Published: August 6th 2012August 6th 2012
Went to Huaraz with Elvira, we went on two tours, saw the bluest lake I've ever seen and hiked to 16,400 ft to touch a glacier. Didn't get sick from the altitude, but had a constant headache, so I'd call it a success.
So Friday night, Elvira and I set out for the bus station to go to Huaraz. It wasn't a holiday weekend, so we figured we could just buy tickets when we got there. Having traveled for 2 months with Erika without ever buying tickets in advance, I didn't think twice about these plans. However, apparently Friday is when everyone who lives outside of Lima goes home after working in Lima during the week. The buses were all full. We went to four other bus companies along the street and no one had any seats/buses for Huaraz that night. Luckily, an old man overheard us asking about buses to Huaraz and directed us to the bus terminal. Peruvians are so friendly and willing to help out, it's just wonderful. We were determined to go (Elvira even started talking about renting a car and driving to Huaraz), so even though it
was getting late, we went to the bus terminal. Almost all the companies were closed for the night, but we finally got tickets on the last bus to Huaraz for the night!
We got into Huaraz at 7am on Saturday, which was early, considering our bus left at midnight and it's an 8 hour bus ride, but it felt long enough since neither of us really slept. I had already done the research on where to stay and what tour company to go with. They were actually one and the same, Churup. Cutest, nicest hostel I've ever been in, I would highly recommend it to anyone who goes and wants to stay in a clean, warm hostel. Unfortunately their dorm was all booked up, but we figured it would be fine to pay a bit more for a double since it was such a nice place. We booked two tours through them as well. The first one was for that day, to Lake Llanganuco (12,400 ft) to help get ourselves acclimated before going to the Pastoruri glacier (16,400 ft) on Sunday. The tour also included a stop in a small village for some of the best homemade icecream I've
ever had and at Yungay, a town famous for the 1970 earthquake that killed 25,000 people in approximately 2 minutes, with only 92 survivors. The lake was the best part of the tour, with its turquoise blue water and the quena trees (their bark looks like paper-bark trees, but they're more twisted in stature) growing around it. Elvira and I went on the 20 minute hike around part of the lake and pretty much had the trail to ourselves.
We got back to Huaraz around 8, got some popcorn for dinner along with some crackers and peanut butter we brought with us and then went to bed around 10, which was ridiculously early for us. There was one problem with our room. When we checked into Churup in the morning, they took us to our room, but didn't give us keys. When we asked for them, the lady got confused and asked two other people about keys for our room. We had to leave for our tour, but they promised they would have keys for us when we got back. Of course, we get back, and the keeper of the keys has left for the night. Luckily she answered
her phone and came back to give us our keys, but it was very strange that no one keeps track of keys. At least we knew no one could have gone into our room while we were gone.
The next day we checked out and got breakfast (free) at Churup. Despite being the usual bread, butter, jam, and tea, the bread was fresh, the butter was real butter, and they had a wide selection of tea. We had to remind the people at the front desk twice that we were eating breakfast, but to let us know if we were getting picked up or had to walk to the plaza to get on the tour for the day. NOTE: CONSTANTLY REMIND PEOPLE OF YOUR NEEDS/THEIR PROMISES OR THEY WILL NOT FOLLOW THROUGH. More on this lesson later.
We got picked up eventually and got on the tour bus for the Pastoruri glacier. The guide thought he was funny, but the problem was, it was a large bus and he didn't have a microphone, so only those closest to him could really catch the jokes. It was a bus with a lot of families, which surprised us, because Pastoruri
is really high and we knew it was a bit of a hike to get there. We made friends with the two Brazilians sitting behind us, both named Andres. The first stop on the tour was supposedly a geiser, but was actually more like a natural mineral spring. It was very lively and we were told if we washed our faces in it, we would all become 15 years younger. Of course the guide warned the parents not to wash their kids in it or they would disappear, hahaha. The next stop was to see the Puya Raimondi plants, in the bromiliad family. They are endemic to Peru and are used for firewood once they bloom and then die. They're this funny shape with a large, spikey ball at the base and a tall cone reaching maybe 20 ft in the air.
Our last stop was for the glacier. You have the option to ride a horse maybe 2/3 of the way there (although the guide didn't say the horses can only go part way), but Elvira and I decided to hike it. At 16,000+ ft, we had to take lots of breaks, but luckily neither of us threw
up or passed out due to the altitude. We both mostly felt extremely out of shape (she isn't at least, she goes running every day), and could feel our hearts beating in our throats, although she did feel a little bit naseous at one point. We got to where the horses stopped and were like, crap, it just keeps going up (everyone we asked said it was a mostly flat hike, the big problem being the altitude). We finally made it to the glacier and it was beautiful. It's hard to believe the trail we were walking on also used to be covered in ice. The Pastoruri glacier is one of the few glaciers left in tropical South America and has shrunk by 22-25% in the last 30 years or so. We were only allowed a short while at the top due to the extreme effects of altitude, but the walk back down was a lot shorter. I was impressed so many kids made it to the top, although we passed a lot of parents practically carrying/dragging their kids up.
We get back to Huaraz by 6:30pm and decide to go to the bus company to pay for the
tickets we had asked the hostel to reserve when we first got in to Huaraz. Unfortunately, neither of our names were on there for any buses Sunday night. We go back to the hostel to find out what happened. THIS IS WHY YOU HAVE TO CONFIRM THINGS MULTIPLE TIMES. The guy who checked us in said he would reserve seats for us on the 10pm bus on Sunday. We waited for him to do it right then, but he said, no problem, no worries. Of course, he didn't write it down, so he makes the reservation for 2pm. This is the same guy who booked our tours, so I'm not sure how he thought we would be back for the 2pm bus. Luckily we hadn't actually paid for the tickets ahead of time. There was a different guy on duty Sunday evening, he said, if we can't find anything, we can sleep for free in the TV room (his bed when he's on night duty) and he would sleep in the office. He sends us off to the "bus terminal" though, sure that we'll find a bus. We're wondering how he can be so confident when all the other bus companies we asked didn't even have buses running to Lima on Sundays.
Turns out the "bus terminal" is an empty lot with 5 different buses. The way the "tickets" work is that once one bus fills up, another one turns on its lights, people mob the bus trying to get on, because the more full the bus gets, the higher the price goes, and the later it gets, the higher the price goes. This is unlike anything I've ever experienced. Luckily, Elvira and I happened to be asking a driver about ticket prices and all the sudden, the bus's lights turn on. People tried to duck under our arms or push between us to get to the front of the line, but we held strong. Elvira was the first person in line and she almost got knocked flat because people were pushing so much. I had to shove some people away just so she didn't get pushed face-forward into the bus. It was worse than even some mosh pits I've been in. Luckily she got tickets for both of us, but the driver actually had to push some people away just so I could get onto the bus with her. We only had to wait about an hour until the bus was full, but it was interesting to hear how quickly the price went up. We paid S./50 each, but the later passengers had to pay as much as S./70. Because the bus left at 8:30pm, the bus wasn't cama or even semi-cama, so we didn't really sleep on the ride home.
All told, including bus tickets, food, housing, and tours, we spend less than $150 for a weekend in Huaraz, which isn't bad. Definitely came away with some wonderful pictures of natural beauty and some interesting stories.