31 Jan 2012

Peru - Callejón de Huaylas

We then embarked on a family tripette with young Laura, back down to Lima by bus (17 hrs) and then up into the highlands (in a pick-up (or 'the beast' as it came to be known) most generously lent to us by Humberto!) which meant driving north along the coast for a couple of hours in the desert heat and then turning right (at Barranca) and climbing just over 4000 metres in little over 80 kms of winding switchback road. It is yet another spectacular route to follow.

The last 20kms or so of the climb took place in fog (visibility down to 10 metres in places but still very aware of the drop of several hundred metres the other side of the white line - no barrier lots of the time) before cresting the final 'hillock' leaving the fog behind us and gently dropping down to Huaraz (a balmy 3000 metres) across the now expansive valley caught between the Cordillera Blanca (has snow) to the east and Cordillera Negra (no snow) to the west.

It is, to say the least, a different world up here (partly because you can’t breathe properly) very fertile farmland (tropical highlands) but frightening unpredictability (earthquakes, landslides, flash floods) where the locals speak Quechua and live (survive) off the land – more of all below...

We stayed in Caraz a little further down the valley (2200m) from Huaraz. It is rainy/low season this time of year, which was reflected in the available choices in terms of places to stay and eat, but Cafe Rat did us proud for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two days as we climbed (in the truck) up to the lakes of Parón and LLanganuco. Once again the scenery in these upper limits (4185, 3850 metres respectively) is incredible with some precariousness thrown in for good measure on rather infrequently used dirt tracks.

The prize at the top are beautiful glacial lakes (although there is very little of the glaciers left) with extraordinary colours as a result of the minerals in the water.

We also met some beautiful people on the way (sorry no photis), not least Jorge who lives with his wife and 3 young children in an adobe hut way up above Caraz on the way to Lake Parón.

Jorge has no legs, so his family help him move about in a wheel barrow, or he drags himself along the ground. Of course the terrain surrounding the family abode is not too much of a wheel barrow friendly environment - very steep fields - but they seem to live in surprisingly good spirits, growing what they can, fishing the local river trout and selling their produce in the market in Caraz - an hour down the mountain on the afore mentioned treacherous track. 

It did not escape our notice whilst talking that Jorge's wife (traditional bowler hat, pristine white blouse, yellow and pink skirts) and children were immaculately dressed, even though it rains regularly and everything else around us was covered in mud.

Not sure we are worthy of saying this coming from the decidedly privileged world that we do in comparison, but total respect to Jorge and his wife for their dignity in the way they are clearly bringing up three children in what to us look like impossible circumstances.

We also visited the open air memorial at Yungay, a permanent reminder of the devastation that can occur in this area.

On May 31st 1975 as 22,000+ people from the town and surrounding villages celebrated a festival in the main plaza, an earthquake struck. Within minutes the town and everyone in it had been buried by a landslide caused by the earthquake shaking free a large section of the glacier high above the town that then brought down everything in its path.

The only survivors were 92 children and a few parents who were being entertained by a circus just above the town on a hillside that wasn’t affected.

All that could be seen of the town a few minutes later were the tops of the palm trees in the main plaza and the mangled remains of a bus, the cathedral and the petrol station.

Today the site is covered by beautiful gardens, very moving.

Back towards Huaraz we stayed the final night in the old Monterrey Hotel, which includes free entry to the thermal baths. Sounded fabulous until we saw the colour of the water, but with stiff upper lips extended we partook and luxuriated accordingly.

That said, if ever you are in these parts then you have to stay in this hotel, it is magnificent. It looks like it hasn't been altered, updated or changed for 40 years or so, all the better, a little bit of faded grandeur for a ridiculously low price.

Back down to earth
And then there is the drive back down to the coast, this time on the road to Casma which from a driving perspective gets our vote as the best road on the planet yet driven.

Picture the opening scenes of the original Italian Job film (before the crash in the tunnel) with the music, the ferrari and the switch-back hairpin after hairpin on a perfectly smooth beautifully engineered empty road...

with an edge to remind you of how the film ends...

Unfortunately the weather wasn't great so we couldn't do justice to the view, another reason to go back another day.

Copyright - half of photos above are provided courtesy of Ms Laura Lucangeli - aka 'La'...

1 comment:

  1. No mention of seeing Paddington, i guess he must of snubbed you!