Mountains have the power to awe and inspire like no other landscape on earth. They remind us of our own insignificance in the world, they are a challenge to take on and they have an aesthetic, timeless pefection which leaves us weak at the knees. I spent much of last year living at high-altitude, waking up to views of the mountains, climbing them and even skiing down them. Now, living in a part of England which is as flat as a pancake, I miss the challenge and the beauty of mountains; I miss the way they make my soul sing.
First there was France – a brief sojourn in the glorious Alps…
After living for a while at the foot of the Pyrenees.
My more recent ‘home abroad’ was Ancash in Peru, where the Cordilleras Blancas kept me in their thrall day after day.
You can’t go far in Peru before you reach one mountain range or another – Mountains define the country’s history and its present culture – and provide some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet.
From the sparkling villages on the mountains around Cuzco…
…and the soaring peaks of the Sacred Valley…
…to the volcanoes of Arequipa.
Some mountains quite literally overshadow the lives and cultures of entire communities, like Cerro de Potosi in the Bolivian highlands. It is the kind of thing Spanish conquistadores dreamed of: a mountain full of silver. In those bygone colonial years, Potosi became synonymous with wealth, but today miners still work there, extracting silver for very little in return.
Potosi, one of the highest towns in the world, is a dry and arid place, but further north and lower down lie the mountains of Bolivia’s cloud-forest: lush, green and buzzing with life.
It’s quite amazing that I roused myself from the guesthouse at all when this was the view from my bedroom window. It’s in these mountains that much of Bolivia’s coca production is, a place where small communities defend their identities and unique cultures, largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.
The mountains of Rio de Janeiro are equally verdant, but much better known.
The view from Sugarloaf Mountain, with the mountains stretching in all directions and growing hazy under the setting sun, is an incomparable sight.
But a northern corner of Chile holds one of my favourite sights of all…
…there is something about the sun setting over the snow-capped Andes, the ridged outline of the range mirrored by the rocky desert formations that makes my heart do somersaults.
It ends where it all began: in the Alps.
Only this time, on the Italian side. I had just left the Andes behind, but the Alps didn’t fail to leave me awestruck all over again.
I have learnt so much from the mountains I’ve seen on my travels – about communities and people as well as about nature. I respect their power, am beguiled by their beauty and savour every memory of reaching the top of a mountain, with all the wonder that moment brings.
What is your favourite landscape? How does it make you feel?