Friday, September 30, 2005

Same Northern Chile, different man

The factory of Humberstone, a ghost town not far from Iquique


Crossing the border into , I found myself looking at a similar scenery and people, but with changed eyes and perspective. Arica was a short stop on the way to lovely Iquique, where I spent two nights and re-visited Humberstone crumbling houses. Later, taking a bus to Calama I found myself hitting the sleepy town of San Pedro around evening and starting the second part of my trip

Crossing into (and not for the last time…)
Even though most people don't stop in Tacna on their way to Iquique, I found myself stopping on my way as I knew that it was a bit too much driving for one day from Arequipa.
Tacna, expensive and lacking in serious hot water, was not a place I was happy to stay in, and except for a short stroll around the main plaza (a triangular, a not so common plaza in Peru) I found my self more reading and less walking or picture taking. The next day, first thing in the morning, I took a taxi back to the terminal where I was approached with numerous colectivos drivers, which offered a ride for Arica for a fee of 10 soles. I found some guy that was willing to go for less, but I found also that he was lacking any passengers and found myself waiting for nearly an hour till he assembled enough passengers to ride to the border.
Riding in an American automobile (all colectivos were like this, by the way, only god knows why) we quite fast to the Peruvian border checkpoint, which was a fast passage. On the other hand, the Chilean one was a slow process and for some reason the guy checking my passport was not able to part from it, and I was staring at him for at least five minutes, waiting for him to finish his examination (could not guess what kept him so busy with my passport, but I didn't even thought about asking…). Half an hour later I already could see the all familiar contour of the familiar front border city, all shrouded in the mist of early morning and grasping that six months have changed me tremendously, in a good and a bad way. I nodded with my head in comprehension of this reality, happy that I have changed and hoping that more will come.
Reaching Arica`s bus terminal, I quickly went to find an early departure for Iquique, another well known town in northern Chile. Luckily, I found a bus departing in 30 minutes and bought the ticket (actually, I thought first I had an hour and a half, only then the nice lady behind the counter reminded me that I should move the clock hands a hour forward, and actually found that have only a half an hour not more…).

Iquique & Humberstone, revisited
The bus to Iquique, was a nice way to see the northern frontier, with it`s vast valleys and deserts-like sceneries and eventually around 3 PM I found myself in mist shrouded Iquique. I went straight to the already familiar hospedaje I was staying last time with Stephan (6 months ago…amazing!), and the land lady showed me the way to the room while commenting that she remembers me from my last visit. I made some inquiries in regard to the Zofri shopping center, which is known for the tax-free prices, and made my way there by a taxi. Even though I was hoping for good prices of digital cameras, the kind I was looking for not only were out of stock, but also quite expensive. I wondered there a bit, and returned to the hostel for a good night.
The next day I planned on go and revisit Humberstone, the little ghost town that I had some toughening experience there (see and planned to take some nice shots, after loosing the film while shipping it to Israel (yeah, it was a miserable decision…).
Till the late afternoon I have passed the time relaxing and surfing the net, I found the bus that goes all the way to little oasis Pica, which on the way passes through Humberstone.
Going off on the main road, looking at the sign stating simply "Humberstone", I could already see myself there, six months ago, taking the shot of the sign so I would know where I took all the successive pictures…well, I thought, there is no need for this, as I will not forget this place for all my life. I marched on and entered the town`s entrance, after contributing 1000 pesos for the conversation of the site.
Well, as this town hasn't been changed for almost half a century, it didn't changed in six months. I, on the other hand, changed quite a bit, including my photography perspective, and even though I remembered some of the frozen frames I locked on the negative, I took different pictures, from different angles. That was a great way to feel the change I have been through, a small one, but still, a vibrant and very distinctive one. Another change was the amount of people on the site, around 6 in total, which were three times more than last time (it may sound not much, but in this kind of town you want to be alone to really feel the eerie atmosphere of the place). As I was already there, I didn't mind that too much, and went with my photography in great pace, capturing frame after frame and trying to relive the days six months ago.
Around 6 PM the sun was still visible over the horizon, and I did my way to the exit, hoping that this time I would have easier time to get back to Iquique . Well, it was, and after one and half hour I was already enjoying a dinner near the market place and reading a book.

San pedro, here I come!!!
Next morning, waking damn early (5 am) I took off before the birds even woke up and walked 15 minutes to the Tur Bus terminal, where I bought a ticket to Calama, a mining town an hour and half ride north of sleepy San Pedro de Atacama, where I knew Lee was waiting for me to show up after three weeks of separated traveling experience. I missed her quite a lot and here easy-going way of life. I admit that I also missed some company, as traveling alone was never an easy or a much enjoyable way of life for me.
The bus left the station right on the dot and we moved fast down the beach highway, with the Pacific giant waves splashing on the right and the sand hills rolling down from the left. It was a nice ride, even though, a long and tiring one. Around 2 PM I arrived at Calama, a boring, uninteresting and unattractive town, and had to wait there till 5:30 PM (!) to catch the bus to San Pedro. Well, I spent the time finishing a thriller I was reading since Huanchaco times (long, long time!!) and after taking in the twist at the end, I found myself on the bus waiting for the departure to San Pedro.
Leaving around quarter to 6 PM, the bus made it`s slow pace through the overwhelmed traffic lights of the streets of Calama, and quickly sped up the road down to edge of the famous Atacama desert, with a magnificent and wild sunset, with the desert flat plains on both sides and the low hills of the Andean range starting at us from afar. Amazing and scenic ride!
Finally, around 7:30 PM we came to a stop in front of the little cemetery of San Pedro , and coming down into the chilly air of this desert oasis, I was already approached by a guy offering hostel and a place to stay.
"No, thank you" I replied, knowing that I have a task now: FIND LEE!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Arequipa revisited: Touring Colca canyon

The Andean Condor as seen from Cruce del Condor


Arriving to Arequipa early in the morning, I missed Valy by several hours after he departed for the Colca Canyon trek. Nonetheless, I moved to plan B, and booked myself a tour with one of the numerous agencies in Arequipa. After two days in the city, I boarded the public bus to Cobanaconda with Miranda and Ross, the Australian couple, and with Hiang-Hwa and Yohans, from Germany accompanied by Nestor, our Peruvian English speaking guide. Even though three days in the Canyon sounds like a lot of time, I realized that it was quite a "laid-back" tour, but even so, I enjoyed it very much. This is also the last of the central South American adventure, with a different horizon ahead, different adventures...

Arequipa - One plan, two misses

The night bus (another one...) was as usual, a fast but a sleepless option, and when I finally arrived to the terminal in Arequipa, El Misti and Chachani shone brightly in the early morning sunlight. I took a taxi with another Peruvian guy working for LG air conditioning division and two french girls, that came to visit Peru in 3, that`s must be a real touch-and-go tour! In any case, from the main plaza I went straight for the Casa La Reyna, a favorite which charges low buck but shoulders with the Monestary of Santa Catalina. And more importantly, have hot water all the time! Yep, it is a good choice!
After dropping my stuff in the room (actually, the same bed that I used last time I was in Arequipa!) I went straight to the Internet, hoping to see that Valy is still in town. Before I left Cajamarca for Lima, Valy told me he is going to be in Arequipa and I replied that we might do the Colca canyon together. Well, upon reaching my email account, I gripped that I missed him: his email dated 12 hours before and in it Valy told me he is going the next morning for the Canyon with a Swedish girl (!). Well, a feeling of a miss was hanging in the air, but as I read Lee`s email, I understand that Lena had left San Pedro De Atacama and was doing her way to Peru. Now, I thought it was a fair chance she would do her way to Arequipa, right? So, I decided to wait couple of days and see where is she and the following morning I found her in the messenger, talking with me from La Paz (?!), and looking for some partners and action. Damn, second miss! At this, I headed later that day to the hostel, and booked through them 3-day trek to the canyon. Personally, I hate organized tours, and I did my best last time as well as now to stay clear of them. But, as I didn't had the power or the time to look for independent partners, I paid the 40 USD and cleared the rest of the day for strolling, Internet and film developing.

Colca canyon trek day 1 - Going down
The next morning, around 6 am the buzzer rang at the hostel door, and Nestor, the English speaking guide from the tour agency, came in panting and asking if I am ready. Sure thing, dude! I hoped into the back of the taxi, or more accurate, squeezed in with two Australians, Miranda and Ross. Both were on a three and half months of quick tour in the continent before they head to Amsterdam, for a prominent work as accountants for a couple of years. Very sympathetic and smiling couple. After Nestor found and boarded the other taxi, which held the other two person that would join us in the tour, he lead the way to the terminal, in the semi empty streets of awakening Arequipa. Getting into the terminal, Nestor went to arrange the bus tickets and terminal tax (which was nice, I must admit) and left us to complete the acquaintance. Hiang-Hwa Teng, 27, is a German dentist that was about to accomplish her studies and was accompanied by a tall and thin Yohans, 19, which his age was apparent from his young and clear face. Hiang-Hwa was very open and on the way to the bus she told she visited Israel as part of a high school exchange program between Israel and Germany.
The road to Chivay and then to Cabanaconde, two towns nestled on the canyon mouth, was most of the time paved and well scenic, with some photo-op`s here and there. Gladly, after 5 hours, we got off the bus straight into the main plaza of Cabanaconde with other tourists, each with his own idea and way of touring the Canyon. Nestor lead the way for our first and most important stop that day: lunch! Getting into a local hostal which also served typical Peruvian dishes, we sat down and talked casually while Nestor serves as our waiter and after seeing that we get our dishes, went to his family house. It was a nice meal, but certainly not one that can fill (and some of you already know how much I need...). In any case, after an hour we set our backpacks on our backs and started the hike. Hurray!
At first we walked from the town toward the canyon mouth, where we had a superb view over the canyon gorge. Some Condor already sored over the open gorge, and after some explaining about the tour details and the surrounding villages we saw, we started our slow and long way down, some hour and half! Yep, I was already familiar what is going down some 1200 meters but my partners were new to trekking in Peru. Sore feet, aching knees, yep it was all in the recipe. The going down was quite scenic, in any case, with the mountain peaks rising above our heads on the other side of the Colca river. Along the way I stopped several times for picture taking, and by that I generated a reputation of a delay man (which I kept on proving to be true). Not that anybody was upset or disturbed by this...
Eventually, we reached bottom and were confronted with the bridge. Well, once, say 50 year ago, it was a prominent bridge which one could feel safe crossing with it the roaring Colca river ten meters below. But nowadays, well...I have to add that a new bridge was in progress of construction, but I guess that the man in charge of the safety of the park waited till the bridge was literally falling apart, till he reached out and drew soles for the construction of the new replacement. Poor Yohans, with all his height and the rocking bridge, he was walking slowly and with no little fear in his heart, as I watched him cross the bridge. With no rail on either sides and with a disturbing left-side slope, IT was not a crossing intended for the faint hearted. One of the tourists that crossed the bridge actually spread her hands, like she walking across a beam, not a bridge across a river.
We stopped for 10 minutes and then went on, only now we were climbing the slope, while passing some agricultural fields. I have noticed some men work the land with a strange looking piece of machinery, which was composed of a bent wood stick and a a meter-long double sided blade, with a handle at it`s base. When I approached the men, looking for a good position to capture the scene, they suddenly stopped working. Damn that Murphy! After explaining that a picture will make me feel good, they rushed like little children to a piece of land that was not worked (and was not intended to be, actually, as a freshly extinguished bone fire still raised smoke) and started working the land. In simple words, the Maize (like the name of Corn) was a "digging tool" that enabled them to turn upside •down the piece of earth (like a MAHRESHA, only even more basic than that). After we were all satisfied (they got a sole for the photo-op, and had the nerve to demand more!), our group continued on walking up in a very decent slope, which was broken in many places by a leveled path. Finally, we came to the last slope and started our way up. We had all a hard climb (more or less), but Yohans had the worse. He suffered from his muscles and his knees, as he almost didnt do ANY sports. Well, I can only imagine how tough this hike was for him. I can easily understand him, as I was also totally exuasted on my asent to lagoon glacier only 4 months before in Bolivia (see for a reminder). In any case, when we reached a little village, Nestor asked if we want donkeys for the next day, as we had to climb back to Cabanaconde (yes, the 1200 meters we went down...). I didnt had the need for a donkey as after the Alpamayo trek, it was not a must..(don't forget, the Colca trek takes place between 2000 something meters to 3000 something meters, the later height was the BASE height of the Alpamayo trek!). The other agreed to take a donkey for the next day and we went to our hospedaje, a little courtyard with two-sectioned low building, one for a couple and the other served as a dormitorio. A small extension served as a shower and toilet, with only a curtain serving as a door...You can already imagine the embarrassing "OOPPSSI!!" that was following this revelation.
Well, we were hungry as hell and also quite dirty, so quite quickly each one found his way to take a shower and after an hour and a half we had an "Inca meal", as Nestor called it, which consisted of white rice and a cooked mix of Yuca, Cheese and eggs with special spicing. Interesting and filling, for sure...We were so tired, we all had some tea and head for the sack!

