A mix of ancient history and natural beauty
24.04.2015 - 31.05.2015 18 °C
After a sunny and warm week in Lima sorting Tom's life out after the robbery, it was time for the colder but more beautiful Andean highlands. First up was Huancayo, which is situated in a valley and is more of a collection of towns that have merged into one another. The area is steeped in history as it was one of the few areas in Peru where the Incan civilisation managed to defend themselves against the Spanish conquerors. They actually fended the Spanish off twice before finally being defeated! Each little town, or area around Huancayo, has its own industry. The first makes their own hats or "sombreros" (not the mexican version!), which is actually a big industry here in Peru and indeed Bolivia, as all the traditional communities wear them.
The area is well known for its rich mining opportunities which has given way to very cheap silver and gold being sold, an industry of the second town we visited. The third town produces milk and we visited the local factory where it is produced and turned into butter, cheese and ice cream. The final town we visited was Jauja, the first capital of Peru, in pre-Incan times. The Spanish changed the capital to Lima as it is beside the sea instead of high up in the Andes! It is tradition, in the area of Huancayo, that on the 1st - 3rd of Januray every year they hold a festival. During the festivities, local politicians are placed at the centre of a square and whipped if they didn't fulfil their promises they made throughout the year! Perhaps our government would be a little more efficient if the local populations employed these tactics! Haha.
One thing we have noticed in South America is how all the shops that sell the same things/ offer the same services are all on the same street or next to each other at markets. It was the same in these villages, where every street sold the same thing. We found this really weird and can't see how this is good for business, but at least it is efficient and easy for the consumers! Normally, one would not set up a similiar business right beside another...
We also visited a trout farm, where they use a river to siphon water to several pools where they breed trout. No chemicals are used and the water is continuously flowing passed the trout which gives way to really fresh and tasty trout! We had the "ceviche", which is raw trout marinated in lime juice and other tasty herbs. Delicious! In Huancayo itself we also tried the popular Asian/Peruvian fusion food called chifa. Not particularly tasty and kind of overpriced, but at least we tried it!
The next day we were supposed to take a train to Huancavelica, but unfortunately it didn't run. So we grabbed a bus instead on which we were entertained by a man who got up and talked for nearly two hours about who knows what! Showing a poster of male genetelia as well as one with naked women and female genetelia. He then proceded to try and sell green tea and other various products. It was pretty weird... However, Tom made a cute little friend who kept picking at Tom's hair and showing Tom his pogs. He was quite adorable!
After 4 hour bus ride with gorgeous scenery we arrived to beautiful huancavalica which sits at the very bottom of a valley surrounded by steep high peaks and huge gorges. This town really is as remote as it gets and just what we were looking for after spending a lot of time in popular touristic areas. We walked in towards town, looking for accommodation as there was nothing to pre-book online. Not having any luck we asked this couple who were super nice and drove us to the plaza de armas and took us to a hotel on the square. All out of double and matrimonial rooms, we settled for a single bed room. The hostel was nice enough and the room pleasant, but the whole place was freezing! We had to go outside just to get a bit of warmth, so we weren't to bothered when we had to snuggle up in the single bed together. Also the fact that we were only paying £3.50 /40kr per night didn't hurt!
Huancavelica was definitely not a town frequented by travellers as we quickly found out when locals would wave at us from across the street and go out of their way ten fold to help us. This random guy on the street who surprisingly spoke English drew a map for us and explained how to get to all the places we wanted to go. We really felt like, and probably were, the only foreigners in the whole town! Our first evening we wandered about looking for food when a couple from a shop selling raw chickens, sent us to a restaurant in the opposite direction. We headed there in good faith only to find it closed, but this did in turn take us past a chicken restaurant. No menus and only one thing to chose from, chicken and chips. We didn't mind and had the cheapest meal we have had in Peru so far. At 7s (16kr or 1.60£) we were super pleased, especially since the chicken was so good. So good in fact that we returned the next evening as well as the one after that!
We only had 2 days there unfortunately, so we decided to hike up to a little town on one of the mountains. Passing beautiful nature, rivers, waterfalls and scenery we made it to a viewpoint of Huancavelica and had our sandwiches that we'd made with the cheese we bought in Huancayo. The panoramic view of the city was stunning and definitely worth the hundreds of steps it took to get there! Further up the never ending mountains we arrived at Sacsamarca, a tiny village with beautiful scenery and lots of animals. This is also where we were adopted by the cutest little puppy who, after we cuddled and played with, decided to come walking with us. He joined us for ages and didn't want to leave us when we found out the path actually looped back to town. So with heavy hearts we hailed him a motorcycle taxi and sent him home.
As we made our way down the other side of the mountain, we could see the winding road that the cars took back to Huancavelica and thought it would be a good idea to instead cut though the steep fields of crops to reach the town faster. We ended up in the suburbs of the town and we felt so out of place, but still welcomed as locals stared and waved at us as we passed by. One thing we've noticed is they don't hound you to buy stuff as much out here in comparison to the big cities. They are more inquisitive and always interested in where we come from. At one point we were sitting on a bench and almost instantly surrounded by about 15 young girls who all babbled "hello gringo! where are you from!!!". We couldn't stop laughing at how close they came up to us and all giggling and laughing to each other as they practiced their English on us. It was really special nice and special!
We awoke on our final day in huancavelica, to find the town bustling with life. People were all dressed up, parades were forming and various military groups were standing in formation. We are still not a hundred percent sure what it was for, but it was definitely a celebration of the town of sorts. It felt like the 17th of May for me (Norways national day) with all the traditional dress and kids in bands marching along the street. Throughout the day the town was filled with food and sweet stalls, parades, and people dressed up. We ate at this outside grill that cooked the meat over open fires which was amazingly cool. We had the "pachamanca" where the meat is cooked under stones that are heated to very high temperatures. No forks or knifes were given out so we tucked in with the other 100+ locals who were enjoying the festivities. We sat there thinking "we're totally going to get sick from this!". But the food was too good to resist. We had such a fantastic time there and we really wanted to stay longer but had to move along as our Inca Trail (Machu Picchu) start date drew closer.
We were originally meant to travel to Ayacucho and then from there to Cusco which is 24 hours. But after a bit of research and realizing the journey could be quite dangerous with potential robberies and winding mountain roads, we decided instead to head for the coast to Pisco and go from there instead along the more frequented route.
I have to admit I am super relieved we made that choice after 6 horrible hours overnight on the bus to Ayacucho. The driver was insane and drove at 100kmph on dark, small windy and very steep mountain roads. I don't think I could have stomached another 24 hours like that.
Anyway, Cusco next! Super exciting, lots to see and do. We are really loving Peru, but I think we are both starting to miss friends and family, hope you're missing us too!
Love from Peru!