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Changing Hemispheres

Quilotoa, Quito & the Border


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Quilotoa
That night we arrived in the small city of Latacunga hoping to make our way out to the loop as soon as we could. With weather a constant issue here we stayed the night here and headed off to the small town of Quilotoa on the rim of the lake. Taking the first bus out there in the morning we arrived at 1pm only to be completely engulfed with fog, in fact you could have told us anything was down there!

After lunch we decided to ignore the fog and hiked down to the bottom of the crater which was actually quite cool, as we descended the fog thinned and the lake became more apparent. The lake is in an incredible setting and each switchback revealed more of the lake until finally we were under the fog and the full lake was in view – absolutely incredible. That night we decided to stay in Quilotoa to see what the lake would look like first thing in the morning – hopefully in the sunshine.

The next day we got up early to try and see what the lake would look like in full sun – unfortunately as we woke up the thick fog had settled in as well. With this we decided to enjoy our breakfast and hope that the weather would improve…..finally luck would be with me and the weather decided to improve. With this we walked around the crater of the lake and with the fog lifting the sun came out and showed the true beauty of this place. The sun combined with the crater lake and produced a stunning reflection of the mountains, the clouds and the skies. This place really is photogenic and despite the difficulties in getting the entire lake into one photo its hard not to take a great photo of this place.

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After a walk around the crater I decided to head off to Quito and start my journey towards Columbia. Quito itself is just another city with a nice colonial old town, full of churches and a pretty impressive looking gothic church. The city also has some nice parks to walk around and hang out in and it is nice to see the local people also hanging out and passing time in the parks. With the world cup finals coming to an end I met some cool Dutch people and decided to hang around in Quito to watch the game with them (this would after all be the last time the world cup finals would interfere with my travelling).

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Staying in Quito I was feeling a bit lazy so my Dutch mate and I decided to make an early climb up past the Teleferico to 4700m and enjoy the spectacular view over Quito. The city really does surprise you with its size and its seems to go on forever in both directions. The hike took us through some tropical forrest terrain that inexplicably revealed two giant glaciers previously unseen to us at the end - really incredible the things that this continent can offer out of nowhere. With time before the semi final running out we decided to run down and managed to get down in just under an hour, with that we jumped in a cab to scout out spots for the world cup final. We found a nice little pub close to our hostel that was decked out in orange - turned out to be a Dutch owned pub and just like that we had a place to watch the final.

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The final game was an incredible atmosphere as we watched it in a very small little pub owned by the Dutch guy and full (and I mean full) of Dutch people. In fact there was only two of us supporting Spain but that didn’t stop either of us from enjoying the occasion. The pub was decorated incredibly with orange everywhere and everyone decked out in orange clothes. It was a great occasion and as few different people told me the most important day of their sporting lives….if only the Dutch team could get up. Well we all know how it went after that and despite watching Spain win it was difficult to see the many Netherlands fans disappointed after coming so close. That was when the most ludicrous rule ever came into play and Quito stopped serving alcohol after 4pm (the end of the game coincidently) not even allowing the fans to console themselves with a few beers.

Luckily with a bit of effort and management we managed to secure a couple of bottles of bootleg alcohol and consumed them in the hotel room. Once the rest of the people from the room came back we had to retreat to the bathroom setting up the incredible scenario of the bathroom at our hostel being the most happening place in Quito!

The next day I started my long trip towards the border with the first destination Otavalo, a little market town only 3 hours from Quito, at the same time crossing into the northern hemisphere for the first time since I left Egypt. However I did have to take a 2 hour bus through Quito to get to the terminal making it a longish travel day especially with a hangover! The next day I started the simple crossing into Colombia with a one hour bus to Ibarra the start – easy enough. Here is where things went a bit awry and after being sold a ticket to a bus that didn’t turn up and then one that didn’t exist I was getting a bit annoyed. The girl however did try and make up for it by sending me to a local bus stop where I could catch a bus from, great but I had to catch the second bus an hour later after getting soaked – love this Ecuador weather! Once I arrived at Tulcan I couldn’t even get a taxi to the border (can you believe that?) but eventually I managed to get a lift with a local to the border where things went a lot smoother. A mini bus and then a bus saw me arrive in Pasto my desired destination on my way to Popayan.

