Tuesday, November 07, 2006

High Spirits

Just a super quick entry.. I´m in Huaraz up in the mountains in Peru, [GPS: 09.54387S, 77.53415W]. I´m so excited. The enormous Cordillera Blanca range stretches across the horizon. Gonna do Santa Cruz trek day after tomorrow, then Huayhuash after that. Worries draining away, I´m absolutely buzzing with excitement. Wish me luck!


Day 19
Up early. Didn't sleep well. Anyway, along to the café in the hostel. They have an genuine big Italian coffee machine which the chap who served me beer last night operates. I have cappuccino then expresso. Very nice. Pack, then cab it to the Cruz del Sur bus station, the other side of town. Taxi driver and I attempt conversation. Hard going. We go past the Peruvian National Football Stadium, it's blue, and relatively small compared with the big groups back home. The traffic is quite bad, and I begin to worry slightly, but we arrive. I pay the 8 soles (£1.20) for the 30 minute ride, then wander in to the terminal. Buy three waters, then "check in" my luggage, i.e hand it over a desk and get a tag. Some have said to me it's better to take the local buses as you are less likely to be held up or robbed than in the swanky ones. That may be, but I think petty theft is far more likely, and on this bus they lock the base firmly shut, so no fretting whether your bags are still there every time the coach slows down.

I jump on and up the stairs to seat 5. This is definitely more cramped than I had expected. Strangely the guys downstairs in the smaller section have a 1-2 row configuration, whereas we have 2-2. I wonder if those seats are more expensive, I'd prefer them! All full downstairs anyway. There's a toilet there, and one upstairs. I try to stuff my daypack into the luggage racks unsuccessfully, so it sits at my feet. I have a window seat but a supporting pillar removed 90% of my view. Now much leg room. I really hope the person in 6 either doesn't turn up or is very small, attractive and female! As it turns out, no one else does sit in that chair, thank goodness. I manage to get a GPS reference before we set off, so this is the Cruz Del Sur station, fairly far from where I was staying: [GPS: 12.08926S, 77.01741W] The journey is made much worse by the air-con being on the blink. When the air-con packs up, it would be far better to have windows that can be opened - as it happens we roast, and so the 8 hour journey is endured in the range of 25-30C mostly. Damn hot.

We head along the Panamerica, a joined up series of roads along the West coast of America, for the journey along the coast. We head over enormous sand-dunes. This really is a proper desert, right next to the sea. After we turn off this road to head inland to Huaraz, the pace slows as the bus is weaving its way along switchback roads, heading slowly up into the mountains. [GPS: 10.50436S, 77.75429W]. Higher and higher we weave, until a snow-capped mountains just tips into view ahead. Hurrah! I feel elated! The bus reaches 4110m, and I begin to wonder whether I'll suffer altitude sickness, after all we've just come from sea level in a matter of hours, here's a GPS reference just before the highest point, at 4100m [GPS: 10.13790S, 77.30149W]. At the top there is a large open plane, with a small lake. The colour is of greeny-yellow scrubland. The Cordillera Blanca range swing in and out of view, and look beautiful. We decend and finally reach Huaraz, also called Ancash for no detectable reason, [GPS: 09.54387S, 77.53415W]. We arrive, I'm out, a reasonable temperature finally! In my excitement I almost leave my main pack behind.. Knew this daypack felt a bit too comfortable!

I have decided on one of three lodges, all of which are in the same area, so I walk that way. Navigation isn't particularly easy as there does not seem to be a single street sign anywhere! Anyway, I find myself at the first choice, Albergue Chirrup (www.chirrup.com). It's a nice, clean and friendly four storey building, decked out as a mountain lodge. [GPS: 09.53077S, 77.52375W]. I'm on the second floor, with a twin room with en-suite for $15 / night including breakfast. I dump my stuff, they make me a cup of tea, then I chat with one of them, a chap called Paulina (?), about the treks I hope to do. Until now I've been worried about doing it out of season. He thinks it's fine though, worst case is I'll get rain in the afternoon, but as the treks are generally set up for an early start, finishing after lunch, this is no problem. I know about torrential rain every afternoon from dear old Annapurna!

So I use their internet pc for a bit (1 sole per half hour), then get a phone call from back home, which makes me very happy! After that, out to a restaurant with a flyer I found in the lounge here - Chilli Heaven! It's in town, and dark now. I walk down, and find the restaurant easily. Huaraz is a small place. Turns out the restaurant is owned by a mixed couple - he is English, from Preston, and she Peruvian. I chat to him a bit, if only to try to drown out the noise of the loud scouser boring his two dinner companions (actually they seem as bad as him so no sympathy) in the corner. I have the Singapore Curry, which is good. Not as hot as I had hoped for though. I had begun to feel relaxed about safety now being outside of Lima, but the owner chap recounts the tale from the previous week when he was mugged right in front of this restaurant (he still has a black eye), and though they called the police, they never turned up. Blind eyes and corruption suggested. Apparently the mayor of another fairly large town was jailed for something, presumed a set up, and he just walked out of jail (bribed his way) the first day he was imprisioned, and went back to being mayor!

So that story has put me back on guard anyway, especially during the day. The chap also mentions that people have started setting up their own "tolls" around the treks - there is little official organisation here, and some of the areas are not even national parks. So if a chap comes up to you demanding money and has a gun, he says don't argue, and you'll be fine. He added that if you're with Israelis, you may well get into trouble as they are likely to argue. Funny tip, given the animosity felt towards Israelis in Nepal too. Back to lodge and to bed. I don't sleep well again - dreaming all through the night. This is what happens when you're not acclimatised - effectively your brain is being starved of oxygen during the night, and the consequence is the weeeeirrdest dreams. Not necessarily horrible ones, just mad zany "what was that all about" dreams. I've also shaved beard off, was getting itchy. Might get a haircut in town too, that should be fun! My book has the word for "trim", I suppose that's what I'll be getting!!

Good night!

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