Arriving in town at sparrows fart, we followed a woman to an awful hostel the name of which we never asked, before taking advice from both ours and Ville’s guidebooks and heading to highly recommended Hostel Caroline.
A warm welcome awaited us, and we were swiftly checked into a dorm (USD$5 each) where we caught up on a few hours of lost sleep. A morning workout on the top terrace as the sun rose and the clouds parted to expose the surrounding peaks of the Cordillera Blancas was a perfect way to restart the day. Finding that deadmau5 had popped in to play an impromptu set made it even better.
Enjoying a free breakfast of bread, butter and jam all we could think of was Lord of the Rings…
Look, more lembas bread!
Having said that the following two mornings we were treated to a surprise of banana pancakes and corn chips with homemade guacamole. This place will always surprise you!
Caffeine time! One of the best spots for a hit of real coffee with plenty of options, head to California Café. With a decent French press and good WiFi, the place is partly staffed by expats and there’s a massive book swap/library here if you’re running short of travel reads. That sorted we hit the food market where it was time to try that Ecuadorian favourite, guinea pig, known locally as cuy. The verdict? Gimmicky, tasty and incredibly bony, there wasn’t actually much meat to enjoy and we’d probably not order it again.
Picking up a couple of bags of cheap dried fruit and nuts on the lower level, we grabbed some cheap produce to make the most of our first kitchen in what felt like weeks. Healthy eating done we hit the streets in search of dessert. And dessert we did find, in the form of these monstrous sugar filled delights. It was about now we realised our mate Ville had the world’s biggest sweet tooth, managing to devour two and contemplate going for three.
Wanting to head out into the surrounding mountains, along with German Niko and Finnish Ville we organised to hire mountain bikes from the guys at Hostel Caroline. USD$9 each got us bikes for the whole day, a personal guide to the collective and help with translation to get the bikes on the roof. We then paid the grand sum of USD$1 each for a 45 minute trip into the hills. A total of 22 people and a baby crammed into a van made for 14, with a soundtrack of baby chicks chirping in an old woman’s bag on the backseat.
After stopping to re-secure the bikes twice, we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere and were on our own for the rest of the day. A long, (mostly) gentle 1 hour climb took us uphill where the familiar smell of Eucalyptus trees was replaced by rocky terrain, glacier carved valleys and pine trees.
Finally reaching the midway ascent point of The Lazy Dog Inn, we stopped for a 45 minute tight arse backpackers lunch break of tuna, avocado and local cheese wraps whilst soaking in the view and being attacked by tiny blood drawing flies. Finishing off with some local chocolate (which turned out to be the not so tasty cooking variety), we all agreed to get back on the bikes and use the sugar rush to head further uphill rather than making our way down.
An hour later after a slight struggle with the increasing altitude, we reached a small wooden bridge with a cracking view up the valley towards the glaciers above. Reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains, we felt nostalgic for Canada before pressing on for the final short ascent. Reaching the tipping point, it was tyres downhill and time to get some speed.
Descending our way from alpine heights back to the local farmlands, we were harmlessly shot at by a little kid with no front teeth and a waterless water pistol, before having huge pieces of firewood hurled at us by another kid hiding in the bushes (I guess that’s why they give you helmets).
Tearing our way back into town around 2 hours later, we stumbled across some locals parading down the street. This one was supposedly a week long harvest festival and our entire time in Huaraz was dotted with brightly costumed, feather adorned locals dancing around at all hours of the day and night. Feeling we deserved a reward we stopped at Sierra Andina brew pub on the way back to the hostel for a couple of satisfying pints of Huaracina Pale Ale.
The most popular gringo restaurant in Huaraz, Chilli Heaven has a well deserved reputation for great curries, even if the price is a little out of some backpackers range (around USD$10). I wouldn’t let that put you off, if you only splash out on one meal while in town, make it this one. Huge portions of perfectly seasoned and presented cuisine, including an excellent tofu yellow curry, made sure we were all smiles when we hit Cafe 13 Buhos next door for a couple of their locally brewed beers (a little bland after the Pale Ale’s of earlier).
The highlight of our time in Huaraz was hands down the all-day trek to Lago 69 (Lake 69). Picked up almost an hour late at 6:30am, we boarded a minibus full of gringos, stopping several hours later at a rustic restaurant for a breakfast of watery coffee and ham, egg and cheese sandwiches on stale bread rolls.
Winding higher into the valley everybody was jumping all over each other to snap photos of the first lake we passed. Setting off we passed through a copse of orange barked trees resembling the paperbark trees of Australia, before making our way across bubbling streams and through lush meadows, admiring the pronounced change in flora as we climbed.
It’s a challenging uphill hike taking you up to 4,550m, and when you reach the first lake set within a high altitude meadow, you almost think you’ve made it. But not yet. Skipping across small rivers where the iron oxide content of the water has stained the stone banks orange, the hardest part is yet to come. A final steep ascent takes everything you’ve got left to give, yet reaching the lake (which we did in 2hrs 15mins), all the pain disappears. No amount of photos can prepare you for that first glimpse of the lakes surreal colour, set against a backdrop of sheer grey cliffs.
Treated to the suns first appearance of the day, the shimmering turquoise seemed even more dazzling with the rays reflecting on the surface. We soaked up the view for an hour over a picnic lunch, with the occasional sound of glaciers crashing in the distance, until the clouds reappeared and become more ominous. Heading down took us 2hrs 25mins with plenty of photography time and a few breaks to scare sinister looking cows off the pathway.
The hike is well worth it and will only set you back around USD$10 plus a $3 park entrance fee. But a word of warning – don’t attempt it if you’ve just arrived in town, you’ll struggle with the huge jump in altitude big time. Some people took so long to reach the lake they arrived back at the van in the dark, a full 2 hours after everybody else. Not only were they completely exhausted, they pissed everybody else off as well, as we didn’t arrive back in town until after 9pm. Luckily Luigi’s Pizza restaurant was still open, so along with Niko and Ville we basically inhaled their tasty carb fuelled pizza and pasta.
One thing you’ll notice if you spend any time in Huaraz are the women’s hats. Low, medium, high and higher, the height supposedly represents the altitude in which they live. The higher you live, the shorter the hat in order to keep you warm. The higher your hat the lower you live, with the increased air circulation keeping you cool. They’re all decorated with the same hand stitched ribbon pattern, with more folds and more detail demanding a higher price.
With Sarah finding a blue number she liked (hat fetish much?), she set to bargaining, settling on USD$12. Ville’s bargaining however didn’t go so well. Firstly the women wouldn’t sell him an old worn hat in a unique style, even though he offered to pay the same price as a new one. Wasting some time at upstairs Café Andino before our overnight but to Lima (good coffee, strong WiFi), we eventually returned and they agreed to sell, for USD$250! A long, tough time bargaining finally ended in a sale when they resized an alternative hat and we all walked away happy.
But happy we didn’t stay for long….as we headed into overnight bus hell.
If you want to stay happy, you can check out more Peru pics on Flickr!