Climbing the Rainbow Mountains
The bus stops and the group gets out, all yawning and stretching after the 4 hour drive from Cusco where we got picked up at 3 in the morning. I slept most of the way in the bus, so when I got out, my eyes were barely open. “So where are these Rainbow Mountains?” I grunted. The tour-guides chuckle and one of them points up to the mountains. “You can see them from up there”. I just returned from my 5 day Salkantay Trek (check out next weeks article), so I flinched a little. “Up there? How far are we talking about?” I asked. “Well we’re at 3,500 meters now, and we will climb to 5,008 meters. Experienced hikers can do it in 3 hours, but most people take 4 hours because of the height” he answered, like it was nothing. Good grief, I just finished a 5 day hike and was about to take on a mountain. “If you don’t want to hike, you can always take a horse ride up” the tour-guide added. I looked at the tiny horses and knew immediately that that was not an option for me. Not only my pride would be hurt but also the horse with me being 2 meters tall (6 foot 5).
So I bought some some coca leaves to chew on (this is a herb against altitude sickness, not a narcotic), took a deep breath and started hiking. We started with the entire group of 16, but because of my many picture stops I quickly fell behind. About half way up the scenery started to change. Beautiful glacial peaks, red rocks and even some wild Vicuñas. It was hard to stay focussed with these beautiful surroundings, and of course I tripped a couple of times. Step by step, was all I focussed on from there. The air was getting thinner and breathing got harder and harder the further I got. Also I had chewed to many coca leafs, that resulted in nausea and one half of my face being totally numb. So there I walked, half of my face hanging and heavily breathing. Horses and several other hikers passed me as I struggled to get to the top.
I was gasping for air by the time I reached it. The rest of the group was already there and some of them didn’t even break a sweat. While I sat down one of them joined me. “Worth the hike don’t you think?” he smiled. Still too out of breath to answer so I just nodded. The view was amazing: the colours in the rock just look like a rainbow. It was almost like the view brought my breath back. One of the tour-guides joined us, and he looked worried. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Is this 5,008 meters high?” I asked him. “Yes 5,008 meters above sea level” he answered. “Well I’m from The Netherlands, so that’s about 5,016 meters higher than I’m used to” I smiled.
The Rainbow Mountains are a beautiful sight that you should definitely see when you’re in Cusco. No need to plan or book ahead, because there are plenty of tour operators selling the trips in the city center. Prices run from $15 – $40 and include a pick up from your ho(s)tel and a guide up to the viewing point. Pack something warm and hiking boots, because this hike is pretty tough!
Next week more on Peru! Read all about the Salkantay Trek and the world wonder Machu Picchu.