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To Caraz, Winding Along the Cordillera Blanca
The sun filtered through the morning haze over Barranca, and we could see the ocean in the distance.
From our hotel room, we looked down on the slightly-peaked, overlapping roof-tops covering the market where I had shopped for hair ties last night.
We had a small breakfast of bread and coffee next door to the hotel.
Street vendors were already busy setting up their carts nearby.
We would be climbing into the Andes Mountains today, riding along the range called Cordillera Blanca (“White Range”--for its snow-covered peaks). This range has over 30 mountains that exceed 18,000 feet in elevation. Our destination tonight was the small town of Caraz, nestled near the northwestern end of the range.
We headed inland and gradually emerged from the fog/haze after about 20 miles.
We encountered our first toll booth, which is shown below:
Motorcycles do not have to pay tolls. Guy warned that if we rode up to the toll collector’s booth, past some invisible “point of no return” on the road, then we would have to pay. When approaching a toll, we had to quickly scope out the “go around” route, which often involved squeezing through a narrow gap between barriers, or sometimes crossing to the far left side of the street and slipping around the toll structure. If the route was not obvious, we would slow down to a crawl and try to catch the eye of someone nearby, who would point and gesture largely to show us how to navigate around the booth.
After the toll, we stopped to allow Ben to set up his camera to take photos while we were riding.
To our left was a large sugar-cane field.
We entered a narrow valley that looked fairly bleak, with its naked soil and rocks.
There was a small river flowing on the left, with vegetation. We passed through an occasional tiny scattering of houses. A few people were walking on the side of the road.
These three people appeared to be waiting for a bus—I loved the woman’s red and white clothing:
Some of the people waved as we rode by (and I was relieved that no one threw anything).
Most of the homes were small, with walls made of cinderblocks or woven fronds.
This home appeared to be made of a mixture of “whatever-I-can-get-my-hands-on” materials:
Throughout the rural areas of Peru, there were many political signs that promoted certain candidates in upcoming elections. Here is one example:
Along the roadside were numerous crosses that marked the spot where people had died. One particular set made my heart pang; it consisted of a family of four crosses, two large ones on either side of two small ones.
We passed a road sign that showed a car climbing a tall skinny triangle. The car was almost vertical. I braced myself for a steep hill. I kept waiting . . . and then realized that the gentle slope I had just covered was the “hill.” There were several of these signs, and they always made me smile. (We didn’t get a photo of any of the signs, as there was no safe spot to pull over.)
We wound our way higher and higher. The road curved to the right of this massive rock face.
A view of the green valley below:
Most of the other vehicles on the road were big trucks, such as this one:
Approaching the town of Marca:
Here are some roadside shops:
The mountainsides were steep, and the people have constructed terracing to grow crops.Terraces extended about half way up this mountain:
Near the town of Cajacay, we were stopped at a police check-point. While Guy took care of showing an officer our motorcycle paperwork, which he carried with him, Ben and I chatted with another officer. I asked him if I could have a photo, and he was happy to pose with me:
Continuing onward, we passed some adobe houses.
This small group of houses offered a baño (bathroom) for use, but we didn’t stop.
The road snaked up and down.
Me, having fun!
We caught our first glimpse of the distant Cordillera Blanca peaks:
We crested the mountain pass and began cruising at an altitude of over 13,000 feet. Laguna Conococha stretched out before us:
The town of Conococha is located where three roads meet. Multiple signs let us know that if we were craving queso (cheese), this was the place to buy it!
We passed a roadside statue of a shepherd and llama:
The narrow road did not have a painted center line, so we had to be cautious about trucks and buses coming at us around corners.
The golden, tree-less hills contrasting beautifully with the brilliant sky:
The southern peaks of the Cordillera Blanca:
This small house had a place outside to either wait for the bus or watch the world go by:
In the small villages throughout Peru, the most well-maintained buildings often were the churches and the schools. Here, the school looked well-built and freshly painted:
The “children-crossing” sign . . .
. . . perhaps should have also included a picture of a cow (sauntering, not running).
Mineral deposits stretched all along the side of one town, covering part of the river.
(We weren’t sure what exactly was in those large piles, but the close proximity to the water did not appear to be a good thing.)
The entrance to the small town of Recuay was flanked by two carved figures:
Our lunch stop today was to be in the city of Huaraz, a short distance down the road. Huaraz is the capital of the Ancash district in Peru, and is a popular starting point for treks and climbing expeditions into the Cordillera Blanca. The entrance to Huaraz was not very impressive:
However, the city was quite lively, with a lot of people, businesses, hotels, restaurants and shops.