Colca canyon trek day 2 - we went down...So, we gonna go back up!!
Waking up at 7 am, more or less, we arranged our self for the upcoming day. We had a nice breakfast that consisted of Pancakes with jam and some tea. It was nice and sufficient and we went back to our rooms to re-organize before departure. My digestive system was working quite well and I headed jolly to the curtain-closed niche that was destined as the toilet, only to see Yohans in a shitting position, how attractive. Poor guy, I came so fast and quietly into the niche that he might have shit out of pure embarrassment, as he closed his legs and shot his hands above his crouch, while we both cried "OH!" and "HA!" in a perfect harmony of an embarrassing moment. Well, it WAS a funny incident and I still laugh about it just now, re-visualizing the whole event in my head...
After I done my shit (literally...), we started our walk along the Canyon passing another village on the way and then making our way down to the river bed, and to the modern bridge that waited for us this time. From above we could see already the Oasis, a patch of palms, grass and two shining swimming pool that glistened in an attractive way.
It didn't took us too much time to switch to our bathing suits and jump into the cool water in the swimming pool. While we made our way down to the Oasis, Nestor told us that the water originated from another stream and not from the Colca river, as those are very cold.
In any case, as I am a type of warmth, I quickly found myself sitting beside the pool and writing in my notebook about the events I experienced thus far. Later on, more tourists came and the feeling of being all alone went away from us. We dressed and went down to have our little lunch, this time Italian pasta with Napolitana-Tuna fish sauce. Nestor gave us some one hour and half to rest (which was a bless after the pasta) and after dozing off on the shady grass, we put the packs, breath deeply and started the climb straight from the Oasis. I am not that of a seasoned trekker, but lets say that the last time I climbed 1200 meter in one shot was a mission, and logically, took its demand of time, some 5 to 6 hours. This time, however, I knew I was in a different height, and was not expected to be difficult. Long, yes, but not THAT difficult. Well, lets say it was difficult and long, but not as difficult or long as the climb in the Alpamayo trek, as expected. On my was I passed several fellas who started before us, but I was in a trance of walking, not stopping but to take some chocolate from the bag or to enjoy the scenery for a second or two. I wanted to get it over with. And indeed, it came to an end, after 2 hours of climb. I remember that I asked Nestor were is the end when we were down in the Oasis, and he pointed to a point at the ridge above and said "You see those little 4 trees? That's the end of the climb". And, as I approached the last 20 meters of the climb I saw them and smiled as I came on the last leg, seeing their branches wag at the wind that blew at the mouth of the Canyon. It was a magical moment for me. Yohans, which passed us all sitting on the back of a donkey, was no where to be seen. So, I decided to start my way to the town of Cabanaconde, which was not far away. At a certain point, however, I noticed that the path is blocked with a knee-high brick wall, and after passing it and advancing by a bit, I decided it would be smarter to just wait for them at the end of the climbing path. If I miss them, how can I find them in the town?? And Nestor would sure be looking for me, not knowing what the hell happened to me...So, wisely, I re tracked my steps and waited for them for 10 minutes till everyone gathered. We continued on walking to town, and indeed, I missed one turn. I blessed my self for thinking straight, for once!
Coming to the edge of town we saw tall Yohand waiting for us with the Donkey driver and together we continued on to the hostel, and to the blessing shower. We were all full of the dusty path that was used daily by the local farmers and also the numerous tourists groups.
We had a similar dinner in the restaurant of the first day (not surprising, with no surprises with the set dinner dishes) but it was OK, as I had Yohans soup also (he didn't liked it and I am a good little boy who don't throw food away!). We talked over the candle lit table while in the background songs from the late 70`s early 80`s were screened on the TV. Very nostalgic, I must say. It was not difficult for me to get into a deep-deep sleep.

Colca canyon trek day 3 - The amazing and majestic Andean Condor!
We woke up at 5 am for the 6 am breakfast, only to waste time for the 7 am bus. One thing I can say about all this, was the fact that Nestor was smart enough to know that the 7 am bus is gonna be full to the roof, and the earlier you reach it, the more chances to have a sit. Good work, Nestor!
So, as we waited for the bus to leave, more and more people got in: Locals and tourists, and quickly there was no room to breath. Eventually, the heavy bus made an effort and started moving for the 30 minutes drive to Cruz del Condor, the best spot in the Colca Canyon to see the great Andean Condor, a monstrous 10 kg, 3 meter wing span bird that sores the canyon mouth as easily as we people walk from one point to another. And, amazing how it is beautifully sores, quietly and smoothly, when the only thing one can hear is the clicking of the camera`s shutters and focusing feedback beep in addition to the awe cries of the amazed tourists. No one can be indifferent to such natural beauty, and it is hard for me to believe that I will see such a magnificent vista as I saw at those 20 minutes that we were there. For bird watchers, this is certainly a must.
I took my time, photographing and all, and I forgot the timed schedule for the group re-meeting, and as I was looking for the rest of the group (and not finding them, of course). Suddenly I gripped that, while I was having fun, the others were keeping their time appointment, and as usually, I am late...As I walked back to the top of the terrace, I saw a figures running all over the place, and immediately I recognised the contour of Nestor. I started running up and breathless (Cruz del Condor is a 3000 something MASL) I met with Nestor, which grinned in a "your trouble, Chen, A lot of trouble!" manner and showed me for the waiting public bus. Five minutes after I boarded the bus, it left and rode down the road to Chivay. On the way we could still see Condors soaring over the canyon lip and as we rode east the canyon got shallower and many beautiful green terraces were covering almost the length of the canyon valley, with great binding contour and curves. It was a beautiful vista, which many left-seaters took pictures of. Arriving around 10 am at Chivay, Nestor boarded us on a taxi, and we headed first to the restaurant to have our orders ready when we gonna arrive later (very organized and planned, I must say). We left then to the hot springs (La Calera del Colca), some 3 Km upriver from Chivay. The place is also very organized, a money machine. Each of us got a key for a wood locker near one of the spring`s pools, and not more than five minutes and we were inside, throwing relief cries as our bodies felt the warmth of the pool`s temperature. This was exactly what we needed when finishing going up the canyon slope (not that we objected receiving it later...). The pool was quite big, and the near boiling pouring water (around 85 degrees!) dispersed quickly and gave a real nice and cozy warmth that you can be quite quickly addicted to. In any case, we enjoyed the place and after some time I wanted to get some temperature shock, so I went out straight into a near shower and full opened the cold shower, and the difference was of such that almost I released a cry of pain...Damn, it WAS a temperature shock. I went quickly back into the pool and felt so goood getting inside back...
We dressed up quickly and after waiting for Nestor for five minutes we went back to Chivay, and had a nice lunch (Pizza) in a touristic restaurant. We were then rushed to grab the bus, as it already departed from the bus station and was packed full with locals and tourist, a common mix I can only guess. In any case, the ride back was, as expected, not the best I had, as a local women was rubbing into me part of the ride. At a certain point she sat and leaned against my feet with her little child in her hands. Yeah, I know, all this bitching and they were sitting on the floor because they don't have the money to pay the full fare for the ride...Around mid time, I smelled a harsh odour of urine, and it didn't took more than a sec to realize that the girl peed...shucks, but why next to ME?!?! In any case, I hanged on with EIFO HAYELED blowing my ears and pushing the odour out of my concious for the next threee hours...Getting off at the terminal in Arequipa, I realized that Peru gave me the last of one of the worst rides in the Central South America region.
The group dispersed quite quickly, while Hiang-Hwa and Yohans took a taxi to the family they sleep with and me, Nestor, Ross and Miranda took a taxi to the center of Arequipa. We hugged in the lovely and busy plaza and said goodbye, as the both of them were to take a bus around 8 pm for Cuzco. A great stage was being erected in the plaza and a live show was due to 6 PM...Great!

Leaving Arequipa, Leaving Peru
The live show was nice. I went there with a Canadian, Tim, a French, Christian and with a German girl I forgot her name. In any case, It was nice but I felt a bit sick so I returned after a hour. Those Peruvians are crazy, climbing on tree tops in the plaza or on bushes and rocking the whole place out of enthusiasm...shit, they know how to ROCK!
A morning before I left Arequipa, me and Christian had an interesting talk at a corner not far from our hostel, over a local breakfast: Bread with Avocado and a hot broth of chocolate, milk and granola...An amazingly delicious drink! It was amazing, to stand there early in the morning (around 7:30), with the morning traffic all around us and we were talking about philosophical issues such as life and death, about living the moment and not the past or the future. It was a great conversation, which strengthened in me the comprehension of focusing oin the present and leave the past to decay and the future to evolve without my worries and toughts. Live the moment, live the time you have. Nothing will repeat it self exactly as you fell now. Just live.
An hour later Christian went to climb the Misti, alone. Crazy but with a lot of passion in it.
And I...I left Arequipa the following morning to Tacna, which I left in the next morning to Arica, Chile.


After five months and a half in the Central part of the South American continent, as it looks now, the Indiginous part of my trip is over. Saying that, I can also say that I miss the developed countries, the comfort of living. I am a bit surprised that after that much of a time I start to feel the need for comfort away from the stench, the inaccuracy,the dirthiness which accompanied some of my traveling in this part of South America, but at the same breath, I can say that such adventures as I had experienced here I will not experience in the next countries to follow. Bolivia was such a nation. Recollection of all my adventures in this true indiginous country floats numerous experiences, good and bad, experiences that gave me the feeling that I am a live, that I experience this life of mine. That is why I travel, to experience the world outside, but also the world which is within...

And I will keep on exploring, even after six months of hard backpacking, of worries sometime for own safety, of vistas that make you cry for joy and for sadness and of truth that reveals itself with each step on the rough path ahead...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Northern history & culture: Trujillo and Cajamarca

A sign on a restuarant`s front door in need to say more


A day after departing from Valy at the bus station in Huaraz, I was already on my way up north on a night bus to Trujillo . I decided to rest in the nearby beach village of Huanchaco , where the tranquility of the pacific hits the beach like the 3 meter high waves. Visiting the nearby ruins of Chan-Chan and Trujillo , I enjoyed a good mix of pre-Inca culture with the colonial air of the main streets in big city. Next, I headed northern and farther into the mountains, to the little town of Cajamarca, where the end of the Inca empire took place, and enjoyed the best Peruvian-Italian I had in the past two months. Short on time, and after I gripped that the ruins of Kuelap might be a disappointment, I bought the first ticket back to Lima, on my south to Arequipa and to a waiting good friend in the Chilean republic.

pre-Inca Chan-Chan ruins
Well, I must admit that a lot of time passed since I last traveled in person, and it reminded me of fear and alertness. Even so, It was also nice to take some initiative over your own action and traveling agenda and making your own decisions without the need to compromise.
It was a long ride to Trujillo (8 hours) and I took a good bus, so I will have both security for my luggage and also a comfortable seat. As I learned over time, sleeping in buses is not realistic for me, and most of the time I just drifted into that little conscious niche, in which you are not a sleep but you are on the way, and just stayed in that position for most of the time. Arriving at Trujillo around 5:30 am, even before I managed to pluck out my backpack a taxi driver approached me and asked me if I need a lift. Well, I was tired and sure as hell wanted a taxi, only I had to decided weather I will stay in town or go to the more chilled out village of Huanchaco , sitting on the beach some 12 km west of Trujillo . After some discussion, I decided to stay in the Hostel Casa La Suiza in Huanchaco, and take in the pricy taxi fare (11 soles!! A robbery!!) instead of sleeping in Trujillo and paying more for each night in comparison to Huanchaco. The coast, as all the coastal side of , was painted with Gray and when we got to the hostel, I had to wait till some fellas will leave, so I finished up the book The Schopenhauer Cure, a great book by Irwin Yalom that sent me all sentimental into the past and my fathers dead, all tears and all…
In any case, after a nice breakfast, I got a room all for my self (for the same price) and then waited for the Gray fog to disperse away (around noon) and then I went to visit the Chan-Chan ruins. The Chan-Chan city was the capital of the Chimu culture, a pre-Inca culture that dates back to the 500 AD period and was one of the biggest empires in this region before the time of the Inca. Just for the common knowledge, the great mud city covered a great deal of space, 7.7 square mile to be exact, and it´s remains are spread all around Trujillo and Huanchaco. It is regarded as the biggest mud city in the whole . All in all, the site contains 11 citadels, among them is the best preserved section, the Tschudi Palace . So, I had a lot to expect.
On the beach front I caught a combi and while chatting with the driver and conductor, I saw that the clouds dispersed almost totally and good and warm sunshine colored the surrounding and made me quite happy. Eventually, I was dropped at the dirt road that leads to the site, where several taxis were already waiting for tourists. Talking with the taxi drivers, I gripped that they could take me to the museum and to the site itself for a small fee. As I heard that the road leading to Chan-Chan is not always safest for travelers, I decided that a taxi ride wont be a waste of money (not mentioning walking 2 km till the entrance). So, we first drove to the museum, which as I mentioned before, was not that impressive, but it gave so background about the Chimu culture. I was then taken to the site itself, which was all surrounded by partially sand covered high mud walls, rising several meters above ground. Getting into the site, you first encounter a massive 5-meter high wall that surrounds the whole compound, the Tschudi Palace . The palace is characterized by a very vast and wide plaza, with sea motif carvings of fish, pelicans and the sort. It is an impressive entrance to the whole complex, and the vastness is amazing in its size. The compound contains lots of friezes, mud patterns carvings and it is interesting to see that the sea was such an integral part of their life, that the Chimu embraced selected motifs and combined them in their cultural design. Among the amazing parts of the palace was a pool of water, used for restoring rain water, and now was filled with water and half covered by sugar canes and water lilies. Numerous water birds were living in this pool and were oblivious to the tourists that came into the complex. After an hour and a half I got the picture and returned back to Huanchaco to have some lunch.
That happened to be a humorous situation, as I sat in a small restaurant selling hamburgers and other of the kind. Similar to all , there are plenty 100 soles bills all around but, alas, there are less places you can actually use them, as most locals can’t change even 50 sole bills. And that’s exactly what happened when I wanted to pay the bill with a 100 soles bill. The man was desperate, as he knew that he is not the only one who doesn't’t have a change. So, I joined him for a walk in the little village till we finally found a small mini-market that the owner had a change. As we were there, and I wondered where can I have a nice cafe, he offered to prepare for me, and when I accepted, he bought some coffee and as he was doing so, I added that I want coffee with milk, and he added to the “cart” milk…it was humorous, no doubt.

