Cordillera Huayhuash

Even before leaving the Cordillera Blanca, we could see the shining, steep peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash (pronounced: why wash). The wild, jagged peaks soared up towards the sky, and a condor circled majestically above them – a good omen for the adventures awaiting us. Through remote villages and past isolated fincas, we approached the wild east side of the Cordillera Huayhuash. A quiet night spent directly next to hot springs (once used by the ancient Incas), and unbelievably friendly people along the way made our trip along the narrow tracks a true delight.

When we arrived at the small mountain village of Queropalca around lunchtime, we met Ivan, who offered to be our donkey driver and cook for the hike through the mountains which we planned to take during the next few days with all our kit and caboodle. The details were settled quickly, and, the next morning, we packed lots of things we would need on two donkeys. A third donkey served as transportation for the children, and Ivan tied Robert and Carla on them securely. A few hours later (Robert had meanwhile decided that he preferred the parental carrying service), we arrived at Laguna Carhuacocha, a big mountain lake directly beneath the highest peak of the Huayhuash. We understood immediately why this lake is considered of the most beautiful on this continent. Its beauty enchanted us. The even greater surprise was that we happened to meet Tanja’s sister Natalie again. Although we knew that she had planned a hike around the Cordillera Huayhuash, it came about completely by chance, and we couldn’t have planned it better. She was hiking with Mathias (who is a cook) and their donkey drivers, and, when it was time to prepare something to eat, we couldn’t have been happier since it turned out that our cook, Ivan, was not a cook (he acted as if he was totally surprised that he should prepare any meals – although we had settled this together the day before). So we quickly changed plans, and I spontaneously took over the role of the cook and, thanks to the help of Natalie, Mathias, and their cooking tent, we all had a find dinner that evening.

We had selected one of the especially beautiful hikes in this region, along small glacier lakes directly beneath the steep, rugged ice walls of the 20,000-foot (6000m) mountains Jirishanca, Yerupaja and Siula (the last one famous from the mountaineering epic “Touching the Void”. The path wound its way mercilessly up to a 14,800-foot (4850m) high pass. Unfortunately, this day-long leg was too steep for the donkeys, so Robert and Carla were able to take advantage of an extensive carrying service, and Natalie and we were able to participate in a special kind of high altitude sports. We were rewarded with blue sky, the sound of ice avalanches crashing, and fascinating views of the gigantic, inaccessible walls of the towering peaks. Then we began the descent to our camp for the night, which was no longer very far away, but the end stretch was long and drawn out. Our arrieros were waiting for us there with the tents already set up, Mathias had already cooked warm soup, and we the cooked another delicious dinner together.

Thanks to it being Natalie’s the next morning, we had a sumptuous breakfast before we started off again on the way back to Queropalca, while Natalie continued on around the Huayhuash with her companions. This time, we were able to make use of our animal assistance again as we hiked over a somewhat lower pass back into the  Carhuacocha Valley, where we camped out in our tent again and enjoyed the peacefulness of the majestic mountains in a relaxed setting.

During our time with Ivan, we talked about all sorts of different things with him, including local traditions and specialties. After our cooking agreement had failed to work out, but Ivan had raved enthusiastically about the preparation of a very special dish called pachamanca, we gave him a second chance at cooking and were very expectant, tense, and curious when we got down to Queropalca. A freshly slaughtered lamb awaited us there, the whole thing just for us. Together with his wife, and with us as a very interested audience, the lamb was cut into pieces, marinated, and prepared with lots of other ingredients. While the meat was marinating, we relaxed in the nearby hot springs, which were amazingly clean for Peruvian standards. Right after our return, Ivan placed layers of stones on top of one another in a special way and started a big fire in a deep hole beneath the stones to make them very hot. When they reached the right temperature, the artfully constructed stone construction was destroyed, and the stones fell into the hole. Now it was time for the pieces of lamb, which were placed directly onto the hot stones, then covered with more hot stones and, after that, potatoes and plantains. Everything was covered with moss, followed by oats, foil, and then earth on top, and left to cook for 25 minutes.

When the pile of stuff on top was being taken off, we could already smell the delicious aroma. Within a few minutes, we each had a big bowl of yummy smelling lamb in our hands and together a bucket of potatoes and plantains. What a luscious feast! We just couldn’t get enough of the tender, tasty meat and were so happy that there was enough lamb for several days, so we still had this great culinary memory of the impressive time in and around Queropalca for a while. After our time in the small village, everyone there knew us, of course, and they all bid us a fond farewell. We felt really relaxed and at ease there, and they all made us feel very welcome.

We had an early start the next morning – our travel route led us through a remote region along a little traveled track to the highest mine in Peru, Mina Raura, at an altitude of about 16,500 feet (5000m). Since there very some very poor villages along the way, we took the advice of the locals and avoided any possible incidents involving alcohol afternoons and evenings by driving through this area during the safe morning hours. Along the way, we enjoyed more beautiful views of the Cordillera Huayhuash, Laguna Lauricocha (where the oldest human bones on the continent were found), and the young Rio Maranon.  Almost 2,000 miners work at extracting copper, tin, and lead at Raura, in the rough, high mountains near glaciers. Rio Maranon, the longest river supplying the Amazon, has its source in the high glaciers. Seen from this perspective, we made it to the source of this gigantic river, a great notion. From the mine on, the track got increasingly better, but the high amount of truck traffic also made it increasingly full of pot holes. This wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t got a painful blockade in my back that morning when I was refilling our water supplies. Nothing helped, and I just had to grin and bear it while Tanja maneuvered the Bremach as gently as possible to get us to Oyon, where we went to a puesto de salud for the first time. Thanks to some pills, the continuation of our trip was ensured. The next day, we drove along high tracks with lots of good views and reached the main street in Cerro de Pasco, a faceless mining city which wasn’t the type of place you would want to linger at for very long. After a last night in the high altitude (we hadn’t been under about 13,000 feet (4000m for a good two weeks), we were looking forward to a few days of rest and relaxation in Tarma. But, with only the last 12 miles (20km) to go, the most difficult part began; shortly before Tarma, the street was closed off for three hours, so we tried a track leading there, but, just before the town, the track was also blocked off by a construction area – this time until the evening. So we quickly drove back up the hill to the first blockade, where we arrived three hours later, punctually for the street opening. Due to the chaotic construction area, however, we had to have even more patience before we finally arrived at our goal. Finally, at a beautiful hacienda, we were able to enjoy higher temperatures, therapeutic massages, and a lot of room for us to relax and for the children to play. My limited mobility is what gives me the opportunity to write down our experiences during the last few weeks, while Tanja is more active than ever and is busy washing our clothes from the whole time in the mountains by hand right now. When I am free of pain and all of us have had time to relax, we will bid the immense, powerful mountain ranges a fond farewell for several days and head on towards the coast.

Here are our private pictures, once again.

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