Huaraz is a touristy town nestled on the fringes of Peru’s biggest mountain range, the Cordillera Blanca. I spent 4 days there bumming around, drinking coffee, eating cake and watching the Champions League final. After a couple of weeks of spartan living and existing on $10 a day, when presented with pizza, craft beer and curry it was easy to get carried away and I didn’t bat an eyelid at prices I would’ve baulked at a few days prior – penny wise pound foolish and all that. The chief excitement to be had in Huaraz without draining one’s wallet is the market where stalls abound selling ‘chocho’ – a little ceviche-like salad with beans instead of fish – fresh bread rolls, cheese, honey and an assortment of more uniquely Peruvian fare.
I wanted to see the Cordillera but fancied some time off the bike so I signed up for the Santa Cruz trek, a 50-odd kilometre, 4 day amble past snowy peaks and turquoise lakes. My party was made up of Joep from Holland, two Belgian girls, Valerie and Sophie, and a Korean librarian named Jjang. They were all very nice and we passed the hours doing riddles, while Jjang shamed me for the tiny amount of Korean I remembered despite me having lived there for 2 years – all I could recall was “hello”, “goodbye”, “thanks” “bring me two beers please” and a list of random foods (Andong JJimdak 4 lyf).
We were all so possessed by the spirit of adventure that we decided to do the hike in 3 days (actually Joep’s hostel owner promised him he could hike it in 3 days, conveniently neglecting to mention this would mean hiking alone for 9 hours and finding his own transport back to Huaraz. In solidarity we all decided to join him). This proved to be a blessing and what would’ve included 4+ hours of needless daily rest time was streamlined into a lean, focused hike through stupendous scenery.
After a night shivering fully clothed in my sleeping bag at 4300m I decided I needed an upgrade. I’d just bought a new (fake) North Face down jacket but that wasn’t cutting it either so I ended up doing a Del Boy impression and trying to sell my wares to the hiking establishments of Huaraz. “Why hello there, do I have a deal for you!”. Turns out I’m an terrible l wheeler dealer and had to take a 50 sol hit on the jacket and sell the sleeping bag for less than half it’s original price, but with my new thicker bag hopefully I won’t freeze my arse off on the Bolivian altiplano.
Eventually I was able to pry myself away from Huaraz and I made my way south feeling fit and strong for the first time in weeks.
After replacing my tyres back in Ecuador I’d been relatively puncture free, but upon meeting Philipp my luck turned. In our 3 days cycling together I picked up 5 punctures, and found 3 more awaiting me when I checked in on my bike in Huaraz. This bad luck once again reared its ugly head when, with about half an hour of light left in the sky my rear tyre deflated 9km from Ticclos. By the time I’d fixed it the purple twilight had melted to black and I was forced to cycle the most treacherous stretch of the entire day, a dusty cliffside descent, very slowly in naught but the light of my headtorch. Amazingly I passed by a truck that even in the pitch darkness had neglected to turn on its lights.
I’d heard that there was some kind of Italian mission in Ticclos that welcomed cyclists to stay for free but as I pulled into the village I was accosted by a man who told me the Italian priest was out of town and that I’d be better off at his “hospedaje”. I was suspicious but didn’t have the energy to protest. He led me through a narrow passageway to his house where his wife hurriedly fixed me up a room as I unloaded my bike. I couldn’t help but admire the opportunism. For $3 it wasn’t too bad, barring the blaring Huayano from the adjacent room.
My thoughts on Huayano:
Alongside Korean ‘Trot’ and Mongolian throat singing, Huayno is a strong contender for the most execrable genre of music humanity has painfully birthed. This aural diarrhoea infects every bar, bus and household of Andean Peru and anyone who treads these lands will be subjected to its swill. It artlessly combines the worst traits of traditional Andean music with a keyboard tone that rivals a dentist’s drill in musicality, an electronic drum kit that makes cheap explosion sounds, a woman with a shrill, overproduced, girlish voice singing vapid lyrics about love (with llamas I like to think) while occasionally they let some, presumably deaf, percussionist go postal on a cowbell. To make matters worse, some bloke (I swear it’s always the same bastard) periodically shouts cliched bilge over the top. “BIG UP THE ANDES”, “LONG LIVE LOVE”, “CALDO DE GALLINA IS DELICIOUS”. Every song sounds exactly the same and they’re all equally offensive.
I’m, uh, not a fan.
I awoke to a recurrence of my stomach bug and decided to have a rest day in Ticclos. The family were lovely and fed me porridge and medicine but after a 2nd sleepless night I realised I couldn’t keep cycling with what I suspected was an unshakable parasite. If my route ahead had been easy I might’ve struggled on but I wasn’t keen on climbing 3000m out of a colossal valley with a bad case of gut rot. Thus I made the difficult decision to leave my bike and bags with the family and catch a bus back to Huaraz to see a doctor and get rid of this infernal illness once and for all.
And so, 2 days, 3 colectivos, some surpisingly positive election news, and a series of tests later, my suspicions were confirmed and I was told I’d been the unwitting host to the haughty sounding Blastocytis Hominis for the past month, a parasits harmless to Peruvians but highly damaging to my precious little gringo stomach. I’ve been put on a 5 day course of antibiotics and am off the booze, lactose, fruit and veggies, but hopefully after this I can wave goodbye to both illness and Huaraz for good and get on with this cycling malarkey.
Life Lesson: Do NOT drink the milky looking water in Lleymebamba, regardless of how thirsty you are.
Tunes: The National – Trouble Will Find Me, Bob Dylan – Desire, Whatever dude – AGUAFIESTAS!
Reads: The Men Who Stare At Goats – Jon Ronson, Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell, Homage To Catalonia – George Orwell
Route: Huaraz – Recuay – Catac – Conococha – Ticclos – Huaraz