Money & Careers

How I Embraced Retirement: A Journey of Discovery in the Andes Mountains of Peru

Rough Day after climbing two passesSoaking my feet at our camp site after a rough day crossing two passes.

Did I experience any discomfort? Yes! We both occasionally had mild headaches that were altitude-related. And I felt anxiety that bordered on panic when we walked along narrow trails adjacent to rock-strewn precipices. Toward the end of our trek, my feet would throb in pain from constantly striking the ground, especially when descending. We kept a slow pace. Steve, who has a titanium hip, decided that he didn’t want to be evacuated by horse because of an injury. Pushing our physical limits required mental fortitude when some of our climbs seemed endless and treacherous. We often recalled the lyrics from that Little Feat song “Old Folks Boogie”:

“And you know that you’re over the hill/ When your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill.”

Several times we were lured by false summits, only to round a corner and see our distant goal. The discouragement would turn to elation when we finally reached the pass between mountain peaks and began our descent.

Sleeping at altitude can be a challenge. Especially when you climb into your sleeping bag at 7:30 p.m. (when it’s pitch dark and cold). Our sleep aid was Advil PM. Nothing can describe the mental (and physical) struggle to decide whether to crawl out of the warm tent to pee or to hold it . . . the more you wrestle with the decision, the more pressing your need!

The approximately 100-mile trek consisted of seven passes through the Andes. We traveled through flat “pampas” and countless switchbacks up and down mountains at altitudes of 10,000 to 16,200 feet. We shared the trails with sheep, cows, donkeys, horses, pigs, alpacas, goats, dogs, and a few other hikers. Once, a condor circled overhead. We slept next to shimmering aquamarine glacial lakes— “lagunas.” And we traveled past an amazing variety of mountain landscapes, the most notable being the pyramid-shaped Alpamayo peak. In an international survey in 1966, it was elected the most beautiful mountain in the world. It was hard to give all the credit to Alpamayo, however, when we saw the magnificent view of the triple summit of Santa Cruz a few days later. All in all, the snowcapped mountains and glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca served to remind me of the joy I experience when I push my limits and move beyond my comfort zone. Overcoming fear, avoiding discouragement, and focusing on my goal served to provide the boost that I needed in order to succeed.

The Food
Our cook, Yovanni, was trained in the culinary arts. Each meal was better than the next, and even included decorative garnishes. We ate filet mignon wrapped in bacon, chicken Cordon Bleu, and several Peruvian delights: trout, arroz con mariscos (rice with seafood), pollo con piña (chicken with pineapple), and lomo saltado (Steak Peruvian style). (Fortunately, we weren’t served another Peruvian favorite—guinea pig!) We had fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Our lunches along the trails consisted of a delectable picnic spread‑vegetable-stuffed avocadoes, stuffed tomatoes with tuna, and other delights. For one breakfast, we had crêpes stuffed with fresh strawberries.

The Peruvian People
Trekking through the Andes threw us into daily contact with Peruvians. The Andes has an abundant agricultural economy, and we saw the villagers harvesting their crops and tending their livestock. The women were attired in native dress, which includes traditional wide skirts and distinct tall hats, while working in the fields or herding their flocks. And there is no modern farm machinery. I saw one woman throw wheat onto the ground while her husband guided a horse in a circle to trample the grain. There were many oxen and plows. All harvesting was by hand. I had an “Aha!” moment when I realized that, for these indigenous people, there is no such thing as Retirement.

The Reward

Laguna Cullicocha & Santa CruzThe rewarding view of Laguna Cullicocha and the triple summit at Santa Cruz.

We successfully completed our trek, and parted with our trekking team with much appreciation for their warmhearted and professional role in our experience. Still marveling at the stunning scenery we encountered, we had come to the end of our adventure. We practically skipped up the steps of our guest house in Huaraz to enjoy one final experience: The first shower in seven days!


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  • Susan Fier November 13, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Here’s a belated response to comments! Yes, I have hiked in Patagonia and especially enjoyed Torres Del Paine. It was just after their big fire so we have to go back to hike the “W”. Other places that I have hiked in my “youth” (fifties) include Argentine Patagonia (Chalten), Mt. Kiliminjaro, Mt. Kenya, Cortina Dolomites, Zakopane (Poland), Croatia, Bolivia, Annapurna Trail (Nepal), & Atacama Desert (Chile).

    The little animal in my arms is a lamb!

  • hillsmom October 16, 2015 at 11:53 am

    What a fantastic adventure! In the photo above you are holding an animal which I thought had a large red nose. but I see that was a trick of the sunlight on cloth. Is it a goat, lamb, dog…for heaven’s sake what is it? Thanks

  • Barbara Thornbrough October 16, 2015 at 7:39 am

    Love this write up. If you would like to view our photos of Patagonia where you need to go next we would love to share them with you and get you mentally ready for fabulous scenery but not at such a high altitude. I am talking about Torres Del Paine and the French Valley hikes. Utterly, breathtaking and very rewarding in terms of pushing yourself. Patagonia Camp is a place with yurts where you can go with a guide to many hikes. Good food, great accommodations and you do not have to go outside the permanent yurt with a sky light to go to the ladies room.
    Thanks for the write up. Oh the old Inca trail is another idea for you. Very high and its of tea needed. Barbara Thornbrough