In my first few days in La Paz I spent my days wandering up and down the high altitude hilly streets getting things organised for my outdoor adventures. La Paz is a colourful place. There are volunteers who direct traffic dressed as Zebras (a very successful idea which has dramatically reduced traffic accidents and increased morning cheer). The skyline has views of neighbouring snowy mountains. There are also colourful murals on walls and the sides of buildings as well. La Paz is kind of shaped like a bowl, so at night the houses on the hill sides kind of look like constellations of stars.
From Puno I caught the bus to Bolivia, it was an interesting journey. First we had the border crossing, which was very straightforward. Shortly afterwards I changed buses and we travelled along past scenic Lake Titicaca. Before long we stopped at the edge of the water and it was announced that we would have to take a boat across the lake, while the bus went on a barge.
Eventually we got back on, and we continued our journey. Before long I could see the snow capped peaks of the Cordilliera Real. We passed through some very dry alpine towns and it started to rain and rain. The roads turned into rivers which the bus plowed through (albiet at a very low speed). Apparenty Bolivia had been expecting a drought, so I guess the rain must have been a relief in this region at least. Eventually we got to La Paz, due to the downfall it had taken nearly twice as long as it usually did. The view from my accomodation window is of some spectacular mountains over the city. It should be a good base for further adventures!
From Cusco I caught the bus to Puno, a small town which sits at 3,800m at the edge of Lake Titicaca.
While I was there I visited the Sillustrani ruins, a set of Incan burial tombs. The tombs are up to 12m high and were built from large chunks of stone. The burial site also featured a shrine to the moon and sun gods, and each burial tomb featured a small opening to allow a shaft of light to reach the dead, which, it was believed would allow them to reincarnate.
The tombs are located on a hill with a beautiful view over a lake.
Definitely a tomb with a view! Excuse the pun :)
From Lima I travelled to Cusco, and then arranged to go and see the famous Machu Picchu. I wanted to get there one of the most straight forward ways.
As it turns out even the easier ways of getting to Machu Picchu are not that easy either. No wonder the Spanish never found Machu Picchu!
Bright and early, we crowded on the chilly steps of the Cusco McDonalds and waited for our bus. From there we boarded our bus and took a very windy path, at times across a thin and bumpy gravel road above some exciting precipices into the valley below. After 7 bumpy hours we arrived at the carpark. From there it was a 3 hour walk through the rainforest to the town that we would stay the night at, Aquas Calientes.
I made some new friends from Ecuador and Chile on the trail and we happily wandered along, past the raging Willkanuta river. The steep mountains of the area towered over us, butterflies fluttered and tropical birds scrambled in the trees.
Getting to Aquas Calientes after 3 hours in the jungle bordered on the surreal, as it is quite developed, and it seems so different to its wilderness surroundings.
The next morning we were up at 4:00am to walk up to Machu Picchu itself. This is a steep little 1 hour walk. At the top it really was stunning, the mountains were shrouded in mist and Machu Picchu is really like an eagles nest, perched among the clouds.
Machu Picchu is located in the most stunning location. We wandered around the ruins, past ancient temples and houses. The way the stones are arranged is interesting, instead of using mortar the stones were cut to fit into one another, this also allowed them to move in an earthquake without the building collapsing.
It really is an amazing location, and I have to say, I am so glad I went.
The gallery featured some amazing gold and silver head jewellery and head dresses. Gold represented the sun and silver represented the moon. To the Incan people gold and silver had equal value. I was impressed by the size of the head dresses, it must have been quite something to see someone decked out in one of those!
We headed out from Huaraz again, and started up a long and bumpy gravel road to the access point for Vallunaraju. On the way we had to get out of the car and walk at some points, it was a difficult road and at one point stopped to fix a completely flat tire. The driver did really well to get us there! Overall the weather was not looking promising, but we hoped it would improve. Our plan was to climb up to our base camp at 4,945m, and then go for the summit in the morning. The climb up to the base camp was steep and there were a few little scrambles along the way. We did get some glimpses of the beautiful valley below.
On the way up to the base camp it started to rain and then to snow. We were rather damp by the time we got there, and the wind was very cold! We set to work setting up the tent and settled in for the evening. Throughout the afternoon and the rest of the evening, it snowed and it snowed. We had to keep getting up in the night and shake the tent as it was getting so heavily weighed down by the snow.
We set our alarm for 3am and hoped that the weather would improve. It was not the greatest nights sleep given the altitude and the fact that one of the zips on the tent had broken allowing icy breezes through. By 3am it was clear that the weather had not improved enough, and it was not safe to summit. Oh well. It is winter here after all, and that is the mountains for you! I will also have a chance to attempt some other peaks later on in my trip. After all, there are a lot of peaks in the Andes!
On the way down our steep goat path to the road end, the clouds occasionally parted and we got some beautiful views of other peaks and waterfalls on the way. Then it was off back to Huaraz for a whole lot of warm food and a good night of sleep!
At 4:00am on a Sunday morning I headed off to climb Mt Mateo (5150m). The weather had been fairly drizzly in Huarez and I hoped that it would not be too bad up in the mountains. I kind of dozed in the back of the car as we headed out of town and towards the national park. Before long we were at the carpark, and we were peering out at the mist and rain. Luckily the weather was still good enough to climb in.
We headed up and the light rain had turned into light snow and we headed on up. We got into the snow and put our crampons on. It was misty and unfortunately as we headed higher there was no view at all!
We climbed up through the snow and before long we were at the summit! Normally there are great views all across the Cordillera Blanca from the top. Nevermind! It was still good to reach the summit.
I am happy with how I have acclimatized so far. I had no headaches or dizziness. I am attempting some higher and more technical peaks in the near future, so its good not to have to worry about the effects of altitude on my other climbs.
On the way back down to Huarez the clouds cleared a little and I was thrilled to see a condor circling high in the valley. Overall it was a great trip!
My first trip up into the mountains here was a hike in Huascaran national park. We started early from Huarez and headed up into the mountains. I got a glimpse of the highest peak in Peru, Huascaran, on the way in to our walk. Peruvian mountains are very beautiful partly due to the flutings - soft snow ridges which pile up along the sides of the peaks. The valley we passed through was gorgeous. There were lots of interesting plants - gnarled paper trees which have soft orange peeling bark, a native kind of bright red honey suckle and a native passion fruit with pink flowers and green fruit as well. All around there were always majestic mountains looming over us.
After a lot of hiking up through the valley we climbed over our last hill. We then saw the beautiful alpine lake nestled at the base of Mt. Chakrarahu that we had come to see. It was incredibly blue with a waterfall tumbling into it. Sadly, this amazing lake has been given a pretty non-descript name, lake 69!
After lunch we headed downhill back through the lovely valley. As it is the rainy season here a few misty clouds gathered overhead but luckily none of them turned into rain. I saw a cute little mountain creature on my way through the valley. It looks like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel. I think it might have been a mountain Viscacha. But let me know if you have a better identification for this little animal!