A Travellerspoint blog

Peru

Puno and the Fiesta de la Candelaria

Traveling over the Altiplano, it was it was 10PM before we arrived in Puno. The city is moderately sized, and spreads out over several hills on one side of Lake Titicaca. At 3855M, more than 12,500 feet, it is easy to get out of breath just walking around. It feels very much like a working class city despite the presence of many tourists. In this respect, it is quite different than Cuzco.

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En Route


We had timed our visit perfectly, as we there at the time of the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria, with its Diablada or Devil Dance, in which many of the local towns and villages compete to show off their dancing moves, music, and costumes.

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Every village has its own typical dress, each more colorful than the next. Many of the costumes were bright blue or red, and there were musicians playing wooden pan pipes of all sizes, as well as drums.

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In the afternoon the parade went on for hours and ended up in the main plaza of town next to the cathedral.

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I spent much of the time taking pictures, both of the marches and spectators. It was an incredible opportunity as no one objected and they were obviously dressed in their best clothes.

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At one point one of the female marches came over to Yusef and threw some white powder on him. It looked a lot like talcum powder, but a little stickier.

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We were trying to decide if this was just directed at him in particular, when a few minutes later someone came up to me and did the same thing. It must be part of the celebration we decided, and before long we saw marchers doing this to many other people as well. Not to be outdone, I decided to join the parade. I saw an opening and proceeded to mimic some of the steps of the group I joined, none too successfully. No matter, they all seemed to get a kick out of a dancing gringo covered with white powder. I marched with them for a few minutes and then ducked back out. This was the highlight of my day.

The festival went on for several days, but we decided to take a tour of some of the island communities that live on the lake. The first place we visited was a short boat ride away, the floating islands of the Uros.

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People have lived on reed islands made from material dug up from the lake for centuries. Every 5 to 10 years the islands have to be rebuilt. Their primitive houses, boats, etc. are all made from the same reeds.

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They live very simply, fishing and eating what the lake has to offer, though for many years tourism has been an important source of income. Naturally, just about everyone who comes to Puno, wants to see the floating islands, and the people are certainly used to seeing foreigners gawk at them. Nevertheless, they live basically as they have for years, and are still very poor.

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We spent an hour or two here, taking pictures and buying the tiny reed boats they sell to the tourists About half the islands are open to visitors, while the rest are protected from the constant influx of outsiders. By now, at least according to the The Handbook, there are very few pure Uros left. Most have intermarried with the Aymara, the largest native group living around the lake.

Our boat then continued to Taquile, a larger island in the southern part of the lake. The Indians who live here are obviously much more prosperous than the Uros. Their houses are made primarily of stone and are substantial and sturdy looking, very different from the reed structures. Everything is quite picturesque with many paths crossing terraced fields high over the lake.

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We walked up a stony path from where the boat docked to get to the village, treading under several stone archways. Along the way we passed several women making yarn,

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and others walking arm in arm, seemingly in no hurry. Woolen goods were sold in a cooperative shop in the small plaza. We didn't see any cars, though I imagine there must have been one or two on the island. Several other tour boats disgorged their passengers, and before long there were 30 or 40 tourists milling about. They served us lunch on a long outdoor table, and this too seemed to be a cooperative endeavor, though I'm sure the tour operators took a significant percentage of the profits.

Later we made our way back, but not before I had the opportunity to take more pictures, especially of the children in the village.

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I was sorry to leave as Taquile was an idyllic place. The returning ride was spectacular. At first the water was an intense blue similar to the sky, and the clouds were very white. The high snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Real in Bolivia were visible in the distance. As the sun went lower, the wake of the boat shimmered in the darker water,

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and the side lit clouds grew pink and magenta. In the rarefied air, everything seemed to have an extra clarity and the lake reflected the colors of the sky which changed quickly in the fading light.

Posted by jonshapiro 11:26 Archived in Peru Tagged photography Comments (6)

Colca Canyon

After a week in Arequipa our younger daughter Mia, age 23, arrived with her boyfriend. In a few days, we left for Colca Canyon, said to be twice as deep as Grand Canyon. It is dotted with Indian villages on both sides and high snowed capped volcanos such as Ampato, 6288M.