Posted by rhinoc 22:03 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ecuador

Loja, Cuenca & Banos


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With my Peru visa running out it was time to head across the border, this time to a new country in Ecuador. The border crossing was incredibly simple with a short bus ride from Chichlayo to Puira and then a direct bus to Loja in Ecuador. The border crossing is a really small and simple affair with only about 15 buildings there and very few people using the crossing with most preferring to use the northern Tumbes border.

After arriving in the small town of Loja we decided to check out the nearby Podocarpus national park. The national park is a bit of a annoying place to get to with really only taxi offering a way out there and the cost being difficult to negotiate. The national park itself was not that amazing (perhaps we were there in the wrong season!) but we decided to take hike for a couple of hours despite the rain to try and see some of the flora on offer. However with the rain came the clouds, and they were so low that even at the miradors it was really difficult to even see the next peak over! So with the absence of flora on offer (maybe the wrong season), rain and a lack of views we decided to call it quits on the hike and hope that the taxi we had arranged to collect us would turn up - and we were very thankful when it did.

The next day it was off to catch up with an old friend, Kate in Cuenca supposedly a rival to Quito as the most beautiful city in Ecuador. The city itself is quite quaint and nice to walk around with a couple of nice cathedrals and a lot of older styled streets (other than the ones that were being done up). We had a solid walk around and also visited to the in city incan ruins, that were less amazing than those in Peru. The highlight of the town for me was a rather nice old looking stone bridge that made it roughly 2/3 of the way across the road it was supposed to - still it looked nice! After a couple of great days checking out the city, the cafes in town and catching up with Kate it was time to head off to Banos, a tourist town on the so called "avenue of volcanoes" supposedly full of adventure activities.

Banos is a very touristy town that seemed however to have alack of tourists, still it has a beautiful setting on the river surrounded by waterfalls, the most well known of which is the waterfall of the virgin, the town symbol. Lucking we found a hotel with a room overlooking the waterfall and it was a pleasant site to wake up to each morning. The towns name translates basically to bathroom owing to its other famous tourist attractions (both foreign and local) the thermal baths of which the city has atleast four different ones.

After spending the first day walking along the river and catching up on the world cup we decided to head out and do the route of waterfalls the next day, which can be done either on a bus, a bike or a quad bike. We decided to do it on the bike and predictably for Ecuador it rained all night and some of the morning so we had to wait until lunchtime until we decided the roads were dry enough to ride. Sure enough 15 minutes into the 25km downhill ride it started raining again – so much for dry roads. Still we kept going and stopped at the many (atleast nine) waterfalls along the way to the so called “devils cauldron” the biggest and grandest of them all.

Here we parked the bikes for a bit and took the opportunity to trek up to the top of the devils cauldron. From the top it is certainly a large waterfall but it was when we hiked to the bottom that you could really see how big it was and how much force the water came down with. Walking along the lower deck and getting soaked reminded me of the great trip to Iguazu falls, as the water here also came down with such power that the rebound spray was enough to completely soak you. I'm not sure whether its coming from such a dry country but the sheer volume of water around these places and coming down in the waterfalls still amazes me!

Nature it would appear is also not without a sense of humour and after standing underneath the devils cauldron and getting wet we retreated to higher ground only for it to start raining again! With this and the desire to check out some more of Ecuador I decided to ride back to Banos (thankfully the sun came out drying me out a bit) and I then took a bus to Latacunga, gateway to the famous Quilotoa Loop and crater lake.the_bottom..auldron.jpgThe_fog_at..mirador.jpgBridge_to_nowhere.jpg

Posted by rhinoc 16:34 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kuelap & Gocta Falls

Tingo & Chachapoyas


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The next day it was time to take a bus to Cajamarca, city of the famous showdown between the Incas and the Spanish. The short version of the history is the Atahualpa was captured here, pointed to a level on the wall of his ransom chamber that his subjects would fill with gold and silver for his release. After this happened he was then executed in the plaza. I arrived there on a Monday to find out that sadly the ransom room was closed as were the nearby Incan baths, the only other thing that I wanted to visit. Long story short the next bus was out in the morning and I was on it, welcome to northern Peru where tourist convenience is yet to be considered.

