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Published on August 22nd, 2016 | by Nicholas Stanziano

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Qhapaq Ñan – Week 2 / Semana 2

Read on for a blow by blow account of the second week of our Chief Explorer’s Qhapac Ñan adventure from Chavín in the highlands to Casma at the coast.

Day 7 – August 14

With the addition of new member to the team, Ivan, a loyal assistant to help with the llamas and setting and breaking down camp, we began the ascent from Chavín, 5,000 feet over a western summit called Cerro Castillo (Castle Mountain). After a day of light walking exploring Chavín the day before, it was a reminder of how challenging the Qhapaq Ñan is to trek when ascending such long distances at elevations that reach 16,000 feet. Still though, the one major benefit of hiking along the Inca roads at this height is that few hooved animals like horses and cows traverse them and thus the stone roads tend to be more preserved.

We ascended for six straight hours in stunning scenery that officially brought us into Huascarán National Park. Words can’t describe how nature at a place like this evokes such humbleness, spirituality and exhaustion all at the same time. The Qhapaq Ñan perfectly curved as it ascended through the valley, with retaining walls at parts that were 15 feet high and seemed to almost superhumanly overcome the vertical geography of the Andes.

Upon summiting, we paid tribute to the mountain deities (called “Apus” in local tongue) at an alter with a ceremony of coca leaves and Pisco, the Peruvian liquor made from grapes. I was happy to give thanks to anything that welcomed the end of my muscle pain and Pisco was a welcome swig of something besides water and tea.

Descending down the other side, we met two horsemen who were there to intercept us with fresh llamas for the next week. I think we surprised our local llameros of the extent of distance we can cover daily, which is around 20 miles. The plan from here is to change out llamas for the remaining 100 miles of our trek and increase the total number to six llamas. While we won’t miss Maleada’s orneriness and Blanquita’s tendency to sit down in the middle of the road, it will be a melancholic goodbye to a few majestic spirits that have been as critical as any of us during our explorations thus far.

Día 7 – 14 de agosto

Comenzamos el ascenso desde Chavín hacia 5.000 pies en dirección a la cumbre de Cerro Castillo, con la incorporación de un nuevo miembro al equipo llamado Ivan, quien es un leal asistente que ayudará con las llamas y a establecer y levantar el campamento.

Luego de un día de caminata ligera explorando Chavín recordamos lo difícil que puede ser caminar por el Qhapaq Ñan ascendiendo largas distancias en alturas que alcanzan los 16.000 pies. Sin embargo, se puede mencionar que el principal beneficio de estar a tal altura es que pocos animales como caballos y vacas atraviesan estos tramos de este gran camino por lo que se encuentran en mejor estado de conservación.

Caminamos cuesta arriba durante seis horas seguidas en medio del impresionante paisaje que nos ha introducido al Parque Nacional Huascarán. Las palabras no son suficientes para describir cómo la naturaleza, en un lugar como éste, evoca tal humildad, espiritualidad y el agotamiento, todo al mismo tiempo.

El Qhapaq Ñan, en una ruta de curvas hacia el valle, es perfecto mientras sube por la montaña, con paredes de 15 pies de alto en cada lado, tan altos que es casi imposible imaginar cómo pudieron ser construidas en este tipo de geografía tan accidentada en medio de los Andes.

Al llegar a la cumbre, dimos tributo a los dioses de las montañas -a los llamados Apus en la lengua local-. con una ceremonia en un altar con hojas de coca y pisco, licor peruano hecho a base de uvas. Estaba feliz de poder dar gracias por el final de mi dolor muscular, y el pisco fue un trago de bienvenida distinto al agua y te.

Descendiendo por el camino ubicado del otro lado, nos encontramos con dos jinetes que estaban allí junto a las llamas que usaríamos la próxima semana. Creo que sorprendimos a nuestros llameros locales por la distancia de aproximadamente veinte millas que podemos cubrir a diario. El plan es cambiar las llamas para las cien millas restantes de nuestra caminata y aumentar el número total a seis. A pesar de que no extrañaremos el carácter testarudo de Maleada ni la tendencia de Blanquita de sentarse en medio de la caminata, será una despedida melancólica a estos majestuosos seres que han sido tan necesarios como cualquiera de nosotros durante nuestras exploraciones.

Arrival of the Llamas to exchange out animals

Arrival of the Llamas to exchange out animals.

At the summit at Cerro Castillo after Pisco and coca leaves

At the summit at Cerro Castillo after Pisco and coca leaves.

Climbing from Chavin to Cerro Castillo on the Qhapaq Nan

Retaining walls on the Qhapaq Ñan towards Cerro Castillo.

Day 8 – August 15

We’ve made it to the community of Olleros after a long march down from our camp near Cerro Castillo pass. Olleros is the home of our cook and llameros (llama handlers), which has provided a bit more certainty of the route of recent as they enter more familiar territory. We’ll be replenishing supplies for a day and a half and living the life of luxury…well, kind of, at least relative to the colder accommodations we’ve had in tents during the past week.

In a bit of luck, Olleros has a “Tambo” which is essentially a waystation for rural Peruvian communities, where a roof, running water, kitchen and satellite internet is provided for the local community and people passing through on the Qhapaq Ñan. It’s part of a government program that was created by the last Peruvian president Ollanta Humala, which plans to build nearly 500 of these Tambos throughout the rural countryside. This idea mimics an organizational concept of the Incas in which they would build stations with shelter and food along the Qhapaq Ñan for passing military, migrations of people, and the “Chaskis”. Chaskis were the runners of the Inca empire that could deliver messages and light products by traveling more than 180 miles per day. They would communicate important information and bring important products between the coast, Andes and jungle. This allowed the empire to communicate efficiently and bring things like fresh fish from the Pacific to be served to Inca nobility in places like Cusco, hundreds of miles away in the high Andes, in a matter of days.

While there is no Chaski relay running across the Qhapaq Ñan today, the modern conveniences and shelter of this present-day Tambo is a welcome respite from the extreme geography and weather of the high Andes.

