A beautiful view over magnificent Huascaran Peru.

The Shameless Negotiator Goes Alpine

Print Friendly

 

Abraham has hosted many travelers through that wonderful little website called couchsurfing. I was not the first hitchhiker he welcomed. He in fact has had two others, one French and one Polish. He didn’t like the Polish one because that hitcher didn’t use money and so depended on Abraham for food during the two days he was in house. Rather invasive. The other one has already gone Patagonia way and made it back to Panama and is currently en route to New Zealand in a sailboat. My plan exactly. In fact, I already got a ride to New Zealand once, but I turned it down in favor of traveling South America first. Have I already mentioned that? Abraham was glad for it. But he said hitchhiking can be addictive, and that it seems almost natural to look for notoriety. I told him I understood what he meant. At least, I hope I understand.

One night I ate a chocolo tamale wrapped in plantain leaf, a soft treat to quit your hunger for a spell. A quick dessert of milk rice topped with a cherry sauce. We went to the city cultural center for a concert. Strings and horns sauntering about together, forming pieces such as Espana Cani, Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are, Abba Gold, and Turkish March, amongst others. Then the drizzle began, and it was Mambo in the rain.

I visited the city market every day, because the market holds the culture and the diversity of a town. I saw bowls piled with colorful and wet cooking sauces, an innumerable number of potato varieties, purple onions stacked to my height, rainbow peppers, bizarre things, giant pomagranites, flayed cuy it’s insides bare, wincing goat heads or headless sharks, purple crabs tied together like crates, hooked cuts of meat and sheeps hooves. I bought more passion fruit. Outside the market women in top hats sold boiled quail eggs for breakfast. The Market. If you ever travel, don’t let health warnings scare you from it.

The bustling Trujillo Peru market.

The bustling Trujillo Peru market. Source.

 

Outside of Trujillo is Chan Chan, the ancient city of the Chimu culture. It was conquered by the Inca, but they say that it was not looted until the Spanish arrive. It makes sense, because I read that the Inca kept control by conquering cultures, but leaving them to their customs and norms, only squeezing out a tribute from their new subjects. Chan Chan is 14 square kilometers, the biggest pre-conquest city in South America. A city in the desert. I had to see it. Surely I could find a back way in.

I walked out of Trujillo, because I wanted to walk, and because I wanted to save the sol for something more important. The desert sun high already in the sky glaring down on my neck. I’m almost used to burns. Two hours of walking and the city began to thin out. I asked around and eventually two labourers said that I could get to Chan Chan down a back road, not the main entrance. Perfect.

I walked through fields of sugar cane and pumpkin patches, hiding briefly in a bush as a group of men passed by. A truck surprised me from behind. They were heading my way so I stood outside on the door as they drove down the dirt track, clutching the mirror for balance. They pulled off the road at a small mud brick making operation. I continued, and I could see the sea far off ahead, and to my right I saw the smooth wavy walls of Chan Chan. I had no idea how the city was situated, but I’d soon find out.

I find another track marked by white stones, and it led not only up to the high orange clay walls, but around and to the other side of them. I’d found my sneaky entrance! Inside there were low groves of shady trees There were crumbled walls everywhere. After a short 10 minute walk along the high walls, some restored and some not, I happened on a group of workers sheltering under the spanning branches.

I decided not to try to skirt by them. “Hola!”

“Oye gringo!”

“Hey how’s it goin? What are you guys doin, restoring these walls here?” I entered as confidently as I could into the small talk.

But I had nothing to fear from them, they were so friendly with me, asking about Michael Jordan and the Space Shuttle, that I played honest. I told them I’d entered via the back road. I learned that I hadn’t actually entered the part that you have to pay for, but instead I entered a part that is prohibited to tourists. They didn’t mind, though. In fact, they decided to show me the way to the part you’d have to pay for. On the way, they took me to a crumbling hill of bricks. It was a complex of tombs. “Not many tourists get to see this,” they told me. Indeed not! I would never have found it had I walked alone. Chan Chan was enormous.

They showed me pieces of pottery they’d found in the ruins. They offered me a piece. Against all my better judgement I accepted it. A thoughtful revision of this action has convinced me that it was not necessarily wrong, albeit not totally right either. Where would these pieces end up otherwise?

