Mancora, Huanchaco, Huaraz

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Flag of Peru  ,
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

1. Mountains, 2. Jungle, 3. Desert

In just a day, we travel down from the highlands of Ecuador, through tropical lowland scenery and into Peru, where the landscape rapidly changes into desert. Now, to do this journey, and make our life a lot easier, we could have taken an international through bus from the Ecuadorian town of Machala, all the way to our Peruvian destination of Mancora. But no, we're the travel masochists, and instead decided to take a local bus to the border town of Huaquillas, and walk across the border.

I'm the Taxi Driver and We'll go Where ummmmm............... I Want to!

Peruvian immigration, for a reason that nobody seems to know, is 2km from the border. So, after walking across into Peru, we head over to the taxi stand and ask how much it'll cost to get a cab there. Fellow travellers be aware, these taxi drivers are a pain in the ass, and have all made a pact to only take you to immigration if you'll then take their cab to Tumbes, a town with lots of onward bus connections, but which is 30 minutes away. They will also try and charge 13 US (40 soles) for this trip, which is double the official price, so you need to be firm. When you refuse, they will try and tell you that there isn't any public transport from immigration to Tumbes, a complete lie.

After going round in circles with them about this same topic for about 20 minutes, and getting the same answers in a synchronized manner from all the 20 taxi drivers who'd surrounded us, we start to get really annoyed in the following sarcastic way.

Us: "Let's tell you how it works shall we??"
"We are called customers, and you are called Taxi Drivers"
"We tell you the destination that WE want to go to, not the one YOU want to take us to"
"You tell us the price, and if we are happy with the price, we take your taxi, simple as that, not rocket science".

Eventually, when they could see that we wouldn't give in, one of the more laid back taxi drivers agreed to just take us just to immigration, and of course, as the guide book said, there were plenty of mini buses from there to Tumbes. It was just a shame that we had to get angry with them in order to get what we wanted. We later realised that it would have been much easier to have walked away from them and get a tuk tuk to immigration, which is what the locals seemed to be doing.

The Northern Coastal Towns

After a quick change of buses in Tumbes, we arrive in Mancora, a dusty desert town on the coast and with a constant gleaming blue sky. The town has a kind of laid back traveler feel to it and was just the perfect place to relax after getting wound up at the border.

Our next stop was the small fishing village of Huanchaco, famous for it's surfing fisherman who ride the waves to and from shore in sea-horse shaped reed boats in order to go and check their nets. They claim that the ancestors of these fishermen were the world's first surfers as they been using this same method for 2500 years. Just a few kilometres from Huanchaco is the immense historical mud city of Chan Chan. We walk around and marvel at detail in this gigantic mud city, which amazingly, covers and area of about 20 kmē.

Peruvian Style Tourist Protection

Our next destination is Huaraz, but the only direct buses there are night buses. We're not a fan of night buses, especially when the road is a bendy mountain road like the one to Huaraz. So, we decide to travel by day which requires changing buses at a town called Chimbote. At Chimbote, a bright spark told us that rather than take the direct bus which travels along an unpaved road, it would be better to take a Lima bound bus, changing in a town called Pativilca, and from where there would be lots of buses to Huaraz.

So the bus dumps us at the roadside in Pativilca, where we try and flag down a bus to Huaraz. The only problem is that all the buses were either first class buses which don't stop at small towns, or they were full. After two hours of trying to catch a bus out of Pativilca, we eventually get a bus to stop. The bus assistant says that it will cost us 20 soles and it's standing room only. It's a 5 hour trip to Huaraz, but we were quite desperate to get out of the dump which is Pativilca, so we accept that we'll have to stand. When we pay, a couple of the locals on the bus realise that we've paid 20 soles. So, they start shouting at the bus assistant on our behalf, saying it should only be 10 soles because we don't have seats. Eventually, half the bus had joined in the protest and were shouting and stamping their feet yelling out things like "You're a bastard for overcharging these tourists, it should be 10 soles, we need to look after tourism in this country, people like you give our country a bad reputation".