After much reading, searching and venting of frustration as to the lack of real information on getting to Kuelap I left the next morning bound for the small town of Tingo . The ride is supposedly spectacular, which is Peruvian tourism code for long, windy, a lot of climbing and descending without really going all that far. The small town of Tingo seemed like the easiest place to hike to Kuelap from, however this was a bit of guesswork as there isn’t much information on the subject (sad given this is rated as the second best archeological site) . Tingo is a small little town on the bus route of little more than 10 buildings but it does provide a convenient if a little quiet base to start what is actually a reasonably marked trail.

The trail begins from Tingo and takes you up 1200m over 10 kilometers (annoyingly the first 15 minutes is both up and down). The walk is very peaceful as you would expect given this is the untouristy part of Peru and I encountered probably five times as many locals as I did other tourists (i.e. about 10 as opposed to 2!). The trail takes you up hill through the villages that go up the hill and it is a stiff climb and it is only about 15 minutes from the top that you turn a corner to gaze in awe at the giant walls (and I meant giant) of Kuelap, the Chachapoyan fortress. As you finally reach the entrance walls the sheer size and amount of stonework that is involved in constructing the fortress becomes really apparent and you can’t help but feel small and in awe of the fortress. Then once you turn around you can see exactly why they built it here with the location at the top of the hill with a spectacular view over the valley and river below second to none – shame about the rain today. One last little bit of frustration is that once you get to the top you have to walk past the ruins for 20 minutes to the road to get your ticket and then walk back to enter!

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Once you get your ticket however you walk through the giant gate, realizing once you are through that this main gate would have acted as a death corridor should you not come in peace such is the way it is designed. Inside the fortress opens itself to be a giant city complex as well with the ruins of many houses present, and one completely restored. The incredible thing the sheer amount of stone used to construct this fortress (believed to be more than giant pyramids). The other thing that I did appreciate is that because it not overly visited (a discussion with the caretaker revealed on a very good day they get 40 visitors) you can actually see the excavation work that is still going on at the site. The site is great to be able to walk through at your pace without any of the hassles of other tourists or the micro economy that comes with them in Peru. A peaceful and worthwhile site to visit for those that make it to the north of Peru, not as complete as Machu Picchu but about 800 years older and still in the process of excavation which is great to see. I would definitely recommend that tourist get up and see this before it becomes overly developed and over run with tourists.

The next day it was time to continue northwards to Chachapoyas a decent sized city in the region that less than 10 years ago they discovered just happens to be the gateway to Gocta falls. Depending on what you read and what you want to believe these falls are between the third and fifth highest in the world at 770 metres and certainly look impressive as you walk towards them.

Getting there was a little bit more fun than we planned, with the car dropping us off at the road from where we had an hour walk to the entrance. After 2 hours and some poor signage (i.e.) none and poor directions (i.e. completely wrong) from the locals we arrived at the entrance to the falls to begin our next two hour walk to the base of the falls. For others wanting to go there take a car towards Pedro Ruiz and get out at the sign for Gocta falls (or pay extra and take a cab to the top) and stay on this road, don’t exit even if locals tell you too and you will arrive at the gate to the falls.

The walk towards the falls is nice as you leave the hot and arid hills and descend down into the tropical zone and head around the point to the falls. The falls are mostly out of view until the last half an hour but when they come into view its quite incredible. As you get close to the falls you get covered in the mist coming off such is the height from which its dropped. The view at the bottom is incredible with a glacial pool that flows into the river at the bottom of the falls and no evidence of civilization anywhere. Simply an incredibly peaceful place and one that you could sit at for hours such is the sheer beauty and tranquility in front of you.

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With the lack of tourism frustrating me three times, once due to a lack of buses,other due to a lack of affordable hostels and opening days once again I decided shoot through Chicalayo to continue further north to Ecuador. I was however not quite as frustrated as my friend who got stuck in Chachapoyas two more days because the laundry took his clothes on friday afternoon and then didn't open on Saturday!

