Although today’s hike is quite short and lacks a lot of the previous day’s dramatic scenery, it is incredibly dramatic and memorable in other ways. From our camp at the base of Rasac and its chilly glacier, we descend to Huayllapa, passing waterfalls and the most green vegetation we’ve seen in days, to find our missing family member and make some amazing local connections that will become a distinct highlight of the whole trip.
Trail stats: Rasac to Huayllapa
Elevation gain: 60m
Highest elevation: Laguna Rasac 4,270m
Trail hours: 4hrs
Highlights: Early morning views of Rasac from the tent; re-uniting with Eileen and making some wonderful local friends in Huayllapa
Campsite: Omar & Flor’s in Huayllapa
This morning is not like all of our other mornings on the trail, specifically because Eileen is still MIA. We are keenly aware of her absence as we busy ourselves with breakfast and packing up the tent (at one of the most spectacular camps thus far along the trail, just beneath Rasac). Dampening the morning cheer is the fact that we did not see Eileen come down from the pass either late last night or early this morning.
I am now thoroughly convinced that she must be in Huayllapa, the tiny town just 15min off the main Huayhaush trail. If I were alone on the top of a pass without a tent or a stove, I know my first thought would be to descend into town. Still, dad is worried that she may have been stuck on the other side of the pass or even camped atop the pass, which means we should keep waiting at the trail junction just in case she appears. If she’s in Huayllapa, she will be safe, but if she’s out here, she might need our help. We decide to wait until 10am before continuing down valley towards Huayllapa.
Eileen’s whereabouts don’t remain a mystery for long— before we’ve even left the valley, we meet a European man who tells us he’s found our missing third person. Apparently Eileen did descend to Huayllapa (not over the pass, although we don’t find this out until later) and is probably there now, looking for us. Knowing that Eileen is safe and in town, dad visibly relaxes and we begin to enjoy the valley scenery.
The morning’s walk is all flat or downhill, but surprisingly convoluted. We cross rivers about a dozen times within the first hour and then stumble over rock-strewn trails for the second and third. As we move farther from the high glaciers of Rasac and descend deeper into the valley, the scenery begins to change— we walk through sage brush and wildflowers, below waterfalls and slender trees, and along partially-dry river beds that smell strongly of fresh rain.
After several hours, two young girls acting as cobradores (collecting ticket money) for Huayllapa deliver us another message in Spanish: Eileen has been looking everywhere for us and she is staying at “Omar & Flor’s house” in town. The girls even hand us a small slip of paper with our names and these names scrawled in Eileen’s handwriting. Armed with this additional information, we continue the final section of our descent into Huayllapa, but only a few minutes later, another man relays the message that dad’s wife is in town crying because she can’t find us. We quicken our pace.
Finally, we come trotting down the main street (only street?) of Huayllapa around 3pm, accosted immediately by a tearful Eileen who has been sitting with a group of locals, Spanish-English dictionary gripped firmly in-hand, waiting for our arrival. She is safe and well, but has been worried sick about the pair of us, a possibility we didn’t quite consider because of how worried we were about her.
But, this is a teachable moment for the whole family. After much hashing and rehashing of the previous day’s events, everyone apologises and we make a better plan for any future separation— although the main plan is just to not separate again. It’s been a draining 36hrs for all involved, but we are happy to know that everyone is safe and we are all back together for the final stretch of the trip.
By this time, it’s after 5pm and too late to continue uphill to Huatiaq as planned, so we settle in for the night at Omar and Flor’s. When Eileen arrived last night at 8pm, this wonderful couple took her into their home (which is in the process of becoming a hostel), fed her, and helped her send word throughout the valley that she was looking for us.
Omar is a local schoolteacher and speaks only a few words of English (he was the owner of the Spanish-English dictionary), but he truly went above and beyond to assist Eileen, his wife Flor even accompanying Eileen as she held her trail-side watch at the front of town. Now that I’m here with my (admittedly poor) Spanish, Eileen has a whole host of things she wants me to say to Omar and Flor, profusely thanking them for their hospitality.
Dad and I are immediately the recipients of more hospitality, Flor cooking a beautiful hot lunch and opening up a second room for me to sleep in. I ask how much they’d like for the rooms, to which they reluctantly reply that S/10 (about $3USD) per bed is more than enough. Eileen forces the last of our money, nearly S/500 (about $150USD), into Omar’s hands while he tries to say that it’s not necessary— and still we wish we had more to give them. We tell him to use the money to add bathrooms to his house, the last thing he needs to do before he can open the hostel he’s been dreaming of.
Eileen is crying as she thanks Omar and Flor for everything they’ve done, with me trying (with difficulty) to translate the whole tearful affair. I think they do understand how thankful we are, but I also get the distinct feeling that they helped Eileen out of pure kindness, without ever expecting any special thanks or compensation. This is just the kind of people they are, and it’s not at all dissimilar from the incredible hospitality and compassion we’ve experienced from other Peruvians. This is such a beautiful country, due in large part to the people.
An amazing update: A couple months later, Omar emailed Eileen to let her know that not only has he added bathrooms with the money she gave him, but also built a patio out front and painted the exterior of the house. He is so grateful that he has named one of the bedrooms “the Brisbine room” and wanted a photo of our family that he could hang inside. I nearly cried when Eileen told me all this last week! It is now my ultimate dream that someone reading this blog post will go hike the Huayhuash Circuit, visit Huayllapa, stay in “the Brisbine room” at Omar and Flor’s, and give them a little more than S/10. I guarantee it will be a highlight of your trek.