San Pedro, Pachamanka and Peruvian Ponies

Trip Start Mar 09, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

People said, "It's grey and damp in Lima, you won't like it." Well, it is but we did. It is winter after all and what Scottish skies, although the "rain" was never more than a wee drizzle. We did the usual city stuff, museums, churches, falling over on high kerbs, visiting the dentist to fix sore tooth, watching parades etc and left after a very pleasant if a bit painful few days. We did have a funny night when we noticed a classical concert advertised and went along only to discover, (too late we were seated) that it was being performed by music school students from about 7-17. You really had to be a proud parent to enjoy it and we left just before the interval by which stage we'd progressed to 10 year olds with more than 6 weeks of lessons under their violin bow!

From Lima to Huaraz by bus, and what a pleasant journey it was too. From Huaraz we visited many pre Inca ruins. The first of these was Willkawain which is pretty close to Huaraz (just a taxi away, Jamie) and not only did we enjoy the site itself but the surrounding countryside. In retrospect we shouldn't have asked the taxi to wait for us but could have walked back the 7km!

The following day we took a tour to Lagona de Llanganuco. We were the only english speakers on the bus and that included the guide but we actually managed quite well. Again, it was the countryside we travelled through that made the most lasting impression. It's dotted with tiny farms growing crops in every conceivable nook and cranny. Most of the houses had cobs of maize hanging on lines to dry and I was later shown at The Lazy Dog Inn how to turn these dried cobs into a delicious snack, a bit like pop-corn. In fact I bet it's the original popcorn!! (OK, back to the tour and the bus bumping over hills and down dales) Whole families were lined up in some fields moving forwards slowly, weeding crops and in other, almost vertical fields, oxen were yoked to the plough. Behind all these hills were the incredible snow-capped peaks of the the Cordillera Blanca and the rugged Cordillera Negra.

More memorable for me than the lovely lake itself (Llanganuco) was a stop at Yungay to visit the site of the earthquake and subsequent avalanche that totally destroyed the town on the 31st of May 1970. I had no idea such an event took place, we were probably tuned into the World Cup at the time, I don't know. Sitting behind where Yungay once stood is the cemetery and because it is tiered and on high ground, this, along with the high ground where the circus was camped, is where the very few survivors were found. The earthquake also destroyed much of Huaraz but what was so terrifying in Yungay was that it caused some of the North Peak of Huascaran (6768m asl) to break off and when it landed on the lower lake this overflowed and caused a landslide of mud, rock and ice that engulfed the citizen's of the town below in less than 5 minutes. Horrendous and yet a very moving place to visit. You can still see 1 or 2 of the original many palm trees that surrounded their beautiful Plaza de Armes.

Spookily, with this all fresh in my mind, I was talking the very next day to our guide for the visit to Chavin, who was called Jesus or Hazus (not sure how he spelled it ). We'd been looking at a San Pedro cactus, which if left for 12 years or so can be used to produce a powerful hallucinogenic liquid which the priests of Chavin used to drink 1200-200 B.C. Of course I asked if it was still used and he said it was. I asked if he'd tried it and he said he planned to do so next June and then immediately, without any further prodding on my part, he told us his story of 31st may 1970. He was 13 years old and 8 blocks away from his house when the earthquake struck. When he could, he picked himself up and ran sobbing hysterically to his street where no houses were left standing. He found the pile of rubble that had, until moments earlier, been his home. According to Jesus, when he saw his house his sobbing ceased and he sat down opposite to stare at it. Kind people tried to wrest him away but he clung to whatever he could and refused to move. All night he sat opposite the ruin and the next day he discovered his 3 year old brother still alive although with badly injured feet. The following week they found their mother who had also been absent from the house but who had thought all her family dead. Next June, Jesus, with the help of a San Pedro cactus from his garden and a Shaman as guide and protector, will try to contact his dead father and his four siblings.

Chavin itself was fascinating with not just the main square but lots of underground "galleries", some for water which was held sacred and was channeled in certain ways to alter its sound and some for the priests and their san pedro.

We were enthralled on the journey to Chavin to see coal mines cut into the mountainside at the side of and above the road we were travelling along. They were tiny openings with sometimes a strut or two of wood holding the roof in place. The openings and the shafts were less than 4ft in height and we were told when we asked about them that around 15 men could be working inside each one. Our guide thought we were a bit odd even commenting on them. This is an area infamous for earthquakes and landslides.

Happy, happy days were enjoyed at the Lazy Dog Inn! After spending lots of time recently in large towns and cities we headed for the mountains. Only about 40 minutes from Huaraz but a world away from pedlars, traffic, tours and noise. I didn't appreciate just how much we needed a rural idyll until we found it. You can visit it on Our first day there we had lunch and met the family that included not just Diana and Wayne, the owners, but their lovely local staff and friendly dogs and horses, Oh yes, and humming birds. We had a "short" 3 hour walk that afternoon and it wasn't flat. In the hamlet just below the inn we came across a very pretty young girl washing her long black hair in the stream that runs through between the houses. As I told Diana later, by the time I'd thought of the Spanish for "You make such a pretty picture, can I take your photo?", we had passed her. As Diana quipped, "Joyce, her hair would have been dry again before you came up with that!" We did also see a family from grandad to daughters to grandchildren threshing corn using their donkeys' hooves. The adults didn't want to be photographed and the little boy wanted to fall about but the photo cost 2 soles so enjoy it!

