Huaraz & How it Kicked Our Butts

 As we traveled through Peru, our friends and family repeatedly asked how we dealt with the altitude. We continued to reassure them that all was well; which was true until we made it to Huaraz, a city in Peru located at 3,100 meters of altitude. Home to a little more than 100,000 people, it's best known for its beautiful hikes, such as the famous Santa Cruz trek. For us, however, it turned out to be home to our first bout of altitude sickness... 

After speaking with fellow travelers, we decided that we would take the first day to acclimatize to the higher altitude. We carried Diamox but decided not to take it because: (1) we wanted to see how our bodies did on their own; (2) we heard several stories of the medication's bad side effects and (3) we wanted to keep it for our trips to even higher altitudes (Cusco and Bolivia) as we didn't have an endless supply of it.

As intended, we spent the first day relaxing, hanging out a cafe in town. No problems to note. On day two, we decided to go on a half-day trek to lake Wilcacocha, which, according to our hostel, boasted the best views of the region. After a short ride by combi (shared minivan), we arrived to the starting point. From there, the lake is reachable either by a foot path or road – both of which turned out to have their own set of difficulties. On the way up, we followed the foot path, which takes you through the village of Santa Cruz. 

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All was well until we met a little local girl. At first, she was following us but as we kept going, she took the lead and showed us the way. After what seemed like quite a while of steep climbing and avoiding bushes/mud (clearly, she was taking a shortcut), I asked her how long we still had to walk. “One and a half hours more”, she said. The hike up is only supposed to take 2 hours and I knew we had walked at least ¾ of the way. Thank goodness, Tyler had his GPS and we found out we were a short 10 minutes away. Not sure where she was talking us – maybe to another, better lake or maybe to her parents house. Safe to say, we parted ways and made our way to Wilcacocha. Unfortunately, because of cloudy and rainy weather, the view was nothing like what we were told. But we were happy. We had made it up to 3,700 meters and still felt good! Take that altitude sickness!

 Us at 3,700 meters of altitude

Us at 3,700 meters of altitude

 Lake Wilcacocha

Lake Wilcacocha

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On the way back, we decided to take what we thought would be the easy way back: the road. Little did we know, a pack of 15 raging dogs hangs out there. We tried to ignore them for as long as we could but they were so enraged that the only way we made it through without getting attacked was to throw rocks at them until we passed them. Doesn't sound that scary now but those dogs got our blood going good. Thankfully, we made it back to the hostel in one piece. At that point, we were under the impression that we were those lucky people that just didn't get affected by the altitude. Until that night...


I fell victim first. As we went to sleep, I felt incredibly nauseous and as the night went on, it just got worse and worse. I'll spare you the details but it wasn't pretty. The next morning, Tyler started feeling the same way. It was so bad that we could barely stand up without falling back into bed. Of course, this had to happen on the day we were supposed to hike to Laguna 69 – the one trek that is an absolute must-do, can't-miss in Huaraz. Not to mention, we had already pre-paid for it. Sadly, there was just no way either of us would be able to hike that day, especially when the first 3 hours are all uphill. So, we laid in bed all day, napped and watched TV shows. It wasn't until the next morning that we, sort of, felt alive again. Since it was our last day in the city, we decided to do something so as to not waste another full day and hiked up to the Wilcahuain ruins, pre-Incan ruins from the Wari culture dating back to 600 AD. Even though it took us twice as long to hike up and we felt like throwing up the whole time, it was quite worth it once we made it up there.

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So that's the story of how Tyler and I fell victim to altitude sickness. Despite feeling so ill, we quite enjoyed Huaraz and hope to return one day to do the Santa Cruz trek.


Logistics

-We stayed at La Casa de Maruja B&B in Palmira, a little outside the center of town. The couple who own the hostel, Gilf and Maruja are very helpful and knowledgeable about the area.
-From Palmira to the center of Huaraz is only a short cab ride away. If possible, get a colectivo (shared taxi). It only cost 2 soles for the both of us when we were there in September 2013.
-If you're interested in making it to lake Wilcacocha, catch a combi to Chiwipampa (3.50 soles) and let the driver know to drop you off at the start of the trail – they'll know what you're talking about.
-The Wilcahuain ruins are easily accessible from La Casa de Maruja B&B. When you step out from the hostel, go to the left and just keep hiking uphill. There will be signs directing you to the ruins once you get closer. There was an entrance fee of 5 soles per person when we were there.