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The bus ride took us through a vicuna reserve, high on the empty Altiplano. We could see a number of these animals which resembled small llamas as we drove past. On the way to Chivay, 3600M, we had to go over a high snow covered pass. Near the top, we heard the brakes squeal and the bus shuddered to a stop. Right in front of us was an enormous boulder that had rolled down onto the road, partially blocking it. Luckily the bus did not go over the cliff, which was not far from the front wheels. Several people got off and tried to help the driver push the rock off the road, but to no avail. After about a half hour of tricky maneuvering the driver managed to get around it, and we were able to continue on our way. Yusef, our daughter's boyfriend, had his eyes wide open in fear and amazement at the vagaries of mountain bus travel in Peru.

We got to Chivay at dusk. From here it was another two hours on a dirt road to Cabanaconde, our destination. To me this was the scary part of the trip, as it was almost dark and misty, with huge drop offs into the canyon. Our driver, seemingly anxious to get home, was in no mood to slow down. We eventually arrived safely, and found our man from the hotel in the main plaza, as promised. He led us a few blocks up a side street to the Posada del Conde. The food was terrible, but the room was not bad.

We got up early and started our trek down the canyon. The trail was steep, but relatively wide and easy to find right at the edge of town. In the morning it was cool, and the mist covered up the canyon bottom to that we could not see the river 3000 feet (900M) below.

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Everything was green and lush looking as this was still the rainy season. It took us about three hours to get to El Paradiso, a little “resort” with tiny and primitive thatched roof huts, an open air restaurant, and a beautiful hot spring pool built into the rocks nearby.

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We were the only visitors and after a simple spaghetti lunch, spent several hours swimming in the springs and sunbathing.

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While we swam, the owners took a video of us which they intended to use as an ad for other gringos.

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Our daughter Mia and Yusef

It was a very different climate zone down here, almost tropical, with palm trees, bright flowers, and birds chirping in the trees. The river was below, boiling and roiling in ferocious rapids at the bottom of the gorge.

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The huge rock walls were pink and and brown with little vegetation other then a green bush or yucca here and there. It was hard to motivate ourselves to leave Paradiso for the long hike back. At this point, we wished we had brought our packs with us so that we could spend a couple of days here. When we finally started back at 3, it was much hotter than earlier in the day. The going was slow as we continued up, puffing in the thin air as we got higher. It took 4 to 5 hours to make it to the rim.

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Outskirts of Cabanaconde, Near Trailhead

Next morning with left for the Mirador, a lookout about half way to Chivay, an important location for spotting Condors.

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There was a small crowd of tourists there and several ticket collectors who tried to hit each of us up for a few soles for the priviledge of standing at the top of the gorge to look for birds. We managed to evade them, but the only condors we saw were so far away that they didn't seem impressive. Back in Chivay, we took a collectivo to La Calera , the hot springs outside of town. It looked like a regular swimming pool, but we had it all to ourselves, and after the long hike the day before, was just what we needed to relax. After soaking for a while, we had to run out when a thunderstorm crashed overhead. Then we rode the bus back to Arequipa before setting out for another long ride to Puno.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:51 Archived in Peru Tagged foot Comments (1)

Lima to Arequipa

As we approached Lima, the shanty towns seemed to stretch on for miles down the dry and dusty hills near the coast. The last time we had been here, some 27 years earlier, it certainly had its share of cardboard slums. At that time, a large part of the middle class had been decimated by the collapse of the economy. Inflation was rampant and the Peruvian currency was being devalued on a daily basis. The Shining Path was just getting started. There was a general railroad strike going on, and the only train that was still being operated, between Cuzco and Machu Pichu, was run by the army. Badly run I might add. What would normally have been a three hour trip took us about four times that because the train derailed a number of times. We didn't crash, but I still remember the engineer and conductor standing outside and striking matches in the middle of the night to see where the train had gone off the tracks. Each time they managed to get it back on the rails, but it was excruciatingly slow. When we derailed again a few miles outside of town, at about 2 AM, we decided to walk back rather than wait for the train. We never knew whether it was simply the incompetence of the army, or whether the striking train workers, perhaps in cahoots with the Shining Path, were involved in acts of sabotage. Machu Pichu was well worth the hassle of getting there, however this time we did not feel the need to return.

On our first trip we had spent several days in Lima and despite a few interesting museums, had not found the city very appealing. Since then it has become larger, dirtier, and more dangerous, so our plan was to spend the night and then head to Arequipa, the second largest city, some 600 miles to the south.

For $100US we decided to fly and meet our younger daughter there, instead of Nazco. We headed straight for Casa de Mi Abuelo, complete with swimming pool and beautiful gardens, a comfortable oasis about five blocks from the center of town.

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Outside Our Room

Located on a plain at the foot of El Misti at 2380 meters or 7500 feet, the city generally has a temperate, sunny climate. When we were there however, many of the mornings and some of the afternoons were cloudy.

