Such a trip was not so simple to organize, it had to be very well prepared: seeking partners, financial means, and also a person living in Peru who could organize and arrange the materials needed. We had to find a cameraman as well as six persons that would accompany the four passengers (of the Joëlette) who were well-motivated to live their incredible dream. All this work took several months, not only for the group travelling to Peru, but also for a lot of other persons. The six people who were joining us were chosen because they already knew how to use the "Joëlette", and two women in this group had already hiked on the Huascaran summit. They all had athletic qualities and were fit to hike.
Eric was really happy to settle in his "Joëlette". As our hiking progressed, we saw fewer and fewer towns. Martine laughed when she was told about the Bodegas' strange "identifying system": a white flag if there was bread, a red one if there was chica...and a green one if the husband was away. When we arrived at the Jonca Pampa's camp located at 3500 meters above sea level, we then had to wait two days more in order to become acclimatized to the altitude. We then had the opportunity to discover the famous surrounding summits, all being at more than 6000 meters above sea level. When the sun rose, the beauty of the landscapes took one's breath away.
We learned a great deal from our first contacts with the children: "Meeting other people, other cultures, knowing other ways of living, enables one to relativize any kind of disability. The other persons' looking at us is then different: it is an interested, friendly glance, never an unconcerned one".
The Peruvian porters learned how to "use" the "Joëlette", and as they began their first hike, they were quite astonished to be out of breath. Lionel, our cameraman, had to use the recompression chamber to stabilize them.
Our first big journey began in Chavin de Huantar, an archeological site located in the White Cordillera. Chavin was the center of a civilization living in the Andes between 800 BC. and 300 BC. Huge walls can still be seen. We discovered stone-made statues representing different Gods, which were used to frighten the farmers. With our guide, Roland, we visited the underground galleries. We had to leave the "Joëlettes" for a few minutes because they could not fit through a dark and narrow corridor. The Joëlette passengers were carried by men so that they could see the God of Chavin, a stone monolith with a lance shaped head.
After the cactus-bordered trail of San Pédro Cactus, we went ahead and saw beautiful and varied landscapes: narrow gorges, eucalyptus forests, and quenual-lined lagoons. Quenuals are trees without bark, which grow until about 4000 meters above sea level. We walked 200 kilometers, at around 4000 meters altitude, until we met another culture: the descendants of the Inca people, and of the Spanish conquistadors.
We were then on the paths leading to the sky...and from this moment on for us, it was a question of having athletic and human experience. We met farmers families who then left to cultivate their lands. The men carry a wooden plough on their shoulders, the women spin wool, and the kids go on ahead of them to take care of the herds.
Women were heavy loaded: in their many-coloured "mantas" tied up around their shoulders, they carried their babies, but also merchandise to sell at the market. We understood how difficult the farmer's life can be:
Our caravan had become particularly close knit, and succeeded in getting over the Punta San Bartolome (4510 meters) and the Porta Cuelo pass (4750 meters). We had to brave marshes, where it seemed even the donkeys felt in difficulty, and our "Joëlettes" were slowed by stone blocks. We also had to brave the rain and cold weather, not to mention the altitude. But as we arrived at the top, it was such a wonderful sight to see the Andes Condor flying above us, soaring with his three meter wingspan!
We had a good rest every night, either in the tent or around the wood fire. Camping so close to the sky was not really comfortable, but we forgot about our discomfort thanks to Pascal's harmonica and songs. There were starry nights on occasion, but it was uncommon at the beginning of the rainy season.
Travelling through different villages gave the townspeople unexpected encounters: in Huantar, the villagers stopped working to look at our strange caravan. In Huari the pupils were holding a demonstration against Ecuador and stopped when they saw us. They subsequently joined us in our journey to Purhay Lake, and stayed with us the whole afternoon.
The highest altitude on the road we were travelling on was located at Chacas, a little village in the centre of the Andes Cordillera. The people at Mato Grosso, an Italian non-governmental organization, welcomed us. This organization was in charge of some important activities for the Andes' farmers: they maintained the hospital, training center, weaving shop, cabinet making, ironwork, farming...We gave medicines collected in France, as well as wheelchairs, to the Chacas hospital. We felt a strong emotional moment with the hospital employees.
For two days we lived with all the farmers, who came to celebrate Father Hugo, who had founded Mato Grosso.
We were really impressed by the crowd's fervour, who sang about a priest who had recently been killed by drug traffickers.
Meeting such people was an opportunity for us to keep in mind the priceless importance of a simple glass of water, a piece of bread, or a smile.
As Beatrice said: "We'll never forget the fantastic landscapes, all the smiles we received everywhere, and the wonderful spirit of our Gringos team".
You know, it's so great to make your dreams come true, after you've thought about them all your life.
In Quechua language, the word "experience" can be translated as: "mature heart" or "taking place in the memory"...