Andrea: Six inch heels are not a good idea on a bus. I´m not talking about me, of course, I didn´t pack any heels, let alone those of the 6-inch variety. I´m talking about the woman whose job it is to walk up and down the aisles of a moving bus. After 7 hours of just falling asleep and waking up to the the sight of woman-in-red-polyester-outfit almost in my lap, we had arrived in Huaraz at 5:30 am. We reluctantly followed a guy (after many minutes of him following us) to a hotel and even let him sell on us a tour. It was the only tour that we could take the same day and didn´t require too much walking (did I mention I didn´t sleep well?). We slept for 20 minutes and then went to a cafe for a delicious breakfast of fried eggs and omlettes, bread, freshly squeezed pineapple juice and the most despicable coffee you have ever seen. It is coffee-flavored syrup that you pour in water and viola! Weak coffee-flavored water! Needless to say, this wasn´t enough to rouse us from our sleepy, night bus state, but we boarded the minivan on our way to tour the Cordillera Blanca and Negra (the Blanca, or white, side is the one covered in snow).
After driving straight through the middle of the mountain ranges, Negra on our left and Blanca on our right, we made our first stop. It was to see a statue of Mary on the side of the road. Now, I don´t know if any one of you loyal readers has ever been to South America, but there are Mary statues EVERYWHERE on the side of EVERY road so we were a bit shocked when this one got a mention on our tour. When our tour guide (who looked like he walked out of the 70s with his shag haircut, handlebar moustache and aviator sunglasses) got back on the bus with chips and a coke from the vendor on the side of the road, we realised that this trip would be one full of kickbacks for our loyal guide. Our second stop yielded much of the same. We stopped at a town for "delicious ice cream" although it was 10:30 in the morning and no one felt like ice cream. A few people bought into it and we sat in the square for 20 minutes until boarding the bus again with the bus driver licking ice cream from his glorious moustache.
Our first real stop was the Yungay memorial park and cemetery. Yungay was a town that had been obliterated by an earthquake in 1970, and the park is built on top of the town in memorium. The earthquake had triggered an avalanche that buried the town and killed 25,000 people. Only 92 people survived in the town. The new town was built 1500 meters north of the old town as excavation was forbidden and it was declared a national cemetery. The memorial park was surrounded by mountains and the snow-capped peaks in the distance set an imposing but beautiful backdrop. We visited the cemetery in the park that was built high on a hill with a very large Christ statue overlooking it. The cemetery itself was high on a hill that looked onto a beautiful rose garden, with roses in every color imaginable. The red, orange, yellow, lilac, pink, etc. roses were a very beautiful memorial to all the lives lost in the city.
After Yungay, we drove for an hour and a half on unpaved roads to make it to Llanganuco Lagoon, a glacial lagoon surrounded by the Cordillera Blanca mountains. We were dropped off at a small path surrounding the lagoon, so we made the quick walk in the woods enjoying the turquoise lake, the white mountains and the bright pink-wearing alpacas that were offering their services for photos. The lake changed from green to blue as we walked around it, but every time we stopped to admire it we were attacked by mosquitoes so we just said, "Fine, it´s green!" and kept walking. We resisted the adamant sales pitch of the alpacas and boarded the bus again for lunch. After pulling into a posh hotel restaurant, we realised this was another stop on the kickback tour so we skipped it because it was too pricey. The guide also offered to take us to a fabric store and a handmade ceramics shop, but the mutiny was building already and a resounding "No! Keep going!" rang out from all participants, so we kept on back to Huaraz town. Vern and I were in hysterics picturing the guide walking out from the fabric store with a giant roll of fabric for his kickback and nonchalantly putting it in a seat on the bus. Too bad we didn´t get a chance to see that. We were exhausted after returning to town so we quickly visited Tourist Information, ate dinner and went back to the hotel.