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The Plaza del Armas in the center of town reminded us very much of the plazas of Spain.

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With its long colonnades, 2nd story restaurants, 17th century cathedral, as well as a large green space full of tall palm trees, it was a comfortable place to while away the hours and watch people, tourists and locals alike.

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The buildings of the Plaza and many of the surrounding streets are colonial, and made out of a greyish-white, local volcanic stone known as sillar. The walls are frequently several feet thick to protect against the all too frequent terramotos, (earthquakes).

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Many have been rebuilt or repaired after being damaged. Nearby are upscale shops, art galleries, and several smaller plazas with fountains and bougainvillaea.

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There are many restaurants of course, and we found the food to be better than most other places in Peru. In addition to the more expensive eateries, there were a places that catered to Peruvians, where the Menu del Dia at lunch time, a complete four course meal, could be had for about four soles, about $1.25US.

A few blocks from the center and well worth a visit is the Santa Catalina Convent.

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Isolated from the rest of the city, it was previously home to several hundred nuns who lived in seclusion, and functioned more or less as a self sufficient town within the larger community. Now there are few nuns and they live in a small section of the convent. The rest has been turned into a unique museum, with period furniture, cobblestone streets, and alleys with brightly painted walls of blue and orange, full of red potted geraniums.

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There is also La Recolleta, a Franciscan monastery built in 1647, with its interesting cloisters and similarly whitewashed and brightly colored walls. It has a library with ancient religious texts.

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La Compania, the main Jesuit church, is quite beautiful as well. We spent several days wandering these places, and many other 17th and 18th century churches and houses.

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When we got tired of the city we took a couple of day trips to the surrounding countryside. One was to a mill, Molina de Sabandia,. Over 400 years old, it has been reconstructed and operates mainly for the benefit of tourists, but is a nice spot to spend an hour or two and look at the llamas.

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From there we began walking on the winding paths around terraced fields to a few nearby pueblos.

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We got into a conversation with a middle aged shopkeeper. She was surprised to see us wandering on our own and asked where we were from and where we were going. When we indicated a certain village up the road, she told us that it was okay to go there, but that we should go a particular way, as there were often malos hombres, banditos in another village if we went the wrong way. We were grateful for the information and were happy to help her teenage daughter practice her English. Perhaps because of her advice, we did not run into the banditios.

On another trip we took a collectivo an hour outside of town to a pueblo close to El Misti.We again walked amidst ancient terraced fields, oxen, braying donkeys, the occasional llama, and assorted dogs of all sizes barking furiously as we went by.

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We slowly made our way closer to the base of the volcano. The upper part of the mountain was most often in clouds, though we got an occasional glimpse of the snowfields. The bottom was enormous and seemed to stretch on for miles without trees or villages. It was easy to picture where the lava flows had last been. In the distance and a few thousand feet below, we could make out the outskirts of the city in the haze. We met an old man and his younger companion on the trail. They wore jeans and cowboy hats, and smelled like woodsmoke.


Buenos Dias. Does it usually rain here this time of year,” I asked, as the weather was starting to look more threatening.

“No, not usually, but the last few years it has been different. We have had some rain almost everyday for the past few weeks. It looks like it will rain later today in the afternoon.”

“It doesn't seem like the weather is the same anywhere.”

“No, it has been different here for a while. Every year there is less snow on the mountain and more rain here.”

“Global warming, I guess.”

“That is what they say,” but I wasn't sure if he knew what that was or was just trying to be polite.

“Do you live around here?”

“Yes in the village over there,” and he motioned with his hand. “And where are you from?”

“The United States,” we said in unison. “Nueva York.

“Ah,” he nodded thoughtfully. “How do you like Peru?

“ We like it very much. We were here many years ago and now we came back for another visit.”

“And the people here, have they been good to you?”

“Yes. They have been very nice to us, especially in the countryside.

“That's good. What is the weather like where you live?”

“It is very different. Things are much greener and it is much colder in the winter time. There is often snow in the town we live in.”

“Not just on the mountain eh. That must be difficult.”

We nodded. “That is why it is nice to be here, especially this time of year. This is when it is very cold in New York.”

“Then it's good you are here then.”

“Yes it's good we have this opportunity. Do you know where does this trail go from here?”

“It goes to the other side of the mountain, quite a long way, and to other small villages.”

“Do you know where we can get the collectivo back to the city?”

“Yes. You have to go back down to Chiguata over there.”

