Ups and downs

Cabezas clavas

Cabezas clavas

Holiday time is finally here. The long, dark tea-time of the term is over and it’s the May half-term break. Having been so notably lax at booking holidays on time in the past, we booked our bus tickets and even a nice place to stay almost a month in advance, for once, and decided our destination this time would be the mountain city of Huaraz, home of Perú’s highest mountain (Huascarán, 6700 meters) high in the beautiful cordillera blanca.

The garúa or winter sea fog is starting to set in in Lima, and as with last year’s May break, the search for a last week of sun before the grim, grey winter was an important deciding factor in choosing a destination, and the weather up here at 3050 meters above sea level is glorious. The driest, warmest time of year is approaching in the sierra, in direct contrast to the coolest, greyest season on the coast.

As always, there was far more to do in the area than we could even begin to cover in the short time we had, especially accounting for altitude aclimatization time in the first couple of days. Our intentions were to hike in the mountains, eat good food and relax. We also wanted to visit the archaeological site of the ancient ruins of Chavín, 1200BC – 400BC. As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is much older than any of the more famous Inca ruins. It also lies next to the tiny, burbling río Mosna, the headwaters of the vast río Marañon, down which we sailed for two days into the Amazon on our last Peruvian adventure.

So on our first day we awoke for breakfast in the friendly and pretty hostel Alpes Huaraz

The Fickle Finger of Fate

and decided to spend the day wandering the market and the town. Once the headaches had worn off, I decided it would be a great idea to walk up to the Rataquenua cross and lookout point. Boy, was that a crap way to start a holiday. Two hours and one robbery at gunpoint later, we were back in town with long faces and empty wallets for a three and a half hour display of police ineptitude. Imagine going to the police station to report a robbery at gunpoint and they tell you to come back later. Yep, thats what happend to us.  Imagine that while you are trying to give a description a of the robbery and the robber, the police answer their cell phones and discuss their day and their plans for dinner. Still, finally, denuncio completed and fingers covered in stamp ink, we were on our way. Obviously, this event sounds, and indeed was, quite traumatic, but we were determined to damn well enjoy ourselves and not let the bastard get us down. And so the following two days were spent on tours we had already booked and paid for.

On Monday we we headed out on a bus tour with the hilarious tour guide, Hugo, and drove up to the laguna Llangunuco, a lake of brilliant turquoise glacial water at 3850 meters asl, between the giant peaks of Huascarán and Huandoy.

Laguna Llangunuco, 3850 msnl

Laguna Llangunuco, 3850 msnl

Cemetary at Yunguy

Cemetary at Yunguy

This tour also took in the Campo Santo de Yunguy, or burial field of Yunguy; a city of 20 000 people which was entirely buried by an avalanche following the earthquake of 1970. Only 400 or so survived. Despite Hugo’s lighthearted humour this was a sobering reflection on the power and majesty of the stunning peaks around us and we passed an hour walking along memorial paths with tombs randomly spotted about, which I supposed must be remaining relatives’ best guess at where their loved ones died.

The following day we were off again, this time on a very lengthy bus ride to Chavín. The ruins, once we arrived, were worth every bum-numbing moment of the ride. This tiny site in the middle of nowhere was once the centre for a thriving pre-Inca culture which, according to remains found, stretched from Ecuador in the north and far around to the south. There is little to see here compared to the incredible Mayan sites in Central America such as Mexico’s Palenque or Guatemala’s Tikal, but what there is, is stunning. Like Copán in Honduras, the remnants of Chavín culture are comprised of some ornate, artistic work including the notable Raimondi stela and the cabezas clavas (top of post). Our energetic guide pointed out the view of the Chavín gods in the surrounding country, and, at a squint, you could make out one purported reason why this may have been a key site of pilgrimage. On the left, the silhouette of the mountain could be seen as a sleeping Puma. In the centre, from a certain angle and with a bit of imagination an eagle can be made out. And on the right, allegedly (I’ll take it on trust as I couldn’t make it out myself) a snake weaves it’s way up the mountainside.

What is really impressive at this site, however, is the series of underground galleries constructed under the main pyramid and plaza. For someone who has visited a large number of Aztec, Mayan, Inca and various other pyramid ruins in the last three years, this was new, unusual and very exciting. On the left, a series of underground rooms stretch away under the pyramid where it is reckoned that the priest caste had their living cells. On the right is the chamber of the lanzón stela. This is the kind of thing everyone should have some kind of contact with, just to really think hard about our collective human development, in my mind. So imagine my joy at this week’s news of the near-total destruction of Belize’s Noh Mul  pyramid.

