Trekking the Andes: Birthing Llamas, Abandoned Villages, and Rain

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Miguel wandered into Paz y Luz and my life as magically as Peru did. Little did I know that less than a week later, we’d be on the journey of (my) lifetime, trekking in the Andes. Who knew it would start with an omen like birthing llamas.

This post was originally published in 2014. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Not knowing who Miguel was, I found myself sitting down with him along with another long-term guest at Paz y Luz. He started talking about two seemingly unrelated topics, intertwining them so they seemed like one; he spoke of spirituality, emotional growth, and the healing effects of nature, while describing some epic multi-day hikes through the Peruvian Andes including a variety of sacred sites and epic mountains.

My eyes grew wide and my heart pounded. I put my hand tenderly on my left knee and cradled my right foot on the chair.

A little over a year ago, I was in a head-on collision. While riding my scooter with my (former) partner, we were hit head-on by an SUV. Wearing no helmet, I was catapulted over 10 metres before landing ungracefully on my head, somersaulting, and sealing the deal with my knees and feet on the concrete.

The quality of care I received in the Grenadian hospital was thoroughly questionable; I was released that night with nobody to supervise my concussions, nor x-rays of what ended up being fractures and serious damage to my knees, shins, and feet.

I was unsure of whether I would ever walk properly again, and quite sure that my mountaineering days were well and truly done.

As I listened to Miguel speak, I took stock of my injuries.

“You can do this,” my inner voice said.

“Is there an easier trek you can organize?” my outer voice asked Miguel.

The Trek

The trek we agreed on was a five day experience that involved no more than four hours of walking per day, on relatively easy terrain. Easy, that is, by mountaineering standards. But sure to be a challenge for me given my injuries. Injuries, that admittedly a year on, are substantially better, but which haven’t been tested to the limits that this trek would.

But Miguel (of Allpamama Journeys) assured me I would be safe and wouldn’t have to carry more than my day pack (we had horses for the camping equipment), while I assured him that my former mountaineering experience would somehow compensate for any physical incompetence I might display on the trail.

And with that, a week later, Miguel arrived at Paz y Luz to pick me and two other people up to drive us to our starting point an hour away; a small mountainside Quechua (native Peruvian) Andean village built with bricks of mud and hay, that is very removed from most modern societal influence.

Birthing Llamas – an Omen

While the horses were being saddled with sheepskins and bags of camping gear, a small boy wandered down the main street of town with his herd of sheep and llamas. But as they passed, I noticed something very unusual (for me); one of the llamas was giving birth.

a herd of llamas walking through this Peruvian village
As this little boy passed with his herd of sheep and llamas, I noticed something odd….one of the llamas was giving birth!
Peruvian mother and son birthing llamas!
With some assistance, the llama was brought into this world
Peruvian woman cleaning off a newborn llama in peru
Although we all stood around in awe at this auspicious start to our trip, it was business as usual for these Quechua shepherds

Considering the aura of re-birth that I was already feeling in testing out my battered legs on this trip, watching a live llama birth felt like a good omen, indeed.

The First Day’s Hike

With the horses taking another route, we began the four hour hike to our first campsite. Although the terrain was relatively flat, I was simply thrilled to be back in nature, doing what I love to do. Even the rain – although light but constant and ultimately drenching – didn’t dampen the mood.

trekking high above the Sacred Valley of Peru
Trekking in the clouds, high above the Sacred Valley
Peruvian children wearing blue tarps in the rain
I’m not sure where the parents of these kids were, but there’s not much harm that can come to them out here in the Andes

Shortly before arriving at our campsite, we went over the highest pass we would make on this trek at 4,000 metres (despite eventually ending up at Machu Picchu, which is actually much lower in altitude). The air was thin and our hearts pounded from the exertion, but with coca leaves stuffed in our cheeks to counteract the altitude’s effects and memories of our llama birthing omen hot on our minds, we were unconquerable.

The Campsite – On an Incan Ruin

I was gobsmacked when we eventually rounded the last corner and descended on our campsite; smack dab on Incan ruins.

camping on Incan ruins
First night’s campsite, on the Puca Marca ruins

Puca Marca is the name of the “town” built on these ruins, although the town (without road access or electricity) looked just as abandoned as the age-old ruins did. It is also on the Inca trail, which ultimately connects Cusco and Machu Picchu, as part of a long series of ancient stone paths that connect sacred sites throughout the Andes.

Puca Marca, an almost abandoned ancient village
People do live in Puca Marca, but on first impressions it looks abandoned
view of Puca Marca Inca ruins with llamas in background
View from the tent

Although we were drenched from the ongoing rain (and eventually quite cold as darkness set in), our spirits remained high as we ate a warm camp meal of rice and veggies, drank lots of hot coca tea, and settled in for a damp night of sleep in the same spot where Incas did the same so many years ago.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of this series trekking the Andes, where we perform a Peruvian Ceremony, visit the Huchuy Qosqo ruins, and meet our Quechua “Mama”.

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8 thoughts on “Trekking the Andes: Birthing Llamas, Abandoned Villages, and Rain”

  1. Okay, just-born llamas are not exactly the cutest, are they? Haha. Your photos are beautiful and really make me quite excited to be in Peru in a few weeks. (Although I am starting to realize just how insufficient my 10 day trip will be…) I will be staying in Ollantaytambo for a bike race, and have had zero chance to make plans or even look at maps. But maybe that is close to where you are and we could connect!?

    Reply
    • Syd – I only passed through, but Ollantaytambo is an awesome town that is surrounded by ruins. (To be briefly mentioned in part three of this series). You’ll love it!
      It’s about an hour (max) from Pisac where I am. If you have time for a day trip to Pisac, do it! (And let me know). 🙂

      Reply
    • Heather – It was cathartic for me; in the aftermath of the accident, I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk properly again, much less do any sort of trekking in the mountains. Now I realize that chapter of my life isn’t over…although in the next few days of the trek (which you’ll read about soon), I had my challenges.

      Reply
  2. Goodness I feel for you, recovering from your injuries. My husband had a 17m rock climbing fall 2 yrs ago, fractured 23 bones including shattering both heels and bursting a vertebra in his spine. Initially, he was partially paralyzed in one leg, but thank fully, he has 90% of his strength back now. He spent over 4 months in a wheelchair, over a year in physiotherapy, and has been working, bit by bit, to get back all his strength and coordination and push through the pain. The message: he’s leading a normal life now, and continues to make improvements in what he can do in the realm of tramping. He still aspires to return to mountaineering and climb another mountain here in New Zealand. I firmly believe that if you keep living your life the way you always have–with determination and fascination–you will be able to do everything you want to do again. Maybe as you’ve grown from this experience, what you want to do has changed and grown too? And in the mean time, you’ve gained great wisdom about accepting what you’re capable of today (which is always different from yesterday and tomorrow, isn’t it?), and learned to make the best of that version of you. So proud for how you’ve gotten back out there and continue to live your life fully!

    Reply
    • Hi Wynne,
      Wow – how wise and prophetic your words are! And inspirational, to hear your husband’s story and journey. Indeed, through some deep personal work that I’ve been doing here, I’m coming to terms with both my limitations, but also the possibilities that lay ahead. Each day is a new day! Thank you.

      Reply

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