“Thank you. Con mucho gusto de conocerles. Very nice to meet you.”

Con mucho gusto,” he replied.

We continued walking up for a while and then returned to find the path toward Chiguata after a few sprinkles of rain came down. It was exciting that my Spanish had progressed far enough to have these kind of conversations, simple though they were. Another small bridge in the cultural divide? I wondered what the old man thought.

Chiguata, which was not far from where we were initally dropped off, had its own small charms, including a small church made out of sillar. On one side was a very bloody looking picture of Jesus.

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They take their suffering seriously around here, maybe because there is so much of it and their lives are difficult. We had to wait for the next collectivo, and we sat in the small plaza across from the church. In this tiny town, there were three or four small tiendas, each selling the same packaged food. I wandered up to one of them to get a snack, and asked a scruffy looking man who was standing there, “Do you know when the bus is going to arrive?”

“Not exactly. The last one left about ½ an hour ago and they run about every hour.”

“Thanks,” I said, munching on my chips.

“What are you doing around here”, he said, somewhat suspiciously I thought.

“Oh nothing much. Just taking a walk to see the mountain and the nearby villages.”

“Not very much to see. Are are you from the US.?

I nodded. I guess it was obvious from my accent.

“Your country has not been good to us. We especially don't like su presidente, Bush.

“Yeah, neither do I. I can't believe people voted for him twice. Well the first time they really didn't vote for him. He more or less stole the election.” After I said this he seemed a bit more friendly and open, glad to hear that I agreed with him about El Presidente. “What do you think about the government here?”

He looked disgusted. “ A bunch of thieves and morons.”

I nodded. “Do you live here?”

“No we are from Ayachucho, home of the revolutionaries,” he said and put up his hands in the shape of a rifle to make sure I understood.

“Are there any revolutionaries there now.?”

“No, they have all laid down their arms, for now at least. You see that guy over there,” and he motioned towards his friend with the guitar. “You see his hair. He used to be a revolutionary.”

I wondered what long hair had to do with being a revolutionary, but didn't say so out loud. Perhaps all revolutionaries in Peru were trying to emulate Che. Maybe this guy was just goofing on a gringo. Quien sabe, who knows, I thought.

“Well nice talking to you, I said.

“Yeah, nice talking to you.”

I went back to where Nanette was sitting to tell her about this conversation. Eventually, the bus arrived and we noticed we had a female cobrador for the first time. Women's liberation in Peru. Somewhat wistfully I thought about my own brief stint as a cobrador in the high sierra. Before we got on someone showed up with several heavy bags of potatoes and I helped to hoist them onto the roof of the bus. Not quite the same as being cobrador, but at least I could do something useful.

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Some of the Huge Terra-Cotta Pots Around Town

Posted by jonshapiro 09:06 Archived in Peru Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Huaraz

We bid an emotional farewell to our Quechua maid and caretaker, who seemed crestfallen that we were leaving so soon. After eating a huge breakfast, our second in as many days, at the misnamed El Turista, since it was full of locals, we crammed into the collectivo that took us to Huaraz. We were given the best seats in the small combi, right up front, but that didn't prevent 15 people from squeezing in. The ride took about 1@1/2 hours through the valley, and would have been shorter were it not for the constant stops that were made to drop-off and pick up other passengers en route. Huaraz, a bustling city of 100,000, is the capital of Ancash, and the center of commerce and tourism for the entire area. It has grown significantly in the past few years, and is full of tour/mountaineering guides and shops, as trekking has become a major industry. Despite the towering snow peaks nearby, and an elevation of close to 10,000 feet, it does not have the low key charm of Caraz. Most of the older buildings have been destroyed by earthquakes and the concrete utilitarian houses and shops sprawl out along the valley floor.

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Behind hotel

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Looking Down our Street

There are a number of bustling markets however, with cheap food, great pineapple and mango smoothies, and just about anything else you might think of. It is easy to get lost among all of the stalls and passageways. There are also a number of good restaurants, including a French creperie.

We stayed in Albergue Chirrup, 6 or 7 long blocks from the center. It was an excellent choice. We got a room with a balcony and breakfast for $20US. The place had 4 stories or so and looked like a Swiss chalet. There was a common room on the third floor with fireplace and a kitchen where meals were served, and the 4th floor had a balcony with even better views of the high peaks.

