And James, too! | A burrito, a brownie, and an 8-hour overnight bus trip later, we arrived in Yungay, a relatively small city located in the Cordillera Blanca in north-central Peru. We hopped in a cab outside the bus station, instructed the driver that we were headed towards “Casa de Charlie” (everyone in Yungay seemed to know of Charlie and the LLanganuco Lodge), and were on our way up the winding, dirt road for a 40 minute journey to a long weekend in paradise.
Our tired eyes were welcomed by the amazing sight of the sun rising over the mountain range, reflecting magnificently on the snow capped peaks above us. The view on our own terrestrial level was equally interesting, as we passed traditionally dressed women tending to their crops, fat fuzzy pigs rooting around in the soil, and a bubbling stream that shadowed our route. The silent journey was interrupted as the forest line ended: “Mira – la Casa de Charlie,” our driver instructed, casting his finger towards a distant building perched atop a hill.
Lined with fairly young coniferous trees, the final ascent up the hill unfolded the image of our destination with a view of the lodge, the restaurant and bar, and the separate dorm accommodation that comprised the main buildings on the property, as well as what appeared to be a massive WWII military vehicle parked at the entrance. We looked at each other in confusion, sharing concern about what our weekend with the ex-accountant gone rogue living in a German tanker in the Peruvian mountains would amount to.
We noticed several people sitting at a table directly outside of the restaurant and excitedly began heading up the terraced path towards them. One hundred feet and twenty minutes later, we completed our first “trek;” our hearts pounding and breathing heavily, we were already feeling the effects from the altitude.
Noting our arrival (and the apparent signs of distress), our host welcomed us with a warm smile as he stood up from the table where he shared a cup of tea with his other guests, and helped us find a suitable spot for our, at the time, heavy bags. Charlie introduced us to his breakfast companions as well as Lucho the chef, his cousin Stef, and his regal Rhodesian Ridgebacks Dino and Sir Ernest Shackleton. Lucho set a spot for us at the table while we filled our water bottles from the spigot, sourcing clean and refreshing water from a nearby spring. As we sat waiting for breakfast, we exchanged conversation with Charlie and admired the amazing view of the golden valley, the dark mountain range of the Cordillera Negra, and peaks of Cordillera Blanca that felt as if they were close enough to reach out and touch.
After conversing with Charlie (finding out he wasn’t living in the tank) and enjoying our breakfast of fruit, eggs, toast, and (the first of many) mate de coca’s to help with the altitude adjustment, we were off to our room to relax before venturing anywhere. Our room was on the first floor of the lodge, which currently features four rooms with an additional two being added. The rooms were simple, yet comfortable and were welcoming with fresh flowers, a plush, oversized king bed with a down duvet, fluffy pillows, and a patio with an incredible view of the valley and Cordillera Negra, a common trend of the trip.
After a short nap, we felt a little better from the initial shock of the altitude (neither of us had ever been up that high before), and we decided to explore the nearby Keushu Lake and Ruins located a short distance from Charlie’s property along with Stef, who was our new traveling companion. A five minute walk from the lodge, Keushu Lake, or what remained of it, was mostly dried up since we visited during the dry season, exposing cracked slates of earth reminiscent of photos we had seen of the Bolivian salt flats. Located only feet away from the lake stood the remains of an ancient pre-Inca civilization, with walls wrapping through the surrounding hills and a temple of some sort built atop a hill. Although the hill was fairly steep (we were hesitant to traverse anything over a 5 degree incline), this temple had a mysteriousness about it that beckoned for closer investigation, and we were rewarded by our efforts as we soon realized that we could actually go inside. The interlocking stonework coupled by the sheer size and mass of the larger stones used to construct the building were incredible, as the civilization that constructed it had not had the luxury of draft animals to aid them with such a task and relied instead on pure human strength and ambition. While exploring, Stef informed us that compartments beneath these chambers had been uncovered by archaeologists and interested locals, excavation that had revealed human bones as well. Archaeologists had also hypothesized, Stef explained, that there were more compartments that branched out underneath the hill, although no current efforts to unveil these hidden chambers were underway.
Thoroughly satisfied with our explorations, and slightly spooked by our childish notions of the “spirits” that might remain there we decided to head back to the lodge, for, yes, more coca tea. Unbeknownst to us, the grass that we were walking through was speckled with tiny holes that served as homes for the many tarantulas that also enjoyed this picturesque environment. As Stef was filling us in on this lovely tidbit of information, he flipped over a rock to reveal an enormous black and red tarantula that had clearly fought won the battle over this particular hole. When we returned to the lodge, we enjoyed our lunch outside and waited for some of the other guests to return, as we were interested to hear their thoughts on each of the particular treks. **Note: Sure, the guidelines may give the trail a 1 or 2 rating for difficulty, but add adjustment to altitude and lack of physical training to the equation, and it ends up feeling like a 4 or 5!! But more on that later….
Just as the other guests began to trickle in, Charlie asked if we would like to go for a walk with him and his dogs, and excited to see the wonderful sunset over the mountains, we graciously accepted. We took this opportunity to satisfy our curiosities about Charlie and his lodge: why had he chosen this spot in the Andean mountains for his lodge and his home? His reasons were many and varied, but all became more apparent (and ideal) the more time we spent there. Situated in a position where you can see all three Cordillera Blanca peaks (Huascaran North (6664m), South (6768m) and Huandoy (6395m), accessible to yet secluded from Yungay, and proximity to the ancient ruins and the most remarkable (and sometimes hidden) trails in the area, the lodge’s position was deliberate and well planned and allows Charlie to remain “off the grid.” His ecologically-friendly lodge uses minimal electricity, sources locally produced ingredients, and uses a composting method in his reforestation efforts. Moreover, he hires trusted members of the local community and even attends and participates in the community meetings in Yungay. Charlie spoke extensively on the topic, and the passion and pride for his current career path was evident in everything that he explained. Oh, and the view of the sunset over the lake was pretty cool, too.
Follow us through the rest of our journey in “Weekend in the Andes, Llanganuco Lodge Peru – Part TWO!