Day 10: Tastayoc
Today’s exploration was called Tastayoc, named for the remote mountain town where the hike begins. After breakfast, we met our guide, Bider, who explained the route, and we found that once again we had a private tour! Woo! Probably a bit of luck, but we are also choosing the harder hikes that probably aren’t on anybody else’s radar.
Speaking of which, Tastayoc is located way up (Puna region) at 3,976 meters beyond Ollantaytambo (which is the larger city where we previously caught the train for Machu Picchu and started our Pumatambo exploration). Therefore, today’s drive clocked in a bit longer at about two hours, and I may have slept through most of it.
Along the way, Bider talked about how he used to be a pro-mountain biker. He had sponsors and competed in professional races. When he started to work at Explora, he had to choose to either work or continue competing as Explora prefers to have their guides in tact. Feeling satisfied with 10-plus years of mountain biking, he decided to stay with Explora.
Bider also mentioned that today marks the end of a two week vacation for students. We saw many attempting to catch busses (there are no “official” school busses) with their parents standing with them. Turns out, busses tend to pass kids standing alone, but if the parents are there, they have to stop, or the parents can report them.
We arrived in Tastayoc in the rain and got ready to start. The first few miles of the 8 mile hike was uphill. We crossed through farms and fields as well as streams. The land we were walking through is owned by the locals, so the trails are not really hiking trails, but lama and alpaca trails. Also because it is private land, Explora has an agreement with the owners to allow us to hike on their land, so we did not see any other non-villagers during the hike.
As we got higher, the precipitation turns solidly into snow. The ground was starting to get covered, as with the elevation change, it was also getting colder pretty quickly. Eventually, we made it to the top! This is the highest point we reached today, and the highest point we reached on the entire trip, at 4,687 meters (15,377 feet). We had some celebratory (and body warming) tea and Bider even made a snowman.
We continued our route and started to descend. The clouds were also shifting, making for some sunny spots and stark contrasts between the snowy shale mountains and the ones covered in grass.
Eventually, we descended far enough that we were out of the snow. We passed a few farms with lamas and their accompanying guard dogs. We have seen a lot of stray dogs around the cities and villages. They help keep large predators away from the crops and animals. The dogs in the city and bigger towns were all very calm and friendly, but these dogs were clearly trying to get these giant two-legged predators off their land.
We survived the barking dogs and continued our way down. Since we were at lower elevations again, there were some new plants we hadn’t seen yet. Bider pulled a bud off a plant and asked us to smell it to see if we recognized it. It’s smelled similar to the muÃ±a leaf, which is mint and very common, but looked different. Bider explained that this is CcuÃ±uca, a similar plant to muÃ±a, but it stronger and even better at curing ailments. He also pointed out two varieties of the plants that the Incans used to make tools since the wood is very durable.
We finally made it back to the van and had some snacks and lunch. It started raining again as we were finishing up, so we hopped back in the van to go to Explora. Along the way, we saw some kids walking home from school.
Twice a month, Explora organizes a traditional Peruvian barbecue in the open area at the spa house. We had walked through multiple times thinking, “they should use this space for something.” Well, apparently they do. There were local vegetables like beans, potatoes and corn, as well as pork, lamb, guinea pig, and chicken — some of the animals we had been seeing on the local farms. As we ate, there was a band playing and a show of traditional dances. We sat with Keith and Ben, who we met on day 1 and are the only other people we have been on an exploration with (except the people on the Machu Picchu trip, but they went home already). It was a great way to spend the last night.
Tomorrow, we plan on going on a very easy half-day exploration in the morning before heading to SkyLodge for the night.