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Huaraz: Perpetual Beauty

Photo: Renzo Uccelli


Photo: Jorge Yamamoto



Photo: Renzo Uccelli



Photo: Renzo Uccelli



Photo: Renzo Uccelli



Jorge Yamamoto

Cordillera Blanca, Cordillera Negra, the lovely mountains of my country, Callejon de Huaylas, Queen of the Andes, you are the pride of my Peru...
So runs the ditty that urges travellers to venture inland, away from the sound of the crashing surf and the salty air of the coast to the wondrous Santa Valley.

The department of Ancash is an area the size of a small county. It contains every landscape found on earth.

The Santa River, the largest of Peru's coastal waterways, rises in Conococha Lake, a large body of water. Conococha, a few hours' drive from Lima, lies in the heart of the Andes at more than 4,000 metres above sea level. The Santa flows between the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra, forming the long, balmy Callejon de Huaylas valley.

Visitors are invariably astonished by a landscape of deep contrasts: the sprawling palm treetops and flowering shrubs are set against a backdrop of imposing snow-covered mountains. Along the thickly wooded valley floor, through fields of flowers, the Santa flows noisily northward, past brightly-colored villages and thermal springs.

Recuay is the first city you see upon entering the Callejon de Huaylas, small, but bustling. Emerging on the other side, one has a choice of two routes: one to the Chavin ruins, famous for their stones in the form of heads; the other through the Callejon and on to Huaraz, the department capital.

Huaraz, whose name comes from the Quechua Huarac Koyllur, meaning "Dawn Star," has been christened the Capital of International Friendship because of the cooperation that helped rebuild the city after a devastating earthquake in 1970. Some long avenues and a few airy colonial mansions remain, though most structures are new or reconstructed.

There are numerous tourist excursions in the Callejon de Huaylas, all explained by local tourist agencies. Three diverse examples are: a trip to Lake Llanganuco, known as the acclimatisation tour; one to the Chavin ruins, called the cultural tour; and one to Pastoruri, one of the area's frequently visited and easily climbed mountains.

The Huaraz tourist circuit starts in the suburb of Nicrupampa, which offers more views of snowy peaks and beautiful countryside. From Huacrachiron you can visit the archaeological remains of Willcahuain ("House of Grandchildren" in Quechua). For more excavation information, don't miss the Archaeological Museum in the main square of Huaraz. Its great collection of ancient Chavin art is a millennia-old testimony to the sculpting skill of this people.

Raimondi's Ancash
The great Peruvian explorer Antonio Raimondi is inextricably associated with the history of Ancash. A Peruvian Darwin, he catalogued the landmarks, fauna and flora of the entire country, and discovered the colossal stone carving known as the Chavin Spray. The gigantic Puya Raimondi plant particular to this region is obviously named after him, though the plant also grows in Bolivia and other similar climates.

Raimondi's fertile imagination led him to tag suggestive adjectives onto names of places where an event had befallen him. When he arrived in Recuay in 1860, one of his valuable journals was stolen. Hence he named the town Recuay-Ladronera or "Thieving Recuay." In Huaraz, he became besotted with a local lass who gave him the cold shoulder, which encouraged him to leave "Presumptuous Huaraz" for Carhuaz.

He arrived in Carhuaz in time for the festival, where the people celebrate drinking and dancing till they drop. Saddened by these excesses, he dubbed the town "Drunken Carhuaz." Upon reaching Yungay, he saw a beautiful sunrise and the first rays of dawn illuminating the majestic Mount Huascaran. Thereafter, he would refer to "Lovely Yungay." In Caraz, he was besieged by dozens of locals hawking manjar blanco, a caramel sandwich spread, and honey, and dubbed the place "Sweet Caraz."

Huascaran Nature Park
Listed by UNESCO as part of the Natural Heritage of Humanity in 1985 in view of its incredible natural beauty and bounty of natural resources, the Huascaran Nature Park is a haven of lakes, a variety of plant and animal life, and of course, majestic, snow-covered mountains.
If you are visiting the park, which is approximately 23 kilometres wide and covers an area of 340,000 hectares, we recommend you take the acclimatisation tour to Lake Llanganuco.

Another site, the Monterrey thermal springs, are only just over four miles from Huaraz. Here the Park management has installed a special pool for visitors in which mineral-rich water bubbles to the surface at a luxuriously hot 40 degrees Celsius. Nearby are the Chancos springs, which, like those in Monterrey, are known for easing arthritis. Chancos also has caves of steam, an attraction for many visitors.

For those who like sweets, Carhuaz is the site of multicolored candies, pastry fillings, robust cider and tomato jelly. The rose bushes, slim palms and bronze fountain in the Plaza de Armas make it a place of singular beauty. Visitors sit on the benches in the square, eating refreshing strawberry frappes made with ice from the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. On a tragic note, not far off is the old town of Yungay that was tragically buried under a mudslide after the earthquake 26 years ago. Here you will be met by peasant children with their ruddy sunburnt complexions, straight black hair and vivacious eyes, who offer visitors sprigs of broom in welcome. "It was a beautiful place with big houses and flowers everywhere. Then the water came pouring down from Mount Huascaran and buried the people," is how one child described the disaster.

The place is now holy ground on which a statue of Christ the Redeemer stands, arms outstretched, staring at Huascaran as if blaming it for the appalling disaster it caused. An area called New Yungay, which serves as a large park, was created with disaster relief from many countries.
Between Huscaran and Huandoy is a place called Llanganuco, about an hour's drive from Yungay along a scenic winding road. A family of stunning turquoise lakes comes as a surprise. One is called Chinacocha, "Female Lake."

Orconcocha, "Male Lake," sits nearby, and of course, Baby Lake rests in-between.

The sky's the limit!
Mount Pastoruri is a favorite destination of hikers. At 5,000 metres above sea level, it is not too demanding a climb. We recommend taking broken-in but supportive boots, sunglasses, mufflers and woolly hats, and of course, coca tea to ward off altitude sickness.

Visitors can slake their thirst with refreshingly fizzy Pumapampa mineral water that springs from the earth. Higher up the slopes are the tall puya raymondis, brilliantly braving the inclement weather with the most blooms at a time in the world; the plant's flower is reputed to live 100 years.
The weather varies from sunny to overcast to sunny again in minutes. A sudden hail storm could also strike, which makes a trip to Pastoruri even more fun. To see art native to this region, visit the village of Tarica. Its artisans are famous for their beautifully decorated jugs.

All visitors to the Callejon de Huaylas leave with a sense of achievement. They will have visited the three tallest mountains in Peru: Huascaran (6,768m), Huantsan and Huandoy (both 6,395m). Alpamayo (5,947m) is called the most beautiful snowscape in the world, though it can not be seen from the Callejon de Huaylas, while Huascaran is considered the heart of the natural park.

Add to this the simple beauty of the broom blossom, the heartlifting melodies of birdsong, the gurgling creeks. Most remembered is probably the warmth of the people in Ancash, their efforts to protect the environment and their openness to all who pass through. In sum, this is a sequence of unforgettable landscapes, human and divine.

Travel throughout South America with

By Janet Montoro
Volume II/Issue 7, Page 08
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