As far having to spend the week without my main squeeze, Huaraz does just fine. The beauty that surrounds this place seems to reveal itself little by little, once again, bringing out my inner cheese making fantasies.
There are peaks to climb and high elevation hikes everywhere I look. Most of these temptations aren’t possible with the kids at this point, despite their trying to convince me to leave them with a bit of money, some snacks, and a few movies.
It took a few days for Simon to start feeling better. On sunday, I was told that the Lake Llacca hike we wanted to do couldn’t be reached with our van.
Eli, a very nice man in a 4×4 pick up truck picked us up early in the morning and we headed out for the hour and a half drive to Llaca. Well, they weren’t joking. The road was insane with rocks, deep ruts, and pot holes. We bounced our way up the road, hitting our heads on the roof of the truck, looking down at the cliff to our left, all while trying to make conversation with Eli, as he was falling asleep at the wheel…”Todo va bien señor?”.
The hike was short but the it’s 4600 meter elevation made itself known, especially to Simon, who petered out an hour into it. On the hike back, with his head in the rocks, Marco declared “I wish we just had the money to buy a UTV when we get home instead of having to find a diamond or gold to buy it with.” So much for our theme of “see boys, you really don’t need much to be happy!”.
As we walked back to the truck, the kids hung out with señor Eli while I walked up a different way and found myself laying on my back, next to this trickle of water and a few wildflowers. I laid there, staring at the jutting peak in front of me, stuck in an existential frame, thinking about life and all the wasted time we spend on anger, fear, and stress. I think it’s time for me to come home because my “real life” seems a bit out of my grasp, plus I think I’m getting weird.
On the way back down to Huaraz, the kids and I spent some serious time, declaring our love for donkeys. I’d love to come home and see donkeys packing gear and goods through the streets of Longview.
On monday, we made our way to the cochera where our van was parked. The muchacho in charge of opening the doors for us kept telling me over the phone “mas tarde”, “come back later”. After a few hours of back and forth, we got the van out and headed to the banos thermals of Chancos.
The community of Chancos has converted 7 caves into natural steam baths, all of varying temperatures. The one we chose was 37 degrees celcius. The Peruvian helping us, led us into the room, opened the door to the dark cave, threw a few buckets of spring water on the ground and closed the door behind him. The cave was dark, damp, and hot. We sat there for about 30 minutes, covered in moisture. The idea is to sit quietly and just breath and enjoy…I did my best while the kids were splashing in the cave puddles, jumping up and down to see who could reach the highest rock, and going in and out to cool off a bit.
After our cave sauna, we were taken around the corner, where a man wearing big rubber boots, filled up 2 tubs for us with brown, sulfur smelling spring water. As the tubs were being filled, Marco, covering his mouth and nose said “I think I’m only up for a short bath today.”
The man added an herb concoction and we were left to it. The kids sharing a tub and I, in a separate room with my own tub and book. When we got out, I felt like I was glowing and detoxed. When I asked the kids if I looked refreshed and beautiful, they answered “ugh, I don’t know, I guess”.
We stopped on the way back for another Almuerzo typica for $4.00. At this point, the cheap prices and the novelty of eating the grub fed, organic chicken grown out back has worn off and although the kids seem fine with it, I’m SO over it.
On the way back to Huaraz, we got stuck in a 2 and a half hour traffic jam due to a head on collision where a collectiva (a small passenger carrying bus) caught fire and resulted in 6 people dying. Marco later told me that I could stop telling them how grateful we should be that we stopped at that artisan stand for a few minutes before driving past that curve where people play chicken with their lives.
This morning, the kids and I left on foot to visit the ruins of Willkawain, which date back to 600AD.
We read that it would be an hour and a half long walk through the countryside from Pinar, which is about 10 minutes from Huaraz. The taxi dropped us off in Pinar and like all Peruvians giving directions, he pointed north and said “that way”. We started walking and within 10 minutes, we were in a mud field, surrounded by lactating pigs and teenage chickens.
A lady sitting on a corner pointed east and said “that way”. We found ourselves walking through farmland along a small single track sort of path, lost once again. A farmer saw us and waved us over and escorted us another half kilometer through peoples’ country home backyards, with a lot of pissed off dogs and a bull that wouldn’t let us by.
The man stopped in his tracks and pointed down a hill and said follow the path (crushed grass) until you get to a small road, take it north, and you can’t miss the ruins. We arrived at the calleretta, and started walking up. We were directed by a man sitting on another corner to take another small path up. This one took us through dozens of other small backyards, with plenty more dogs who thought we should mind our own business.
Ecuadorians and Peruvians have a very interesting way of giving directions. It’s always…”over there”…which can mean “3 miles that way”, or “make 3 rights and 4 lefts”, or “you’re going the wrong way”. Either way, it always comes down to pointing in a direction and saying “there”.
The ruins were cool, as far as old archeological sites go. This site was one where VIP’s were mummified and placed inside with various offerings of pottery and such. The kids were using my iphone flashlight to creap each other out inside the dark passageways. Luckily no one else was there to hear their loud pitched screams.
