|We planned to arrive in Caraz, and then leave the next morning to start our Santa Cruz trek - but the place we'd decided to rent equipment from was closed when we arrived (even tho they'd said they'd be open till late on the 'phone!), so we spent an extra day nursing our colds, eating ice-cream, relaxing in the lovely peaceful plaza - and gathering bits and pieces together and packing for our trek! We did manage to leave the next morning, and were at Cashapampa, our starting point, by 9:30am. We knew that we'd be climbing from the start, and during the first day we were very aware of our heavy packs (there's a reason why most peole hire donkeys!), and looked forward to our hourly breaks! The scenery was increasingly beautiful tho as we walked up a long, steep-sided gorge, and for the first 3 hours we had the company of a lovely young dog (she joined us at the start and refused to turn back until we passed a group of hikers going the other way with biscuits!). We made it passed the recommended first camping area, and finally stopped a little after 4pm and camped by a wetland area with lots of donkeys (one of whom was very persistently friendly!). The weather was kind to us, and waited until we'd got our tent up before it started to rain! We'd planned to set off early the next morning, but rain kept us in our tent later than we'd wanted - the rain pretty much determined our walking day for the whole trip - we waited for it to stop before we came out in the morning (usually 6:30 / 7am), and hurried to set up our camp before it started in the afternoon (at about 4:30pm) - that's what you get for trekking at the end of the rainy season I guess! Our second day was less uphill - at least for the morning! We passed the lake we'd camped near, and then went around another larger one, and then hopped across a wide wetland area, jumping over rivers (not easy with big packs on!), and trying to stay as dry as possible! Near the end of this patch, we walked for a while with a man taking his mules home after trekking with a group in the other direction - he showed us the path we wanted to take, and we kept up with him for as long as we could, which wasn't long 'cos he was walking all the way to our finish point (2 days away for us) before nightfall! When we'd got our breath back after he'd left us, we started our side-trip to see Alpamayo (an especially beautiful mountain that's just under 6000m). We zigged and zagged our way up, coming closer to snow with each turn. Da stopped shortly after we'd passed our short-cut path back to our main trail, mentioning things like 'torture' a lot(!) - he made our lunch and sat appreciating the view with our bags while Tara went the rest of the way across the high meadows to see Alpamayo: it really has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth! Once Tara was back, and had had her sandwiches, it was only another relatively easy hour on to our second campsite. This time, we had to use the recommended site because there was nowhere flat and dry enough further on - the next section was the climb to Punta Union, our 4750m high pass. It took us three-and-a-half hours to reach it the next morning, and the walk was stunning! We could see all the way back down the valley we'd walked up, past the lakes, and then, closer, a crystal clear turquoise lake as well. Da was obviously enjoying the climb, as he mentioned frequently with phrases like 'this torture is never going to end!'. We spent about an hour at the top, resting, having lunch and enjoying our achievement and the views (and in Da's case, feeling decidedly sick!), and then we braved the wind on the other side, and started our descent. Going down was definitely easier (each step up really is a huge effort at that altitude!), but Da was feeling the effects of the altitude and it was a hard afternoon for him - and a long one for both of us: we didn't find the campsite we were aiming for, and when camping time came, couldn't find a suitable site - we ended up setting up our tent in pouring rain. We set off early the next morning, initially trying to make the end of the trek in time to get to another nearby lake by nightfall. The sun was shining tho, and the valley very lovely, and we decided to slow up and enjoy it instead. We stopped for a while to dry our clothes and tent, and were quickly joined by a shepherd, and then another boy, who clearly thought we were good entertainment! Soon after that, houses and fences and fields started to appear, and we (well, Tara at least!) felt sad to be leaving the wild mountains behind. We thought that then it would be an easy walk from there to Vaqueria, the village where we would be able to get a bus out; but somehow we missed a path, and then, when we met some friendly people who led us back in the right direction, it was a long and murderously steep climb to the village! We missed the bus we'd hoped to catch, and pretty much as soon as we'd reached shelter and sat down to wait for the next one, it started to pour again. We enjoyed not moving(!) and watching the local people, who were having a big meal to celebrate finishing a house building - except that it wasn't finished, apparently because all the people working on it were drunk by lunchtime each day! - they were having the meal anyway tho, and everyone was getting ready for tomorrow: there's no work on Sundays, so Saturday is the day to shower and get ready for relaxing! By the time another bus came, 2 hours later, it was too late to go on to the other lake (much to Da's relief!), and we decided to go back to Caraz and our nice warm bed and (sometimes) hot shower!! We stayed in Caraz for a day of well-deserved relaxing (and icecream!), and took a taxi ride to get a good view of Huascaran, the highest mountain in Peru at 6768m, and then loaded ourselves onto a night bus headed back to Lima on our way south.