From Huaraz, the capital of the Ancash region in Peru, I took a collectivo to Carhuaz, about 1 hour away. As we trundled into the town I saw a large sign with the name of my accomodation Hostal de la Merced, so asked the driver to pull over ‘en la esquina’ and I got out, pulling my rucksack after me. The town was quiet, and the walls inside the hotel were covered in posters of Jesus, the Pope and the Virgin Mary. I thought to myself that these would be an interesting few days.
I appeared to be the only guest in the hotel, I did not see a single other tourist in my time in Carhuaz, and I heard ‘bienvenida gringa!’ a lot. With my pale skin and European clothing I stood out from the locals, and one old woman asked me where I was from:
She replied ‘ah si, Lima.’
If I looked so different, I must be from the capital, that far away place. When I said ‘no, Inglaterra’, she looked at me blankly, so I offered a clue: ‘Europa’
She said ‘Ah. Lejos’ (far away.)
This exchange made we wonder if some inhabitants of Peru’s remote locations ever leave their hometowns.
I had arrived in Carhuaz on a Friday morning, ahead of the Sunday market. I had a peaceful few days sat reading and people watching amongst the rose gardens of Plaza de Armas
and visiting the local area, starting with Yungay.
A small town about 30 minutes away from Carhuaz by collectivo, Yungay has a sad history. The original town was flattened by an avalanche caused by an earthquake in 1970. Approximately 20,000 people, almost all of the inhabitants, were buried.
Walking across the Plaza de Armas, picturing the absent buildings was an odd experience. The rubble has been cleared but some of the town remains, such as a crumpled bus:
and the foundations of the church.
The site has been declared a national monument and it is forbidden to build there. Flowers and trees have been planted where the town centre was, and the huge rocks that caused the devastation
litter the surrounding open space. The site of the town is a memorial to the people who died and it is watched over by a statue of Christ,
from the top of the cemetery building. The new Yungay has been built next to the boundary of the old town.
An hour-long drive from Yungay, up a rocky mountain road leads you to Laguna Chinancocha, a lake at nearly 4000m
with bright turquoise water. The dramatic scenery was beautiful, though the wind was strong so high in the mountains. I walked around the edge of the water until I met the cliff face, and I took a little rowing boat out into the middle.
You can visit the laguna as a day trip from Huaraz, and it is well worth the journey.
On Sunday, I went to Carhuaz’ market. If you follow my blog you may have learnt by now that I love a market, and this one did not disappoint. Campesinos from nearby villages descended upon the town selling fresh flowers, cheese, fruit and vegetables
meat, seeds, flour, grains
I felt uncomfortable seeing guinea pigs piled on top of each other in net bags. Their feet got caught in the holes and they squealed unhappily when handled:
usually around the neck. Guinea pig is eaten in rural Peru.
Putting that aside, I enjoyed the hustle and bustle, the hot sun, the traditional clothing, and generally observing local life.
I loved leaving the main tourist route behind me after leaving Huaraz. No English spoken, no wifi, no heating, but it was an experience of rural, normal, Peruvian life.
My huge straw hat was given to me in Cuba, by my favourite Cuban and it was admired by many Peruvian country women during my time in the Ancash region. I bought some plastic flowers for it at the market, as a souvenir from my time in the mountain towns.