10,000 Feet in The Air
Hey there. Since we last wrote, we’ve gained some altitude, and the trip up has been fun and exciting to boot. We’re writing from Huaraz, the self proclaimed adventure capital of Peru. Do we disagree? All we’ll say is that this is the view from our hostel window.
But let’s back up. Huanchaco, our beachside home for the past month, treated us well. All in all, we spent a little over 30 days there. It’s funny to think about that after being so migratory for the past few months. Vanessa got some good Spanish lesson time in with yet another teacher named Manuel and is officially twice as good as Fern and I combined; she can say things in verb tenses like subjunctive. Why didn’t any of our Spanish speaking friends warn us that there were so many verb tenses? Where were you guys? As for me and surfing, after winning a few competitions, I retired. Really? Well, no, not really. I did come to a comfortable place, though, where I could stand up the majority of the time and most people weren’t laughing at me. The times I couldn’t, however, I would nosedive hard into the wave and come home full of enough sea water to keep a beached whale alive. All in all, it was a lot of fun, but I think that I’ll leave it in Huanchaco and keep to the bikes and rocks.
Before we left, we had the pleasure of having Mr and Mrs Brooks come visit us. We met them at the airport in Trujillo and spent a fun and relaxing ten days hanging out at the beach, poking around Trujillo, and checking out some of the numerous archaeological sites in the area. We made the trip out to the Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna with them, something that we ourselves had almost skipped. What we were met with put the other sites we’ve seen to shame. Two towering mud brick pyramids stand side by side, each topping out around 100 feet and adorned with amazing frescos dating back to about 2000 years ago. To make things even more (grotesquely) awesome, one of the sites served as a giant sacrificial altar seeing to the death of hundreds of people as offerings. We were told that they would sacrifice people when it was too rainy, too dry, or even too nice. Considering that the settlement only had on the order of tens of thousands residents, it seemed to us like a less than ideal survival rate.
2000 year old frescos? We think that’s neat. We learned, though, that you shouldn’t build your pyramid out of mud if you want it to last
We even made a day trip up to Chiclayo to peruse the witchdoctor market. Yes, a witchdoctor market. Actually, the market in Chiclayo is amazing on many fronts, but our favorite was the witchdoctor section. There were more herbs than you could possibly imagine, potions, talismans, voodoo dolls, charms, swords, elixirs and enough dehydrated animals to fill a zoological museum. Deer legs, vulture heads, whole skunks, turtle shells, and filleted lizards, filled the stalls, all for sale as ingredients. Another section that we hadn’t heard about was the cock fighting corner. There one could buy all of the necessary cock fighting accouterments such as leashes, helmets, carrying cases, spikes for their heels, and, of course, the cocks themselves. Needless to say, we headed back to Huanchaco that night with our minds fully blown. It was rejuvenating to see family from home and get to show them around the town that we had come to love. Costal Peru was probably not perviously on the top of their “must see” lists, but I know they would now agree that it’s a stunning and fascinating place.
From the pastel colonial churches to the seemingly endless nothingness of its deserts, Northern Peru is truly the bomb
So with their departure, we headed out. Looking back on the past month, there are a lot of neat experiences to digest. Having such lenient schedules gave us plenty of time to process our surroundings, so here are a few things that I don’t think we’ll soon forget,
Coming from a place where the ocean is to the east, we really never got used to sunsets over the water. What’s more, these were most assuredly some of the loveliest sunsets we’ve ever seen. Thanks to the consistency in weather afforded by costal Peru’s desert climate, the sunsets were as dependably stunning as the days were toasty. Every day we would look at pictures of the previous night’s sunset and think that the saturation on the camera must have been turned up too high, and every night we’d realize that it was almost not high enough.
Thank you Sun for making every evening in Huanchaco awesome
Man they’re neat. Just when I thought it could not possibly look any more desolate, Peru would prove me wrong. Houses in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest apparent plant life or water source hundreds of kilometers away, roads going off into the abyss, sand blowing across the highway in ways that I’ve only seen snow drift and swirl; those darn roads provided endless things to watch from minibus windows in more ways than one.
Just where is that road going anyway? Maybe if you have a 4×4 with a 1,000 gallons of water, you could find out
One bizarre and striking sight that we came across over and over again along the Peruvian coast were gigantic and fully intact dead animals washed ashore. Seals, dolphins, pelicans, and fish and jellyfish galore. Seemingly once a week in Huanchaco we’d come across the body of some decomposing sea animal. What struck us most was less that we were seeing so many here and more that we never have back home. With all the marine life that lives in the coastal waters, why don’t we see more deceased seals? Where are the dead dolphins? Every morning and night we would watch humongous flocks of pelicans and turns flying southward along the water, migrating with the changing seasons. We could only assume that the dead sea birds we would find so frequently were the old or sick of these flocks. As for the large marine mammals? We read that there has never once been a reported shark attack in Peru; do sharks elsewhere eat old or dying creatures that, in Peru, just pass away peacefully? Hadley also tells us that there is a dolphin disease that’s running rampant down here. Whatever the reason, though, if you ever want to see some humongous dead sea creatures, look no further than Peru. That sounds kind of horrible, but there is an inescapable morbid fascination that compels one to inspect them. After all, when else have you ever been inches away from an elephant seal?
