One morning we leave the white fog of the coast.
From foggy Tortuga bay on the Pacific Ocean one morning we climb those desert mountains, leave the clouds behind us at an elevation of 1,000m, and we climb and climb till the pass of the Cordillera Negra at 4,200m, in the valley on the other side is Huaraz and behind the snow-capped summits of the Cordillera Blanca range.
The ascent was quick and steep indead and we were all a bit dizzy, and glad to have come down to the capital of the Ancash region, Huaraz, and the rio Santa valley; Huaraz is at roughly 3,000m. The highest snowy peaks are all around, but I don't realize this first afternoon in the sun on the main touristy plaza, I like my beer and wine and steak, the boys their pizza, and then they play till David comes running bleeding from his chin, which he hit on the stairs. And then they play again till very late with all the other children in the street, and they grab the parrots from next door, the dogs from somewhere else and the cats from everywhere and carry them around, and I just think that my children are dirtier than all the others together, beasts and children.
Passing Huascaran so close.
A night in Huaraz and we sleep where we parked up mid-day, later we take the route from Yungay, and I buy some chochos, a kind of bean, marinated, herbs, lemon and spices, so nutritious. Then we go up-mountain and enter Huascaran National Park; there is a canyon of polished black walls and the two picturesque Llanganuco Lagunas and some strange crippled trees. After that the climb becomes steeper with hundreds of narrow bends, and to our right behind a few clouds the glaciers of Peru's highest summits become visible, Huascaran (6,768m) and Chopicalqui (6,354m), we are powerfully close.
The pass is foggy at 4,700m, David is asleep while Daniel comes out to touch that snow in the cold. Our descent again is dramatic, the glaciers on the other side equally frightening, and our dirt track crosses fields of black boulders and glacier streams while strange plants at the extreme altitude show up where the water ravines cut deep into the slopes. It is past nightfall when we get to Yanama (3,300m), plaza de armas is quiet and cold, a cheap restaurant serves soup and the boys don't like it, as usual. Morning is bright blue with yet another white range dominating the scenery and picture and somewhere there behind should be Alpamayo, dubbed 'The Most Beautiful Mountain in the World'.
Dusty, winding back roads of Cordillera Blanca, Yanama, Chacas, Chavin.
We go up to 4,000m then come down and then reach San Martin de Chacas (3,300m), the roads are hard, steep, winding and dusty. The plaza de armas of Chacas has many colonial stone buildings, wooden balconies, and cobblestone streets, many Italians recently moved here, there is pizza to be had but not at lunch time, so I buy some more chochos, so nutritious and delicious.
We have more driving to do, get on terrible dusty road to San Louis and I am exhausted, there the road starts just remains really bad with whole stretches missing and most potholed, all the way to Chavin de Huantar (3,200m), and I have headache, less from crossing elevated passes (a lot was above 4.000), but from the dust on the road that filled my nostrils.
Chavin de Huantar
The boys make friends on the plaza de armas, and over the next days I would find them running around farther and farther, report who they have been with in who's house, and in whose kitchen they have eaten.
In Chavin we see the 3,000 year old ruins and temples and ceremonial plazas of the Chavin culture, step down in the labyrinth underneath, the famous Lanzon stela and later the Tello obelisk in the near-by museum and the stone engravings of deities, jaguars, and serpents mesmerize.
There are thermal baths, Chavin baños near the river, and washing does us well, before the cold of the night would creep back into the bones.
And again the back-roads of the Cordillera Blanca.
We leave Chavin with a plan to return the next day for a fiesta grande that is about to start with bull fights, marching bandas and lots of booze, just we would never come back again, and this is how this story unfolds. We set out to drive some more back-roads of the Cordillera Blanca, partly in search for some dinosaur prints; and it is God's most beautiful country, rocky rugged mountains, and blue lakes dotted in between. Only the Nyrstar Contonga metal mine at Antamina spoils the day. They take out everything between 4,000 and 4,500m, whole mountains and lagunas just go forever, and how many more in the future I wonder, looking at all the exploratory drilling that goes on everywhere? And what remains for the land, nothing but Nystar's promise to redress the scape once extraction is completed, or their license runs out, but by then they would have fallen over more territory with the same promise.
Full of bitter sarcasm are the signs once you exit the huge mining complex: 'Conserve our cultural patrimony' or 'Don't contaminate our environment' or 'Protect our wildlife', and all around sample taking and drilling is carried out; so does that mean once they allow themselves to come in and destroy 100% they just take the signs off and it'll be alright to spoil, contaminate, and kill wildlife?
Somewhere past the mine I have a puncture, and that's not too surprising given the bad, hard roads, but it strikes me that my magic mileage number pops up (it popped up before in Pacasmayo where we woke with a flat battery, and it would pop up later and give more troubles; my devil's number is 16, when the sum of digits add up to 16). I change a tire 'like a pro' on 4,500m, and only feel a little the vertigo, it is also where I take the picture of the Andino riders in front of the laguna and sierra, these friendly guys have wild faces, treat their horses with a natural elegance, they're always out and up here at 4,500m.
All I know now is that I need to get back to Huaraz and buy a new tire. The dinosaur foot traces we don't find, there are some signs and we go for a few walks, but remain unlucky with nobody to ask. We drive for the rest of the day, mostly between 4,000m and 4,700m, scenery is changing all the time, and the road is good; where there is a mine there is a good road, has it wisdom in Peru!
In Huaraz, longer than expected.
Past Conococha it is a down hill to Huaraz, we get there after nightfall, and while we eat pizza and drink beer and the boys play table football with some Israelis, somebody tries to enter the van on the street but fails, the beginner doesn't manage to get inside, just destroys all the locks.
