95. PERU – Peruvian highlands Part 2

It’s been a few weeks since my last confession so here’s a quick update;

After days of bumpy ride we were on smooth paved ways and the scenery was beautiful. We found a couple of gorgeous lakes, a ghost town, drove through the high-pass, visited Huancavelica, stayed at a local trout farm and visited an abandoned mercury mine -which was quite spooky but we were shooed away by a farmer so didn’t hang around long.

Huancavelica is actually a nice little town with friendly people, a cute main square and few pedestrian streets and few pretty churches -that are architecturally photocopies of each other, and about 700 Claro shops. We found a nice French girl at a tourist info office who told us about the trout farm and the mine nearby. We also asked her about the hot springs (3 of them) in town as we were so keen to visit them but she said that the water is barely warm. Same scenario we keep bumping into on the whole mountain range since Cusco so we dropped the idea. But that night we stayed at the trout farm up in the hills, about 10 km from Huancavelica. It was right next to a cute, little medieval village.

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The next day we visited the ghost-mine. There were all the buildings, facilities and the offices as they left them about 25-30 years ago when the miners left. In the offices the documents, papers, log book, telephones etc were there as they left them. It was very strange. The doors were open, no signs of restrictions so John and I entered the time-travel gate and looked around in these offices. Then a farmer from the nearby farm came over and told us to bugger off. Oops.

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That day we legged it to a Nation Forest (Sactuario de Piedras) It is actually a stone or boulder forest. Pretty impressive. As we were driving to here through the valley, it was warm and sunny but the Piedras has its own climate. 2-3 days we were there it was at least 6-7C cooler, cloudy and rainy. We haven’t seen clouds for weeks up, over 3500-4000 meters so it was a nice change.

At the national forest, we bought our tickets (S1/ pers, that’s 1 soles, not dollar) and we were welcome to stay overnight at the edge of the Piedras as long as we wanted. It was very nice. Lovely locals, great hikes and chilling for a full day which we didn’t realised how much we needed. Could have stayed longer but we were still very high (around 3200+ meters) and breathing was uncomfortable and the air very dry so had to leave and make a plan for lowering ourselves down soon.

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We headed north towards Huánuco and from there we had an intense drive on the La Union. It’s a single lane, very narrow dirt road with two-way traffic and Peruvian drivers didn’t get any more polite. The rule is to continuously hoot and wait till the other moves out of the way. It was getting annoying and very tiring.

After La Union, we decided to take a loop road and visit Chavin where there’s an archaeological site and a museum. So we turned off the road up north which turned into a first class 2-3 lanes, super smooth road which was very surprising and we sped up. This was great as it was getting late that day and we had a good chance to make up some time and make it to Chavin before dark. The pavement ended in about 20-25 kms with the biggest mine we have ever seen. It was an enormous operation. The road was leading across the mine’s property, we had to drive through gates and checkpoints, we were watched at all times and it took about 2 hours to get out on the other end of the mine. They were mining away a whole mountain. Not a hill, a mountain and though they seem to have a waist pool the whole area stank of some sour chemical smell and looked as though that they are polluting the nearby lakes that turned to an unreal turquoise colour. The trip through this mine was very spooky. We never found out what they were mining for.

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We didn’t make to Chavin that night so boondocked over a hill a few kms away from the last mine gate. We kept hearing the dynamite explosions all night and I still could smell that sourness in the air.

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We got to the museum in Chavin quite early the next day. It was moderately interesting, then visited the site and headed to north towards Huaraz. We arrived late and stayed at a hotel carpark for John’s disappointment. He is not a fan of carparks especially if we have to pay for the stay. Which I agree with but we didn’t have much choice here at this time of the day so we had a disagreement and an hour sulking after that then walked into town where we found a pizza restaurant and happy hour for the beers and everything was good again. We also got wifi with the hotel-carpark-stay so it wasn’t all bad at the end.

There is the Huazcarán National Park that we wanted to visit and because one of the entrances was quite close we didn’t leave Huaraz till the afternoon. However by the time we got to the gate it was 5PM and we found out that if we wanted to camp inside the Park, it was going to cost us over $50. That seemed quite unreasonable for an overnight stay in a park, in our own vehicle…
At this point -possibly out of being fed up and exhausted John flipped and had a go at the gate guy, who decided not to let us in even if we wanted to. So that was done.

We drove away. John was fuming, I was angry too so asked him to stop at a dirt side-road -which happened to be a nice little, quiet place with a gorgeous view and seemed like a good place to stay for the night. John needed 15 minutes on his own so he went for a walk, and I needed to give him that 15 minutes without pour my frustration on him. When he came back he said “I had enough, we should go home. ”

Right at this moment, I was still blinking at him without being able to consider what he just said or say anything myself, the Swiss couple (we met in Cusco a few weeks back) pulled up right next to us and jumped out smiling to greet us.

It was one of those profound moments when you are standing at a cross road about to make a decision and out of the nowhere a sign shows up. It looked like our sign was this Swiss pair of kind people (the wife didn’t speak English so her and I were communicating in Spanish which humbled me. I didn’t realised how much I’m “expecting” other European travellers to speak English…) So they just appeared out of the blue, right then and right there, and reminded us of the beauty of randomness, the flow of this journey. It wasn’t so much in words, more like just their presence and gentle energy.

We had a couple of beers and a light-hearted chat with them before we all returned to our homes to cook, have dinner and an early night. John and I didn’t discuss our question further.

The next morning our neighbours said goodbye and left early. At this point we changed our plans and decided to leave the mountains for the coast and head up to Ecuador in 2-3 days. We packed up and headed to Trujillo on PE12 through the tunnels. The tunnels bit was fun (some of them looked super tight or low but we got through all 40 something of them without a scratch) Then was a boring, long and hot few hours till the PanAm highway which is the most unimaginative and ugly road we have travelled packed with trucks, buses and tuktuks. But at least we sped up a bit.

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We got to Huanchaco (the beach town next to Trujillo) at the end of the day and rolled up on to the sandy flat area on the beach. Immediately we were greeted by a long-term-stay surfer, translator, full of life, pretty Italian girl who said that we are at the best place for the best pizza and we must try. She was mad as a hatter and we liked her very much straight away.

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It turned out the pizza place was only open Friday-Sunday and this was Tuesday so we went for a hunt for good food on the beach. Didn’t have to look for long till we found a cute looking place and though John thought a vegetarian place is a peculiar choice we did go for it. They had a wonderful dinner menu (soup and second) which were enormous portions, they also had wifi and a couple of types of local beer so all was good.

By the next day we knew this was the place we were looking for. Fresh sea breeze, perfect temperature, (no sand flies!), free parking on the beach (police were super friendly and looked after us :)) cute restaurant (we tried the pizza. Twice! it IS good. And the veggie place was our regular with long hours of breakfast, coffee and Skyping) Very friendly locals and fellow travellers (we become friends with the stylish Italian, a quiet and sweet Russian girl and a very lovely couple from the US so we felt home) We were also adopted by a local dog who took us out for walks in the afternoons. It was just perfect for us at the right time.

For the 7 days we stayed we had a chance to recharge and chill out. The decision on the rest of our travel is still hanging there. We are heading to Ecuador, stay a few weeks, recalibrate and see what comes out.

So next, Ecuador…

One thought on “95. PERU – Peruvian highlands Part 2

  1. All of us in Huanchaco enjoyed your visit immensely. Pizza and pesto, getting drunk in the afternoon, learning about Burt, all of it lovely. We’ll be looking for you next year in the U.K. Hasta la proxima…

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