Monthly Archives: August 2007

Traveling to Cajamarca

August 24, 2007
Day 695

I rode a bus all night to Trujillo. I had already been there, so I immediately bought another ticket to Cajamarca. I had a few hours to kill, so I meandered the city's streets until I got to the Plaza de Armas in the center. The city was so flat and repetitive that I started to wonder if I was actually walking anywhere or if I was being transported back to my starting point every fifteen minutes. Until I arrived at the plaza, all I saw were hundreds of the exact same shops with no major landmarks to gage my relative location. Added to that was the same weather as I experienced in Lima: Cool with a thick haze covering the entire sky. From my visit last year, I remembered the ruins and beach nearby being nice, but the city of Trujillo still didn't have a lot going for it.

I got the front seat on the top floor of my bus for a panoramic view, something everyone should experience at least once when they travel to South America. You can see everything on all sides of you, yet you're not driving so there's this feeling of disconnect like you're in a movie theater and the world that's passing you by isn't real. You don't even flinch when you come within inches of hitting a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi or a stray dog. You just keep munching the popcorn the bus company was nice enough to provide you with. On top of that, if you get bored of the scenery, all you have to do is look up to watch The Dead Poet's Society or whatever your movie happens to be. So you're both literally and figuratively in a movie theater!

After we left the coast and started our ascent back into the mountains, the sun came out and the weather improved again. It was another bus ride full of spectacular Andean scenery and tranquil little towns where everyone is either smiling and waving, or trying to sell us something. We pulled into Cajamarca, a little lower than Huaraz at 2750 meters, late at night, so I only got to see the city in its deserted, garbage-laden form.

Hot Springs and Meat Markets

August 23, 2007
Day 694

I found out that the only buses to Trujillo left at night, so I had all day to kill. I did a lot of walking around town and eventually ran into the local meat market. It's definitely not for the squeamish with dead chickens hanging from their necks, big slabs of ribs from a variety of different animals sitting around everywhere, candied apples for sale right next to some hanging beef, and even burlap sacks full of live guinea pigs, waiting to be sold and eaten. It was a hot day outside, but inside it was... the same: no refrigeration was to be found anywhere. It was enough to make a vegetarian out of even the most hardened meat lover.

Later I stopped in a cafe for a cup of coffee and a chat with the owner. I told her that I was leaving tonight and looking for something to do. She recommended going to the hot springs of the nearby village of Monterrey. That sounded like a great idea. I got up right there and began looking for the bus. After waiting for a long time, I was ready to give up, but finally the bus showed up. The hot springs were really a set of three swimming pools, with cold, warm, and hot water, respectively. When I first saw the pools, I though about leaving because the water looked like mud. I still decided to give it a shot and discovered that it wasn't so dirty after all. I switched between the warm and hot pools for a long time and met a lot of other interesting tourists as they came and went. The hot springs relaxed every muscle in my body and put me in a better mood after failing to do the Huayhuash Circuit.


August 22, 2007
Day 693

I was awakened early this morning with a knock on the door from my hotel's owner and a note passed underneath. The succinct note was from Rich. The stomach illness he had recently picked up had taken a turn for the worse overnight, so he wouldn't be able to go to Huayhuash with me. I couldn't get mad at him for being sick, and I certainly couldn't blame him for not wanting to go when he wasn't sure about his health. Huayhuash is so remote that there's no way we'd be able to get rescued in an emergency, and if an injury or illness happened between high passes, our very survival could count on being able to walk up the side of a mountain to get back to civilization. You should only attempt Huayhuash if you're 100%.

Still, that note might as well have been a sledge hammer aimed at my head. Trekking the Huayhuash Circuit was my only reason for coming to Huaraz. I thought people would be jumping at the chance to go with me. After all, I had all the gear necessary to do the trek, maps, and even a day-by-day plan. I just didn't want to go alone. We'd pay far less than any tour company could offer. Yet after a week of leaving notes on the town's main message board, talking to everyone I met to see if anyone was interested in going, and lots of patient waiting, I was back to the drawing board. I had to meet someone in Ecuador in a few weeks, so I no longer had the time or the ambition to continue looking for more people. I wouldn't be able to go to Huayhuash.

I've found the same thing to be true consistently for the last few months. It's nearly impossible to find people who want to do adventurous stuff. I don't get why it's such a big deal for people to do the exact same stuff that every other tourist before them has already done. Sure, there are some touristy things that are necessary to do in Peru, like going to Machu Picchu. But when you get home, you won't be talking about seeing the colonial architecture of blah blah blah town or going to such and such museum. You most definitely would be talking about the Huayhuash Circuit, however. Traveling alone can really suck sometimes. I keep thinking that there must have been something else I could've done to avoid this situation, but I haven't come up with anything yet. I feel like I've wasted the last week of my life.