First thing on next morning is that we get a new tire, but then while we fill up gaz I realize that the radiator leaks and I fix it with Lion's stop-leak product, a quick-fix that has helped many times before. But today all points to more troubles, I am checking with the mechanics, just while still in Huaraz the damn engine won't heat up, and so we leave Huaraz knowing there's some problem which I would address in Lima; back to Chavin for the fiesta now is out of question.
50kms out of Huaraz we stand then, and it seems I have blown the cylinder gasket, the radiator runs like a fountain, another dose of stop-leak chemicals and filling up more water is no-more a solution, the van won't start. We are stranded at 3,800m, no phone coverage, not much traffic, just rio Santa is down the slopes for more water. A truck stops and indicates he sends a towing service. I have an idea though and for exercise I still make it down to the river with the 20l jug for more water, but exhausted and completely out of breath, coughing for 20 minutes I arrive back up on the road and D&D think I am about to give life up. I get the engine running again, just pressure rises fast and blows the radiator again, something is stuck inside the water circuit, too much stop-leak applied over the past 2 years.
2 hours later we are being loaded on a truck and towed back to Huaraz, to the very competent and clean Hernan Barbachán garage. Tonight is another night for pizza, and time to try cerveza Huaracina, there are Sierra Andina or Lucho's artisanal beers, Blodie Ale, Roja and Negra; yes, there are worse places to get stuck at than Huaraz. At night, after all I have a nose bleeding, the dry, the dust, the altitude, and my in-vain effort to get water from the river and carry it up 50m a steep slope. It is certainly time to take it easy, don't risk when you are cursed and the Gods fight for the enemy. This is Friday the 13th of July.
So there after the weekend in Huaraz we check every morning and every evening with the garage, just fixing the radiator doesn't do the trick, so we wait for parts from Lima, and that gives us plenty of time. We eat every day on the same plaza restaurant in the sun which plays the sweet Andino music, yes at lunch time one can easily get a sun stroke, whereas at night temps drop to a mere 10 degrees, so we retreat to the inside of a nice pizza place, there is only one with good pizza which is owned by a French guy.
It is a Tuesday that we meet two groups of 3 Austrian climbers there, so we are in total nine Austrians; Flo, Christoph, and Martin come down from Alpamayo and Joe, Tom, and Martin from elsewhere, and we get all along well and go out till late, and the Daniel and David too, and maybe we are a bit loud.
Anyway next day it is my boys that are banned from going back to the pizza place, the Frenchman is of a faint and nervous character it seems, certainly has never had children, and I thought it was us grown-ups 'ransacking' the place...
Whatever, on Thursday morning the devil strikes and both, Daniel and David wake with swollen faces, why both? Daniel can hardly see and his whole body shakes from a fever. The competent hospital staff diagnose an intoxication of sorts, an allergic reaction to some food, dog or parrot sh!t, or just ice cream or sugar, what the hell do we really know; fact is their medication and helps rapidly.
On Friday afternoon almost all is finished at the car and we have test it up the dirt tracks of the Sierra Negra drive it aggressively almost to the top. So I then busy myself vacuuming out rat droppings and crushed bones from the van as the rats were having fun in the van all week while it was all open; that's about the point when Daniel and David chase each other and Daniel stumbles at the late hour and hits his forehead just over his right eye on a metal work bench; damn, and a real cut bleeds really badly.
Saturday on the 21st then I wake early, shower to shrug of the cold of the night. I wake my boys with still swollen faces, David is up quickly while Daniel rebels, at 8 we are at the garage, and I clean out some last fecal rat dirt. Back to the clinic, and graceful goodness our doctor is happy with the healing progress, to Daniel's cut she says 'it'll heal'. Breakfast in our favorite place is spaghetti for D&D and soup for me, and I put as usual a lot of aji/spice in it. In the local market I buy 2 Chinese made plastic swords for the boys, that sound off uninterruptedly a stupid noise, but they want them badly, and maybe deserve them in light of their sickness and injury, I buy also 8 bananas and 8 breads, and that should do for the whole day. We pick up the laundry from the necessary rat cleanings, then we are off and I put the heater on, safe is safe, especially as we could not fix the water temperature gauge; that remains to be fixed in Lima.
We drive and I listen to every noise, stop and feel the hoses' temperatures, the car seems to work again. We get over the neuralgic Conococha at 4,000m and then it is mostly down, and I am easy. Night we spend in Barranca, Ceviche at the ocean is fresh and spicy, friendly people chat over a few beers with me, some young Peruvian cracks teach my warrior faces skate-board.
Caral, 5,000 years old pyramids in the desert.
This is Sunday the 22nd of July and I have one more diversion on our mind before we close in on Lima: Caral and this is the most ancient city of the Americas, consisting of a dozen pyramids, plazas, amphitheater and houses, built between 2,600 B.C. and 2,000 B.C., this is when the great Egyptian pyramids were built, and those in Caral show great similarities with the Saqqara step-pyramids. Very impressive site and we have it for us alone!
We get there before nine on a Sunday and not far from Lima this is wise, we are first before the buses arrive and also before the desert heat kicks in.
ThisFabTrek is 8.
We leave Caral when the masses storm it, and the boys are exhausted and hungry, we had no breakfast 'cause there was none to be had this morning. They fall asleep and I wake them when we arrive in Huacho, a seaside town which must have great ceviche, I think and am right, and lucky to find the spot right at the harbor.
Lima then isn't far away, and the outer outskirts start early, to get through to the center and past it though takes for ever, and lucky us, this is a Sunday. We reach my friend Toño who has been waiting for 6 years, for me to honor my promise that one day I would come and visit him. Toño has beer and whiskey, and I am happy to relax as This Fab Trek today is 8, on 22nd of July 2004 I set out to 'conquer' the world.