So many things, this place brought out of me.
We hopped on a bus at 4:15am for our 3 hour drive to Rainbow Mountain.
The slow incline 4500 meters up came along with breathtaking views. This looked different than anything I had seen before. Jagged rock faces were protruding out of the mountain, looking like profiles of various sized geo-gods. It reminded me of something out of a Norse folktale.
We arrived at the base of the mountain to several little food/water stands, and large stable full of horses. An option to take a horse up the mountain for 60 soles was available, and recommended, considering the 1000 meter incline in such a short distance.
I obliged and decided to go with a horse. I was then pointed towards a man with a horse, Ruben was his name. I asked Ruben what the horses name was, and he responded “caballo”, which translates to “horse” in Spanish. “He doesn’t have a name?” I said, “No”, responded Ruben. I felt like a naive American in that moment; to think that they would name the animals that they use for labor.
I hopped on the beautiful brown horse that was provided to me, and we set forth. A few minutes in, I could hear the horse panting, and I was immediately overcome with concern. Everyone got off their horses a couple of minutes after, to cross a muddy path and enter onto the mountain trail. I asked my guide if I could just walk instead of using the horse, and he told me that there will be places where I will need to walk further up, and taking a horse would be the best thing for me. I’m pretty sure they also did not want to give me my money back, so I hopped back on and continued.
Shortly thereafter, I saw a group of alpacas herded within a circular stone structure. There was a man in the middle doing something, and I couldn’t quite tell what it was until I got a little closer. I then realized that he had an alpaca by it’s neck, trying to restrain it. I saw another alpaca tied up by its front and hind legs, being de-furred by what looked like giant rose-bush scissors. I felt my heart ache. As we passed the structure, I saw a separate section where the furless alpacas stood, in the freezing cold. Their cut-jobs were botched, similar to what I imagine would be an impulsive post-break-up visit to your local Super-Cuts.
“Fu*k all of these alpaca sweaters!!” I thought to myself. I had just spent a few hours yesterday shopping for an expensive alpaca sweater per the request of a friend, and in that moment, I felt disgusted by it.
“What the fu*k are we doing?!”. Spending our money to contribute to the abuse and mistreatment of these animals so we can feel the soft cuddly warmth on our skin?! Hmm, HOW PLEASANT.
With the combination of the sound of the panting horse under me, and the sight of the writhing alpacas, I couldn’t tell if I wanted to cry or barf. In that moment I had to look around and remind myself where I was, and of the privilege I had. PRIVILEGE. That thought set off another series of thoughts. The privilege to be able to spend money on making a horse uncomfortable for the sake and prevention of my sore muscles. The PRIVILEGE to buy an expensive baby alpaca sweater for the sake of comfort and stylishness. Seriously? This is what we are doing with our privilege. I understand that the locals are also contributing to this, that they also want this because it is a cog that keeps their wheel turning. But at what stake? The pain of these creatures that can’t speak for themselves?
I was surrounded by such vast beauty of the snowy mountains yet I felt guilty for what was happening. We arrived at a steep slope, and I realized that this was one of the spots where I would have to walk. I got off the horse, followed the incline, and felt my heart rate increase within minutes. We were about 5000 meters up at this point, and it was getting cooler. I felt such gratitude for my horse. It had gotten me up so far, and I found myself tired only after minutes of walking. The path had cleared and Ruben signaled for me to hop back on.
We continued on for another 20 minutes or so, and stopped at the horse drop-off point. The remaining 400 meter incline had to be completed by foot. I thanked my horse with a gentle pet, and went on my way.
The colors of the sediment under my feet blew me away. They don’t call it rainbow mountain for nothing. I saw shades of yellow, green, blue, purple and red. Around me were mountains covered in snow and behind me was a steep decline that looked like it went for miles, with tiny little people following along the trail.
I thought again about privilege. About how the locals have the privilege of being with these mountains every day. Getting to know them, and understanding the land they encompass. Perhaps some don’t see that as privilege, and perhaps some do.
After 25 minutes of intermittent hiking and resting, I arrived at the top of the mountain. (Photo below was taken before arriving to the top)
Oh holy heavens. Being 5400 meters (17,800 feet) in the air is like no other sensation. Surrounded by snowy mountain tops, with rainbow hues peeking out from under the melting snow. And because of the snow, we didn’t get the see the ‘Rainbow Mountains’ for its namesake, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
I sat down at the top and stared off into the landscape. I felt such plenitude. I reached my arm out, and could feel the clouds gently colliding with my fingertips. I think any more words regarding the view would take away from what it truly was; so much of it goes beyond words. But perhaps the pictures will give you an idea.
After 35 minutes atop Rainbow Mountain, we were told to make our way down. It was and hour and a half hike after all, and we still had a 3 hour drive back to Cusco.
I think this place could be a geologists dream. On my hike down I made several stops collecting some of the coolest-colored rocks I’ve ever seen! Squishing through chunks of mud and snow, stopping every so often for a moment, to look around me, and take it all in.
I passed by the herded alpacas again, this time, not alerted by the sight of them, but by the sound, in particular, the sound of a screeching alpaca being shaved. Ugh. It was horrible. Two were being shaved and another was crying, as if to be crying out of sympathy for the other two. I stopped for a moment. It was not a pleasant sight, but I had to, as if to pay some kind of homage to what they were going through.
Pero of course, this is the world that we live in. Beautiful, cold, broken, cruel, capitalistic, humanistic, disconnected, but still whole. We’re all in it together, all contributing to it. Even I, hypocritical, sitting on a horse while saving my muscles. Owning a beautiful alpaca sweater that I love. It’s all true. We just don’t often see the different sides to what we contribute to. Today, I found myself with the opportunity to do just that. What will I do from here? I’m uncertain. But this was a good reminder. Reminder of privilege. Reminder of priorities. Reminder of nature, and also, of human nature.
Here’s to all colors of the rainbow.