Día 8 – 15 de agosto

Luego de levantar nuestro campamento ubicado cerca de Cerro Castillo y de una larga caminata cuesta abajo, hemos arribado a la comunidad de Olleros.

Olleros es el hogar de nuestro cocinero y de los cuidadores de llamas, quienes nos pudieron proporcionar información detallada sobre la ruta a medida que nos acercábamos a la comunidad. Estaremos reabasteciendo nuestros suministros durante el próximo día y medio y aprovecharemos este tiempo de lujo…. bueno, algo parecido, comparando los alojamientos en nuestras carpas durante la semana pasada, teniendo que soportar las bajas temperaturas climáticas.

Para nuestra buena suerte, la comunidad de Olleros cuenta con un “tambo”, que es un tipo de estación de paso para las comunidades peruanas rurales, donde puedes encontrar un lugar adecuado con agua, cocina y televisión vía internet para la comunidad local y la gente que pasa a través del Qhapaq Ñan. Este tambo es parte de un programa del gobierno peruano que fue creado por el último presidente en turno, Ollanta Humala, en donde se planean construir cerca de quinientos de estos en toda la zona rural. Esta idea reproduce uno de los conceptos de organización de los Incas en los que se iban a construir estaciones con refugio y alimento a lo largo del Qhapaq Ñan para el paso militar, migraciones de personas, y de los conocidos chasquis. Los chasquis fueron los corredores del imperio Inca que podían entregar mensajes y productos de bajo peso y dimensiones al recorrer más de 180 millas por día. Ellos comunicaban además información importante y llevaban productos importantes entre la costa, los andes y la selva. Esto permitió que el imperio se comunique de manera eficiente y pueda trasladar cosas como pescado fresco del Océano Pacífico para ser servido a la nobleza Inca en lugares como Cusco, a cientos de millas de distancia, en los Andes, en pocos días.

Si bien en la actualidad no encontramos más a los chasquis recorriendo las rutas del Qhapaq Ñan, las comodidades modernas como Olleros y el abrigo que encontramos en este tambo es un descanso de la geografía extrema y los días en la altura de los andes.

Nick sending out correspondence of the expedition from camp in the early morning hours.

Nick sending out correspondence of the expedition from camp in the early morning hours.

The Qhapaq Nan between Cerro Castillo and Olleros.

The Qhapaq Ñan between Cerro Castillo and Olleros.

The Qhapaq Nan between Cerro Castillo and Olleros.

The Qhapaq Ñan between Cerro Castillo and Olleros.

Day 9 – August 16

Today we spent the whole day at the Tambo in Olleros, having a pachamanca lunch (traditional Andean meal) and preparing for days ahead. From here, we begin the great descent down the Andes into the deserts of Northern Peru and eventually the Pacific Ocean. Some on the expedition team leave us in Olleros, with Rolando and myself being the only two that will walk the entire route between Huanuco Pampa and Casma. Not only have we replenished fresh personnel, but we have new llamas and even a dog from Olleros named Maynus, which will serve as protection from other aggressive dogs in route.

Antonio our local guide during the first portion of the trek has left and we now have a new local guide named Leo. Also, Alejandro our llamero is being replaced by his son Eder who should prove a welcome addition of youth and energy to the team. The most significant change in the expedition is the departure of John Leivers. For many reasons longer than can be explained in this post, he’s decided to return to Huaraz and let the expedition run without him until the coast. John has always been a strong influence in my pursuit of exploring the Qhapaq Ñan, and it’s quite surreal now that I lead the expedition without his presence.

The news of John’s departure weighed heavy on me most of the day, despite the pachamanca and cold beers that the team supplied. It’s one of those moments, like that when I left home at 18 years old, or when I took full reigns of the operations of SA Expeditions, after the departure of my dear friend and co-founder of SA Expeditions, David. It’s a moment which is part terrifying and part exhilarating, a time when one has to assume a new reality in which failure or success of the venture depends wholly your own ability to learn and be flexible in the challenges that lie ahead.

In order to walk from Cuenca, Ecuador to Cusco, Peru, nearly 2,000 miles by foot in under 5 months, across the unforgiving terrain of the Andes, the team will need to cover more than 20 miles a day. A physical feat that all those participating need to be confident in their ability to take on.

Día 9 – 16 de agosto

Hoy estuvimos todo el día en el tambo disfrutando de un almuerzo tradicional de los andes llamado Pachamanca y nos preparamos para los días que vienen más adelante. Empezamos nuestro gran descenso desde los Andes en dirección al territorio desértico por donde llegaremos eventualmente a las costas del Océano Pacifico.
Algunos miembros de nuestro equipo nos dejaron en Olleros, quedándome solo con Rolando con quien caminaré la ruta desde Huánuco Pampa a Casma. No solo tenemos nuevas personas con nosotros si no también llamas y hasta un nuevo acompañante llamado Maynus, un perro que viene con nosotros desde Olleros quien nos servirá de protector frente a otros agresivos canes que nos crucemos en la ruta.

Antonio, nuestro guía local durante la primera porción de la expedición ha terminado su labor con nosotros y ahora nos acompaña Leo. De la misma manera, Alejandro, el cuidador de llamas ha sido reemplazado por su hijo Eder quien sumara al equipo esa dosis de juventud y energía que necesitamos. El cambio más importante en esta expedición es la partida de John Leivers. Por razones más largas a las que podemos explicar aquí, el decidió retornar a Huaraz y dejar la expedición hasta que lleguemos a la costa. John siempre ha sido una gran influencia para mí de lograr la exploración del Qhapaq Ñan, y es bastante surrealista que yo ahora tenga que dirigir la expedición sin su presencia.

La noticia de la partida de John significó un gran peso sobre mí y estuvo en mi mente la mayor parte del día a pesar de las cervezas frías y la pachamanca que compartimos con el equipo. Es uno de esos momentos en donde se mezclan sentimientos, situación similar a cuando me fui de casa a los 18 años de edad o cuando tomé la completa responsabilidad de las operaciones de SA Expeditions, tras la salida de mi querido amigo y co-fundador, David. Es un momento donde tengo sentimientos aterradores e inspiradores, un momento en el que uno tiene que asumir una nueva realidad en donde el fracaso o el éxito de la empresa depende enteramente de la propia capacidad para aprender y ser flexible en los desafíos que aparezcan por delante.

