Since we decided to stay in Cusco a bit longer, I had the chance to join a tour to the Rainbow Mountain – a one day trip to the east of Cusco that takes you to an altitude of 5.200. I did not really know what to expect… Will it be as beautiful as all the posters you find in every travel agency in the city? Will I be fine with the altitude? Well, let’s start from the beginning…
I was told to get ready at 4.00 am and to wait in my room to be picked up. However, when I asked my host at 4.30 what was going on, she told me she cancel my trip since she confused me with someone else who called in sick. Well, not a great start into the day… 🙂 Since the minibus apparently did not want to come back to pick me up my host put me in a taxi and told me to ask for “Melissa” once I arrived… Well, I got off a few minutes later in a quiet square somewhere in Cusco. After circling the square twice, fearing I missed the bus, finally a lady with a phone in her hand showed up and led me to a mini-bus. Off I went to Rainbow Mountain, together with a bunch of extremely tired looking other tourists.
After a two hour bus ride we stopped for breakfast. The most noteworthy aspect about this was that it happened on about 4.000m at 7.00 am outside. This meant that it was freezing cold! Everybody was shivering, holding on to their cup of coca tea, probably wishing they were back home in their cozy bed right now.
The rest of the ride was another hour up a super windy gravel road. I could watch herds of Alpacas running around in the steepest of mountains – what a beautiful sight! Once we arrived, we got a short explanation from our guide and off we went. Six kilometers and a height gain from 4.500 to 5.200m. For those who struggled with the hike, horses would wait to bring you to the top.
We all chose our own pace since nobody really knew how the altitude would affect them. For me the whole hike was OK from a fitness perspective, even if it gave me a bad headache. Looking back now though, a lot of it feels more like a dream than reality. It feels a bit like the lack of oxygen clouded my ability to take in and remember everything…
In any case, the view got better and better with every meter of height gained. On the way I was offered coca tea, fresh orange juice and even freshly grilled trout! No lack of infrastructure here since the locals seem to have figured out long ago what all the tourists need during the hike. Speaking of tourists, well, I was not alone. We were hiking in a long ant-like stream of people. Despite all the people there was a nice atmosphere and people were chatting with each other – if they had some energy and oxygen left.
The big reward came only on the top, though. Suddenly you arrive on a saddle and an enormous view expands in front of you. On the left the most beautifully colored mountain I have ever seen – the name “Rainbow Mountain” barely does it justice. In the middle you see a typical Andean valley, green, endless and breathtaking. On the right I discover the most spectacular glacier I have ever seen. So much snow and ice – no hint of any global warming signs here.
But the best part up here on 5.200m was the atmosphere. Everybody who made it, undoubtedly experienced a confusing mix of emotions, feeling absolutely overwhelmed, tired but extremely happy and satisfied at the same time. People helped taking pictures of one another, some barely able to speak in long sentences due to the lack of oxygen. It was an unforgettable sense of community, all that counted was that we made it and we were all collectively enjoying the view!
From then it was all downhill and I was surprised how beautiful the landscape was – also on the side we came from. Apparently when I was hiking I up I was too busy focusing on my target and I never really turned around… 🙂
What a beautiful, exhausting and rewarding day! For me it was also a great example to see that we are all one human people, no matter where we come from. If you stand on top of the world, exhausted but happy, there are only friends, no nationalities or religions…