Trujillo , a nice colonial town
The next morning I planned to visit Trujillo , as I read in the guide book about the many colonial buildings and style. This time, I took a bus to the city, an old creature all painted with red, orange and yellow colors, and the whole bus looks like a peculiar fire dragon. Inside, however, the bus is poor in seats comfort and beauty and amusing enough, the gear lever is located behind the driver at it´s right side so the driver needs to send his hand backward and to shift fear. Due to the climate was still foggy, I traveled in the city slowly, enjoying strolling without any specific aim, and luckily enough, the same day there was a parade of school children. calle Pizzaro was also closed for pedestrians so the whole environment was like in holiday, and a lot of the locals, businessmen and beggars alike enjoyed the sun once it dispersed the heavy grey fog.
One of the motifs in Trujillo is the front door/window grills, metal bars that are suppose to deter thieves but also were designed attractively and lead to the nick of such building style as Tujillian style (even though I saw the same grills also in Arequipa). Named as it is, it was a nice day traveling in the city and I enjoyed the colonial architecture with their nice gate entrances, front grills and shady courtyards with the sculptures and fountains hidden inside them. In one time I got inside a club house, dated from the 19th century which housed two billiard tables, which I captured before I was told that I am forbidden entering these rooms outside visiting hours…In the afternoon I already went and purchased a ticket to Cajamarca, a little town settled in the northern parts of the Peruvian Andes.

Cajamarca - Inca´s history, Italian flavours and Peruvian present
The next morning I arranged my stuff and went to have my last breakfast at the hostel. After I finished I was sitting down and reading a book when a brit named Andy just came in with his friend and had a breakfast in the little courtyard where I sat. Andy was just coming into Trujillo from Chachapoyas, a town northern of Cajamarca, and one of my destination. My interest in this little town was the near Kuelap ruins, which were also Andy´s interest. Andy, it seems from our little chat, was disappointed from the ruins and to his opinion it was no worth the rough ride to the fortress, located some 3000 meter ASL. As I planned to go to Chachapoyas through the even rougher road from Cajamarca (Andy did it from Chiclayo , northern town on the coast), I assessed that I better skip the whole idea and instead invest the little time I had in Arequipa and the Colca canyon. I had already a bus to Cajamarca, so I decided that I will stay in Cajamarca one or two nights and then head back straight for Lima , if possible.
The ride to Cajamarca was a scenic one, as first we passed the desert coastal plain and while penetrating more and more into the land, the view changed color to green and valleys rich with vegetation and crops greeted us. Numerous pictures I snapped on that road, till we got around 5:30 pm to the city of Cajamarca . On my way looking for a taxi, a local offered to go together in a taxi and I accepted, as I already saw him on one of our stops on the way to Cajamarca. We drove to the hostel I was planning to stay and was not surprised when he got off without paying. That little snake, but I didn't’t mind…If it made him happy, let it be.
The hostel I chose was Chota hostel, not a good choice I found it later. I went straight outside to find something to eat, and decided to go with the guide´s book recommendation about an Italian restaurant.
Getting inside OM-GRI, I found the chef and owner talking lazily with his waitress. Aside from them and 5 minimalist tables with stalls around them, nobody was occupying the low lit restaurant. Even though I know that empty restaurant are usually too expensive or too bad, I checked the menu, and indeed, this restaurant was a bit expensive. But, I decided that I will stay and taste some Italian food, as I go the feeling that this is a gem. And it is, indeed, a gem!
Tito, the owner go into work around the little kitchen that was in the same room as the sitting area (how minimalist more it can be) and chatted with me as much as I could considering my level of Spanish. It was a lively chat, and Tito in some way reminded me of my father, with his grey short haircut and love for cooking, or as Tito put it, cooking straight from the heart to the pots. He had the restaurant for almost 18 years and even though business was not the greatest, he liked what he does and he didn't’t mind serving food for one of two persons a day, as long as he managed to keep his head above the water line. The Pasta Al Pesto was ready and he poured generously the sauce on top the steaming Pasta (just thinking about it makes my mouth water…) and with a hand spread the Parmesan cheese freckles. Well, what can I tell you, it was a delicious feast! The best Italian Pasta I ate in the whole trip so far. A best! While I was soaking up the remaining of the sauce with garlic bread, his friend came with her brother, and as she knew English well enough to speak, we had an hour of talk about Peruvian politics and the like (as usual, I find good info about the country I am in only when I find an English speaking local…).
It´s a sad story, actually, the story of the present Peruvian people, as governments and governors are ever changing, but not their custom to robe the people of appropriate level of living. As they are all corrupt, most of the Peruvian money goes to the rich and to the ones that are close to the plate, and the middle class with the poor class fight for the crumbs. In addition, mines near Cajamarca (specifically, Yanacocha mine) is polluting the area and nature by spilling their chemical waste straight into the mountain streams and by doing so, not only polluting the drinking water that come into Cajamarca, but also the nearby nature, causing a decrease in Cattle and farming yield, and making the area´s economy even worse, and that without speaking about the Cancer cases due to the heavy metals pollution. Hearing all this, I could feel the desperate voice in her voice, not knowing what to do. ”We are all slaves of the government, just plain slaves,” she commented and then added “I prefer to be a slave for the money in the then to be a slave to the government. At least there, I can earn some money to live properly”. I didn't’t know what to say. It was a sad moment.
I left Tito´s place, hinting that I might visit again the next day. I went to have some coffee and Pecan pie (not much) and then returned to the hostel. I arranged my stuff and headed for the shower, only to grasp that there is no water in the pipes. Shit. I went down, with only my towel on my waist, and found out there is no water. I mistakenly, thought it was a serious problem, and instinctively I barked that I am checking out of the damn hostel (as usual, all tempered! Need to work on myself more and more). In the end, after seeing it was half past 11 at night, I guessed I better sleep as is and not venture outside with all my stuff just to be mugged. Lets say, that I cursed myself for getting such a lousy hostel and next time if I see that most hostels charge more, I can guess this is the street price, that under it I should not venture!
The next day I woke up early, wrapped all my stuff and head out of the hostel straight to another hostel that I knew would be better (and will cost more!). I did a check in and, already by 7:30 am I was already walking into the Plaza De Aramas, the same plaza that 500 years before the Spaniards ended the Inca empire by capturing Atahualpa, the Inca of the northern part of the Inca empire. Afterwards, I walked up to the Cerro Santa Apolonia, a hill that has an interesting stair case that leads to the porch overlooks Cajamarca. At that time of day, only locals were there, pitching up their stalls and filling them with artisan souvenirs. I snapped several pictures and went down to have a little breakfast in the plaza, and then went to see the El Cuarto del Rescate, The Ransom Chamber, the only Inca-dated house that still stands in Cajamarca. In this house Atahualpa was held captive till he was executed by hanging (and that's after he agreed to be baptized; If he would not succumb to this action he would have burned on the stake in the middle of the Plaza...Great choice of death, ha??).
Well, the building is of little interest, as it is empty and closed from all sides due to conversation work. Lets say, that I saw more impressive buildings in the other Inca sites in the Sacred Valley (not to mention Machu Picchu). After that I just walked around, entered the hospital and church of El Complejo de Belen and bought a ticket for the night bus to Lima. Time was running out on me and I had to start my move south.
Around 1 pm I visited Tito in his restaurant and had another great smelly and steamy pasta. We talked a bit and after some time I made my move back to the city, passing the time till I went back to the hostel for my stuff.

Lima and the help of a Hackerman!
I arrived to Lima after a sleepless night on the bus. As usually, as I am not a type of bus-sleeping guy. In addition, the guy that was sitting beside me had his girlfriend calling him at 11:00 PM, when all the bus was already deep into snoring and sweet dreams. To make things even worse, his cellular curse started make the 2 minutes beep, just to remind him it is a live, like a mechanical slow rate heart. Damn, I got pissed off and asked him (as coolly as I could) to turn off the damn thing, which he of course did. Thank god!
Arriving at the Lima around 9 am, I decided that I better purchase a ticket now so I would not have to take another taxi back to the terminal. Once I purchase a ticket for the next Sunday, I grabbed a taxi and headed for the popular Casa de Muchileros, which is 15 minutes walk from the center of Miraflores.
Arriving at the hostel, the owner, Pilar, found me a bed in a dormitory. Entering the dormitory to throw my things in, I found an Israeli guy already half a sleep, named Avihay. Turns out, he just landed 3 hours before from the US and was still in some sort of a jet-leg. We talked a bit and we were acquainted with another Israeli, Amitay, that was waiting for his father`s flight to Lima. While Amitay was planning to meet his father, me and Amihay went out to eat something and to walk a bit in Miraflores, as I was looking for a good film developing shop. I took with me my handbook but I forgot it at the Dunkn Donuts, and we had to return half Miraflores for it. On the way we entered a shop to buy some notepads and pens, and while standing in front of the cashier, we were surprised by a Peruvian guy that spoke with us with good Hebrew. Turns out, that Daniel Hackerman was living in Israel for one year and caught the language quite fast and he lived in Lima all his live. Although commenting that his Hebrew is rusty, we both were surprised to here such good Hebrew, with a good vocabulary. While talking with him, Avihay asked him if he knows about a good dentist, as he had had some problems in the past month after a dentist in the US didn't finished the job. Daniel smiled and said that luckily, his step-father owns a private clinic in Miraflores and that he can call him and check what he can do. And, generously, he did. He even offered us a lift, as he had a day off of his job, as a commercial attorney. We got into his modern Opel and drove to the clinic, while chatting and asking him a lot of questions. When I asked him what he thinks about Lima he told me, half joking, that Lima is an ugly city with some beautiful places to see.
We reached the clinic and went up to the dental branch, where two Secretaries helped us with the aid of Daniel Spanish. After some bureaucratize, Amihay went in with Daniel and myself, as I was surprised to be invited in...
The doctor, a very nice and young Peruvian at first used the aid of Daniel but suddenly, she thought about talking English and then Daniel was almost no needed. We talked a bit and Daniel gave us his business card if we gonna need any help and we thanked him warmly. It is not an everyday event to meet with such a kind and warm person, and we thought he might want to have a drink with us later...
Amihay passed the operation quite good, and as he expected, he needed a root canal. SHUCKS! I still remembered mine, and it didn't gave me any good feeling about the whole thing.
My time in Lima passed with Amihay and Amitay (quite funny, I must admit) and Sunday afternoon I said farewell to Amitay and Pilar, and took a taxi to the terminal for the long bus to Arequipa...

Monday, September 19, 2005

In memory of Levi Guttman

Passing away at the age of 65, two year ago, I want to avert from the usual fun and maybe superficial experiences to a more serious and philosophical tone.

The book "The Schopenhauer Cure" deals with death and with the ways to deal with it´s everlasting shadow casting over our lives. In this book, a physiologist realizes that he has a lethal Melanoma (skin cancer) and the doctor gives him one more year of good health. His perspective and the way he looks at life changes forever, and it strikingly reminded me of my father, who similarly knew of his upcoming death, only he had a week or two to prepare for his encounter with life´s end. I still remember looking at him some years back, when nothing threatening was in the horizon. I remember clearly that I noticed that his eyes lost their profound clearness and turned dim and cloudy, and I remember my thought, "Oh, dear, my father is getting older and older". It was a sad moment for me, and I remember something broke in my heart for him, knowing that nothing can stop time from taking a little at a time from a man's health and life. And then, it came on us, all of a sudden. Suddenly, my father was back to being flesh and blood, in a wheel chair, humble and his eyes now were full of sadness, and maybe even disappointment… disappointment of not seeing his youngest unborn grandchild making his first steps into life, as my father himself made his last steps out of his life into oblivion.
Only my father and maybe god if he exists in this cruel world know what passed through his thoughts all that time in the hospital, feeling the vicious disease eating him up from inside, and sucking the better of him. I dare say that my father knew of his coming death at least two weeks before the 1st of September, the day he passed away from us into nothingness. My father, I must add, was a very brave man, willing to know the truth, as hard as it can come knocking on the door, as long as it is the truth. Bitter as it might ever be. And he took it as a gentleman, as far as I saw it, even though I am sure he had his breaking points, in the last hours of the night, when he was all alone with his own terrible thoughts of ends. I guess a man, strong as he might be, can not be indifferent for the coming blackness, and my father was no exception. Suddenly, as I can only assume, nothing seems to matter, not the material aspects of life, in any case. Career, money, property, all useless in the face of time and death. Feelings are also a mess: Love, hatred, compassion and respect, all blended together into some heavy lump of feelings. What is all life worth at those hard times, as suddenly we understand that all our efforts end up in a small bed in a hospital when nobody can save us from the chocking- grasp of death?
But my father had his exceptions. He had his way to maintain self dignity and calmness in front all of us, his family and also, his friends, which done their best to help him cope with the disease. Nobody dared of even giving a hint about any end to things, even though it hung above my father like a heavy dark cloud. I still remember his last tears, a half a day before he lost his consciousness. It was when his grandchildren were brought to the hospital, to see their gentleman grandfather in hospital robes, sedative drugs pump into him so he would not suffer any more physical pain aside from his mental pain. They were very strong, hard and emotional moments, and none of us, grown ups and children alike, were not taken by those moments of parting. The bigger childs wept out of uncomprehnded sadness, and the younger one cried as feeling by their instincts that dark days are ahead, like dogs and birds acting franticly before the coming of a mighty storm or a shuttering earthquake.
My life, as most of my family's life, has change forever after my father passing away. Some simple physiological explanations will use the death of my father to explain my wandering and exploration here in South America, but more importantly, my father dead only strengthened my feeling that our life here is but a mere passage from one nothingness to another, as was mentioned in the book above. And if so, why are we here? As at the end, each and every one of us would like to know that his/her life was not a waste and that they have done SOMETHING! It might be for the sake of humanity, it might be creating a continuing dynasty for the family and it might as well be the carrying out a life long dream. Whatever it is, at the end we would want to feel that our lives were not in vain. It is not that I am traveling all around in this beautiful continent, thinking dark thoughts and trying to accomplish something I still don't know what it is, but I remind my self that my life is but a temporal combination of good luck as well as bad luck tight together in an unbreakable lock. It reminds me to think less about the future, even less about the past, and even more about the ever slipping present.
Time is all we have, so we might as well use it wisely and happily.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hard & High: Six days trekking in the Cordillera Blanca

