We caught a taxi back to the Albergue Churup.  We were back a few days earlier than expected.  Fortunately they had a room available.  We changed our reservations, claimed our luggage from storage, took showers, and unpacked.  Then we walked down to the Café Andino for breakfast.  Café Andino was one of our favorite spots in Huaraz.  The food was great, and the coffee was probably the best we had in Peru.  Even the music was enjoyable. 


Later that morning we stopped by an internet café, where I called American Airlines for a nominal fee.  I changed our flight home from Sunday to Wednesday, and surprisingly they didn’t charge us a fee.  I’m not sure why they didn’t, as American Airlines never passes up the opportunity to slap a fee on their customers.  It may be because we were flying first class, or because we had flown using our frequent flier miles.


With that settled, we stopped by the bus station and changed our bus tickets to a Tuesday morning departure.  From there we headed over to a pharmacy to get some real medicine.  There I bought what I thought was Amoxicillin.  At least that’s what I asked for, and the pharmacist seemed to understand what I was talking about.  On the other hand, the pills looked nothing like Amoxicillin back home.  They were pink and huge!  I tried reading the box and picked up on the Spanish word for infection.  Beyond that, I really wasn’t sure what I was taking.  I decided to roll the dice and see what happened. 


I purchased the mystery medicine.  At this pharmacy you have to take the medicine and a ticket filled out by the pharmacist to the cashier.  I glanced at the ticket and noticed that the price was 89 soles.  That’s about $30.  That seemed reasonable – after all, back home the co-pay alone for the required visit to the doctor to get the prescription would’ve been almost that much.  However, when the cashier rang it up, I discovered that the cost was only 8.9 soles ($3).  What a deal!


We went to an English Pub for lunch and to watch the World Cup Finals.  We joined a large group from our hotel there, including Imi.  We’d met Imi a week earlier on our hike to Laguna 69.  Since then we’d run into her a couple of times at the hotel.  Imi is an archaeologist from Wales.  She was in Peru doing research, with the focus of her trip being the ruins of Chavin de Huantar, which we’d visited earlier. 


We talked with Imi for awhile and found out that she was interested in hiking on Monday.  I was eager to do one more hike before heading home, despite my lingering illness.  However, Christy wasn’t up for it.  I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of hiking solo, but Imi was interested in joining me.  We ultimately decided to hike to Laguna Churup.  The trail to Laguna Churup starts in Pitec, which isn’t far outside of Huaraz.  Although we probably could’ve managed the hike by ourselves, we decided to get a guide through the hotel.


That evening Christy and I cooked one of our backpacking meals in the hotel kitchen.  We watched the sunset from the top floor of the hotel and played a bit of scrabble before heading to bed.


I got up at 7am on Monday while Christy slept in.  I had breakfast at the hotel before meeting Imi in the lobby.  We paid 100 soles each for our guide and transportation.  Our guide, Enrique, was an interesting character.  He seemed to find Imi fascinating.


The taxi ride to Pitec was fairly smooth.  We passed through rural villages and farms and spotted more colorfully dressed locals.  Pitec itself didn’t amount to much except for a couple of scattered farms.  We each paid a 5 sol entry fee there and started our hike up to the lake.


We hiked up a rocky moraine, enjoying views of dwindling glaciers far above.  Behind us loomed the barren slopes of the Cordillera Negra.  From a distance, the moraine we hiked looked desolate.  However, as we walked we noticed a profusion of wildflowers in bloom.  The flowers turned out to be one of the best parts of the hike.


I still had a terrible hacking cough, so we took it slow.  I found that I could limit my coughing as long as I didn’t get out of breath. 


We reached the base of the final steep, rocky climb to the lake basin.  At this point, two girls from Slovakia caught up to us.  They took advantage of the fortuitous timing to poach our guide for the final, dicey climb.  This part of the ascent involved some mild rock climbing (Class 3).  Two sections of the climb feature fixed cables, which assist with the ascent.  I think it’s possible to get to the lake by way of a longer but less dramatic route.  However, I’m glad we went this way, as it was a fun little climb.


We reached the lakeshore a few minutes later.  Laguna Churup is lovely, situated in a rocky basin below rugged peaks.  There isn’t a lot left of the surrounding glaciers though, and the cloudy day didn’t lend itself well to photography.  Although the scenery was nice, it really didn’t compare to the Cordillera Huayhuash or Laguna 69.  To be fair though, few places do.


We had lunch there and relaxed.  Then we scrambled around on the rocks perched above the lake.  Finally we headed back down, taking a different, but equally exciting route.  We descended alongside the lake’s outlet stream, which tumbles down from the lake over a series of cascades and waterfalls.  We hiked right next to the stream, working our way down on our hands and butts.  Apparently I picked the right day to wear pants with holes in them.


The ride back to Huaraz was smooth.  I met Christy back at the hotel, fresh off a long, tiring day of shopping.  The good news is that she had purchased Christmas gifts for just about everyone.  Finishing our Christmas shopping in early July was a new record for us, and one that will likely never be broken.  We spent the rest of the evening packing, before meeting Imi for dinner at the Bistro De los Andes.


We were up at 7 on Tuesday.  We walked down to the California Café for breakfast.  Then we did a little more shopping before walking down to the Cruz del Sur bus depot.  We had a pleasant bus ride back to Lima, with lots of parting views of the Cordillera Blanca.


Back in Lima we got a taxi back to the Hitchhikers Hostel in Miraflores.  We arranged for a 3:30am taxi to the airport there and then had Chinese for dinner at the same restaurant we’d eaten at on our previous visit to Lima.


The rest of our travels were smooth, and it was a relief to get home.  My illness had largely cleared up by the time we returned.  Christy’s infection was still raging though, and she visited the doctor shortly after we returned.  As it turned out, they didn’t do anything or prescribe any additional medication.  As luck would have it, the infection gradually subsided shortly thereafter.


In hindsight, it’s easy for us to look back on this trip as a failure.  Going in, our two main goals were to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and to backpack around the Cordillera Huayhuash.  Both of these events were derailed due to illness.  Although we made it to Machu Picchu, we weren’t able to trek the Inca Trail.  And even though we backpacked in the Cordillera Huayhuash, we were only able to complete about ¼ of our original route.  We missed out on some of the Huayhuash’s finest features, including Punta Cuyoc, the iceberg-laden Laguna Sarapococha, and Laguna Jahuacocha. 


Despite those disappointments, we still saw some amazing things.  Experiencing the culture of Peru, particularly off the beaten path, is something we’ll never forget.  So, I find myself thinking back on some of our incredible experiences there, rather than focusing on what could’ve been.  I think Christy feels the same way, although she’s already talking about going back and finishing what we started.  I may be willing to consider another trip to Peru in a few years, but I think I would prefer a different approach.  I doubt I would sign up for another trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but one of the alternative treks in the area might be an option.  The Cordillera Huayhuash was beautiful, but busier than I expected.  For a high mountain adventure, I might look at other options.  Either that, or we’ll adopt the motto of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, and hire our own guides and pack animals for the trek.  Oh, and if we do return to Peru, we’re bringing all of our own food!

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