Discovering the Lares Region

By: Tona Pearce-Myers

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February 1, 2019 | 50th Anniversary Stories

At the age of 52, I stumbled across a quote that started me on a journey to the Sacred Valley in Peru: “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” At last year’s New Year’s Eve party, I remembered this quote and half-jokingly told my friend Jenna that I was planning to travel to Machu Picchu. She said she had dreamed of Machu Picchu for years—and so our journey began.

After months of more research than action, we decided to take the plunge and put our deposit on “Discovering the Lares Region” with Mountain Travel Sobek. Then our doubts took over: Will it be too hard to hike at that elevation? Will we be able to keep up with the rest of the group? And, most disturbingly, are we too old? I again remembered the quote, put together a training schedule, and started climbing smaller mountains nearby in Northern California.

We began our trip in the city of Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, at an elevation of more than 11,000 feet. Arriving in Cusco a day earlier than the travel group, we decided to take it easy and walk around town. “Easy” is relative, and within minutes we were short of breath and our legs were burning. Doubts crept in again, and we rested in a local restaurant with a Pisco Sour (a creamy, frothy Peruvian drink) to fortify our determination. That night we fell into bed with thoughts of altitude sickness, struggling hikes, and fatigue from 20 hours of flying.
With the fretful night behind us, and an energizing day ahead of us, we met our amazing travel guides and the dozen other travelers, and our worries lessened and our spirits rose. “We can do this!” we said, and we never looked back.

Roaming the streets of ancient Incan cities, casually entering a schoolyard and joining a classroom, and visiting a Peruvian home to see where they raise guinea pigs were among some of the cultural highlights. Staring in wonder at glaciers high in the Andes after walking for hours, resting near turquoise-blue lakes by the village of Huacahuasi, and hiking through herds of llamas and alpacas grazing the hillsides were among the natural highlights.

After a grueling week of hiking in the Andes, entering the town of Aguas Calientes was jarring. We followed our guide, Wilfredo Huillca Gamarra, racing to the bus station for the final leg to Machu Picchu. The crowded, noisy bus seemed worlds away from our trip so far. Closing my eyes, I rested my forehead on the window trying to quiet my mind. When I opened them, the mist had cleared, and the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu greeted me. The mystical, mysterious ruins resting between mountains sang to me in a way that no other place. The wonder and awe that I felt had tears clinging to my eyes and a lump in my throat. We spent the following hours touring the ruins and learning the history of this wonderful place.

Starting at dawn the next day, we began our hike up Huayna Picchu — the jagged mountain towering 850 feet above Machu Picchu. The dramatic views stretched into infinity, with the Urubamba River and the edge of the Amazon jungle in the distance. With tears in my eyes, I turned to my friend, smiled, and said, “We made it. We climbed mountains!”

Tona Pearce-Myers, MT Sobek Guest

MT Sobek Trip: Discovering the Lares Region, 2018