We headed 12 hours north, overnight, arriving early in Huaraz. Situated more northerly in Peru, it is known for some of the most beautiful hiking circuits in the world. The Huayhuash circuit is voted 2nd in the world for beauty, after a trek in Nepal, but unfortunately at a minimum of 8 days long was not one we had time to complete. Perhaps another time. We had aimed to complete the Santa Cruz (4day) trek, but starting to run out of time and money we had to make a decision. Continue travelling by bus through Ecuador and into Columbia, which would mean over 100 hours on buses and a fair amount of money with less time in each country, or fly directly to Cartagena in Columbia but skip Ecuador altogether. We decided to save time and money and give Columbia our full attention. However, massive fluctuations in flight prices meant we had to leave on the 13/12/19 and so only had 3 full days in Huaraz. This meant no multi-day trek, but filling each day with trips to see as much of the surrounding area as possible. Huaraz sits at over 3000m up, still a part of the enormous Andes along which we have travelled, in a range called the Cordillera Blanca. Home to the highest mountain in Peru (Huarascan – 6700m!) with blue lakes, glaciers, Condors and more, it was somewhere we had been looking forward to.
We spent the afternoon, once checked in, at Cafe Andino where we drank coffee, planned out the next few days and wrote an earlier blog. We decided Day 1 – Horse riding in the mountains, Day 2 – A high altitude trek (Alexz’ birthday) and Day 3 – Trekking to Pastoruri glacier.
After breakfast we met the man about a horse and were taken to the local bus terminal. Here, the bloke told the conductor to tell us when to get off, at which point someone would be waiting for us with 3 horses (Tres Ceballos). Or at least that’s what we could make out from his spanish. After 30 minutes the conductor told us to hop off, however, there was no one and no horses waiting, but signs pointing in opposite directions for horse riding. We asked some locals selling their goods roadside who pointed us up a dirt track. Here, we found an older woman, who seemed pleased to see us, tacking up 5 horses (Cinco Ceballos) and so we waited. However, our helpful local then came running up the dirt track, waving us back down to where we started and waiting there was a man with Tres Ceballos. This must be it. Next thing, the older woman with Cinco Ceballos came back down and started waving at us to return. After a long phone conversation, several arguments and much waving, it turned out the older woman was the wife of our original bloke who met us at the hostel, and the man with tres ceballos was just a chancer who fit the description.
Finally on our way, we first headed along a main road, but with no helmets and little/no prior experience in horse riding we had to place a lot of trust in our new steeds. Thankfully then we moved onto rocky dirt tracks, through local villages and started climbing up into the foothills of the Andes, having to pull aside at one point for an old lady walking her pig. It quickly became clear that Emma’s horse, despite being smaller, was the boss over Alexz’s. Any time Alexz’s horse, called Obama, tried to take the lead he was quickly put back in his place by a sharp nip on the backside from Canyon (Emmas horse). We had beautiful weather and trotted up over several hours to take in the view of the Cordillera Blanca before heading back down. It was nice to experience something a little different for us both and not have to do all the uphill walking, although we did feel a little sorry for Alexz’s horse. The highlight of the day for Emma was on the return leg back down the hill. Obama decided to make another dash for the lead in a tight space, overtaking Canyon just as he lifted his tail to have an enormous poo, resulting in driving Alexz’s knee directly into the backside of Canyon and having giant balls of turd roll down his left leg and onto his shoe.
That evening, after having cleaned Alexz’ shoes, we looked around the supermarkets for something we could make in the hostel kitchen for dinner. However, with very little fresh produce available, we ended up making a meal which wouldn’t have won any prizes in our Patagonia camping efforts.
Our second full day was the most important day of the year, being Alexz’s birthday. The alarm went off at 0430AM for an early pick up to take us to the start of our 6 hour trek to Laguna 69, known for outstanding views and a tough climb owing to the altitude, reaching heights of 4600m.
Along we the way we enjoyed a pit stop at the beautiful lake of Chinan Cocha.
Arriving at the trailhead our guide made us aware of two things. Firstly, we could walk at our own pace rather than in any sort of group and all meet at the top, and secondly to look out for the cows. They were particularly confident cows which were known to sneak up on people and raid their bags for snacks. Setting off, and looking out for confident cows, we were greeted with a beautiful valley of rivers, waterfalls and wooden bridges surrounded by mountains, one of which was Huarascan which loomed over us. The first part of the walk was relatively easy going and reminded us a lot of the alpine scenery in Patagonia, however, after a couple of hours things got a lot steeper with rocky switchbacks and the altitude quickly became apparent and so we slowed our pace. We arrived at the brilliantly blue Laguna 69 and stopped for lunch. We found a little spot lakeside where no one else had ventured and enjoyed our cheese sandwiches, pringles and a flask of tea whilst listening to avalanches rumble through the valley. Overall, it was one of the most beautiful hikes we have done and very much like those of Patagonia, which is no bad thing.
Arriving back in Huaraz that evening, fairly exhausted, we enjoyed a good meal and few beers at our favourite place (Cafe Andino) before turning in for the night.
Our final full day in Huaraz before heading back to Lima, the capital of Peru, for our flight to columbia was spent climbing to our highest point yet. Another early start and several hours on the bus took us to the start of the hike to see the Pastoruri glacier. En route we stopped off and learnt about how valleys were formed by ancient glaciers, the coloured springs that still exist as a result and the unusual trees which grow in the area over hundreds of years.
Walking up toward the glacier, the weather turned for the worse, with thunder and lightning carrying rain, sleet and snow. Thankfully, we had packed for the worst and so it was only the lightning overhead which worried us! The walk up was less steep than the previous day and so didn’t feel as strenuous, but we were chuffed to have finally broken the 5000m mark. Stood at 5021m up in the wind, rain and snow, overlooking the lakes, mountains and glacier, it felt pretty good.
We had cut our stay in Huaraz short by one day in order to catch a day bus and make our flight (to Colombia) leaving the following morning at 0500. Arriving at the airport at 2200pm we decided to tolerate the long wait rather than spend more on a hostel where we would only be for a few hours. Also, leaving Peru for good, we spent our last peruvian pesos on some food in the airport to tide us over. As the food arrived, Alexz’s phone rang, it was the airline. They had decided to notify us at this point our flight scheduled for 6 hours time was now going to be leaving in 12 hours time… This meant we had to search for a hostel close by, which took card payments, and headed there for some sleep. The most frustrating part of this was we could have stayed in Huaraz for the additional day needed for us to complete the Santa Cruz trek and have caught a night bus to our flight saving on accomodation. The flight company pays compensation for flights delayed by 6 hours, but miraculously for them, it was only delayed by 5 hours and 55 minutes. These things happen, and when you’re away for so long, it seems more likely. Next stop, Colombia!
Early starts in Huaraz…