I am so ridiculously behind with this…sorry peeps! 5/10…really must try harder!!! ;) Anyhoooooo, here’s the latest instalment….
So having relaxed in Lima, it was time to head back up into the mountains. I had decided to base myself in the heart of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, about a 45 minute drive from the nearest town, called Huaraz. The village I was staying in was so small it didn’t have a name. It was known as the one next door to Marian! Although getting a taxi driver to take you there was nigh on impossible – no matter how much money you offered them! They would drop you of in Marian and then up to you to slog up to the village with no name! Typically, as with everything else in Peru, it was uphill all the way!!
They get very few foreign visitors in this particular part of the world and I was told by the lady running the local school where I had offered my services, that in many cases I would be the first foreigner they would encounter! Poor people! I had better be on my best behaviour then!!
On the first day I took it easy and went for a gentle stoll into the nearest canyon. On my way I came across an elderly lady doing her washing in the local stream. On seeing me she got all animated and started saying something with many a hand gesture going on. Unfortunately I had no idea what she was saying. Was she speaking Quechua perhaps? She repeated the phrase a few times, each time getting louder (I see it’s not just a ‘Brits abroad’ trait then!)…but I still had no idea! I put my camera away just in case she was reacting to that, but it didnt seem to change anything. We stood there, eyeing each other up for what seemed like the longest time…I didn’t want to just walk off, that felt rude but I wasn’t too sure what to do! Luckily we were saved by a local girl taking her cattle for a walk to fresh pasture. She was to be our translator. Turns out the lady thought I might be lost and was concerned that I was walking the wrong way for town!
We chatted for a while as she wanted to know all about where I was from, where I had been and where I was going!! She told me I had fire in my soul as well as on top of my head (!!!)…I have no idea if that’s a good thing but I’m taking it as a compliment! Also explains why I don’t feel the cold…insightful wee lady!! :)
I spent many a day exploring the surrounding canyons either on foot or horseback, my inner gauchita revelling at the chance to get back in the saddle again! But the highlight of my stay in the Cordillera Blanca was to be a hike to Laguna 69. Yes, that’s it’s name. Originally all the lagunas in the area were identified by numbers, but then, over time, indigenous names replaced the numbers… apart from in good ol’ 69’s case! The weather had other plans though! In the days before, during my wanderings in the surrounding countryside, I realised that from about 2pm the weather started closing in. I was going to have to get up early for the big trek then. I didn’t care if the weather turned whilst I was on my way back, but I wanted to see the jewel in the Cordillera Blanca’s crown with a clear sky.
So, at 6.30am, the taxi picked me up to take me to the start of the trailhead, a mere hour and a half away!! The day started off well, a few clouds but mostly blue skies! Hooray. I had been told that it would take me around three and a half to four hours to reach the Laguna, which by my calculations had me getting there around lunchtime! Marvellous! And off I set with a spring in my step!
It was a really lovely walk, gently climbing through a lower meadow to arrive at some spectacular waterfalls. I decided to have a break once I reached the top of the big waterfall, so I attacked the first set of switchbacks with gusto…Barry’s tea is a great motivator!! At the top, I had to do a double take as I was greeted by what I would call a small pond…this can’t be it, surely I said to myself. Definitely not no. 69 – the glaciers were still miles off, the water was anything but emerald green, but more importantly, I had only been walking for a couple of hours and quite frankly, the Usain Bolt of trekking I am not. So I wandered off the trail, hopped on to a rock, poured myself a cuppa and looked back on where I had come from. I could see more people on the trail further behind, but more worrying I could see grey clouds forming. Uh-oh.
When I rejoined the trail I met a young French girl, who quite honestly looked like death warmed up. Turns out she had only arrived in Lima the day before and had headed straight to Huaraz. She hadn’t really thought about the whole acclimatisation thing and was suffering badly. Being the good girl guide I never was when I was an actual girl guide, I also had coca tea with me so I offered her some and we chatted for a while. The tea seemed to take the edge off and we continued on together.
We meandered through a second meadow, which I am sure would have been just as pretty as the first but the weather had turned rapidly and the heavens had opened. Time to put the camera away and get the waterproofs out. This did not bode well and it was only 11.30am!! A curious cow, clearly thinking we were bonkers to be out in this weather came with. We had almost come to end of the meadow but still no sign of the Laguna 69. We kept saying, maybe it’s around the next bend, though we were rapidly running out of bends…and then we saw it – the little handmade sign pointing up the side of the mountain in front of us. Oh arse, it’s up there. Of course it is, this is Peru remember.
I had a real interior battle going on. The weather was bloody awful and the visibility shocking. I knew that there would be no view of the emerald lake surrounded by glaciers at the top. No postcard ‘I was here’ shot. And yet I had come this far. I decided to have a cuppa and think about whether to attack the second set of switchbacks or not…! Virginie, my walking buddy had absolutely no qualms about abandoning me and turned back. Can’t say I blame her!
I was probably perched on that rock for about 10-15 minutes (curious cow still ever present) and during that time, I saw a keen bean (hiking poles surgically attached) male duo from Switzerland not even bat an eyelid and proceed up the switchbacks, a group of French girls arrive, take one look upwards, groan and turn back…followed by a couple of Brits with no rain gear, absolutely soaked who appeared to be having the same internal argument as me. I offered them a cuppa too – to be honest, they looked frozen. The guy was amazed. “Who takes tea with them on a hike?” he said. I wanted to reply “what muppet goes hiking in the mountains without a raincoat?!” but I held my tongue as I could tell he was grateful really! When they finished I had decided to go on and they had decided to turn back. Just as well or I was convinced hypothermia may well have set in.
