A Leg To Remember- Sarah's Last Days On The Trail

Our favorite times on the trail are defined by the people who take us in, the unbelievable views around a corner or at the top of a pass, and the bond between us tres chicas (locas!). For Sarah's 31st and last leg, after 2,500km (1,500 miles) through South America's Andean Cordillera and nine and a half months, we were lucky to experience it all.
Our first night out of Cerro de Pasco we were warmly welcomed into the small village of Pacoyan. They invited us to spend the night on mattresses in their gold mine-funded community center. As we were tucking ourselves in, a knock on the door brought three boys asking for a photo with us- with our camera. Subsequently it lead to photos with several Pacoyan youngsters, tea, cachanga (yet another style of fry bread), and good conversation with one of the town elders. We were thankful for a roof over our heads that night as apparently a thick layer of frost covers this high-altitude plain each morning. Instead of freezing in the tent, we were served breakfast in bed. Hot tea, more cachanga, and whole wheat rolls spiced with anis...mmm!

Gold mine shaped like a terraced pyramid
The initial boys who knocked on our door for a picture
The rest of the crew

Sarah, Shelley and Trinity enjoying a bedtime snack

Our comfortable accommodations in the community center- Shelley, Sarah and Trinity about to be served breakfast in bed

When I exited the community center the next day, a two-month old baby was thrown into my arms for a picture. Here we are very awkwardly wondering what to do. Shelley, Trinity, baby and Sarah.

We left Pacoyan in an excellent mood- full bellies, big sky, and the open dirt road in front of us promising giant peaks in the distance. To celebrate the 4th of July, we dressed up with red, white and blue ribbons and bright lipstick and belted out every patriotic song we knew the lyrics to.

Big sky

Ribbons and lipstick for Independence Day! Sarah, Shelley and Trinity.

 After enjoying a few melodious hours on the road, we hitched to Chaqua after being informed in Pacoyan that the curving mountain road would take more time than we had allotted to get Sarah to Cajatambo in time to catch her flight (out of Lima) back to the USA. We were picked up by a silver mine supervisor (no doubt amused by our pigtails, ribbons and lipstick) who gave us a banana snack, paid for our lunch, stopped periodically for us to take pictures, and dropped us off past his own stop- talk about generous! He also innocuously videotaped us singing loudly while resting his camera on the gear shifter but we will ignore that…

Hitching to Chaqua

At the "foothills"

From Chaqua, we descended through the high alpine rocky valley to Oyón. Upon arrival we were immediately ushered into town by a nice ice cream vendor who showed us the way to the plaza’s hotel (where I saw two buckets of feces- someone cleaning up from their mountain hut?). He made one stop along the way to introduce us to a local snack of mazamorra de tocash (potato mush with healing properties) and mazamorra de maíz (corn mush). The corn mazamorra wasn’t too bad but the potato mazamorra tasted like the smell of our feet. Since we ate it out of our titanium cups, we were able to politely leave toting the questionable substance in our cups, and not give away that we did not like it. The next morning we noticed our oatmeal breakfast smelled and tasted funky- the mazamorra had penetrated our titanium cups! A trip first! We were able to rid them of the smell after a good scrubbing… ick!

About to experience some sleet on the road to Oyón

From Oyón we continued to the village of Churín, narrowly escaping bared teeth of a hair-raised dog, where we turned north onto a deserted single-lane dirt road that would lead us to Cajatambo over the next two and a half days. We walked through a tight hanging-plant river canyon that suddenly opened up to a wide alpine valley flanked by the rock mammoths of Cordillera Raura to our east.  We ascended the west side of the valley in light hail, appreciating the beautiful twilight, camping at an uninhabited puesto (outpost) where we met our new canine companion, Maria Feliz, who would spend the night with us (on guard barking at everything and nothing) and most of the following day. The next morning we peaked a 4845m (15,898ft) pass surrounded by red, black and glaciated mountains protecting a bright blue high-altitude reservoir and the grazing horses in the tundra valley below. The other side of the pass lead us down through abandoned and active mines, curving through mountainsides until we turned the corner to the vast Cajatambo valley with an impossibly monstrous glaciated peak looming overhead- marking our entrance into the infamous Cordillera Huayhuash (look forward to our next post on this trek). The far end of the valley dropped off into a black hole.