Me sitting on the shores of Jancaruish lagoon, near the base of the Alpamayo ridge


While the cloud of parting was hanging in the air, Valy and me already made the preparations for a trek in the mountains around Huaraz. The short Alpamayo trek was chosen for it`s beauty and time line in addition to the fact that it was less visited in comparison to other treks in the vicinity. Arranging the food, tents and stove, we woke up early Sunday morning and made our way to the little village of Hualcallan , 3 hours north-west of Huaraz. Over the past six days, we crossed five high mountain passes over 4500 meters, saw numerous turquoise colored lagoons and of course, saw the amazingly beautiful peak of Alpamayo . It was hard going up, hard going down but at the end, it was worth any moment out there in the wild nature surrounded by the white snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.

Day -7: All about trek choosing
A day after going down the high pass with the mountain bikes, me and Valy went to visit the popular agency here in Huaraz, “ Andean Kingdom ”, so Valy can rent some winter clothing for the upcoming attractions we wanted to do that week. On the way, we started asking about potential trekking routes, and two promising candidates were raised: the huayhuash (pronounced, Waywash) circuit and the Alpamayo Circuit. Both are ten days long and are regarded as very difficult and long. Quite quickly we learned that there are shorter versions of these treks, six days each, and now we were troubled whether to do both or just one, and which one to start with. Both of us gripped that doing six days trekking might be stressful and we might just start with one and see how we feel about doing another one. The treks are located in different areas around Huaraz, and at the end we decided to go for the least visited, the Alpamayo short trek and set a rough date of a week later, after we depart from Shay, Lee and Lena.

Day -1: Preparations
There are quite a few things to arrange prior setting out into nature, especially, when going out for six days in the high mountains. Aside from arranging our backpacks and personal belongings, we had to calculate and arrange the amount of food necessary for such a long trek and also the outdoor equipment. As we had only one gas stove, we decided to rent a MSR fuel stove for two reasons: first, going up in Altitude means less oxygen and also, less pressure, which when combined means that gas canister stoves burn less efficiently as going up in the altitude (a problem which is non-existent in liquid fuel-based stoves). The second reason was that a warm meal a day is crucial in such treks, thus, a backup system is a must.
Another issue was the Arriero, or fondly termed, the Donkey Driver (DD). Trekking in such a high altitude is a very demanding activity due to the lack of oxygen, and carrying backpacks for six days plus food for some much time can be a very heavy and difficult mission. And we are here to see the sight, and not to pass an elite unit fitness test, right? Thus, the Arriero is a crucial factor in the trek: he is responsible for the equipment and usually, he acts also as a guide, as he already walked the same path numerous times. We talked with the agency and they told us they will try to contact a DD and arrange that he will wait for us at the starting point, the tiny village of Hualcallan (Walcayan).
The agency also provided us with a well scanned topo map of the whole route, as the DD is much fitter than the two of us, and so many times walks way ahead of us and thus we sometime need to navigate by ourselves (and that’s why he isn’t a guide, per se...).
Around the evening we had a nice meal (the last normal one for six days) and hit the sack early as we planned to wake up early. Sunday was a busy and long day!

Day 1 - Negotiating our way up
5 am and I was awaken by the alarm clock. I quickly arranged my self and took my Chola bag down stairs for deposit. Miguel, the guy that runs the show in the hostel woke out of a dream just to put the bag in his room and went back to his dreams. I hastily took my day pack and big backpack and went outside to catch a taxi to Valy`s hostel, the Backpacker hostel (there were a case of mugging at this time of early morning, and I didn’t want to be the number two in the statistics…). Valy already waited for me in the dim light of the lobby, with his backpacks and the food plastic cylinder we got from the agency, full of food. We shared some of the high calorie candies between our backpacks, hailed a taxi (where all the taxi go??) and after five minutes were already on our way to the bus station leaving for Caraz. Actually, it was a combi taxi station, but it is of no importance. We paid the taxi driver and in the dark hours before sunrise two people grabbed our stuff and loaded it on the minivan roof. We went inside and another five minutes and we drove away, into the darkened streets of Huaraz.
Even though the drive was not that long (a hour and a half), it was not the most comfortable I had in this trip, as I sat beside an old man carrying in his hands his little grandchild. One might think it is romantic, but when the old man was sitting with his ass in the middle of the bench, he didn’t left me too much of a space for my precious ass, and I found myself half of the journey trying to push this old sleepy man to the inner metal framing of the vehicle interior. No dice, the man didn’t budge and just kept on sleeping in an indifferent manner, oblivious to all but to his little grandchild. At a certain point I was lucky enough to move to another seat and have a decent seat! Valy had also to suffer from the conductor, that opened the window to often, and letting in cold air splash straight into Valy`s face. We were happy to reach Caraz, a town north-west of Huaraz. In the early light of day, the station of the combis was full of action, and lots of mototaxis waited for the passengers. One also approached me and Valy and even after explaining him that with all his motivation, there is no way he can carry two grown-ups with two big backpacks, two small backpacks, two tents and one heavy plastic cylinder. After we ignored him, he left us alone finally. One combi owner approached us and offered us an exclusive ride to the Hualcallan for only 90 soles, when a ride in a taxi usually costs 60 soles. We replied thanks but no thanks. While Valy guarded the stuff, I took off in the general direction of the main plaza, looking for taxi. It was Sunday morning and the streets were empty but for a few wakening dogs and several people looking at me in suspicious. Finally, near the plaza I found a line of six taxis, waiting for job. Seeing me passing the corner, taxi drivers jump and offered their service. Less than a minute later I was sitting in a cab going back down to the Combi station to pick up Valy and head for the village. On our way we stopped to buy some bottled water and then continued on for two and a half hours of rough driving up the slopes to the village.
Approaching the north end of the village, we noticed a great commotion of people, animals and cargo. Going out of the taxi, we noticed couple dozens of donkeys being loaded with wooden cargo boxes with locals working around them in frenzy. While we took out our own gear, a man with a roster neared us and asked us if we care for donkeys. We told him we need one donkey for the short Alpamayo trek, and one little guy, a bit chubby, neared and examined our stuff. The two men talked rapidly in Quechua and the roster man replied that for this kind of cargo two donkeys are necessary. For this shift, we were not ready. Two donkeys?” From my experience from past trekking and also from what we have been told in the agency, one donkey is enough for two men cargo. We smelled a stench rising from all of this, and it became even stinkier when we asked for the price of one donkey and realized that instead of 12 USD per day they ask for 15 USD. Outrages! Looking around us, the frenzy continued and it seemed that almost if not all the village donkeys were recruited for this expedition-size convoy. The taxi driver started his engine and was starting to go when Valy shouted at him to wait. I told the guy with the roster that we would not pay for two donkeys, especially not with such a price tag stuck to them! We better take our stuff and head back to Huaraz! The guy nodded in full comprehension and said, well it is up to you and left us to check the arrangement of the donkeys for the journey. This was a tricky situation: either we accept the price and the number of donkeys needed for this trip or we can toss our stuff back into the back of the taxi and drive back to Huaraz. Damn, that pissed me off like you can even imagine! I was so furious that the people took advantage of our situation and our need for donkeys, that I lost any passion for this trek and was willing to go back and fuck it all!! They could charge almost anything they wanted as they guessed we won’t cancel everything and just head back home, after purchasing the food, renting the equipment and taking a 60 sole taxi to the village. Well, I was so pissed off (and Valy was so stubborn about not paying more than needed, especially when we were reaching off-season) that at a certain point we threw our stuff into the back of the taxi and were ready to cancel the whole thing. But, Valy signaled me and told me that while I was searching the village for additional arrieros, the little chubby guy talked with the taxi driver and he felt that they tried to find a way out of this. So, I approached the arriero and asked him, how much he wants for the two donkeys • if he would charge a price which wont be too expensive for us, we gonna take it. He named the total price for 6 days including payment for one day back to his village. We took out the calculator and find out that it wasn’t that far from the price we were willing to pay and we shook hands. We relieved the taxi driver and almost immediately we regreated it: and what if he will demand more?? There was only one way out of this village and that was up the mountain and across the whole Cordillera Blanca! While we thought our pessimistic thoughts, he went back to bring another donkey, and after 20 minutes asked me to join him and help him with his donkey equipment. Amazingly, he showed me his adobe house with his own store (must be an additional way to keep living when the whole park closes for the winter) and asked me to carry a bag of his equipment while he continued to prepare him self for the journey.
Well, I was so happy that we were actually gonna leave, I didn’t mind carrying our whole stuff al that distance.
My name is Alfredo, yours? He asked me once the donkeys were at place and he spread the thick thread that used to tie the cargo together. We told him our names and after 30 minutes and some help from his father, the donkeys were set with our cargo on their backs. The two, a male and female, were a funny pair: she was 6 years old and he was 4, when the average donkey life lasts around 10 year. Even so, they marched the path us the slope and we walked behind them, puffing.
We started our ascent, our first day! And what a long day! The climb started with a decent slope that zig-zagged along some 600 meters and was with no end! We started around 11 am and we didn’t stopped walking up and up till we reached a small grassy spot that cows and bulls rested in complete tranquility with the whole valley spread beneath them. There we advised with our map to which path to take, as Alfredo was already away ahead of us, walking slowly but steady all the way up. Even though I had some really nice and totally quiet moment on my way up (I could literally hear my blood pounds in my ears little blood vessels!), it was a nightmare of a climb. Not only that the whole scenery didn’t change all along the way, the whole climb was a long 1200 meters climb!! When I stumbled with total exhaustion the last 500 meters, I could hear the tired voice of Valy announcing that he sees the camp. I saw also a huge tent arrangements, some six yellow-bright alpine tents with two big tents used for kitchen and for dinning room. The expedition people! Wonder who they were, I thought between one puffing to another, taking my mind out of my suffering. At that point I was SO tired, I was almost succumbing to my tired body to just lay down and go to sleep, and the hell with everything! The clouds above already became grayish from one moment to another and the wind became stronger and stronger. A storm is building? The thought of soaking wet in the rain walking the muddy path didn’t made my heart jump of joy, and I pulled myself together and continued on marching till I reached our little camp site. I did it!! Climbing from 3139 meters to 4300 at this height was such a hard thing to do, I was ready to go to sleep without eating anything. Valy already had a couple of minutes rest before me and was stretching the rain cover of the tent before the rain hits us. I rested five minutes and then took out the stove and started to prepare some meal for the three of us. As I was just taking some water from a near stream, Alfredo told me he is going back home to “secure his stuff”, which means to secure the 150 soles we gave him five minutes before his announcement. The other half will be paid at the end of the trek. He told us he will return from Hualcallan the day after around 5 am. DAMN! I was just finishing going up all the way from that little village, 1200 meters below and this guy is actually gonna go down ALL THE WAY and then up again?!? I was so amazed I could not say but a short word of farewell. We continued to prepare our meal and took a look at the huge camp site we saw a mere hundred meters below us. French people, Alfredo told us, making a 9 day trek with a different path (well, actually, not that different, as all the five days we walked, they walked and camp similar and proximate to us). We have noticed that I forgot to bring some salt, and I went to our neighbors to borrow some salt till Alfredo will return with a kg from his shop. Entering the kitchen tent, the cook was already at work with double flame torch burning on 20 kg gas canisters. Damn, now that`s a kitchen! Turns out, that these French guys took with them two cooks, some thirty donkeys (!) and accompanying locals to lead the convoy, some more 7 to 10 people. “They are classy, those 11 Frenchmen, aren’t they?” we half admired half laughed about them till we took a good look at them. The French group average age, amazingly as it might seem (and it is amazing) was around 50 if not more! White and bright grey hair sticked out of their heads, and amazed us. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that they had cooks and such a comfortable tents, as they had the STRENGTH to do what we, two 28 young men, did. Rewinding the suffering of the ascent, and the amount of energy needed for such an effort, I shut up and in my heart gave them the right respect.
After eating our half-cooked pasta in Tomato sauce, we quickly went to clean the dishes, as hail was coming down on us, strong and fast. Luckily, we managed to clean the last remnants of the “feast” and dashed into the tent. We arranged ourselves and by the time the clock hit 8 pm we were already in a deep-deep sleep.

