17. Travel Story

Travel report 17, Peru.
 
This travel story takes you from beautiful deep valleys, were you can spot condors, to the snow peaks of a volcano with a great view! But, unfortunately, it will also tell you about some bad experiences I had with tour operators in different places in Peru.
 
First some of my impressions about Peru:
My first impression was that Peru has almost everything (except the Galapagos en less good bread) that Ecuador has, but than more and bigger. The landscape goes from desert on the coast, till the snow capped Andean in the middle and the jungle in the East. Every landscape has also its own culture and history with, of course, the Inca history of the Andean, as most known.
Peru has so much to offer that every traveller can find here what he or she is looking for. Sometimes it offers even to much, if lots of salesmen or tour operators try to sell you something, if women and children ask you to take a photo of them for un Sol, or even worse, if a girl of 15 tries to adorn you for a date. Unfortunately all bad results of a TOP touristic destination.
 
However the size of Peru, the 3e biggest country of South America and the need to over cross big distances if you want to see all of it, you can still save a lot of time  by taking the luxury night busses.
But if you´ve more time and/or can´t sleep in a bus, a lot of roads in Peru also offer a beautiful scenery that´s worth to see. Yep, to travel big distances by bus is very easy, comfortable and still cheap. Only I will be not surprised if this last point changes in the future. The gas in Peru is the most expensive in South America and last months it even rised more up, what caused strikes of taxis and bus drivers.
 
Are you lucky to save time with the busses, be careful with loosing it again, by looking for and booking of a tour. I don´t know if it´s because of the season or the bad service of a lot of tour operators in Peru, but both tours written in this report took me a full day to organize. The most irritated trick they tried to play me, was to say that they already had a group for tomorrow. So if I would pay now, I could join that group. Sounds good if you travel alone, but if you come back later and/or ask further, it turned out that it was not even sure that they had a group, or that it was even just a lie...
 
My last travel report I ended on a Friday, because on Saturday I was suppose to go on a hiking-tour of 4 days through the Cordelia Blanca mountain area.
However, the evening before, when I had to pay the remainder of the tour, it turned out that the other 2, who would join me on the tour, would not leave on Saturday but Sunday! It´s good that I refused to pay before I had seen them, otherwise I would have been waiting the next morning for nothing! When I asked my advanced money back, they offered me a tour for tomorrow for free, if I would still join the first tour on Sunday..... All Right, I really wanted to do that tour.
 
Sometimes we make jokes about the Chinese/ Japanese, who easily pay to much, because they trust the tour operators. Or the opposite, the Israeli, who don´t trust anyone.
You have to find a middle way, to pay not to much, but also not insult the people. I think that especially after what I heard from a guide in Arequipa. He told us that a lot of good guides in Arequipa don´t want to guide Israeli´s anymore because of that...
 
The daytrip I got for free took me along the green, grassy highlands, covered with big and small rocks. In the bus I also tried my first Coca-leaf, which a woman was selling in small bags. Here in the highlands the chew on it to have less trouble with altitude and the thin air. I didn´t liked it, but the tea can be ok. After a stop at a nice lake and an other one to see 2 Condors flying high in the sky, we took a steep and narrow road with lots of hairpin bends, to cross over a mountain-pass at 4500m above sea-level, to reach a temple at the bottom of the next valley. Chavin de Huantan, a remain of one of the oldest cultures in Peru (1300-400 B.C.). Most of the temple is covert with soil and vegetation and another part is broken, but still you can get a good idea of how it had looked like. Especially with a good guide, who tells you almost more than you want to know...
When we took the bus back, in the evening, we watched the movie "Vertical Limit", a good movie to start tomorrow a hike through the mountains :-) Damn, what´s that?! My shoe sole got lose! Luckily I found someone in the evening who could repair it.
 
At 10:30 the next day, we start our hike through the Cordelia Blanca at the village of Cashapampa at an altitude of 2850m. I´m with 2 France backpackers and 2 young (20 and 21) guides from Peru. We walked through a narrow green valley with on both sides high brown colored, rocky mountains and we followed a small river up. Around 2pm. we arrived at the campsite of Llamacorral (3750m), where we put our tents between the grazing cows and donkey’s.
 
Day 2, is even an easier hike, because it´s more flat, but it still offers some great views. We still followed the same small river through the valley, which sometimes ended in a blue lake or almost disappeared in swampy grassland. The most beautiful picture I took when I saw a waterfall behind the green grassland, coming down some dark rocks, with above some white snow peaks!
Tonight we camp at Taullipampa (4250m) with on the background a mountain chain covered with snow, which you, sometimes, could hear moving.
 
Day 3; As we´ve cleaned our campsite, we leave at 7:50h for the most difficult part of the tour. A narrow, steep and sometimes slippery train leads us in the end to a mountain-pass over the mountain chain. At an altitude of 4750m this point was the highest (highlight) of our hike. From this point we had e great view over the valley with the lakes and her snow peaks, behind us, but also over the new, more green valley in front of us. There was also a possibility to climb up a little higher (40/50m) on the rocks. This is what I did to put my pile of stones on the highest point :-) Something that climbers likes to do.
After a long and also sometimes steep descent, with the sound of melting and breaking snow (ice), we arrived a little past two at our new campsite, Huaripampa (3710m).
 
