There is no way to know a country in only one week, but I have enjoyed what I have learned and done in Peru so far. I quickly left the smoggy metropolis of Lime (population almost 10 million) and headed north to the mountain city of Huaraz.
Huaraz is a bustling city all its own, with few striking historic buildings, mostly because most of the city was destroyed in a 1970 earthquake. Still, it has a friendly charm, plenty of good restaurants, and great views. Huaraz is situated just below the Cordillera Blanca mountain range (part of the Andes) and the line of snow-capped peaks dominate the sky. Huaraz is also culturally rich with pre-Inca ruins and a thriving Quechua culture.
Perhaps the mountains and the number of women walking around with woven shawls, shirts, and large hats is the thing that is the most different from the Latin American I got to know in Colombia. Indigenous culture is much more alive and well in Peru than it is in most parts of Colombia.
I was able to visit the ruins of Chavin, a gorgeous if bumpy 3-hour drive from the city. I finally caved and went with an arranged tour so I could stop at some lakes along the way and make sure I get back in time. And it worked out wonderfully—instead of traveling with other gringos like myself, it was me and 12 Peruvian teenaged boys and their teacher. The boys were from the northern city of Cajamarca, were super polite and funny and we had a good time in the bus and touring the ruins.
The Cordillera Blanca also offers great hiking and a national park, so naturally I had to go. One day I walked up past a small village to a great viewpoint of the mountains and my Monday was spent in Huascarán National Park slowly making my way up and down to a lake simply called Languna 69.
The elevation gain was over 2000 ft (700-900 m depending on who you talked to) but that was not why it was so difficult. Turns out the top was at 4,600 meters above sea level–15,090 feet. Higher than Mt. Rainer! I haven’t had any problems with altitude sickness, but towards the end of the steep climb, I did have to stop to rest about every two minutes. However, the turquoise lake with the bright white mountains rising up in front of us was well worth it.
Off to a few more days in the north, then back to Lima and a flight to Iquitos, in the Amazon. My time of cool weather is almost over as I head back to Colombia.
The reaction of other travelers when I say I will be spending three weeks in Colombia is very interesting — even with people who just took a night bus to a tiny Peruvian town take a pause and then ask, ¨Colombia? I thought about going there, but wasn´t sure I should…¨ Yes, world, Colombia is safe to visit.
But until I head back there to enjoy it, I will look forward to the rest of my time in Peru.