Saturday, 15 October 2011

slight changes in elevation



The bus came to a halt in Cajamarca in the middle of the afternoon, about a mile from the centre of the town which is the Plaza de Arms. It was still raining and unbelievably there wasn't a taxi around.

Walking to the centre, hiding under my umbrella I was wandering just how waterproof my rucksack cover was? It took a while to reach the plaza as I was taking shelter during the heavier downpours.

There are several hostels on the square and after walking out of the 1st one ( 50 soles pn...with a shared bath!!!) the next one was only 30 soles and would do for a night.

By the evening it had stopped raining and thanks to the guide book I found a much nicer hotel for the following night.

The main square and the surrounding streets of Cajamarca and nicely colonial and it was here that the last Inca emperor was executed.

The next morning I moved into the Hostal las Jasmines, the rooms are all on the 1st floor of an old colonial house (cable, Wi-Fi and water which is far to hot coming out of the shower) with comfortable chairs and sofas on the walkway. The best thing about the place was the in house coffee shop!

When I arrived in Cajamarca my laptop was full of photos that needed sorting out and uploading, so for the rest of the day that's what I did. The following day found me still sorting out the photos and if I wasn't doing that I was reading. Life is easy when there is no rush.

The next day I went on a day trip to Cumbe Mayo, 20kms over the mountains. The place is an area of volcanic rock shaped by the wind and rain. The rock formations and vistas were cool and at the end of a short valley was another example of Inca engineering. Those clever bastards built a canal from a nearby spring to transport water into Cajamarca. The canal was about a foot wide hewn from the rock as it meandered ever so gently downhill. There was even a little 2 arch aqueduct as well!

The night-life in Cajamarca is really bad during the 1st half of the week (i.e. most bars don't open till 9pm and then only on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday), so I was glad I had cable.

On Thursday afternoon I took a trip to the nearby necropolis at Otuzco. It was only about 8kms away but it took over 2 hours to get there....why? Firstly the van stopped at a little cheese producing farm and yes there was a farm shop! Then we went to what was basically someone's allotment. Oh, there were also several stalls selling all manner of tourist crap! Finally we arrived at the necropolis and for some reason I was expecting something taller.

In the morning I had a lie in and then lounged. I did try and stay up to watch France beat Wales but by 2am with still an hour to go till kick off I went to sleep.

On Sunday morning I left Cajamarca behind and after a four hour bus ride across beautiful countryside I arrived at the small town of Cajabamba. It was a short 400m walk to the main square. On the cusp of the square I passed a hostel but decided to check out the other side of the square. 12 steps later I was hobbling in pain. The calf and hamstring of my left leg had “cramped up” and I was barely able to walk. Turning around I limped to the nearby hostel and checked in. Then I checked out my leg. After an hour of rest and massage combined with half a tube of the local brand of heat cream I was able to walk again. Mind you I was going slow with small steps because at the end of each stride there was still pain and tautness.

The small of Cajabamba provided me with a glorious sunset but the main square was fenced off and half the roads were dug up.

In the morning I was on yet another bus this time to the slightly larger town of Huamachuco which was only two hours down the road...mainly because the dirt road was now tarmac.

Thankfully it was a short walk from where the bus dropped me off to an hostel in an old colonial house on a quiet pedestrian street 3 blocks from the large main square. The reason I was here was to visit two pre Inca sites nearby.

The next day I arranged for a taxi to take me the 10kms uphill to Markahuamachuco, wait and then bring me back (there are no tour companies here)

The site of Markahuamachuco sits on the ridge of a large mountain and the entire site is over 5kms long. As it is about 3500m above sea level and as my leg still hurt I took it easy, which just so happens to be my default setting anyway.

At the highest point are the remains of a “castle” complete with “little ovens” and a small main plaza. Drifting gently downhill passing many smaller ruins for nearly a mile I came across the well preserved defensive wall and city gate. It was 10m high and 5m wide, impressive!

Beyond the gate a 1000m away were even more ruins, thankfully my camera lens has an excellent zoom because I didn't feel like walking downhill any more. Turning around I walked back uphill admiring the huge vista to my left and an hour later I arrived back at the car park and my waiting taxi.

Back in the main square of the town after admiring the most excellent topiary I decided to spend the afternoon at Wiracochapampa a mere 3km outside of town. Whilst high up at Markahuamachuco I saw the road to Wiracochapampa and decided that I would only really want to walk either there or back but certainly not both! The 1st two tuk tuk drivers weren't interested in earning any money but luckily the 3rd one was. He charged me 5 sole which I thought was expensive...then I saw the condition of the road! It was being relaid prior to tarmacking and the workers had reached the hardcore stage! 3Kms of hardcore in a vehicle that only has 3 small wheels was definitely bouncy!

Arriving at the site the driver asked how long I would be? “no idea” was my reply. He then suggested that I call him and he would come and pick me up, “no cell phone” I answered. “Adios” was his reply!

To enter the site of Wiracochapampa, if I was on a guided tour I would walk down the grand ceremonial way! As I didn't have a guide I just walked down a dirt track with old stone walls either side of me...shame really!

This site has had minimal restoration, basically so far all they have done is shore up the walls that have yet to fall over. Which is how it should be. However they have done a full restoration of an “alter” but it just looks to new!

After 90 minutes on the site it was time to leave, so I started the slow walk back up the road. Amazingly 60 minutes later I was in the town. Sad isn’t it! I think walking 3kms in an hour is fast!

The one thing I really liked about both sites was that the custodians were really happy to see you and they took a solemn delight in watching you fill out the visitor book....oh and the entrance fee at both sites is zero!

