April is the right month to go for a trip with office colleagues: the weather improves – even if it is still uncertain as we are in the transition between winter and summer – and the touristic season hasn’t started yet. It is the perfect occasion to show our new colleagues from the Thaki Team, Elena and Veronica, our hiking itineraries.
Anne organized everything for our female expedition of 3 days in the Royal Cordillera ! No challenge in sight, just team building, sharing, field knowledge and pleasure (and a little bit of suffering for some of us, I must admit).
As a result : not even a drop of rain and most of the time a sunny weather. The trek was absolutely wonderful, extraordinary overviews, beautiful lagoons, varied paths between ground, screes and swamps, a rocky part that involved a short climbing exercise, a 5350m summit climbed, and, to end the trip, warm moments with the Aymara Community of Tuni where we immersed ourselves in their custom and traditions.
DAY 1 – FROM THE BEAUFITUL LAGUNA AJWANI TO THE GORGEOUS JURIKHOTA
For this first day, 8 km of hiking are waiting for us, 5 hours of active walking, +600 / – 485m of cumulated elevation, and 2 cols at 4900m a.s.l. to cross.
Early meeting at the office at 7:00 AM. Henry picks us up in Sopocachi and we head towards the Ajwani Laguna located at 4615m a.s.l, that we reach after 2 hours and a half driving. He drops us there, we collect our picnics and he leaves with the camp equipment for tonight. Here we go, the trek is starting : Thaki ladies let the adventure begin!
The Ajwani Laguna, also called the duck’s lagoon, surrounded by snowy mountains, is a really beautiful starting point which sets the tone of the trek ! Unfortunately, you can notice the first signs of works aiming to transform it into a dam. We start our first little ascent through an easy path and we find ourselves in front of a group of very welcoming lama, almost posing for a picture session.
With the distance, the Ajwani Laguna looks even more beautiful. To our surprise, we manage to see in the background the beautiful Titicaca Lake and its very intense blue ! This back view will escort us all along the first ascent till the first col at 4895m a.s.l, where the views become more mineral. We admire a last time the Titicaca Lake from the col, then we lose sight of it for the rest of the trek.
We start going down for the first time, towards the Sistaña Laguna located at 4670m a.s.l. by a mostly scree path, and few sloppy ground parts. Once at the edge of the Laguna, we take the picnic out. We enjoy a little relaxing break, as the girls were starting to be tired after the descent which required a lot of concentration.
After crossing the little stream coming out from the Laguna, we initiate our second ascent up to 4930m a.s.l. This ascent feels harder than the first one, even if it is not higher in altitude, but the slope is steeper and the path isn’t really enjoyable, between stinging «paja brava» and well clammy swamps where our feet were sinking.
We stop for a little break at a spur at 4830m a.s.l, the occasion to catch our breath back and admire the surroundings, especially the well steep way we just did.
One last effort to get to the last col of the day, a wonderful path, a mix of scree and ground, with beautiful colors (while hiking, never forget to look up).
Once at the second col, we contemplate a really nice view over the valley and a part of the Huayna Potosi’s west side, unfortunately covered by clouds.
Just after thkis col, we walk along a last rocky path on the mountain side and finally catch sight of the Jurikhota Laguna (and our tents already assembled by Henry) and the Condoriri. We have a real splendid overview in front of us !
One last descent left for the day, we only need to go down, on a sandy path, that gave us a lot of fun.
Once we arrived at the Jurikhota Laguna, located at 4700 meters a.s.l, we get closer to the water that looks so transparent, with blue and green reflects due to the algae and wetlands. Very very beautiful. Henry will later go fishing for us.
What a joy to arrive and find the aperitif ready, beers, red wine and saucisson ! what a luxury! Now we just have to relax, enjoy the silence and landscapes, and wait for the dinner that Henry will prepare, before going to sleep and get back some strength for the next day.
DAY 2 - FROM THE GORGEOUS JURIKHOTA TO THE BEAUTIFUL CHIARKHOTA THROUGH THE PICO AUSTRIA
After a good and finally, not so cold night, we woke up at 7am. We had a good breakfast prepared by Henry, and got ready to start our second trekking day.
Today, 13km are awaiting us, 6 hours of active walking, +710/-730m of cumulated elevation.
We walked along the Jurikhota Laguna, for a at least an hour and a half. We had a very nice rhythm, stopping to take pictures and enjoying the amazing views in front of us! With the sunrise, colors in the sky started to change, the reflects of the mountains and the snow in the laguna were sumptuous, the water was crystal clear, almost on the verge of fluorescent green because of the algae. The path was a mix of wetland at the beginning , then turned like an «Andean meadow» and finally was mostly composed by screes and ground.
We stopped at a first mirador where the view was really wonderful. We took a lot of pictures and obliged ourselves to continue, otherwise we would have stayed there much longer.
Then we continue on our rocky path until arriving at the moraine. We climb it calmly, but we still make a few stops to look back at the beautiful landscape.
Once we pass the moraine, we have to cross, on the mountain side, a little unstable and sloppy part, then we finally arrive to a small stream, after a real short way without any rocks. Henry joined us to help on a pretty technical part that is coming soon.