Con el fin de caminar alrededor de 3,200 kilómetros a pie en menos de cinco meses desde Cuenca, Ecuador a Cusco, Perú a través del terreno implacable de los Andes, el equipo tendrá que cubrir más de veinte millas por día, una hazaña física en donde todos los participantes deben tener la seguridad de poder asumir.

Building the Pachamanca in Olleros

Building the Pachamanca in Olleros.

Government sponsored way station in rural Peru called Tambos. Named after the Inca named for thier waystations on the Qhapaq Nan.

Government sponsored way station in rural Peru called Tambos. Named after the Inca named for their waystations on the Qhapaq Ñan.

Having a Pachamanca in Olleros. A Pachamanca is a traditional Andean meal where tubers and meats are cooked within a pile of hot rocks.

Having a Pachamanca in Olleros. A Pachamanca is a traditional Andean meal where tubers and meats are cooked within a pile of hot rocks.

Hot Mashua from the Pachamanca

Hot Mashua from the Pachamanca.

Pachamanca at the Tambo in Olleros

Building the Pachamanca in Olleros.

Pachamanca lunch in Olleros

Pachamanca lunch in Olleros.

The Tambos come with running water and satellite internet connection.

The Tambos come with running water and satellite internet connection.

Day 10 – August 17

We departed Olleros down the main, and only, road, in town to the valley floor at the Rio Negro. This road was the same Qhapaq Ñan that came from Chavín and eventually to the Pacific, which essentially makes Olleros an Inca highway town of sorts, just 500 years passed its prime. From the river, we climbed 3,000 feet going through small villages where the Qhapaq Ñan disappeared into hillsides. Continuing in the direction that it should be, we finally caught sight of it on a high pampa (high plane), after speaking with a local who confirmed the direction of the “Camino Real (Royal Road),” which is how they would have called this part of the Qhapaq Ñan locally during colonial times.

The second half of the morning and early afternoon we skipped along with the llamas and the dog Maynus on a wide and gently curving road towards Piruyoc, the next goal marker for tomorrow. We have now moved out of the Cordillera Blanca across to the Cordillero Negro which is much drier, with softer more rounded hills. There is much less water though, so we’ve set camp right at a bridge that has a foundation made of Inca Stones with wood and mud on top. It’s a path over the only decent stream within what seems to be a 5-mile radius.

The team in general was a bit slower the first half of the day, recovering from the Pachamanca the day earlier…Yet relocating the Qhapaq Ñan made us forget about all the pain. By the time Rolando’s pork and fresh veggies were hot and ready to eat for a late lunch, all recollections of the exhausting, and at a few particular moments, miserable climb up from the Rio Negro had completely vanished. We contently ate our plates with traditional Huayno music coming from Ivan’s battery powered radio.

Día 10 – 17 de agosto

Partimos desde Olleros camino abajo en dirección al valle del Rio Negro por la única ruta en el pueblo. Esta ruta continúa siendo el Qhapaq Ñan, el mismo camino que tomamos desde Chavín y que termina en el Océano Pacifico, definiendo a Olleros como una ciudad Inca de carreteras de gran calidad, por donde solo han pasado 500 años.

Desde el río y colina arriba subimos 1,000 metros, entre pequeñas comunidades, perdiendo el rastro del gran camino inca Qhapaq Ñan. Continuando en la dirección que debería ser la correcta, divisamos por fin en una pampa alta lo que, luego de conversar con una persona local, nos confirmó ser el “Camino Real”, nombre que le daban los locales al Qhapaq Ñan durante los tiempos coloniales.

La segunda mitad de la mañana y temprano por la tarde, avanzamos por una ruta curvada junto a las llamas y Maynus, nuestro leal perro, en dirección a Piruyoc, siendo esta comunidad a la que debemos arrivar mañana.

Hemos dejado la cordillera blanca para entrar a la cordillera negra, que es mucho más árida y que tiene caminos con menos curvas. La presencia de agua en esta zona es casi nula, es por esto que hemos acampado al lado derecho de un puente hecho a base de piedras incas, madera y barro, al costado de la que aparenta ser la única corriente de agua dentro de un radio de 8 kilómetros.

Durante la segunda mitad del día, el equipo iba a un ritmo pausado mientras buscábamos nuevamente rastros del gran Camino Inca y a su vez nos recuperábamos de la pachamanca del día anterior. Divisar nuevamente el Qhapaq Ñan hizo que nos olvidáramos de todo el cansancio que teníamos. El almuerzo, hecho a base de cerdo y verduras frescas que Rolando nos sirvió, hizo posible que todos los recuerdos del agotador, y algunos momentos, exigente camino en subida desde el río Negro, desaparezcan por completo.

Acompañamos nuestro almuerzo con música tradicional conocida como Huayno, la que pudimos escuchar en la radio a baterías de Iván.

A small church in the rural community of Cashacancha.

A small church in the rural community of Cashacancha.

Camp at the bridge with Inca stones as a foundation next to the only water source in the area.

Camp at the bridge with Inca stones as a foundation next to the only water source in the area.

The climb up from Rio Negro.

The climb up from Rio Negro.

The main and only road in Olleros which is part of the Qhapaq Nan

The main and only road in Olleros which is part of the Qhapaq Ñan.

The moment we found the Qhapaq Nan in route to Piruroyoc.

The moment we found the Qhapaq Ñan in route to Piruroyoc.

The Qhapaq Nan en route Piruyoc

The Qhapaq Ñan en route Piruyoc.

The team departing the Tambo in Olleros

The team departing the Tambo in Olleros.

The team happy to be on the Inca super highway

The team happy to be on the Inca super highway.

Day 11 – August 18

We began the long descent down from the path at Callan Punta above Piruyoc in the mid-morning saying goodbye to our views of the Cordillera Blanca. As we walked down and lost sight of Huascaran, Peru’s highest peak at nearly 22,000 feet, you quickly got a sense of changing weather and the local culture that was very different in the higher Andes above 11,000 feet. The drop was more than 7,000 feet in elevation after a high of 15,000 at the pass.

