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Perú - Huascarán

On 22nd July having endured rough mountain roads for a number of days, we arrived in Caraz in the Codillera Blanca, an area in the Andes with several peaks over 6,000m (19,700ft) and numerous glaciers. Time for a little relax at a decent camping site with hot showers, before tackling some mountain hikes. Hot showers are a reasonably rare thing on our travels!

From Caraz, we headed into Parque National Huascarán on a narrow 30km track to Laguna Parón. The view along the lake with some of Perú's highest snowy peaks in the background, is amazing. It looks like someone has been a little zealous with Photoshop and even Paramount Pictures chose Artesonraju at the far end of the lake for its 1980s logo. After a 3.5 hour hike along the side of the lake, we settled back at the van. The next day, Rachel took an early hike, whilst I gazed at the back of my eyelids.

Then we set off for another part of Parque Huascarán - Laguna Orkconcocha. On route we stopped at Yungay National Cemetery. In 1970, Yungay, a town of 20,000 residents was wiped out and buried when a massive earthquake caused a substantial part of the north side of mount Huscarán, the highest peak Perú, to collapse, sending an avalanche of ice, mud and rock to bury the town. Only 300 residents survived and what was left of the town was declared a national cemetery.

Back in the park, we camped by Laguna Orkconcocha, with curious donkeys for company. The following morning we set off early on a hike to Laguna 69. This was a fairly tough 16.5km hike, but well worth the effort for the stunning scenery. Once at the top we enjoyed a quiet hour before the large groups started to arrive. The first quarter of our return hike, we met with a lot of tired walkers - some looking like they should have stayed in bed. Fair play, they had hiked to 4,600m (15,090ft) altitude.

Following another night with the curious donkeys, we drove on into the park and through a mountain pass. The drive gave us switchbacks, rough roads and the odd bit of tarmac... great fun driving with amazing views, but very slow going. After a ice-cream in Chacas, we reached Olympica Pass just before sunset and wild camped overlooking a glacier and laguna on the disused 'old Pass' road. The following morning Rachel hiked up to investigate whether the old Pass was still driveable... Then we set off through the relatively new tunnel/pass. It was a little disconcerting going along a paved road, at a reasonable speed, into the darkness of a tunnel and being confronted by a load of Peruvians tourists (just inside) taking photos and trying to collect the icicles that hung down from the roof of the tunnel - time for a brake test.

After another day of driving, provisioning in Huaraz along the way, we arrived at the Baños Termales outside ChavÍn de Huántar...perfect place/timing, we definitely needed a bath. Onwards to ChavÍn de Huántar and a night parked at the back of a bus station. In the morning, we walked to the ChavÍn Ruins (UNESCO Heritage Site) built between 1500 and 500 BC. An impressive central plaza, a circular ritual site and a series of temple tunnels. The rituals apparently involved the taking of San Pedro herb (hallucinogenic) and the sight of the site carvings might have had quite an affect on the imbibed. One of the outer walls we saw one 'Key Stone', a stone head carving. The rest of these carvings we saw later in the local museum...very impressive.

From ChavÍn, we drove on and ended our day at Hatun Machay, a famous climbing location, with some petroglyphs amongst the rocks. No climbing for us, but we did wander to find the petroglyphs. According to a local source, aliens (out of body) live amongst the rocks.....methinks, a little too much of the San Pedro 'erb....

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