23 August 2014

Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, Huaraz: Family time on the Gringo Trail

After some days in the Cordillera Blanca we looked forward to some time off the bikes with Alberto´s mom and brother, who came for a nearly three week whirlwind tour of Peru. Hot showers every day, a comfy bed and guaranteed good wifi signal marked a major change from our usual style of travel. On the other hand the touristy trail lacked some of the charm of our time in Peru, such as children shouting ¨Griiiinggoooo!¨and dogs barking at us at all hours of the day and night.

After a night bus from Huaraz to Lima, we were reunited with Alberto´s mom and brother who flew in to Lima to visit with us!

The centre of Lima was more charming than we expected...

...and we stumbled upon an apparently rather famous woman giving an impromptu concert.

Alberto, Rosa, and Alex took a day trip to see the Nasca Lines - Lucy stayed behind because apparently the flyovers are not recommended for motion sickness sufferers! Here the famous astronaut...

Meanwhile, in Miraflores, we got to watch the paragliders (and surfers, see bottom left) at work.

We also got to visit the pre-Inca ruins of Huaca Pucllana, right in the middle of Miraflores.

You can shop for literally anything in calle Emancipación in central Lima, including dentist chairs.

We had a mission to pick up some bike parts -- acting on a tip from the bike shop in Cajamarca we found the area where high-spec stuff is sold on the cheap (Avenida Emancipacion cuadras 8-10).

We also visited the Larco Museum, home to an unbelievable amount of pre-Inca and Inca pottery. Here, a pottery Cuy (Guinea Pig)!

And Alberto ate some great ceviche del día, which does not have anything to do with the Ecuatorian equivalent. For starters, the fish is raw!

Being on the gringo trail meant we had to catch a flight to Arequipa...luckily with some great views of Cotahuasi Canyon (the world´s deepest) as we went. 

Snow-less volcano Misti (5822 m) plays an important part in the history of Arequipa and towers over the city.

Arequipa had really interesting architecture combining local and colonial traditions, but unfortuantely way too many tourists trying to see it!

On a largely pointless day trip to the Colca Canyon we did get to see some cool pre-Inca agricultural terraces
We managed to get a sense of the beauty of the canyon, and resolved to come back sometime (on bikes and on foot) to enjoy it without the hordes of day-tripping tourists like ourselves!

Back in Arequipa we toured the Santa Catalina convent - a walled city within the city that felt just like Spain.

And took a trip to the very calm and surprisingly well-organised central market.
Another flight (we must have used an entire year´s carbon footprint on these three weeks), and we were in Cusco, checking out the fine Inca walls which still line some of the streets in the city.

We visited the impressive Inca ruins of Saqsaywhaman with the biggest stones of any Inca ruins.

An overnight in Ollantaytambo allowed us to see the terraced Inca ruins above the town.

And before we knew it, we were on the ridiculously overpriced train to Aguas Calientes, gateway to Machu Picchu!

The two of us walked up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, meaning we were there before the crowds and in time to watch the sun hit the site bit by bit.
About an hour and a half later, Rosa and Alex made it on the bus - a moment for celebration!

Later on, some light clouds rolled in to allow us to get the classic misty shot...
...before hoardes of tourists inundated the place
Back in Cusco, we went on a mission to find the famous Inca stone with no less than 12-sides!

In our final night in Cusco we checked out the artsy San Blas neighbourhood...

... and headed back to Huaraz to check out the Cordillera Blanca from a better vantage point (Laguna Wilcacocha here, in the Cordillera Negra).

And a day trip to the surprisingly impressive pre-Incan ruins of Chavin

We took advantage of the visit as a chance to send home some unwanted extra weight.

And had some frame bags made in Huaraz which meant we could ditch our front panniers!

After three weeks off the bikes, we were itching to get back on the bikes and into rural Peru. But Lucy´s immune system had other ideas, and we were stuck in Huaraz for a few extra days while she recovered from laryngitis. Luckily though, there´s plenty of one-day rides to do...and below is just an example of one in the Cordillera Negra that Alberto did while waiting for Lucy´s recovery.


- Machu Pichu: if you intend to visit the site on your own, be aware that tickets sell out well in advance in the high season. However, the Peruvian government will sell you the tickets from the Ministerio de Cultura in Cusco, exceeding the 2500 visitors limit, providing you have train tickets booked. Also, there´s student discounts (50% off) which are not available online or through agencies.

To avoid the bus queues to get up to the ruins, you can walk up (with hundreds others!), but be aware that they only let walkers through from 5 am onwards, so it is pointless to turn up before then. This way, you can reach the entrance before 6 am, and enjoy the site without the crowds for a short while. Lastly, avoid visiting on Sundays - Cusqueños get free entry and the place is even more packed than usual apparently, and transport back from Ollantaytambo to Cusco is a real nightmare due to traffic jams.

