting of snow of the peaks around us. The skies were blue and speckled with white, puffy cumulus clouds. While Giovanni and Manuel packed up the cook tent we went for a short hike up the valley to the right of us. We were rewarded with amazing views of Chinchey. All shyness had faded away with the dawn. These peaks stood tall and proud.

A fresh dusting of snow on Andavite

Chinchey stands tall at 20,413 feet

Our hike out of the Quillcayhuanca was uneventful. We did not get rained on, the boys took turns walking and riding and sometimes rode together. Our taxi driver, Teo was waiting for us at the park entrance and ferried us to the Lazy Dog Inn. Well, almost to the Inn. The road was washed out 3 KM short of our destination and we chose to walk that distance rather than make the 2 hour drive down to Huaraz and back around the other side. By this point in the day the dark storm clouds were mounting and we literally ran down the hill toward the Inn trying to stay ahead of the rain. The boys were champs and we arrived at our new abode just before the deluge began.

And so it goes in the rainy season in the Andean Cordillera Blanca. We are looking forward to more mountain adventures in the weeks to come but first… a nice hot shower and a cozy bed await.

Here are a few more photos from our Walk in the Andes…

Bodhi on the trail.

Josh, Bodhi and Manuel along with Blanca and Negra.

Mountain Mama and Papa

Lunch break!

Bodhi, Joshua and their kingdom amongst the boulders.

There were lots of beautiful low growing flowers in the valley.

Andean wildlife.

A little Peruvian chico.


Hiking out of Quillcayhuanca



  1. Fantastic photos and a great hike!

  2. amazingly beautiful photos!

  3. Great story. Wonderful photos. Love the personal asides. Bodhi and Josh are growing up quickly.

  4. Hi Stacy!

    It has been so exciting to read about all your adventures. I have a friend who recently traveled to Peru and she knows some people who are running a Waldorf type school there. I don’t know if you need any additional contact information in Peru but this might be interesting to check out.

    (see the message from my friend below)

    Roman Vizcarra and Susan Fielding are very involved with the school. Here’s the link to Kusi Kawasay, the school. It gives a good summary, including how they have adopted the Waldorf approach.

    Kari Ulatoski

    • Thanks Jen! I’ll check this out!

  5. What a great family adventure. I can’t wait until we get to Peru. My husband lived there for 2 years, but the rest of the family has never been.

    We started in Alaska, we’ve also lived in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. I’m also interested in food politics (I learned all this by reading your profile at Vagabond Family, after your post on the DR).

  6. Great write-up and great pictures! I like the first one of Josh and Bodhi on the donkey! It brought back lots of memories of hiking some of this same trail with Kelly last summer. Water everywhere, wide valleys, dusty peaks, and yes – the patties! It made me smile to read this. Thanks!

  7. miss you!! Photos look great. What is happening now?

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