Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Laguna (Lake) Paron Camping Trip

I was originally planning on passing my Thanksgiving on the coast in Huanchaco, a beach town outside of Trujillo (8 hours from Caraz, Ancash and the place we went for Field Based Training during week 10 in Lima); however, due to the following reasons, I decided that a camping trip was what I needed to do (items listed by weight that they carried in me making my choice): 1) Money was getting real tight in November. I’m not sure what was the cause but for some reason, November wasn’t an easy month for my budget; 2) My site is located on the fringe of the Cordillera Blanca, and I’d be a fool to travel 8 hours away from that and find myself wishing I was closer to the mountains; 3) I’ve been there before; 4) I had Early In-Service Training planned for the November 27 to December 3rd in Lambayeque (3 hours to the north of Trujillo… a coastal city with crippling heat), so mountain time seemed needed.

The trip was great. I went with 2 other PCVs, Jeff my “site mate” (he lives 2 hours away), and Patrick (a Peru 16er who lives near Huaraz). We met Thanksgiving morning in Caraz at 9, and readied ourselves for the next 2 nights. This involved renting gear (one tent, a fuel bottle, a sleeping bag, 2 sleeping pads: 57 soles for 2 nights), buying food at the market (top ramon noodles, veggies, cheese, bread, lunch meat, a slab of beef, candy, honey, and a few other random items I can’t think of: about 25 soles each), and catching a collectivo (van-taxi) to the town of Paron (45minutes/5 soles each).

The collectivo was a fun ride with a bunch of Sierra women who were talking about us in Quechua (since there is no Quechua word for “Gringo” the topic of their conversation was easily deciphered); however, this stoped when Patrick clued them in that he knows a few words in the native tongue (putting doubt in the air about just how much do these gringos understood… in my case nothing). Also, we passed through Antash, half way to Paron, and this is my host-father’s home town, so it was nice to see the setting of so many of his stories.

At Paron, (Kilometer 15), the collectivo stops, and you have to walk the other 17 kilometers to the national park entrance the lake. There’s a guard station and a fee to use the road (5 soles) but in my opinion it was worth it. If you take a cab the rest of the way, you need to pay something around 80 soles. So the hike it was, which isn’t bad. Instead of sticking to switch-back infested road, the trail is nice bee-line that cuts along the creek bed most of the journey. We started walking at noon, took a rain forced lunch break at 1:30pm (Jeff was rocking pure cotton on this trip), and arrived at the lake around 5:00pm.

The lake is located at 12,000 feet, in a tight and deeply cut quebrada (canyon) that dead ends at the base of some very impressive mountains. Laguna Paron is severely dewatered (even though it’s the largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca) and it’s a source of great contention in the region (in the photo slide show you’ll see a picture of graffiti voicing one side of the debate, and we walked past some kids on a field trip being preached at about the evils of money driven businessmen dewatering the lake). Sense the water level is so low, it wasn’t hard for us to find flat soft ground to pitch our tents; however, the lake mud did cake everything (making the guy we rented our gear from not too happy upon our return). We after quickly setting up our first camp, we then huddled behind a large rock as a strong wind brought some clouds up from the valley, which settled in on top of us (misting everything, and soaking our gear). However, being true campers we set to work readying our Thanksgiving feast. Patrick cut up the beef slab, Jeff cut the vegies, and I manned the stove, and after about an hour (partly due to water not boiling rapidly at that elevation) we had a mouthwatering beef stew! With the more news worthy piece being that no one reported any illnesses from the market meat that sat in someone’s back pack for the half the day!! Here’s a video of Thanksgiving night:

The next morning was a good start to a great day. We woke up to the high-powered Sierra sun that seemed to be amplified at 12,000 feet. After about an hour of lazily soaking in the sun, we decided to get our first Naked Lake Jump out of the way. Side bar:

A Naked Lake Jump (NLJ) is basically skinny dipping. However, it´s more than just that to the PCVs in Ancash, it’s a tradition/challenge that was started around 2005 by some past Ancash volunteers. There are some basic rules (it has to be a named lake, it has to be glacier fed, etc.) and it has produced some big time legions, with impressive stats. “Rabbit”, a previous PCVL (the L is for “leader”, meaning he stayed on for a 3rd year), holds the record with 22 reported jumps during his service. As for current volunteers still serving the high mark is around nine reported jumps. 

After the NLJ, we packed up for the 2 hour easy hike around the lake to the other side, where we set up camp for the next night. Here we found a pre-built wind shelter, where we ate lunch and took note of just how domesticated cows have become (believe it or not, I’ve seen squirrels on the University of Montana campus that were more wild then these cows). After lunch, we off-trail hiked to Laguna Chacra (1350 feet) for another NLJ, and then cut the trail on the way back down to Artesoncocha (another lake at 12,050) for our 3rd ,and last, NLJ of the day (brining my personal total of jumps to 4). That night I tried to fish the lake, with  no luck. After being skunkes, I spent the rest of the evening  huddled in our wind shelter witht the boys cooking our less impressive top ramon noodles with left over vegies. There is no video of this meal.

The next day we woke up early, and were on our way back to the town of Paron by 9:00. Jeff and I needed to catch a night bus to Trujillo from Caraz at 7:00pm, and wanted to be sure we caught the last collectivo from Paron back to Caraz (which leaves Paron at 2:00). We made good time and made it to the pick-up point by 12:30 thirsty and sore, but happy with the vacation. 

Random Videos:

Jeff is a good sitemate, future contributor to my upcoming fishing in peru blog (once I catch a fish), and all around solid guy; however, he does have one notable weakness: sunsets. Show the guy one good sunset and he´s instantly starts spouting lines from ¨You´ve Got Mail¨. Trust me, it wasn´t easy for Patrick and I to watch this tough gambler from Nevada melt like he did:

Patrick lives in a site that is bien campo (super rural), so in his past year of service, he´s picked up some very traditional cattle herding techniques, which he displayed for us on the following video:

Photo Album Link:

Laguna Paron Pictures