Half way down, in a small village called Tinko, the Qhapaq Ñan passed right next to a primary school. The head master saw our strange site of a half dozen loaded llamas and an odd collection of outsiders walking through. He immediately went into the only two classrooms of the school and told the kids to come outside to see for themselves.

It’s important to understand that llamas in many parts of Peru are no longer used as extensively as they were in pre-Columbian times. This was the very first time the children had ever seen a llama… As well as a tall gringo with my titanium walking poles and polarized sunglasses. The headmaster explained to the children that the “llama” was the “mule” of the Incas, as in lower elevation, European descended beasts of burden are the reality. All the children wanted to do was two things; First, pet the llamas; Second, pet the gringo by touching my hand. It was one of those “cultural experiences” for everyone around.

From Tinko, we continued to drop shifting between preserved strips of the Qhapaq Ñan that would collide with the modern highway at the end of its long, zigzag cuts through the steep Andes. The modern concrete, ready made for things that can roll on it at 80 miles per hour from a combustible engine seemed very futuristic. Although the Qhapaq Ñan was superior for making the most direct path down, gliding with the natural curves of the canyon.

Eventually, we made it to the community of Tambo, although this time it was just the name of the town and nothing like that the “tambo” that sheltered and gave us satellite Wi-Fi in Olleros. Tonight we’re camped next to a river where the llamas have plentiful grass. Everyone washed off the day’s long walk in the water and the weather is more temperate allowing for sandals past sundown. Tomorrow we will descend to Yautan, another 6,000 foot drop in elevation at the borders of the Peruvian desert, which will be our last push to the pacific the days following.

Dia 11 – 18 de agosto

Empezamos el largo descenso a mitad de la mañana desde Punta Callan por encima de Piruyoc, despidiéndonos de los majestuosos paisajes de la Cordillera Blanca. A medida que caminamos cuesta abajo vamos perdiendo de vista al Huascarán, el pico más alto del Perú a cerca de 6,500 metros sobre el nivel del mar. Rápidamente percibimos el cambio de clima, así como el cambio en la cultura local. La parte más elevada de la caminata fue de 4,500 metros de altura, y la más baja alcanzó la altura de sólo 2,100 metros.

A mitad del camino, en una pequeña comunidad llamada Tinko, el Qhapaq Ñan pasa muy de cerca de un colegio de primaria. El director, al notar la presencia de un grupo de extraños con un equipo de llamas caminando en dirección hacia ellos ingresó a los dos únicos salones de este centro educativo y les dijo a los niños que salgan a vernos.

Es importante entender que en muchas partes de Perú ya no se utilizan las llamas de la manera como la usaban en los tiempos pre-colombinos. Esta fue la primera vez que los niños tuvieron de cerca a estos enérgicos animales y de la misma manera, a un “gringo” alto equipado con bastones para caminar y lentes oscuros. El director explicaba a sus alumnos que la llama era la mula de los Incas. Las mulas fueron traídas por los españoles y gracias a esto son utilizadas en la actualidad en menores alturas en esta parte del territorio peruano.
En ese momento, todos los niños querían hacer sí o sí dos cosas. La primera, tocar a las llamas, y la segunda tocar al “gringo”, fue una de esas “experiencias culturales” para todos los que estábamos presentes.

Desde Tinko, continuamos la expedición entre preservados tramos del Qhapaq Ñan, el mismo que colinda con la moderna carretera de la zona, la misma que está hecha a base de concreto y por donde los autos pueden transitar sin problema a velocidades promedio de 120 kilómetros por hora. Esto nos dio una sensación real del futuro, aunque el diseño del Qhapaq Ñan fue superior por trazar un camino más directo cuesta abajo, el mismo que se deslizaba de manera natural por el cañón.

Finalmente llegamos a la comunidad El Tambo, aclarando que no tiene relación alguna con aquel “tambo” que nos albergó y nos ofreció internet en Olleros. Esta noche acampamos al lado de un río, donde las llamas tienen abundante hierba para alimentarse. Nos tomamos el día para pasear y disfrutar el agua del rio con el clima más templado que nos permitió usar sandalias. Mañana seguiremos nuestra ruta descendiendo a Yautan, un paso más de 1900 metros de elevación en las fronteras del desierto peruano, lo que nos llevará hacia el Océano Pacífico.

Leaving sight of the Cordillero Blanca with Magnus the dog.

Leaving sight of the Cordillero Blanca with Magnus the dog.

Our camp at Tambo at sundown

Our camp at Tambo at sundown.

The children marveling at the llamas in Tinko

The children marveling at the llamas in Tinko.

The primary school along the Qhapaq Nan in Tinko.

The primary school along the Qhapaq Ñan in Tinko.

The primary school in Tinko

The primary school in Tinko.

The Qhapaq Nan approaching Tinko

The Qhapaq Ñan approaching Tinko.

The Qhapaq Nan as it runs into the modern highway at its zig-zag corners down towards Tinko.

The Qhapaq Ñan as it runs into the modern highway at its zig-zag corners down towards Tinko.

The Qhapaq Nan down to Tambo.

The Qhapaq Ñan down to Tambo.

Day 12 – August 19

Our early morning hike along the river had stretches of the Qhapaq Ñan with stunning 15 feet high Inca stone retaining walls. Although by mid-morning, the Inca road disappeared below the modern highway, only later appearing on the ridge above us with limited continuity. This meant we spent a half day walking on pavement, which rasps the feet of the llamas and becomes serious quickly if the pavement is very hot. For our particular venture, asphalt was not a welcome sight.

We appeared to be quite a spectacle as we passed through each little town descending down the Andes. Locals were so surprised by our passing, they would stop everything and take photos of the llamas. Even cars on the highway stopped, braking on a dime with a passenger dashing out the door to take a selfie with them…I couldn’t believe it.

Through it all, we eventually we made it to Yautan after a day that resembled more of a parade than an exploration. We set up camp in the town’s soccer field, which will be our last night with the llamas and our trusted llameros, Edder, Ivan and Magnus the dog. Tomorrow they will take the trip by truck, back to the high Andes where they live outside of Olleros.