A new fav lunch: pita-like bread, crema de ají (a creamy spicy sauce), cow's cheese and golden raisins

Cordillera Raura

Sarah hiking in Cordillera Raura

Looking back on the road, we walked out of the river canyon beyond
Sarah with Trinity doting on Maria Feliz
Taking in the view of Cordillera Raura
Camped at this uninhabited outpost (where Maria Feliz found us!)

Trinity, Maria Feliz and Shelley

Horses grazing in the alpine valley before the pass

Horses grazing
Trinity taking in the view

Tres chicas locas! Shelley, Trinity and Sarah

Snow travel. Shelley and Trinity.
Cutting through the zombie land of an abandoned mine. Trinity and Shelley.

Switchbacking through mountainsides

View of the Cajatambo valley, mammoth peak marking Cordillera Huayhuash, and the black hole beyond
Sarah’s last night on the trail we “sniper camped” (we are coining this term for hidden-from-obvious-site-above-the-road camping) on a knoll perched on the side of the valley where we were gifted a pink sunset. We awoke to an incessantly windy morning which brought us back to our first days walking across windy Tierra del Fuego nine and a half months ago. We walked into Cajatambo in time for lunch (right on time!) and a celebratory self-guided “bar” crawl through the donkey-studded main street. We stopped at each mini-market or diner for a beer or hot wine spiced with alpine herbs. We bid Sarah a sad farewell and made her promise to tell us what she finds in the black hole beyond Cajatambo.

Sarah's last South American sunset

Shelley and Sarah herding sheep

Town of Cajatambo, deep in the valley, with the black hole even deeper beyond

Sarah's last steps on the trail. Trinity, Sarah and Shelley.

Shelley in Cajatambo
One of the stops on our "pub" crawl
Sarah getting on the bus )c:
Sarah, I felt like nothing we could write in this blog post would be enough to describe our bond and love for you strengthened over this year. So, I wrote you a poem (and apologies to others who don’t get the inside jokes). Your adventurous spirit, no-frills approach to life, try-anything attitude, and will-always-be-by-your-side friendship and dedication is still with us at heart. We are still in denial that your smiling face won’t greet us in the next town.  We hope you find a job in Denver and are waiting for us there to explore the Rockies upon our return. We love you, friend.

Dear Sarah
Nearly two years ago
Shelley and I over wine
decided this trip
would simply be divine
We called you to join
you said it was a long way
but 30 seconds later
you said "okay"
In windy Tierra del Fuego
our first month on the trail
we took your pee shyness
as something to derail
You tried so hard
to dread your coif
but in Punta Arenas
had to cut it all off

In El Bolson
you got up on stage
danced like Michael Flatley
and made the bar rage

You spoke French
so at first your Spanish was hairy
but by the end
you topped our food vocabulary

In the wine country of Mendoza
with borrowed make-up on your face
you snatched up croissants
and were in a bicycle chase

In Bolivia and Peru
we loved your family
and hiking awesome Ausangate
with sister Emily

With your culinary background
as a pro food dork
we can't believe
you lost so many a spork

Your best mode of transport
is definitely walking
because on every bus ride
your stomach bug would start talking

We think of you
while trying new food that rocks
and seeing your pigtail tassels
on the grazing livestock

Now with you gone
and not insisting on dinner
perhaps Shelley and I
will get a little thinner

You always joke
that you're the weakest link
but fact is without you
the strength of our hearts sink

However Shelley and I
we do agree
that you are definitely
the dirtiest of us three

We look forward to your future
and your WWII dissertation
will your future involve food
or dancing on a children's tv station?

Now that you're back in the states
sipping craft beer and mochas
you're still walking in our souls
as one of the tres chicas locas.
We love you Sarah!


  1. oh my gosh, Trin. Thank you so much - that is the best farewell gift I could have received. It brought tears to my eyes but many laughs too... well done my friend. I miss you girls more than you know but am always there in spirit!! Love you!!

  2. This post is even making me tear up! Such an inspirational journey and an incredible bond between you three crazy women. The good news is that the last year is just one long trek and you have a lifetime of treks yet to come. I really hope that one day I can join you three just so I can say I hiked with the Tres Chicas Locas :)

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