We’re at the base of a mountain in the company of half a dozen donkeys. The rocky path leads straight up through a mountain pass. After several hours, the llamas saunter by carrying our overnight bags with the porters in toe. It’s not their first time traversing the trail. They walk with ease over the hazardous terrain and are unaffected by the altitude.
The sun has sole propriety over the heat. By night, the temperature dips to -10 degrees and spreads a thick layer of frost over the mountains. Though, despite the extremes, many civilizations thrived here once. The ruins are a credit to their industriousness.
Still, there is a mountain community that exists today that remains untouched by much of the modern world.
This boy and his dog followed us for miles in the early hours of the morning. He was searching for his llama. By noon we’d thought we’d kidnapped him. It wasn’t until we’d reached the other side of the mountain that his mother came to claim him.
Every turn, every bend in the path offers a view more breath-taking than the last. We climb to 4,550 metres above sea-level. The air is cold and thin, and the altitude adds a substantial drag. The only respite is to continue on along the path knowing that each step brings you closer to camp.
The greatest difficulty is to write about the emotion that is experienced. Crossing the Andes exposes you to the most profound examples of beauty, hardship, community, perseverance, preservation and self-awareness. I don’t believe that anyone can leave unchanged.