THE PERUVIAN ANDES

THE PERUVIAN ANDES

We are extremely happy when we meet our American friends Leah and Karl shortly before the Peruvian border and we all decide to drive the next few days together through the remote mountains of northern Peru.

A bumpy gravel road leads down to the border river between Ecuador and Peru and we settle the exit formalities on one side and the immigration formalities on the other side of the bridge. Quickly we notice, how remote the border posts are because the exit of our vehicles is reported to the central office in the old-fashioned way via landline and not by Internet. On the Peruvian side the friendly official then has visibly trouble to operate the brand-new computer with the color printer and gladly accepts our help.

The drive on our first day in Peru takes us along river valleys and – somewhat unexpectedly – we are plagued by mosquitoes at sunset and spend a sultry night with all windows open as much as possible. A glance at the map shows, that we are still at sea level, not far from the access to the Amazon, which also explains the tropical climate.

SERPENTINES OVER SERPENTINES

Only from the second day the route changes abruptly. The innumerable curves begin, which will be our constant companions in the next few days and we thereby drive higher and higher up into the Andean world. The views, when you have reached a hill down into the next valley are spectacular and almost as breathtaking as the one-lane (!) serpentines that lead down into just this valley. Oncoming traffic therefore leads to a long reverse drive along the abyss which increases our heart rate or then a very scary overtaking maneuver makes our foreheads sweat from fear…

ORIGINAL MOUNTAIN VILLAGES

Our route does not only lead through great landscapes, but we get to know Peru from its original side. We pass countless small villages, most of them with a picturesque little village square where young and old meet and enjoy the warming sun. People chat, trade goods and women spin their wool or knit typical clothing. We get into a conversation with two ladies and express our admiration for their craft. For them, “it’s nothing special to spend hours making the thread they then knit”. However, they tell us, sooner or later this tradition will become extinct because “the kids these days prefer to play with their cell phones rather than engage in meaningful activities” – somehow the civilization disease seems to have arrived here too… Another custom, on the other hand, will probably have a continuity for a long time to come. We are talking about the guinea pigs, which are considered an absolute delicacy here. They are either skewered roasted over a fire or halved in the middle and grilled on the barbecue and then consumed with pleasure. Much too sweet, we find the cute little guys when they are alive and up for sale on the local market and so we’re not even tempted to taste them…

Another peculiarity we notice is the incredible variation of headgears. In every area they vary, sometimes they are simple and flat, then again, they resemble a magical hat and two days later the broad-brimmed specimens of the ladies are adorned with colorful flowers. A true splendor for the eye.

NATURAL AND CULTURAL WONDERS

Since its discovery by a German development aid worker in 2006, the third highest waterfall in the world can also be admired along the route. The “Gotca” waterfall is an incredible 771 meters high and is only surpassed by the “Angel Falls” in Venezuela and the “Tugela Falls” in South Africa. We decide to explore it completely in a day hike and underestimate not only the distance but also the altitude we have to overcome from its foot to the top. 😉

Another highlight according to our guide book are the ruins of «Kuélap». It was the capital of the Chachapoya culture, which according to tradition was defeated by the Incas, but whose population could never be completely subjugated. The “cloud warriors”, as the people were called due to their homes above airy 3000 meters, fiercely resisted and were notorious for their fighting spirit and their brutal vendettas. We visit the ruins with its imposing fortress wall by using the brand-new cable car which was built by a French company from Grenoble and almost feel transferred to a mountain village back home in Europe. 😊 However, we cannot quite agree with the praising words of our guide book that this place is comparable to the “Machu Picchu”… But we do find the burial culture of this civilization interesting. The dead are mummified and buried in a sitting position, wrapped in cloths, in rock tombs on cliffs or in clay jugs. We set out to explore some of these sites and find not only broken tombs but also human remains…

SWITZERLAND OF THE ANDES

Unfortunately, we have to say goodbye to our friends halfway through the trip, as they have to drive directly to a workshop in the next larger city on the coast due to loss of oil on their vehicle. ☹ We though stay in the Andes and follow the winding roads to the among mountaineers famous “Huascarán” National Park near the city of Huaraz. From there we start various hiking tours through the Peruvian Switzerland as this area is also called because of its impressive mountains. One of the hikes leads us past the beautiful “Laguna Paron”, high up to the foot of a glacier. We feel the thin air and fight our way up, heavily breathing, to almost 5000 meters above sea level where the path continues only with alpine equipment. At night, temperatures drop below freezing at this altitude and therefore we want to be back in our well-insulated home at sunset. So, we enjoy the 360-degree view of seven peaks which are all over 6000 meters high and eat our sandwiches before we make our way back to our car.

On a two-day loop we test once more the reliability of our Land Cruiser and cross two other Andes passes close to 5000-meter altitude, not without the smoke and steam we already know from our volcano tours in Ecuador. 😊 We are rewarded we with a lot of blue and turquoise mountain lakes and more great views of the Andean world.

HUGE FLOWERS AND MELTING GLACIERS

Almost one month we already travel through the mountainous north of Peru by now and as a conclusion we visit the “Pastoruri Glacier” which is – how could it be different – located again above 5000 meters. On the way there we get to see for the first time the extremely imposing “Puya Raimondii” plant which grows only at altitudes between 3500 and 4500 meters. The giant bromeliad does not look very special in the first few years of its life, but on an information sign we read that the plant continues to grow for many decades and then after more than 100 years produces a flower stem up to 10 meters high with an estimated 20’000 flowers before it subsequently dies and dries up. In fact, we are fortunate enough to witness the extremely rare spectacle of a “Puya Raimondii” in full bloom!

Later on, on the loop hike to the glacier lagoon, more signs explain and clearly show the decline of the glacier during the past 40 years. Once more on our journey we are confronted with the consequences of climate change and it makes us mad that some politicians still dare to deny it. ☹

But enough of the moral ideas, we leave the Andes for the time being and plunge almost literally down to the coast and into the city life of Lima.

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