Happy to Find a Little Bit of Home

Trip Start Jan 31, 2005
Trip End Mar 30, 2006

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

After an exhausting overnight bus from Trujillo, we arrived in Huaraz on March 12 around 6:00 in the morning. Despite the early hour, we were met at the bus station by a few people touting their hotels. One of the ladies there convinced us to come back to her hostal and after seeing it and deciding it was as good as anything (actually, it was really nice and incredibly cheap - 25 soles, which is less than $8 per night), we crashed for a couple of hours since we didn't sleep much on the bus. After dragging ourselves out of bed a few hours later, we set off to find some breakfast and good coffee. We haven't mentioned it, but finding good coffee is one of the great challenges of Latin America. Most countries serve Nescafe (instant coffee, which seems to be devoid of caffeine) and occasionally you see coffee concentrate (basically boiled down coffee), which seems to be kept indefinitely in little pitchers on tables. All of this in countries that produce a large proportion of the world's coffee. When we are in towns that are either rich enough or touristy enough to have a demand for European or American style coffee, we are pretty happy (but it is still really hard to find). So, we ended up at a little cafe where the owners were really friendly and listened to our request for good coffee (very hard to explain to people) - they insisted that they served coffee that we would like, but it came so fast (about 3 minutes) we were skeptical. It tasted fine (half the battle), but not much caffeine, as far as we could tell, anyway (yeah, we are junkies). So, we decided to find a spot with an espresso machine, since that is a reliable way to get that caffeine fix taken care of - if you can find one. We started looking all through the central part of Huaraz (which is very touristy - more on that later), and finally found a place called Cafe Andino. We were instantly in heaven. We didn't know it, but we were craving a piece of home. The place is run by an American guy and it served huge french presses of real STRONG coffee, breakfast burritos with tofu in them (which we never ended up having...), good chocolate cake and an extensive travel library - all the while playing good music including the Jerry Garcia Band. Allison admits that in her strung-out, over-tired state, she shed a few tears (for real) when they served us our coffee.

So, now that good coffee had been found, we started looking into what we wanted to do in Huaraz. The town is located high in the mountains (the area is known as the Swiss Alps of South America - has the greatest density of glaciers in the tropical world). Nearby Huaraz there are a crazy number of peaks over 6,000 meters (at least 23 are supposed to be visible from the town itself), while all of North America only has three that size. It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Peru, and a great spot to set off on multi-day hiking or mountaineering trips. But we showed up in the rainy season, when you can't see most of the peaks, except very early in the morning, and the hiking is less than desirable. We knew this before going there, but were hoping we would be lucky. We weren't - it was raining and colder than one would expect a tropical country would be most of the time we were there. After checking into a couple of tours, we realized that we would not get the most enjoyment for our time and money and decided to just go and see a famous ruin about 4 hours from town and then cut our losses and leave.

But then we discovered that Cafe Andino was not the only spot in town where we could find a bit of home. When we were at the cafe we saw a flier posted on the wall with a list of movies that were shown daily in town. We had been wanting to see a movie, and the flier said One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was showing that night, so we decided to go. It turned out the "movie theater" was actually a small restaurant/bar owned by an American guy and his Peruvian girlfriend, where they had installed a large screen and DVD projection system. We were the first two there and the last two to leave due to our extended conversation with the owner about movies and Peruvian politics.

Following the advice of our new friend from the "movie theater," the next morning we went to a different cafe in town (California Cafe), which, surprise, is owned by an American guy from California and his Peruvian wife. There we found yet more excellent coffee (from the Peruvian jungle and roasted onsite) and great breakfasts, not to mention about the best book exchange in Peru (in fact, that morning he had received a box of about 60 used books from California...) Yet again we were in heaven. And then we learned that the California Cafe folks organize an Ultimate Frisbee game every Wednesday. We had thought about leaving town Tuesday night, but between all of the good coffee in town and the prospect of running around and throwing a disk, we were easily convinced to stay an extra day.

After spending the morning at California Cafe, we took a bus to the town of Chavin, located adjacent to the ruins of Chavin de Huantar. The bus ride between Chavin and Huaraz is pretty spectacular, even though the clouds prevented us from seeing the whole white-capped landscape. The road between the two towns goes through an incredibly high mountain pass (at least 15,000 feet above sea level) and at one point it snowed a little. Not surprisingly, the reportedly three hour bus ride took at least four and a half hours, but we have come to expect that.

The town of Chavin is very traditional and was nice to visit for a day, especially in low season. There are hardly any cars and most of the population wears traditional indigenous dress. We found it to be very friendly - we were sort of taken aback when we were in a little store and a guy walked in with a big pound cake and started handing out slices to everyone - and it was the best cake we have ever tasted in Latin America. It was fun to walk out of the store and see people eating cake all down the next few blocks.

The next morning we went to the ruins. They are incredibly old - dated from at least 3,000 years ago. And the best part was that they constructed a bunch of underground stone passageways, which are still intact, and most impressively, are extremely well ventilated by long ducts that go all the way to the exterior of the pyramid.

After leaving the ruins we took a bus back to Huaraz (although the trip only took the scheduled 3 hours, the funny thing about this trip was that the bus company calls it the 12 o'clock bus, even though they told us it arrived in Chavin at 12:30, which ended up stretching to at least 1:15...) After getting back to Huaraz, we ended up checking into a different hostal we had heard a little bit about called The Way Inn. It was great - a huge CLEAN communal kitchen, really comfortable beds, and a huge video library in the "living room." We ended up watching both The Bourne Identity and Meet the Parents that night on their overstuffed couch while eating a big plate of spaghetti with garlic bread...

The next morning, we got up and headed back to California Cafe for more coffee and breakfast and waited for the Ultimate Frisbee group to assemble. We managed to get a group of six together (the two of us, the guy from California, the English owner of The Way Inn, and two Peace Corps volunteers - in other words, the same size group we typically manage to piece together at home), and we all rode up in the English guy's pickup truck to a communal soccer field outside of town. We played for a couple of hours and learned the pain of running around at an altitude of over 10,000 feet - we haven't ran around for several months and last time it was under 1,000 feet... But neither of us passed out or threw up, so we call it a success. It was fun, really... Oh, and we managed to have an old indigenous man yell at us for scaring his sheep, who were grazing just outside of the endzone.

After Frisbee, we killed time in Huaraz doing Internet (Jeff had to get his NCAA picks in on time - now he wishes he hadn't bothered) and getting some food. We took off for Lima that night on an overnight bus, and will have a full report on everything we have done since then soon enough.

Some new Latin America firsts for us during our stay in Huaraz: a herd of sheep blocking traffic through a long mountain tunnel on our way to Chavin - major contributor to our lengthy trip there; the sighting of a man leading a mule through the center of Chavin with a car battery strapped to the saddle - go figure; and the sighting of a little man in an "Olympic Bowling Team" jacket chasing his horse through the streets of Chavin.

PS. We send our love to the Brown family and are sorry we won't be able to be with you for Grandma Inell's service.
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