Day 2 - Up and down, Up and down
The night passed quite badly at first in our camp in Huishcash. I had some hard time breathing due to the height and short supply of oxygen, but my exhaustion was stronger than anything that evening, and I was fast asleep. In the meanwhile the rain pounded on our tent heavily and already in midnight we observed that the tent leaked and some parts of the inner mesh of the tent was already soaked with dripping water. Luckily, it rained heavily only for a short periods, and we were not soaking wet when we woke up around 6:30 am.
The air was clean and clear, and the sun that shone behind us lighted the valley below us with warm colors. Checking the tent, I didn’t notice Alfredo, which meant that he was late. We arranged our stuff, folded our tent and made our breakfast, without waiting for him, as we were cold and needed some hot stuff to put in our bellies. Around 8 am, when I was washing the dishes I heard Valy crying out that he sees Alfredo, and I was a bit relieved. I could not imagine what were the consequences of him leaving us behind (in retrospect it was a foolish thing to think about dear Alfredo, as this was his job and his reputation was at stake). He quickly assembled the two donkeys that strolled down the hill and quickly we folded and arranged his equipment and by the time it was 9 am we were on the move again. Still, going up, zig-zagging our way till we reached a level and walked along a slope, maintaining more or less the same height till we saw the first pass. Well, geographically speaking, it is a mountain pass between two mountains peaks, but the approach was a moderate one. We could see the pass from a km away, a dark grey granite wall falling some 150 meters to a gorge with a turquoise lagoon sparkling in the morning light. On the other side of the pass we could see the Nevado Santa Cruz, a massif made of three major peaks, all covered with white ice and snow, all bright and glistening in the sunshine. Crossing the pass was relatively easy, and on the huge granite rock were two tin shacks, and a meteorological station. We snapped some pictures of lagoon Cullicoha and of the ice spills right to the edge of the water line, and then continued on walking back to the trail. Only…where is the damn trail? The rock was tough and no marking of a path could be seen on the rock texture. We tried to advise with the map, but the resolution was awful for such a small discrimination. What should we do now?? Well, we went by our guts, and instead of climbing on the top of a huge and long rock, we passed it by it`s side and quickly were on our way on top of an almost indistinguishable path, that the many donkey shit that spread all over the place made us think that that might be our path. Well, after going down some 100 meters we found out that we don’t have the least of a clue where the hell we are…At that point I was quite furious, especially on the guide that explained us the way in the Andean Kingdom agency. Couldn’t you tell us that this part is tricky?! I was mumbling and grumbling in fury. Finally, a local kid that passed above us led us back up to the way, while we puffed our souls out. We found out that there was a little path that continued from that great granite rock which turned out to be the major path. Great! We rested a bit and continued on walking up the zig-zagging path, with the turquoise lagoon on our right side some hundreds of meters below us and the peaks towering above us, merging with the white clouds surrounding them. Little by little, the path went steeper and steeper and we entered the mountain pass realm, with two massive granite walls going up on either side, and the little path winds to the left and up. After an additional 20 minutes of puffing we came to the pass itself and almost immediately made our way down to find a nice place to have our usual lunch time. Time was going on, and we made our way along the path till we reached a high point, just to see what was coming: a valley was spread in front of us, the path zig-zagging its way down, across the valley and then up-up in the familiar zig-zag way to another high point straight ahead. Advising the map we assessed a 400 meter going down only to go another 500 up again…The secenery was nice, not amazing, and I thought to myself, “why, why did I go here??” We went down the path and near the starting point of the ascent we stopped for a snack and some energy. While I was crunching down on the snack and savoring the flavor and sugar, I noticed that we sat in the middle of a donkey shitting ground and I commented it to Valy, which replied in a tiresome indifference, similar to my feelings. It was funny, but at that time we didn’t gave a damn about almost anything, as we were already tired from the whole day. The climb was slow and tiresome, but we knew that once we cross the high point we have only to go down to the next valley, Quebrada (valley) dos Cedros. Well, not that THAT was easy (sorry for the bitching, but that was my mood at that time…), as we went down for almost two hours, from 4700 to 4000 meter. The path was also quite rough, with big rocks twisting your ankle and making your foot suffer from blisters. At that point I was disappointed from the trek, thinking about what we covered in the last two days and the amount of energy, time and money we spent to be there. If the trek will continue like this, than it is a suffering for nothing! (looking at retrospect, this bitching around is all because of the toughness of the trek and once I was accustomed to the height and to the walking, I bitched less and savored the nature I saw around me). The scenery, even though it didn’t changed all the time we went down, was amazing: the huge ridge of the Nevado Milluacocha, like a great wall on the other side of the valley. At a certain point we came to a split in the path and after half an hour we saw the French camp and a little beside it, our own little camp, as Alfredo already pitched the tents near the river bank (a camp called Ruinapampa). I was also relieved to see that we were not wrong in our path choosing and walk, as we already lost our way one time that day and it was enough.
Alfredo greeted us and we quickly went into preparing dinner (even though it was only 15:00) as the clouds started to build. We managed to eat before the hail hit us hard and strong on our heads, and as we wrapped all our dishes and pots, I was debating whether to clean the dirty pots or leave it be till tomorrow. Valy stop my debating by addressing nothing is worth staying outside, and we better get into the tent before it gets worse. Feeling my wet ass, I agreed and shoved into the tent after him. We arranged ourselves in the tent as the wind started to build in parallel to the hail/rain and soon we got into our sacks and headed for our first dream with the rain making a rhythmus sound in the background.

Day 3 - Easy going, lovely going
Early morning and it was a freezing morning, as a slight wind was still blowing down the valley. The skies cleared above us by a bit, and we again noticed the leakage of the tent, especially Valy`s side that his sack at the feet area was wet. We arranged our stuff and around 7:30 we saw Alfredo returning from his brother’s house down the valley (he asked us the day before to relive him to visit his brother, and even though he was not punctuate on the last time we let him be, this time he came more or less on time).
The sun rays invaded by the minute more and more of the valleys ground and finally came into our camp and filed us with warm joy. We quickly arranged some breakfast and hot drinks and around 8:30 am we were on the move, walking along the valley, and soon we saw the magnificent white peak of the majestic Alpamayo jutting in a perfect triangle pyramid up into the blue sky and the two of us cried together a big “wow!” and of course, snapped several pictures of this grandeur sight. We continued walking, as Alfredo was way ahead of us, and then after couple of hours when we neared the point where the valley coincide with the Alpamayo mountain ridge, we suddenly saw something that looked like our blue cylinder…Turns our that we had a very short day ahead of us, and soon we were greeted by Alfredo. This was the Jancaruish camp site and we were already debating what to do next as it was only 10:30 am. Theoretically, there was a route going up to a scout point on the Alpamayo, but already the peak was shrouded by white-grey clouds so we skipped this 600 meters ascent (and also decent, of course…) and decided to visit the little Jancaruish lagoon that nestled under the Alpamayo peak. It was a ¾ of an hour walk along the valley and then up the rocky slope that bordered the lagoon. The scenery was a very beautiful and tranquil one, when the Alpamayo playing hiding seek with the clouds that kept on coming and obscuring the whole view of the peak. We had a little lunch there and quickly retreated to the camp to prepare dinner and prepare ourselves for the coming evening. That was also the first time I had time to write my diary and I appreciated it very much. Soon it started raining again and we dashed into the tent and to have a good sleep before the coming day, which was expected to be difficult, with two high passes.

Day 4 - Against the wind
Waking up, we knew we had a long day ahead of us. Popping into work the MSR stove we identified that it was a bit dirty as we didn’t had a significant flame. Thus, we had to use my gas stove, which worked relatively well under the circumstances (windy). This time Alfredo had his breakfast with us and soon after the sun peeked behind the mountain range we started our way toward the northern path that lead past the river Los Cedros into the valley that went down from the high pass, the Gara-Gara 4800 meter high barrier. Right from the start I had the need to go to nature (not meaning literally) and while Alfredo, the donkeys and Valy continued in their slow and consistent pace I was crouching and doing my stuff. Soon, the French group`s donkeys convoy was trailing also in my direction and once I was on the move I decided to let the convoy pass me and to walk behind them, as I hate by guts that somebody is on my heels. Once they passed me I continued climbing the steep slope, which the path was already black and muddy from the numerous donkeys thumping the ground and the last night rain. One thing positive I can say about the difficulty of climbing in the high Andes is that it reminds you to take a look around at the magnificent scenery on the way up. And it was indeed a beautiful sight: the end of the Los Cedros valley met with the mountain range, which was high above all, and the white snow peaks gleamed in the early morning sun, and between all, the turquoise water of Jancaruish lagoon wink at me every time I took a look back. Amazing!
The going up stopped at a relatively flat and long mountain shoulder which was stopped by another steep rocky climb. The poor donkeys, carrying heavy cargo, had hard time to climb that slope but the worst was still to come. COZ, when I finally climbed that slope I saw the immense and steep slope of Gara-Gara. It was a classic U shape pass, with a steep and intimidating slope zig-zagged by the thin path that lead to the top of the pass. I could already see the French group plowing slowly at the lower part with their hi-tech equipment and the trekking walking sticks, and beyond them, Valy, Alfredo and the two donkeys, climbing slowly, head down and the feet going up and down in a slow and consistent pace. DAMN! That looks hard! I thought, and continue walking toward the base of the slope, passing half of the French group’s donkeys, as they had a problem with one of the donkeys and the whole convoy stopped short.
Starting the climb on the slope, I already felt the wind blowing at me and quickly I put on my rain/wind proof jacket. As might as I hated this jacket for its suffocation effect, in that wind it was a bless from heaven! It was hard enough to breath and to climb that steep slope, but the wind was the worst player, one time playing good, one time playing bad (most of the time, bad). What I am talking about? Well, because the wind blew in more or less one direction, once I faced the wind headlong, feeling her force, making me putting more force each step and keeping my self steady. However, once I finished that zig, the zag part was easier, as I could the wind blowing and pushing me hard, like a giant hand giving me a giant nudge straight from my ass! In that manner I climbed slowly-slowly, nearing the pass end. At that stage I could already hear the wind blows ferociously at anything that stand in her way, and it included also the huge rock walls on the sides of the pass. I could see the clouds shreds tearing apart by the yelling wind blowing them into oblivion, flying fast across the pass, the rocks, across me…The whole experience was so natural and powerful, I could understand completely how the wind can, with enough time, carve stone the way it blows and passes through the air.
Standing alone on top of the pass, I could barely breathe as the wind drew the little oxygen that was at that height and the cold of her touch already frozen my nose half way up. I wanted to demonstrate the strength of this wind, so I decided to make a picture of my self standing with all my clothes, hat and whatever is flapping in the wind. I had to work slowly, so I won’t loose my balance or loose the grip of the camera. Eventually, I made the picture and hopefully I will publish it here and in my web photo album…
Finishing the photo-op, I made my way down quite quickly down the rocky and steep path to a flat area where the French people rested and waited for the donkey’s convoy. I didn’t see Alfredo nor the donkeys nor Valy. This was a surprise for me, as I had the feeling that Valy will wait for me at the base of the pass. I took out the map and my compass and after locating my position, I identified more or less the general direction I should walk to. I look out at the horizon, at the beautiful valley opening before me for several km away and I didn’t notice any movement aside from wild horses grazing the ground in total tranquility. Where are they?
Walking down the path to the opening of the valley, I was trying to understand what happened, and why Valy didn’t wait for me at the other side of the pass. Another thing that bothered me is the fact that I was walking alone, not that was a new stuff for me, but still, this is open country and other trails can mislead you to walk in a different direction. I had full confidence in the map and my location, but still, walking alone was not what I called trekking in company. Somewhere around the end of the slope, a thought crossed my mind that Valy might answered nature call when I went down, and he is actually up there, waiting for me to go down the pass. I stopped short and looked back at the rising slope. No sign for Valy, only for the donkeys coming down slowly with their Arrieros. What should I do? I asked my self and decided to wait till the Arrieros come near me and to ask them if they saw Alfredo and Valy. While I waited, not knowing where Valy is, I heard something that heard like my name called in the wind. I cried Valy`s name and waited for a response.
I thought I was hallucinating, but no, I head it again and I shouted again back. Stil nothing, and then, I heard the real and nature cry, which was a cow making her typical sound, which could be heard as my name…Great! By that time the Arrieros already came close to me and I asked them about Alfredo and Valy and they said they were gone a long time ago! DAMN! I thanked them and walked along and a bit infront of the donkeys convoy, not understanding Valy for not waiting for me. Does he like to walk alone? Valy just landed in the continent and he didn’t know enough Spanish to buy a ticket let alone talk with Alfredo about his rural life (I wished I knew that good Spanish to do that!). SO?? Whatever it was, I was getting pissed off, especially because half of our lunch was splitted between us: I had the bread, he had the Tuna fish cans. All the way walking through this amazing valley with huge carved rocks and stones jutting out of the earth in wild angles I was thinking what to say to Valey and how. It was not only the lonesome that troubled me but also my own safety. As far as he knew, I thought, he didn’t know even if I passed the pass peacefully, and if I am OK. I had my share of injuries while trekking in the backcountry, and I knew that a spare legs and hands can do a great deal of difference, if it is by helping, bandaging, calling for help or just being there to comfort.
While I was so concentrated on what to say to Valy and on preheating my self (sorry for the awkward phrasing), I lifted my head and suddenly saw the two waiting for me at the head of a climbing little trail far in the distance, some half a km away. I wondered what made them wait for me, as I was sure to see them only in camp. Surprise, surprise…I waved to show I have noticed them and Alfredo made his move forward, while Valy stayed till I come up the little trail. As I got near he smiled, but seeing my sour face I can imagine was spread all over my face, his smile shrink by the second and at the end he asked if all is well. Mistakenly, I know, I showed him the way with my hand and said bluntly walking. His face turned and with them his statue and he kept walking forward. I was so boiled up inside, it was like letting a pressure pot release all the pressure in a slow and quiet manner. It was VERY difficult and I cursed myself for not controlling my anger and disappointment. I called after him, asking if he wanted to stop for a chow, but he told me he prefer to eat later. He opened up his pace and I walked slowly behind, as usual, deciding that I will talk about only when we can sit down, hear each other and relaxed.
We continued to go up slowly and moderately toward the second pass, and when finally we reached it, I was surprised that we actually were there. So easy? What happened? Valy wanted me to take his picture and I took advantage of this moment to cool things with me and return to normal.
We went down the pass into the opening valley and at a certain point we met with a wide path, which was used as a path for tourist buses visiting a lagoon not far away. We continued walking along one side of the valley (Tayapampa) till we reached a convergence of several streams in a wide opening of the valley and we could already spot several isolated adobe houses. Huillca. Only three houses, each located in one corner of this great opening, with snow capped Pucajirca in the background. We made camp there beside the river bank and till we managed to prepare something hot, we already ate some bread with Tuna fish can. As I saw that we both were OK, I decided to drop the whole thing and not to mention what I was been through (in any case, Valy you can read about it right now…hope you understand the whole situation, as all is forgotten! Cheers, mate!).
We cooked some dinner and had even enough time to write some stuff in the diary while Valy went down to the river to wash his feet and keep his hygiene in good shape!

