Last sunday I booked myself on a 4 day trek through the Andes specifically the famous Cordillera Blanca mountains. Like all good long term backpackers I booked myself on the Budget 4 day santa Cruz trek, believing that a hike thru the mountains is indeed just a hike thru the mountains. Now it´s been about 10 years since I´ve done a trek of the 4 day variety and it seems things have changed a fair bit in the camping world. For me part of the trip has always been out there in the mountains suffering a little with your powdered mash potato, raincoat rolled into a pillow and your own gear on your back over those mountain passes. But it seems the SUV generation has turned camping on it´s ear.
My fellow random tour members were 2 Belgian chess players, father Rudi and his son Thomas, 2 hard as nails Scottish ladies in their fifties, a spanish mountain man with his belly dancer girlfriend, a dutch couple and our Peruvian guide. Believing I was suitably prepared with my torch, sleeping bag, pocket knife and 3 chocolate bars (which I believed would make my fellow campers envious) I set off for the mountains. Upon meeting my fellow campers I immediately realised I was the only one without walking sticks. Yes the walking stick has been a very strange development in the trekking world. Virtually everyone has them. (at about 100 bucks per stick I might add). Most people also seem to have the 380 dollar goretex jacket, not to mention superdown pertex pants, 7000 series aluminium accessories, waterproof jackets with sleeve control, nylon pants complete with outdoor washed out look that turn into detachable shorts with one zip, miners headlamp torches, and a variety of other gadgets all worth hundreds of dollars and which will probably be only used on the Santa Cruz trek. All of which will be carried up by the poor old donkeys. When you think that back in the 1920´s some men climbed everest only with hobnailed boots, tweeds and canvas backpacks it makes one think.
As me and my fellow budget trekkers sat huddled behind a stone wall to protect ourselves from shivering we started to ponder the benefits of posh camping. Personally I find it a little insensitive tramping around Peru in 4000 dollars worth of gear you´ll wear once. Moreover some of the trekkers had all their gear carried for them, their tents set up for them , toilet tents, eating tents, cooking tents, shower tents, private guides, Red wine and restaurant quality food to eat. And paying up to 300 US dollars a day for the privilege of walking in the mountains. But isn´t the point of camping to rough it a tiny bit? The feel of that first shower when you get back to civilisation, that first meal, first beer. Having said that there wasn´t one of us that wouldn´t have jumped at the chance to join them if invited. I wonder what camping in the mountains will be like in another 10 years time...
The views of the mountains were quite spectacular and were exactly the same whether you were on the budget tour or not. We crossed a 4700 metre pass which was hard work but were rewarding with fantastic views and luckily the weather was clear for virtually our entire trek. Definitely worth 4 days of roughing it without the special altitude watch, high peak trekking poles, zyrtec oxygen cannisters, battery powered shower, brass whistle, disposable handwarmers, insect head net, GPS navigator and sock warmers.