The sound of the neglected seat belts clanged like cheap wind chimes, and the shadow of the mountains against the opposite rock face grew taller and taller as the sun said good night. A fellow traveler looks up and snaps a photo with her cracked smartphone as we drive by the turquoise lake at the entrance of the park. After, she continues watching Netflix.
It's what I'd just seen a hundred hikers do that same day. Organized tours pick you up at 5 AM, drive you to a trailhead, rush you up the steep trails climbing to 15,000 ft. altitude until you reach the most iconic lake in all of Huascarán: Laguna 69. You have 30 minutes to take your photos; then it's a rush back down against the dark.
How often do I do the same? Glance up, smile slightly, and then turn away? To be in the middle of a beautiful moment, only to break it for the sake of distraction or to avoid a little discomfort. But today, my phone was off. I didn't even bring a book to get lost in.
It was Aaron's 29th birthday, and we decided to go up slowly, with a tent and sleeping bags. Our packs were heavy, but we stopped to catch our breath from the altitude and beauty more often and even stopped for a lunch along the river.
We arrived at the lake as the tour guides were shepherding people down. Before we could set our packs down...it was just us. Our tent went up. The sun went down. The stars come out. Aaron and I shared our last cocoa packet and kissed under the Milky Way. It was a moment no future cruel plot twist could ever take away and only possible by our decision to stay awhile.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all rainbows. I froze my ass off. I laid in my sleeping bag for an hour before I willed myself to crawl out of the tent to pee. Underprepared as always, my sleeping bag was a joke and my snow pants wouldn't fit over my new expat-living-in-Latin-America-hips (but damn if I didn't hike 2,000 meters up in 3.5 hours wearing a massive pack). Thankfully, my boyfriend was sweating in his fluffy, rated to -20 degrees bag and offered his snow pants to me (I said a small prayer of thanks as they slid over my hips).
But despite the cold, we still woke up to the bright glimmering lake...a brighter blue than the color of that sapphire Rose dropped in the ocean at the end of Titanic. We had breakfast with some climbers who passed by headed to hopefully reach the summit of Pisco later that week. As we packed up to leave, day hikers started pouring in. I cheered them on as I descended, "You're almost there," "Only 15 more minutes, "Right over that ridge!" It was a brutal hike to do in a day...and only to arrive for a moment then return. How often I do the same...struggling to go in circles as fast as I can?
On the bus ride back to Huaraz, I was happy I didn't just glance up this time. I stared out the window the whole time, with my nose metaphorically against the glass. I was happy to have a break from the to-do lists and the cravings for constant comfort and entertainment. The chance to slow down. To enjoy. To notice. To breathe.
I made a bed out of mountains. If only for a night. I lived among stars and the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. In light and dark. For better or worse.
The driver says it's only 2 hours back to the hostel, but I have a feeling it'll be 3.
"Tranquila," as they say.
P.S. Yep...3 hours. I counted. Change is hard.