A Travellerspoint blog

November 2015

Preparing for El Niño

A rain simulation on a sunny day


In my mind, when there's an impending natural disaster, that you know about in advance, preparing in any way you can seems reasonable. With this, and the fact that I said I would cover El Niño more thoroughly, in mind, it seems right to write about preparation for El Niño.

Despite all that is known about El Niño, the preparation in Huanchaco has been distinctly minimal (and although I don't know, I suspect it's been minimal in much of Peru).

Just two weeks ago they started clearing and strengthening the dry river, which was a product from the last big El Niño in 1997-8. Many houses remain without a full roof, as per the design rather than lack of funds. There even seem to be new construction projects that are hugely unlikely to be completed by the supposed start of serious rainfall in mid January.

In the shanty towns around Huanchaco, almost nothing has been done physically, although schools have finished a month early and children have been taught about the phenomenon in schools. This leads me to probably the single best bit of preparation I have witnessed.

Imagine the scene, we are teaching a second grade class and the teacher is sat at her desk cutting out arm and head holes in black sacks. 20 minutes before the end of the class, with no warning, the teacher tells everyone to pack up and put their bags on. My natural assumption was that we were moving on to a whole class craft activity.


It turns out the whole school were packing away their books and donning homemade ponchos and hats from black bin bags, filing into the playground in groups. When they were all ready, the headteacher proceeded to spray them all with water from a hose. This was no craft activity, no this was a rain simulation.

So if nothing else, one primary school near Huanchaco are ready for the El Niño rain. They think it's going to be super fun, will cool them down on a scorching day and that black bin back ponchos will protect them. Perhaps the headteacher just needed to work something out of her system...

Posted by Rebecca Heller 08:04 Archived in Peru Tagged rain school nino Comments (0)

I went to Cajamarca and bought 5kg of cheese

all seasons in one day
View London - before the off! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

Last weekend I took a trip to Cajamarca, a historically important highland city about 6 hours north of Trujillo. It's known as the place where Inca ruler Atahualpa finally fell to the Spanish in 1532, marking the end of the Inca Empire.

Cajamarca's main industries are gold mining and cheese production. I embarked on my trip with a cheese based shopping list from several people in Huanchaco, I had a map with the 'right' cheese shop labelled so I felt confident all would work out well.

On the first morning we went on a tour of Cumbe Mayo, the site of a pre-Incan aqueduct, potentially the oldest man-made structure in South America (according to my Rough Guides book!). If you look very carefully, shut one eye, tilt your head and throw in a healthy dose of imagination you can see the animals/ pirates/ etc. in the stones. Regardless, it's a beautiful mountainous spot and worth the visit.

Following the tour I attempted to find the cheese shop but to no avail. The wifi at the hostel wasn't working so finding more information - like the name of the shop and how much was required - was proving difficult. I had to abandon my cheese search to go on the next tour, to the Ventanillas de Otuzco.

The Ventanillas de Otuzco is a necropolis, this is thought to be the second burial place for the bodies laid to rest here. You can't go inside anymore as they're trying to conserve the site, so we briefly passed by. We moved on to - drumroll - a famous cheese factory called Los Alpes. It turns out, a Swiss man brought cheese production to the Peruvian highlands! I decided to purchase 2kg of queso tipo suizo, convinced that this would be plenty, possibly too much.

Incorrect. We got back to the hostel and the wifi was back up and running, it turns out my order from Huanchaco was for 3kg from the specific shop! By this time it was too late to find it, so I parked the search for the following day.

We got up early to visit the Baños del Inca, a site of thermal pools, with an overwhelming number of bathing options. Finally we settled on a group bath for 4 of us. You get your own changing area and pool where you can control the temperature of the water going in. You think because it's thermal baths you want hot water. It turns out, the hot water is really very hot and on several occasions we had the cold tap open and stuck our faces under it for relief. The 40 minutes we were allocated became an hour, it had initially seemed stingy, but let me assure you it's plenty. We left with our muscles so relaxed it felt as though we'd finished a 4 hour hike, all sleepy and slow.

It was in this state I went to look for more cheese, I think I found the right shop, it was not in the same place as I had been told, but it had the same name so I took a chance, and that was how I landed up with near enough 5kg of cheese to bring back. We left it in the very chilly hostel, whilst we visited the cafe with the 'best coffee and cake in town' for lunch. We went up to the viewing platform and supposed site of the Silla del Inca (there's no chair there these days), visited every single artisanal tourist shop on the way up, and when the rain wouldn't give up and stop just over an hour later, we found ourselves back in the cafe to keep dry.

The Plaza de Armas is striking with grand churches on either side and surrounded by mountains, giving the city both a Colonial and distinctly Andean feel.

It was a short but sweet trip with excellent company and a stunning backdrop.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 07:30 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains ruins cajamarca cheese Comments (2)

The much anticipated trip to the 'other beach', Puerto Morín

View London - before the off! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

On Sunday we finally made it to the 'other beach'. Although I only heard about it two days before, there was so much talk about going that my expectations were high.