Day 5 - Tranquility among the high mountains
The next day around 8 am we already set out our pace in an eastern direction, up one of the valleys that spilled into Huillca basin. The French group was walking slowly in front of us and the both of us passed them and continue in a constant pace toward the end of the valley, where the last pass waited for us. It was a cloudy day and I felt for the first time that I feel much stronger and felt that I have less difficulties walking up. I can only guess that after 4 nights over 4000 meters, you get a bit acclimatized. After an hour of walking we came finally to the Yanacon pass basin.
Even though this pass was not the highest we climbed, it was one of the difficult we approached. We walked constantly for almost one and half hour till we reached the top of the pass, and again a string wind whipped our faces and bodies and made the climb up hard, but at the end we reached the top. We didn’t stayed too much time, only to take some pictures, and then scrambled down the steep path till we entered another great valley. The vegetation changed and it area was heavily forested and looked a bit like pictures from . We found a little nice place to stop to chow a bit and after checking out a lagoon in the distance, we continued on walking up the little slopes and down the valleys, while we consult with the map and navigate our way to our camp at Jancapampa. On our way there, we passed through a steep gorge and when we got to it`s opening into the Jancapampa basin, we found a very steep and muddy way down. Valy was ahead of me so I didn’t see him slide like hell down that slippery path. When I came to the slope, Valy called me and told me to take care coz it is very slippery and I might use the trees on the side as an aid. I tried to manage without them, which was a mistake, and slided down like a ball of metal on top of a clean china bowl. While sliding down, I shifted my statue to grab something by my knee knocked into a stone protruding out of the mud. I yelled like hell, and found a place to rest a bit. I was so angry I shouted so strong, I could hear the echos of my voice bouncing off the valleys walls way-way in the distance. Valy asked if I am OK and I told him I was just pissed off, that’s all. Somehow, we managed to go down without any further problems, and finally we found ourself in the great Jancapampa basin. At first we didn’t saw Alfredo and the donkeys, when suddenly I found his tent at the eastern part of the basin. We crossed the basin, all full of water and mud, and eventually met with Alfredo.
The Jancapampa basin is a magnificent basin, different from Huillca basin in the sense it is more flourish with water, with house hold animals and of course, houses and people.
We had a nice experience, as a kid came to us while we finished our dinner and offered Coca-Cola or Beer. Coca-Cola after 5 days in the mountains?! Sure thing, how much you want? We bought a 1.5 liter bottle and also another half a liter for a local kid that just stand there and stared at us. That was a mistake, as later own he brought his brother and sister and those little kids didn’t left us alone till it was dark enough to go to sleep.
We all drank from the coke and felt great, to taste something different aside from the regular Iodine/Chlorine treated water. I wrote in my diary and read a book I brought with me (good idea!!) and eventually the both of us went to sleep for the last day of the trek. We planned to wake up early so we could get to Pomabamba, a little town on the other side of the Cordillera Blanca, and where we expect to find transportation back to Huaraz.

Day 6 - Easy going, emotional parting and long riding
At 5 am we woke up and quite quickly were ready for the move. Aside from heating some water for the coffee and tea, we didn’t prepare anything. We witnessed the sunrise over the east side of the Pucajirca peak, a magnificent sight, and around 7 am paced down the valley toward east. We walked in a moderate pace, as most of the time we were walking flat or even down a bit, till we got to the end of the valley, were it met with the Rio Maranon valley, where Pomabamba was. Alfredo told us that there are many robbers in the area, and especially in Pomabamba, and we better pay him now before someone sees him, as he had to walk back to Hualcallan alone with only his donkeys. We agreed and paid him the rest of the money, as well as tipping him with the rest of the food that we didn’t eat. (mostly canned Tuna fish, by the way…). We went down steeply for an hour or so till we reached the river, on the way both of us suffered from our knees and Valy also from his ankles. We entered Pomabamba from the north, and found a not attractive town with hostile faces wherever we looked or turned. That is why we were so happy to find the bus agency in the main plaza. We unloaded the tired donkeys and parted from Alfredo with a big warm hug that surprised him totally. As we bought the tickets for the bus leaving to Huaraz at 12:00, I saw Alfredo walking down the plaza with his two donkeys on his both sides, and felt sad a bit that we parted from him, and also for his long journey back home. It was a sad moment and I regret a bit that I didn’t captured it on film.
We had some lunch in a close restaurant and at 12 we boarded the bus. Now, that was a long ride, 8 hours, through rough road (no asphalt most of the way) and with many people cramped into the interior of the bus. At a certain point we stopped at a park check point and were afraid they will charge us the 65 soles we had to pay for entering the park so we didn’t go down to relief ourselves. That was a mistake, as I had to wait till we reached Puertochuelo pass (yes, the same we went down the mountain bike a week and a half before) to run down and relief myself. Returning back to the bus after a long time till I managed to piss at the cold air at 4700 meter, half of the bus was already giggling and they even asked Valy what the hell I did over there…
From that point the road was known to us and even so, we savored the great scenery of the snow peaked mountains all painted with sunset colors. Around 8 pm we finally reached Huaraz and returned the rented equipment to the agency. We were hungry, tired and dirty and the thoughts of doing al the things we desired kept our mind occupied on our way to our hostels…

The day after Valy took the bus to Lima on his way south, while I will take today the night bus to Trujillo , a town up north on the Pacific coast

Friday, September 02, 2005

The grey and the white: Lima and Huaraz

Valy stands on the shore of Lagoon 69


Entering Lima around noon of Saturday, a grayish climate greeted us and continued to accompany us all our stay in Lima , a total of 3 nights. Staying in Miraflores, the prestige neighborhood in this 8 million capital, we tasted some western junk food (Pizza hut, Burger King), been to a fancy night club and also bowelled a bit. I had some misfortune when we bought our tickets to Huaraz, but I was so happy to leave Lima , I didn't care too much. Arriving at Huaraz early in the morning, the sun gave us a glimpse of the great Cordillera Blanca. A week already in this little town and we had tasted both outdoor activity, and also tasted the sad taste of farewell, even if for a short time.

Lima , the grey metropolis
Arriving into Lima around 1 PM, we were not in our best moods: The grey color that accompanied us all the way from Pisco to Lima didn't left us and the sun kept playing hide and seek with us all that time. At the bus station in Lima we had to decide were to stay the couple of days we planned. We had several names, and we got into a taxi and headed for Miraflores, the best neighborhood in Lima . We saw three different hostels and finally we settled on an Israeli joint called The Witches.
With a gothic-like architecture and a wide yard, this place could have been a great place to stay, but it was so unattended and with antipathic owners, I know for sure I won't stay there the next time im in Lima . We dropped our stuff and no sooner than we glanced at the yard, Michal called to us and was all cheerful. Michal is an Israeli traveler that we met in Cusco and was about to go back home in couple of days. After we catch up with each other, we headed out of the gloomy hostel to the center of Miraflores for a quick snack. Michal was full, but Lee, Shay and Me were quite hungry so while Shay had a Burger King, Lee and Me had a little Pizza Hut, which was overly greasy.
We strolled around in Miraflores till the sun went down (most shops were closed so we couldn't do any arrangements in any case) and then Shay, Lee and me planned on going to a party,a s it was Saturday night, the best night to party. In the evening, while we had a nice sandwich in a little snack joint, we asked the waitress if she had any idea about a good place to trance ourselves. Gothica, the waitress said, is the best place to be and to enjoy trance. Cool! We finished our little dinner and headed for the supermarket to buy some good party juice: Alcohol. After debating what to buy, we chose Vodka with orange juice, a good rambler. Only, that was our first time drinking Smirnoff Vodka, which was more similar to acetone to any other alcohol compound. Amazingly, the three of us finished off the whole bottle (without diluting the damn poison with some orange juice) and by the time we left the room around midnight, Shay was a bit wobbly, Lee was giggling, which meant she was totally ready for some action, and me cool with almost no effect (well, I drank the least of them both).
Surprisingly, it took us some time to find a taxi driver that actually knew about Gothica, but at the end we found one (with a reasonable fare price) and the three of us entered the cabby. Shay was small-talking with the driver, while I preferred to peer out of the window and to check out the dark streets of the neighborhood, with their dazzling Casinos and wide sidewalks. We came to the promenade, which hosted a fancy open-air mall called Larcomar. There we looked for the club, while walking Lee which was wobbling heavily, giggling and in good spirit. Finally, approaching one section of the mall, we saw a great bustelling of young people, and we knew we had a Bingo. The area was packed with almost hundred young and shick-looking youngsters, all dressed up with the best money can buy, while the three of us were dressed like we were going for a stroll around the block. Pushing and pulling in the line (are we back in Tel-Aviv or what??), we managed to squizz in, just to realize that we could either enter after putting on the counter 40 Soles (LOTS OF MONEY!!!) or have the blue-mat couple invitation of the party sponsor, Peugeot, which promoted their 206 model. While pondering what are we gonna do, two nice people gave us two invitation, and gingerly we stand back in line for security check up (which took Lee`s Camera batteries...) and then, we moved down to club.
Well, lets say that the club was equipped with the modern latest sound and visualize equipment, a western club. The music, however, was an unknown latin dance jumper which made our face feel sore. We crashed on a white sofa, waiting for the song to change (which it didn't) and finally, Lee told us she is ready for the move. As we found the music shitty, and the chicks snobby, Me and Shay agreed and in five minutes we were out of the club. We stopped for some Ice Cream balls, and while we licked the cold cream we went up to the promenade, looking for taxi. At that time we were all quite tired, and by the time we entered the room, we were all ready for a good night sleep. Well, maybe for me, but mot for Lee, who had a bad hangover which lasted the next day too. She, by the way, didn't remember that she had any Ice Cream, and was sure we are joking with her…
The next day was another cool day, as it was Sunday and we strolled most of the time and passed the time in the internet points. We planned to do something in the evening, and Shay wanted to check out the Casinos and Black Jack tables. After labors lookout, we found finally a place which had such tables, and after several winnings, we left shay for some web surfing. Coming back after an hour, the guy was already on the roulette, loosing the dollars he earned around the Black Jack. When he was quits, he went to change back to Dollars and we went back to the hostel.
The next day was a busy one: Shay had to talk with about his flight ticket, while Lee was supposed to pick up her fixed sunglasses. I wanted to buy a lens hood, but after doing some phone calls, even the most professional equipment didn't have what I was looking for so I gave up. We met again around 12 for lunch after we all finished our business, and we met with Michal later on just before she departed for her flight back home. We thought what to do in the evening, and set our course on bowling.
The next day was the departure day, and we had to wrap our stuff, as the bus was due to departure to Huaraz around 10 PM. We did check out and went to buy the ticket in the area which is near a market. A voice in the back of my head whispered to me that I should keep my wallet in a good place, as there might be lots of thieves there. Usually my wallet is connected to my pants loops with a metal chain so it would be more complicated to shove a hand and take the wallet. So, I decided that even so it might be more safer to put the wallet in the jacket pocket with the zipper locked. Well, not exactly…

The rip-off
We took a taxi to the market and went to do some questioning in one Bus Company. We decided to look for another company, and while we started to cross the street I felt that my pocket it empty. SHIT! I passed my hand in search for my wallet in frenzy, as most people do when they realize in a millisecond that they were ripped off. I told Shay and Lee that I was ripped off and dashed back to the bus company, realizing already that I should run instead to the near phone booth. Indeed, it was a waste of time, as the wallet was no where to be seen. Pissed off over half of the world, I walked immediately to the nearest phone booth, taking out my notepad. I was lucky enough to copy all the telephone company details and my own account number already in Cusco, as those details were in my wallet (also luckily, I wrote a fake password with the other details). I picked the handle and was about to call my mom so she could talk with the credit card company, when Shay asked me where I am calling. Answering him, he replied that it would be better to call directly the credit company and he dictated for me the numbers. Good man! In five minutes I had on the line one of the customer service people which took my details and cancelled my card. Nice. The lady on the other line told me that she can order for me a card from the international center of the company, for a symbolic fee of a 150 USD. I told her thank you very much, but no thanks. I had already heard from Adi, which was ripped also, and when she received the international card, she wasn't given any PIN number, so she couldn't do with it nothing. Oh yeah, she could look for some specific banks in the whole continent that would enable her to withdraw money straight from the cashier. But, matter of fact, she couldn't find even one such bank. So, I told the lady that she can prepare for me a card in , and my mom will take it out and Fedex it to me. The lady told me there might be a problem with this approach but I told her back that I will manage what ever was coming. Yeah, right!
I finished the call, made another one to my mother so she would know what happened before the bank called her and asked her to come to the branch. Finishing all this, I joined Lee and Shay to continue the search for a bus to Huaraz. It didn't take us too much time to find a company, a bit expensive, that will take us the entire 8 hours ride with great comfort. Buying the tickets, we had a lot of time on our hands, and I had to rearrange a new wallet, with my secure chain. We went to Larcomar where I purchased a new wallet and passed the time by seeing a movie in the cinema. Coming back to the hostel, we paid our debt and took a taxi to the bus company. I am not sure it is my paranoia or what, but there were parts in this taxi ride that I had a feeling the driver will take us to a alley and rip us off. At the end, of course, we came to the bus company and boarded the double floor bus.
The bus ride was comfortable even though I almost didn't sleep a minute. We got a little dinner from the steward and half an hour into the ride we had also a movie played. Tired as hell, I could not sleep and at the end the lights blasted at 5 am, when the steward announced we are at Huaraz.

