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One for the road
logo-onefortheroad The journey from Lima to Ayacucho

New country, new currency, new feeling. I have to get used to a new currency, the Nuevo Sol. The Peruvians look different than the Mexicans, they are very curious and want to know immediately ones nationality, name, age and profession.
During my two days in Lima I only stayed in Miraflores, there are many colonial buildings in this elegant suburb, and numerous cosy cafes, where one can while away the hours with people watching. From the Hostel Home Peru it was only a 20 minute walk to the coast. One afternoon I sat in the warm sunshine in the Parque del Amor, the park of love, watching the surfers down on the beach riding the waves. After the pollution of Mexico City I really enjoyed breathing in clean sea air. Unfortunately, it was not much better in Lima, with scores of dilapidated old buses belching out black clouds of exhaust fumes along the main thoroughfares. I really wanted to experience the Peruvian Andes, and my travel route to Cusco was going to take me to Huancayo and Ayacucho. I once read about these places in a novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the most famous Peruvian writers, and that made me curious. Thursday afternoon I went with Cruz del Sur, one of the better bus companies, to Huancayo; during the seven hour journey the bus was climbing the steep roads with many switchbacks from sea level to about 4000 m into the central Andean highlands.
As it was my first bus journey in Peru, I did not know what to expect. In Mexico one or two films would be put on and that would be it. Here in Peru it was non stop entertainment. A young man, the bus attendant so to speak, welcomed the passengers and explained the programme: First there was food, and not bad either, then a film was shown, then another film was shown, (both with JLo) then it was time for a game of bingo, then yet another film was shown. The time just flew by and before I knew it we arrived in Huancayo. I actually wanted to go to a different hotel but the taxi driver opined that the Casa de la Abuela was a much better place and drove me there; and as it turned out it was a good idea, because it is probably the most comfortable hostel in Huancayo.
As a little welcome I got a voucher for one Calentito at La Cabaña, a cosy bar and restaurant opposite the hostel and owned by the same guy who owns the hostel, Lucho, with very good business acumen as one can see. After I had put my things in the small dormitory and had refreshed myself a bit, I decided to try one of these Calentitos and have an early night, and just as I closed the door behind me I bumped into Rosario (she is the web designer for Lucho's Incas del Peru site), she also wanted to go to La Cabaña, so we went over there together. Every week from Thursday to Saturday they have live music there, traditional music from the Andes. A short while later we joined Lucho and two of his friends, who had arrived in the meantime, and I decided to try a Pisco Sour, if made properly, it is a very potent and delicious brew. We had great fun and danced a lot, and several Calentitos and another bar later I was quite inebriated and got back to the hostel at about half past two. So much for an rl night.
Huancayo (3271 m) is a relatively young town - during my stay there was a celebration for the 145th anniversary - and a typically South American, noisy, bustling and dusty place. There is a large market round the corner from the hostel, next to mountains of countless potato varieties there are all sorts of fruit and vegetables and sacks full of quinoa, oats, lentils and many other grains which I had never seen before. There is even purple corn, which is used to make a delicious drink, chicha morada. I ate lunch for 2.50 Soles, noodle soup and lomo saltado, a type of beef stir fry with onions and tomatos, served with chips and rice. The potato originates from South America and there are over 1.000 different varieties, it was introduced in Europe only after the discovery of America by Columbus.
The driving style of the Peruvians is absolutely dreadful, that I have learned in Huancayo. The drivers constantly honk when going through a road crossing or into a sharp bend, to warn others; they kindly honk before running over any walker, so that one can jump aside quickly. No one has an ounce of consideration for others and everyone just pushes past where they can. The streets are jam packed with colectivos (small transporters used as collective taxis), and they echo with the shouting of the ticket collectors, who tirelessly cry out the final destination of the routes and collect passengers. It is unbelievable how many people can be packed into one colectivo. Most Peruvians are of small stature and most Gringos, who are huge by comparison, have to squeeze into the small seats.
On the Sunday Lucho organised a barbecue at the hostel, a real feast: barbecued lamb in a spicy sauce, different potatoes and sweet potatoes, coleslaw, japchi (a spicy cheese sauce with a Peruvian herb, huancatec) and chicha morada. They were among the best potatoes I have ever eaten.
On the Monday I went together with Arbell and Rotem, a lovely couple from Israel who I had met at the hostel, to Huancavelica on the train. The Autovagon consists of only one carriage and travels once a day in the afternoon on this route; the very bumpy train journey took five hours leading through picturesque, green mountain scenery along a river running through a deep gorge. The steep mountain slopes were covered with blankets of vegetable fields, animals were grazing, sometimes dangerously close to the edge of the slope. The train went through many small tunnels and once the men had to shovel a pile of mud from the track in front of such a tunnel so that the train could carry on. During the rainy season the track sometimes becomes unpassable. At every station at which the train was calling a few women with huge baskets were already waiting, trying to sell as much as possible of their edible wares during the short waiting time. Next to us sat a Peruvian photographer shooting countless pictures with his g tal Nikon for an English publisher; despite a sign in the carriage informing the passengers that no alocoholic beverages were allowed on the train, he almost finished his small bottle of rum during the journey.
When we finally arrived in Huancavelica (3680 m) it was already dark and we went to a hotel that was recommended in my guide book, Hotel Camacho. We were really hungry and immediately went to a Chinese restaurant, they are called Chifa in Peru. In the 19th century many Chinese workers came to Peru, therefore there are many Chifas all over the country. The portions were huge and the taste quite different from Europe. Huancavelica is a pretty small town with typical Spanish colonial architecture, surrounded by imposing mountain ranges. There are many hiking opportunities in the area. I wanted to climb up a steep hill to a viewing point, however, the hill was steeper than I thought and I was on my own, and in additon to that I noticed the effects of high altitude, which makes climbing so much more laborious. So I abandoned my attempt a third way up. Still, I was rewarded with a lovely view. On the way to the hill I asked an old, almost toothless woman sitting in front of a shop if she was selling Inka Cola, i h she was not. She asked me where I was from. I answered: 'Soy de Alemania.' (I am from Germany) She commented: 'Tienes un monton de plata.' (You have a lot of money). Which is true, because for the majority of Peruvians travelling to such faraway places is an unobtainable dream, it is a poor country. Another time I was asked by a couple of giggling school children 'Do you speak English?'. I was nearly the only Gringa in town and really stood out with my blonde hair and fair skin. They wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing here. They did not know much English so the conversation continued in Spanish.
Arbell and Rotem continued their journey towards the coast and we lost each other without exchanging email addresses (but we were to meet again in Cusco later on), and so I travelled the next day on my own from Huncavelica to Santa Ines. This part of my journey got a little adventurous. The bus to Santa Ines left really early, at a quarter to five in the morning, it was still dark and the traders on the small square in front of the waiting room of the bus company were just setting up their stalls. A few people were eating steaming hot soup for breakfast. I was the only Gringa around. The rickety old bus had a luggage rack on the roof and my backpack was hoisted up as well, the seats were narrow and uncomfortable and the ususal Andean tunes croaked from the very distorted speakers. The bumpy journey to Santa Ines took three hours on rough roads climbing up steeply with countless switchbacks to nearly 5000 m. The landscape has an indescribable barren beauty which is intensified during sun rise. Only casional y another truck went past then we were alone once again with the mighty Andean peaks. One turnoff from this road leads to the highest drivable pass in the world, at 5059 m. At half past seven the bus finally arrived in Santa Ines, the only one per day, and I got out. There I stood in this completely godforsaken place at 4680m and wondered what to do. I only decided to come here because there was a beautiful lake nearby and to see alpacas up close. Santa Ines is a small settlement with a few houses, a couple of restaurants and shops and a few places to stay for the night. The place only exists because of alpaca farming and a copper- and lead mine nearby. Life here is pretty hard and elementary, the people seem rather stern, surely shaped by the harsh climate.