Wednesday passed with no plans in a state of near-incapacitation with gloom which I attribute in full to Sunday’s adventures. However, it was happily rescued in the evening by visit to the lovely Sierra Andina brewery. Good beer is very hard to come by in Latin America and so the two micro breweries in Peru are a source of great joy whenever we can find somewhere that stocks their goods. The four flavours of the Sierra Andina brewery, ranging from pale ale to a lovely stout, are a wonderful thing to behold, or be-mouth. So we went straight to the brewery tap. There isn’t really a tour as the process is tiny and takes place pretty much in a single room with an output of roughly 2000 bottles a month. However, we spent a nice hour or so enjoying a beer fresh from the tap, surrounded by the scent of hops. And we also got the owner’s card for wholesale delivery to Lima should the need arise. After our recent purchase of S/. 2000 worth of liquor (at a 95% discount, I must add) I don’t imagine wholesale beer will be necessary any time soon. But you never know, I suppose.

Our final day in Huaraz was to be spent on a local hike and so we had a nice early night to prepare. Our plans for a good night’s kip were rudely shattered in the wee small hours, as was the roof and plumbing of the hostel’s snug comedor. Awaking to the sound of a sonic boom and the shaking walls I dived into my pyjamas, grabbed a torch and ran from the room, anticipating the worst. However, there was no further shaking or rumbling, no almighty roar of shifting earth, and no car alarms or tumbling buildings. What there was, was an almighty crack in the roof opposite, a burst water pipe pissing over the roof and a mysterious and inexplicable shattered window frame; clearly the culprit of the damage. Heart racing, but knackered and clearly in no imminent danger, I returned to bed. We discovered over breakfast that the mess was due to a gas tank exploding in the house next door, blowing out all the windows on either side of the building but thankfully not causing any injuries.

When the day finally started properly, it was probably the best day of the holiday. We headed out early to trek up to the laguna Wilcacocha, at just under 4000 meters. This was a tough but really enjoyable hike and a great way to spend a morning. From the top, silent except for the honking of Moorhen-looking birds fishing algae out of the lake, there is a fantastic view over miles of the cordillera blanca. The path took us through tiny hamlets, past picture-postcard scenes of old Andean women in colourful skirts and cardigans with tall felt hats herding cattle through near vertical fields of corn and wheat, and at one point past a game of football where being the person responsible for kicking the ball out of the field would require a 500 meter round trip down the mountainside to collect it from wherever it fell.

We rounded off the day with fantastic tea and cakes at the very funky California Cafe where we met the founder and editor of the Huaraz Telegraph, an English language newspaper in the Ancash and La Libertad districts of Peru (although printed in Lima) which celebrates and investigates a range of aspects of life in Peru. Although he has taken a lot of knocks from the local community for printing stories which show examples of crime in the area, he insists that he is happy to look at the good, but will not gloss over the bad or the ugly. Our ‘stand and deliver’ incident features squarely under “bad and ugly”. In fact, he hopes that highlighting the ongoing crime hotspots and how little is being done about the issues will encourage the police and municipality to get their act together. The fascinating article on the establishment of the national treasure (Inca Cola) and an interesting spot featuring a different expat from the Huaraz community each month support his argument. Our story will feature next month.

A delicious meal – I finally tried the delicacy cuy (guinea-pig) – and an early night later, and we were packed up and ready for our bus ride home. All in all it was a great holiday, but it’s nice to be back in Lima.

Yum Yum
Yum Yum
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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. magix
    May 29, 2013 @ 09:53:32

    hahaha how does guinea pig taste – just like chicken hahaha. no seriously – gunpoint and gas explosion – life sure ain’t quiet… stay safe little lady will be a darn sad thing to be in a world without you….. x

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  2. Early retired and happy person
    May 19, 2013 @ 03:33:24

    That’s the hatrick – all of us have been held up at gunpoint now. Mazel Tov!

    Mmmmm guinea pig: at least fish don’t have little legs and feet and they are decapitated before being put on a plate!!!! How will you ever guinea pig-sit for your friends again? They’ll be afraid their pets will be served up as a welcome home meal.

    Glad you had a good holiday. xx

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