A Journey That Changed My Life

My first experience in the heart of the Andes

  • Dad, do you want to travel to Peru with me?

  • No.

  • Well, I’m going.

  • With who? Is your boyfriend coming?

  • No.

  • So you’re going alone?

  • I guess so.

  • No you’re not. Sign me up, I’m coming.

And this is how in under 5 minutes, in June 2022, we decided to travel to Peru with my dad the following year.

For a bit of context:

  • I had never traveled outside Europe (apart from one week in NY when I was a teenager but that doesn’t really count)

  • I had never hiked in high altitude before

  • And although I was hiking a bit here in Switzerland, I had never hiked intensively for more than 2 days in a row. This was going to be 10 days

So this is what I mean when I say photography is what drives me to try hard stuff.

Without necessarily thinking before.

But hey, sometimes all you need is to say fuck yes to something you don’t know if you can do and figure out how to do it on the way.

This letter is a bit different than the previous ones.

I will be going over my experience going to the Peruvian Andes, what I learned, what I saw, and why I am going back this year.

1. The Preparation

When it comes to the logistics, we decided to join the team of Capture The Atlas with Dan Zafra and Ascen Aynat.

They were opening this tour for the very first time but Dan had already done the trek himself and knew the local team there.

Plus, since they both speak Spanish, they were able to facilitate communication with the locals there.

This means in terms of logistics, we didn’t have to do anything (and I admit, felt nice to experience that for the first time).

So, how did we prepare?

Physical Preparation

In June 2022, I clearly was not in a good physical shape.

Not that I couldn’t have made it, but if I had gone at that time, I would have put myself through so much pain and suffering because of my poor physical condition.

But since we were going in June 2023, I had a full year ahead of me to get better.

About two weeks after we knew we were doing this, I started hitting the gym for the first time in my life.

Opted for a coach that would help me with my nutrition and my fitness journey.

And started monitoring my sleep, strain, stress, calories, and weight (using a Whoop band and a smart scale).

Now, you don’t need to do all this to prepare for such trips.

I was not starting all this specifically for my travel to Peru, but it gave me a clear goal to reach for the entire year and that fuelled my decision to start this fitness journey.

So, gym 4-5 times a week to build strength, ran occasionally to build endurance, and continued hiking in Switzerland.

Now, my dad on his side, and because I knew he didn’t want to be always the last in the group, started hiking every weekend for 10-20km.

Hiking has always been part of his life but I still felt I was clearly not doing enough compared to him.

Equipment Preparation

A few weeks before the trip, the post-delivery guys were becoming nuts with all the packages coming in every day.

Most of the things required I already had. But that worked for shorter travels and outdoor trips in Switzerland, where you rarely spend more than one night outside.

So I had to buy more of what I already had, plus some new equipment I would need.

There were five main buckets of equipment:

  1. Clothing: with merino wool layers, down jackets and pants, socks, heating gloves…

  2. Photography: lenses, batteries, memory cards, tripods, star tracker, drone…

  3. Electronics: solar panels, headlamps, power banks, adaptors, chargers, satellite phone…

  4. Medical: suncream, medications for altitude sickness, traveler’s diarrhea, cuts, and everything you can think of.

  5. Outdoor: hiking poles, caps, shoes, backpack, bottles…

The trip itself was not that expensive, but for someone who had to buy everything from scratch, this would easily double or triple the price.

2. The Trip

Every day I kept a diary of the trek. Both a physical one and one on my phone.

Day-by-Day Breakdown

Day 1:

This day was mostly driving from Lima to Huaraz, where we would spend the first 4 days acclimatising to the altitude.

On that day we went from sea level, up to 4100m to reach a mountain pass, and then Huaraz which stands at 3200m.

We first stopped at that pass to enjoy the sunset and I kid you not, the moment I started walking outside the bus I almost fell because I was so dizzy within seconds.

Our bus then continued and eventually, someone decided to tell our driver that it was making a weird, loud, clunky noise so we stopped.

Only to realise one of the wheels was coming off the bus.

Once we arrived, we headed to our first dinner together in town.

The altitude was real.

I felt something was off while walking to the restaurant, just as if I was completely drunk.

We sat at the table, took me 5 minutes before I fainted.

And so I had the privilege of being the first one to experience the benefits of Coca tea, known to help you with this kind of symptoms.

Day 3:

First acclimatisation hike.

It was supposed to be easy.

It was not.

Loaded my backpack on purpose to make my life more difficult, don’t ask me why.

Anyway, terrible idea, didn’t do it the following day.

And realised I had to tape my feet if I didn’t want to end up with blisters screwing my trip.

Laguna Wilacocha

Day 4:

The sleep is absolutely terrible.

One thing I found very interesting though was to witness how my body reacted to the altitude since I was wearing my Whoop band.

My heart rate was wild. And I was burning 3 times more calories than average.

Went on our second hike that day, and the lighter backpack definitely made a difference (no shit Sherlock).

And one thing that tremendously helped was to focus on my breathing all the way up.

Laguna Churup

Day 5:

Last acclimatisation hike.

This time, we woke up around 1.30 a.m. to be there for sunrise.

And it was impossible to nap on the bus.

The road was really bumpy, to the point where one of our Indian group members said “Mmmh really reminds me of the countryside road back home”.

Unfortunately, many people started feeling very sick with their stomachs, including my dad.

Some couldn’t make it to the top because of that, others really struggled to get there.

