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High in Huancayo

Huancayo, Peru

I woke up in middle of the night. We were half way through our 8 hour coach ride and though I had managed to fall asleep reasonably quickly I was now woken up by a feeling of nausea which was impossible to ignore. I made my way to the toilet, falling over sleeping travellers as the coach swung along mountain roads and, failing to find a light switch in the toilet, spent some dark moments trying to make myself feel better. When we reached our destination all I wanted was bed.

The next morning I was awoken (after the usual unneccessarily early rustlings and suugestions of breakfast from Josh which I now ignore) by a marching band! I dragged myself up and looked around the museum-like hostel. Rugs, paintings, carvings, blankets - everything wall was covered in Peruvian artwork. Thankfully I had slept off my sickness and only now realised the cause. It was no the cerviche of the day before, we were 3271m up in the Andes! To put that into perspective Machu Picchu is only 2380m, Snowdon is 1085m, Ben Nevis is 1344m. We were stupidly high up. It was the infamous altitude sickness I had heard so much about.

We followed the band down into the town and to the local market which is supposedly the largest in Peru. Ladies in traditional dress, with big skirts, wide brimmed hats and colourful sacks hung across their backs, were everywhere and the market was filled with the usual artwork and outrageous knitwear. There wasn´t a gringo in site. The locals were friendly and clearly in high spirits, the marching band procession formed only part of the fiesta and we would later see people dancing in the Plaza de Armas and supplying beer from the backs of trucks. It was a wonderful scene.

The Mantaro Valley surrounding the town of Huancayo is the reason for the abundant artwork in the hostel and the market. There are a number of villages and each specialise in producing different goods (carving, weaving, jewellery making, etc). I wondered whether you would be evicted if you lived in the carving village and discovered a passion for weaving but I did think it was a very amiable set up and on our second day we rented bikes to go and see the villages for ourselves.

Before we left we poked around the local food market - a staggering collection of stalls trailers and blankets on the floor which were all covered in colourful and fragrant piles of exotic fruit, strange vegetables and bundles of herbs. There was also a section devoted to meat and fish where rows of freshly plucked chickens hung awkwardly by their necks, huge trout stared and giant slabs of beef waited to be hoisted home. I was reminded of the amazing food market I had seen in Shanghai´s old town. This market was larger and more organised but I find that is the disorganised parts which I liked best - they seem to have the most character.

We were given our bikes by Lucho, a Peruvian man whose passion for Huancayo and the surrounding area was particularly contagious. He gave us a series of maps and talked us through the seemingly simple route which would allow us to visit each of the main villages. I say seemingly because within minutes we were puzzling over these hand-drawn things and wondering whether the church was on our left or our right and why the park had a line through it. After a few conversations with locals starting with "Donde esta" and ending in a series of directions which we probably didn´t understand, we found ourselves on a dusty rock strewn track passing through small villages where children stared and animals wandered around casually. Soon we were pushing further into the rugged mountains, geting off every now and then to push up particularly steep sections.

We entered small mountain villages and were called into random homes by artists who carved or weaved and were pleased to demonstrate their talents and techniques. I won´t go into a detailed description of each part of our journey because I know you will probably be far more interested to hear about my fantastically bruised bum and spectacular sunburn but I will say that it was worth all the pain. The colourful locals were visibly amused by the site of two intrepid gringos (especially the bright pink one who kept rubbing his arse) and when we arrived back I was so deleriously hungry that I ate a whole guinea pig. It was like eating someones leftover chicken - all fatty skin and bones with no meat. I ate it all anyway.

If my bum had the ability to communicate I would surely have got an earful the next morning (interesting image...). Despite the abuse inflicted by the previous days adventures, I had signed up for more. This time it involved a horse... Thankfully, however, the saddle was soft sheepswool and as our horses pushed their way up the rocky slopes the surroundings and the fact I was riding a horse in the Peruvian Andes distracted me completely from any aches and pains. The views were indescribably immense and the sun shone brightly in the clear sky (I had coated my face in factor 50 in order to avoid any further embarassment).

Eventually we reached the Huaytapallana Snow Mountain where we sat in awe and ate our sandwiches. On the way down we followed a stream through the valley which soon turned into a shallow, rushing river. We splashed through this a few times, zigzagging our way through the deep valley which hung over us dramatically. By the time we got back to our taxi driver (who not only drove us up along crazy rocky mountain roads but also seemed to magically re-appear 4 hours later just as we emerged back onto the road) my legs were wet, muddy and sore and my bum... well, if my bum had had the ability to communicate it would have been actively not speaking to me.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on June 11, 2009 from Huancayo, Peru
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Horses, Sunburn, Altitude, MountainBike and Band

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