We climbed a wall and I saw the vastness of Chan Chan. The workers pointed to a walled complex in the distance, the paid part. And so I adios-ed my friends and I was off, one piece of thousand-year old pottery richer.

At the complex I arrived behind the ticket guards. They told me I had to pay a ticket at the booth 100 meters away. I tried to offer the official the piece of pottery, a gesture of good will in exchange for entry into this restored part of the city. I might not have expected him to let me in, but I at least expected him to take the piece of pottery to protect. To my disgust he coiled up into a mental shell and said something about losing his job, and he did not accept the piece. Bullshit and fucked up. I decided I’d keep the piece, it’s safer with me anyway.

At the ticket booth I saw the price to get in was 11 soles. The student price was 6 soles. I looked at the ticketier. “Student entry please.”

“Do you have credentials?”

I did not. I handed him my driver’s license.

He looked at the card. “Driver’s license.” His eyes shot at me. “This is a driver’s license, not a student card.”

“It’s also a student card. In my state the color, the red that you see there at the top, that means I’m a university student. Otherwise it’s blue.”

After a short debate and me playing dumb, he charged me the 6 soles and I got my entrance ticket in. Shameless.

This part of Chan Chan was so restored that it was almost unreal. There was no roof of any sort, the long paths open to the big blue. It was constructed completely of clay. The outter walls rose 15 meters into the air. There was no way I could’ve climbed them without causing damage.

There were large gathering places, narrow ways, a long mausoleum, rare facades in crisscrossed patterns, and an unlikely pond with tall grass in the middle of it all. I found a back gate that I might’ve snuck in through, but unlikely that all 10 of the workers guarding it would’ve approved.

The old city of Chan Chan, near Trujillo, Peru.

The old city of Chan Chan, near Trujillo, Peru.

Dusty Chan Chan.

Dusty Chan Chan. Source.

Sketching Chan Chan in Peru

Hitchhiking along the coast of Peru,to the Chan Chan ruins.

 

The walk back to Trujillo was south. Why is the way back always shorter? As the ent had remarked, “south always feels like walking downhill.” The next day I walked further south, loaded down with my pack, on my way once more, leaving Abraham and Trujillo behind.

On the outskirts of town, still walking, passed a gas station and I almost continued, but convinced myself to ask the pick-up truck filling up the tank for a ride. Alas a ride it was, all the way to the town of Santa, an hour and a half south. My ride, Mario, explained the reason why, in the middle of the desert, there were endless fields of green on both sides of the road. “All of this is irrigated from the Santa river. Did you know that Peru produces the most asparagus of any other country in the world?” Well, I do now. The brilliant light green of the short plant offered a stark contrast to the beige color of the distance sand dunes. “We also have the biggest plantation of palta in the world, right there.” He pointed to an expansive field of avocado trees. He called them paltas instead of aguacates. Yessir, Spanish is quite diverse. For that, I’ve given up trying to master any particular slang, since it changes from country to country, and sometimes from region to region.

We passed a sort-of town comprised of houses whose walls seemed to be constructed entirely of flattened sugar cane stalks woven together. Mario noticed that I was looking at them and remarked, “some people think that just because there’s open land that they can stake their claim to it without dealing with the state of bank. They put up those ghost houses to mark where they intend to build, thinking it free because they ‘found the land’. Sometimes the government tears them down. Sometimes they finance their true construction. Everything depends on the politics.” And so it is.

Peruvian fields of green asparagus.

Peruvian fields of green asparagus.

 

Through a loping land of red rock mountains and sand, eventually Mario dropped me at Santa. I began my walk toward the dirt road that would lead into the mountains, passing through 46 tunnels along the Canon del Pato, Canyon of the Duck. But alas, no cars picked me up in two and a half hours. Only taxi combis, station wagon taxis, and trucks stacked to twice their height with brown sugar cane which made them look like mobile 1980’s mohawk fros.

I walked back to the main highway to try the next road down. It was on the otherside of Chimbote, so I was keen to play a little “tactical hitchhiking”. This is when you only accept certain rides depending on their endpoint. So, the first car to stop was going to Chimbote center. I didn’t want to walk out of another city. I declined. The next car that came was heading to the far side of Chimbote. Perfect. I hopped in.

