In the Cordillera Blanca

Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
Trip End Sep 12, 2010

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

North of Lima lies the Cordillera Blanca, named after the white granite rock of this mountain range (another part of the Andes) [or perhaps after the many snow capped peaks, several over 6,000m].

We spent a few days in Caraz, a sleepy town where we were the only gringos around (still the low season here apparently). Everything here was within a few hundred yards of our hostel, just a few restaurants and stores, not much for tourists here! However, on each street corner there was a store selling the local delicacy, pastries filled with Manjar Blanco, a very sweet dulce de leche. Initially we we excited to find good deserts, a rarity in south America, but a few alforahors (manjar blanco sandwiched between sweet biscuits) can go a long way.

We had come to the Cordillera Blanca for hiking and more ruins. We took a day hike to a high mountain lake above Caraz, but unfortunately did not have time for the recommended multi-day trek listed in many guidebooks.

Moving on to Chavin on the east side of the range (passing the incongruous statue of Christ at the 4,200m pass, placed there by an Italian missionary group), we visited the ancient capital of the Chavin culture – temples and buildings dating from 1200BC, including an underground warren of passageways below the main temple. The most unique and interesting artifact here at Chavin is the stele,.- the original stone is still in its' original location deep in the labyrinth below the main temple, more than 3,000 years old and covered in fantastic interweaved serpents, jaguars, human figures and the sun and moon. Many of the traditions and beliefs of the Chavin culture reappear later in other South American cultures, down to the Incas almost 3,000 years later, including their four main gods, the jaguar, the eagle, the crocodile and the serpent.

The town of Chavin was another small mountain town, with a just few restaurants and hostels catering to the tourists (again we were virtually the only guests at our hostal). As in other towns, we found the best food at the restaurants frequented by the locals, where we could order 'menu del dia’, be served and eat a delicious meal (vegetable soup followed by chicken, rice and potatoes or a slight variant), all within 30 - 45 minutes (no need to wait hours as we had done a few times at the ‘restaurantes turisticos’ featuring extensive menus but poor food and deadly slow service). In our five months in south America, we never got sick from ordering the simple meals at these restaurants.

We travelled between these towns in local buses, crawling up the steep roads and then screaming down the other side, often on the wrong side of the road, sometimes passing on blind corners, but never really feeling in fear for our lives (until we saw a bus in Chavin that had clearly rolled over and had the roof crushed in).
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