Finally, we have arrived at the Laguna Congelada, located at 4885m a.s.l., real nice colors, a turquoise blue water and an amazing view on the Condoriri. Reflection in the laguna was just sumptuous !
That’s the occasion to have a break and a little snack and recover strength before going on.
What’s awaiting us is really different from the rest and that is why Henry joined us. We started going through huge rocks shaped in stairs, till we reached a little technical part that needs all our attention. For those who have vertigo, it will be a bit delicate, but it is possible, especially when Henry helps us with a rope. Once at the top, the view above the laguna is incredible. Henry goes back to tidy up the camp and we continue without him.
After that, we walk almost all the time in a big huge scree, till arriving to the Paso Austria at 5140m a.s.l. Vero is really tired, the stress of that technical part costed her a lot of energy as well, so she prefers to stay and have some rest. We use the chance to leave our backpacks with her and have a lighter ascent.
During the climbing to the Pico Austria, all in stone as well, a nice view of the Jurikhota Laguna takes us by surprise in a cavity.
And here we are at the Pico Austria at 5350m a.s.l.
From this summit, the view is really rich. On the right the Jurikhota Laguna and in the background the Titicaca Lake. On the left, the Chiarnakhota Laguna and many more and El Alto in the background. A wonderful panorama ! If the wind wasn’t blowing, we would have stayed there a little more.
Anne started to go back down through another side which seemed to be shorter but she realized it was steeper than it looked and not really practicable. Finally not so self-confident on this snowy path, she decided to go up again and we used the same way we took to ascent.
One hour and a half later, we get back to Véro who was starting to be very cold out of inactivity. We immediately leave in order to warm her up by walking. Last little ascent to reach the viewpoint on the Chiarkhota Laguna, which is the starting point for the descent. We have to stay focused on the steps because the path is quite slippery. Once at the end of the path, starts a much easier meadow pathway. We look back and admire the nice descent we just did.
With the hunger we were starting to be tired. We stopped then for a late and quick picnic. We continued the way down to the Chiarkhota Laguna. Really nice panoramas all along the descent.
Once we arrived at the laguna, there were 2 more km before reaching the Rinconda where Henry was coming to pick us up by car. But the path is easier, even if it is much more swampy.
Henry welcomes us with cold beverages, a real delight, a real reward !
5 more km left to reach the village of Tuni, by car this time, where we are welcomed by Andrès and his family with a really good snack to relax.
The refuge seems luxury to us after the tents, and is objectively warm, clean and comfy. A real happiness.
We share a good aperitif and have dinner with Andrès’s family. Then we get prepared for bed, for a comfortable night.
DAY 3 - CHOLITA, PACHAMA, LAMA, HUATIA, AN AMAZING DAY WITH THE AYMARA COMMUNITY OF TUNI.
Today we are going to experience a “live my daily life” of the Tuni community. An incredible day in full immersion await us!!
We start by meeting Benedicto, the village shepherd, for the first activity of the day : the lamas ! A group of a140 lamas are watching us with their little eyes and are wondering what fate awaits them. We start by healing the sick ones, giving some vitamins to the weakest ones and some flea treatment.
Then we escort the lamas graze in the fields around the Tuni Laguna. Benedicto tells us how he keeps himself busy while the lamas are feeding: by spinning the wool to prepare balls later used by the village women for weaving.
Afterwards, we go for our second activity : the offering ceremony to the Pachamama. We will have to ascent the little hill to arrive at 4700m a.s.l right in front of the Huayna Potosi. This is where it will take place. The Yatiri (Andean shaman) is already there with all the equipment and is waiting for us to begin.
Those ceremonies are really interesting to observe. The ritual is quite structured, the Yatiri prepares the offering table with a multitude of diverse and various items (candles, garlands, apples, sugar, flowers …) and sprays everything with alcohol. The purpose is to ask the Mother-earth protection and goodwill in order to make all participants wishes come true (health, work, money, love …).
A music band from the village playing Samboñada goes along with the ceremony all through the process.
Once the ceremony ended, the moment became more festive, the group goes on playing and everybody starts to dance and toasts in front of the beautiful surrounding mountains.
And finally, a last activity awaits us: a traditional meal preparation, called the Huatia. Ingredients are quite simple, vegetables and meat, but the cooking is the uncommon thing. After choosing our ingredients, we wrap them in aluminum foil. We’re asked to select a rock which will be inserted in a corner of the foil in order to recognize the owner.
Then, the men start digging a hole in the garden, bury the foils with the meal, add some potatoes, bananas and burning rocks they heat up beforehand. The whole is covered by a tarp and ground to close well the hole. The cooking time is one hour.
Meanwhile, they teach us medicinal plants they grow in the community, some to heal dry skins, fever, prostate, stomach ache, cough, altitude sickness, oedema, intestinal pain, gallbladder, help to give birth … in short, a natural pharmacy is existing in the village !
Then we get the meal back that we extract from the ground, and enjoy it with the whole village family around a nice table !
That was an absolutely lovely and unforgettable stay !
According to Veronica «unexpected». Elena found it «exceptional» and Anne is really happy about a «great team sharing moment» !