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zig zag logic

PERÚ: HUARAZ — LA MERCED — RECAUY — HATUN MACHAY — PASTORURI — CHIQUIAN

HIGHWAYS AND BYWAYS

Straight lines and direct routes simply don’t suit me – I am not that pragmatic.

There is a highway heading directly out of Huaraz in the direction I'm going but I decline to take it, heading up instead into the Cordillera Negra to ride above it on the network of mining roads there. The first couple of hours out of Huaraz are paved. You would think it didn't need mentioning, really, but the sign reads; "Don't leave stones on the highway."

It's cold and lonesome up in these hills as the sun starts to sink...

... and dawn is a positively frigid business.

There are some sweet sections of road through the rugged hills - scenes like this are what I am here for - ...

... but the ubiquitous mines and associated heavy traffic, raising choking clouds of talcum fine dust, make other sections considerably less pleasant.

These murky plastic lined ponds don't inspire me with much confidence in the quality of the water in the streams below. This is a lead mine, apparently.

More dubious water holdings.

Eventually the road descends again towards the highway which leads from Huaraz towards Lima. After two days of riding I rejoin the highway at Recauy, a point I might have reached in a few hours ride if I had contented myself with travelling in a straight line.

HATUN MACHAY

On reaching the highway I overshoot the turn off to my chosen route south towards Cusco over the Pastoruri pass, by forty kilometres or so, to visit Hatun Machay, a bizarre rock wonderland that is still little known outside the insular circle of obsessive rock climbers and mountaineers.

The Huaraz-Lima highway - smooth rolling but windswept and cold - leading towards Hatun Machay..

I have found myself in Hatun Machay on the insistent recommendation of Cass who spent some time here in his explorations in and around Huaraz last year. The landscape is really incredible but one of Huaraz's foreign owned tourist agencies has leased the area from the local community for a nominal sum (10 000 soles - around $3500/year) in exchange for exclusive access rights. Camping at the site refuge costs 20 soles/night/person - more than a private room in many hotels in Peru - and a bed in the refuge dorm will set you back 30 soles. Toilet paper does not appear to be included in this deal. Full capacity at the refuge is around 50 people offering the agency a pretty generous opportunity for profit, I feel. Most insidiously, though, the agency downplays its part in the setup giving the entirely erroneous impression that the local community is the primary beneficiary of the hefty fees levied from guests. You can not even walk in the area without paying the agency. Hum. OK... whinge over: it's beautiful, the rock climbing crowd are entertaining, and I end up staying three nights.

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A short hike up the hill above the refuge, to around 4800 metres, provides fine views towards the coast, back towards the Cordillera Blanca, and also out towards the Cordillera Huayhaush, further south, in the distance.

Most visitors to Hatun Machay are rock climbers and it is billed - at 4250 metres - as the world's highest crag. I guess that's a storng draw-card if you're a mountaineer honing your technical climbing skills for difficult ascents.

The refuge has a well set-up kitchen and is a relaxed place to hang out. The 'staff' tend to be Latina (Argentinian, Chilean, Colombian, but not Peruvian, for some reason) hippy chicks - all friends of the Argentinian 'owner', it seems - who oversee activities and keep things neat and tidy in exchange for a free stay. This is a business model, it has to be said, that doesn't do much for local development.

...

Outside, the locals are still residing in their huts despite whatever economic trickle down effect might be slow leaking in their direction.

The rock formations have clearly attracted the interest of people for millennia as a significant number of caves and sheltered walls amongst the rocks are adorned with carvings and paintings thought to date back, in some cases, to over 10 000 years ago.

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Butterfly?

Space man?

This painting of a herd of animals seems timeless and ancient...

... but the crosses here, above a scene that appears to represent some kind of violence, suggests more recent post-Colombian artistry. The archeological remains here have not been the subject of much study and are fairly inadequately protected against acts of vandalism and the increasing impact of visitors to the area.

I wander the area admiring the delicate flora: stars,...

...rosettes,...

... a cactus series.

Spiny cactus on the rocky arid hill tops...

... contrast with lush ferns sheltering in a damp cave...

... alongside these yellow flowers, relatives of the snap dragon.

...

...

PASTORURI

Leaving Hatun Machay, I have to mentally brace myself to backtrack to Catac to resupply before heading along the highway for a third time to the turn off to Pastoruri for my final foray across the Cordillera Blanca but once on the road it goes quickly enough and by mid afternoon I am setting off across the pampa under a lowering sky.

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I arrive at the park check point just as it starts to rain and near enough to dusk  to decide to call it day.

By the next morning rain has turned to sprinkles of snow and I sit it out for a while in the company of a hardy Andean dog...

... before setting off. The road passes a number of natural wonders - mysterious bubbling waters, for example,...

... but most impressively the prodigious Puya raimondii, Queen of the Andes, largest of the bromeliads, giant among flowers.

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The plant flowers once, before dying.

The basal leaves that reach up to 3 metres in length lend themselves to various uses.

Wikipedia reveals, "this bromeliad has a gigantic inflorescence that may reach up to 10m in height, with more than three thousand flowers and six million seeds in each plant." Impressive, huh. And the giant flower attracts a comparably large hummingbird imaginatively dubbed the Giant Hummingbird.

...

Many tourists choose to view these sights from the comfort and warmth of their bus seats...

... leaving me, as I climb, to battle it out with the elements...

... alone.

Things steadily deteriorate...

... until in a brief clear spell I set up camp...

... close to the pass where I can look out to the Huayhaush...

...as the sun sets...

... before retiring to my tent. Sometime during the night the weather closes in and it starts to snow again.

Dawn reveals a snowy bike and as the view doesn't extend much beyond it I decide the best thing to do is to continue to work my way through the contents of my Kindle in the cosy cocoon of my sleeping bag, a strategy that works splendidly until my tent collapses on top of me due to the combined effects of snow and wind. Time to go on.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Gary and Patti | September 29, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Anna, I really appreciate that you don’t sugar coat your blog posts. It seems like you tell it like you see it and don’t hide the- not so pretty – stuff. Thanks for that.
    We’ve been wondering about you! We’re still doing short trips out of Huaraz.

  2. anna | September 29, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Good to hear from you Gary and Patti. I guess I’ve been finding a few aspects of Peru kind of hard work… I hope I don’t come across as negative. It’s not Peru but my place in it that troubles me.

  3. Tony | September 30, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    One thing that comes out in just this one posting is that life is full of complexities, whether it be from nature alone or human morality or choices we make in life. I always marvel at what you have to show.

  4. anna | October 1, 2013 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    Hi Tony, good to hear from you! I hope all is going well for you and Cesc and the boys in Melbourne.

  5. steve | October 4, 2013 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    I am so fucking jealous. You are so privileged to have the opportunity to spend time in that wild landscape.
    I still don’t have time to look at your site in detail, b/c of work…but I will!

    Un abrazo

    Steve

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