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Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - awe, sheer awe

Some experiences don’t have words. They are not supposed to. The Cordillera Blanca is Spanish for ‘white range’, part of the Andes, extending for 200 km northwest of this amazing country. The Santa River separates the Cordillera Blanca from the Cordillera Negro, ‘black range’ with dark, haunting peaks and little winter snowfall, due to the warmth from the Pacific Ocean which it intercepts.

We trek a tiny part of the Cordillera Blanca, in the Santa River valley, encompassed by the Huascaran National Park. About a third of the permanent ice cover has disappeared between the 1970’s and 2006. For us Africans, it looks like there is still a whole heap.

Artesonraju (reservoir of ice from the Spanish ‘artesa’ for reservoir, and the Quechua ‘raju’ - meaning ice) has us spellbound. The story is it’s the Paramount Pictures logo, surrounded by 22 stars. How come it came to be that?

Our highest day takes us to a mere 4750m at Punto Union. On the spectacular Santa Cruz trail, part of which is ancient Inca road, we are welcomed into the heart of the Cordillera Blanca, the highest tropical mountain range in the world. This is not a very popular trail, and that’s why we chose it. We saw hardly anyone. The Huascaran National Park has been a World Heritage Site since 1985. Quechua-speaking people live in and around the park, practicing their timeless community-based agrarian life. One can only reach Punto Union by foot or donkey. And with lungs that feel they may burst at any moment. Even seasoned trekkers were downed with altitude sickness. And we did it!

50km is really so short. Each step, walking alone and yet connected, silence, quiet chatting, laughter, icy river swim, exquisite and purest nature I hope stays etched in the fabric of my being for the rest of my life. The air is thin, and so seems the veil that separated us from the mighty condor welcoming us over the scary pass. One of those times when love is really all there is.

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