Tomorrow Rolando and I, as well as John who decided he would finish the last stage after a few days of respite, will depart with only our backpacks. We will head towards Tambo Colorado along the Qhapaq Ñan to the ancient city of Sechin in the Peruvian desert, eventually finishing in Casma near the coast. It will be a final nimble push covering 20 miles, eventually sleeping in a comfortable hotel and celebrating our finish by day’s end.

Día 12 – 19 de agosto

Temprano por la mañana, caminamos a lo largo del río en donde encontramos trechos del Qhapaq Ñan con impresionantes muros de contención de 4 metros de alto hecho a base de piedras. A media mañana, el camino Inca desapareció por debajo de la carretera moderna hecha a base de asfalto, sin embargo, volvió a aparecer de manera limitada en una de las cimas de los cerros. Estuvimos caminando casi medio día sobre el pavimento, el cual raspa los pies de las llamas y puede ser un serio problema ya que se caliente bastante rápido.

Era todo un espectáculo pasar a través de cada pequeño pueblo mientras descendíamos desde los Andes. Los locales estaban tan sorprendidos por nuestra presencia, que dejarían de todo solo para tomar fotos de las llamas. Incluso, muchos de los vehículos en la carretera se detuvieron y uno de los pasajeros aprovechó la oportunidad para tomarse un selfie con ellas…  ¡no lo podía creer!

A pesar de todo y luego un día que se parecía más un desfile que una exploración por fin llegamos a Yautan. Hemos armado nuestro campamento en el campo de fútbol de la ciudad. Esta será la última noche con las llamas y nuestros llameros de confianza, Edder, Iván y Magnus el perro. Mañana ellos estarán viajando en camión a sus casas ubicadas en las afueras de Olleros, retornando a las alturas de los Andes.

El día de mañana Rolando y yo, junto a John, quien decidió después de unos días de descanso terminar la última etapa de la expedición, partiremos sólo con nuestras mochilas en dirección hacia Tambo Colorado, a lo largo del Qhapaq Ñan, atravesando la antigua ciudad de Sechín en el desierto peruano, y llegando finalmente a Casma, cerca de la costa peruana. Treinta y dos kilómetros después, será tiempo de dormir en un confortable hotel y de celebrar el final de esta primera expedición al final del día.

Carved rock in route

Carved rock in route.

The Inca stone retaining walls below our camp in Tambo.

The Inca stone retaining walls below our camp in Tambo.

The junction of the Qhapaq Nan running into the modern highway.

The junction of the Qhapaq Ñan running into the modern highway.

The llamas walking through Yautan

The llamas walking through Yautan.

The mad dash by a local to take a picture in Pariacoto.

The mad dash by a local to take a picture in Pariacoto.

Day 13 – August 20

I’ve never heard more roosters at sunrise than I have in Yautan. The entire pueblo was like a symphony, stirring even the dead at 5am. This is how our day started as we said goodbye to the rest of the team and continued our descent into the Peruvian desert along the Qhapaq Ñan.

Rolando has proven to be as good a guide as he is a chef. His inquiries with some locals in the morning led us to find the Inca road from Yautan to Tambo Colorado through a grove of starfruit and avocado trees. What was a bit disconcerting though was the constant shotgun blasts within the orchards to keep the birds away. In order to continue the path, I reasoned to myself that if a few shotgun pellets did hit me, it wouldn’t be life threatening. We made sure we just made very humanly noises as we walked. The sacrifice of safety was worth it though, we found three sets of petroglyphs along the route that gave us all a good dose of adrenalin from the discovery.

Eventually, the landscape became Martian looking as we arrived to Tambo Colorado where the Qhapaq Ñan opened itself up to a spectacular 75-foot-wide road heading west towards Sechín. Actually, at this junction of the Andean and the coastal roads, there was at least three major Qhapaq Ñan roads converging. It reminded me of one of those mega overpasses in North America like where the I-10, I-5 and Hwy 101 converge in Southern California. Sechín is essentially the end of the transversal westerly Qhapaq Ñan from Huánuco Pampa, that connects with the Qhapaq Ñan on the coast which has a North-South trajectory.

Sechín is a site around 4,000 years old, a society that developed following what is believed to be the first civilization in the Americas around 5000 years ago at Caral, just a few hours away by vehicle. Sechín also has some very interesting rock-carved walls that have a very Chavínesque look. Chavín civilization, which is only a six day walk east on the Qhapaq Ñan where our expedition came from, followed Sechín by a 1000 years.

By this time though, I was more concerned with contemporary Peruvian society and had been dreaming about fresh ceviche for at least the last seven days since the frozen passes of the Andes. Therefore, there was little time to waste in dropping our gear and making our way to Tortuga Bay to gaze upon the mighty Pacific and bring this journey to a close. After 250 miles and 14 days of walking from the spine of the Andes to the coast along the grand Inca road known as the Qhapaq Ñan, we had arrived…Ecstatic, enlightened and gorging on fresh fish.

Día 13 – 20 de agosto

Nunca antes había escuchado cantar en un solo lugar a tantos gallos como en la localidad de Yautan. Parecía una sinfonía que se escuchaba de manera tan poderosa que parecía ser capaz de revolver hasta los muertos. Así fue como a las cinco de la mañana nuestro día comenzó, diciéndole adiós al resto del equipo y continuando el descenso hacia el desierto peruano a lo largo del Qhapaq Ñan.

Rolando demostró ser tan bueno de guía como lo es de cocinero. Por la mañana estuvo indagando con los locales y logró encontrar nuevamente el camino por el Qhapaq Ñan desde Yautan hasta Tambo Colorado a través de árboles de paltas y carambolas. Nos desconcertamos un poco luego de escuchar los constantes disparos dentro de los huertos cercanos que mantienen alejadas a las aves. Estuve pensando en la idea de que si algunos de los disparos de escopetas me alcanzaban no iba a ser un tema de vida o muerte. Para no correr mucho riesgo, nos aseguramos de hacer la mayor cantidad de ruidos “humanos” mientras caminábamos. El haber sacrificado nuestra seguridad en ese momento valió la pena ya que unos metros más adelante encontramos tres grupos de petroglifos que nos llenaron de una buena dosis de adrenalina.