The fish processing plants of Chimbote give the city its scent. I didn’t really want to stick around. I began walking further south, still within the city limits. I asked a pick up at a stopligt to take me further and he agreed, all the way to New Chimbote, on the edge of it all. A large supermarket had recently been built. There, I bought a new bottle of sunblock at twice te price I would buy it stateside. There’s just no demand here, but my pale coat needs the stuff! If my last bottle is any indication, I’d be good for another year and a half with this new bottle.

Back on the highway I was not picked up for another hour and a half. In Peru hitching works, but Ecuador takes the cake. Finally a car took me a kilometer, and from there a pickup truck dropped me 30 minutes later at Nepena. I was off the highway heading north, into the Ancash mountains, the highest of Peru. But not yet. A pick up ride, a ride standing in the back of a delivery truck, and another pick-up ride and I was past Nepena, San Jacinto, and now walking through the town of Moro. I could see the mountains in front, hazy but beckoning.

I walked claer out of Moro and into New Moro (why can’t they come up with more clever names?). I bought bread, bananas, and passion fruit and that would be my dinner. New Moro was another sugarcanewovenwalledhouse ghost town in a flat space between rising hills of rock and sand. A few dogs feigned attacks but I fended them off with my umbrella. It was late afternoon, the sun was weak. I decided to camp here for the night. No traffic was passing, only blue plastic covered moto taxis. I climbed a hill to the top and pitched my tent, tying the cords around rocks as the ground was too tough for stakes. Another pleasant sleep.

The morning did not bring any rides. I realized that what a woman had told me before, that “no one goes this way” was evident. A hitcher knows that if there’s a road it can be hitched. Sometimes I have patience for that decree, but I was anxius for mountains.

But fate would have it that this would be my road after all, because right when I decided to walk back, I threw my thumb one last time at a giant yellow dump truck. The men inside were glad to take me along. “We can take you two hours up the road. There’s a detour because they’re paving it up there.” Two hours meant at least 3 or possibly 4. I didn’t know the road here was dirt, my map said it was already paved. Of course, this was not the first time my map failed me. (remember San Agustin?).

So I went with John and Denis (unlikely names, yes?) in their Mercedes Benz Actros 4143. We drove on a gutted dirt road for three and a half hours, up a long canyon and around tight hills which eventually spread into wide valleys, our done road visible behind in the distance.

Mercedes Benz Actros 4143

Mercedes Benz Actros 4143. Source.

 

From our 3.5 hour detour they turned off onto the main road , which was packed dirt, to head back to where they were paving the road, there to deliver their cargo of sand. I was left at the crossroads with an old man controlling the way for the work vehicles, opening and closing an orange plastic fence. He looked joyful despite the high heat and loneliness of the place. His name was Mariano Rivera, and he was 70 years old. Somehow the best word I can use to describe him is amazing. “That’s my home you see there, the house above the coca field on the far mountain face. Do you see it?”

“I see it. A beautiful home it must be, with such a view to welcome you every morning.”

“It is. My daughter is married to a Canadian in Pamparomas. His name is Eric. The father’s name is David, also from Canada, are you going to see him?”

I told him this was my first time in this part of the world and I didn’t know anyone. He suggested I meet David, that he would put me up in Pamparomas. It wouldn’t be the first time a Canadian pastor had helped me. In Baja California, in the middle of the desert, I met another Canadian pastor who drove me to the Pacific to admire the grandness of it, and then gave me a pack lunch and sent me on my way. Perhaps I would indeed try to meet this David of Pamparomas, the town an hour climb from the crossroads.

“Are you hungry?” Mariano asked me.

“It’s ok I have some bread and fruit to eat.”

“Nonsense, I have plenty of food to share with you.”

He went and got a metal pot and returned. “This is called tallarin blanca.” I looked into the pot and saw white saucy spaghetti. “It has a poptato called la huancaina, cheese from my home, lettuce, acaituna, egg, and some spices.” Mariano served me a whole plate. And I sat and ate with Mariano on the side of the mountain. It was delicious.

It wasn’t long before a combi (taxi minivan) arrived. It was carrying workers to and from their worksites. Mariano told them to take me along to Pamparomas and they agreed. “Goodbye Mariano, thank you.”

