Most people, when asked, would probably not say they find plants particularly interesting. Maybe you would agree? Perhaps this plant will change their/your minds. Meet the Puya Raimondii, the largest species of bromeliad known to man. It can only be found in the Andes mountain range, at an elevation of between 3000-4500m. It can grow as tall as 4 meters (that's 12', America), taking up to 100 years to do so! What makes them so interesting, is that they flower only once, dying soon after! I happened to visit these plants when many of them were in bloom. I witnessed one of my first, rare, amazing natural phenomena! The Puya in the pictures below are at least 10' tall.
My next favorite sight was the result of yet another natural phenomenon. In 1970, an earthquake rocked the Andes, causing a huge sheet of glacial ice to collapse, inciting an enormous avalanche. Within 3 minutes of the quake, (just to repeat that: 3 minutes!!!) an entire town of over 20,000 people was buried under snow, rocks and mud. Rocks came crashing down up to 900 km/hr (that's 560 mi/hr, America). These rocks, like the one shown below, are up to 10 meters (30') tall! The picture below shows a flat field of grass. This is where the town once was, now laying as a living cemetery, up to 15 meters (45 feet) underground. You can almost make out, behind the clouds, the very mountaintop from which all the debris originated.
|The burial site of the town of Yungay, from the 1970 earthquake that caused a debris avalanche.|
|The original cemetery of Yungay, the only original building left standing after the tragedy in 1970.|
|The remains of a building destroyed in the avalanche.|
|Wall of the cemetery|
|Stairs leading to the top of the cemetery|
The next of my favorite activities in Huaraz also involves a snow capped mountaintop, but fortunately, it has a much better ending. My first full day in Huaraz, I hopped on a tour to see Pastoruri, a huge glacier, perched at 5,250 meters (yes, America, don't worry, I've got you: 17,200 feet) above sea level. Luckily, much of that distance was covered by car... but not all! With a nice, stone, path, I meandered my way up the last thousand or so meters to see the glacier, a walk that takes an acclimatized, fit hiker 15 minutes, but takes a non-fit foreigner like me, lugging over 20 lbs (I've got you, world: 10 kg) of camera gear over an hour to do. Granted, I was actually taking lots of pictures, but it was quite embarrassing to be moving so slowly! Some people even rented horses to make their way up.
|The early path up to the glacier has a wooden railing to help you on your way|
|As you get closer to the glacier, it gets harder and harder to breath, but the view is too amazing to stop|
|Man bringing horse back down after bringing a guest up the hill|
|I loved taking pictures of all the different cairns I saw along the way up|
The higher I got, the more frequent my breath-breaks needed to be. I was shocked at how out of breath I got, stopping every 10 or so steps to concentrate on breathing deeply from my stomach. Luckily, an earlier stop to drink Mate de Coca (coca tea, which apparently helps with altitude sickness), and to buy some candies (the sugar in which gives your body energy to overcome the fatigue at altitude), helped get me through.
|Horse handlers waiting at the top for guests, seen playing cards to kill the time (to the right). |
Though I don't know how they did it, it's freezing up there!
|The view looking back down the path as I got closer to the top|
Once at the top, though, I was rewarded with incredible views. Though a cloudy day, the drama of the beautiful blue glacier was not lost. Since it had taken me so long to hike up, I was left with very little time to shoot at the top and to return to the van. I worked as quickly as I could, though I felt a bit lightheaded, and my arms felt like jello, too weak to lift a 10 lb (5 kg) camera.
I had to practically run back down the trail so as to not delay the rest of the group, and I made it exactly on time. With every step down, breathing was that much easier, and my body felt that much lighter. I arrived to the van completely exhausted, but very satisfied.
Yet another feat of mind over matter was my trip to Laguna 69. As I mentioned earlier, due to my knees (thanks, mom), I was unable to do any long hiking trips. It was suggested that I do the day trip to Lagoon 69. More than one person recommended it to me as a nice, easy hike, so I eagerly hopped aboard. The trail is a mixture of flats and moderate steeps, starting at about 3800m/12,000 ft and reaching up to 4750 m/15,585 ft, that takes the average hiker 3 hours. I knew that would be a stretch for me. To help assure success this time, I learned from past experience and did these 5 things:
- I wore knee braces on both knees.
- I bought a cheap pair of trekking poles.
- I filled my hydration sleeve with water instead of just bringing a water bottle.
- I brought coca candies and leaves to chew.
- I decided to just trust myself, go at my own pace, enjoy the journey, take great photos, and not feel pressured to reach the peak. I wanted to make sure the day was full of pleasant memories, and not of discomfort or embarrassment.
Looking back now, I am so thankful about all of those things,... especially #5. I let the stream of hikers go past me as a group of buses arrived around the same time. As I walked the easy beginning of the trail, I was alone. I heard the babbling of the glacial stream to my left, the chirp of birds to my right, and the crunching of my feet and trekking poles beneath me. In fact, that first hour was the happiest hour I've spent in Peru. It was idyllic, tranquil, contemplative, and stunningly beautiful. I happily watched the light change on the mountains surrounding me, and clicked away with my shutter to my heart's content.
After about 4 hours of hiking, breathing deeply and photographing, I realized that there really was no way I could reach the lagoon in time (still another hour's hike away). I dedicated the last bit of energy I had to just making it to a smaller, less dramatic lagoon. I made it there, lightheaded and exhausted, but content. I sat on a large rock, warming in the sun, watching the light and wind change the reflections in the small lake.
Llanganuco (yan-guh-noo-koh)You know they always say: "save the best for last?" Well, it was a tough decision, but this last site was absolutely amazing. Peru has lots of lagoons. They were formed by glacial ice, so many have a unique turquoise color. Since I didn't get to summit and see the supposedly gorgeous Laguna 69, I was thankful to see one that could be seen from the windows of a car! Llanganuco is a pair of lagoons, that are the most brilliant color of turquoise you can imagine. They sit at about 3,850m/12,630ft, surrounded by dramatic mountains on every side. One has to merely pull into the parking lot to see them! I was in awe. It was like something out of fantasy film, water that looked like paint.
As the school groups packed into boats, only S. 5 (5 soles = about $1.50 USD), I walked around as much as I could of the lagoon. We arrived just before the sun set behind the mountains, so I was thankful to catch the last glimmer of light.
So there you have it! A taste of the best that Huaraz has to offer (for the mobil-ly impaired): glaciers, lagoons, mountains, 100 year-old rare plants, and natural disasters. It was an action packed few days. I have now arrived in a gorgeous beach town, relaxing and sorting through loads and loads of pictures. I can't lie, it feels great to be at sea level!
Now, as an added bonus for reading all the way to the end? A rare treat! Selfies!