Dung Days

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Santa Cruz Trek near Huaraz, Peru
By George Kalli

Does this mean I have to carry my own Pringles?
Does this mean I have to carry my own Pringles?
I just returned from a 4 day hike on the Santa Cruz trek. Overall, it was a great hike but it had its low points, namely because of my health, the weather, and my comparisons to hiking back home in Alaska. First off I’d like to highlight the differences between hiking here and in Alaska. In Alaska one needs to worry about bears and hopes to see moose, caribou, and wolves. Here in Peru one needs to worry about cows, beggars, and dung and hopes that the pack horse or donkey doesn’t die and force him or her to carry his or her own gear. No exaggerations, but the Santa Cruz trek was essentially a mine field of cow, horse, and donkey dung. We were hard pressed to find a tent sized area anywhere on the trek that didn’t have a cow pie or some other form of feces on it.

The entire trekking area is also utilized as grazing lands by the locals. No matter how high or remote we got, if there was vegetation there was some form of livestock grazing upon it. On top of the grazing, there were mucho hiking expeditions that involved pack animals, cooks, and guides. There were not many self supported hiking groups such as my girlfriend Ashley and me. These hiking parties left their own trail of dung and feces. Hence it was not hard to follow the trail, just follow the trail of dung. I don’t need a guide to do that, do I?

On the first day of the hike we passed through several small Quechua farming villages. The children of these villages would run up to us and plead for “caramellos.” It wasn’t until we were in a store today that we learned that caramellos are a brand of hard candy. Apparently other hiking parties make it a custom to bring along these treats to pass out to the children of the villages. We were not aware of this custom. Luckily the children were relatively nice and did not stone, egg, or dung us. It’s hard to dodge projectiles with 20 kilograms strapped to your back.

Pitch a tent, I dare you
Pitch a tent, I dare you
Another area of concern I had about the Santa Cruz trek included the trash that seemed to increase in density as one got closer to the camping sites and toilet areas used by the guided hiking parties. It was disappointing because we realized that most of the trash originated from the guided hiking parties. The very people that had the better means to pack their waste out were the ones guiltiest of littering. There was some gross stuff including what I have nicknamed Jersey Shore finger puppets. These are the small, colorful, cylindrical items that would wash up on the shores of New Jersey when I was a child. They mainly appeared in two colors, blue and pink, and at the time, they fit perfectly over my young fingertips. I remember I used to enjoy having one hand of blue finger extensions and one hand of pink finger extensions, the extensions consisting of what I assumed were colorful shells of some sort of sea creature that lived off the coast of New Jersey. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that these weren’t shells at all but were indeed tampon applicators. (I must report that offshore garbage dumping has reduced and moved further offshore since I was a child and I no longer see these on the beach when I go back to visit my parents in New Jersey.)

Now apart from the usual minor but persistent symptoms of altitude sickness I have become accustomed to, I also managed to contract a case of diarrhea on the last day. It wasn’t much of a surprise with all that dung around. Who knows when my camelback mouthpiece or my finger would have grazed something that would end up giving me diarrhea? We hiked a total of 25 kilometers that last day so I could get out of there and make it back to a modern bathroom in Huaraz.

Early morning in the Andes
Early morning in the Andes
All in all though, despite my negativity, it was quite an amazing hike. We traveled through a very impressive landscape that I think our photos will attest too. We did manage to see some non-domesticated wildlife including an Andean Condor, which is the world’s largest terrestrial bird. It was quite impressive looking as it swooped and circled above us as we were setting camp up shortly after crossing the major pass that the trek involved. The weather was also quite ‘impressive’. We had a bit of everything – sun, rain, hail, lightning, and snow. Nowhere else have I taken advantage of the intense heat of the sun by comfortably rinsing off in a frigid glacial stream only to be seeking refuge in an abandoned cattle corral (with more feces of course) from a lightning and snow storm not much over two hours later. The night before as we set up camp and watched the Andean Condor we realized that clouds were moving in to our site from three directions, up valley, down valley, and cross valley. It wasn’t long before our tent was covered in wet snow.





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