It just kept coming into my head. “You can’t always get what you want…” Mick Jagger was along for the ride. For us, this was Peru’s Huayhuash Trek.
We knew we were starting out on the trekking shoulder season, but when our guide and donkey driver, Epi, showed up in knee high rubber boots for the eleven day trek, we feared the worse. The rainy season was far from over. By 2 pm the first day, it was a monsoon. By 8pm our campsite was flooding. To make matters worse, Peruvians eat chicken breakfast, lunch and dinner. I loathe chicken. On the second day I woke in the middle of the night, shaking uncontrollably, and headed out into the rainy darkness. I would spend the night in the mud outside the tent, emptying my stomach, feverish and unable to drink anything for 20 hours. This, at 4000 meters, makes for some unpleasant headaches. Things weren’t going well.
Day three I spent in the tent, trying to sleep it off. Janine waited me out with little to do in the pouring rain. Above, and all around, the guide assured her were the best views in all of the Huayhuash. Gee, thanks.
For the remainder of the trip we had a simple schedule, our day went as follows. Up at 6, breakfast, packing up, hiking by 7:30. Arrive to next camp by 2pm before the rain starts, sit in tent, eat (avoid chicken), asleep by 8. Repeat. All this without going below 4000 meters for 11 days made for long nights with much time to think…
Around the 6th day I realized that the situation was so grim that it had become perfect. Ever since Nepal, I had been wondering what it would be like to go on a trip like this without a camera. As a photographer, we are continually looking for, thinking about, and making images. It is all consuming. Part of me longs to travel without this way of thinking, and so in Huayhuash I thought to give it a try, to just give in and be a traveler, not a photographer with responsibilty. It worked well until the skies parted and we could see something, then I was right back to work.
With each day so similar, the journey is a blur. The trail was so saturated with rainfall that for long stretches it had become a bog. We literally slopped our way through in places, careful to not get our feet stuck in the deep mud. The big views were rare so we scanned for interesting trailside items which often came in the form of small families living in this inhospitable environment. Their means of survival fascinated us as they have no power, thatched grass roofs, the closest supplies are several days walk away, and the weather anything but friendly. As we’d walk near their homesites with our cameras out, the adults would scatter like prairie dogs to holes when a hawk flies above. Our guide informed us of what we had already figured out in town, Peruvians loathe having their photo made. Thankfully there were children, and they were savvy to the fact that we carried sweets.
Day 11 was different. Our last day required that we get a 4am start to make a bus in our exit village. In the darkness, the night was crystal clear, something we had not yet seen. With headlamps on we marched through another bog. As Janine and Epi charged along, I stopped to have a look behind at the pre-dawn glow on the peaks and glaciers above. Standing there alone, I took in what was our first clear view of the Andes. Suddenly a dark figure loomed in front of me, a gaucho on horseback very much in Clint Eastwood style. In the twilight I could see him tip his hat to me and just barely make out some eye contact, then he was gone, the sound of the horse hooves disappearing into the morning. All this without making a photo, just the experience that is as vivid now as if I had made one, but even better.
Turns out I just had to let Mick finish, “But if you try sometimes well you just might find, you get what you need….. oh yeah”.
Typically, we are not huge fans of HDR photography, but in the case of this trip a touch of HDR seemed appropriate. The scenes intensify, become darker, moodier, and for the Peruvian women, colors pop and are in your face. To our eye, this is how it all looked and felt. It was a trip full of contrasts and intensity, the images need to reflect that feeling.
What do you think?
Huge thanks to Deuter Packs, Lowepro Camera Gear and Patagonia clothing : As always, perfect gear! Patagonia’s new footwear line is superb, and we can personally confirm that their Gore-Tex boots work quite well.
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