Crystal - We decided we had time to briefly head North. Destination, Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca in the Peruvian Andes. The bus journey takes us from the Coast of Lima over the 4080 metre Conococha pass before heading back down 1000m into the town of Huaraz.
The altitude hits us pretty quickly, walking and talking can no longer be done together and the lovely feeling that your brain may explode takes over. So as you do when ajusting to the altitude, we book ourselves in for a Mountain bike the next day up in the Cordillera Negra. Altitude 4000m +
Huaraz was totally destroyed in a massive 7.8 earthquake in 1970 and the whole town has been rebuilt. Over 70,000 people were killed and nearby town Yungay was completely devestated by the earthquake and an enormous rock and mud avalanche.
Surrounding the town are the two mountain ranges, the Cordillera Blanca (the snowcapped mountains) and the Cordillera Negra. The Negra protects the glaciers of the Blanca from the Pacific winds and it's highest peaks reach altitudes of up to 5,187m! The Blanca has a total of 663 glaciers (29 of them at 6,000m or higher) and includes Huascaran (6,768m) the highest peak in the Peruvian Andes.
We stayed in a really posh hostel considering its price and met some nice people. There was a roof terrace with panoramic views of the mountains although it was always quite cloudy so we didn't get the full effect.
Back to our moutain bike trip - A vehicle drove us up another 1000m where we began a 14km traverse along the Negra leading us to a 22km descent back in to Huaraz. Although there were only a couple of climbs, at that altitude they nearly finished me off. I can only imagine an Asthma attack might compare to the way I was struggling to breathe. But it was all good fun. Eventually it was all down hill and the main struggle was trying to stay on the breaks when after doing so for so long our fingers were in pain! We passed plenty of mountain villages on our way back to town, everybody in very traditional Peruvian dress and all very friendly. The older folk would simply state 'Gringo'or 'Gringa'to us as we cycled passed (meaning white man or woman) and the children would say Hola and laugh and sometimes try to keep us with us. The very young children would just look puzzled. They're so beautiful!
Our timing in South America has led us straight into the rainy season. The weather will be fine in the morning but rain most afternoons. We rode though mud and plenty of it, getting stuck, falling off and ending up completely caked in it. It's rainy season in the mountains but summer time on the Coast where we will be until we head back into the Mountains for Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Unfortunately for us, the officials use the rainy season, and less tourists as an opportunity to close the Inca trail for a mass clean up lasting the entire month of February so we wont be able to do it. The good news is you can still visit Machu Picchu. Thank God. What's a trip to Peru without that?