In the combi the driver and I spoke about my business there, and then more workers got in and everyone was surprised to see me. No one goes this way, the woman had said in Moro. One worker was particularly interested. His name was Luis and I told him as much as I could about Nirvana and the Guns’n’Roses. He played a sick air guitar but I resolved to help him with the lyrics, since he invited me to stay in his room for the night.

Long winding roads took us up to Pamparomas, a village perched on a slant beneath the Black Mountain Range. Luis had convinced me to hang around, and since it was Saturday and not one car had gone by me in 5 hours of travel, I opted to take him up on his offer.

The Peru highway to Pamparomas.

The Peru highway to Pamparomas. Source.

 

He wanted to treat me to lunch but I was already full. Sometimes you have to take pains in order to please. Shameless. He insisted and so I found the room for another meal somewhere in my belly. It was a tomatoy chicken on top of rice, with a gooping potato pure spiced with aji, the Peruvian picante.

We spent part of the day lounging in his room next to the main square, I’d have a whole bed to myself. We went on a hike down a path to the sound of running water. We found a small creek. “Come on,” I suggested, “it’s always better further up.” Following the creek up we found great waterfalls and lively primary vegetation. It was too cold to bathe but perfect to drink. The mist came gently, so close but so thin, like a shy phantom.

At night Luis bought another meal for us (signing off in his company’s name). I wanted to buy him a beer so we went to the one cantina, an adobe room with squeeking wood table and a tv sound system blazing andino music. The singer was screaming rather than singing. Luis suggested she was probably durnk.

A man came over to our table. Sometimes this damn gringo face attracts the wrong attention. The man was so drunk his eyes couldn’t focus and he appeared to be looking beyond us. “Pamparomas!” he stuttered. “I’m gone be govner if Keiko if she if she if she becomes prezzident.” I looked at Luis, and the man became defensive. “Am I offended you? I wanna buy you guys beer. What you think?” We said sure why not. But he wasn’t going to buy the beer, he was trying to get me to buy it. I didn’t like him so Luis and I left as amicably as we could.

Pamparomas Peru

Pamparomas Peru. Source.

 

The night was chilly but my sleeping bag kept me toasty. In the morning Luis did some more signing off at the restaurant and we had some coca tea with bread and fried eggs. Back in the room I showed Luis my thumb piano. He laughed and sang out “we donneed no educasssion!” A Pink Floyd fanatic as well.

Drawing Peruvian traditional dress.

A Peruvian woman in Pamparomas.

 

It was Sunday, and the town officials gathered in the central square for a flag raising ceremony. They sang the national anthem. Then they sang the Pamparomas hymn. Ugh. I saw a tall white man. David the Pastor. As it turns out I wouldn’t meet him after all, as he disappeared quickly after the ceremony. I’m sure he knew I was there. I was the only stranger in a small difficult-to-access mountain town. Everyone looked at me and I could hear their whispers, their bets on whether or not I was Eric’s cousin.

I kept my bag in the room during the day, and kept my eye on the road. If any trucks were going through, we heard them, and I’d run up and ask for a ride out. We went to the soccer field, precariously placed on the edge of a steep slope. Pamparomas was playing against another pueblo. The feverish sentiment that soccer creates in some parts of the world is a scary thing!

For lunch it was back to the restaurant, another signing off, and this time the reknowned lomo saltado, a dish of steamed tomatoes mixed with spices and poured over salty french fry potatos and beef. (Over rice of course). The small tv glared in the small space. We watched Die Hard with a Vengeance in Spanish. Then we watched about an hour of the news. What was new? There was a long report about a Peruvian game show where the contestent to go the distance by cutting off all their hair wins their team some cash, or something. The hair benefits cancer patients. They showed the cancer patients, with unrelenting sad music, the patients obviously coached the “walk down the hallway looking very very sad”.

The other big piece of news was that Osama got shot in the head. The mood was unchanged here, no one really cares that much. Luis asked, “what do you think about it, is it good?” I told him I wouldn’t call death, in any case, a “good thing.” I told him it was just. The TV showed images of my countrymen in New York and DC. They were screaming and waving American flags. An American flag spiderman climbed a tree at the white house. I pointed at the images and turned to Luis, “you will never see me celebrating something like this with those people.” The people looked fanatical.