Final day; A short moderate hike took us through a country-side landscape to a road, from where we took a bus back to Huaraz. This bus ride took more than 3h, but the scenery at, again a deep, valley was beautiful!
Concluding words: I can really recommend this trip of 45km, but perhaps it will be just as easy and cheaper to do it on your own, if you have some more people. If you still want to do the tour, be sure that you pay less than 100US$ and ask if the entrance-fee incl. is. If you think that it´s too cheap, keep than in mind that our guides got not more than 50 Sol in total...
 
Lima, just as Panama City, again a capital on the Pacific coast. With the difference that Lima much bigger is and more than 8 time as much (8 million) inhabitants has, but less interesting things to see and do. I didn´t really liked the city and was happy that I stayed in the only (I think) nice area in the city. Miraflores, the more rich and quiet part of the city on the coast. It has some friendly squares and even a small beach, which not really invites you to swim from.
 
Arequipa, after Lima the biggest city of Peru, but if you walk through the nice centre it doesn´t feels that big. It has some interesting cultural things to visit and see, but if you walk through the streets you´ve to watch out a little for pick-packers who try to steel your money. But I didn´t went to Arequipa to enjoy the city and its culture, I came here to enjoy nature. Not directly around Arequipa, that´s all dry and dusty, but a little further away.
 
Cañon del Colca, known as one of the deepest canyons in the world and one of the best places to spot from close by, a condor in nature. To me it looked a little like the Grand Cañon in the USA, but than more narrow, with cactuses and palm trees on the bottom and snow peaks at the mountains around. The hike through this canyon you can easily do on you´re own and if you don´t want to carry a tent, you can sleep for 5 sol in a cabin at the bottom. I would recommend to spend a little more time in the canyon than I did and try to spot the condors in there (should be very good possible), instead of paying 6US$ to look at the condors from a special viewpoint together with busloads of tourists. However I´ve to admit that this Cruze del Conders (most of the time) offers a great close view of these big, almost extinct, birds.
 
Volcano El Misty; It took me 6 and a halve hour to find and arrange a tour on this volcano and even an angry tour operator/guide, because I didn´t believed that he had more people for this tour for tomorrow (which he really hadn´t). But I´m happy that I didn´t gave up :-)
El Misty, 5822m above sea-level and as high as I´ve ever been without an airplane. I know that´s not above the 6000m, but that volcano, Chanchany, you can already drive up by car till 5000m, so is less hard to climb...
Now we started our hike at 9:30am at an altitude of 3300m. I was in a small group with 3 other backpackers (a girl from Belgium, a girl from Holland and a guy from Mexico) and a guide. In the beginning it wasn´t steep yet and we walked through a sandy, rocky steppe surrounding, with grass and small bushes. Later the trail became more rocky, bald and steep. The higher we came, the more difficult it was to walk. Before we reached our base-camp at 4600m, my 3 fellow travellers had all a little trouble with the altitude and the steep climbing. The two girls got to less air and the guy had trouble with his stomach and head. I was lucky to have no trouble. When we had put up our tent, between 3 and 4pm., the girls felt a little better, but the Mexican went asleep. We watched sunset with a really beautiful view on the colours of the sky and the lights of Arequipa (like a satellite-photo). What made it even more special was the almost absolute silence, wow!
 
The second day we got up at 1:30am to start our hike to the top at 2:30am. As we climbed higher and higher, the vegetation became less and less (what we could see from it than), until there was nothing more than some strong small moss growing on some of the rocks. In the beginning I didn´t really felt cold, but the higher we came, it became also colder and there started, to form a little bit of ice on the rocks and later even on our backpacks. My fellow travellers had a hard time to climb up in the thinner air and because of that the tempo what for me easier to follow. But we were all very happy when the sun appeared from behind the volcano, what made the last 3 hours of walking to the top, a little more comfortable.
At  about 10am. we all reached the crater, with still a little snow around. I was the only one with enough energy left to go up the last narrow and steep part to the highest point at the other side of the crater. I put my stone-pile next to the big iron cross at an altitude of 5822m and had a beautiful view of both of the craters and all of the surrounding around the volcano, a great reward!
But I also want to say that I´m very impressed that the other 3 made it all the way to the crater. They had to suffer a lot more than I did, but still didn´t gave up, what made it for them a bigger performance than for me...
I had heard that it was possible to walk back to the campsite in only an hour, but I didn´t believed that until I saw the slope we would go down. You can compare it to a ski-slope made of sand and gravel and every step you take, you will glide a little down (like the Pacaya in Guatemala). It´s really fun to walk all the way down like that :-)
When we reached our camp we cleaned the campsite and walked, more normal, the remain of the trail back to the dirt road, from where a car picked us up. It was the end of a tough but great hike.
 
Cusco, my first impression is that it looks like a friendly nice city. It´s very touristic, but I can´t compare it to every other city I´ve seen before. During the day I could perhaps say that the colonial squares, churches, buildings and the narrow, sometimes steep, streets with houses with balconies looked a little like a smaller version of the centres of Bogota or Quito, but than with more colourful inhabitants and more tourists. But during the night, the lights in the mountains around, the cold and the houses with the balconies and bigger rooftops also remained me a little like a touristic ski-village. Especially with all those tourists walking in thick sweaters.
 
Today, Saturday 27-3-2004, I went again rafting. Unfortunately it was not the right time of the year (starts at the end of April) to do the 4-day rafting trip until class V. But now we did a class III/IV on the Rio Urubamba and, also because of some tricks we did, it was a nice experience and again a little harder and more adventure than before ;-)
 
I have to stop now, next time more about Cusco and surrounding...

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