The main plaza in Huaraz:
As we circled around the one-way streets, looking for a place to eat, we happened upon this large church that was being constructed:
Next to the new church was a modern building with stained glass panels.
The glass panels had a number of jagged holes, which looked as if they had been caused by thrown rocks.
We had a delicious and relaxing lunch at Las Tulpas & Chimichurri Restaurant.
The pumpkin soup was excellent.
As we were eating, a petite older woman came by, beautifully dressed in traditional clothing. She stopped at our table and began talking very quickly in Spanish. Guy was off running an errand, and Ben and I were able to catch phrases here and there. The gist of it was that she was asking for the “gringa” (me) to pay her some money. I gave her my unopened mineral water, which she tucked into her giant bag. I talked to her using my halting Spanish, and she said that she liked my “words.” Ben then asked her if we could take a photo. She asked how much would we pay her, and Ben said 10 soles (about $3). She said, “No, treinta (30 soles).” We said that was too much. We didn’t have any change to give her, but our waitress came out, slipped some coins into her hand, and ushered her out of the small courtyard.
We continued riding, tracking along the west side of the Cordillera Blanca range.
The town of Jangas had a series of three statues. Here is the last one:
The statue’s inscription read: “Jangas, Productor de Oro Verde.” (Jangas, Producer of Green Gold.)
These women crossed the plaza carrying their loads.
Our road ran through the center of a string of small towns. Here I am in one of them:
This home had five cows in the side yard:
This colorful building had a great message (even though it was part of an ad): “Con Creatividad, Todo es Posible.” (With Creativity, All is Possible.)
An abundance of prickly pear cactus grew along the side of the road. Guy stopped by one and showed us the crimson-colored dye that is contained in the powdery white parasitic insects, called cochineal, that feed off of the plant.
After returning home, I did some research on the cochineal and discovered that they are native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico. The cochineal dye was used by the Aztec and Maya peoples. After the Spanish invaded Mexico, cochineal became the second most valuable export to Spain (after silver), and it was traded in India and other places around the world. The cochineal industry took an economic dive, however, when Europe began producing artificial dyes (such as alizarin crimson) in the mid-1800’s.
Passing through the town of Carhuaz:
There were a number of fires today in the surrounding hills:
A girl and her pigs:
In the town of Ranrahirga, the central plaza was full of flowers:
I walked around the plaza to get a better view of the church tower:
On the way back to my bike, I met a girl, her mother, and her grandmother. We exchanged basic greetings, but they were speaking a language that I didn’t understand (perhaps Quechua). I gave them a postcard that showed my hometown in California, and we communicated quite well with nods and smiles all around.
A few miles down the road, we came upon the entrance gate to the Yungay memorial.
At lunch, I had mentioned to Guy that I had read about this site and wanted to stop here. In 1970, the entire towns of Yungay and Ranrahirga had been buried under an avalanche, and over 20,000 people had been killed. The Peruvian government had declared the area a national cemetery.
Ben and I paused outside the front gate. Guy was nowhere to be seen—he had passed the site without stopping. I wanted to explore the area, so we waited out front for Guy to return. At this point, I was feeling some friction with Guy. It is hard to pinpoint exactly the cause—some of his comments here and there had caused me to bristle and bite my tongue, as I really was trying to get along and have things flow smoothly. Our personalities were definitely not in sync—sometimes it is like that between people, through no fault of anyone.
In any event, Guy did eventually come back (without apology), and I set off to explore the memorial site. Entering the site required that I pay a small fee (less than $1.50), and then follow foot paths to what used to be the old town plaza. Neither Ben nor Guy were interested in venturing beyond the front gate, so they relaxed in the sun while I had a good hike.
Detail of the front gate:
Near the parking area were several exhibits with photographs and a more detailed description (in Spanish) of what had happened to the town. I learned that on May 31, 1970, there was an 45-second earthquake that measured about 7.9 on the Richter scale. (This earthquake destroyed many buildings in the city of Huaraz, where we had eaten lunch today.) Directly behind Yungay is the highest mountain in Peru, called Huascarán. The earthquake caused a large chunk of the mountain to break free and rush downwards. The flowing mass of ice, snow and rock measured 1 mile long and over ½ mile wide, and it roared through the town of Yungay at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Everything was buried except for the upper portion of the hilltop cemetery.