At the insistence of the kids, we took the collectiva back to town, and sat very snuggled to all the other Peruvians (staring at us) and their giant bundles of grasses stored up on top of the bus.
The ride back to town was bumpy, hot and a bit nauseating. The kids maintain that it was “much better than walking”…I maintain that once in a while I have to throw them a bone to keep them happy.
We were told that the drive to Huaraz from the city of Chimbote, which serves as sort of a Huaraz jumping point, takes 5-8 hours by bus. We didn’t really know what to expect since 5-8 hours is a pretty huge range and the buses here are maniacs on wheels.
Chimbote is the largest fishing port in Peru.We thought it would be best to spend the night in Chimbote, to get an early start the following morning. In this city, sleeping in the van was out of the question and every hotel we looked at was overpriced and a bit dingy. We finally settled on a clean, simple place and went to bed early, looking forward to an early start the next day. Apparently Peruvians not only party on the night before Easter but Easter night is a rockin rollin good time too. For the second time in a weekend, we were awake until 4am with the vibrations coming from the booming music across the street.
The next morning, we got a great view of the fishing boats got the heck out of Chimbote, starting our drive toward the apparently hair raising Canon de Pato. On the was we stopped for instant coffee and condensed milk and the kids got a piece of sugarcane to gnash their teeth on.
The Canon de Pato was beautiful and afforded us a view of the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra.
I suppose it would have been hair raising if we hadn’t spent 2 months driving in Colombia. The drive was beautiful, with the occasional moments when the shear cliff to our left while being passed by maniac buses, made for very attentive driving. Hair raising…not really.
We stopped in Yungay, where, in 1970 and earthquake that sent 50 million cubic meters of debris rushing down from Huascaran, buried the town and it’s 25,000 inhabitants.
We pulled into Huaraz, on a rainy afternoon, very excited to be here. After going from place to place asking about parking our van and using facilities, I was given repeated looks of “you mean, you want to free load?”, my trying to explain that WE’D PAY was futile. We found a very nice and comfortable hostel, and went out for our second real beer and good pizza in over three months. We felt as special as royalty.
At over 10,000ft, we knew we needed to spend a few days acclimating before doing any high elevation hiking or climbing. We spend the second day not far from here, having so much fun rock climbing that we only stopped when we were shaking with fatigue and our fingers were screaming from skin loss.
We planned on leaving Friday for the Santa Cruz Circuit, a four day trek. On thursday morning, as we were enjoying our morning coffee with our first cloud free view of Huascaran, we were informed that Darin’s nephew, Scott had passed away unexpectedly.
I ran to a cafe with real wifi and within an hour had booked Darin’s return home by way of an 8 hour ride to Lima on a maniac bus and 14 hours of flight travel to JFK. We took a taxi to the bus terminal and with very heavy hearts, after three months of being together every waking minute, it was over.
Scott was only 35 years old. He had an infectious smile, a giant heart and he leaves behind 2 amazing kids and a heart wrenched family.
Darin will be gone for a week and the kids were still going to do the 4 day Santa Cruz circuit. We were suppose to leave friday morning but Simon got hit with the full meal deal of sickness. Our rock climbing guide and new amigo nailed it on the head when he said “We Peruvians have special stomachs, and after three months of travel in America Del Sur, your stomachs are trying to become special”.
We’ve decided to rest, and explore the area through day trips. We’re spending time daily at the local market and making a lot of comfort food. We’re really not doing much of anything and it feels like it’s exactly what we should be doing.
For now, we send all our love and sympathies to our family in New York and we do our best to not feel so far away.
Once we crossed the border into Peru, we headed for the surf town of Mancora. We’d been told it would feel like a smaller version of Ecuador’s Montanita. The town’s main road (the Panamericana) was bustling with vacationers enjoying La Semana Santa, getting ready for the huge celebration of Easter.
We felt a bit burned out, stopped for a beer and some Calamari, and navigated our way through the hundreds of frogger playing moto-taxis.
Simply camping on the beach here wasn’t realistic. As we were looking for a place to park (una cochera), our first of many “fixers” came out of nowhere and talked us into checking his place out. The Italian Peruvian wonder guy set us up at the Casa Mediterana, which he manages. For 30 Peruvian Sols (about $17.00) a night, we had use of two gorgeous pools, all facilities, and we were right on the beach. We slept like babies, grateful for the fan and extension cord he’d insisted we use.
We spent two days in Mancora, enjoying how easy everything seemed. The people paying hundreds of dollars a night to stay there, probably wondered what was going on. They gave us weird glances as they walked by our van, with our drying bathing suits on a clothes line as we were eating our granola and drinking our coffee in our fold out chairs. WHAT!?!?
We surfed a point break which was so crowded, the only way you’d have a chance at a wave was to bully your way into it. The first morning we went out, I learned it was low tide as I got cheese grated on the rocky bottom.
Simon delightedly skyped with his class, which he’d been asking to do for a few weeks.
We went out for our first Chifa dinner, a Peruvian Asian fusion, which on the Northern coast are everywhere. The kids hummed their way through their wanton soup, like they’d won a prize. That’s right kids, no rice!!!
