Peruvian Adventure 5/18/2006-6/28/2006

Steamboat à Denver à Miami à Lima à Huaraz à Cordillera Blanca à Huaraz àCordillera Huayhuash à Huaraz à Lima à Miami and home


6/4/2007: Huaraz: Election day:

For the past two nights the Peruvian government had prohibited the sale of alcohol to Peruvians.  This was just one of the strategies for getting the people to the polls on election day.  They also held the election on Sunday  to avoid work conflicts.  To further motivate people to go to the poles the government threatened to fine any Peruvian who failed to exercise their sovereign right to vote with a fine of 140soles ($40). 

In spite of this heavy fine I talked to many Peruvians who planned to not vote.  Aldo’s feeling was that Peru was the most corrupt government in the world and given that his choices were between a liar, a cheat and a murderer, he would just take his chances and not vote.

Election day in Peru.  The picture has nothing to do with politics.  It is a picture of Julio Tello, the “first scientific archeologist of Peru”.


6/6/2007: Huaraz: Café Andino: 24 hours in Peru:

Yesterday at 11:30 AM I walked out of the Mama Mesas and headed for the river where eager collectivos wanted to take me to my destination. After entering the collectivos area and announcing my desire to go to Yungay, I was immediately led to a waiting vehicle.  I was the first and only rider, which in a collective world is a bad thing.  An understanding of collectivos is essential to understanding life in Peru.  As my friend Ado says, “Peru is where anything is possible and nothing is certain”.  In collective world you may well get to your destination anywhere in a reasonable period of time, but it is far from certain.

Collectivos are public transportation, but beyond moving the public from place to place, having a starting point and a destination, there are few similarities between collectivos and any other form of public transportation I have encountered in the first world.  Departures happen when the vehicle is as full as the driver and conductor want them to be.  That could be minutes and 5 people, or it could be hours and 25 people.

The vehicles are almost all Toyota vans modified to move a minimum of eighteen people.  They can stop at regular pick up points, at peoples houses or any where along the highway the driver and conductor see a potential fair.  My driver and conductor did all of the above on multiple occasions.

By taxi the ride from Huaraz to Yungay takes 45 minutes and cost 40 soles.  By collectivo the same ride takes two hours and costs 3.5 soles or $1.  That is a pretty good deal, because by unit time cost that is less than one cent per minute. 

By the time we got to Yungay I counted 23 people on our van, a new record for me.  At Yungay everyone disembarked and looked for their next connection.  I was looking for a ride to Quebrada Llanganaucho where the trail head to Pisco and the Refugio de Peru where located.  With in minutes I was being hustled to a vehicle.  This one had more people and thus more promise for a speedy departure.  I also had company in the form of Ben, a just graduated college student from Ft. Collins, Colorado, who was on a solo adventure checking out the world before getting responsible. 

For some reason as we stepped on to the collectivo the conductor directed us to the back row of seats in the converted Toyota Minivan.  This was significant because of some basic collectivo facts.  The way they accommodate 18-25 people is to place as many rows of seats in the vehicle as possible.  This is fine for the average adult Peruvian who, depending on gender, is between 4’ 2” and 5’ 6”.  For one reason or another the spacing on this last row of seats on this van was compressed even further.  It is possible that the last row was reserved for children and chickens, but it was not designed for normal size Americans and certainly not for Ben who was 6’ 4”.

I was placed close to the isle, so I could kick one leg out straight thus avoiding pressure sores on my left knee.  Ben on the other hand had his knees tucked under his chin and his shins on the rail of the seat in front of us. This let of our trip was supposed to be about 1.5 hour trip over 25 km up 3,000 ft over bad road, but at least we were on the way to Llanganucho…we thought.  Before we could even get going the driver decided there was a mechanical issue and pulled us in to the local repair yard.

The driver and conductor were apparently worried about loosing their full load, so they closed all the doors and windows during the repair process so that no impatient passengers would escape.  No one moved, so we decided to comply with custom and remain seated.  A mere 20 minutes later we, and our 16 traveling companions, were on our way. 

It was now 2 PM and I had not drank a drop or peed since leaving Huaraz.  Fortunately the former prevented the need for the latter.  About an hour in to our drive we came to the entry gate and office of Huascaran National Park.  The brief stop was a welcome relief.  I traded places with Ben with the hope of restoring blood flow to his lower extremities.  At 3:30 PM we were all dropped off at Laguna Llanganucho and the trail head to Pisco.  I said goodbye to Ben and another traveling companion from Australia and started up the climb to Pisco.  In spite of our four and half hour trip and a bit of dehydration, I flew up the 2,400 ft climb to the Refugio de Peru at 15,400 ft in less than an hour and a half.

View back from the trail to Pisco base


The refugio is located on a small knoll in a meadow right near the base of he glacial moraine formed by Pisco and Huandoy.   The refugio can sleep up to 60 people, but at this time of year there were a total of four lodgers, three Italians and myself.  I was given two warm blankets and placed in a forty person dormitory room with 39 empty beds. 

