The Switzerland of the South

Trip Start Dec 26, 2004
1
9
12
Trip End Jan 29, 2005


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Where I stayed
Steel Guest House

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

So this is what they call the Switzerland of the south! FITTING!

I have to say that anyone who comes to Peru MUST, I repeat MUST make a stop in Huaraz. This is by far the most beautiful area we have been to so far. The Colca Canyon came close but Huaraz definitely takes the cake.

We made a spur of the moment decision to venture north 9 hours by bus to Huaraz. The bus ride is definitely not as comfortable as the buses we took to venture south but it was one of the best services supposedly for the north. Cruz Del Sur was the bus company. We spent 2 days and 2 nights in a small b&b named Steel Guest House. It was pretty cozy, clean and very cheap about 20$ US a night for double occup. We arrived in Huaraz close to dinnertime so we just walked around the main square and found a cozy restaurant where we both ordered bbq rabbit. It was very god and cheap as well. We payed 10$ US for both of us!! including one bottle of water and one beer!! I LOVE THIS COUNTRY! We also both got entrées. Very hefty servings. The restaurant was called EL FOGON and we found it in our lonely planet guide. Back at the hotel we arranged for a tour company to pick us up in the morning to head all day to see 2 natural lagoons & the lost city of Yungay (which I will get to later). Tour wasnt expensive about 10$ US for each. That night Phil and I went to bed early to get a good nightīs rest but at around 1am we were rudely awakened by some marching band practising across the street!!! Dont ask me why they were practising at that time slot but they kept screwing up the song and had to restart it, this continued for about 2 hours. Sleeping was out of the question. Once theband finally ended around 3am, we were glad to get some peace and quiet but just as I was inaly slettling into deep sleep, a rooster began to sing (or whatever the sound they make is called). It sounded like he was right outside out window it was awful and loud and continued way past the sun came up. I had never wanted the 11pm sound curfew we have back home so bad as I did that night.

The next day, things started getting a bit iffy and dodgy as soon as we got on the tour bus. First of all there were no tourists.. it was all locals and we kept driving around the city trying to find more customers. This probably took an hour and a half, by this time I was getting frustrated because the guide had told me we would leave at 9am and it was already almost 11am. We also found out that this city has an extremely small percentage of ENGLISH SPEAKING GUIDES. Remember that folks! Our tour guide had to get a secondary guide that spoke minimal english to come along on the ride (so Phil could follow along). But by this point we had been given the runaround long enough that Phil & I got off and told the tour operator to forget it, that she had been telling us that weīd leave for the tour soon and we kept driving around. Very sketchy! So we left (lukicly Phil had agreed to pay them at the end of the tour otherwise we would probably have to fight to get our cash back!) We walked around the market to find someone who would give us a private tour of the lagoons and lost city and there were some tour companies that had english guides (we never saw them, they just claimed, I had my doubts) anyways they wanted to charge us sky rocket prices, probably because we were white and Phil had an accent. We dumped that idea and Phil came up with an even brighter one of hiring an official taxi for the day who would show us around Huaraz. Knowing it would be dirt cheap. Remember guys, itīs not 100% safe to take a taxi sometimes so you have to be smart about it. We lucked out though, the first taxi that stopped spoke minimal english, was very nice and told us he knew the areas we wanted to go to very well so he could explain everything to us on the way (with me translating of course for Phil). We took his offer of 30$ US for the whole day!!! (I love how cheap they are!)

He (his name is Cesar) took us to see the two natural glacier lagoons that had an amazing crystaline blue colour and then took us to the foot of one of the most famous hiking glacier mountains named Huascarán. That mountain measures a great 22,000+ feet above sea level. No of course we didnīt climb it, but Phil sure did. It takes a good full day to climb and you need to be quite the experienced climber and have all the necessary equipment as well. According to Cesar, many tourists climbing have died. Either from falling or from avalanches or from loss of oxygen. We took a nice boat ride on the female lagoon (the lower lagoon is the female one and the one closer to the glacier foot is the male, not sure why they have them named like that though). The scenary is out of this world. It really does remind me of Swiss Alps. The photos just canīt do justice! It ws also quite hot that day so we got some more sun!

