All the volunteers on my project get every Thursday off as it is a religious day at the Madre Teresa home. To take advantage of my first Thursday off, I decided to join one of the other project volunteers, Emma, on a day trip to Rainbow Mountain: La Montana de Siete Colores. We were picked up promptly from our hostel at 3:30 AM, after which we boarded a 4 hour bus to a little town where we would have breakfast. I scarfed down 2 pancitas (local bread, like a mix between pita and a bread roll) with butter and jam, a typical breakfast served at the hostel and excursions as well. Then, to my surprise, they came out with scrambled eggs! Though the eggs had shredded carrots in them, I was pretty excited to eat something other than bread, though disappointed I had already eaten 2 pancitas. I chugged some coffee in an attempt to compensate for the few hours of sleep I had that night. The tour guide gave his typical spiel on the day’s schedule, what we would see, and what to expect physically. He repeated numerous times that we should decide before the trek begins if we would like to rent a horse to aid in the hike, since Rainbow Mountain reaches an altitude of 5100m above sea level (over 16000 ft!) and there would be no more horses available after the entrance. I knew this going into it, but he said it so many times that it started to scare me. We had friends who had done the hike before without a horse.. so we decided to go without and just rented hiking sticks instead. Another one hour bus ride later we arrived at the base of the trail.
Within just a few minutes of walking I could already feel my heart pounding fast, as if I had been running for miles already. The altitude was crazy - I could feel the pressure on my heart and my lungs, and it made breathing much more difficult. The hike itself was very mild, but combined with the altitude it was challenging. It was a different kind of “challenging” from the normal hike, however, the one where your quads are killing you and your heart is pounding but you are able to push yourself just a bit more to keep your pace. This was a bit more frightening, as I not only heard of but saw many vomiting by the side of the path, and one guy passed out on the ground at the base camp. So, needless to say, I didn’t want to push myself :) We took breaks every 10-15 minutes to catch our breath, but after 3 hours we made it to the top.
Rainbow Mountain: it was surreal. The natural landscape had colorful striations, like a rainbow, caused by the mineral deposits of iron, copper, and sodium. I felt like I was walking around inside a watercolor painting - the rainbow mountain to my left, the snowcapped mountains to my right, and the rolling green hills behind me. It was breathtaking.
After spending about 20 minutes to rest, take pictures, pet the alpacas (of course) and to admire the natural beauty, we began our descent. I didn’t think it would be so hard (after all, we were going downhill) but our knees were killing us. To make things more difficult, the snow had recently melted and dripped down the dirt path we had walked up, turning the ground into a muddy sludge. The walking sticks came in handy. The start of our descent was the steepest coming down from the mountain, but it flattened into a gradual decline. Emma and I immediately agreed to save our kneecaps and rent horses for the way down (by the way, the guide was wrong - there were MANY horses available along the way). We haggled our way into renting two for 60 soles ($20 USD total) for the trek down, and we were on our way.
After we arrived to the base, we boarded the bus for the 1 hour drive to lunch, and then the 4 hour drive back to hour hostel in Cusco.