Here is a photo of what the town looked like before the avalanche:
This photo shows the path of destruction:
And here is a photo of the town after the avalanche—it was completely buried:
Today, one can only imagine the hundreds of buildings that lay beneath the soil.
The area now contains two tall memorial columns, multiple flower gardens, and numerous crosses and gravestones.
The grassy fields on either side contained many crosses.
To the left of the gardens was a bus that had been bent and twisted by the avalanche.
The hillside cemetery that had not been buried in the avalanche now had a white statue of Jesus Christ in the center, overlooking the former town of Yungay.
There were very few other people walking around the site, and the air was very somber.
During my 45-minute hike through the area, the clouds above Huascarán had become darker and more ominous looking.
On a lighter note, there was some humor (perhaps unintended) in the bathroom signs.
The woman’s silhouette was quite curvaceous, complete with high heels (va-va-voom!)
I was curious as to whether the man’s silhouette would show a buffed physique, with bulging muscles . . . but no, it was just “an ordinary guy” wearing baggy clothing:
Hmmmm . . . I bet I can guess what gender created those signs!
Exiting the memorial site:
While I was hiking, Ben watched a group of men hoisting up a wooden pole, accompanied by loud festive music:
Guy had heard that there was a beautiful lake, called Llanganuco, up in the mountains; it might be worth an up-and-back trip. We could get there by riding east, up into the mountains on a twisty dirt road. There were two issues. The first was that we were running out of daylight. We had about 90 minutes left before the sun set. By car, the drive to reach the lake was supposed to take 90 minutes, but we thought that we could cut that time by at least half on the bikes. Ben and I didn’t mind riding in the dark. The second issue was the threat of rain. The clouds over Huascarán were very dark and indicated certain rain there; however, we didn’t know if the lake road would lead us directly under those clouds. Ben and I said, “Let’s go!” The possibility of rain and mud in the dark did not faze us.
Guy asked a few people which way to the lake. (Well, he didn’t really “ask”—he just rode up to people and yelled the name of where he wanted to go. Many times the people would look stunned and say, "Qué?" (What?) Guy would yell the name again, and the people would point and sometimes provide verbal directions. We never heard Guy say, “Excuse me” or “Please” or even "Thank you" to the local people during this exchange, and his shouting made me cringe. We didn’t see many other “gringos” in the places that we went, and I was embarrassed to think that his behavior would be perceived by the locals as representative of our entire small group.)
We soon found the right road, and up we went. The road was dusty and rocky, with numerous switchbacks.
Here is a view looking down:
We rounded one bend and found this huge rainbow stretched before us.
Lake Llanganuco is located in the National Park of Huascarán. We arrived at the park entrance only to discover that the gate had closed 30 minutes ago.
However, the guard was willing to let us through. We had to pay a small fee and write our names and passport numbers in the registration book.
Outside the registration office were these figures set above a shallow pool. (I think the male statue was supposed to be welcoming us, but his facial expression was a bit freaky.)
We continued upward, with more switchbacks. Here is one curve:
We entered a narrow canyon, with rock walls on either side.
This monstrous rock face loomed over us.
The road ahead:
The lake, with its deep turquoise water, was breathtaking.
Ben and I were so glad that we had the opportunity to experience this piece of paradise.
More views of the lake (we couldn’t get enough):
What am I taking a picture of?
I was trying to capture the vision hovering across the lake--the 22,200 foot peak of Huascarán in a swirling mass of clouds:
The ride back down the mountain was a bit slippery (my tire pressure had been set for street riding, at sea level).
By the time we reached the main road, night had fallen.
The town of Caraz was much bigger than I had anticipated. We headed to the main plaza with the hope of finding a good hotel nearby.
Here I am, all lit up from the reflective stripes on my jacket and luggage (this photo should make my mother feel better about me riding in the dark):
Guy found a hotel about 10 blocks from the main plaza, up a long hill. I was hoping for a hot shower before dinner; however, through a series of misunderstandings about flipped hot water switches (on the hotel’s part), and the length of time needed to heat the water (my part), my shower would have to wait until bedtime.
We walked down the hill for dinner, and then back up afterwards (good post-dinner exercise). We passed this church along the way:
We slept tonight under the watchful eye of this angel:
Above our bed in every hotel room in Peru so far has been a painting of an angel holding a sword or a gun. This one was holding a fish. We hoped that she would be a good guardian.
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