- Yuraq Janka is a well-known place in Huaraz, which especialises in fixing outdoor equipment as well as manufacturing some mountain stuff. They too made our frame bags for a fair price (S/. 70 each) but they took their time (more than a month) so they´re only good if you have quite a few days in the area and lots of patience. Best to speak to owner Yuri directly, or else things may take even longer than usual...

- Montañas Mágicas (near Parque Ginebra) is an small but very professional bike and mountain shop with a modest Park Tool workshop. Ivan and Michel did some maintenance on our bikes (hub swap and cleaning) in no time, and for a modest price. They can also source more specific parts from Lima, if you can wait a couple days for them to arrive.

12 August 2014

Chilling out in the Cordillera Blanca: Hiking and biking lagunas Churup and Llaca

With the Fiestas de la Independencia approaching, and with prices in Huaraz rocketing up for the national tourists, we had to make the happy choice to leave for the mountains. We debated whether to take another multi-day ride in the Cordillera Negra (the lesser known Cordillera in front of the infamous Blanca, but apparently, mountain bike heaven) or to chill out up in the Blanca. Happily, we met Northbound british cyclists Joe and Lizzie who were headed to an eco-hostel in the hills above Huaraz, so it was easy to make the decision to join them. Our plan was to simply chill out there, hike and bike to some of the nearby lagunas, killing time until we had to head to Lima to meet with Alberto´s mom and brother who were flying in from Spain.

After a  liesurely morning, our foursome headed out of Huaraz on the dirt road that leads to Laguna Churup. 
The climb allowed great views of Huaraz and the Cordillera Negra. Hard to believe that the high mountains can be just half a day´s ride from a major city!

We arrived at the Hof hostel (a bit pricey for camping, but otherwise a very nice place to spend some down time) and camped with gorgeous views of the nevados.

On the second day, we hiked to the Laguna Churup (4450 m) in glorious weather.
Despite its popularity as an acclimatisation hike from Huaraz, we had the laguna all to ourselves. The key is to avoid the morning rush hour (we got there at 2 pm).

The downside being that the afternoon clouds partially obscured the view of Nevado Churup (5493 m).

Our route down from the laguna involved some moderately sketchy rock sections.

On our way back down the clouds cleared for a better view of the nevado Churup.
The following day we headed with bikes for the Laguna Llaca, a less visited place a mere 20 km from the hostel...up a very rough trocha (muy muy fea, as the locals assured us many times!)

We departed very late from the hostel, so half way up the climb it became clear that we wouldn´t reach the laguna until the following morning. The afternoon sun was incredible though, and the views equally amazing.

At 4300 m, we found some pampa which we made our home for the (chilly) night. Huaraz is just in the background, 1200 m below.

The following morning we woke up to a frozen tent, so waited for the sun to do its job while having breakfast with a view

The final stretch of riding towards the Laguna and glacier Llaca provided one of the most impressive views of our trip. Nevados Ocshapalca (5888 m) and Ranrapalca (6162 m) overlook the glacier.

We left the bikes at the park entrance, and hiked up the short hill to the laguna.

 From there, we could follow a rocky path all the way to the start of the glacier...

...passing smaller, equally beautiful lagunas as we went.

We were surprised to find so much ice at 4500 m, despite the glacier being in remission.

Finally, we reached the glacier´s edge. 

Watching tiny bits of the glacier´s ice collapse was good entertainment while having a cheese sandwich.

We got used to the sound of the cracks coming from within the glacier. At some point, we heard a chunk of snow collapse and form an small avalanche (the cloud of snow seen in the middle of the picture).

After a bumpy and scenic 2 hour descent, we were back in Huaraz packing our stuff for a relaxed break with the family.

- The Hof Hostel is a relatively new eco-lodge which originally served as a mountain refuge for multi-day hikes. The location is beautiful, 15 km out of town up a steep hill, and the atmosphere very welcoming. However, their prices for food and camping are steep (S/.15 per person to camp), and they did not offer any discounts on long stays or for cyclists. Perhaps this will change in the future, and if so, it would make for a great base for further exploration. Make sure you bring plenty of food, as there´s no shops anywhere nearby.

- The Laguna Churup is around 4-5 hour roundtrip walk from The Hof, and it involves at the very end a steep, rocky section with a steel cable. Most tourists go from 9 am till 1 pm. We had to pay the S/.10 fee per person per day to enter the national park, but this may be because we missed the shortcut that it is possible take when coming from the Hof.

- The Laguna Llaca is a 3-4 hour ride from The Hof with weight to reach the laguna.. The last 8 km to the entrance is in terrible conditions, with plenty of loose rocks, which makes cycling uphill a bit challenging. There´s good camping at 4300 m at the pampa, with access to water, as well as at the park entrance (where there is a bathroom). Be aware that if you overnight, you may be charged the full S/.65 fee for the 21 day pass to the national park. We chatted to the park ranger and got to spend the night by just paying the normal daily S/.10 fee. Bikes can be left at the park entrance, and the hike to the glacier and around the lagunas should take about 45-60 min.