They were so funny, we've never seen anything like this before in any other Latin American country. Just as the protest was gaining momentum, the assistant was saved as two people got off, so we got some seats. However, about half an hour later, the bus got pulled over by the police and they fined the driver for having other standing passengers, something which is illegal in Peru. With that, the whole bus started to cheer and shout out things like "God has punished you for trying to overcharge the tourists!", it was such an amusing, priceless moment. What's more, when we arrive, passengers were coming up to us apologizing for the uncomfortable conditions on the bus and their fellow countryman's dishonest behaviour.

A visit to the Andes

Huaraz is a town in a stunning location amongst the snow capped peaks of the Andes. This part of the Andes is known as the Cordillera Blanca and is the highest mountain range inside the tropics anywhere in the world, with 50 peaks of 5700m or higher. Huaraz itself is some 3,100 metres above sea level, so after spending a couple of days acclimatizing to the altitude, helped along by some non-narcotic coca tea, we decide it's time to venture out and see some of the amazing scenery which surrounds us.

A Cycle Ride down from 4800m

The first activity we opt for is a cycle ride from the Cordillera Blanca at 4800m above sea level down to a town called Yungay at 2500m, past the stunning Llanganuco lakes. Luckily, there was a tour group from our hostel starting a 4 day hike from the same area on the same day, so instead of having to take the rickety local bus up to the top, we hitch a ride with them in their private minibus. When they leave us with our bikes at 4800m, we truly feel on top of the world. This is the highest altitude we've ever been in our lives, and we could stare straight down into the valley at two stunning turquoise blue lakes, and up to towering snow covered mountain peaks, one of which was Huascaran and at 6650 metres is the highest in Peru.

Below us we could see the path where we would make our descent, a seemingly endless stoney road, zig zagging it's way down for miles and dropping well over a kilometre to the lakes. It felt pretty cold and breathless at 4,800, so we were keen to get going. The views on the ride down were amazing, and what was even better was not having to pedal even once:-)

It took us a couple of hours to get down to the lakes, where we stop for lunch. After lunch we start the other half of our descent down to Yungay. About an hour later, and just as we were starting to tire, the tour bus which took us up to the top in the morning, passed us by. The driver stopped and asked us if we wanted a lift back. The temptation was so great so we agreed, it was good timing as we'd already seen all of the best scenery.

Hiking up to Lagoon Churup at 4450m

The downhill cycle ride, as good as it was, could hardly be described as exercise, so the next day we decide to climb partially up Mount Churup to visit a lake situated at 4450m and in full view of it's snow capped peak at 5495m.

Our adventure started off by a taxi ride up a dusty narrow road through indigenous villages made out of mud bricks and whose way of life looked like it hadn't changed in centuries.

The taxi dropped us at a car park at about 3700m, at the base of the mountain and from where we would begin our 750m ascent. At this altitude this is not a walk you want to rush, which wasn't a problem as gawping at the stunning scenery certainly slowed us down.

After about two hours of climbing, and just as we thought it couldn't get any more difficult, the path split in two, with one track going off and over a very steep mountain and the other going up the side of a very steep waterfall. After a short time deliberating, we decided to take the waterfall route, thinking it would be quicker. We're not sure it was the wisest choice though as at some points the track was really steep and slippery and it seemed like we were rock climbing rather than trekking. We eventually get to the top and are rewarded with a great view over a turquoise lake situated in it's own private bowl shaped valley and in the shadow of the snow capped peak of Mount Churup.

After relaxing there for an hour, and eating lunch, we decide to walk back down following the mountain path rather than the dangerous waterfall route. The problem with going back a different way to which you've come is that it's easy to loose your way, which is exactly what happened. Luckily, we saw a group of Canadian girls who'd cleverly hired a guide, and we discretely followed them back until we were sure of where we were going. On the way back down, we were afforded great views over the Cordillera Negra, so it was a great day out.

Next we're off to the capital Lima, and the south coast of Peru, to enjoy the extra oxygen available at sea level, before we start climbing back up the Andes towards Cusco.
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