Ecuador will be my first new country in a long time and I will be finally leaving Peru behind probably for the last time. Peru has definitely been once of my favourite countries with a lot of variation in things to see and opportunities to get off the beaten track and see what most organised tours don't. I'm looking forward to Ecuador and seeing a slightly different culture and country and the adventures that it produces.

Posted by rhinoc 20:15 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Huaca de la Luna & Chan Chan

Trujillo


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Leaving Huaraz was difficult as it was such a beautiful place and the hiking was nothing short of amazing however it was time to head north to the coastal town of Trujillo. Trujillo would be the beginning of my journey through a few of the many pre-columbian ruins that occupy the area.

Arriving there first thing in the morning I checked into my hostel and immediately headed out by collectivo (easy enough to catch and only 1.80 soles) to Huaca de La Luna & Sol, two giant mud brick temples built by the Moche people in the few centuries AD. The Huaca de Sol was the largest man made structure in the western hemisphere before sadly the Spanish destroyed large parts of it in their endless yet unrewarded search for treasure. Nowadays the only temple that is visitable is the the Huaca de la Luna, a temple that looked like very little as we walked towards it but we wanted to check it out anyway. We were very glad we did as the entry fee included a guide and he was both amusing and informative as he was studying the culture.

The ruins were quite remarkable in the fact that they are not being restored, rather being conserved. This made the condition of some of the artwork and structures all the more impressive, well preserved by the desert sand & wind. This coupled with the fact that they continually built over the top of one kingdom created some incredible sights. However because of this you can currently only see the third and fourth kingdom structures and given their condition one can only imagine how incredible the kingdoms below must look like.

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After this we followed up with a visit to the best local seafood restaurant in town (Mar Picante) which all the locals recommended for some cebiche. The restaurant lived up to its reputation and the cebiche was superb and also nice and cheap – its really hard to justify not eating cebiche when your on the coast such is the quality here.

The next day it was off to see some more pre-columbian ruins, the ruins of Chan Chan built around 850 AD by the Chimbu people an off shoot of the Moche race with the same strong belief in the duality of the sea and land. The ruins here are very different to that at Huaca though as they have been largely restored from their best guess as the majority of the complex was destroyed over time.

The site however was supposedly the biggest adobe brick (mud brick) city in the world and is also the largest pre-columbian ruins, strolling around it is certainly incredible to see the size of the complex. The giant walls that surround the complex dwarf you on entry and the sheer size of the plazas is incredible – it must have been awe inspiring in its day. The walls are decorated with patterns that evolved from the Moche people, namely depictions of birds, fish and nets amongst other things – very intricate in their current form.

After visiting the ruins I jumped back on the collective to visit the little coastal town of Huanchaco famous for its cebiche and for its surfing fisherman. The fisherman had well and truly retired by the time I got there but the cebiche was still fresh and the beer was cold and as result the rest of the afternoon was well spent.
Getting to Chan Chan is easy enough using a collectivo from the roundabout in town with the collectivos passing by the site. The collectivo then continues further down the road towards Huanchaco the entire trip from Trujillo to Huanchaco is less than 5 soles.

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Posted by rhinoc 15:43 Comments (0)

Welcome to the Glacial Paradise

Huaraz, the Cordillera Blanca & Chavin de Huantar


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Leaving Arequipa on the overnight bus I arrived in Lima first thing in the morning and as luck would have it an hour after I arrived there was a bus leaving straight to Huaraz. This enabled me to shoot up to Huaraz within the day and accelerate my journey north. The journey from Lima is quite interesting going through some of the more arid areas of Peru before leaving the pan-american highway and heading inland towards the mountain ranges surrounding Huaraz. The final hour and half of this journey is some incredibly gorgeous scenery filled with mountains and glaciers, enough to whet your appetite for hiking the surrounding national park.

The next day I headed off to the ~3000 year old ruins of Chavin de Huantar, a long 4 hour bus ride from Huaraz owing to the quality of the roads and only really practical on an organized tour. The roads are incredibly bad here in the north of Peru and it takes 4 hours despite the site being only ~110km from Huaraz. The first stop along the way was a picturesque lake (Querococha Lagoon) with both mountains and glaciers in the background, one thing that this region has in absolute abundance. This also the site of a geographical fault that according to locals amazingly formed the shape of a map of Peru, to me this is an incredible stretch but you have to admire their imagination! A few photo happy minutes here and we continued on to the small tourist town of Chavin where we briefly stopped for lunch.

