Mumbai-Frankfurt-Caracas-Lima; Gulping up time, I reached Lima after a long flight of thirty hours, where Julio and Kate were waiting for me at the airport. Considering that I was expecting a dry weather, Lima, with its moist and cool air, made me feel as if I brought a little bit of the Indian monsoon with me. Introduced to my cozy room, I have been enjoying the amazing hospitality they have offered me as well as the delicious food cooked by Magna here.
After just a couple of days of plopping around in front of a huge TV with Wii, paused by a little research on the net, going through the local market with Kate who introduced me to my first awesome Manjar Blanco filled Churro, and meeting the Hamburger man with Julio, Kate and I planned a spur of the moment travel to Hauraz, a beautiful place about four hundred kilometers north of Lima situated between the magnificent Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra. The idea actually started when Julio told us about the Sechin and Caral archeological sites, plans of which later got developed into this fully fledged Huaraz trip. With an eight hour overnight Movil bus with the most comfortable seats in which we were given a bread, a cheese slice in it, a manjar blanco dessert and there played ‘My name is Khan’, an Indian movie ( ! ), out of nowhere, we reached Huaraz at six in the morning.
It was cold and when Julio’s friend told us that the hotel we‘d decided on (Hotel Olaza) was full, we had to go to another one called Hotel Alfredo which was so ordinary that it made our perfectly amazing trip very real. The hot shower was without any heat on the first day and so was the earthquake ridden room because of the plastic-taped-shut door. The silver lining was we had to use all of our strength to lock our room door ( ! ) and that it was real cheap (50 soles a night). Ah, well. Still, the morning sun was bright and we had our first day of happy feet ahead of us. With a breakfast of a meal in our tummy, we were ready to go. At around nine, the very dramatically passionate guide and a friend of Julio’s put us in his tour bus. Based on the altitudes of the sites, for getting acclimatized, we had decided on doing the Llanganuco Lake first, followed by Chavin de Huantar and later, Pastoruri glaciers. But he had some other plans for us which involved going up to the Chavin de Huantar site which is at around 4000 meters sea level height on the first day itself.
Riding along the river of melted snow, on a road surrounded by the magnificent mountain ranges, the dusty road led us through a small idle lazy town to a plain from a not so tree filled area to an almost barren one edging towards the snow capped mountains all the way. Lake Caracocha, on the way, was dazzlingly reflecting the happy sun. On every touristy lake over here you will find people holding their pets to be photographed with. One cute baby lamb and another strikingly cool llama later, we started our journey through the grassland valley to one museum of remnants of Chavin civilization (‘Museo Nacional Chavin’) near the Chavin city.
Our very knowledgeable guide obliged us with a dramatic rendering of customs of the civilization in Spanish which I understood less and less as we progressed through the whole thing. But the man’s intensity! He used to put on dark goggles, close his eyes behind those shades and then it used to be all song and dance in front of us. From the architecture of the temples to Tenon heads to the smoking pipes, he carried us through the people long lost. And then it was food time.
A cozy little restaurant in the city of Chavin called ‘La Portada’ shared its lively ambience with us and I, in my vain bravery, decided to try a new animal, Guinea Pig, the dish called ‘Cuy’. Although the cooked animal looked beautiful in its appearance, I felt it had too less of a flesh for my taste. My conscience, I think, tried to give me a sinking feeling in my stomach like I’d done something bad, for about four-five hours after this, still.
But that was the high point. We then left for the actual Chavin de Huantar site currently under archeological excavation.
It’s a temple about 4000 years old. The air was stuffed with history and if you could, you would want to touch the lives of these lost people with even a small piece of rock at the site. The architecture, the subterranean tunnels, the deities and the symbolisms etched in all of these makes you realize how real this history was at one point in the lifetime of humanity.