Everyone greets each other here with “maestro” or “seno”. There’s a strange divide between the outsiders and the townsfolk here. Luis is from the desert land of Ica, in the south of Peru. He told me to come there in June, that I could stay with him. Perhaps things will work out like that.

Monday morning was avocados in bread and a cup of oatmeal sugar water. I would surely leave today. I had resolved myself to negotiating with the combi that passes once a day to Caraz, the town on the other side of the Black Mountains, located in a long valley between these at the White Mountains. Luis sat with me on the main road. There was a protest by locals, who wouldn’t let the company car pass. They wanted work.

Some of Luis’ orange-vested coworkers struck up a conversation. I ran to the bathroom and on return I caught the last bit of utterance from one of them. Apparently he thinks I should be a porn actor because of my height. “Are they paid well here?”

A posse of blue-vested men showed up to calm the protesters. They carried stick batons. But they all knew each other and eventually the blue vests were also yelling at the company high ranker who was trying to explain whatever situation they were in.

Luis my e-mail, and like that, we were separated, perhaps soon to be reunited in Ica, I don’t know. I never know.

The two hour drive to Caraz was 4 and a half. It’s always more than what they say. The snake road took us up and over the Black mountains, into grass fields atop and then jagged rock crevices on the descent. It was steep as all hell. Forget any other road I might’ve called “steep”, this one tops them all. It looped back and forth, and it was like deja vu. We crested the mountaintops and bam, there on the far side of the valley below were the white beasts of Peru. Its highest mountains: Haundoy and Huascaran, among dozens of other peaks. Huascaran the highest in the country at 22,205 feet. What majesty to see them there, so very there!

A beautiful view over magnificent Huascaran Peru.

A beautiful view over magnificent Huascaran Peru. Source.

 

We arrived finally in Caraz, and it was here where I did my negotiating. The price of the trip was 12, but I told the driver that I usually hitchhike and I just ran out of patience and that could he please please please at least charge me only 10. He agreed. Shameless.

Caraz pleased me. I walked to the center and marveled at the quaint central plaza, its palm trees shading red benches occupied by old men and several drunks. The market was huge for such a small town. Markets in Mexico were impressive, but usually only once a week. These markets, I was told, are open every day. I discovered here mini mandarins, or should I call them bite-sized? I bought a sol’s worth, a bag of about 15. Then I began my search for something Nelson had told me about. It was a powder called in Quechua machica. He said it gives quite a lot of energy and can search as breakfast lunch and dinner. Perfect for hiking.

That was the plan. In Ecuador I was bored in an internet cafe, and, searching googlemaps satellite view of the Ancash mountains, I saw blue lakes nesteled among white peaks. One of these lagoons was called Paron, and it was a day or two hike up and out of Caraz. At the market I found machica at a lone booth, after being directed every which way by other vendors. The woman sold me a kilo of the stuff. I bought water and filled my water bag with it. Some told me there was a combi that went to the village of Paron, and from there it was a 4 hour hike to the lagoon. At the terminal they wanted 10. The combi in the morning costs 5. So, I took off walking, asking, “por donde queda el camino a Paron?”

Another dirt road and at 4:30pm I was out of Caraz. The road only went up, up up up, and I could see the white peaks on the otherside of cultivated hills. The few people I passed as I walked smiled at me, and my heart lay on cushions. That overwhelming and never expected feeling of happiness hit me like a gust of air. They never last, so appreciate them to their fullest, because it’s during their visit that you love life the most.

A grumpy flower vendor begrudgingly took me a few kilometers up the road, and I contiuned the walk. My legs were tired, and I’d need the rest for the next day’s exertions. I saw a farmer leading a cow out of a field, and a large rock in the distance. “Excuse me, any chance I could camp on your property?” “Ocupe nada mas,” he said, which means ‘yes’. Across the field, on the other side of the large rock, hidden from view. There was a flat space, and down a 30 meter sheer cliff face there was a rushing river, arriving from the mountains beyond. A rock led out from my pitched tent, and I had my own pride rock. A beautiful spot. It was a little chilly in the night but my bag is a beast, and I slept with vivid dreams of the future’s possibilities.