There's really nothing else for me here. There are plenty of long, interesting treks to do, but of course I can't do them without any friends. There are also a few short treks in the area that I could do alone, but none of them look very interesting to me. I decided I should just cut my loses and get out of here tomorrow.

More Huayhuash Plans

August 21, 2007
Day 692

It was a long night of rough sleeping at high altitude, but at least this time I had plenty of clothing to keep me warm. When it was finally light enough to see, I cheerfully walked out of my tent, but was surprised to see that it was being weighed down by a thick layer of frost. I wanted to get back to Huaraz as early as possible, so I started cooking breakfast and taking down my tent. It took a lot longer than usual because every time I took apart one piece of the tent, my fingers went numb and I had to return to the stove to warm them up. The sun was nowhere near emerging from behind the mountains, so I consented to packing my tent away with the majority of the frost still attached. With the freezing temperature, the lagoon was calmer than ever, but I could still hear the birds in the distance.

The walk back down to Pitek went quickly, and soon I went from freezing sweating. Yesterday I had gotten lucky getting a bus all the way to Pitek, but today there was no transport back down so I had to walk to Llupa, the main farming community on the road about halfway back to Huaraz. From there I caught a bus the rest of the way and was back in the city by noon.

I only met the guy who wanted to go with me to Huayhuash briefly last time, so I didn't even remember his name. Rich, as it turned out, stopped by my hotel later, and we discussed our plans. We both have to meet people in a few weeks, so we agreed that we could only trek for nine days. However, according to my notes, the quickest we could do the entire circuit in would be ten days. Throw in side trips and the number of days jumps up to sixteen. Still, nine days is still a really long time to trek, considering we'd be carrying all of our food with us, so we'll have to figure something out. Maybe we could get out at a town along the way or combine two days into one. However, every day of the trek will involve going up a pass, sometimes as high as 5000 meters above sea level. It's already going to be the hardest trek I've done, even without complicating matters by doing extra long days. We'll have to figure out these details tomorrow.

I'm really looking forward to going to Huayhuash. Many people consider it to be the best trek in Peru, and one of the best in the world. It's in a really remote area with few other tourists, and it circumnavigates an entire range of 6000-meter peaks. On top of that, Rich should be an interesting companion. He flew to Alaska with his bicycle and started riding south. That was three years ago. Now he's on his way to Ushuaia, on the bottom of South America. His entire trip has been drawn out (or perhaps enhanced) by long stretches on his bike. For example, he figures he'll need about ten days to get to Cusco to meet his friend. That makes my long bus rides sound like walking around the block.

A Huayhuash Warmup

August 20, 2007
Day 691

Picture of lagoon.

Laguna Churup in front of Churup Mountain.

This morning I took a bus up a hill outside of Huaraz. The bus went past several traditional farming communities, and being surrounded by Quechua speaking people with big rosy cheeks, campesino hats, hand-knit sweaters, dresses, and leg warmers, and carrying bundles of wheat and piles of firewood made it hard for me to believe that only a few days ago I was eating at Pizza Hut in a cosmopolitan part of Lima. But I was even more surprised when one of the girls on the bus pulled out a digital camera and started taking pictures of the mountains. When we were in the middle of nowhere, she had the bus driver stop, got off, and started walking toward a field, supposedly toward her house, though none were in sight.

Eventually I arrived in Pitek, a collection of a few houses at the gateway to Huascaran National Park. From there, a park ranger named Hugo, who spoke little Spanish but excellent Quechua and a bit of French, pointed me to the path toward Churup Mountain. On the way up, lots of people passed me going the other direction, but nobody was going up at the same time as me. It was a popular day walk, but nobody was crazy enough to camp up there, except me.

After a few hours I reached Laguna Churup, which sits at the base of a mountain with the same name, at 4650 meters (15,256 feet). It was a beautiful place, and there was nobody else in sight. After doing some searching, I found a flat place and set up camp. I could still see Huaraz 1600 meters (a vertical mile) below, but it might as well have been on another planet. My only companions were a dozen or so birds which were fishing in the freezing water. Their squawks echoed off the rocks on the other side of the lagoon and broke the silence with thunderous report.

It was still warm late in the afternoon, but at that altitude, I knew I had to prepare by putting on all of my thermal clothing and cooking dinner before dark. Soon the sun went down and did a fantastic job of lighting up the lagoon and mountain behind it. I originally only made the trek up there to prepare for my real trek, but the lagoon was beautiful enough to stand out in my mind as an adventure in its own right, and I had it all to myself.

The photo album for this entry is here.