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Views of Sunset from 4th Floor Balcony at Hotel

Our neighbors in the room next door were quite chatty, or I should say Nicholas was. He turned out to be Romanian, in his early 30's, living in Montreal for many years. He spoke about 6 languages fluently, including English and Spanish. His wife, in her mid 20's, gorgeous and exotic looking, was a black Peruvian with Indian blood who spoke little English. She could easily have been a model. We got to know them fairly well over the course of the next two weeks. It seems that Maria, after living in Canada with Nicholas for a few years, was forced to leave because of visa problems, and was now stuck in Peru trying to obtain permission to enter Canada legally. She was from a poor family and did not have much of a formal education, which contributed to her problems in getting out. I always assumed that being married was an easy way to do it, but apparently this is not always the case as their marriage was not recognized in Canada. They only saw each other a couple of times a year when Nicholas came down on vacation. He sent her money as she had little means of supporting herself. At one point he confided in me that he was worried she might end up on the streets of Lima, working as a prostitute if she was unable to leave.

The owner of the Albergue was in his 70's, wore a beret, and seemed to be a man of the mountains. He and his wife lived in a nearby house, and we spoke to them about hiring a Spanish teacher. I should add that my primary reason for coming to the high mountains was to try and arrange a trek for a couple of weeks, but Nanette was not interested and wanted to continue her language studies. Our first teacher was relatively young, well educated, and considerably more sophisticated than our teachers in Guatemala. She came from a middle-class family, and as it turned out was partly Jewish. We went to the market place with her a couple of times to practice and learn the Peruvian names for different fruits and vegetables. They were not always the same as in Guatemala and Central America where, we were told, they speak a more antiquated Spanish. For example avocado, is aguacate in Guatemala and Palta in Peru. One day Marta took us to her mother's small convenience store and said to her, “Doesn't he look just like Uncle--------?” “Dios Mio,” she exclaimed, and agreed that I did. Must have been my Jewish blood.

Marta was not always available so we also studied with someone else, an elderly, retired gentlemen who had been a university professor. He put us through our grammatical paces while discussing highbrow Spanish literature, and also reviewed the dreaded subjunctivo, which, though it it is used frequently in conversational Spanish, I have all but forgotten.




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In between lessons we took several excursions with Nicholas and Maria. Nicholas was quite the organizer, and as his Spanish was fluent, we let him arrange a day long horseback ride through the mountains. It began with an hour collectivo ride to a small town in the middle of nowhere. As directed, we made our way to a stable, where after a short time our guides showed up with the horses. It was a boy of about 12 years old and his sister, maybe 15.

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Our Fearless Guide in Front, his Sister walking in back, Nanette, Maria and Nicholas


It had been some time since I had been on a horse, and some of the narrow rocky paths we traversed gave me pause. The horse clearly had a mind of its own and seemingly would stop to munch on the grass at what I considered to be the most inopportune times, ie, whenever there was a steep drop-off on the trail. Often my side kicks were not enough to motivate the beast and our 12 year old leader would have to take the reins and pull my horse while astride his. After several hours of making slow progress in this way, and a very sore ass, I decided to walk some and felt much better for it. Horses, I decided, or at least my horse, was not worth the trouble. I could walk faster on these trails then they could.

The bucolic scenery gave us different views of people and fields as we meandered from one small village to the next.

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Most of these villages had narrow dirt roads, and were occasionally serviced by collectivos, but otherwise we saw hardly any cars. Here the indigenous people were everywhere, and generally wore more typical native dress with colorful blouses and bowler hats.

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To be more exact, it was primarily the women who dressed this way. The men looked more like cowboys with jeans and boots and more western style shirts. Our destination was a set of hot springs on a road that led back to town. It took a long time to get there and we didn't arrive until late afternoon. It was not quite what I was expecting, as it was a fairly developed place, by Peruvian standards, and we had to wait a while to get into the springs. Apparently it was a popular place with the locals, perhaps because they didn't have to heat up the water in order to bathe.

We ate in one of the many food stalls that lined the road opposite the springs.
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Waiting our Turn at the Baths



On the funky side, we did manage a nice soak in our private room before taking an icy shower to rinse off.

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Heading Back




After a couple of days in Huaraz, the weather seemed to deteriorate, just as I was trying to arrange my more extensive trek. I wanted to go to the Huayhuash (pronounced why wash), location of the climb and accident of Joe Simpson, described in his book Touching the Void, and later in the movie of the same name. This range is supposedly one of the most beautiful in all of the Andes, and also the most remote. Hanging glaciers practically reach into the jungle green edge of the Amazon basin. Unfortunately it was not to be.

