Flying to Lima from La Paz, we almost immediately hopped on a pre-booked bus to Huaraz (plane landed at 7 p.m., bus departing at 10 p.m.). The plan had been to do a nice 4-5 day trek up near Huaraz, in the Cordillera Blanca, said to be one of the most scenic ranges in South America. Well, no such luck. The rainy season was upon us, and Dan wasn´t feeling that great, either. The annoying part about the start of the rainy season is that while there isn´t enough rain to deter serious hikes (it only drizzles in the late afternoon/evening), the low clouds are constantly present due to you being trapped in a valley between two high mountain ranges – so there is no view to speak of. Only to the next foothills, and then everything past that is covered in billowing white clouds. And at that stage – what´s the big point of doing a hike renowned for the vistas it offers?
So while Dan was recovering, I explored Huaraz itself and took two day tours. Huaraz is a cute little town but not much to speak of, although I did find one cafe which would put Canadian coffeehouses to shame – 3rd and 4th levels of a building, with an open middle and mostly-couch seating along the outside of the ¨second¨ floor which offered great views of the surrounding mountains (where there were no clouds, that is).
The first day trip was to Laguna Llanganuco, with a few interesting stops along the day. On the first stop we visited the town of Yungay, the site of an avalanche on May 31, 1970 (a result of the Ancash earthquake) which killed most of the town´s inhabitants. The earthquake dislodged a large glacier shelf at the side of nearby Huascaran Mountain, and the multi-million-cubic-meter-strong mass tumbled towards the city, avalanche-style. The debris demolished the city and buried the remains, the force of the impact instantaneously killing nearly all of the inhabitants. The only exceptions were people up in the cemetery (a hill with a giant Jesus statue) and the stadium (natural features upstream of the stadium diverted the flow just enough for the avalanche to bypass most of the stadium). Due to debris settling with age, the city is now buried in around 5-10 meters of debris, and the whole area has been declared a cemetery by the government – no excavation is permitted. This used to be a very rich area, with brides decked out in multiple golden decorations on their wedding day, so numerous fortunes have been lost. A lone palm, old but only with a few top meters sticking out of the rubble, is a poignant reminder of the disaster. It used to grow in the central square of the town, and is about the only thing that survived the force of the avalanche intact. Pieces of the cathedral and a few twisted bus frames also litter the landscape, amongst small memorials erected by families in approximate places where houses uses to be located.
The lake itself was very scenic, with a few glacier-covered mountains in the background, and the drive was just as good – a nearly infinite serious of switchbacks up the mountain. On the way I also got to try two local snacks – steamed corn with some fresh cheese over top (the corn here is like nothing I´ve ever tasted), as well as papas rellenas (mashed potato patties, stuffed with bacon, onion and cheese, and fried on the outside). Have I mentioned yet I love Peruvian food?
The second trip was to Chavin, the site of a ruin of a ceremonial site of the Chavin civilization, build in 1,200-1,300 BC. After another nearly-full day on the bus, I felt like I had gone for a good hike, with my whole body aching – it turns out it takes quite a few muscles to keep you upright on a bumpy road!
Our first stop, after a bit of a scenic climb, was Laguna Querococha, a lovely little (but deep, up to 80 m) lake below a cute peak. One thing I find interesting here is that the source of canyons in the mountainsides is very obvious – large funnel-shaped deposits of rubble litter the slopes right underneath most canyons. Getting back on the bus, we drove past an area where the rocks make fairly obvious shapes of animals – much less imagination required than usual. I saw the dinosaur and the monkey, but not the elephant. Eventually, we got to Cahuish Tunnel, a very impressive tunnel carved right through a mountain – 500 m long, all of it still with the rough look of a just-dug-through-tunnel, and water dripping down from the roof and walls in some places. Coming out of the tunnel, we were greeted by another large status of Jesus, looking over the valley into which we were about to descend.
I ran out of patience at this point, since I was getting tired, so my observations of the Chavin architectural park will have to come in point form. Here are some notable things about the site:
1) The main plaza is perfectly divided into a north and south half, a division which extends into the main temple, as well. The main steps leading up to the temple are divided by this line, with one half being made out of white (well, grey, in the rain) stone, and the other out of black. Same goes for the outer walls of the temple. The Chavin really believe in symmetry.
2) Underground water drainage systems, leading away from the temple to the river. Guess it rained a lot back then, too. They are shaped in a zig-zag instead of a straight line in order to slow down the flow of water, and include small aeration shafts in order to keep the water flowing when necessary.
3) A stone with 7 circular bowls cut into it, which are thought to have been polished smooth, filled with water, and used as (magnifying?) mirrors to observe the stars. The whole site is supposed to have been an astronomical observatory used to predict which crops should be planted next year, used by farmers from far and wide – and the priests were paid in agricultural product. Clever, huh?
4) The underground tunnels. Very cool. Various tunnels used for everything from storing meat (cold storage) to a maze used in religious rituals. Another subset is called the Gallery of Columns (or something to that effect) and the archways are formed by giant slabs of stone resting overhead. Actually, that one was just a bit scary since some of the stones were cracked, and held up by makeshift wooden supports.
So, a bit of scenery and some history lessons. Not bad. But not as much as I had wanted to do, either. I kind of regret not having put Huaraz first in the list instead of last, when we were closer to the dry season, and weren´t as tired or sick. A pity. This would be another good reason to come back to Peru some day, but with all the other places we keep talking about visiting, I don´t know if that will ever happen. Guess we´ll see. Maybe a 20th anniversary trip to retrace our honeymoon steps?