The next day, we returned to the helpful Tourist Information booth to ask a few more questions. The nice men at the counter gave us exactly the opposite information as their colleagues had the night before. We were trying to find a minibus that goes to a lagoon in the area or the Wilcahuain ruins that are also close to the city because we were trying avoid taking a private tour because they were so expensive. The night before we were told it was no problem to get to a nearby lagoon ourselves and hike there and back again in no time at all. Today, the we were told that this was impossible. There was no way to hike without a guide. The problem with the area is that you need a guide for every hike because the Cordillera Blanca mountain range has monstrous peaks, some of which are the highest in the world outside of the Himalayas. There has been one too many accidents involving tourists (and also guides) so now they enforce the "you must have a guide" rule even if you´re not hiking up an enormous peak. We knew we didn´t want to hire a guide, so that ruled that out. After he shot down our itinerary, we asked the very helpful man what else we could do. He recommended a "mirador" (viewpoint) that could be reached by taxi in 10 minutes and was very much worth it. He also said something about a "pista." It might be important to note here that although this entire conversation occurred in Spanish, I was quite confident about what he was telling us (except for the part when he mentioned a trout farm. We weren´t 100% if he meant trout farm or a restaurant where they served delicious trout. Oh, and we had absolutely no idea what a "pista" was) so we left with a new plan of seeing this amazing mirador, and with snow-capped mountains surrounding the city we were quite confident that it would be a great day.
We walked in the general direction of the mirador for about 30 minutes and then decided to take a cab the rest of the way. The cab driver pulled the usual "Mirador...mirador...ah, yes, of course I know what you´re talking about" and told us to jump in. A five minute drive later brought us to a restaurant called "El Mirador." Nope, that is not it (which we understood could be confusing given the name). Onward to the next stop--a condo complex called "El Mirador." Hmmmm....OK, this is definitely not it. That was the point where the cab driver shrugged and we asked the security at the front of the condo complex. They, in turn, shrugged and the cabbie took us back to the restaurant and we got out, a bit defeated but still determined. Next to the restaurant was a viewpoint of the city, but that couldn´t have been what the Tourist Information guy was raving about because who would want to see a view of a city full of red houses that wasn´t picturesque at all (Florence, you are not, Huaraz). We walked in the direction of the woods (nature! Must be on the right track) in search of the elusive viewpoint of the gorgeous mountains. After about 15 minutes of walking through very high brush including burrs and blackjacks, we saw 2 ramshackle houses deep in this pine forest. That was all we saw. After another 15 minutes we realised that the pines went on forever and we needed to turn around. We turned around, found a rock and spent the next 45 minutes picking blackjacks out of our socks, shoes and pants. We kept walking on the side of the road and made it to the condo complex once again. The sign for the complex said "no throughway for the pista" so we were reassured of the existence of what we were looking for (the information guy had used "pista" and "mirador" interchangeably). This time we asked the security where the pista was. First he said there was no pista. Then we pointed to the sign and he told us to walk 15 minutes in another direction and we would pass a small town and then reach the pista. Following those instructions we started walking through what we were certain was private property. We passed farm after farm and waved to the locals while muttering "Buenas tardes" (good afternoon) and feeling a little awkward. We finally arrived to the little town and I asked the first person we saw (people seemed to be actively avoiding us) where we could find the "pista." She looked around, embarrassed to have been singled out by the "gringos" and she said there was no pista around. So then I asked what a pista was and she explained that it was something on the ground, but a different material than the ground. OK, gracias. It was then that I decided to get out the dictionary and look up what a "pista" actually was. The dictionary stated it was a "trace, clue or footprint." Oh, crap, we thought. Is this what we´ve been chasing?! We walked back in the direction that we came and again walked through more farms. The locals gave us some crazy looks as we traversed up a hill through their land, determined to get some kind of view! After about 20 more minutes of walking we were tired enough and satisfied enough with the view to call the exact spot where we were standing a "mirador." I told Vern to get the camera so we could get a picture and remember this postcard moment. As soon as we turned it on the battery died and that was that. We found no "mirador." We found no "pista." And we had no photos to show of any of it.
Back down to town to grab a bite and kill a few hours before our night bus to Lima. We chuckled the whole way down about our misfortune with the lagoon and the mirador and the pista and the camera, and what the locals thought of us tourists in search of a clue. It wasn´t exactly what we planned, but we did get to enjoy a little slice of this beautiful part of the world. Onward back to civilisation in Lima!