El trayecto tomó una vista tipo Marte mientras caminábamos a Tambo Colorado. El Qhapaq Ñan se habría camino con 20 metros de ancho en dirección al oeste, hacia Sechín. En este cruce de los Andes y las carreteras costeras, había por lo menos tres importantes carreteras que convergen del Qhapaq Ñan. Los parecidos de las carreteras hicieron que venga a mi mente los pasos elevados en América del Norte como en la I-10, I-5 y la autopista 101 en el sur de California.

Sechín es esencialmente el final del transversal oeste del Qhapaq Ñan que atraviesa Huánuco Pampa, que conecta con la costa que tiene una trayectoria de Norte a Sur.

Sechín es un sitio arqueológico de alrededor de 4.000 años de antigüedad. Fue una sociedad que se desarrolló después de lo que se cree que es la primera civilización en América, alrededor de cinco mil años atrás en Caral, ubicado a solo unas pocas horas de distancia en vehículo.

Sechín también tiene algunas paredes muy interesantes excavadas en roca que tienen un aspecto característico de la cultura Chavín. Chavín se encuentra a seis días desde aquí tomando la ruta del Qhapaq Ñan, desde donde nuestra expedición comenzó, seguida por Sechín 1000 años después.

Por esta vez, sin embargo, mi mente está enfocada completamente en dirección a la sociedad peruana contemporánea, he estado soñando con ceviche fresco durante al menos los últimos siete días, desde que nuestra expedición estaba en ruta por los Andes, acompañados por el clima con temperaturas bajas.

No había tiempo que perder, dejamos nuestro equipo y nos dirigimos a la bahía Tortuga para contemplar el majestuoso Océano Pacífico y llevar este viaje a su fin.

Después de 400 kilómetros y 14 días de caminatas desde la columna vertebral de los Andes hasta la costa a lo largo del gran camino Inca conocido como el Qhapaq Ñan, finalmente habíamos llegado … Eufórico, ilustrado y con ganas de comer pescado fresco hasta la saciedad.

Petroglyphs discover in route1

Petroglyphs discover in route.

Petroglyphs discovered in route

Petroglyphs discovered in route.

Precariously making our way through the orchard in route to Tambo Colorado

Precariously making our way through the orchard in route to Tambo Colorado.

That great feeling when then Qhapaq Nan shows itself in all its granduer

That great feeling when then Qhapaq Ñan shows itself in all its grandeur.

The Qhapaq Nan cutting through the desert into the distance from Tambo Colorado towards Sechin

The Qhapaq Ñan cutting through the desert into the distance from Tambo Colorado towards Sechín.

The rock carvings at Sechin

The rock carvings at Sechín.

Two Qhapaq Nan converging in the distance

Two Qhapaq Ñan converging in the distance.

Nick Stanziano - Chief Explorer at SA Expeditions Expeditions. Also your author for this journey along the Qhapaq Nan.

Nick Stanziano – Chief Explorer at SA Expeditions Expeditions. Also your author for this journey along the Qhapaq Ñan.

Qhapaq Ñan – In Summary

In this first expedition of the project, we made great strides in understanding the limitations and management of the llama. As well as progressing on the many technical and mental aspects at high elevation in transmitting real time, legible correspondence from the field. We learned a lot about our ourselves, giving perspectives into what it will take to build a cohesive expedition team over 5 months and 2000 miles, walking between Cuenca, Ecuador to Cusco, Peru. In regards to the evolving team, I would like to pay tribute and give thanks to those behind the scenes.

A big thank you to our friends and close partners at Lima Tours in providing generous support of capital and logistical assistance. Especially, Miluska, Jose and Diego who have been critical to the project and whose influence for eventually establishing real economic value in tourism along the Qhapaq Ñan will be key.

We had numerous people and animals along the way in which my brief daily correspondence could not pay sufficient justice to their hard work and support. A big thank you to Cordillero Blanca in Huaraz for arranging the local team of llamas, llameros and local assistance. Especially Nelson who spent the good part of two weeks adjusting to our expeditions needs. His son Rodrigo who spent a few days at a critical section descending towards the town of Tambo with his expertise on the route. Thank you to the hospitality that Cynthia and Wilson provided at the national “Tambo” in Olleros with a comfortable bed and many other details so appreciated after 10 days of trekking. To John Rick for the generous time he gave in sharing the wonders of his archeological dig in Chavín. As well as Victor Lopez in the main plaza at Casma. He is a one-man guide, driver, ambassador, and scholar of 5,000 years of Casmeño history that was very appreciated.

To all those who came along for the adventure…Antonio, Leo, Alejandro, Edder, Ivan, Freddy, Mangus the dog and our 11 llamas. Especially to Rolando, our dedicated cook, who was the only one who loyally walked every mile of the expedition alongside myself. To John, for his constant mentorship, as well as defying what is physically possible at 65 years old.

A big thank you to all those in the SA Expeditions Universe, who without their daily efforts around the world, none of this would be possible. Especially Alicia for her excellent translation to Spanish of my daily correspondence…And Riva, who’s is my biggest cheerleader and who’s brilliant leadership in managing the growth of SA Expeditions is critical while I’m on the Qhapaq Ñan…And last but not least, the SA Expeditions Destination Experts…You are the very best in the world at what you do. The value you create in capital and goodwill with your clients is the fuel that allows us to pursue such lofty ambitions.

Stay tuned to our next adventure when the expedition will go from Vilcashuaman, near Ayacucho in Southern Peru to the coast near Paracas. We will have some new friends along and will be continuing to prepare for our 2,000 mile grand Qhapaq Ñan expedition next year.

