We don’t remember having been in Chavin de Huantar when we traveled the area forty years ago, but we do remember having heard about its old and important culture that flourished between 1200 – 400BC. This time we wanted to make the trip across the Cordillera, also to see if we’d recognize anything or not. The road across the mountains was supposed to be good, and there was a possibility to make a roundtrip, along the accessible Pastoruri Glacier.
The road was indeed excellent, leading us over gentle golden slopes that slowly turned into craggy peaks before we went through a tunnel after which we descended into the deep valley where Chavín de Huantar was located. We could park close to the entry of the impressive archeological site, where we happened to enter during peak visiting time (bad idea: lots of waiting for people to finish their selfies before we could see something!) There were a few nicely decorated surfaces and monoliths, and one “nailhead” (= are stone head sculptures with elongated horizontal stems to fit like nails in wall-openings) left in a wall, but the most important part of the site is an enormous ruin of a temple with a labyrinth of underground tunnels and chambers. We found one out-of- the-way underground section that we had to ourselves for a while, where we could freely explore the many tunnels, chambers and light shafts, before a fresh crowd filled up the space.
The second part of the visit would be the museum that contained all the artifacts found on the site. However, the way to the museum – on the other side of town – was hard to get to because of a large festival in the town center. There were processions, cockfights, concerts, guinea pig shows, fairground games and a huge market that all blocked most through streets. When we finally got to the museum we found all of the relevant exhibitions closed because of a “power outage” – but we heard from some locals that this is the excuse when the employees want to attend the festivities. So no artifacts to be admired by us! Since the next day -Monday- the museum would be closed, we went back to town and enjoyed some of the party, and went on…
To reach the Pastoruri glacier, we decided, rather than continue over a long stretch of questionable dirt road, we’d turn back on our tracks and take that good pavement again to the Carretera Central, because our windshield started to protest by thumping and cracking with every bump in the road. I was afraid that soon the time would come when we’d have no protection from wind, weather or thieves… something had to be done ASAP! To secure the window somewhat, Thijs created and installed a few rubber-lined brackets at the bottom, where the windshield had completely separated itself from the cabin. We added some wide tape over the worst cracks to keep glass splinters from falling on the dashboard. That‘s all we could do for now…
So we took the popular road across the mountains to reach one of the tropic’s more accessible glaciers. This time around, we made sure to visit this touristy site early – before the crowds took over- by spending the night just before the entrance to the park and depart early in the morning. At that time of day the light was beautiful, with long shadows that accentuated the golden grasses and the huge tall spikes of the once-in-a-hundred-year blooming Puya Raymondii along the way. And nice to see that even very primitive thatch huts in the fields were powered by solar panels!
When we arrived at the base parking, we were the first ones there. We prepared ourselves with a thermos of coca tea and full winter gear. Even Kakao wore a sweater and, of course, his backpack with his own water. The walk up to the glacier was paved and easy going- but cold. However, at close to 5000 meters above sea level, it was not easy to gather enough oxygen to walk that last kilometer up to reach the glacier. Once there, despite what many are saying that it is too small to be called a glacier, I thought it was worth it. I loved the meters-high ice walls with deep, icy blue crevices, the wet and dripping hollow caves, and pillars of icicles, all within touching distance. It is hard to imagine, that forty years ago Pastoruri was a popular place to ski. Now, the glacier is too dangerous to walk on, with many cracks and crevices that deteriorate the surface. Instead of being a ski attraction, the place is now inviting tourists to be confronted with the tragedy of global warming. With a rate of the ice retreating by about fifteen meters per year, it is expected that in another twenty years the glacier is no more.
On the way back down we discovered petrified fern leaves imprinted in the rocks, but missed the dinosaur’s footsteps. Everywhere there were reminders of how much larger the glacier used to be, and we were so happy to have come there before there is nothing left. When, after a few hours, we returned to the base parking, we were still by ourselves. Only after our lunch the hordes arrived. We felt so lucky to have come with our own transportation!
After our visit to the glacier we made our decision to drive down to the coast, to Lima, because of four reasons: 1. There may be a windshield there that fits our car. 2. It is warmer on the coast, so we would not need our heater. 3. At sea level our diesel stove might work again, and otherwise, we may find a propane stove there. 4.The road to and along the coast is good and smooth, so if we don’t find a windshield, at least it does not deteriorate more, and we may make it to Chile to get one.
We had not intended to go to Lima, but what can you do? Make the best of it, right? We enjoyed the ride down from the highland to the coast. For hours we had driven along the mountain’s edge of a fertile green valley without any possibilities to stop. But halfway down, on a flat, orchard covered outcrop, we found a beautiful spot to spend the night, and soaked in the beauty of a breathtaking sunset behind multiple layers of mountains. Further down, the green valley strip got narrower; the surrounding mountains turned rockier and drier. Drying pimientos seemed to be an easier source of income than growing them. When the inevitable fog appeared between the mountains, we knew the coast was near. Along the four lane highway, everything is grey: sand fields…mountains…the sky, and even the ocean. Makeshift houses, constructed from four woven reed mat- walls topped by one on the roof keep piles of plastic trash company, and add a sense of despair to the dry and unfertile coast. The only variety of farm that thrives in this desolate landscape is what must be thousands of chicken farms… (also sad)…
But, late in the afternoon, around the time we started looking for a place to spend the night, we looked down from the sandy cliffs and spotted an intriguing site on the beach beneath us. We turned back to have a closer look and found out it was Eco Truly Park, an ashram with adobe buildings in a tall, conical trulli style, which seemed to fit the purpose of the premises and the use of the building material perfectly. For a small fee, representatives of the Hare Krishna community showed us around the ten acre premises and explained about their life principles of living organically and spiritually with little impact on its fragile environment. Though overwhelming, we learned about the Hindu pantheon and what each god or deity stands for. Quite interesting! Then we had a (very!) light vegetarian meal at their restaurant, and spent the night on the beach.
We entered the city of Lima in the morning and made our way through along the coast, to find our camping spot for the week in quiet, suburban Miraflores. From here, we had the opportunity to find the autoglass section in town, where one of the eager shop-owners found us the right windshield, installed it, provided our windows with a break-in proof film, and new windshield wipers, all within a couple of hours. In Miraflores we found a sporting goods store that could sell us the right little gas cooker, so we were pretty much set to travel again.
Relieved, we looked for a last item in Lima to check off our bucket list: we wanted to eat at one of Lima’s two word famous restaurants. Even though we knew that reservations for a table needed to be made months in advance, we heard that at Maido, you may get in when you wait and hope for a cancellation. Maido was a ten minute walk from where we were camping, so we gave it a shot…or two. The first time we arrived at the restaurant close to opening time, and already found a long line waiting. We had no chance. We tried to make a reservation for next Monday, which seemed to be available, but received no confirmation. So on Monday we made sure we were there an hour before opening, and the first ones in line this time. Still- no luck, but the friendly receptionist advised us to come back in two hours and see… so we came back in one hour and waited another hour. We got a seat! We ordered the full tasting menu, with small bites that incorporated a variety of exclusively Peruvian ingredients. It was a delicious, lifetime experience and it was all we wanted out of Lima. In 1978, when the city of Lima was much smaller and our urge to explore much larger, we had seen most of the capital…been there, done that… we didn’t feel like doing that again. So, after we went to the market for some grocery shopping, we left the city, heading south – completely satisfied.