Packed the tent, tightened the backpack straps looped around my shoulders, swung my umbrella as I strode like Abraham. There was a hop in my step. The mountains. There’s something mysterious about a giant white peak looming silently above the landscape. It’s a peaceful and ultimately dangerous thing. Some people want to tackle it and mount the mountain’s heights, and others, like me, just want to be near it. And so it goes.

I walked for a couple of hours, every once in a while a local kid running alongside me. Sometimes they’re energetic and talkative, but sometimes the looks make me feel like a luxury car cruising in a slum. These people were lovely. When the morning combi to Paron pueblo came, I discovered I’d walked to where the price was 2 sols instead of 5. Into the combi, and all the hour drive to Paron we went.

I helped a couple haul a giant bag of rice up a hill, then began walking. I was following a sound of running water above me. I had heard there was a checkpoint where they charged entry to the national park. I don’t believe in paying to be in a place of nature. I’m very much an idealist because I know many parks depend on the entry tax levied on tourists. But what difference does one more gringo make, and how many people actually try sneaking in? My justification. Shameless.

I came around a bend and saw two men sitting near a pile of wood but facing the other way. I scurried up to where the running water was. It was a concrete canal about 10 meters above the road where the men were. I walked along these densely jungled canal for a while, a plant slashing my neck in the process. It stung, but I forgot about it.

When I judged I could rejoin the road, I did. I could still see the men, but hoped they didn’t see me. I had bushwhacked my way into the national park! I came to a guardhouse and lowered gate but there was no one, so I walked around. As soon as I did I heard a man’s voice behind me. The guards had caught me.

I kept my spirits up and greeted them as if nothing had happened, even though it was obvious I had gone around them. I told them I’d gone up to the canal to fill my water bottle. They were kind and simply told me I would have to register. So it goes.

I wrote my name and passport number on a sheet. And then they told me I had to pay 5 soles. “Oh come on, couldn’t you guys just let me in? I travel so cheap and I hate to pay just to walk into a place. Look, I even carry my own garbage with me, I’m no expense on the park services!” They agreed to a point, but then they dropped the C-bomb, ‘community’. Alas, I couldn’t really argue with that, even though I wanted to, I wasn’t about to risk the respect they seemed to show me. However, I urged a compromise. “Just charge me a little less.” And so I paid 3 soles for entry without a ticket. A bribe, essentially. Shameless.

Despite the negotiation, we seemed to be on good terms. I told them about my machica, and they laughed and muttered in Quechua between them. Before I left one guard gave me a chocolo, a corn cob but with kernels twice the size of American cobs.

“Thanks. How far is the lagoon?”

“3 or 4 hours gringo, depends on how you walk.”

Try 5 and a half hours. My pack was loaded down with books and other unnecessary items for a hike. Not to mention the full bladder of water. The canyon I was walking up was vertical for a kilometer. The two gigantesque columns of rock at the canyon entrance were like the giant stone statues in that one scene in the Fellowship of the Ring. You know, the big knights holding out their hands? Go watch it, please, if for nothing else than to legitimize that similie.

There was a road all the way to the lagoon for cars to arrive, and a foot path that circumvented the excess curves that a hiker has no use for. However, that path is almost vertical. Several levels of hills and incredible altitude separated me from the lagoon. I followed the crystal clear glacial water of the river. It was a rage and I imagined dying trying to kayak it. I dunked my head and drank deep of it. Over the year my stomach has become rather resilient, thankfully. But I never push it: this water is directly from the snow capped peaks.

I walked through open pasture with blue, violent, white, and red flowers. I climbed and ducked under flaky trees and bizarre plant life. The way was 5 and a half hours, I tell you, and at one point I thought I would not make it, walking as slow as zombies (Night of the Living Dead traditional zombies, none of this Dawn of the Dead B.S.).

The climb took me into unusual altitude, the lagoon resting ultimately at 13,800 feet. Acclimating was not one of my primary concerns, and now I was feeling it. Dizzy and tired and almost twisting my ankle over and over again, I was a victim of the heights. But the vegetation was thinning, and I could see clearly the white tops of mountains closing in.

