Finally in the Cordillera Blanca
Although we want to see as much as possible in this South American trip, there are some important highlights along the way. For me one of those is the Cordillera Blanca, and we are finally there! The Cordillera Blanca is part of the Andes, but it concentrates in a small stretch a lot of legendary peaks: Alpamayo, Huascarán, Huandoy, Chopicalqui…
After our long bus trip all the way from Ecuador, we took the first day to relax, acclimatise, since Huaraz is already at nearly 3100 meters, and see the city. Although it has nothing special, and even less given it was partially destroyed in an earthquake back in the 1970’s, the city has a great vibe considering it is the capital of the valley, where most tours start and plenty of shops and markets are located.
The most important things you can do in Huaraz is to get used to the altitude, and to do some of the many tours organized from the city. Funnily enough, most scenic lakes or easy to reach peaks are in other places in the valley, like further down in Yungay or Caraz, but still the tours start in Huaraz, meaning you have to get up earlier for the bus transfer. If you want to do the same from Caraz, even if the lakes are directly above the village, it is much harder and expensive because there is just no offer, and therefore hardly any demand.
With that in mind, the first day we just wandered around and visited the market, which is huge and also occupies all the surrounding streets. Markets are always very didactic to understand a country and for the kids to see how people go around on their lives, away from the tourist attractions.
We also stopped in all the playgrounds we found along the way. There was a huge one still not inaugurated close to the river Quilcay. But we found another small one on the other side. We then found some other two where you need to pay for each ride, but they are bigger and in better condition. We later found out these private playgrounds are quite typical in Perú
I even found a couple of bike shops, some well established and with quality bits, while others just part of the street market, but with plenty of spares and tools to fix any problem. Although most parts were of inferior quality, they would be enough to keep a cycle tourist moving.
The next day I went to Laguna Churup. It’s one of the few places you can easily visit on your own, without a tour, and being at 4400 meters it would be a good acclimatization exercise. I just had to go where the colectivos usually leave at around 7 am. Colectivos are the mini-buses, like a big van (Toyota Hiace and Nissan NV350 are the most popular, on top of the thousand Chinese copies) that you can find anywhere in Peru. For 10 soles (2.5 euros) they would take me up. We had to wait longer than usual as they like to leave as full as possible to maximize profit, but we are still in March, rainy season, and therefore there are not yet that many tourists.
This is becoming a problem, as since we have taken so many buses since our start in Colombia, we are about 1 or even 2 months ahead of schedule. That means we arrived in Peru in mid-March, still in the rainy season (it goes from November to March). The good thing is that everything is cheaper, there’s no problem finding accommodation, but so far we have not been able to see the mountain summits as they are always covered in clouds. Regarding rain, it hasn’t been that bad, as usually either it doesn’t rain, or it does only in the evenings, so the trick is to finish your stuff long before 15:00.
In the end the colectivo left at around 7:30, and it wasn’t so bad for the driver as he could pick a few locals on the way up so the bus was nearly full by the time we arrived. There were another 2 colectivos that had arrived earlier than us and the guys were slowly going up ahead of us. The driver said it should take us 3 hours to get up, as much to get down, so he would wait until 14:00 for us and then leave. Fair enough.
The climb was technically easy, only the altitude forced us to take it easy as we would start from 3800 all the way to 4400 mts. Quickly another Spanish guy and me passed everybody and we were well ahead everyone else. He was even faster, he had been all around Peru and was well acclimatised, tomorrow he was flying back home. In the last part there are a few bits where you need to use the hands to climb, and they have installed chains to make it easier. It’s not particularly challenging, but the light rain made all stones wet so the chains were welcomed.
We could only get glimpses of the lake when the clouds were moving, but I hardly saw any mountain. I waited for a while with no improvement, so after eating a few snacks, I went down, which was nearly as hard as the climb as the easier path down, with no chains, is longer and made of very irregular stone steps. The other Spanish guy had gone to a smaller lake further up, which I didn’t do because there was no view with the fog, and caught me up nearly at the bottom when I stopped to enjoy the view over Huaraz.
We took it easy the last meters as we were the first and there was still 2 hours for the collectivo to leave. One of the women selling snacks and bean salads let us cover in her temporary shop-tent, as it started raining heavily. I was happy we did the walk fast as the rain was taking over, as it does most of the days in the afternoon.
Susanne on the meantime took another collectivo with the kids and went to the nearby ruins of Huilcahuaín. The ruins are nothing special, but the trip in the collectivo up and then with a motocarro down were a real highlight for the kids. The ticket also included a visit to the local history Museum which Susanne found interesting.
Our plan now is to take advantage that we are at the top of the valley of Huaylas, at 3100 meters, and then follow the river Santa all the way to the sea, near Chimbote, the place where we took the bus to come here. This would mean nearly 200 km, mostly downhill, and cycling the Canyon del Pato, another highlight for me as I have seen hundreds of pictures from other cyclists going through the many tunnels among gigantic mountains.
I have to say I love the topography names they use in Perú. For valleys they say “callejón”, as in the Callejón de Huaylas (the narrow Huaylas alley) and for the high mountains, “nevados”, as in Nevado Huascarán (the snowy Huascarán). It’s really a very descriptive way to name things.
Unfortunately on our last night in Huaraz, while Susanne went to bed early, the kids wanted some salchipapas so we went to a nearby restaurant and I got food poisoning. The ride tomorrow will be a funny one.
Definitivamente la escalada tuvo su recompensa, que maravilla de paisajes!!!. La falla la lluvia pero digamos que le da su toque. Que pena con el food poisoning aunque yo creo que de aqui hasta que regresen a Alemania…sus estomagos van a estar a todo terreno!🤗 saludos a todos!!
Gracias, ya sabes, cuando uno come fuera tantas veces, tiene mas probabilidades. Cuando se come en casa hay más control…