The Albergue turned out to be a great place to meet people in part because of the large and comfortable common rooms. That is one of the advantages of staying in hostels as opposed to anonymous hotels. Although there were few people when we arrived, the place got more crowded as the week went by. We met a young American student from eastern Washington, traveling on his own, an athletic and feisty woman from Argentina who ran a gym outside of Buenos Aires, and was a personal trainer. She was going off on a small trek by herself, despite the rain, and insisted we look her up when we got to Argentina, which we did. We also met a young couple from London. They were driving down the entire coast of Central and South America, and had started their journey seven months earlier in LA. Michael had quit his job as an investment banker in order to take this trip. His mother was Spanish, father American, but he was raised in the UK. He spoke Spanish fluently. EJ, his girlfriend, was also a Brit. She had been working for a corporation deciding how to disburse funds for philanthropic projects. We liked them both immediately, and as their route was more or less what ours was, we talked about meeting up along the way, though I'm not sure that any of us expected it to happen.



One day I played hookey from Spanish school, and went on a long day hike with Nicholas and Maria. We hired a guide for this one since we heard there was a short section of rock where a rope would come in handy. Our destination was a small alpine lake part way up one of the mountains we could see from the hostel. Our guide showed up as schedualed, early in the morning, with a driver. We started up one of the dirt tracks outside of town. After driving for a while we were forced to get out and start walking because the road was blocked by some heavy equipment. As best we could gather, they had been working on it at some point, and simply left the equipment in the middle of the road . This meant that our walk was going to be significantly longer than originally planned. Undaunted or perhaps the better word might be unknowingly, we set out cross country through fields and around boulders.

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Lower down the area was used for grazing and there was a network of paths crossing it. Good thing we had a guide. He set a quick pace, and somewhat smugly I noticed that both Nicholas and especially Maria had difficulty keeping up because of the altitude. By now I was fully acclimated and despite the age difference, had an easier time keeping up then they did. As we got higher the fields disappeared until we were walking on a narrow rocky path that led up through scree. The clouds thickened and the temperature dropped as we approached the lake. There was a short steep scramble for maybe 50 yards as the rock walls closed in.

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Our guide went up first and top roped us one at a time. It really wasn't necessary on the way up though I knew I would be glad to have the extra security on the way down. Another 45 minutes of heavy breathing and we arrived. Maria was visibly relieved that she had made it. She was not an experienced a hiker and this was by far the most difficult walk she had taken. It was quite chilly here at almost 16,000 feet and the lake was larger than I had expected.

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A Rare Sunny Moment


Higher up, maybe 500 feet or so large dirty snowfields were visible and then the glacier beyond that. The guide made us all some coca tea. Nice to have at these heights, it seems to help with saroche (altitude sickness), and gives you a little extra energy besides. Spits of ice began to fall from the clouds, but none of us wanted to rush off.

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This dog belonged to Other Hikers

We ate a late lunch on the rocks, and were rewarded with occasional rays of sun through the clouds. This lit up the mist around us and gave us a glimpse of the jaggedness above. As we sat there, three kids showed up ranging in age from about seven to ten. We had passed them on the way up when they had been herding sheep. Dark skinned, they were obviously Indian, though they all wore jeans. The youngest had a cowboy hat that was too while the others each wore a baseball cap. Dirt smudged their faces, but they smiled at us in a shy kind of way. A few sweets from us brought them closer. From a nearby village, they were as curious about us as we were about them and insisted we take pictures.

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When we showed them they laughed, and wanted more pictures taken while they hammed it up. Eventually we started the trek back and luckily the weather held. The kids followed us much of the way until we got back down to the grazing fields where they struck off on their own, presumably to find their village and their sheep. We waved to them and said adios. Nothing special happened, but it felt as though a cultural exchange had taken place.

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Sheepherder at Lower Elevation


By the time we got down our driver was long gone, and we had to make our way back to another village and wait for a collectivo to take us back to town. Collectivos are the primary form of local transportation in this area. Meant to hold about 10 or 12, they are invariably stuffed with up to 18 or 20 people and make frequent stops. They seem to service even tiny villages in the mountains as few people have cars and the price is right at 1-3 soles, depending on distance. 3.4 soles equals 1 $US. Usually there is a driver and another person, most often a boy of about 10 or 11, not much older than our sheep herders, who opens the door, shouts out the destination and collects the money. He is known as the cobrador. On one of our excursions the cobrador was missing and because I was sitting closest to the door, the driver asked if I would open it and let people in, which I was more than willing to do. He continued to collect the money of course. So whenever we came to a village I would lean out of the minibus and shout out our destination, A Huaraz. A few times I shouted A Nueva York, and as you can imagine I got more than a few strange looks and giggles. I doubt whether the locals had ever seen a gringo acting as cobrador ever before, and some of them, at least in the small hamlets may not have seen that many gringos at all. Perhaps now that I am jubilado, more or less, I can have a second career as a cobrador here in the wilds of the Andes. Its got to be a tough way to make a living though.