My simple room did not have electricity, just a candle, let alone heating, the baño (loo and washing basin) was outside, there was only cold water, I did not see a shower, but for one day that did not matter anyway. The bedcover consisted of six woolen blankets, which were needed, as it was bitterly cold at night. In the morning I went for a long walk down to the lovely and tranquil lake, and I saw several alpaca herds, during the day they graze on the altiplano and in the evening they are taken back to their walled enclosure. Apart from the occasionally passing truck driver waving at me and an alpaca shepardess watching her herd I did not see a single human soul and felt very small in this seemingly endless space. This high altitude ramble really tired me out and later on in my room I felt slightly headachy and nauseaus, probably mild sypmptoms of altitude sickness.
This day was very long and I thought of the bus with which I was going to Rumichaca the next morning, and from there to Ayacucho. The people in Santa Ines told me it would be no problem to get a bus from Rumichaca to Ayacucho. However, when I got to Rumichaca at half past eight I found out that maybe there would be a bus in the afternoon, but definitely the night bus from Lima would come through. Well, I sat at the table in front of a row of food stalls chatting with some very friendly people and they thought something would surely come up, perhaps a lift with a truck. And it did. A little while later a taxt stopped and some discussions and price negotiations later I sat in the taxi with two other passengers on the way to Ayacucho, and the road we were going on was a relatively new and paved Autopista, what a change. There is a part where the rocks of the mountains are all the colours of the rainbow, an amazing scenery. In the early afternoon I arrived in Ayacucho, it almost felt like coming back to vilis tion. The climate was lovely, like a warm summers day in Europe with pleasant, balmy evenings and from time to time a bit of rain.


 

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