That was the lavish end for our first day though Kate got her head burst open later on when we reached back to Huaraz, by the untimely rapid altitude change which was overcome by a tiny little pill giving us a sort of happy ending to the day. At night we ventured out for something new for dinner and our need to have a ‘proper’ pizza made us have an amazing meal at an Italian restaurant in Parque del Periodista on Avenida Luzurriaga.
The timetable next day was more or less the same. At nine in the morning, we were picked up by a new guide to go for the Llanganuco Lake. Travelling through grassy highlands looking over those snow capped mountains, climbing the swirls through town after town on a bright day, and after a stop at the local park in one of those towns for some morning dessert, we reached the awesome spectacle that the Lake was. It is called the Turquoise Lake because of its crystalline blue-green color. It is exactly in the centre of a range of snow capped mountains. A very brave (and strong) person rows his boat for five soles from one shore to another carrying as many people in it as he can through the sublime blueness. It was indeed a really spiritual place if you were really in the mood.
After our lunch, the next destination was the city of Caraz where Manjar Blanco is manufactured by the locals and eaten by the enthusiast like me all over Peru. We had a little Manjar Blanco tasting time at a shop in the city and then we left for Yungay, a town lost in two successive avalanches. A new town is present near the old one now, making the harsh reality of the disaster so very blatant.
All we see in the place of the old town are the graves of the people that used to live there, a bus wreck, a circular building full of sarcophagi with a statue of Christ on top, with an elegant garden park to fill out the deathly hollowed spaces left by the snowy horror that hacked the place apart once in the sixties and then in the seventies.With a heavy heart, we departed for Huaraz again for the day, checking up on a local ceramic shop on the way back. For dinner, we ate at a Chifa called ‘Jim Hua’, my first Chinese experience in Peru.Also I tried the Pisco Sour, a cocktail, for the first time in my life and loved every little drop of it. Overall, another happy ending.
The last day in Huaraz was going to be the most hectic one. The destination was Pastoruri glaciers at an altitude of about 6000 meters passing through the towns of Recuay and Catac; I was especially looking forward to this. We left our dear ‘old’ hotel at eight thirty in the morning. The ride that day was especially picturesque with dry grazing highlands stretching far and wide until the snow capped mountains gulped them down. Lots of amazing lakes, a natural spring, some ancient trees, crystal clear blue waters running along the road, most of it covered by moss and other brown layers of life abundant; we witnessed one of the most beautiful bus journeys of our trip. Mile by mile, we reached out towards those white giants at the end of our eyesight and were finally at the destined location. From the point where the buses stop, there is a stone path travelling up the mountain for hiking which leads us to the said glaciers. When we reached there, the weather wasn’t really cold but the wind carried that coldness with it making it stronger and more difficult to handle. It was a hard hike. But it was worth almost any effort that was required from our part.
At the end of the path, when I climbed the last mile, like sunrays, an incredible image emerged from the rocky path. A cliff of snow had broken off giving way to a spectacular blue wall of ice slowly melting into thin layer over the water, the most beautiful sight I have ever had the chance to lay my young eyes on. I reached at the highest point from where this magnificent sight could be seen and sat there admiring the glorious nature with cigarettes in my hand and the misplaced high in my mind. This was the moment I felt really worthwhile to have come from all the way from India to visit this incredible world. It is etched in my mind. This was the end of our final tour day in Huaraz. At night, for dinner, we found and amazing place called ‘Encuentro’ on Jr. Julian de Morales, where I had a tuna salad with my first Cusqueña malt Beer; the perfect end to a perfect trip.
The next morning, we left Huaraz at about nine thirty by a Movil bus. The ride back was great, somewhere misty clouds were descending on green sugarcane fields; while somewhere a cold desert was looking over the ocean giving the road a mystical quality which was only spoiled a little bit by the screaming children in the bus with us.
Now, I am sitting here, full of Magna’s food, wondering of the adventures, of beauty Peru might show me again. Next stop? Lima city!
Parag is a blogger and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.