Refugio Peru


Even with a census of only four, the chef prepared a delicious home made and fresh meal.  Soup is a staple of almost all meals.  We had a fresh vegetable and pork soup followed by sliced cucumber and tomatoes followed by a steak and potato entrée.   We had fresh bread with real butter, tea and two half peaches for desert.  The entire meal came in at around $3 with the combined lodging and food at around $20.

Sitting in this rustic refugio at over 15,000 ft it has to be remembered that all the food and material that I am enjoying has been either carried on the backs of burros or humans up 2,500 ft to this perch.

Breakfast was included in the lodging and when they asked what time I would like to have breakfast, they didn’t flinch when I said 2 AM.  I slept for four hours and when I woke to total darkness and quiet at 2 AM I thought their lack of protest for getting up and preparing a breakfast for one at this unkind hour was because they didn’t really plan to.  I stumbled downstairs to the dining area and a single light shined at the spot I had sat last night for dinner.  At my meal spot their was a pot of steaming water for tea and coffee, fresh bread with butter and marmalade and a couple of long strips of cheese.  The chef was in the kitchen preparing a two huevos rancheros over easy just as requested.

At 3 AM I stepped outside and my headlamp revealed a thin fresh layer of snow, but the stars were visible and the sky looked almost clear.   The Italians and their guide were about 20-30 minutes ahead of me and I was feeling good.  Pisco involves a 3,600 ft climb with the greatest technical challenge being negotiating the Huandoy/Pisco glacial moraine at its base.  I was really here to experience another one of the great valleys of the Blanca and to see the views of Huandoy, Chacraraju and the other great peaks of the Quebrada Llanganucho from the summit.

Forty minutes after leaving the Refugio de Peru I entered the glacial moraine and as the landscape became more imposing and difficult the skies cloudy over and it began to snow.  Although I thought I was going in the right direction the random nature of the rocks and rubble and the twisting path of the moraine led me to one conclusion, I was perdido, lost.

Taken in the dark just before dawn.  In the left upper corner the slope of Pisco is seen joining the ridge up to Chacraraju


It was truly vertiginous.  No depth.  The only colors were white, gray and black.  The walls of the moraine lifted up to each side of me and then disappeared in the fading light of my headlamp and the falling snow.  The only sound was a muffled silence and tap of snowflakes on my helmet.  George S. Elliot, in his solo exploration of Antarctica, once described the lack of sound as “the roar that exists on the other side of silence”.  I thought I might be hearing that roar. 

Three and half hours of wandering through this moonscape passed before the snow tapered and light infused the picture.  I was finally at the exit to the moraine and then making my way up through the glacier and obvious crevasse field on the approach to the ridge.  Once on the ridge the clouds moved in again and the summit disappeared in the fog.  With over 2,000 ft of climbing and all the technical difficulty behind me I considered my course.  Since the remainder of the climb was mainly to gain the view and there was no view I decided to descend back to the moraine.







The Pisco route from “Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca”











The route as seen in a brief brake in the weather


When I reached the moraine trail I was still feeling too good to head back so I scrambled up the east wall of the moraine and found the trail to Huandoy.  I followed the trail upward along the ridge until I came to the base of the Northwest face of the Huandoy glacier.  I was able to ascend a small protected summit between two huge seracs and view the imposing face of this mountain.  As I stood there the glacial serac on my right fractured and a mass of ice of inestimable size and weight came crashing down the mountain.  I was out of the way and safe, but still shaken.  I thought this might be the sign to descend back to Pisco base camp and thank the mountain for another moving experience.

On the descent for Huandoy on the ridge trail.  I believe it is the summit of Chacraraju hidden in the clouds in the center back


I rapidly descended the ridge trail back and was back at the refugio by 10 AM.  I packed my backpack in about 15 minutes, said goodbye and thank you to the staff, and headed down to Quebrada Llanganucho hoping to find a ride back to Huaraz.

As I descended the trail I came upon a scene that was so unfamiliar and unique that it took a moment to even comprehend.  Coming up the trail was a group of about twenty five school girls all dressed in colorful Andean clothing.  Bright reds, yellows, blues, greens and oranges.  Full skirts and bright tops.  Each girl was carrying a piece of split log about two feet in length as they strolled up this 2,500 ft climb to stock the Refugio de Peru with firewood.  No obesity here and no complaining.  By the time I got my wits I had missed another once in a life time photo opportunity.

My good luck some what made up for my loss of opportunity on the photo.  I passed a couple of climbers heading up to Pisco and they informed me that they thought their taxi driver might wait rather than drive all the way back to Yungay with out a fair.  Sure enough, sitting at the trail head was a taxi ready to go.  We loaded up and by 1 PM was rolling back in to Huaraz.  That was my story of 24 hours in Peru.


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