Nonetheless, it looked amazing all the way up. We had wildflowers, giant snowy peaks around, blue glacial water, everything I enjoyed.

Although the hike was tough. Really tough. Especially because it was the first time we reached almost 4700m.

Laguna 69

Laguna 69 - drone view

Day 7:

After driving all day the previous day, we finally arrived at our first base camp to start the Huayhuash trek and spent the night there.

But that morning, my dad had never felt that sick in his entire life and had to call it off.

So I would have to do it without him, while he was waiting for a bus or someone that would be driving back to Huaraz, and waiting for me there for 8 days.

So this felt like a really crappy day.

Still focused on photography as the views were already mind-blowing from the very first day.

We arrived at camp and I decided to wake up in the middle of the night to shoot the Milky Way for the first time on this trip.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I had never seen the Milky Way like that and got incredibly excited.

Day 9:

After waking up to a foggy sunrise, we headed to a day hike where we would come back to the same camp for one more night.

This was to maximise our chances of getting clear skies for night shooting and sunrise.

The hike that day was super steep. But the view we got up there quickly became a bucket list shot I wanted to capture.

Mirador viewpoint

Unfortunately, to make it happen the way I wanted, it required me to hike there by night, starting at 2 am, which was not possible on my first visit there.

And I don’t know what happened, but I knew I was coming back for this shot eventually.

Back at camp, I decided to go for an ice plunge and shower in the river nearby.

It was the coldest water I’ve ever been in.

No wonder why people don’t do it and would rather stay dirty until the end of the trek. Can’t blame them.

Day 10:

After an incredible sunrise and astro session during the night, we started hiking back to the Mirador viewpoint.

Laguna Caruhacocha

Only this time, you hike further up to the pass to reach the next camp.

There is something about seeing the endpoint of a hike, where you think you are really close, but it’s the same over and over again: it’s so much further away than what you analysed.

Anyway, we reached the pass and once again, an absolute mind-blowing view of the peaks, and all the turquoise lakes at their foot.

Day 11:

Time to reach the highest point of the trek; 5200m.

By the time we reached that point, I could feel every step. Toughest ascend of the trek so far but so worth it once up there.

After dinner at the next camp, and after photographing the Milky Way, I decided to leave my camera outside the tent for a star trail.

We were warned to keep all our stuff inside our tents because there were many stories of people getting their stuff stolen in the past.

But for that night, it was basically us and another small group but much further away from us.

I figured it would be okay for this night.

And so the terror started.

After a few minutes of leaving the camera out and while trying to get some sleep, I hear 3 guys coming 2 meters away from my tent.

Couldn’t believe it.

And since they were speaking Spanish, I could not understand what they were saying.

Still don’t want to say anything or get out, until I recognise the sound of a camera being clipped out of a tripod.

Instant trigger, and so I started shouting at them to ask what the hell they were doing.

I couldn’t see them as it was too dark, but they told me they were just going to take a few photos and leave within 10 minutes.

Long story short, I ended up yelling at them again because I was so scared for my equipment.

Day 12:

After the episode of the previous night, one guy from our group came to me and told me he was sorry about last night.

It took me a few seconds before my 2 neurons connected, realising I had been shouting at group members, including Dan the organiser.

And before you say anything about “how could you not recognise their voice”, no I couldn’t because one, they were speaking in Spanish and two, they were whispering.

Image captured by Dan Zafra on the night I mentioned. You can see my tripod on the right doing the star trail while I was in the tent freaking out.

Anyway, no hard feelings, and we started heading out for our very last sunset of the trip.

That sunset hit differently.

I don’t know if it was the exhaustion accumulated, the fact it was coming to an end, or simply the view that was more beautiful than anything I had witnessed so far, but tears started running down my cheeks.

There was nothing I could do to stop it.

And it’s not like I had never seen beautiful mountain views before.

But there was something about that moment, and sharing it with the people there, that made it so special and memorable.

San Antonio Pass

Day 13-14:

The last days were mostly hiking and driving back to Huaraz.

On the last day we woke up in tents, my body just started shutting down. I started experiencing the worst cystitis I have ever had in my life, to the point I could almost not stand by the time we reached the bus.

And what was supposed to be a 5 to 6-hour drive to Huaraz, ended up taking 12 hours.

Met my dad at the hotel who looked a bit better than the last time I saw him but still very sick.

Our travel back to Switzerland was a bit hectic with canceled flights but we made it back home anyway.

3. Reflections and takeaways

This trip taught me a few valuable lessons:

  1. What used to be my previous ceiling, became my new floor. What I mean by that is I had never done such a thing before, but now that it’s done, it opens up to the possibilities of things you thought couldn’t do, but you now can.

  2. Doing what you love with other passionate souls hits differently. Apart from the landscapes being so imposing, the people I shared the experience with made that trip what it was.

  3. I felt alive. I felt I was doing something that made me deeply fulfilled, and I decided that this might be worth trying in life.

If you enjoy this kind of adventure, that involves a lot of physical activity to reach those views, I highly recommend you experience this at least once.

And bring people with you because the secret is not in the adventure, it’s in who you share it with.

Hope you enjoyed this one.

See you in the next,


PS: once again, a big thank you to Dan and Ascen (Capture The Atlas), and the local team (special thanks to Walter, Jorge, and their team) for making this adventure possible.

I came back home with more than pictures.

I came back with a head full of memories with people that now have a special place in my heart.