I Can't Get Out Of Here

August 18-19, 2007
Day 689-690

I brought some bottled water to the donation center for the earthquake victims, and was surprised to see how huge the pile of donated goods had become. In only three days, the people of Huaraz managed to put together an entire semi full of clothes, water, and food. Most of the people here don't know anyone affected by the earthquake and have very little to give away, yet they still managed to help so much. The Peruvian generosity humbled me. My donations will surely help, but the locals have given away so much more to people they've never even met.

I decided to do a short walk to a lagoon in the mountains to help acclimatize better for my Huayhuash trek. When I got some supplies at a local shop, an old couple there invited me to sit down and chat. I ended up talking to them for over an hour. They were in the area in 1970 when the earthquake hit and said that it literally took months for aid to arrive because of the lack of communication mediums. The entire area was covered with mud. Houses crumbled. Crops were lost. The water was contaminated. Many of those who survived the earthquake later died of disease and starvation. Their stories were horrible but interesting, and I'm sure the latest earthquake brought back some bad memories for them.

On the way back to my hostel, I ran into a Slovenian couple I originally had met while volunteering with the puma in Bolivia, then subsequently ran into several times in La Paz a few months ago. They were in Lima during the earthquake (where there wasn't much damage), but had been in Pisco (one of the hardest hit areas) only one day earlier. They also met a guy who had left Ica only twenty minutes before the earthquake. His bus was almost knocked right off the Panamerican Highway as it crumbled below him. They weren't sure how the tourist resort of Huacachina (only a few minutes from Ica) was doing, but worried that many of the dunes may have crumbled onto the houses below. We talked about happier things too, and it was good to see them again and to hear that they were doing well. It was one of those days where I couldn't walk five minutes without getting into an hour-long conversation with someone.

When I finally made it back to my hotel room, I flicked the light switch, but nothing happened. I asked the owner what was happening, and she told me that the power had been cut in the entire department for the day to do some sort of repairs. That meant the gas station would be closed, which meant that I couldn't buy fuel for my stove, so I couldn't go camping tonight. My warm-up trip will have to wait until tomorrow.

A Tour With New Friends

August 17, 2007
Day 688

Picture of girls.

Hilda and Yuriko at Willkawain.

A few days ago when I was satisfying my ceviche addiction at a street vendor, I had a nice conversation with two local girls named Hilda and Yuriko. They are students waiting for school to start in a week and offered to show me around town. I didn't have any energy for that yesterday, so I met up with them today.

Appropriately, the first place we walked to was the only part of the city not destroyed in the 1970 earthquake that killed 70,000 people in this region. The houses were all white with small balconies, and the street was cobblestoned and restricted to pedestrian traffic only. After walking only about two blocks, we were back to the rebuilt part of the city.

Next we walked to some ruins at the edge of Huaraz. The few stone buildings were nothing special, but there was a lady dressed in traditional folk dancing attire being interviewed by a couple of guys who said they were putting together a video. We all danced together on camera, so now maybe I'm going to be a famous dancing gringo.

Our next stop was to the fish hatchery. There were several tanks where thousands of trout were being raised from eggs to adults to be sold to the local restaurants. Hilda dug deep into the water to pull out some baby fish for me to see. She couldn't get her hands on any adults, but eventually she was kind enough to find a dead one for me to hold.

After the hatchery, we took a bus up one of the hills near Huaraz to Willkawain, another archaeological site. There was a big house with four-foot ceilings for us to walk around in and for me to bang my head on. There was also a museum with some artifacts from the Wari culture that used to exist here.

On the way back to Huaraz, we saw the simple lifestyle of the farmers living on the hills outside the city. They went about their business of herding alpacas and donkeys, and plowing fields by hand while we waited for the bus. One lady who was also waiting for the bus next to us was carrying a bucket containing a butchered pig to sell to any restaurant in town that would take it. She hadn't heard about the earthquake because she didn't have a radio or a television. The people living in those little towns are always friendly and interesting to talk to.

Hilda and Yuriko were very kind for showing me around their town. I really appreciated getting to know some of the places most tourists never get to see. The people around here are incredibly nice.

A guy responded to my ad to trek the Huayhuash Circuit, but he's going to do the Santa Cruz trek, which I did my first time in Huaraz, beforehand. We only got to meet briefly, but we'll have a day to plan the trek when he gets back from his trek. In the meantime, I'll try to do a shorter walk around here to get better acclimatized to the extremely high altitudes that I'll face in the Huayhuash.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Learning About the Earthquake

August 16, 2007
Day 687

I spent most of the day on the Internet and watching TV. The earthquake was an 8.0 on the Richter Scale, the first major earthquake in Peru since 1970. A lot of people at home were wondering if I was OK, and I was wondering the same about everyone I knew in Lima. The good news was that Lima suffered only some cosmetic damage and no one I knew appeared to have been affected. But Pisco and Ica, a few hours south of Lima, looked like they took some major damage. I've been to both those places, and I felt so sad and helpless being so far away and not knowing more than what was covered on the international news.