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On another day trip we went to look at some petroglyphs. By the time we got to the village, it was raining hard, and we had about an hours walk on a bluff near a river. Despite getting soaked and chilled, the maize fields were beautiful. When finally got to the spacious cave further up the hillside and looking down over the valley, it was easy to see why it had been inhabited. However the fences which had been erected around the entrance did not prevent many of the petroglyphs from being vandalized, and it this was disappointing, especially after the effort it took to get here. On the way back Nicholas got into several conversations with the locals. He seemed interested in going up to almost anyone, no matter how improbable, and engaging them. Half the time I had no idea what they were talking about as my Spanish couldn't keep up, but I gathered he asked questions about the caves, and also about their lives in the village. Most were indigenous farmers, and I wondered what they thought about this gringo who would sometimes ask personal questions. Maria was much more reserved than he was, and it took her a couple of days to feel comfortable even talking to us, let alone strangers. I could see that it must have been Nicholas who had approached her when they met in Lima a few years back. On the way home she told us about her background growing up in the barrios of Lima, and the contrast between her Peruvian life and the life she led in Canada. Her struggle to leave Peru had already stretched well over 2 years and involved endless amounts of paperwork and bureaucratic delays. She seemed to appreciate our concern and interest in her story, and it was frustrating that there was nothing we could do to help. If anyone could get her out it seemed like Nicholas could, and yet even he was stymied by the process. Much later, we heard she did finally manage to get out.


After spending 10 or 11 days in Huaraz, I had to acknowledge that longer trekking was out, and we took the first class bus to Lima, about an 8 hour trip. When we went to leave the owners of the Albergue wanted to charge us double the going rate for our Spanish lessons because they said we were both students. This directly contradicted what the teachers had told us. Eventually they relented, but it was a sour note on what had been an enjoyable stay. The bus ride was uneventful and comfortable, if less interesting, than the trip up the Canon del Pato.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:35 Archived in Peru Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Caraz and the High Cordellera

Our next destination in the high Andes began, as usual, with a lengthy bus ride. Opting for the more scenic route,(and yes it was longer), we went first to Chimbote, guano capital of the world. Here we caught the misnamed Yungay Express, which looked as though it would be lucky to break 40 MPH. Our route took us through the Canon del Pato, and a narrow, mostly dirt track winding along the river, and then up through the slot canyon.

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We had to pass through some 30 tunnels that were blasted through the rocky and dry mountains. The steep sides were chock full of loose boulders, just looking for an excuse to roll down and crush us. I was thankful that it was a dry day. The scenery was other worldly, as is so much of Peru, and it helped us to avoid focusing on the bone jarring ride. This was not a trip for the feint of heart as we frequently stared down into major chasms. We passed a few villages. People got on with chickens, and at one point several sheep were placed in the underneath compartment. Most of the luggage was stored on top, so there was room for the animals. As always, bathroom stops were few and far between, and it was a good thing we had brought a sandwich from Trujillo as there were not many food choices along the route. After a several hours, we approached the Callejon, a long narrow valley surrounded on one side by the Cordellera Negra and on the other by the Cordellera Blanca, which contains many of the highest summits in all of the Andes. We began to make out some of the snow peaks in the distance, before arriving in Caraz, at 7500 feet.


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We took one of the tuk tuks buzzing around like flies, a three wheeled motor cycle buggy, complete with fringe on the top. Cramming in our backpacks, we rode the short ½ mile up the hill to our hotel, Caraz Dulzura. It appeared as though the only other people at the place were a French couple who were leaving the next day. The staff were happy to serve us dinner, provided we gave them a hour to prepare it. This was easy to do, as we sat on the terrace drinking beer and gazing up at the mountains.

The town itself, was small, quiet, and this time of year, the rainy season, there few tourists.

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The narrow winding streets had old rocks walls, buildings out of cement or stone, small shops, and was not without charm. While not prosperous, it did not seem especially poor. Most of the people looked indigenous, but few were dressed in native costume. I stopped in the local tour guide/mountaineering shop, Pony Expeditions. Alberto spoke English, and was kind enough to spend some time with me, and gave me a lot of good information about local hikes. Because business was so slow this time of year, it seemed to make more sense to wait until Huaraz, a much larger town, to check out longer trekking possibilities.

