1st August – We are visiting the village of Chavin today east of Catac, and the temple complex of Chavin de Huantar. We pass an unusual passenger on this little motorbike before leaving Catac on an asphalt road, which takes us all the way to Chavin.
We follow a landscape of yellow grassland and rolling hills behind which, rear rugged mountains and glaciers and Laguna Querococha at nearly 4000m with the jagged, snow-capped peaks of Yanamarcy (5197m) in the background. Boys run up carrying lambs and say, “photo” and we give them some coins. They were lovely kids, not at all pushy but polite and curious about our Land Rover with the steering wheel on the ‘wrong side’!
The road winds through the mountains until the Tunnel of Kahuish at just over 4500m and on leaving this, an enormous statue of Christ appears in front of us on the top of a hill.
The asphalt is now breaking up to a rough, dirt road as we descend for Chavin, situated much lower at 3140m. We give our last coins to a little girl with a shovel filling in holes with her small brother, his cheeks cracked and sore. Further on, more boys shovel this filthy, talcum-powder dust into holes when they hear a vehicle approaching and then hold out their hands, their clothes, hands and faces are covered in dirt……perhaps they will be there on our return journey. They look disappointed when we don’t stop.
A patchwork of yellow and brown fields spreading to the mountain tops, suddenly appear as we round a bend. Huge pot holes in the road, it is a real obstacle course….everything and everywhere covered in this grey dust.
Arriving in Chavin, we park in the main Plaza de Armas, full of flowers, trees and brilliant bougainvillaea.
Amongst the attractive, white-washed buildings around the square, we notice Hotel Inca with tall, double doors leading into a small cobbled yard, surrounded by rooms and a pretty garden. We are able to camp here with a shower and toilet.
It is only a short and interesting walk through the streets to the ruins.
Chavin de Huantar – an important ceremonial complex for the Chavin people, the oldest major culture of Peru , that dominated the northern part of this country. It is composed of ceremonial temples and pyramid-shaped structures, built around 1200AD and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
Portal of the Falcons.
The Lanzon represents the principal deity of the Chavin people.
A Tenon Head – important stone sculptures representing human heads with feline features.
2nd August – It rained slightly in the night and today more cloud is covering the blue. Older women sit in their doorways knitting and another is sitting in a field watching her pigs……she is also knitting. The three boys are on the road again shovelling the dust, as we retrace our journey back to Catac and this time we can give them some coins, also an elderly man doing the same work but making a better job.
We call in at Huaraz for an ATM, another small gas bottle and to check emails and discover that Diego, our Argentinian friend that we first met in Paraguay riding solo on his motorbike, is making his way south and so we all hope to meet up again.
We continue on the road north for Yungay through a broad, farming valley. Pretty churches at Ucucha and Huarascucho. Piles of logs, beautiful terra-cotta pots and huge, strong, woven baskets for sale at the sides of the road. An enormous mountain comes into view covered completely in snow……Huascaran at 6768m – Peru’s tallest mountain.
Yungay has the best access for two Lagunas (Llanganuco and Orconcocha) that we would like to visit but first we are heading for Llanganuco Mountain Lodge, owned by Brit. Charlie Good, situated by an ancient lagoon, the Keushu ruins and with views of the 3 highest peaks………this camping sounds good! However, without a way point this place up in the hills, is hard to find amongst the many dirt tracks and fading light, although everyone we ask seems to have heard of him. With help from Aquilino who owns a restaurant nearby and who is incredibly kind and patient, giving us directions, drawing us a map by torchlight and finally jumping in his car to show us the way, we arrive at a house that we had already found earlier but as everywhere was in total darkness we imagined it to be empty. Aquilino however, has his hand on his horn for a full 5 mins. before we hear dogs barking and see torchlight. Charlie Good is away but his Dutch friend Derk welcomes us and as long as we are self-sufficient, we are able to camp. The sky by now is a mass of stars, the Milky Way clearly visible and we are assured that we have amazing mountain views all around. We promise Aquilino that we will have breakfast at his restaurant in the morning.
3rd August – The view certainly is amazing from our camping place.
We are up early to be at Aquilino’s restaurant for our breakfast. However my little bit of Spanish seems to have got muddled along with his total lack of English, as when we arrive, the two girls there look very puzzled, the restaurant door is closed and so I make arrangements for lunch instead! We discover another nearby restaurant to be a hive of activity however, with huge cooking pots boiling over log fires, local women sitting on the grass peeling potatoes, garlic and corn cobs and another lady wearing a pointed woolly hat, stirring pans of food in an ‘outside kitchen’. This looks very promising and we have an amazing breakfast of fried eggs in bread rolls and mugs of mate de coca tea…..we will be coming back tomorrow!
We drive through the gates of Parque Nacional Huascaran. This park, established in 1975, encompasses practically the entire area of the Cordillera Blanca above 4000m. It includes more than 600 glaciers and nearly 300 lakes and also protects endangered flora and fauna such as the spectacled bear, Andean Condor and the giant Puya Raimondii plants. A gap in the mountains and a dirt road with sheer sided mountains, takes us to Laguna Llanganuco (also known as Chinancocha) at 3850m. A beautiful, pristine Laguna situated in a glacial valley, with crystal clear, turquoise water that simply takes your breath away.
Laguna Llanganuco is surrounded by rare polylepis trees with their layers of papery thin, orange bark and there are also many flowers to be found.
A little further on and we arrive at Laguna Orconcocha at 3863m and from a higher dirt track, we can look back at both lagunas.
We drive back to Aquilino’s restaurant for lunch as promised in return for all his help in finding Mountain Lodge. We both order the recommended trout and whilst waiting for it I wander out into the back garden to see where they raise these. The water, whilst flowing, did not look too clean and smelled……oh dear! I walk a little further up to where some girls are squatting by the water and notice that they are washing raw chicken pieces in it, which in turn is flowing into the trout tanks……..now I am really worried! The meal however, looks fine when it arrives although the trout didn’t have much meat. We keep our fingers crossed that our stomachs won’t react to all that I witnessed out the back!
We return to our wonderful camping place on the top of a hill at Mountain Lodge, where the huge skies are particularly spectacular this afternoon. We climb a path that gives stunning views of both the nearby laguna and of Huascaran.
4th August – This morning the sky is so clear and blue, all the three, snow-covered mountains are clearly visible.
We say goodbye to everyone and the Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy follows us back up the hill. He has a lot of growing to do yet…..his feet are enormous! We would really recommend Mountain Lodge set in such an amazing location, to other travellers.
We stop for another breakfast but are a bit too late for the papas (potatoes) to go with our fried eggs. This relaxing little place with views across to the hills, is a real family affair where everyone, young or old, makes you feel welcome. The people in these remote, Andean villages have all been so friendly. Their whole life is spent out in the fields tending to their crops and animals. Temperatures during the day can be extremely hot and cold at night. We have not seen any mechanised machinery, only oxen pulling ploughs.
We continue descending the dirt road for the town of Yungay, the views of Huascaran and its neighbouring giants, all at over 6000m, are jaw dropping!
As we round a bend, a motorbike appears coming in the opposite direction, obviously a traveller by his well-loaded bike. We can hardly believe it when we realise it is Diego, hoping to meet up with us amongst this amazing scenery. We decide to meet later in Caraz after Diego has visited Laguna Llanganuco and we have visited the original site of the village of Yungay, that marks the single, worst, natural disaster in the Andes.