We spent an hour having a nail-impailed tire fixed while Juanita, my new 4 year old friend cuddled with me whispering sweet little nothings in my ear.
Peruvian food for the most part is excellent. They take great pride being creative with their dishes. Everything is fresh and even the comida typica meals of rice and chicken are surprisingly different and intriguing. The coast, however, is all about the seafood. Cevicherias on every corner, serving white and black concha, ray, prawns, squid, tuna, and calamari. Darin and I couldn’t get enough of the arroz con marisco, served everywhere and every time seemed more delicious than the other.
Simon’s been drinking Inka Cola. I’m a bit concerned about the neon yellow color and the bubblegum flavor but, when in Peru…
Marco found a red fruit punch called Sporade, which he says is his favorite drink ever. It’s red in color and equally disturbing. The beer, as always is made up of a choice of 3 light pilsners that once again come in very big bottles…not always for sharing.
Peruvians grow rich, high quality coffee, but they export it all and save none for themselves. We’ve been drinking instant Nescafe, which comes served with condensed milk out of a can. I find myself having long drawn out cappuccino dreams. The other way they serve their coffee is in the form of 2-3 ounces of very concentrated coffee extract, which you’re suppose to mix with hot water to dilute. It’s weird, but better than Nescafe.
We spent one night in the town of Chiclayo, to get an early start and visit the Museo Tumbas Realo de Sipan, where the archeological finds of the Lord of Sipan lay. As we pulled into Chiclayo, Darin’s gut had him on high alert, with everything barred up, and weird walls around the blocks of housing. We found a cheap hotel, where the front desk guy confirmed with us 7 times that our van’s windows were closed and locked. We walked downtown for seafood with the front desk guy again saying things like “be cautious but relaxed, don’t bring anything with you, hold your children’s hands… On the way, we got caught up in an Easter parade with Phantom of the Opera meets Indianna Jones like music. In the space of 5 minutes, we’d been pooped on by birds 4 times. No wonder all the parade walkers and goers were covering their heads.
Trying to escape the Easter crowd everywhere, we pulled into what was suppose to be the laid back town of Pacasmayo. Once again, no option of just setting up camp on such a busy weekend. Every place we went to ask if we could set up shop in the “cochera”, we were asked “para dormer?”, for sleeping?? No. It was hot, we were getting on each other’s nerves and contemplating driving on when, out popped fixer #2. Numa, an incredible surfer, driving a fancy car with 5 surf boards on top explained to us that he was staying at the hotel that we’d just been turned away from. He thought our van was cool, liked that we were there to surf, and back home in Lima, had 3 kids about the same age as ours. He asked us to wait a moment and disappeared inside. He came back out telling us he’d worked it all out and that we could stay in the parking lot and use the facilities at no charge, in exchange for giving the front desk guy a tip.
Pacasmayo was ready to party! Darin accidentally got caught up in the water’s very strong current, and in order to avoid crashing into the pier, surfed where a surf competition was taking place. He says he probably scored a 0.1.
We walked the 600 meter pier, with huge areas of boards missing, where we had to watch our step carefully to not fall through.
That night, Numa and his girlfriend, sent us to a restaurant called Kafe Kafe, another Peruvian Asian place with just a few tables.
As we waited for our table, we found ourselves surrounded by huge security guards and a hundred people with cameras and cell phones, swarming this couple, begging for autographs. The Peruvian tv stars sat and ate, while the security guards pushed back the hoard of people trying to bust in. Everyone was overwhelmed with excitement as we sat there wondering what was going on and who the hell these people were.
Apparently, people from Peru could go face to face with the Colombians in a partying contest. We spent the night in the van awake with blaring music coming from all directions. By 4am, I though, ok, this is for sure the time they’re gonna quiet down…not ’til 5am baby! I didn’t know this is what they meant when they said “rejoice” in reference to Jesus’ resurrection.
Marco woke up at 6:30 screaming “The easter bunny came! The easter bunny came!”. I had no idea he travelled that far south myself!
We left Pacasmayo in search of a quieter spot and some calmer water.
The driving is overall good here. The roads are straight and fast, and the trucks aren’t on speed and crack like in Colombia. Most of our driving has been in the windy desert. The arid landscape makes us wonder, what do you do if you live here??
The wind wips, the sand flies, and at one point I checked on the surf board up top and to my horror, it was popping a wheely, almost straight up in the wind. No wonder people kept flashing their headlights at us.
We pulled into Puerto Chicama, and found the camp spot we’d been envisioning for days. Chicama’s left break is the longest wave in the world. With the right conditions, people ride a wave here for up to 3.2 KM! The surf here was beyond fun and the camping offered one of our top 4 best views. With Darin and I tired from surfing and the kids tired from playing on enormous sand dunes until they had sand in every orifice, including the internal ones, I made us a delicious $3.00 sunset dinner. We slept like babies, grateful for the silence which was interrupted only by the soft sound of the ocean’s waves, which tagged along in our dreams, and might forever.
We considered staying in Chicama longer, and after weeks of being on the coast, we might morphing from Northwestern amphibians to some sort of dried out lizard. Besides, Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca await us.