We now found ourselves on the lonely path to Puno and Lake Titicaca, having left behind the "White City" of Arequipa.  John and I traveled accompanied by our skilled driver through dry and barren plains; the sun scorched the naked rocks that lined the road and the air became thinner as we ascended into the Andean "Altiplano".
The Vicuña sanctuary in Pampa Cañahuas, Peru.
The plains were still, there were no sounds except for the soft rustle of the wind on the grass. The only signs of life along the deserted highway were packs of vicuña, the endangered camelids priced for their fine wool, that calmly grazed on the yellowed grass.  The quiet of the Altiplano felt almost sacred... not wanting to disturb the peace of the plains, John and I traveled for hours in silent contemplation, speechless at the naked beauty of the land.
Patahuasi, Peru.
Patahuasi, Peru.
Our journey paused at a small inn in Patahuasi, the crossroads for those traveling the Colca Canyon, Arequipa, and Puno route.  As we sat in the deep shadows of the small cafe, sipping an infusion of Coca leaves, we were joined by fellow wanderers newly returned from the depths of the Colca; the quiet intimacy of our journey was now interrupted by the excited cadences of many languages, and as John and I joined our voices to this new Babel, I began to feel the effects of the altitude (13,123 ft above sea level).  The air, thin and cold, passed through my lungs in long rattles, every uttered word was a struggle, and every step I took made my heart pound quickly inside my chest, and in the battle for oxygen, silence fell over us once more.
Patahuasi, Peru.
Lagunillas, Peru.
The road took us to Lagunillas (13,560 above sea leavel) where, with 13 people per square mile, the largest living community may perhaps be the brightly colored flamingos that populate the lakes.  On the edge of the water and along the road we could see piles of rock, neatly stacked and of many sizes, our guide informed us that the piles were offered by the Andean peoples to the Apu (the spirits of the mountains) in prayer for a safe passage through the mountains.
Lagunillas, Peru.

The flamingos at Lagunillas, Peru.
An alpaca at Lagunillas, Peru.
We stopped by the lake shore to observe the piles.  There are no trees in the plains, there is no shelter, there is just the sun casting shadows on the rocks, and the wind rustling the grass; vast as the eye can see and beautifully lonely... gasping for air and with my heart racing, I dug a rock out of the ground, John gathered more rocks and together we built our own offering to the mountains behind us.
Offerings to the Apus at Lagunillas, Peru.
All images by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach

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