Things seem pretty normal here. Everyone is talking about the earthquake, and an area in the center of town has been set aside for donations, but otherwise life goes on as it always has. Things would have turned out a lot different for me if I had chosen to leave Lima one day later, but for now I'm physically unaffected, but emotionally set back. I didn't have the motivation to do much of anything but sit around and watch the continuing earthquake coverage on the TV and Internet all day.

Huaraz Once Again

August 15, 2007
Day 686

I arrived in Huaraz this morning after being on a bus all night. I was here at the beginning of my trip, and loved the mountains and small city atmosphere. My feelings remained unchanged on this visit. The air is clean, the scenery is beautiful, the people are friendly, and everything I need is within a few minutes' walking distance from the city's center. There are lots of tourists here, but it's a different bunch from those in Cusco. Whereas in Cusco, the tourists come in huge groups and only stay in the area for a couple days to check out Machu Picchu, here they come for months at a time to go trekking, rock climbing, mountaineering, mountain biking, and whatever other form of adventure they can conjure up. Huaraz is an outdoorsman's paradise.

My main purpose for coming back to Huaraz was to trek the Huayhuash Circuit, which encircles an entire mountain range of 6000-meter peaks. The trek is extremely difficult and remote, but also very rewarding, and I figured it would be my last major challenge in South America. As soon as I got into town, I put up a notice looking for trekking partners on the bulletin board of the Casa de Guias, the best place in town to leave messages. The waiting game began again. This is the major disadvantage of traveling alone. Every time I want to do something new, I need to spend several days searching for people to join me.

This afternoon I was on my bed typing on my computer when the whole bed started shaking. It felt like one of those coin-operated bed shakers found in some sleazy hotels. I thought maybe it was shaking because of construction work outside, but I didn't hear any jackhammers, and the bed was away from the walls. I looked under the bed, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. I got up and walked around my room, but didn't feel any shaking. I sat back down on my bed and sure enough, it was still shaking. I thought I was either going crazy or someone was playing tricks on me. Soon the bed stopped shaking, and I didn't think much of it.

For the first time in awhile, I happened to splurge on a room with a TV for $5, and when I turned on the local news a few hours later, I saw that there had been an earthquake in the south of Peru. So that's why my bed was shaking! I did some quick math in my head and realized that I was more than 600 KM from the epicenter, and I was in the mountains, whereas the earthquake had occurred in the ocean, yet I could still feel it. It must have been huge. I turned on CNN and saw that it was the top story in the world. The details were still pretty sketchy, but it looked really bad. I walked around Huaraz for a bit expecting to see the end of the world, but everything looked normal, just eerily quiet. There was no damage in the town, but everyone was in as much shock as me. I spent the rest of the night glued to the TV, trying to find out more about this disaster.

Stopping in Lima for a Change

August 10-14, 2007
Day 681-685

This was my fifth visit to Lima. I wasn't too fond of the city on my first visit to start my trip, so I left after two days. Every other time I came to Lima I was just passing through. On this visit, I was going to get a bus right away to Huaraz, but I was invited to stay with a Couchsurfer named Marcela who I had met while trekking near Cusco, so I figured I'd give Lima another chance.

Marcela lives in a neighborhood called La Molina, which is quiet, unlike the rest of the city. The first thing I noticed when passing through the area was how Americanized it was. Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks all made their presence well-known. I even saw my first McDonald's in four months (there are no McDonald's in Bolivia). A few minutes later, I saw my second, third, and fourth McDonald's. There were also big shopping malls, expensive car dealerships, and every other form of decadence that exists in American culture. The palm trees scattered throughout the city and Latino heritage made it feel like Los Angeles (even though I've never actually been to LA). Because of this, Lima shares little in common with the rest of Peru.

Marcela made me feel welcome in her home right away. She still had a few days before starting university, where she is going for an engineering program, so she was able to show me around her city (she's actually from Cajamarca, but has been living in Lima for a few years). We went to Barranca and Miraflores, the main districts for nightlife, and met up with some other members of Couchsurfing. Everything was very expensive, almost to the point of having American prices, but the pisco, cashaca, cumbia, and salsa reminded me that I was, in fact, still in South America. Everyone I met was so nice, I felt welcomed right away.

Although I had a great time meeting the locals, I'm still not very fond of Lima. The city has a lot of air pollution, it's cold despite being at sea level in the tropics, I didn't see the sun the entire time I was there, it's damp despite being dry season, the city extends to the ocean but the water's so polluted you can't swim there, the city's so spread out it takes half an hour just to get to the next neighborhood, and there's no subway system to alleviate the constant problem of congestion. It's not the kind of place I'd want to live, but I still really enjoyed meeting the people there, and it was a welcome break on my long journey through Peru.