Huaraz - the peak of the outdoor activity in Peru!
Pronounced "Waraz", this little town is located at a strategically location between the "black" mountain range (Cordillera Negro) and the much higher "White" mountain range (Cordillera Blanca), and is considered to be one of the best places to hike/climb/or whatever outdoor activity you have on your mind in Peru and some say, in the whole South America continent. With over 50 snow capped peaks, it is more than any sane person can climb in his life time.
We climb down the bus and quickly found a taxi that will take us to the highly recommended El Tambo. We were surprised to find the hostel, a HI affiliated hostel, hiding behind a run down parking lot. Miguel, the guy that runs the place for the Seniora, found for us a nice three person room, with squeaky wood floor and two windows. Lee and Shay headed for their bed while I went down to the courtyard and had a simple breakfast over the book I was reading at the moment. The day passed quickly and we slowly tried to find what to do in the town and what attraction we want to experience. The next day we entered the Andean Kingdom , a favorite travel agency that arranges everything from mountain biking rental to Alpamayo peak conquering expeditions. We came with ideas about Ice climbing, mountain biking, waterfall rappelling and one day trek. We talked with the Argentinean owner about the different options and closed a deal. The next day we fixed a plan to do the waterfall rappelling, an attraction we heard about when we were already in Cusco .

Going down cliffs the water way
The next day, around 6 am we woke up and by 7 we were at the agency, having a nice breakfast and meeting with the other people that booked this tour. Aside from us, there were another two Israeli guys, Oren and Valy, and a French couple that didn't converse with nobody. Around 7:30 we took off toward the Cordillera Negra and after one hour of drive we came to a stop and everybody got down. We mounted our backpacks and walked some 20 minutes down a slippery path to a ravine where the water flowed from the mountain above us. The two guides quickly arranged the equipment and dressed us with the harnesses and helmets. Less than ten minutes later we came to the first of no less than 8 cliffs. The first one was an easy 8 meters cliff, with no water; going down was easy and enabled me to remember the rappelling technique. We continued on to the second cliff, this time, with water flowing at the center of the slippery rock. Lee, which never rappelled before, realized that rappelling is not her cup of tea, especially when water is involved in the whole business. The third one was a 15 meter flat cliff, with water splashing on top of you like a cold and strong shower. Fearing for my camera, I closed it tightly in a water proof nylon bag (with Lee`s and Shay`s cameras). That was a good thing to do, as I rappled my self down and got a strong splash of water (which didn't stop, of course) and it took me some time to find a grip for my wet sandals. Coming down the cliff, I was totally soaked with water and the wind that blew through the ravine made me shiver. At that time Lee was waiting anxiously for the finish line while me and Shay enjoyed ourselves. We kept going down, waterfall after waterfall, with changing cliffs height and difficulty till we came to the last of them. I must admit that I expected for some more strong water stream, and from a certain point it was not that exciting. Well, actually the French girl was certainly excited all the way down, moaning and groaning like being in bed with her boyfriend, especially when we had a more technical cliff, with a negative slope. We had some serious laugh on her account, as nasty as it can be (macho men, what can you expect of them?!?).
Once we finished the rappelling, we walked back to the road, going down the ravine at places we wondered why we are not rappelling them. At the end, we came to the road and after 1 hour we were back at Huaraz. Lee was tired and went straight for the hostel while Shay, Valy and me went to have some Chinese food. That was our first time that we actually talked with Valy, and found out that at the age of 28, Valy finished his Software engineering degree and embarked on a trip in South America . Just landing in Lima several days ago, he was full of ideas and as we kept doing things together, we found that we were similar in several aspects.
Returning to the hostel, we passed the time and agreed that we gonna take a day off tomorrow and wont do anymore as we were quite tired. At the evening we decided to join two girls, Nitzan and Lena , for a beer or two. Lee was not in a mood for drinking and the four of us went to the Extreme, a tourist bar, accompanied by Miguel. While Nitzan was talking with Miguel, Lena, 26, talked with me and Shay and told us that she came only for two months before she had to go back to last year studying Chemical engineering (everybody is engineering things?!). She was already two weeks in Huaraz and wanted to trek a bit and didn't find anyone to do it with, so eventually we offered her to join us with all our activities. On the way I went to grab a Hamburger in a little shop, and when I was back I saw Lena and Shay in a deep conversation over a beer. I drank mine till I felt tired and took off back to the hostel for a night sleep.

Going down hill II (Peruvian style)
I must admit, that after the death road I didn't expected to do something like this again (apart from one tour opportunity in Sorata that didn't came into reality…). But, here we all got the chance to do it again. We talked with Valy and Lena and the two agreed to join us on a trip on bikes from a 4700 high pass down to the Rio Santa Valley, 1700 meters below. The idea was quite simple: renting resilient mountain bikes for a day and then hoping with a bus ride up and crosses the Cordillera Blanca at a high pass (named Puertochuelo). From the dropping point the way back is all the way down across 46 km of zig-zagging dirt road that crosses the width of the Huascaran park, one of the most beautiful parks in whole . Converging back with the Rio SantaValley is at little town of Yungay , were busses run south east to Huaraz every 10 minutes. Sounds great, isn't it?? Well, it was sure as hell a long ride down, I can tell you that!
At 6:30 the bus was due to leave the station, but as we came late with our bikes to the niche where the busses of the local company parked, we saw that as usuall, Todo tranquilo, or everything is relaxed. We found our bus, and waited till everybody will put their luggage on the roof before we gonna load our bikes, as we were the first to depart from the bus. Around 7:30, finally, the bus engine woke up in a roar and we gladly took our bikes and delivered them to the driver assistant that was on the roof of the bus all that time, loading and tying luggage.
Going into the bus we had a surprise, as two of our reserved seats were occupied. Great! As usual, I got all pissed off and angry, how they had the HUZPA to sit in our seat. After some conversing, the husband and wife cleared the seats for us and only after they talked with the driver I realized that they had paid also for our seats…Peruvian, they will do anything to make another buck!
The bus departed and quickly we were heading North West along the Rio Santa Valley, with the Cordillera Negra on our left and the Blanca on the right, passing through villages and little towns till we came to Yungay (our biking end point), where the bus took a right turn and started its long and slow way up the the dirt road of Llanganuco valley to the pass, 1700 meters above. That was the path that we later gonna go down the bike, so subliminally I have burned some artifacts that I would later remembering seeing them on the way up.
At first, the way up was not that interesting till we got to the park boundary, where we paid a fee of 5 soles. The bus continued on, only now it passed through a gorge, boarded by massive black rocks jutting couple of hundreds of meters straight up and forming an enormous passage. It was amazing scenery as I was looking up, trying hard to see the end of it. Soon, we drove on the left side of Lake Llanganuco , a deep green lake that is the convergence point of many glaciers streams, and we all looked at the color in a total amazement. It is an amazing sight! Quickly the bus started the second ascent to the high pass, zig-zagging first on dry road and later, on mud and snow covered road. The snow line got closer and closer, and soon, we were surrounded with snow covered slopes, with vegetation bent under the weight of the snow. All white and spectacular, with the great peaks of Pisco and Chacraraju towering above us with the background of the clear-clear deep blue skies. As we ascended more and more, we got a glimpse of the double lakes of Llanganuco, shining in a green tone toward us like two Turquoise stones. Finally, around 10 am we crossed the pass and started to go down. I saw that the other passengers look at us differently and I knew this is the time to go down. We called to stop and after hundred meters down the road the bus finally came to a stop and the bikes were lowered down. We arranged ourselves, took some pictures of us with the bikes, and started the slow way up to the pass. No need to say that it was very hard at 4700 metes to paddle, and we did another stop, a mere 300 meters from the spot we were dropped, where we made some more pictures of us and of the scenery. The pass was between three high peaks, and the whole white scenery was awesome and brilliant. Soon we climbed our bikes and started our way down, while mud sprays all over our backpacks and feet. At first we went down together but quickly everyone rode down with their own pace, stopping to take pictures of the scenery, and then continuing on riding down. After an hour an half we made a stop beside a small hill and made ourselves some kind of lunch made out of Avocado and bread rolls. Soon, the blazing sun dried the road and melted the light snow at the lower parts of the slope, and riding down the zig-zagging was easier and safer. On our way we crossed glacier streams and cows wondering around freely, and around 1 PM we came to the first of the two lagoons (Llanganuco lagoons), where we stopped for a break. At that time we all already suffered from a sore ass and arms from the bumpy road, and Valy already alternate his sitting position from sitting on his ass to sitting on the side of it. The weather started to change, as usual in this area and at that time, and grey clouds started to build up all around us. That was time to move on, and Lee and Valy already made their way further down the road. As I rose, I heard a whistling sound of air coming out in pressure out of a tiny hole. DAMN, we have a flat tire! At first I was sure it was my bike, but then I realized it was Lena`s bikes (not that it made any difference). We had a fixing kit that the agency gave us, but it was in Valy`s backpack and he was already paddling down the road. Shouting was useless, as he was already quite far. The thought of paddeling all that way back again made me shrink, but without hesitating too much, I jumped on my bike and paddled fast down the road, hoping I will catch him before he will be too far. At the end, I was able to stop him a km from our resting point. I took the kit and paddled back, while he and Lee stopped and waited at that point till we fix the flat tire. Well, we were a bit optimistic I can tell you.
When I finally reached Lena and Shay, the weather started to deteriorate and it was obvious that it is a matter of ten minutes before we gonna get a shower. First, we had to find the hole, and for that we had to pump some air into the tire, only it took us almost five minutes till we actually managed to stick that damn pump correctly so it would actually pump air into the tire and not into our faces. Shay started pumping and Lena and I tried to locate the hole by hearing and water droplets. Well, amazingly, it was not easy at all, and most of the time we were laughing at our lack of ability to find that little hole. And everytime we thought it was it, it wasn't it and Shay would need to pump again and again. Finally, when we all agreed about the identity of the hole, we had to stick the stamp over it. But, we had to take the tire out of the radial frame and only then to glue the stamp on the place. Only, even though the guide at the agency told us it is not problematic to take it out, it was actually very hard and at the end, we didn't managed to take it out. As I fought to remove the tire, a 4WD was coming up the road and shay suggested Lena will hitch hike with the bike to Yungay where we gonna meet her. We hailed the driver and asked him whether he rides to Yungay. Yes, he said, I do. We explained him our situation and he agreed to take Lena`s bikes in the back cabin of his Rover jeep. Only, the bike didn't fit into the cabin and finally the driver hailed another small pickup truck that came in the other direction. The driver was willing to take Lena and her bike to Yungay and we agreed Shay will join her, just in case. The rain got stronger and started moving ass down the road while the truck jumping on the road and passes me. No sooner than one minute I found the truck stopping in the side of the road, and Lee and Valy talking with Lena and Shay. Lee was tired from the biking and wanted to join Lena in the truck. Shay debated whether to join or not and I told him that Me and Valy are equipped with rain-proof jackets while he had only a fleece. He agreed and the three mounted their bike on the back open cabin and road away, not before we agreed they gonna wait for us in Yungay. Rethinking it while I rode down the road, I grasped that it was a mistake to have that decision, as we didn't know how much time it will take us to go down the road.
Me and Valy continued on riding down the road, bumping and jumping, while making short stops for picture taking. We didn't had the luxury of spare time, as it was already 3 PM, the sun usually sets around 6:30 PM and we had 20 something km ahead of us. The sky cleared little by little and the afternoon sun shone brightly as we crossed the park barrier on our way down. This part of the ride was also a good one, as we rode down with the wind blows our hairs and the vast valley was spread below us with the soft afternoon sun painting all in warm colors. On the way we hailed "Hola!" to passing locals, which looked at us in amazement, going down the road on a 1000 USD worth bike.
After an hour we were already very tired and had sores muscles all over the body: the back, the hands, the neck…everything hurt! But I was happy, to see the sights and to feel the wind blows my face and hair, all free and going fast down the road.
Eventually, around 5:50 PM we came to the first Asphalt chunk near the center of Yungay. I sat there waiting for Valy that was riding behind me slowly due to the pains that the ride caused him. When Valy came we sat there more, resting and letting our muscles relax a bit after a straight two and half hours of riding down a bumpy dirt road. Kids started to get near (with accompanying street dogs) and Valy took out some sweet snacks and shared with the kids (after giving me one, of course). The kids wanted more but nothing was left, and quickly we rode down to the center of town, looking for the gang, but after we didn't see anything that resembled three Israeli Muchileros, we came to the assumption that they left before we came. It was a disappointing feeling, even though I understanded then why they didn't waited for us. How much time they should or can wait, all dirty and hungry?? Valy suggested that they might be in the hostel and we can check if they are there, as there was a slim chance they were waiting for us in a corner in Yungay, and we missed them. Calling the hostel, Lena answered the phone and apologized for not waiting because they had a direct ride till Huaraz. She asked when are we coming and I told her ASAP. I returned to Valy, that kept guard on the bikes, and we moved back down to the main road where we waited for a comby which will take us to Huaraz. People were looking at us with strange looks and some bad visions came into my mind, and also Valy commented that people were staring at us and at the bikes. If they knew what was the price tags of those bikes, I can't be sure that we were still left us be. Fortunately, the combi came fast and from a first glance we grasp its gonna be a hell of a ride: the whole of the roof was full of luggage and merchandise. Will we have space? We talked with the "combi conductor" and he assured us that there was space. One look into the combi got me the feeling we gonna be squeezed inside that minivan. The guy already put the bikes on the roof and we already paid (MISTAKE, MISTAKE!!!) so we didn't have to much of a choice, so we entered the combi interior.
Well, it was so stuffed inside, I could smell the stench of the people and it was hot. Behind the shadows of early evening, I could decipher the silhouettes of a grown up male with his kid, another kid and a grown up women. WHAT THE….? I started to get pissed, how the hell he planned to put the two of us in that small patch of seat, which was intended maybe for a kid, not for two grown ups (and Valy stretches for a 1.85 meter...not a midget like me). There were shouts (surprisingly, from the passengers themselves) and Valy got another place. I squeezed myself through the stuffed interior and landed heavily on the seat (and on half of the child arm, poor thing!) not before hitting her head with my biking helmet (did I say she was a poor thing??). The car sped and the ride began. That was a very hard hour of ride, with the heat suffocating us and the minimal space making our feet hurt and go numb. I fantasized about the moment I reach my bed, without the bikes and all this shit. Finally, we entered Huaraz and once we stopped, we huridly took our bikes and rolled them down the street to the agency. Up there, I was surprised to see that the bikes of Lee, Shay and Lena were not there. Weird, is it possible that somebody else took them like that, all dirty and one of them with a flat tire?? Well, at that point I didn't give a damn what was the reason, I was just happy to turn over the bikes and to rest a bit in the hostel. When we were on the way out, the guide asked were are the other bikes, and only then it hit me that they actually didn't turned over their bikes…
Coming back to the hostel, I saw the bikes and met with the gang, already showered and ready to go to agency with their bikes. After we finished our stuff there, we went to have some dinner (Chinese) and eventually, went to bed tired, exhausted but happy.

