Adventures in South America

Chapter 8a - Cordillera Huayhuash

In the evening we were already shopping in the big supermarket in the "Plaza de Armas" and then reading E-Mails. That night we started to write the chapter "Adventures in Bolivia - 1" which was sent the following day.

In the night it started to rain in Arequipa. Rain is an unusual event in Arequipa. Actually Arequipa lies in a dessert-like environment. The rain was caused by a natural phenomenon that happens every 5-7 years, and is called "El Nino". Because of unknown reasons the direction of the winds over the pacific ocean changes and causes an increase of the ocean water temperatures. That causes clouds to be formed and consequently - rain to fall in places where it doesn't rain normally. That causes huge floods in the deserts etc. etc.

The following day the rain continued. The first thing we did after waking up was to "check our volcan". As the volcan is clearly seen from everywhere around town, it was an easy task. We just went out and had a look. We were deeply impressed - The volcan was covered with a thick layer of snow. Apparently we were the last ones in the season to climb the volcan without technical equipment. Even-though the rainy season lasts usually until May, the climbing season starts only around July, (during June the snow melts), and continues until September-October, when the rainy season begins, and the snow starts to accumulate on the peaks. Because of "El Nino" the beginning of the rainy season was earlier this year.

That day we continued writing E-Mails, ate a delicious alpaca stew for lunch, and fixed with a taxi driver to take us to the airport at 6 A.M. the following morning.

Like in Bolivia, the taxi driver was discovered to be very reliable. He waited for us in front of our hotel door already from 5 A.M., in order to ensure that we would go with him. Apparently the 7US$ (and 25 minutes) ride made his earning for that day...(or week ?)

The domestic "Faucet" (An airline which in the time of writing these lines, doesn't exist anymore) flight to Lima (Peru's capital city) was delayed every half hour accumulating up to a total time of 3 hours, until the rain, which continued pouring already 2 days, weakened and permitted taking off.

Lima is known to be one of the ugliest and most dangerous capital cities in South America. It lies on the Pacific ocean shoreline but as a desert-like climate. In this time of the year it's covered by a permanent thick cloud of fog (garua). Tali and I didn't want to stay overnight there and planned only to buy good topographic maps and to see the famous gold museum, before departing by a night bus to Huaraz. In order to minimise risks, and as Lima is huge in inhabitants (8 million) and area, we decided to use taxis as our sole mean of transport in town.

The gold museum was discovered to be a "war and gold museum". The "war" part of it was a huge collection of personal armoury - from helmets and war dresses to revolvers and guns. What we didn't like in it (except the general idea) is that a big part was about the Nazi German army. It reminded to us that numerous Nazi war criminals hide in South America until today. The other part, was a very nice gold museum packed with the treasures of the Inca and the cultures before them.

In the evening we had some spare time, and took a cab to "miraflores" quarter, which is the richest in town - Big cinemas with better sound quality than what we have in Israel. In Lima you don't feel anymore like being in South America, but in an identity-less big town with all the international chains - from banks to fast food. Just before taking our night bus we grabbed some Dunkin' Donuts...

The night bus was very luxurious (with toilets on board) and the 8 hours trip past quite easily. At 6 A.M. we found ourselves in Huaraz.

Huaraz (pop 80,000 alt. 3,090m) is the capital of the "Cordillera Blanca" area (in English - white mountain range), to which belongs the 6,768 meters peak of Huascaran, Peru's highest mountain. The town was half destroyed in the earthquake of May 1970, and was reconstructed. It's quite modern and not pretty by itself, but thanks to the snow capped peaks around it. It serves as THE centre of mountain climbers in South America because of mountains around and also because of the facilities it offers (mountaineering equipment rental, tour agencies and good restaurants) and the fact that the Peruvian government doesn't require from the climbers a "climbing permit".

We went to the market and drank all kinds of fruit juices, fixed our shoes (there are many shoemakers working on the streets) and in the evening ate some nice and fresh steamed trout fish (Trucha al vapor), and for dessert set in a French Creperie. It was good even in French standards (OK, I should mention that the owner and cook IS French...).

The following morning we were on our way to our next (and was discovered to be also, our last) trek in Peru. We took a bus to Chiquian (alt. 3,400m), a small village on the foot of the Huayhuash mountain range. This mountain range is hardly 100 KM away from the south end of the "Cordillera Blanca" but is much less known. Only until very few years ago the "Sendero luminoso" (Shining Path) underground organisation was active in the area and thus the area was dangerous for tourists. Now the underground isn't there anymore, but it's still not completely safe. Why ?, you may wonder. Well, it seems that as a side effect from the long years under the "Shining Path" influence, the population got the habit to rob tourists (and sometimes, if the tourists object the robbery, they may be hurt and even killed). Unfortunately a part of the local people don't understand that they can make much more money from tourism than from robbing (the few) tourists that dare to visit their area.

The trek we were about to walk was from Chiquian to Cajatambo. It's about 10 days walk, where except the first and last days, you don't find yourself below 4,000 m'. It's considered a tough trek in a wild and remote alpine-like area. We bought a topographic map (1:100,000, contour line every 50m') in Lima and planned to "go outside the path". Not because there are many tourist hiking around (actually there are very few) but in order to be closer to the peaks and glaciers. I will describe in detail the trek not in order to show you it's beauty (pictures can do the job much better...) but to show you how a long trek feels like.

* First day (Monday) was a quite easy walk along the valley floor. We slept near the village of Ilamac (alt. 3,250m).

* On the second day we went out of the main trek and climbed a steep and hot pass named pampa Ilamac at 4,300m. In the afternoon we arrived to a beautiful spot - Laguna Jahuacocha at 4,050m.

* On the third day we got into the main trail again, but not before climbing a remote 4,750m pass. After going down to the valley and walking about an hour on the main trail a truck passed by and was ready to take us for ~5 KM until our camping spot for the night. (The truck belongs to a silver mine operating nearby).

* Forth day started with the small 4,700m pass Cacanampunta and then we went out of the path again and walked until Laguna Mitacocha (alt. 4,300m), where we slept. On the map we saw a possible short cut (involving a mountain pass) through nice glacier lagoons and under the peek of Jirishanka Chico (5,446m), before joining the main trail. It looks like a one day beautiful way.

* Fifth day starts cloudy. We start the climb and after less than 2 hours are convinced by the rain which starts to fall, to pitch our tent (we don't like to walk in the rain and prefer to wait until it gets better). We find ourselves on a small ridge, in a place that should be considered (in a nice day) as an observation point. Down is the lagoon, up are the snow capped peaks. The view in the rain is still impressive, but there is one disadvantage to our location - it's a ridge and there are no rivers nor streams around. We don't have enough water if we want to spend the night there and will need to go down to fetch water. That doesn't appeal to us... it's too wet and cold outside our cosy tent... Our problem is solved in the afternoon when it starts to snow. After half an hour we have a 5 CM layer on our tent, from which we fill 2 plastic begs of 20 litres each. 40 litres of snow is equivalent to ~5-8 litres of water. More than enough. We melt some snow, prepare some soup and go to sleep hoping to continue the following morning...

The place were our tent was pitched.

[ Next ] [ Previous ] [ Index ] [ Homepage ]

Last modified: Mon Jun 10th 13:03:08 IST 1999