Immediately after lunch we visited the main worship site of the Chavin culture, nicely set at the merging of two rivers, that supposedly flowed right up to the steps. As a result the main steps were supposedly half white and half black to identify with this. The site consists of a sunken grand plaza complete with intricate drainage systems that stopped the plaza from flooding during the wet season and was also used to transport fluids to and from the main temple. The main plaza also has a sacrificial table complete with sections to collect various parts of the animal after sacrifice. This appears to be very similar to the sacrificial methods used by the Incas ~2500 years later.
The main temple is a double storied truncated pyramid style that remains intact despite the various earthquakes that have affected the area since it was built. The main temple also contains a sculpture of the lanzon, the statue of the supreme diety of the Chavin people. The figure is anthropomorphic and depicts the three main animals of worship, the serpent, the condor and the puma that were also worshipped by the Incas. Quite an interesting if not all that attractive object that is sadly quite difficult to photograph.

The site is also very numerically based if the local guides are to be believed with seven being the almighty magical number. There were seven “pools” to collect the blood on the sacrifice stone, the main temple is two floors of seven metres high and the main plaza is theoretically 49 metres square (a product of 7x7), not sure about this last one but why ruin a good story!

The site also includes a few of the stone carved heads that again represented the divine deity, a combination of the snake, puma and condor. The Chavin people believed that this was the form that they would take after consuming large amounts of hallucinogenics, an act that brought them closer to god.

Next it was off to start the Santa Cruz trek, the most famous and commonly walked trek surrounding Huaraz. This is the most famous trek for a reason as it takes in some of the most spectacular scenery around the cordillera blanca, so named for its abundance of glacier topped peaks. I found a couple of people at the hostel that were keen to do the trek as well by themselves so after a day of sorting out some equipment we set off for Caraz a town a little closer to the trailhead.

We then left first thing in the morning to Cashapampa a small little city that acts as little more than the trail head. From here we left from almost the main plaza off into the Hauscaran National Park, our home for the next three days. Typically this is done as a four day trek but with easy first and last days we decided that we would be able to get it done in the three days.

Immediately after leaving Cashapampa you walk through a fantastic valley with mountains and glaciers either side, however your view is dominated by the amazing glacier that you hike towards. The hike is relatively easy with a steady 1000m climb towards the glacier passing by a simple campsite where we had lunch. After lunch we continued on uphill towards the massive glacial lake that would be our campsite for the first night. Once we arrived we realized why we were camping here with a massive glacier dominated our view ahead and with waterfalls and glaciers on either side – almost paradise. Camping near the lake gave us the opportunity to go fishing in the lake to see if we could catch any of the local trout using our improvised fishing equipment. The improvised fishing equipment worked but sadly we didn’t see any trout let alone catch anything so dinner would be simple pasta, not great but certainly good enough. After dinner we headed to bed fairly early as the temperature dropped and we were all eager to get into our sleeping bags.

The second day we woke up to find our tent covered in a thin layer of ice, somewhat explaining why we were cold last night. After breakfast we set out from our slightly advanced location (about 3 hours further than people camp on the four day trek) towards punta union (at 4750m it would be our highest point of the trip). The second was once again a climb of ~900m with the toughest part being the final hour or so before punta union. The trail is mostly well marked apart from one part where you cross a field and pick up the path on the other side of the river. We failed to make this cross sticking to what we thought was the trail only to realise after an hour that we were horribly off the trail and on the wrong side of the river. A bit of mucking about and a tricky river crossing that saw me get a little bit wet had us back on the path and headed for the pass. We stopped just before the pass for lunch, which was a good thing as this was the last river that we saw for an hour after we crossed over the pass (some 3 hours later). This also allowed us to fuel up before we hit the steep switchbacks which were the hardest part of the trek.

