Skyscrapers and earthquakers
Trip Start May 21, 2007
44Trip End Mar 30, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
What a shame.
The 15th August is the Arequipe-n equivalent of St. Patricks day. Everything shuts down, daft floats get shoved up and down the main streets of the city centre and the locals all get plastered. There are some key differences though. Firstly, no-one thinks to add food colouring to their beer. Secondly, the locals actually show up for the parade (I think this might have something to do with the fact that the parade kicks off at 1pm. Why do we in Ireland insist on starting our dance down O'Connell St at the ungodly hour of 10am? Don't they know that half the city is hungover in bed?). Thirdly, and most importantly, rain is unheard of as the parade basks in 25deg 'winter' sunshine.
So we three took off down side streets trying to find the parade. At this point, I have to admit that I have developed a wonderful way of accepting directions from locals. If I'm totally honest, I understand around one word in twenty of what they say, and base my navigation skills on following the direction of the local samaritans arm waving. I nod, smile, say thanks and then tell Marge with absolute authority that it's 'this way'. I then spend the next 5 minutes trying to glance at the ever-present map in my pocket without Sinead noticing, and then the following 5 minutes looking for another friendly looking local to begin the whole arm waving, walk around in circles routine again.
Serendipitously, we eventually found our way to the parade and the three of us marched happily down the main drag looking for a good vantage spot. Slurping away on ice creams, we were waved at by a bunch of friendly looking locals sitting on chairs by the roadside (they were lining the road 5 deep on a motley collection of deckchairs). Mistaking the arm waving for some sort of direction-giving, we wandered over and were told that we could sit on their apartments balcony for the princely sum of around 2p. Right so...off we went, and ensconced ourselves on their balcony waiting for the festivities to begin.
When they finally did kick off, we realised why the locals were downstairs and the gringos were on top. The sun started to beat down on us, and the three of us tried to create whatever shade we could to shelter under. Bags, tshirts, newspapers - whatever we could get our lobster red hands on was used to cover heads, legs and arms.
The parade was wonderful - exhuberant, colourful and filled with dancing guys and gals from all over South America. When we had finally had enough, we pushed our way through the crowds and walked down the street to find our way home. Three gringos, two of whom were foxy ladies, suddenly became the main attraction. We were shouted at, whistled at, i had my hand shaken about 10 times by strangers, Marge was pulled in front of a TV camera to give her comments on the parade....a great end to a fine parade.
Back in the hostel that evening, Gillian and I were on the chimperweb when suddenly the whole room started to shake...it stopped pretty quickly and there wasn't any obvious damage, and once we'd figured out that Marge was OK too we thought nothing more of the tremor until the following morning.
We had arranged to head off on the toughest trek of our trip so far - a guided 2 day hike up the 6075m Chachani mountain. We were picked up in the morning and while chatting to the other two guys coming with us (an 27 year old American guy called Chris and Angelo, an Italian rock climber in his late 30's) we heard about the amount of damage the earthquake had done and the number of fatalities in towns only a few kilometres north of us. Knowing we were going to be off in the wilderness for the next few days, we pulled in and found a phone to get a message home that we were alive, well and unscathed.
(it was only after we got back from Chachani that Marge started pointing out how lucky we were. We had already bought our bus ticket to go to Ica - which was the epicentre of the quake - on the 18th August, but would have gone two/three days earlier had the tour agencies been able to bring us to Chachani on the 14th or 15th August. Instead, thanks to the crazy parade and the fact the city shut down, we were behind schedule...and out of harms way)
Anyway, 5 hours driving up a dodgy dirt road brought us to our drop off point, and we all got down to the business of packing our bags with the requisite gear for the next 2 days. Tents, sleeping bags, crampons, ice picks, food and water were squashed into our backpacks and we took off on the slow arduous walk up to base camp. Two hours, much panting and a couple of stumbles later we arrived at our base campsite - a flat patch of rock with space for a few tents sitting at around 5200metres above sea level. This was as high as any of us had been so far, and the lack of oxygen was already extremely noticable. Putting up our tents was a struggle and we kept having to stop every two minutes to catch our breath. At around 4pm the guides started cooking up dinner, and we all huddled around eating whatever they gave us, trying to stay warm and to keep out of the biting wind that had picked up. By 5.30pm, freezing and knowing we had to get up at 3.30am the following morning to begin our ascent, we all headed into our sleeping bags to try to sleep.