Qhapaq Ñan – Resumen

En esta primera expedición – que forma parte de este gran proyecto -, hemos realizado significativos avances en la comprensión y gestión relacionados a temas como el equipo de llamas, las que estuvieron con nosotros durante todo este tiempo. Además, comprendimos los diversos aspectos técnicos sobre la transmisión en tiempo real de la información y aspectos mentales que experimentamos a esa elevada altura. Hemos aprendido mucho acerca de nosotros mismos, observando diferentes perspectivas para poder perfeccionar nuestros procedimientos y equipos para la cercana expedición que llevaremos a cabo, la misma que durará 5 meses y en donde caminaremos desde Cuenca, Ecuador a Cusco, Perú, por una distancia de 3,200 kilómetros.
En lo que respecta al equipo, me gustaría rendir homenaje y dar gracias a los que están detrás de todo esto, empezando por nuestros grandes amigos y socios de Lima Tours, quienes prestaron el generoso apoyo de capital y asistencia logística. Reconocer de manera especial a Miluska, José y Diego que han sido pieza clave en esta primera expedición y cuya influencia para determinar el valor económico real en el turismo a lo largo del Qhapaq Ñan será decisiva.

Muchas personas y animales nos acompañaron durante esta expedición y quiero decir que los pequeños relatos que realicé a diario no son suficientes para poder rendir homenaje a su gran trabajo y apoyo. Un gran agradecimiento al operador Cordillera Blanca de Huaraz, por poner a disposición el equipo de llamas, a las personas encargadas de estos animales y la asistencia local. Queremos agradecer también, a Nelson que pasó gran parte de estas dos semanas con nosotros y que se adaptó a nuestras necesidades durante la expedición. Así mismo, agradecer a su hijo Rodrigo, que pasó unos días junto a nosotros en una sección complicada de la ruta que desciende hacia el pueblo de Tambo y que con su experiencia nos ayudó a cruzar de manera favorable. Gracias a la hospitalidad que Cynthia y Wilson nos ofrecieron en el “tambo” ubicado en la comunidad de Olleros, quienes nos brindaron una cómoda cama y muchos otros detalles tan apreciados después de 10 días de caminata. Para John Rick, por la generosa información, por el tiempo que nos dio y todo lo que compartió sobre las maravillas de su excavación arqueológica en Chavín. Gracias también a Víctor López quien nos esperó en la plaza principal en Casma. Él no solo cumplió la excelente labor como guía, sino también como chofer, embajador e impartió todos sus conocimientos de 5.000 años de historia Casmeño con nosotros, detalle que fue muy apreciado.

Un agradecimiento a todos los que vinieron sólo por ser parte de esta gran aventura … Antonio, Leo, Alejandro, Edder, Ivan, Freddy, Mangus – el perro – y nuestras 11 llamas. Un agradecimiento especial a Rolando, nuestro hacendoso cocinero quien fue el único que estuvo en cada milla de la expedición junto a mí. Gracias a John, por su constante orientación y por redefinir lo que puede ser físicamente posible a los 65 años de edad.

Un gran agradecimiento a todos los que forman parte de nuestro universo de SA Expeditions, ya que sin el esfuerzo que realizan a diario desde diferentes partes del mundo, nada de esto sería posible. Gracias a Alicia por el trabajo realizado en la traducción al español de los relatos enviados a diario… Y a Riva, que es la mayor creyente y animadora de mis sueños, quien cuenta con un brillante liderazgo en la gestión del crecimiento de SA Expeditions, quien fue imprescindible mientras realizaba esta expedición a lo largo del Qhapaq Ñan. Y, por último, pero no menos importante, a nuestros expertos en destinos, nuestro equipo de ventas, quienes son los mejores en el mundo.

El valor se crea en el capital y la buena voluntad hacia los clientes quienes son el combustible que nos permite buscar realizar tales ambiciones.

Sigan atentos a nuestra próxima aventura, la expedición que empezará desde Vilcashuamán, cerca de Ayacucho en el sur de Perú hacia la costa, muy cerca de Paracas. Haremos nuevos amigos a lo largo de la ruta y seguiremos en la preparación y perfeccionamiento para nuestra próxima gran expedición de 3,200 kilómetros por el gran camino inca, Qhapaq Ñan.

The Qhapaq Ñan on the coast near Casma

The Qhapaq Ñan on the coast near Casma

Sincerely,

Nick Stanziano

Founder and Chief Explorer

SA Expeditions

—–

Sinceramente,

Nick Stanziano

Fundador y Director Explorador

SA Expeditions

 

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About the Author

Nicholas Stanziano

Co-founder and Chief Explorer at SA Expeditions. A San Francisco, California registered tour operator that specializes in cultural and nature based private expeditions to South America’s most renowned destinations.



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    SA Qhapaq Ñan

    The third and final preparation trek has come to a close, before the big trek begins in April 2017…

    Qhapaq Ñan – Day 8

    *Versión en español abajo*

    In the end, we made the 170 miles walk from Jauja to Antioquia in seven days, two day less than planned. The improved management and behavior of

    In parallel with sharing the historical, ecological and cultural marvels, we aim to place the Qhapaq Ñan alongside the great long distance walking trails on the planet . The 2000 miles path from Cuenca, Ecuador to Cusco, Peru can become a vein of economic activity through tourism. A feat that will require persistence and common vision from local and national governments alongside private industry. The Pacific Crest Trail going from Mexico to Canada along the spine of the Sierra Nevada’s and Cascade ranges was a vision began in 1932 by Clinton C. Clark, which took 60 years to be considered complete and with a network of “trail angels” overseeing its maintenance.

    Although the Qhapaq Ñan has already been a contiguous stone trail along the spine of the Andean since the 1400’s at the height of the Inca Empire and the traditional communal work structure of the Andes, which road maintenance was a part of, is a cultural practice already in place that can be organized and directed just like the “trail angels” of the Pacific Crest Trail. This is not even mentioning that the Qhapaq Ñan is one of the greatest public works of ancient man, with millennial cultures still along its route.
    It will become one of the great long distance hiking trails in the world, and our explorations and stories along the way we hope will serve for generations of walkers who come after us.

