Friday, June 24, 2005

In the Mountains

I intended to start my hike today, but I spent too much time eating chocolate cake in Huaraz, and reading in the sun on the roof of my hostel, and didn´t rent the necessary equipment in time, so it´ll have to start tomorrow. The town of Huaraz is not exceptionally interesting, but the surrounding mountains are so rich with opportunities for hiking and climbing that it has become an international mecca for outdoorspeople. Many sporty-looking tourists wander the streets of Huaraz, and I met lots of people who came to Peru to spend weeks or months here climbing. When I arrived at my hostel at 6:45 AM Wednesday, I met a trio of Slovenians in hard core mountain climbing clothing--two in what seemed to be spandex bodysuits--with equipment to match, headed out to climb one of the many mountains. Last I heard, they were involved in a rescue operation, trying to get someone out of a crevasse. If you want to learn about the most famous climbing accident to occur here, read Joe Simpson´s book Touching the Void, or see the movie.

I´m no match for that level of ability or enthusiasm, so I decided to do the most popular trek, the Llanganuco-Santa Cruz route (see link on the sidebar for photos). I´m loaded down with food and gear, including a rented sleeping bag--mine isn´t warm enough to withstand the below-freezing nighttime temperatures at 13,000+ feet. I´ll leave tomorrow morning, and tonight I´m staying in Yungay, near where the trail begins. Yungay has a sad history; in 1970 a huge earthquake struck the area, letting loose an avalanche of snow, ice, rocks, water and rubble, which raced down the mountains and buried the town and its 18,000 inhabitants. In total, the earthquake killed 70,000 people in the region. Yungay has been rebuilt slightly apart from the site of the original city, so everything is pretty new and orderly. I just ate some slightly sketchy mystery-meat shish-kebabs for dinner, in what seemed to be the only restaurant in the whole town which served something other than chicken. The people I asked didn´t know what animal the meat was from, and I think I insulted them completely when I asked if it was "vaca" (cow) because they thought I said "rata" (rat). Oops.