One last stretch of road brought me around a bend, and there, sitting peacefully in a bowl of mountains, was a turquoise azul body of water. And it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. And I was alone.

The massive mountain called Huandoy on my right, and in the distance a set of pointed peaks like Spanish hoods, and to the north a long white ridge spreading across the sky. The water was cold when I touched it. It smelled sweet like candy, and tasted peculiar and…mysterious. I walked along a trail 15 meters above the blue surface until it thinned to a narrow path and until I had a clear view of the giant mountain’s body, a smooth glacier reaching to the lagoon. The air was thin but fresh, and the day suddenly felt very righteous as I slumped to the ground in exhaustion. What a majestic thing, this place.

The Laguna de Paron in Peru's cordillera Blanca.

The Laguna de Paron in Peru’s cordillera Blanca.

Sketching mountains in Peru

This is a sketch of mountains in the Cordillera Blanca. The lagoon here is Laguna de Paron.

 

In the night I listened to the cracking and pounding of avalanches. It was cold during the day but the intense sun compensated and I had worn a t-shirt. At night the sun was gone and the temperature dropped to 35 degrees. My realisation that my bag wouldn’t be sufficient in 0 degrees. But I survived the night, only my feet felt the chill. In the vestibule of my tent I’d built a small fire of some dry brush and dehydrated cow patties (dung). I closed the flap and put rocks and dirt over the fire to keep the heat in, but it was still cold. Finally the chance to don more than one jacket!

In the morning I took spoonfuls of machica, a powder that is full of energy but falls short of the ‘meal’ classification, rather a supplement. Careful not to breathe in.

Draw the mountains beyond and pack my things. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to arrive this night but I decided to begin the walk down. 3 hours and very soar and tender feet later, I was back at the guardpost with the two Quechua speaking guards. I had passed a pickup truck on the way down, so I decided to wait around to see if I couldn’t get a ride back to Caraz. I taught the guards some useful English phrases they could use with tourists, and before long the pickup arrived and agreed to take me down.

The pickup was piloted by a civil engineer from Huaraz and his passenger was a Norwegian geographer. They were going to Huaraz, the capital city of the province two hours south. And so it was that I had a ride to the big city. We drove the length back to Caraz and down through the pot-holed valley road toward Huaraz. There were several other towns along the way. We passed Yungay, which was a town destroyed in a 1970 avalanche that killed 20,000 people, and then we arrived in Carhuaz. Here I said goodbye to the two, since I was creveing of hunger, and since I wasn’t sure of a place to stay yet in Huaraz.

I went to the market and ate a meal of seco de rez, a creamy sauce smothering my meat. Another bag of mini mandarins, a bit of the net, and then a hike. Carhuaz has a beautiful main square, with statues of locals pouring water into the fountain, and the whole town surrounded by the white peaks beyond. I would camp here. I saw several antennas on a hill above the town. Asking around I eventually made it up to them after 45 minutes walk. It was so windy atop the hill, but I sheltered behind a row of giant aloe plants bigger than a car. The view was magnificent over a rolling hilltop and the far off peaks, and sent more chills down my spine than the chill itself. Beautiful.

A Peruvian woman in Caraz.

A Peruvian woman in Caraz. Source.

 

Another morning, and waiting for the sun to dry the condensation. Then packed and returned to town, where long lines of women formed outside of the bank. Only the women dress interstingly to my eye. The men usually have t-shirts and jeans. The women are the bearers of culture, until the men become old-timers and decide to don something different.

I had a short 2 sol meal, called arroz a la cubana, which is rice with a fried egg atop and surrounded by fried bananas. I also had a buttered bread, anis tea, and a mango refresco. When asking for a meal at such a price, it’s always better to inquire at restaurants that are almost empty of people. When someone can give you their full attention, they’re more likely to oblige you. Sometimes this price gets me a plate of rice and nothing more. But that’s fine by me.

Now I am here, at the local library, an information center filled with empty computers. The man let me write for 3 hours. He bought me a popsicle. I also found out that I have a place to stay with a French girl in Huaraz tomorrow. All the better, I was hoping to spend one last night on my antenna hill, to draw the mountains again. I can’t imagine the next time I write. I’m simply feeling too happy to think beyond Now.

Print Friendly