The pass was right next to the incredible glacier that had dominated our view for past day and a half (I think I must have about 100 photos of the glacier!), all that stood in our way were the series of switchbacks. The glacier provided an awesome backdrop as we climbed the switchbacks and about an hour later with great relief and a cry of victory we reached the pass from here on in we thought it was all downhill. This afforded us a 15 or so minutes at the top to take our photos and take in the spectacular view in front of us but also behind us. Crossing the pass had opened up the view over the top of the dominant valley walls revealing even more glaciers, in fact it seemed we were surrounded by them – Cordillera Blanca indeed. A far cry from the desert surrounds or Murrin that’s for sure!

After we passed the point we had a steep enough walk down the other side overlooking a green valley that strangely (atleast given the last two days) had a lack of rivers and only two lakes off in the distance. After a few hours walking we came to the campsite (Paria) that we intended to camp at however upon arriving and seeing more tents than at the circus we decided to push on. About half an hour more and we found a nice flat grassy spot right next to the river and with the sun dropping fast we decided to camp the night there. We got the tent setup and managed to cook in the fading light before heading to bed pretty quickly as the temperature plummeted.
Once again we woke up to find ice on the tent explaining the cold temperature at night. We got away early in the morning and had a relaxing walk through a couple of small villages along the way. We then got to the final hour of our trek steep uphill to our final destination (Vaquiera). We were told that we needed to get there before midday as the only bus left at midday and finding transport in the afternoon would be difficult. This turned out to be completely false and as we arrived there at 11am to find out that the next bus would be at 1pm and then there were buses every hour after that!

The trek was absolutely amazing and the scenery was simply gorgeous almost the entire way. Its definitely easy enough to do by yourself and also easy enough to do in the three days that we had allowed ourselves.
Two hours in the tiny little town was heaps but it did give us a chance to cook some lunch and dry out our gear after the night we had. When the “bus” finally came it was little more than a combi but that was ok because we just wanted to be on our way. Our way then involved possibly the most beautiful and scary road that I have ever been on, coupled with a road that was in terrible condition. The road basically went up one side of the mountain and then back down the other by a series of switchbacks with nothing stopping you from going over the edge should brakes fail. This coupled with a road that turned the van into a jackhammer meant that after three hours in the bus on the road we were physically sore. We did however get to take some nice photos of the Llanganuco lake owing to an unscheduled mechanical stop. As great as it is to be out trekking its always nice to return back to a hot shower and a soft bed and we were all glad to arrive back in Huaraz, lose the equipment and have a good meal. The ride back also helped with our desire to be back there as well.

For my final day in Huaraz it was off to do a solo trek out to Lake 69 (no idea how they come up with these names) one of the many glacial lakes in the park and supposedly simply a gorgeous place to visit. This involved getting up at 6am to get a 6:30 combi out to a small town called Yungay, catching a collective taxi out to the trail head and then a 2.5 – 3 hour hike to the lake.

I managed to acquire a companion along the way which made things a little bit easier when we got Yungay as we were only two people short of a full collective, sadly 1.5 hours later we were still two people short and nobody else would be coming – meaning we would have to pay double. Still we continued on and arrived at the trail head a little late but confident that we would make up time on the trek. This was about where it started going wrong for my friend as she started feeling dizzy about 20 minutes in and decided to retreat to the lower lake. I soldiered on and with her waiting decided to hurry and managed to get out to the lake in an hour and a half which I was happy about, even passing some porters along the way!

The hike itself isn’t too hard just a nice steady uphill but softened by the view of a skyline dominated by stunning glaciers – I certainly haven’t got use to or past being completely surrounded by glaciers (white mountain range indeed). There are a few gentle switchbacks to be negotiated before you get up and over the pass with a small valley and a much smaller pass then confronting you. Climbing over the second path you are teased by having to round the peak before you get your first glimpse of the spectacular cobalt blue waters of the glacial lake and then gaze up to the mighty glaciers above. I could have spent all day up here some was the unique beauty and tranquility of the place but sadly after lunch and a few photos it was time to head back to Huaraz, where a night bus north to Trujillo awaits.

Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca is an incredible part of the world and it is really hard to venture into the national parquet and not find postcard pictures at almost every turn. The sheer number of glaciers and glacial lakes is almost incredible and I would seriously recommend anyone that comes to northern Peru, or Peru for that matter checks out this place.

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Posted by rhinoc 17:55 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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