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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Off the (gringo) beaten path in Huancayo, Peru

It was 7:30AM when I woke up to the sunlight seeping through the curtains. After a quick continental breakfast and a chat with a German couple, I headed to the Plaza de Constitución of Huancayo. 

Situated in the central Peruvian Andes, Huancayo has a population of roughly half a million. It's probably the largest city, as well as the cultural and economic center, of the region. 

Though it was early, the plaza was packed with tour reps. I was looking for a trip through the surrounding towns, each of which is known for a specific specialty - trouts, crafts, textiles, etc. Unfortunately, there wasn't a single tour available in English. I walked into one of the agencies, where I was told that the majority of tourists in Huancayo are Peruvians. As a result, English guides are pretty much nonexistent.

I held off on making a decision for the time being, and walked another 10-15 minutes to the feria dominical (Sunday market). Spanning 10-11 blocks along Huancavelica street, the outdoor market is sectioned based on the type of merchandise. The first section I came upon consisted of artisanal products ranging from carved gourds to hand knitted hats, gloves, etc. 

Following that was a block or two of commercially produced clothing and kitchenware. 

Closer to the other end were produce, fruit, guinea pig, and rabbit sellers, after which were plenty of food stalls. Hungry, I sat down at one of the food stalls for an early lunch of rice, chicken, and cebiche for 5 soles. 

When I arrived back at the plaza, there was a band playing music in front of the cathedral. Dancing to the music in a circle were women dressed in colorful traditional dresses. This was repeated twice, after which everyone disbanded as if it had been a flash mob. 

Afterwards, I went ahead and booked myself a spot on the Huaytapallana Glacier trek. As much as I wanted to do the circuit around the neighboring towns, it didn't make sense to do so if the entire tour was in Spanish. Even though the trek to Huaytapallana was in Spanish, it was less of a problem. 

The next day was a long one. We started off at 8:30AM, with a pitstop at a bodega to drink coca tea as we would be heading up high. We also placed our dinner orders so they would be ready by the time we were back (this was more of an optimistic thought than reality).

Huaytapallana Glacier sits somewhere over 5,000 meters above sea level. The trek up to it took us past spectacular turquoise Laguna Carhuaccocha at 4,412 meters, Laguna Hatunccocga at 4,597 meters, and Laguna Putcacocha at 4,775 meters. Reflecting off the lakes were mountain peaks blanketed by pristine white snow untouched by pollution.

Although Pastoruri Glacier in Huaraz offered a more expansive view of the sheet of ice, Huaytapallana was menacing in its own way. Spikes of ice dangled precariously along the openings of crevices and sounds of ice breaking echoed from the glacier.

The clouds began to make their appearance as we headed back. Due to our altitude, the clouds were not above us. They were at the same elevation as we were, some were even below us. Our visibility at times became only a mere 10-20 yards, if not less, as the wind blew the clouds across our path.

We arrived at the restaurant where we were having our dinner around 5:30PM. As expected, our dishes weren't ready and there were no seats left inside. We needed to constantly remind the kitchen what and whose dish was missing. I had befriended a group of late 20's Peruvians from Lima during the trek, and they were quite adamant to the kitchen that I got my dish. They were the nicest bunch I've met on my trip, and definitely colored my view of Peru in an even better light. When my chicharrón de trucha arrived, it was chow time. 


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