    Nick Stanziano
    Chief Explorer
    SA Expeditions

    ________________

    Qhapaq Ñan – Día 8

    Culminamos con la expedición de 320 kilómetros desde Jauja a Antioquia en solo siete días, dos días menos de lo planeado. El progreso en el manejo y control de nuestras llamas en esta caminata significó poder dedicar unas horas extras al día explorando en lugar de re-ordenar la carga o tener otros retrasos que se producen con un equipo menos entrenado. Durante siete días caminamos en promedio alrededor de 40 kilómetros por día, distancia que equivale a la caminata de cuatro días en el tradicional camino inca desde el Valle Sagrado hacia Machu Picchu – 41 kilómetros en total.
    Si buscamos un punto de comparación podemos decir que caminar estos 40 kilómetros cada día por el Pacific Crest Trail desde Sierra Nevada hasta los andes Cascade en Estados Unidos es la misma distancia que caminaremos por día en la expedición que realizaremos por el Qhapaq Ñan en nuestro gran proyecto durante cuatro meses en Abril del próximo año,

    No solo queremos compartir las maravillas históricas, ecológicas y culturales del Qhapaq Ñan, si no también queremos establecer a este gran camino inca a la par de grandes caminos de larga distancia en el mundo . El tramo de 3,200 kilómetros de Cuenca, Ecuador hacia Cusco, Perú puede convertirse en una principal actividad económica a través del turismo. Una hazaña que requerirá persistencia y trabajo de la mano de los gobiernos locales y nacionales junto con la industria privada. El Pacific Crest Trail que va de México a Canadá a lo largo de las cordilleras de Sierra Nevada y Cascade fue una visión que Clinton C. Clark tuvo en 1932, la misma que tomó 60 años para ser considerada completa y con una red de trabajo de personales responsables que se encargan del mantenimiento de la misma.

    Desde el año 1400, el Qhapaq Ñan fue un camino de piedra del Imperio Inca construido a lo largo de la cordillera, su tradicional estructura y el mantenimiento vial era realizada con trabajo en conjunto de las personas de los andes. Esta práctica cultural era organizada y dirigida por los “ángeles del rastro” del Pacific Crest Trail. El Qhapaq Ñan es una de las mayores obras públicas del hombre antiguo, con culturas milenarias que existen aún a lo largo de la ruta.

    Se convertirá en uno de los grandes senderos de larga distancia en el mundo, y esperamos que nuestras exploraciones e historias a lo largo del camino sirvan para las generaciones de caminantes que vienen después de nosotros.

    Nick Stanziano
    Jefe Explorador
    SA Expeditions See more

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    SA Qhapaq Ñan

    The journey continues…

    *Versión en español abajo*

    Qhapaq Ñan – Day 1

    The team departed this morning from Jauja with 12 llamas heading along a transversal Qhapaq Ñan towards Pachacamac, 200 miles west, near the

    In three days by foot west, we’ll arrive to the great Inca stairway in the shadows of the great Apu Pariacaca (mountain deity). The set of 1800 steps will be the entry to another three days on some of the most spectacular Qhapaq Ñan anywhere on the 25,000 mile network. Ten days from now, we should arrive to our finish point at Antioquia, where the Qhapaq Ñan starts to disappear closer to the coast. The terrain for most of our trek will float between 11,000 and 16,000 feet above sea level, perfect for the llamas with plenty of Ichu grass along the way.

    Our first day on the route covered 15 miles and with better behaved llamas and more efficient llameros (llama handlers). Our llameros, Flavio, Nicolas and Valentine are getting better at their craft. We also have two local llameros, Tito and Antonia, the latter being our first female llamero in 500 miles of Qhapaq Ñan we’ve trekked thus far and adds an interesting dose of female energy into the group. She’s probably the most able llamero of the group and it’s her animals were working with while in the region. The majority female team at SA Expeditions might find this amusing that even on the Qhapaq Ñan I find myself collaborating with strong and talented women.

    Nick Stanziano
    Chief Explorer
    SA Expeditions
    ___________________
    Qhapaq Ñan – Día 1

    Desde Jauja, esta mañana el equipo inició la expedición junto a doce llamas a lo largo de una transversal del Qhapaq Ñan en dirección hacia Pachacamac, 320 kilómetros al oeste, cerca de la costa sur peruana en el Océano Pacifico.

    Hace 600 años, en la cima del reinado del Inca, Jauja fue un importante centro de administración que apoyó la expansión del imperio hacia el norte desde su capital, a 770 kilómetros al sur, en Cusco.

    Pachacamac, fue un importante centro religioso que se remonta a dos milenios e influyó en las siguientes culturas incas. Tiene sentido que el camino que une estos dos centros antiguos haya contado con tal planificación y grandeza. Es un ejemplo que se suma a la lista de obras extraordinarias a gran escala del imperio.
    Luego de tres días de caminata en dirección al oeste, estaremos llegando a la gran escalera Inca localizada en las sombras del gran Apu Pariacaca. El conjunto de mil ochocientos escalones será la entrada durante tres días a uno de los lugares más espectaculares de todos los 40,200 kilómetros que conforman el Qhapaq Ñan. En estos diez días de expedición llegaremos finalmente a Antioquia, más cerca a la costa donde el Qhapaq Ñan comienza a desaparecer. La mayor parte de nuestra caminata se realizará en alturas que van desde los 3,350 y 4,900 m.s.n.m, lo que es perfecto para las llamas ya que encontraremos abundante hierba de Ichu a lo largo del camino.

    En el primer día de ruta se ha cubierto 25 kilómetros. Las llamas se han comportado mejor y los encargados de ellas, los “llameros”, están realizando su trabajo de manera más eficiente. Flavio, Nicolás y Valentín están mejorando en su labor. A ellos se han sumado dos llameros locales, Tito y Antonia, siendo esta última la primera mujer en acompañarnos luego de 800 kilómetros de expediciones por el Qhapaq Ñan. Ella añade una interesante dosis de energía femenina al grupo y debo mencionar que, probablemente, es la cuidadora con más capacidad dentro del grupo.

    La mayor parte del equipo de SA Expeditions, conformado por mujeres, encontrara divertido que incluso en el Qhapaq Ñan me halle trabajando de la mano con mujeres fuertes y con mucho talento.

    Nick Stanziano
    Jefe Explorador
    SA Expeditions See more

    4 months ago

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