The closest I’ve ever been to a pelican. He seemingly succumbed to the exhausting business of migration. Yes, those are mites in his eyes
Fern on The Beach
We discovered that there are few things more heartwarming to see than watching Fern curl up on the warm sand and nap the day away in the sun. Not being able to bring her to nearly any beach back in the states, we really hadn’t had too many experiences with Fern on the shore. After she worked through an initial fear of the waves, though, she started looking at us like we were terrible owners for not telling her about this place sooner. The beaches in Huanchaco have a number of umbrella and chair rental vendors, our favorite of which was a friendly man named Pedro. After around a week in Huanchaco, Fern would drag us full force, tail wagging furiously whenever she saw Pedro, realizing that she was going to get to spend another day zoning out on the beach. For a dog that often doesn’t love public places, it was fun to watch Fern nearly melt into the sand and forget for a little while about honking cars or six year olds that want to pet her.
Fern is the only one I have ever met that likes the beach more than Jane
But finally, we did indeed made it out of Huanchaco. By the end, we were starting to think about it as a Peruvian version of the Illiad’s island of the lotus eaters; a temperate, laid back, beautiful oasis in the heart of otherwise uninhabitable desert. The mountains were calling us, but life there was so comfortable and easy, the people so nice, the food so delicious and the climate so undeniably perfect. Heck, even just going into Turjillo proper left us ultimately scrambling to get back to the cool breezes and the sound of the surf. It doesn’t help that cities in costal Peru can only be built along the periodic river valleys that create veins of green from the mountains down to the ocean. Because those are the only places hospitable enough to sustain life, even just going to another town is at least a two to three hour bus trip across desert wasteland. Needless to say, there was no one more surprised than us when we finally saw Trujillo disappearing in the rearview mirror of Fidel’s taxi.
After Fern was turned away from a number of bus companies on our hopeful departure date, we finally just negotiated a ride from the cab driver who had been initially just taking us to the station. A few small pitstops for gas later, Fidel gladly drove us all the way to Chimbote. Two hours south landed us immediately into a micro bus that brought us the rest of the way to Casma. We had planned on trying to make the trip up to Huaraz in two days, and arriving in our half way point of Casma by midday was more than we could have hoped for. We checked into the self proclaimed two star “Hotel Vanessa” and grabbed chinese food for lunch. We’ve learned that there is nothing more wonderful to a vegetarian traveling in Ecuador or Peru than a chinese food restaurant. In the afternoon, we grabbed a combi to the nearby town of Tortugas, an idyllic fishing village as close to perfect as they come, and spent the afternoon poking about. We got to stretch our legs on trails over sea cliffs before heading back for an early bed time in anticipation of the potentially long day ahead of us. We had heard just about every possible number put before the word “hours” to describe the length of the journey from Casma to Huaraz. Eight, six, four, three, two, you name it. We weren’t really sure what to expect. It turns out it’s just about two and a half of the most hair raising switchbacks you could ever imagine. Right before we left Vanessa pointed out that over the projected two and a half hours we would be climbing up to around 13,000 feet then dropping down to 10,000 feet. The real kicker, as we came to find out, is that you do almost all of it in the second half of the drive.
By the time we pulled into Huaraz, we made a bee line for what we felt was some well deserved lying on non-moving ground in a park. We checked into the Benkawasi Hostel, run by a Peruvian couple that account for two more of the nicest people we’ve ever met. We spent the afternoon walking around Huaraz checking out our new home for the next month. The city sits in a narrow valley between the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Nega and plays host to some of the best hiking and climbing in South America. The Cordillera Blanca alone has around 30 peaks over 20,000 feet, towering over the town like glaciated sentinels. In fact, it seems that just about everywhere you look, you see an amazing snow covered mountain poking between or over buildings. We had to remind ourselves too, that this is the start of Fall down here, meaning that this is the least snowy these mountains get. Yikes.
One of these pictures deserves a caption more than the other. Guess which one
We’re trying to learn from our lotus eater experience in Huanchaco and be more proactive about seeking out volunteer opportunities, spanish classes and things to do, so we’ve already been trying to pound the pavement and get a sense of what is out there. We have took volunteer positions for a month with Seeds of Hope, a small organization that provides after school homework support for kids all the way from grade school through high school, and will be working with them during the weeks. We have our hearts set on hiking the crap out of these mountains too, so the trail reconnaissance has also begun. So that’s it. That’s where we’re at. It feels great to be getting to know a new place and to finally have some weather that’s cool enough that we can move our bodies between noon and 4 pm and not pass out. We’ll write more soon, but until then we miss you all and think oxygen-rich thoughts for us as we discover Huaraz.