The following morning we were dropped off by Wayne and the dogs at the entrance to Quebrada Llaca with a packed lunch provided by "the girls". After following the winding track for about an hour or so we heard a whistle being blown behind us and saw a man in army fatigues. We waited by the stream as we weren't sure if he was gesticulating for us to stop or not. As it turned out he was just a friendly Peruvian Marine and he was soon joined by 2 other friendly Peruvian Marines and we conversed very well in Spanglish. I asked if I might take a photo of them and their dog who was also dressed in fetching fatigues and they obliged and then took one of us as you can see. g] They were the vanguard and were leading about 11 other soldiers on a mountain training exercise. Would we like to join them? So that's how we were enlisted by the Peruvian Marines in the Cordillera Blanca! Actually what really happened was they lied to me and said they knew a shortcut that was easy-peasy and would cut out many of the loops the track had to take up the hillside to the lake. Me being gullible and them being handsome in uniform, I followed willingly. Well, the hillside grew steeper and I grew scareder. "Don't clutch onto the grass, you'll get prickles on your hands", said handsome in sunglasses. "Tengo!", said I in my most fluent Spanish and held up my hedgehog-like hands to show him and almost lost my footing again. The last straw was a huge boulder or rock-face as I like to call it. They were all up there on top of it already and I was crawling on my hands and knees at its base. I looked up and there was my lovely marine proffering a stout walking pole for me to cling on to. They heaved and I groaned and eventually I collapsed in a heap on the top of the rock. That's when they decided they really ought to have a photo of me too. Unfortunately I can't show that one as "handsome in sunglasses" has it on his mobile phone. The rest of the walk was relatively uneventful and we arrived back at the Inn after about 6and a half hours eagerly anticipating the horse-ride we'd booked for the following morning!

Those horses were stars! I rode Zeus and Dave rode Lucky, poor wee blighters. Three of the horses are the Peruvian Ponies that have a very even stride and that means there's no need for "posting". Mine wasn't and I did need to post but it came into its own at a canter. Diana led us with helper Tito bringing up the rear so to speak. We had a very enjoyable morning and afterwards we unsaddled the horses and gave them a good grooming, a first for Dave. We were both quite meticulous with our grooming so were a bit miffed when the first thing those horses did when they were let loose was to roll in a dust bowl! At least they had the good grace to wait until we were off their backs.

Lunch was special. Diana has set up various community projects and volunteers from oversees charities often come to help lay football pitches or, in this case, clear the stones for a volleyball pitch. The volunteers that had just arrived were the first this local community had had and they decided to welcome them with a Pachamanka. We were also welcomed as Diana's guests. We'd eaten a pachamanka once before at a restaurant near Chavin but this was so much better. Everyone in the community pitches in and brings something to the feast be it a piece of wood for the fire or chicha to drink. The meat is bought from monetary contributions made by each family. The men dig a deep pit in the earth and into this is put the meat (goat, chicken, pork, guinea pig, whatever) wrapped in leaves. Huge amounts and variety of potatoes are also cooked in the pit but unwrapped. The food is covered first with a layer of stones then with wood and grasses and finally covered over with earth again. I think I've got it the right way round. Anyway, it's very traditional and very good. We started with soup and came across the odd piece of intestine or chicken foot in it that we felt obliged to throw to the dogs hovering on the outskirts. I felt a bit bad doing this but the locals didn't seem to mind us feeding their animals too. Then came the flock of sheep, closely followed by the pigs. It was a great picnic and absolutely nothing got wasted. There were about 12 volunteers and about 10 local families but all the food would go back to the families' houses and feed those who were at work or at school. Around 300 in total Diana thought.

Said a sad farewell to Lazy Dog and our final memory was of a lovely conversation with Julia, a local girl, about Scotland and our family there. We left her a postcard of Loch Lomond and she was very pleased to learn that her mountains were mas grande than our mountains.

Overnight bus to Trujillo where we again visited lots of archaeological sites the highlights being the Huacas del Sol y la Luna and Chan Chan. Met a particularly friendly hairless Peruvian dog, a breed that's won the World's Ugliest Dog contest for the last 3 years. Did you know it has a higher than normal temperature and that they've been used for years as hot-water bottles and as a cure for arthritis? Took a bus to Chiclayo to visit the Museum of Sican, Tucume with its wonderful viewpoint and Museo Tumbes Reales de Sipan where the relics from the tombs of the Lords of Sipan are on show. These included some of the most wonderful gold jewellery. Earrings the size of saucers, ouch, were luckily just for men to wear. Am now thoroughly confused about who came first and who influenced who, where and when. We will have to clear our minds before confronting the Mayan and Aztec cultures!

We have just arrived in Ecuador and we're looking forward to exploring our final South American country.

Lots of love to all
Joyce and Dave.
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