14-16 November 2012
We entered Peru from Ecuador and headed down south towards our first target: The city of Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca mountains. Peru was immediately different from Ecuador, well any other central or South American country would have been very different from clean and well organized Ecuador! So Peru was a little bit like returning to reality. More chaos, more people, more garbage but also more colour, more fascination. Our first stop was in Piura where we had the best burgers since the US. Grilled on charcoal and with 5 different unidentified sauces they were absolutely delicious. We had one each, went to the central square to eat it and then we came back to have another burger each! The place was packed with people and there were 5 guys working at the barbeque. We are eagerly awaiting that they will open branches in Copenhagen and Bergamo!
After 2.5 days of driving we arrived to the city of Huaraz. From the Pan-American highway on the coast, we drove up through long and deep valleys, crossing mountain passes at altitudes as high as 4200 m, we passed through villages and small fields, and we met for the first time the beautifully dressed highland people of Peru.
It was a pleasure to leave the dry desert coast. At an altitude of 3000 meters and sitting between two mountains chains, the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, the city of Huaraz is beautifully located and ideal for mountaineering. The city in itself is nothing special. It was largely destroyed in a big earthquake in 1970. But our objective was to explore the surrounding mountains. However, first things first…we had lunch with a very good Pisco Sour, the national cocktail of Peru! Slurp!!!
Straight after lunch we went to speak with the authorized alpine guides of Huaraz. We were very lucky to meet up with Cesar who turned out to be an excellent guide as well as very good company. This period, October to April, is the winter season of Peru and most of the high peaks are not climbed during this period. But there are a few summits, which you can safely climb during winter and we decided with Cesar to climb Nevado Pisco, 5752 m, located in a beautiful area of the Cordillera Blancas close to the impressive Huascaran Sur and Huascaran Norte.
17-20 November 2012
After a small acclimatization hike to Churup Lake at 4500 m, we left for Nevado Pisco, 5752 m. First we drove a couple of hours north through lovely villages and green countryside, and then we entered the Huascaran National Park. The first day we hiked up to the Refugio Peru at 4860 m. It was cloudy so we could not realize yet the stunning location of the hut in a valley surrounded by the 3 impressive Huandoy peaks and the smaller but lovely Pisco. The hut was closed for the winter but we could sleep in the winter shelter.
The next morning at 1 am we woke up, had a bit of breakfast, prepared everything and started walking at 2 am. It was raining and the rain quickly turned into snow. The bad weather and the initial 2 hours walk over the moraine (we hate moraines!) sent the motivation down close to zero. When we reached the edge of the glacier, it was still snowing quite a lot and the low hanging clouds obscured everything. We were already wet and cold. Malene was thinking a lot to the warm sleeping bag back in the shelter, but the thought of having walked across the bloody moraine all in vain was too much. So we put on the gear and the crampons, roped up and got ready to go! Shortly after we were rewarded with a clear sky full of stars as the clouds parted and the snow stopped. And soon after came the sunrise and the whole magnificent panorama of the valley below became visible. The first reward!
The walk up over the glacier was hard. There was no path and in places we plunged into the snow up to the middle of our thighs. At 9 am we reached the small pass between Huandoy Norte and Pisco and we could take a break with a fantastic view to all the three Huandoys and the two majestic Huascarans on one side and the three beautiful peaks of Caraz, Artesonraju and Piramide Garcilazo to the other side.
From the pass, we could see the summit of Pisco for the first time. There was still 2 hours to go to the top across quite heavily crevassed terrain. Cesar was an excellent guide. He knew the mountain very well and made sure that we were absolutely secured through critical sections. The view was breathtaking! Finally at 11 am we reached the summit, now completely enveloped in clouds so we could see nothing – but we did not care! It had been a fantastic climb, an enormous effort but with a fantastic view to the most beautiful mountain panorama we had ever seen.
As we began the descent it started snowing again and soon our path had disappeared on the steeper sections of the mountain. Again, Cesar was absolutely confident and led us down through the crevasse fields to the pass without any doubt about the direction. He knew his mountain. At 3 pm we reached the hut, 13 hours after we started. The weather had slowed us down a lot and the fact that we had to make the path both coming up and also partly coming down. But we had thoroughly enjoyed! We had a nice hot meal and climbed into our sleeping bags.
The next morning we woke up to a clear blue sky and a fantastic view. We hiked down to the car and drove to Caraz for a special lunch: Guinea pig with potatoes and spicy sauce! It was delicious, the meat was very tasty, but it was difficult to eat only with a fork!
The Other Side of Peru
21-22 November 2012
From Huaraz we continued south. First we drove for a couple of hours through the beautiful highlands south of Huaraz before the road dropped down through a long valley to the dry desert coast. We wanted to go to Lima to visit a few museums before going to the famous Inca ruins at Macchu Picchu.