It took another 45 minutes to get to the top of the switchbacks, with the rain getting heavier and the temperature dropping, but there she was in all her glory…apparently! I couldn’t see a damn thing, well, apart from the grey mist in front of me. I was gutted. Everybody had told me how beautiful the setting was…I was just going to have to google it when I got back!! By this time I was starving so I plonked myself down on a rock, put my fleece on and tucked into my lunch! I must have looked a right sight, sitting crossed legged on the rock tucking into my sandwich and drinking my tea whilst the rain poured down! I didn’t care though, it would have been physically impossible to get any wetter!!
The wet, greyness accompanied me on my way back down, past the second meadow, the first set of switchbacks and then when I reached the first meadow at about 3pm, the sun started to peak out from behind the clouds! Not enough to dry me, but enough to warm the bones and that was a very welcome feeling! On the return to the village with no name, I googled Laguna 69 and it is indeed beautiful. Oh well, maybe next time!
The following day I was off to the school to help out. The children in the local villages are not allow to go to school in Huaraz as they don’t speak Spanish. So with the help of an ex-pat Canadian couple, a local school was created with library and computer complex attached. And that was where I was helping out. I was to show the future generation how to get to grips with using a pc. Although they were far more interested in me than the computers initially…I had made the mistake of wearing my hair down which always draws more attention. After fielding questions such as “is your hair made of gold?” – wouldn’t that be nice…I introduced them to my secret weapon in the form of my iPhone and the Talking Tom cat app! The kids were hooked. From then it was an easy transition to the computers…phew! I was worried I would be sacked from volunteering on my first day!
That evening, I had been invited around to one of the neighbours to eat Guinea Pig. I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea, but this particular family are well known for cooking a damn fine ‘cuy’ with a sauce to die for. So off I went praying that my facial expressions wouldn’t give me away if I didn’t like it! It wasn’t hideous, very gamey and luckily it didnt arrive looking like a rat on a stick with teeth showing etc as I had seen all too often in Cusco! That said, I wouldn’t be in a rush to have it again. The sauce however was dee-lish!!
My next stop was Trujillo. A pretty enough town in itself but not much to keep you there past a couple of days. To be honest if I hadn’t met Sabrina, Luis, Marcelo et al on day one I wouldn’t have stayed as long as I did. But they were great craic and soon plans were being made for them to come to Máncora with me (but more on that later!).
The real reason for coming to Trujillo lies in the surrounding desert. Marcelo had some free time on his hands, so I had my very own tour guide complete with transport. I didn’t know myself!!
First stop in the Moche valley – giant sandcastles in the desert, better known as Chan Chan, the vast capital of the Chimú, and once the largest adobe city in the world. Made entirely of sand, the structure is unfortunately at the mercy of the elements and the previous el niño phenomenon and associated flooding had caused major damage, so little remains today. I read somewhere that unless some significant investment is made fairly sharp-ish, then any evidence of the Moche settlements will have disappeared entirely within 7 years. Sad.
After that we headed to see the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Temples of the Sun and Moon) which date back 1500 years and are equally as impressive size wise, though again they too have been badly damaged by the weather over the years. She’s a fearsome adversary ol’ mother nature! To round off the day, we stopped at the small town of Huanchaco where a more contemporary form of sun worship plays out on the white sandy beaches. The town is also famous for its reed boats and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of local fisherman paddling and surfing the boats like seafaring cowboys, but I think we arrived too late!
The following day we headed further north into the desert to see the tomb of the Señor de Sipán. Not the actual tomb but a custom-built museum, where no expense has been spared to showcase all the findings from the tombs at Sipán, with the icing on the cake being that of a royal leader of the Moche people, the Señor himself. No photos were allowed though, so you’ll just have to trust me that it was an impressive exhibition!
Back in Trujillo and my curiosity had well and truly been piqued. During my time in Peru, Facebook had been on fire with comments relating to the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy. So, as I was coming to the end of my book, I decided to hot foot it to the bookshop to purchase a copy and see what all the fuss was about for myself. After all it would be perfect for my lazy beach time further north.
I was greeted by an affable middle aged man, eager to help so I asked him if he had the books in stock. “Hmmm, doesn’t ring a bell, what’s it about” was the reply. “Errr, I’m not sure about the actual plot line, but sex basically ” I replied.” “Oh, oh no, we definitely don’t have any books about sex here” he said. Then rather perplexed, “but what do you want to read about sex for? At your age you should be out there having it.” And with a roll of his eyes I was dismissed!!
However, one of my Buenos Aires buddies came to the rescue and emailed me all three books! That was the reading material sorted. Now all I needed was a beach.
Word had gotten out about my departure to Peru’s northern beaches and my buddies in Trujillo had decided they were coming with…and some of their friends wanted in on the action too! In the end, a 3 car convoy headed north, along the Pan-American highway, destination Máncora, where we had hired a house complete with pool on the beach for next to nothing!! It was going to be hard to go back to dorm living after this!!
Máncora is nothing to write home about. The town has pretty much grown around the highway, but it’s an essential stop-over on the gringo trail before Ecuador and as such has a very vibrant nightlife. Plus I have to say, some of the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen…which I would watch every night, sitting on the beach, margarita in hand. Perfect!
I didn’t do much in Máncora, but swim, laze, doze, read, drink…repeat ad infinitum…!! ;) But there is only so much non-tanning a girl can do, so all to soon it was time to say good-bye to my buddies, good-bye to Peru and head onwards and upwards to another country. Ecuador was giving me that come hither look and it would have been rude to ignore it!! ;)
Oh and will upload the photos in the next few days, when I have a better internet connection!