“I read somewhere, of how important it sometimes is in life not to necessarily be strong, but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once.” Alex Supertramp, Into The Wild.
I knew I had got myself lost again, but I wasn’t surprised. When you have a sense of direction as poor as mine, you become well accustomed to it. Puffy clouds the colour of dust were blocking the sun’s rays, and there was a still chill in the air, but I could feel sweat dampening the back of my thermal top. I had been hiking for 3 hours and I knew all too well that at my altitude of 4,450 meters (14,600 feet) every step was a serious energy investment. But I did not want to turn around. Not yet.
I looked down at the moss-covered ground, looking for the faint path I had been following only a few minutes ago, but it had simply vanished. Lago (lake) Churupita couldn’t be more than an hour’s hike away, but my path to it was blocked by large boulders, twisted trees of various sizes and a damp, thick undergrowth not even my trusted hiking boots could find any firm grip on. The choice was simple, yet not easy to make; either keep going at the risk of finding myself at a place with no way forward or back, or just give in.
I took a deep breath, fought my way past a tangle of low shrubs and squeezed through a small gap between two massive rocks. I was alone up in this mountain, and I wasn’t going to miss my opportunity to challenge myself.
The world is filled to the brim with humans; more than 7.4 billion and counting. Every day, more and more of the Earth’s wild places is turned into farms, villages, towns. And yet, despite this diminishing number of places where we can be truly alone, we are more afraid of loneliness than ever. Of course, humans are social by nature and so we are brought up surrounded by others and taught to cherish human relations.
It frightens us to be away from others, to be only, unaccompanied, unheard and not listened to. And so we strive to create a virtual web of connectivity in our lives; Whatsapp messages connect you to others no matter where they are. Skype allows you to hear and be heard, and Facebook lets you keep an eye on what’s happening – whether trivial or essential- in the lives of those you’ve left behind.
I stumbled over rocks, lost my balance once or twice, stopped many more times for a breath and just as a crowd of dark clouds began gathering around the sun, as if discussing whether they should visit the earth in a sudden downpour, I climbed a crest and saw it. A small, tranquil body of melted glacial waters, Lago Churupita sits at the feet of the imposing Churup mountain. Its waters were soft and reflective, like an old wise queen who had sat on its lonely throne for eons, watching the distant valleys become ever more populated, pondering its future and that of mankind. So I sat beside her, and let the silence engulf us.
Sitting up there, as the wind caressed my face and the sun played a game of hide and seek over my head,I thought of how travelling alone forces us to break free of those cobwebs of human connections, at least for a short while, and step into the realm of me. Of course, we can all potentially enter this kingdom at any time -turn off your phone for a day, go somewhere you have not been to before, do something that had always terrified you- for me, it was traveling by myself which truly introduced me to myself.
The lone traveller spends many hours in middle-of-nowhere bus stations, discussing politics with old men using only body language because he doesn’t speak the local language. He wanders around unfamiliar towns at night unable to find a place to spend the night at. Although he loves his freedom, he sometimes wishes he had someone to discuss a plan with, someone to shoulder some of the responsibility. The lone traveller gets lost, loses stuff, becomes ill and betrayed, and through it all, he eventually learns to trust his instincts, and himself. The lone traveller comes to be as comfortable in his own company as he is around others.
The lone traveller, is no longer alone.
Insider Tips: Huaraz to Lake Churup Independent Day-Hike
- Leave Huaraz as early in the morning as possible – aim for the first collectivos leaving the town’s bus terminal at around 7:00 a.m.
- The collectivos normally terminate at the village of Llupa. If you can gang up with another traveller or two looking to visit lake, you can convince the driver to drive further and drop you off at Pitec, which is where the hike actually begins. The ride to Llupa and Pitec should cost around 5 and 15 soles respectively. A taxi to Pitec will cost 50-60 soles.
- Pitec sits at an altitude of 3850m. The route from here to Laguna Churup is well marked. It is a steep climb of moderate difficulty. The Lake sits at an altitude of 4450m. The hike up will take from 2 to 3.5 hours depending on your level of fitness and acclimatisation. There is a rangers’ office at Pitec where you can register your name, although nobody was there in the morning I visited the lake.
- There is a small camping ground with a thatched roof about 15 minutes before the lake with a view of a waterfall. You must negotiate a very steep climb past the waterfall here. If you stick to the left of the fall, there are rubber-covered metal ropes in place to help you with the climb.
- The smaller Lago Churupita sits at an altitude of 4600m and is a 45 minutes-1 hour hike along a faint path left of Laguna Churup.