From the beach to the mountains in one day, from the summer sun of Huanchaco to the rainy winter of HuarazThe capital of the Department of Ancash and Andean sports at the foot of the Cordillera White. This majestic geological formation of perpetual snows, part of the Andesis entirely covered by the Huascaran National Parkwhich gets its name from the highest peak of the Peru (6,768 m.a.s.l.).
Huaraz exists and you have to go
Although before coming to the Peru I already knew that I had very varied destinations in terms of climate and landscape, I admit that I had never heard of Huaraz until I stepped South America. And it was in CuencaThe Ecuadora beautiful city that I'll tell you about some other time. It turns out that the courtyard of a very lively hostel in Cuenca (don't conquer!) was the meeting place for the smokers who stayed there. From the first moment we met, I was struck by an Asian who turned out to be Japanese.
With a smiling gesture and imprecise age (like most Asians), with dreadlocks, fleece lining, plaid shorts and flip-flops, I suppose he was the kind of character that doesn't go unnoticed easily, but he also gave me the impression that he had interesting stories to tell and that he came tanned for thousands of miles here, there and beyond.
He always went alone and barely related to anyone. He spoke almost no English and only babbled a few words in Spanish, more than enough for me to know that he had been traveling the world for two years, that he had already traveled Africa by bus from south to north and that in South America was four months old, two of which he had spent on getting through the Patagonia on a bicycle.
When I asked him about his favorite New World he answered me "Peru"and when I asked him for a more specific place to Peru He mumbled something that at first I did not understand, until the third or fourth time he repeated it to me and I clearly understood two words, no more, because in fact they were the only ones he pronounced: ".Huaraz» y «Cordillera Blanca«. I never got to know his name, but he gave me information that I thought was worth gold, especially coming from such a wanderer.
When you get to Huaraz I tried my luck at four different hostels and hotels in the early morning as I had no prior booking. Some looked like catacombs, others were worse. Until, at dawn, I met Marco in the Plaza de Armas and he took me to the perfect place, the one with the three "B's": Good, nice and cheap . Marco is one of the many agent guides of Huarazalthough for me it was a reliable and effective getter. With him I hired the excursions to be made at a price more appropriate for Peruvians than for "gringos" (yes, there is usually a double scale) and so I spent Huaraz four days, my record of staying until that moment in any Latin American destination.
I decided not to do the Great Santa Cruz TrailThe four-day event was the most famous and in demand by tourists, as it did not have the right equipment. Traveling with only a 30-liter backpackI imagined myself freezing to death, deep in the ground, pitching a tent before sunset, and getting up very early to put on the same soaked clothes I had worn the day before.
Although Marco had offered to lend me some of the material and I was planning to inspect it in detail, I finally gave up. And I think that I did the right thing because when rain or snow appears at more than 4,000 meters above sea level, things can get serious and the mountain must always be respected.
One of the best things to see in Huaraz is their street market, one of the most cheerful and varied I've ever seen in South America. While walking around, it was clear to me that it was low season since I hardly met any foreigners. You can find food of all kinds, but especially mountain clothes that imitate the best "sweaters" and "jackets" of American brands.
I needed a second coat, so I spent a whole morning jumping from post to post, haggling and talking to the sellers until I finally found something that satisfied me. I think some of the vendors got the better of me!
Although we were not able to visit the archaeological site of Chavín de Huántar by landslides on the road, in Huaraz we enjoyed a couple of anthological outings, especially the second one: the Pastoruri Glacier and the climb to the Lagoon 69 (so called because of the code that lists the gaps in the Huascaran National ParkThe rest have their own names.)
In the two excursions we travelled through the desolate landscapes of the Andes which seemed more typical of the arctic tundra, with no tree vegetation but covered with moss and plants very similar to esparto grass. The pale green that dominated everything and the occasional presence of waterfalls and streams reminded me at times of the Scotland.
Visit to the Pastoruri Glacier
The visit to the Pastoruri Glacier is very touristy, it seemed to me more like a pilgrimage, and the weather was not too bad since we had a tremendous snowfall at 5,000 m.a.s.l. In any case, the opportunity to visit a monster of nature like this does not arise often. Perhaps because the day before it had been New Year's Eve and I had gone to bed very late, that morning I did not feel particularly fine, especially when we visited the Puyas de RaimondiThese are unique plants that grow in the altiplano and are named after an Italian polygrapher who worked in the Peru during the 19th century.
At the next stop of the day, the Pastoruri Glacierthanks to Lisbeth I discovered that coca leaves are the difference between feeling like a wobbly puppet or a light and energetic creature from the heights. This young lady, my fellow hiker, held the snow in her jeans, her high shoes and her head uncovered as if it were nothing. Her story, and that of her Dutch godmother in love with Peru and who speaks Quechuawould give for a movie. If I remember correctly Lisbeth was the second Peruvian who invited me to visit her house, in Chiclayo.
That day I also experienced very closely the terrible effects that the soroche o altitude sickness. The victim was an unfortunate Korean woman who was sitting next to me in the minibus and who had the unfortunate idea of going above sea level, of Limaat an altitude of 5,000 metres in a single day. It wasn't pleasant to see the poor woman suffering from spasms and vomiting while a Peruvian family provided her with coca tea and I covered her with my poncho. When she reached the glacier she got off the bus and was barely able to take a few steps before going back up.
Excursion to Lagoon 69
The climb to the Lagoon 69 (4,400 m.a.s.l.) is a demanding 3-hour route on the way (5.30h total) in which you travel 15 km, covering a difference in level of many hundreds of meters between waterfalls, lagoons, sheep valleys, uncountable walls and glaciers, all under the imposing shadow of the Huascaran. It seems that many mountain people think that it is one of the most beautiful hiking routes in the world and that it has nothing to envy to any of the Himalayas or the Alps. At the beginning of the route you arrive completely subdued to the landscape, after having previously passed through the Quebrada de Llanganuco and the lagunas Chinancocha y Orconcocha.
The most impressive thing is to feel the height, to appreciate how the granite walls start from the bottom of the ravines and rise thousands of meters, but above all how dreamlike it is, when you arrive exhausted at Lagoon 69To contemplate the turquoise waters with the waterfall under the glacier. Adam and a Korean key who stopped at my hostel (I never managed to keep his name) were the companions on that very special day.
The previous day we had already met on the glacier and with the New Zealander I would meet again on the Lake Titicacaalready in Bolivia. On the way back, soaked by the rain and ankle-deep in mud, a Peruvian guide and I worked as improvised engineers and built a small bridge of stones and branches so that the bulk of the group could wade through one of the many streams you encounter along the way.
At Huaraz we also enjoyed a cosmopolitan New Year's Eve dinner courtesy of my French friend Marca former mountaineer, and Carolhis Peruvian wife, who runs the Hostal "La Cabaña". Foreign guests (British, Koreans, Romanians) we were entertained, and especially the one who writes these lines, since I was offered a seat to the right of Marc, the host (in Peru those details still count).
When I continue to be surprised at how many of the travelers I met in the Peru did not know Huaraz nor the Cordillera Blanca, I instantly think that at any moment their particular pythoness may appear to them, ready to offer them the answer that will make them understand why nature contains amazing wonders. To me, that pythoness appeared in the form of a Japanese globetrotter: DOMO ARIGATO GOZAIMASU!
After my wanderings in the Cordillera BlancaThe City of Kings was waiting for me...