The last story ended with me visiting the so manieth adobe ruins in the desert. Enough desert, enough beach, it is time for some real mountains. I’m heading to the Cordilleras Blancas. A mountain range that is only 180km long but has more than 50 peaks of over 5700m. Comparison: Europe has none, all of North America only 3. Plus there are more than 700 glaciers. Sounds like a fun playground. To get there I drive a shortcut road which means a lot of dirt road but beautiful views while the landscape slowly changes from desert to mountains. The shortcut road is almost empty and in the middle of nowhere it changes all of a sudden from a shitty dirt road to beautiful brand new tarmac. But 20 minutes later it’s back to dirt, without having passed any towns, buildings or other cars. Weird! When I’m done with the shortcut I rejoin the main road through the Canyon de Plata. A very steep canyon that is sometimes not more than 20m wide but the walls next to me go almost a kilometer up. The road is a narrow single lane dirt road with traffic going in both directions. On this stretch I go through almost 60 small tunnels carved out of the canyon wall. I’d love to stop for photos but it is getting late and I don’t want to drive in the dark. Just outside of the town of Caraz at 2200m I find a great little campsite.
Whoops! Turns out my stomach is not as invincible as I thought. Over the last 13 months I have been eating everything and everywhere and I never got sick. But now I am. I walked to town for a relax day and to get some groceries but I had to hurry back to make it to the toilet in time. After that it’s a toilet run every hour even at night. Luckily there is nobody else on the campsite and I have the very nice toilet and hot shower to myself. But yeah, this is the first time in my life (as far as I can remember) that I am sick for more than a day. No fun! A full two days I don’t get further than sleeping/watching movies in my van and running for the toilet. Whatever I have eaten must have been really really bad. After two days I feel better, but I decide to take another day of rest before I go for my next plan: a hike at 4200m.
So three days after arriving in the mountains I finally can really head up for a hike. I want to hike along Laguna Peron. It’s only a 30km drive but it does have an 2000m altitude gain. The road up is great with beautiful views out of the glacially shaped valley to the other mountain ranges. The road is unpaved with many hairpins so driving is slow. The 30km end up taking more than 2 hours. But I manage to get all the way here without overheating the van. Once I park my van at the side of the lake I head out for the hike. Even though the hike is flat along the lake shore I notice the altitude right away: headache and short of breath. But the turquoise blue lake with three 6000m+ snowy mountain peaks behind it make it so much easier. Apparently the lake level has been rising and parts of the trail have disappeared underwater and I need to climb on the steep cliffs to get past them. The plan was to get to a little lake slightly further up but I cannot find the trail anymore so I just head back to my van. When I get back to my van it is getting late, rainy and windy so I decide to camp here (highest altitude camp so far). Just before sunset the rain and clouds clear up and I have a perfect view from my van of the mountain that was the inspiration for the Paramount movies logo.
When I wake up it is cold and rainy again. I wait for a while for the weather to get better so that my engine will start more easily but the weather stays shit. After two attempts and a lot of smoke I manage to get the van running. A Peruvian couple asks for a ride down. A taxi was supposed to pick them up but it never came. My original plan was to drive to Laguna 69 which is in the next valley of the mountain range at 4600m but the weather in the mountains doesn’t look too good so I drive to the town of Carhuaz and camp next to a restaurant. This is the first spot I see that has cuy (guinea pig) on the menu but sadly the restaurant is closed.
Another cloudy day. So sad when I compare it to the beautiful sunny days when I was ill. I can use a shitty day to go to a mechanic in Huaraz to get my coolant leak checked. They spend half a day working on it but can’t fix the leak or get a spare pump. The final temporary solution is to just try to glue the leak shut. The only camp option in Huaraz is pretty bad. Quite a walk outside of town in the parking lot of a hotel next to a busy road. I need to squeeze past other cars to get into my van. It’s more than double the price than the last few campsites and they charge a lot of money extra for a shower. I guess I’ll only stay here for one night. Huaraz does have a nice craft beer bar which is great to plan the next few weeks of my trip.
A lot of travelers take the same time to travel the same trail. So I regularly run into the same people. However, normally you see the same people all the time. Today I found out Anne just arrived in town. I had met her in San Christobal, Mexico some time in November. This is the longest between meeting the same people twice. We go for breakfast in Huaraz before I head back into the mountains. Another slow steep dirt road gets me in 1 hour over 15km to 3900m where there is a really nice little eco hostel. Loads of fun people visiting/running this little place with beautiful views over the mountains. In the evening everyone eats together in the living room by candle light since there is no power. I already like this place. Ow, and the glue fix of my coolant pump did not hold.
You know what makes this hostel camp even better? The included awesome pancake breakfast! After that it’s time to hike up to Laguna Charup. The first bit to the entrance of the park is relatively flat but after that it’s steep up. I have to stop many times just to catch my breath. I meet three Canadians and we decide to hike together. In order to get to Laguna Charup we need to get past a steep cliff with a waterfall. This involves some rope climbing. Loads of fun. The Laguna at 4400m is great. Awesome blue colors and many snowy mountains behind it. I’m not having any headaches because of the altitude so we decide to go a bit further to a second smaller laguna at 4600m. This last climb is steep and slow and the headaches are starting but the views are great. On the way down we skip the ropes and do some rock climbing instead. The sun is really intense here so by the time I get back to my van I have an intense headache and am very tired. But after a quick nap, I do join the rest of the hostel for home made pizza night! Jummy!
The views at this place and the people are so great I decide to stay for another day just hanging around the hostel making plans. The final plan: tomorrow I will drive through the highest altitude tunnel in the world at 4700m. A good test for the van since I will have to go over these altitudes to get past Bolivia.