My Two Day Trek to Find the Thermal Baths at the Base of Ausangate Mountain

The end of the world has one small gravel road. It loops up and around and across several mountain ranges, all of the cordilleras.

There are no directions, except for ‘sigue sigue!’ ‘de frente, no mas!’, head nods from the occasional alpaca herder, and one sign we found: ‘Baja Temperatura’ with a snowflake displayed, if you didn’t understand the words.

There is a vastness, an expanse as big as the cloudless sky. It fills your chest. It lifts you up to the snowy mountain peaks that you can almost touch with your outstretched arms.
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There is a half-finished water piping infrastructure project at the end of the world, transporting glacial water down to the valleys. No wonder, the municipality also made it out here to the end of the world.

We found a wasteland of giant boulders at the end of the world. And small gravel, and mid-sized rocks, all tossed aside in the name of progress, to construct the concrete canals and plastic pipelines funneling the water to places where someone said it should go.

Hundreds of alpacas are grazing in the alpine valleys at the end of the world. Most of the animals are white, but some are mottled and some dark brown.

An anthropologist from Lima told us that the alpaca wool market is forcing pastoralists to raise white alpacas to meet the current demands.

The genetic diversity of alpacas is dwindling, even at the end of the world.

Little yellow flowers resembling dandelions pop out in clusters, so close to the ground you have to squat with your big pack on your back to see them shimmering in the sunlight. They are singing.

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And finally at the end of the world, are several thermal springs, bubbling up from the swampy ground, sending steam into the wintry air. You can put down your pack, and leave it with one of the three villagers who live at the end of the world, to explore the geo thermally warmed waters, first donning your extra scarves, hats, and long underwear as the sun edges closer to the silhouettes of the mountains.

It appears as if there used to be a functioning set of swimming pools at the end of the world. There are the leftover remains of intricate watercourses combining cold glacial river water with the hot thermal springs. The glass in the windows is broken in an abandoned bathroom building and a locker room.
At this time, the end of the world has one concrete pool remaining, filled with water the color of clay, its temperature just right to warm the marrow of your bones. There is a constant gravity-fed stream in and out of the pool, regulating the water level.

We took off our shoes and rolled up our pants to soak up the minerals through our pores while we wrapped our scarves up over our noses.

Light pollution doesn’t make it as far as the end of the world. Not even a glimmer of electricity that might send its eerie orange glow out from a city behind the mountains. Nothing. Instead the stars dance in spirals, making waves through the Milky Way. They shine electric blue and green and purple in the darkness, and you can watch them only if you wrap yourself in thick alpaca blankets, and hug your knees to your chest.

There is alpaca meat for breakfast at the end of the world, with hot coca tea, and potatoes, of course. You might be offered Coca-Cola too. The Coca-Cola Company is alive and well at the end of the world.

We came back riding horses. I had to ask, for the horses, but what I didn’t ask for was the red scab I still have on my sit bone from my skin being rubbed raw after sitting bareback on my brown steed for three and a half hours, with my giant pack on my back, clenching every muscle in my legs and arms, praying I would not fall off.

I did not fall off.

Horses have an easier time coming to and fro from the end of the world. They are accustomed to the cold air, and the hot springs, and their white alpaca neighbors.

I have the sore spot when I sit at my desk to write. Some people come back from trips with caramels and wooden figurines for the mantle piece. Those aren’t the kinds of souvenirs they have at the end of the world.

 

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