Lima is a big and sprawling city, surrounded by vast shantytowns with poor emigrants from the countryside. All this however, we only saw from the Pan-American highway as we entered the city. In the rich, central suburb of Mirasol, we were surprised to find quite a pleasant neighborhood with lots of small bars and restaurants and a green and popular park along the oceanfront. We stayed in the Hitchhikers Backpackers Hostel, where everybody was very friendly and welcoming. We slept outside in Frida and shared the parking area with a “big rig” from California and 3 motorbikes from Germany! In short, there was a full house but still plenty of room for everyone. Having installed ourselves at the hostel, we proceeded to fulfill the first two objectives of our visit to Lima: A good ceviche and a couple of pisco sour drinks. Both absolutely exceeded our expectations!
The next day we went to one of the big museums in Lima: Museum of the Nation. We wanted to get some background information about the Inca civilization before going to the famous Inca ruins at Macchu Picchu. Unfortunately the exhibitions were old fashioned and not very informative. But on the top floor of the enormous museum building, we found an extremely interesting exhibition on the years 1980-2000, which were the years of the violent internal conflict in Peru. Almost 70,000 people died during those 20 years with the most violent actors being the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and the government forces of Peru.
Sendero Luminoso is a maoist terrorist organization whose leader was inspired by the Cultural Revolution in China. In 1980, the Shining Path launched a guerrilla war against the Peruvian government. Initially the war was concentrated in the rural areas, in particular the Andean highlands, and most of the innocent victims of the war were indigenous peasants. Late 1981, the government started declaring emergency zones in the highland regions and gave the military extraordinary power to fight the terrorists. The military abused this power and was responsible for many human rights violations as well as massacres on peasants. The later Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that the Shining Path had been responsible for 46% of the total deaths or disappearances (some 31,331 people out of 69,280 total victims) during the 20-year conflict and the government had been responsible for roughly one third. It was a very bloody conflict indeed, including massacres on innocent peasants by both sides (government and Shining Path). The conflict is still ongoing on a very low level compared to earlier. Furthermore, some parts of the Shining Path have entered into the cocaine business, which is bigger in Peru than in neighboring Colombia.
The exhibition was accompanied by hundreds of extremely interesting photographs, some showing the violence, the dead bodies or the exhumed bodies alongside the open graves very openly. It definitely showed a different side of Peru which exists right there in the Andean countryside alongside with the beautiful nature and the colorful dresses of the local women. Many peasants formed local militias with firearms provided by the government and engaged in the conflict, killing members of the Shining Path. Certainly, a lot of those weapons still exist out there in the villages. Other thousands of people were forced to leave the highlands and move to the coastal areas, for example around Lima, where the government was by no means ready to receive them. Again, another view on Lima and the vast shantytowns we had seen from the road.
24-27 November 2012
From Lima we drove to Cusco to see the famous Inca ruins at Macchu Picchu. Cusco is a beautifully preserved Spanish colonial city, built on the site of the ancient Inca capital and with some of the beautiful Inca stone work still visible in the walls. But it is also very touristy with indigenous women dressing themselves and their children up in full ethnic costume and dragging an alpaca around town for photos. Not so much to our liking. But the food was excellent! We had a very delicious alpaca steak – and then we went back the next night to have one more!
So…Macchu Picchu. We thought it would be relatively straightforward to visit the ruins. We knew we would have to take the train and all that, so we started out by trying to book the train tickets on-line (you can’t buy them at the train station…). It was impossible. Every single time we were sent back to start when we got to the point of selecting the departure we wanted (sorry-we-are-not-able-to-proceed-with-your-request-please-try-again or something like that). Being annoyed and tired, we sat down and started calculating…. The train ticket was 62 USD each way, per person. The entrance ticket 65 USD per person. A guide would be around 20 USD. To climb the Huana Picchu for the better views would be another 20 USD per person. Then add the taxis and minibuses and the hotel in Agua Caliente close to Macchu Picchu and we arrived at spending at least 250 USD per person to be able to visit the ruins! It is a robbery! And we started getting suspicious that it was on purpose that we could not book the bloody train tickets by ourselves without using a travel agency. Finally our conclusion was clear: We would enjoy the beautiful pictures of an empty, tourist-free Macchu Picchu, which we found in the National Geographic in our hotel room – and then we would save 500 USD! We left Cusco the next morning to go to Chile.
On the way to the border to Chile, we passed by the Titicaca Lake. It is a beautiful highland lake but again….beware of the tourist trap! You can take a boat out to islands in the lake and visit the special, ancient indigenous people living out there, some on natural islands, others on special floating islands, which they construct themselves. You can expect that they will be awaiting your boat, ready to sing and dance and perform and sell souvenirs and all that. Already feeling tired just thinking about it? We enjoyed the view from the shore, skipped the boat tours and continued to Chile.
All in all, it has not been the traditional tourist attractions that have fascinated us about Peru. On the contrary, we always found ourselves escaping from the more touristy settings. Instead, we loved the mix of different people in the cities we passed through, the clear sky of the highlands, the women taking their animals up to the fields in the morning, hikes through amazing mountain scenery, climbing high altitude peaks….and finishing off everything with half a guinea pig in a local restaurant. This is the Peru we love! In fact, we are thinking to change plans and to go back to Peru after visiting Argentina. By then it will be the right season to climb at high altitude in Peru – and we can feel that the Huascarans are waiting for us!