Cesar then took us back down the mountain (itīs a good hour to hour and a half to get to the lagoons and foot of the mountain on an awful dirt road) to the lost city of Yungay. This is also someplace you have to visit if you come to Huaraz. The story goes (true story) that on May 31 1970 a severe earthquake (magnitude 8 on the Richter scale) rocked the valley. The trembling earth broke loose a massive amount of rock and ice from the west side of the north half of the Huascaran massif. The size of the chunk of mountain that was broken loose is staggering. Estimates are that it was over 3000 feet wide and one mile long. The initial movement of what must have been more than 10 million cubic meters of ice and rock was almost purely vertical. It gathered so much energy so quickly that it steamrolled towards the town of Yungay at an average speed of 300 km/hr. Much of the descending piece of the mountain may have even been airborne for several seconds even after its initial plunge. About 20,000 people were killed instantly as the rock and ice swept over and buried Yungay. Now there are shrines and memorials on the new ground in and under which the 20,000 inhabitants of Yungay were buried alive. You can see the scar on its lower slopes from the avalanche. I find it impossible to imagine the fear and terror that the people of Yungay must have felt when they saw the high wall of rock and ice as it rushed over the dip between the small hills in the near background at such speeds. It was the last thing they would see. Very sad. A huge memorial has been put in place right on top of the old town. You can walk right on top of the flattened land where you know that bodies still lie underneath that will never be dug up by archeologists since it is holy ground now (plus they make money from tourists like myself who pay to go in and see what remains). Itīs totally worth it to go in and see, you can still see some remains like part of the roof of a gas station that was totally covered.

After that depressing visit we headed to have lunch. We offered to pay for Cesarīs lunch since he had been such an honest, reliable and fun guide/taxi driver all day. We asked him to take us to someplace local that he enjoyed. He took us to this cozy restaraunt with a huge patio, actually the whole restaurant was a backyard type atmosphere where we were the only tourists. I ended up having guinea pig with french fries. It was very good and fun to eat since you eat it with you hands (itīs easier than trying to cut away the tough skin) I will never look at a guinea pig the same again! haha! Guinea pig is a delicasy here. We had some beers and then he drove us back to our hotel. Phil asked Cesar if heīd be our taxi guide the next day as well since we had other places we wanted to visit. He agreed.

The next day, Phil had wanted to go fishing, so Cesar took us to the river that runs through Huaraz named river Santo. Cesar taught Phil had to fish the local way (with a stick we found on the ground and attach a fishing cord to one end and a fish hook with a worm on the other) and laughed at how Phil fished back home (with an official rod). They left me by the water shore while they went further into the water to fish and I read and suntanned. Unfortunately they didnīt catch anything. (Trout is the only fish in those waters) but they had fun regardless. Cesar then took us (as per our request) to a neighbouring town that had some famous thermal baths in natural volcano caves. Sounded interesting enough.

Boy, were we in for quite the surprise! We had mentioned that we wanted to go to the town of Monterrey which is where our lonely planet guide mentioned some popular thermal baths but Cesar suggested some better ones in caves, sounded good to us so we took him on his offer.He took us instead to the town of Chanco. Very small town. The thermal baths had a huge lineup of about 45 mins since supposedly it wasnīt a free for all u each went in for 15 mins in your own cave with a door and 15 mins later u would come back out and the next person would go in. We payed our small fee and waited behind the shortest line. Whch was actually a good 1.5 hours in the heat (25 degrees) with no wind and no shade! You can just imagine the moods we were in. When our turn eventually came, let me tell you, it was nothing like we had expected! I started to notice something strange when we were the only tourists around but I never imagined the baths would be all locals. Not that there is aproblem but man, what an adventure. Once the door opened to let us in I told Phil to not take his flip flops off after seeing the dirt filled floor. SO we went in and careful stripped out of our clothes and into our bathing suits without touching the floor barefoot. We opened the second door into the what was supposed to be thermal baths and we were greeted by the most god awful stench of human waste. But we went in anyways, me with the towerl covering my mouth trying to make the best of the whole situation. We had imagined it would be an actual bath but it turned out to be the hotest sauna I had ever been in. The awful stench mixed in with the natural sullphur coming out of the volcano through the cave was very interesting. They say itīs medicinal experience and thatīs why alot of locals go there. I would have to agree, the idea behind the whole thing is very good and had they kept up the place a bit better (cleanliness a must!) it would be a great place to visit. So I would suggest to anyone who just doesnīt care about how gross that can be then go ahead, visit the thermal baths in Chanco. Otherwise stick to the gringo hot springs in Monterrey.

Once we left the caves, Cesar took us to eat, this time we picked the place. La Brasa Roja, a chicken joint pretty tasty. Phil had a chicken in mushroom sauce with french fries and I had a chicken in peach & pineapple sauce with fries. After lunch Cesar drove us to the hotel where we dropped our luggage off and then we went to the center plaza where we went to grab a coffee (tea for me) at a small coffee shop where they grind their own coffee. We wondered around the town wasting time and then came to check our email before heading back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and cab to the bus station for our night long journey back to Lima.

So let me mention again, if you come to Peru, take the time out to venture to Huaraz just north of Lima. You wonīt regret it, but remember that you may or may not find any english tour guides. This is the low season, I do not know if during high season english speaking guide flourish.
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