Lagoon 69 trek
We had a day off attractions, as we were tired and we wanted also to arrange the trek tomorrow to Lagoon 69. Yes, you heard right. Why 69? Well, use your imagination…
In any case, we passed another tranquil day around the plaza, wondering around in the city and resting. Our whole body hurt like hell and we rejoiced the rest we gave ourselves.
Lagoon 69 is a small deep blue lagoon, located at the base of the Pisco, the Chacraraju and the Yanpaccha peaks. This is an acclimatization trek, as it reaches a height of 4600 meters ASL, and at the same time is not considered too difficult to manage when just hitting Huaraz. It is a very popular trek and many of the tourists make it through the agency, which organizes a bus for the group that assembles. When we listed and paid at the agency, there were already 16 people listed in their sheet. 90 percent of them Israelis. At that time it didn't bothered me too much, but I should have expected the near future trek. While Valy and me fixed and paid for the transportation, Lena , Shay and Lee bought some food for the trek, planning on eating on the lake shores and even preparing some coffee. At the hostel I set the clock for 5 am as departure was scheduled to 6 am. We went to sleep early.
I was deep in a good anonymous dream when suddenly I heard Lena`s voice calling me from the distance. I woke up into the blackness of the room, and Lena informed me it was 20 minutes before 6 and we should get going. SHIT! Immediately I realized I forgot to switch on the alarm clock. I jump out of the bed and started to arrange, abandoning the thought about a nice waking shower. Shay and Lee woke up too, but Lee was not that keen about getting out of the bed. She told us she hates to rearrange under pressure and she can skip the lagoon. Meeting Lena on her way to the bathroom, Lena heard her too and offered that we will stall the bus from moving till she gets there, but Lee didn't want to stall the bus and decided she stays in the hostel. We arranged fast and we reached the agency right on time when people boarded the minibus. And they were many! Out of the total people, only 4 women were French. You can already imagine what that means. A fuckn day field, that's what it was! Fortunately, everybody were quite tired and sleepy, and they STILL didn't make to much noise and fuss. Finally, around 7 am the bus moved and sped along the semi-empty streets of Huaraz.
The road was exactly the same the bus to the high pass went through of, so the four of us were quite indifferent to the changing scenery (the lake was an exception). The ride was more or less quiet till the end of the ride, when people started waking up and a funny guy started to shoot jokes one after another in loud voice so EVERYONE in the bus would know he is a funny guy (Shay, that actually heard his stand-up, said he was excellent; Lena was less impressed). Finally, around 10 am we came to the dropping point, in the middle of a bend of the dirt road and after 20 minutes of rearrangement and taking a group photograph, the three of us started our way down the road to the valley below, with the rest of the group following us. We walked with a good pace, as shortly after departure, there was no sign of the rest of the group (which was good!) and we were left by ourselves. The valley was open before us, with the snow capped peaks towering above us and the sun shining in a her strong manner. A small glacier river flowed on our left with greenish-whitish color, humming in ears thus enhancing the tranquility and nature atmosphere that we were absorbed in. Not long after departure we reached the first of three ascends, a zig-zagging path that passed near a small and beautiful waterfall. On the other side of the valley a huge waterfall cascaded down a 200 meters of red painted rock and crashed in a low thud into the little river that we walked beside it. Close to the end of the zig-zag ascend the four of us split: Valy and I thrusted forward in a slow but constant pace while Lena and Shay walked a bit slower and with more stops on the way. The dirt path led moderately up till we reached the second zig-zag, which ended up in a small a bit dirty greenish lagoon which the two of us captured on film and them moved on. Once we went down the lagoon, a great flat area opened before us, all painted with brown and yellow. A bull had his lunch in the distance and the whole feeling was of freedom mixed with a the sense of vast nature. It was a wonderful moment for me, seeing all this with the snow capped mountains and the fact that we were almost alone...only us and nature! Amazing feeling that is the driving force for me to keep on trekking. After crossing the vast plain we came to the final, and most difficult ascend zig-zag, which lasted for almost an hour! On our way up, a guy came up behind us with great pace and after passing me asked puffing valy to move aside so he could move ahead. Me and Valy look at one another in amazement, as this guy plowed forward, almost without any difficulty. At a certain point, we noticed a break in the ascend, and I figured this must be the Lagoon. I asked Valy if this is the lagoon, but he answered in a disappointment that it is till not the lagoon. Damn, when we gonna get there?! Once we walked the planner part of the path, we increased our pace and less than a minute afterwards I saw Valy stretches his arms in a winning manner and I knew we finally reached it.
Lagoon 69 is definitely one of the most beautiful lagoons I saw thus far. With snow-capped peaks surrounding it from two directions and swimming pool-blue color and clear waters, it was a fantastic view to see after 2 and half hours of climbing. At that time a lot of clouds were already hiding the sun, and we had to wait for the sun to pop out so we could capture the beautiful sight. We were almost alone up there, with the companion of two Europeans that had their tent stretched and erect. Me and Vally took out the food we had with us (most of the food was with Shay and Lena , which were on their way up) and I took out also my gas stove and started boiling water. While Valy went down to the waterline, the four French girls reached the lagoon, and to our amazed eyes, took off their shirts and stayed with their braw, soaking up their sweat. We thought what are the chances that Israeli girls would do such a thing and we figured the chances are quite slim…
More and more people kept on coming and little by little it was starting to be a bit noisy. Shay and Lena came, with Shay complaining about massive headache. Lena told us she tried to convince him to stay down, but no dice • he was stubborn as a goat and kept on walking up. We stayed there for an additional 30 minutes for photos (I photographed Valy holding the Blazer magazine with the lagoon in his background) and then decided it is time to go down. Valy was quite fast going down and twenty minutes later and we didn't see him anymore. Somewhere in the midst of the walk rain started going down on us, and only after an additional hour or so we came to the bus. We were the first, and thus had to wait for almost an hour and a half (!) till the last of the people came. In that time the driver put on a soccer radio broadcast and we thought we are gonna get crazy. When it finally departed, the driver switch to some international music, which surprised us but also made the ride back much more pleasant. Shay had a serious nausea and only after taking a pill he felt a bit better (and it lasted only through the ride). Coming back to town, we met with Lee in the city and went to eat some Chinese. Lee asked if we want to Ice climb, and Shay gave up, telling us that the next day he will return to Lima and that he had enough of the high altitude. Lena was tired and didn't paid for the attraction so she skipped it so it was only Lee, Valy and Me that decided to go the next day for the ice climbing. We talked with the agency and went straight to bed.

Ice picking at 5000 meters
Wednesday was a busy day. In the morning we planned to go Ice climbing, and in the evening Lee, Shay and Lena were to catch a night bus back to Lima .
Around 7 am we were at the agency, having a nice breakfast and around 8 am we measured the plastic boots for the Ice climbing. We were the only three to go that day, so we were couched in a Toyota private car, when the guide was behind the wheel (and he drove damn fast!). We went south east and at a certain point the car took a left turn and headed deep into the Cordillera Blanca, where a check point had to be passed. We had to pay an entrance fee, but as I entered the office, the man asked me for what purpose do I wish to enter the park. I took a fast look at the fee list, and was amazed to see that they demanded 25 soles for climbing. Well, we are not climbing any mountain, we were just Ice climbing, right? So, I told him we were not planning to climb the mountains and they charged only 5 soles per person. Coming back to the car, the guide told me it was a bad idea to get into the office, because we DO climb, and we were suppose to pay the higher fee. You are OK, he said half laughing as he pressed the gas lever and we sped forward deeper into the park area. On the way we stopped by the field of highly unique plants called Puya Raimondii, the tallest specie of the bromeliad genus, and reaches up to 10 meters of height! Of course, we took some pictures with this weird looking plant, with a sphere like shape. After departing this field, the road ascended and a valley opened below us with snow capped mountains all around us. Finally, after 2 and half hours of driving, we came to a parking lot were we mounted the backpacks and walked 40 minutes to the glacier. The guide had stuff to arrange, so he told us to start without him. Well, after 20 minutes he was already with us, walking at a fast pace with a big backpack on his back. Around mid walking, Lee started to feel the altitude (she had a bit of nausea) and only when she slowed her pace more she felt a bit better. Finally, we came to the glacier wall, a mere 15 meter high ice wall, with wide crevices. The guide quickly set his mountaineering equipment, and without any safety measures, he climbed the Ice wall, demonstrating for us two techniques, the American (sane) and the French (insane) way. Just for your knowledge, the American techniques is a step-wise climbing, first securing your self with the two ice axes, one after another, and then securing the foot with the crampons, one leg at a time. The French method, however, is a bit different: first securing both hands with the axes and then pulling your self with your hands and pushing with the feet, jumping in the air and hitting the ice with the crampons. I am not sure I am clear, but imagine your self hanging by your hands and then making a jump while folding your leg and then smacking them into the ice. It look VERY difficult, especially at 5000 meters ASL!
After the guide was on the edge of the wall, he secured a rappelling rope and rappelled him self down. The three of us went up two times each, as it was VERY hard to climb at this altitude, even though, technically it was easier than my experience in Huayana Potosi, where the wall was smaller (around 5 meters high) but was totally vertical. A common gig here is to go upside down while the guide secure you, and we all did it for the fun of it. We took some great pictures of this attraction and then we moved back to the hostel. On the way back Lee hoped that Shay and Lena didn't buy any bus tickets as she was tired and wanted to spend more time before they depart for Lima .

Parting or just taking a short break?
Coming back, we were hailed by Shay, which had his lunch with Lena in the Chinese restaurant. They already bought the tickets, and even tough Lee tried to persuade them to postpone the ride by a day, Lena didn't want to stay anymore in town, as she was getting bored and was pressed with time (she had only 2 months and already three weeks she was in Huaraz). Eventually, Lee accepted this and went packing. The time passed slowly and finally, around 9:45 PM we all had a very emotional parting. We had such a good time all of us, and for such a long time (Shay, Lee and me) and it was hard to say goodbye, even if it was for a short time. Shay, however, planned to fly to , and the chances we gonna meet him again are quite low.
I already miss both of them, and wished we could travel more together…I have comfort in the thought that I will meet Lee again, in a month or so, back in San Pedro De Atacama, Chile…

A new and short era has started now, as Valy and me prepare our self for the Alpamayo short trek (six days) before we also depart, Valy to the south and me to the north of …

As I wrote this entry, I got an email from Shay, that just landed in Bogota...