I say 'try' because as we'd been warned, I found it impossible to get any sleep at all. Ordinarily, I can drop off in seconds and snooze through anything, while Marge 'Princess and the Pea' McGuinness finds it a struggle to doze off without the perfect combination of pillow/quilt/valium that she's perfected over the years. Now the roles were reversed, and I lay there for 8 cold hours until we were called from our tents at 3.30am.
Up in the morning, and with a quick dose of coca tea, we wrapped up and headed off on the first leg of the ascent. In total darkness, with our headtorches lighting the way, we shuffled up to the first pass in a breathless 1.5 hours. As we ascended, it started to get slightly brighter, and by the time we reached the top to the first pass we turned around to be greeted by the most spectacular sunrise. It almost made our burgeoning pulmonary odemas worthwhile.
We then strapped on our crampons and took out our ice picks in preparation for the first travese around Angel, the first snow covered peak we had to pass enroute to Chachani. Feeling like Chris Bonington (but hankering after a mug of beefy bovril), we continued on around Fatima - another bloody mountain to deal with - and continued ascending slowly towards the main peak. There were no heroics here, no dashing up the side of the mountain in record time. The cold was only just bearable, and although the wind had subsided, we all felt that our fingers and toes were numb. So much so that as we came around the side of Fatima, our Italian companion Angelo (and the guy I had voted as most likely to have made it to the top) stopped and said he couldn't continue. One of the guides started out on the return trek with a freezing Italian in tow. This brought the rest of us up short. Now we weren't so sure that we'd make it, and as we shuffled on, zigzagging ever upwards, I for one started to wonder just how bloody mad we were for thinking we could do this.
There really wasn't anything else to do but keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope that sooner or later we'd make it to the top. We had to keep our pace slow, but not too slow...fast enough to stay warm and keep moving, but not fast enough to break a sweat. We'd been told that sweating would be a big mistake. Apparently the sweat freezes your clothes to your body. Lovely image. So like the Sutton Bowls Club on tour, we shuffled senior citizen style, slowly, with our heads down and gasping for each breath.
6 hours in, we finally saw the last stretch, and I'd love to say that with renewed energy we accelerated towards the summit for a Rocky Balboa style victory jump at the top. But instead, we seemed to almost slow down. Less oxygen, fatigue, can't bleedin beleive I'm still moving....I can't say what kept the brakes on, but when we disbelievingly stumbled onto the summit we just gasped at each other and hugged and highfived to beat the band. None of us had any energy for leaping around, and we had next to no interest in hanging around in this rarified athmosphere. We took the requisite photos, caught our breath and soaked in the view for a few minutes...and then took off back down the mountainside like hares outrunning the hounds. What took 6.5 hours to ascend took all of 2.5 hours to descend, even counting some heartbreaking uphill pieces that we had forgotten to 'look forward to'.
Back at base camp, it started to sink in that we'd done it - made it up (and safely back down) a 6075metre peak. I was happy to regale everyone with details of other wishy-washy mountains.
Higher than Mont Blanc - a wooftery 4808 metres
Bigger than Mount Kilimanjaro - a not so very impressive 5895 metres
And ever so slightly bigger than Carrantuohill - a mere molehill of 1085 metres
And we'd broken the 6 kilometre high mark. Surely we deserved a medal? Or a certificate?
I've started working on one of my own in Photoshop. When framed, it will grace our hallway wall when I get home.
And you'd better not laugh when you see it. You might get a crampon thrown at you.
Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/richard.mcguinness/ChachaniBreak ingThe6000mMark