Being a morning person, Steve is always keen for a challenge first thing. So he was up for our first task before we could even leave Huaraz, we had to squeeze under the entrance gate of the hotel we parked up on. We’d noticed many people had not been successful with a multitude of different coloured scratches already on the top. Even with lining the truck up completely straight and stopping the traffic so we could exit straight, we just managed with less than an inch on the back corner. Phew!
We were heading back into the mountains again to the ancient ruins of Chavín de Huántar over another pass of 4535m. We are getting quite blasé about these high altitude passes now. Luckily the road up was lovely smooth tar and the views were stunning. The good tar ran out the other side but it was a picturesque drive into a steep valley patch worked with gold and green fields on impossibly angled slopes.
Chavín de Huántar is a temple complex built about 800 BC. Apart from a large plaza where they used to hold ceremonies most of the ruins are underground tunnels. Archeologists believe that priests worshiping a feline idol held most of the power in Chavín society. To consolidate this the priests used to scare the pants off of the locals by drugging them up with hallucinogenic cacti before taking them into the dark labyrinth of tunnels. Once down there they blew shell trumpets which echoed through the maze. The tunnels were constructed to amplify the sound of water running through them and reflected sunlight from ventilation shafts using mineral mirrors. Once the non-believers were completely freaked out, the priests brought them before the terrifyingly carved idol of Lanzón de Chavin, a semi human carving with snakes radiating from its head also lit in the dark from a strategically placed ventilation shaft. Unsurprisingly perhaps the population was kowtowed and the Chavín influence spread through the Andes. We had the complex almost to ourselves and had a good look around as the girls and Clare made up stories about life there (minus the cacti;)
Not finding an ideal place to park for the night we decided to head back up the pass. The weather had changed though with dark clouds, sleet and snow closing in as we headed up. On the other side we parked up in a kindly ranger’s station a bit further down with the hope that the views would be clear the following morning.
It was, what nice view to see from bed.
As we drove down to the coast we got a wonderful farewell from the Cordillera Blanca, the sky cleared and we got a 180 degree view of the mountains of about 100km long.
The road descended rapidly as it wiggled first through a valley of golden green pasture rippling in the wind, then back into steep dry craggy dun coloured slopes. There was a narrow river running through the canyon, an oasis of green in the arid landscape, where they were growing maize and chillies.
We could see the sea mist for miles before we hit the coastal road and then we were back at sea level speeding through the desert plains of gravel and dunes. We headed just a short way into the hills to Parque National de Lachay and were amazed to see the hills covered in soft fuzzy green. The sea fog creates a microclimate, just enough for the first hills it hits inland to have a sparse covering of greenery. While climbing up the huge boulders at the top of the hill, we got great views of the coast every time the sun managed to burn through the fog. It was lovely spot to have a campfire curry.
The drive round Lima on the Panamerican highway was an absolute nightmare. He who dared definitely won and size mattered. We have found Peruvian driving in general to be some of the worst we have encountered with lots of bullying tactics to get you to move, it is far scarier on foot than in the truck though. Steve did a fantastic drive keeping his nerve. It was like being back driving in rush hour Moscow traffic but this time driving a massive truck. We stayed in the smart district of Miraflores for the night, so Clare could fly out the next morning. After a relaxed evening wander around it was time to say goodbye.
It has been lovely having Clare here. We’ve definitely plunged her in at the deep end with two weeks of difficult roads, high altitudes, a horrible cold but she has seen some fantastic alpine scenery and hiked some great mountains. She has been a trooper, sleeping many nights in the truck’s cab and telling the girls hundreds of stories whilst walking. I think we can say that she has been fully converted to travelling.