The next morning I woke up and bimbled around a lot longer than usual. As my laundry wasn't ready till 10am I had booked a “big seat” on the 13:30 bus.

I was heading to the small town of Otuzco about 100kms away on the road to Trujillo. According to it was a small mountain 15kms off the main road that despite being a place of annual pilgrimage for Catholics was off the “tourist map”.

Five and a half hours later I was in Trujillo, request stops are great but only if you know where they are! (the road from Huamachuco to Trujillo was a great one to travel along, the last little descent was along a narrow valley with the flaming sun setting over the pacific) So there I was in Trujillo a few days ahead of schedule. I had planned to go straight to the beach town of Haumchaco 12kms away but only if I arrived during daylight. So instead I grabbed a room in a nearby hotel and went for a little bimble around the neighbourhood....It was mostly tile shops!

I left early the next morning and got a taxi to the main square as I had no idea where I was in the city. From there it was only a short walk to get a bus to Huamchaco. The seaside surf town is larger than Mancora but it is still deep in the low season and it doesn't have an Irish bar!

I got a room for 9gbp in a very quiet hostel, (there were cheaper places to stay but the “smell of backpacker” put me off them) and had a very much delayed breakfast of champions! Later on in the day I wandered around the didn't take long.

The next day I went to Chan Chan. The large complex of Chan Chan covers several square kilometres of adobe built structures. Like the pyramids of Tucume the weather has eroded many of them. Unlike Tucume, there has been preservation and restoration work.

The main complex was about 2kms from the Pan American highway in the direction of the sea. Inside the large complex, surrounded by a 10m high wall are temples, palaces, living quarters and a large swimming pool size fresh water well. After a few hours of wandering along corridors, temples and squares I left the site and headed back to the road in a roundabout fashion.

The evening was spent quietly,drinking a cold beer or two with the pacific ocean providing the sound track.

Saturday and Sunday were spent in Trujillo, which was just as boring but I had a tv to watch the rugby world cup final.

On Monday I went a few hours down the road to the coastal town of Chimbote, lots of fishing boats and not much else.

The net morning I got the 08:30 bus to Caraz via the Pato canyon! The ride up the canyon was spectacular!!

Arriving in the small mountain town of Caraz I sat in the main square, smoked a fag whist looking at the snow capped mountain peaks over yonder.

I got a quiet hostel on the edge of the square and had a super strong cup of coffee with a big fat ha sandwich thrown in for good measure.

The town is quiet and relaxing but 49kms away and 2kms higher up is a lake. The cost of renting a mountain bike was only 50 soles but the cost of a taxi was 120 soles (the minimum monthly wage in Peru is 550 soles) so I didn't bother. I know it was only about 30 GBP but damn its a complete rip off (a tour from Huaraz is only 30 soles).

After two days of relaxing and chilling out I got in a minibus for Huaraz, the large town an hour or so up the road.

Huaraz is a modern town, mainly because it got trashed 40 years ago by a big earthquake. It's the main centre for organising multi day treks around the mountainous landscape. Right now it's just at the start of the low season but as I wasn’t planning on going up any mountain its a mute point.

After checking into a very nice and surprisingly cheap hotel near the main square I went off in search of coffee.

The next day I wandered around the town, it didn't take to long and there really wasn't much to see. I popped into the museum which did have some really cool stone statues, hanged out in the main square and had some of the best bacon ever for breakfast (note to self: in future always fry the bacon in butter).

On Saturday I went on a day tour to Chavin, a pre Inca site one valley over, of course there was a big mountain in the way! After 45 minutes on the main road we turned left and headed uphill, nearing the top was a small lake situated at 4000m with snow dusted craggy peaks at the end. After 20 minutes or so of picture taking it was back on the bus for a further 500m rise in altitude. The valley got steeper and narrower and the snow line got nearer. Turning a corner the valley came to a halt but the bus went through the tunnel. Appearing out the other side I saw a long narrow valley disappearing into the distance. The bus plunged down as the road wound its way along across the valley.

Eventually we arrived at the small village of Chavin de Huantar. Everybody got off the bus and headed straight into the restaurant (Peruvians, it seems can't go for long without food). I decided that as I wasn't hungry I would go straight to the site of Chavin on the outskirts of the village.

The site consists of a main temple with a large square in front of it. Amazingly the river next door was diverted in order to construct the square. The result of this plus the rainfall levels is that the site has a small underground drainage canal traversing the site. The main temple also has 4 subterranean chambers, 2 of which were quite large.

By 4pm the bus started the slow crawl back up the valley. By the time the bus emerged from the tunnel the sun was setting turning the evening sky fabulous.

The next day was Sunday and after a long, lazy and coffee fuelled breakfast I took a combi the several kilometres uphill to Wilcahuain. This little site had a small two tiered temple with 3 internal rooms. I hanged out there for a while before heading downhill cross country style. I only had one dog go for me!

As I was going on another day trip the following day (to a glacier 5000m up) I decided to have a early night. Walking back from the restaurant to the hotel I completely failed to see the ankle didn't!!!!

In the morning my ankle was puffy and the thought of using it to walk uphill for over half an hour wasn't something I was wanting to do...bugger!!

The next day it was time to leave Huaraz and get on the bus to Casma about 80 miles away and 2900m down. I had magnificent views of the mountains as the bus climbed out of the valley, cresting the top of the ridge it was downhill all the way. The mountains gave way to a fertile river valley before spending the last 20 miles or so traversing arid desert landscapes.

There's an old mountaineering saying “for every 1000ft you ascend the temperature drops by 1 degree” it works the other way round as well...