Based on Alberto's recommendation, our first hike took place on the trails and narrow roads that were immediately in back of our hotel. Although a little confusing, as there were several paths, we chose one that seemed more well worn. It took us through the outskirts of town, and then started up the mountain. It was more of a road than a trail, and we passed several people herding sheep and goats. After a couple of hours we got past what looked like cell towers, and then onto a beautiful high plateau with terraced fields and stone walls.

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On one side was the valley floor with the town of Caraz spread out in front of us and the Cordellera Negra behind, somewhat dark and ominous looking. In the other direction were massive glaciated snow peaks, one of which dominated the sky towering another 10,000 feet above us.

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It reminded me very much of the Himalayas. The sun was hot as we walked along the relatively flat path. We passed flowering yuccas and green fields, as well as the occasional adobe hut. After another hour or two, we came across a family, obviously doing the same thing we were, strolling along and taking in the sights. They told us that although the day looked fair, usually in late afternoon a very strong wind came up, and we wanted to be down before that happened. We continued on for another ½ hour or so to a small village on a hillside, and just sat on a stone wall, watching a few farmers go about their business, and looking at the ingenious gravity fed irrigation system water the fields. After a time, we noticed the clouds had started to obscure the snow peaks, and figured we had better start back. It was hard, very hard, to pull ourselves away. Later, the wind did begin to blow, and there were some serious gusts before we got down far enough to where they abated. Obviously the family knew what they were talking about. We managed to get lost, though not seriously so, and had to take a somewhat longer way back. No matter, what a perfect day.

We ate dinner again in our hotel, this time after about a two hour wait. We were now the only people in the place, and the maid/cook/caretaker befriended us, and asked a lot of questions about where we were from, what we were doing etc. We of course asked her the same. She was from an Indian family in a nearby village, where she returned each night. She seemed really pleased that we could understand her Spanish, as Quechua was her first language.

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Nanette with Quechua friend in front of hotel sign




The next day we hired a cab, with Alberto's help, to take us to Llanganuco Lakes, a national park further up the valley.

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On the way over we passed close to the base of Huascaran, almost 22,000 feet, and we had some breathtaking views before the clouds came in.

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Though not visible from this photograph, we thought we could make out where a huge chunk of the glacier had broken off during an earthquake, and buried the town of Yungay, killing 20,000 people. We asked our driver about it, and he told us that everyone was buried alive except a number of school children who were on a trip outside of town, just beyond the reach of the avalanche. They were the only ones spared. Other people have since rebuilt the town a few miles away. The old place, now a cemetery, is a bunch of rubble dotted by crosses, a permanent reminder of how precarious life can be in this immense landscape. As a shopkeeper in Daramsala had said to me a few years earlier, in the Indian Himalaya you put yourself in God's hands. In the west, with our creature comforts and predictable everyday lives, we have the illusion that we can control almost everything, maybe even death. Here, as in so many places in the third world, they have no such illusions.

Shortly after we arrived at the lakes, the weather deteriorated significantly. It became overcast and windy, and the temperature dropped to 35 or 40F. Of course, we were also at 15,000 feet or so, which made a difference. The lakes were a deep turquoise, fed by the rapidly melting glaciers all around. We put on all the clothes we had and started hiking further up the valley, just as a few pieces of grapple began to fall. Right around the lake there were trees, but higher it was a totally alpine environment of rock and meadows, and beyond that, ice and snow. We came to a high grazing field with stone walls and a small rock hut, that reminded me of the villages of Nepal and northern India.

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At this time of year the flocks had already been moved to lower ground and we saw no animals. Occasionally, we got a brief glimpse of the glaciers and rocks above as the clouds would clear.

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We took a different trail back down from the upper lake, along a river bank that was lush and densely covered with trees and ferns. Compared to the surrounding environment it felt almost tropical, though only a few hundred feet lower.

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We rode back in silence, still trying to take in what we had seen.


That evening we had dinner in Alberto's pizzaria, Cafe de Rat, just above the offices of Pony Expeditions. The place had a European feel to it and was decorated with posters of the mountains and antiquated climbing gear. Unlike our hotel, there were other diners, mostly travelers like ourselves. We strolled around the main plaza, near the stone cathedral which had been reconstructed several times following earthquakes, and then walked up the long hill to our hotel just as the moon was rising over the mountains.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:19 Archived in Peru Tagged postcards Comments (4)

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