Peru in White – Ancash

I have been looking forward to posting this chronicle in my blog about my country of origin, Peru. This time I will walk you through the spectacular backdrop of the snowcapped Cordillera Blanca. Sliced north to South by these parallel ranges, the centre of Ancash is focused on the Huaraz Valley, know locally as the Callejon de Huaylas. This is indeed one of my favorite places in Peru because my family on my mother’s side is from this region and this is where I used to spend my winter holidays when I was a kid. Winter holidays in Peru coincide with the anniversary of independence 28th July 1821. This is the best time to visit Callejon de Huaylas, it is the dry season, plenty of sunshine, warm during the day and cool at night; typical highland climate. The rainy season is from October to April. At around 3000 m (10,000 ft) above sea level, it’s an ideal base from which to explore some of the best hiking and mountaineering in the Americas. Many adventurous climbers from around the world come to practice Andinismo which means mountain climbing in the Andes; a highly skilled sport, challenging without limits and as dangerous as you wish. It was a traumatic moment for all the citizens in Callejon de Huaylas.

Alpamayo, one of the most conspicuous peaks in the Cordillera Blanca of the Peruvian Andes. Picture from skyscraperlife.com

Alpamayo, one of the most conspicuous peaks in the Cordillera Blanca of the Peruvian Andes. On July 1966, on the German magazine “Alpinismus”, a photo made by American photographer Leigh Ortenburger, came together with an article resulting from an international survey among climbers, photographers, etc., making the choice for Alpamayo as “The Most Beautiful Mountain in the World”.
Picture from skyscraperlife.com

This unforgettable trip set the genesis of all my family travels because it was the first trip I made with my ex-fiance; now husband in May 2002. Anyway, we decided to skip all the romanticism that comes along when you first date and embark on an exciting trip around the snow capped mountains. My husband, Peter already visited South America in 1987 (when the shining path, a terrorist group were at its peak) and he absolutely loved it. He backpacked many places in Peru with a friend except the beautiful Cordillera Blanca.

We traveled along the Ancash coast from Lima in a single eight hour bus ride. Peru’s buses are run by a variety of private companies, all of which offer remarkably reasonable fares. The condition of the buses ranges from efficient and relatively luxurious, to old and battered, which are used on local runs throughout the country. I don’t recommend the old ones, they are not very reliable and their bus depots are located in unsafe places around Central Lima (be aware of pickpockets!)

I’ve always liked traveling at night because the views start becoming fascinating in the next day at dawn; you can appreciate some glaciers, giant mountains and scenic landscapes. If you are travelling at night, there is a one stop in a local restaurant where all the drivers eat; I wouldn’t have a big dinner though, as you going up the highlands you might get altitude sickness (soroche) and believe me! your stomach will be fairly upset.  Also, bringing a thick blanket or a poncho would be quite handy, temperature drops to freezing. Luckily, Peter and me survived the altitude. The other stop is for a coffee break not as long as the first one but you will start breathing a cold pure air from the highlands you will soon say I am glad I am out of polluted Lima!

Huaraz – Most Peruvians and overseas visitors, stay in the city of Huaraz because it offers more in terms of trekking and climbing, beautiful snow-capped scenery, alpine flora and fauna and glaciated valleys than anywhere else in the country. It is also extremily rich in history and pre Colombian remains. We didn’t stay here but in Caraz which is two hours away from Huaraz. This is where my family comes from and this is the place I spend all my winter holidays since I was a kid.

Caraz – Caraz is the capital of Departamento de Ancash. It sits at an altitude of 2285 m (7496.72 ft), well below the enormous Huandoy Glacier. It is well known as Caraz Dulzura (Sweety Caraz) for its honey, pastries and milk products (Marjablanco or Dulce de Leche). Palm trees and flowers adorn a colonial-looking Plaza de Armas (Main Square) I still can hear the sound of the trumpets and the cymbals playing during the festivities, dancers wearing typical shiny dresses, parades followed by fireworks in the evening.

Main square Caraz. Above the Glacier Huandoy.

Main square Caraz. Above the Glacier Huandoy.

Main square being restored

Main square being restored

Caraz has survived the centuries well with the ravages of several major earthquakes including my ancestral home. I was always fascinated with my grandmother’s stories about a mayor earthquake that took place in 1970 and wiped out an entire city called Yungay. This earthquake measured 7.8 on the Ritcher Scale. It affected lots of towns around including Caraz. It happened just after a football match in FIFA World Cup in Mexico. My grandmother was with her parents and she couldn’t do anything because they barely could walk. She just hugged them and close their eyes until some friends got into her house and took her parents on their backs. One of her son went into the mountains for safety; my grandmother didn’t even think about him in that moment because she was dealing with her disabled parents; all she heard were people running and screaming saying Paron is coming Paron is coming!! Paron is a huge lake located in a mountain and if Paron had come out it would have drowned hundreds of people including my family in minutes. Suddenly hundreds of people became homeless in a matter of seconds.

Deteriorated courtyard due to several earquakes

Deteriorated courtyard due to several earthquakes

What is left in the garden; a fig tree

What is left in the garden; a fig tree

We spent almost one month visiting the Cordillera Blanca so we managed to go to different places around Callejon de Huaylas on our own. We hired mini buses (widely available) except for the last 4 days where we did a three day trek with a guide and a couple of lazy donkeys.

This was just an introductory post about Peru in White. I will write more posts in the next few days. Below are the places  we visited; I wished we would have stayed at least three months to have time to acclimatize and train properly and be able to do Andinismo in Huscaran and Alpamayo Glaciers but Peter had to come back to his work in London and I had to start an intense English course in Lima  tojoin him later on that year.

 

My next post will be The Rebirth of Yungay and The Paron Lake.

 

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