A couple of volunteers had heard about Puerto Morín beach from a local friend here and were told it was worth visiting. The biggest problem was knowing how to get there since other locals either hadn't heard of it, or simply didn't know where it was, let alone how to get there. In the end, with some cobbled together advice we set off.

I'll be the first to admit the 'plan', or lack of made me slightly nervous. I wanted to guarantee returning to Huanchaco that evening as I had to work the next morning, whilst the main Puerto Morín cheerleader of the group really wanted to stay. But I was interested to see this relatively unknown place and agreed to come along.

The 'plan' nearly fell through after about 5 buses passed and wouldn't pick us up, but after a stroke of luck we found a taxi driver who clearly didn't know how far he agreed take us and we made it to Puerto Morín beach.




With soft sand underfoot we walked down the practically deserted beach - it's unsurprising given how involved the journey is without a car. We sat and just watched the flat clear sea, the bright blue sky littered with animated clouds, and took in the scene before us full of wildlife - birds, fish, crabs.

We watched the sun set on this little haven of calm; there were no distractions. When it started to get dark, the niggling question of how to get back returned. Although it was only 7pm, with very little light pollution there, it was completely dark and it felt like the middle of the night so three of us left to attempt the journey back, whilst two prepared to stay for the night (which they did!).

The trip back to Huanchaco was amazingly smooth, a taxi, two buses and over 2 hours later we made it back. I have memories of a place off the well beaten track; Puerto Morín beach is a beautiful spot, and I'm grateful those less invested in a concrete 'plan' as I am for convincing me to go.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 01:21 Archived in Peru Tagged beach haven morín Comments (0)

Huaraz - exploring at altitude

all seasons in one day
View London - before the off! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

This time last week I had been in Huaraz for all of about 3 hours, having arrived with 5 other volunteers in the early hours. We'd taken an overnight bus from Trujillo to Huaraz, and were already waiting to go on our first excursion.

Huaraz about 3000m above sea level, and all of the expeditions from there go higher still. All the advice is to acclimatize to the altitude before going much higher or attempting a difficult hike. So naturally, we chose the Pastoruri hike - the trip that takes you to the edge of a glacier at over 5000m. Naturally. I should mention here that we had been advised that although it's high up, the walk itself at the top wasn't too taxing.

The bus ride takes you through the vast Cordilleras Blancas y Negras. We stopped at various points on the way up, to get some coca tea, to see the unique Ancash cacti, to take in the scenery on your own two feet rather than a moving bus. The stops are also supposed to help you adjust to the altitude as you climb. We reach the final bus point at about 1pm, ready to start the hike. Unfortunately, I stepped off the bus and the mountains around me continued to move, the tour guide told me I just needed to breath, which at the time, and at 5000m, was easier said than done. I stayed on the bus whilst the group went off to the glacier. As I got back on the bus, the heavens opened and the 1pm rain started, except at 5000m, it was a snow storm. After about an hour, the group came back back having reached the glacier but soaked and cold to the core. Having been a bit unwell in the days before the trip, the snow storm seemed like a sign that perhaps, I just wasn't meant to do that hike! I slept for a lot of the drive back to Huaraz, and felt significantly better once we were at a lower altitude.

The next big trip I had wanted to do was Laguna 69, look it up, the photos look stunning. However, it is by all accounts a difficult trek; I was feeling discouraged from the day before, and if truth be told, not 100% better so I opted for the Chavin de Huantin tour. The drive takes you through the Cordilleras Negras (as opposed to the Blancas peaks which have snow). Chavin was a pre-Inca civilisation and the ruins we saw date back to over 2,500 years ago. The site we visited was a former Chavin temple, an important religious centre for the Chavin civilisation. Due to lack of money, and perhaps cultural and political will, the ruins haven't been protected as well as they might deserve. You need a fair amount of imagination to picture the temple in its former glory, and an animated guide will certainly help. Our guide, a former school teacher, was certainly that. He spoke with passion, especially to inform us that the tour would only be successful if we worked together - listened and concentrated on his tour - otherwise we wouldn't learn anything at all. '¡Amiguitos, escuchame!' You can take the teacher out of a school...

On the final day of our trip, we did an independent hike. We took a local bus to the bottom of a mountain and made our own way up through Quechua farm villages to a lake at the top. Half way up, one of our group couldn't walk anymore due to an old injury, so we sent 3 of the group up on foot, whilst we found a taxi for the injured party. 3 of us went up the rest of the way in a taxi, a slightly scary experience, especially when we passed a 4x4 coming in the oppposite direction. I would have preferred to walk, but in the spirit of no one gets left behind, I'm glad we all made it to the lake! From the top you get overwhelmingly beautiful views of the snowy Cordilleras Blancas and the valley below.

I would have loved to have had more time In Huaraz, and ideally to have been completely well, but I'm glad I still decided to go. I would thoroughly recommend Huaraz to anyone with a spirit of adventure who is lucky enough to be close enough by to visit (a 8 hour bus ride is close!).

Posted by Rebecca Heller 07:07 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains ruins huaraz hikes altitude Comments (0)

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