The Majesty Of Laguna 69
Hiking to Laguna 69 was one of the most picturesque treks that I’ve done so far in South America. I have no idea why it’s called Laguna 69 or as to why they would chose to name a lake with a number that has such a lewd connotation.
Laguna 69 is a large blue lagoon that lies at the mercy of the Nevado Pisco and Chakrarahu mountains, which shroud the lagoon with their dominating stance. Standing defiantly like two nightclub bouncers, these mountains bare the huge weight of two huge glaciers comfortably on their shoulders, creating a magnificent backdrop from which to marvel from the shores of the lagoon. Patrick and Amy, a couple of people I’d met in the previous days, decided that we would take a day trip to Laguna 69. The following is an account of what happened that day.
Getting to Laguna 69 from Huaraz, a town nestled in the mountains at 3100m, is a bumpy 3 hour bus trip. Commencing our lengthy journey at 6am, the small mini van darted around the streets of Huaraz collecting hikers from various pick up points. The van ended up being filled with couples, not just any kind, but two instances of a very noteworthy nature.
The Bus Ride
There were two Austrian girls who had managed to snare themselves a couple of local Peruvian guys. Actually, as I have been told by many backpackers living in Peru, it was probably the other way around. Certain types of Peruvian men will seek out western women in order to profit from a mutually beneficial relationship. These women get to experience the local delicacies of some exotic men at the price of having to buy dinners and tours for their hosts. In exchange the hosts, as I found out first hand, shower them with love and affection. This is not a practise confined to Peru alone, speaking to a fellow traveller who resides in Uganda, I was informed of a practise by which local men memorise bus schedules to know when the next shipment of gringo women for their browsing pleasure is destined to arrive. In addition to this, I’d recently been informed of a girl who had a summer romance with a Peruvian man that was had still maintaining contact for financial gains. He had asked for her for money to buy a bus ticket but when she’d volunteered to buy the bus ticket online for him he refused the gesture and insisted on a money transfer instead. Sounds like a similar scenario I witness on many occasions with homeless people that ask you for money for a bus ticket when their intentions are to spent it on alcohol or drugs.
Along the bumpy journey to Laguna 69, I bore witness to both of these couples lengthy make out sessions. I was confronted with what resembled a couple of teenage boys experiencing their first kiss when in reality it was two fully grown childish men employing resuscitation techniques on some Austrian women. One of them was positioned in a manner that resembled a baby bird being fed by it’s mother, with the man regurgitating then retracting his tongue into his partners mouth. It was one of the most inappropriate locations for conducting this kind of activity for two reasons. One, the road was incredibly bumpy so maintaining contact without bumping teeth would have been incredibly difficult and two, the van’s intimately confined space made it feel like you were part of the activity. I felt violated!
Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls
Upon arrival at the start of the Laguna 69 hike, Patrick, Amy and I, the only singles on the van, launched ourselves onto the trek’s path trying to create as much distance as possible from the couples. Our destination was nestled above a ridge at 4600m, in a mountain range called the Cordillera Blanca, part of the famous Andes mountain range. This region contains 722 individual glaciers and the numbers reflect the fact that every time you turn your head a huge chunk of ice is gleaming down at you. The hike to the lagoon is lined with waterfalls, cows grazing on lush grass and fast moving rivers cutting their way through the valley. It’s one of those places that you stop to take a photo every 20m but then realise that the next photo opportunity spot is even better than the last one! I spent a good hour deleting my earlier photos from the start of the hike as you realise that the views improve metre by metre of elevation towards Laguna 69.
The weather conditions change so rapidly in the mountains which makes hiking in these types of regions so dangerous. One minute the sun is shining, the next minute, you’re walking through a fine mist of efficient soaking rain. Rain that appears to have been trained by some elite armed task force trained with the sole purpose of soaking you to the bone!
After 3 hours of hiking, we reach our final destination. The lagoon is a shade of blue that I have never witnessed before, it looks almost magical, like the colour of a potion an alchemist has brewed up to cure some sort of ailment. If this colour was on a paint chart it would be labelled “Atlas Blue” or something as obscure as that. Why does the lake appear this shade of blue? According to professor Google, along with the H2O comes billions of tiny, suspended particles created by glacial erosion that’s created by the glaciers carving their way down a slope. This rock flour as it’s known, affects the water’s ability to absorb and reflect certain wavelength of light which in turn creates the unique blue colour. Every now and again we could hear the thunder of the glaciers sliding down the mountain, such an impressive demonstration of mother nature’s power!
We’d been discussing whether to go for a swim or not once reaching the lagoon but none of us were entirely enthusiastic once we got to the frosty peak. There was an Australian guy there we’d struck up a conversation, he told us he’d just been in for a swim. “You’re probably never going to be here again” he proclaimed, “So you might as well jump in” he added. This instantly provided us with the catalyst that we much needed to get into the lagoon. Patrick started to undress and proclaims to the gathering crowd that he is not wearing any underwear. I was going to leave my boxers on but he upped the ante and forced my hand. Setting my underwear sailing down my legs I mentally start to prepare myself for the icy entrance.
A fine mist of rain had set in which started me questioning whether or not this was such a good choice. Wearing our birthday suits, Patrick and I scuttled our way over to the edge of the water cupping our genitals. We powered through the water in tandem sensing the glacial water fast approaching the point of no return, our nether regions. Patrick blurted out the verbal queue for us to dive in and achieve total submersion, our white behinds are the last thing the crowd witnessed as we disappeared into the blue abyss. However, our submersion was short lived as the air was knocked out of our lungs from the frosty glacial waters. Sirens sounded in my head, like a submarine making an an emergency surface, I propelled myself out from the water with a cry of agony. The onlooking crowd all appeared to be smirking as we made our hasty retreat to the refuge of the shore. At that moment I’d felt like I’d undergone a gender reassignment operation, my genitals had shot up into my body seeking solace from the warmth of my inner core.
Wrapped in towels, Patrick and I blurted out comforting curse words as we unanimously agree that that was the coldest water we had ever experienced. I felt a sense of achievement but also mostly warmth as standing out of the water was actually warmer than in the lagoon. Looking over Laguna 69 we could appreciate how cold the water was as it’s fed directly from melting glaciers. Amy had also decided to join us in her bikini and was mockingly doing laps of the lagoon. The cold hadn’t seemed to phase her! The only explanation for this I could think of was that she is English so she has a higher tolerance to those kind of cold conditions than Patrick and I. Nevertheless, the Australian guy couldn’t help but throw a few comments our way making us feel a little emasculated.
Fully clothed once more, we take in the extraordinary views around us. My iPhone shut down a few times whilst snapping a few pictures, even the machines were finding it difficult under those cold conditions. There’s something really unusual about getting naked with another person you’ve only just met the previous day. That level of comfort is usually reserved for friendships of many years but yet I found myself in that situation with a person I barely knew. I barely knew Patrick yet we both bared all during this unique experience!