Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Where's that frozen lake?

Laguna Parón - Huascarán National Park
The spectacular Laguna Parón - the longest and largest in
the Huascarán National Park
I kept hearing about this Lago Congelado but somehow never did a search online to see what it looked like. It’s located at the foot of Artesonraju (6,025m) in the Quebrada (gorge/canyon) Parón but that’s all I knew. Sitting on the shore of the spectacular Laguna Parón at 4,200m, the longest and largest in the Huascarán National Park (Ancash, Peru), I was contemplating where I should go and explore the next day…I had a free the following day and was staying at the Refugio Parón and gagging for something new, even if it was hard work getting there.

The guy at the refugio who also sometimes worked as a porter, explained that I could get to the lake along the trail that goes to Artesonraju Basecamp and Campo Morena (Moraine Camp). Walking with a full load of gear, he said it took him about three and a half hours to get there. It was decided, I would head off the next morning and go and find Lago Congelado.
North shore trail view - Laguna Parón, Huascarán National Park
The view from the trail along the northern lake shore;
Nevados Pirámide (left) and Chacraraju (right)

The first section was pretty simple walking the 4.2km trail on the northern shore of Laguna Parón which with a bit of ups and downs took me about an hour. It was cloudy and cold but at least not raining…no rain and cool weather always made for easier walking and I was feeling strong. Dressed with a few layers but not thick, I was just warm enough to be comfortable and the backpack seemed to fitting better than ever.

At the eastern end of the lake, I started crossing some of the rivers and streams that ran down from Artesoncocha (cocha = lake) and from the glacier of Mt Caraz. I was aiming in the general direction of the trail that headed up the western side of Artesoncocha to the foot of Artesonraju. The river crossings were fairly simple as it was still early and the water levels were low - in the afternoon with more melt from the glaciers and snow, the levels would be up between 30-40cm.

On the ridge west of Artesoncocha, I was walking at 4,400m, 200m above the average level of the trail along Laguna Parón to the river crossings. The ascent hadn’t been too steep but I could feel it although going a bit slower now to take some photos and videos of the surrounding scenery.

View of Artesoncocha and Nevados Chacraraju and Pisco
Artesoncocha in the foreground with the peaks of Chacraraju and Pisco in the background.
Centre between the 2 mountains, another glacial lake.
Looking back, were the peaks of Chacraraju and Pisco, at times hidden in the clouds and then at the northern end of Artesoncocha, a massively high waterfall, I reckon at least 150m, coming from the foot of Artesonraju. The latter and then Mt Garcilaso to my right were still hidden in the clouds although their glaciers were visible at times.

Below to my left was a small river/stream passing through a little patch of Polylepis forest and a few open spaces - I later found out that this is the basecamp of Artesonraju, and I presume, at times for Mt Caraz as well. At this stage with the views around me, regardless of it being cloudy, I already had a huge smile that wasn’t leaving my face!

Trail junction to Nevados Caraz and Artesonraju
The junction with the 2 signs to Nevados Caraz and Artesonraju
The trail gradually starting ascending a bit more as it started curving more to the left over a rocky section till I reached a point with two signs “Nev Caraz 6,020msnm” and “Nev Arteson 6,025msnm” - according to the gps I was at 4,563m. The little stream here was handy for freshening up a bit and filling up my waterbottle and obviously, taking a few more photos. The trail to the right to Artesonraju went up steeply to the right but I wasn’t about to be stop now - I needed to find Lago Congelado!

Heading up the trail to the right it was about a slow step by step ascent which meant I could advance constantly without lots of stops - 560m in distance with a 207m ascent which, according to the gps took me about 40min. I passed what looked like a terraced area ideal for camping. (Later this was confirmed to be advanced basecamp or sometimes referred to as Campo Morena.) 

At the viewpoint of Lago Congelado
Lago Congelado at last! Artesonraju os to the right, Paria centre behind me
and Garcilaso to the right. (View from 4,786m)

The view from up here at 4,786m left me speechless but with a massive smile…three glaciers came together and down the centre, a huge wide joint glacier into a huge lake with massive blocks of ice (little icebergs?) floating around. From a point to the right the water flowed out into what was the waterfall that fed Artesoncocha. This just completely exceeded my wildest expectations of what I would find up here, especially as I hadn’t seen any photos of it! 
Trail to Campo Morena, Artesonraju
The trail leading up to Advanced Basecamp/Campo Morena
and the viewpoint of Lago Congelado.

While it started to snow lightly, I had something to eat and took some more photos - I was a very happy camper and there was little that could change that at this moment!  It had taken me three and a half hours to get here which I was pretty happy with and it had been a good trek as I was still feeling strong. The mountain peaks of Artesonraju, Paria and Garcilaso (Pirámide) were hidden in the clouds but with the bit of wind blowing I got glimpses of them. An incredible moment and place and I was savouring every second!!

Flowers growing up at 4,786m - Artesonraju, Huascarán National Park
Flowers growing up at 4,786m
Eventually after almost an hour it was time to head down and back to the Refugio Parón. The trek back only took me two hours although some time spent finding crossings over the variety of little rivers and streams which were now about 15cm higher - not more as there hadn’t been much sun/warmth around.

This trek is an excellent option for somebody who is well-acclimatised (a must!) and physically reasonably fit at least - totally worth every moment spent on the trail with a range of panoramas and views that will blow your mind!

Total distance: 15.3km Trekking time (return):  5h30min
Total ascent:  885m Highest point:  4,786m
Total descent: 900m Lowest point: 4,177m


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

What's the best birthday gift?

Crampons for the glacier ascent
Crampons on at the start of the glacier
When it comes to birthdays, I've never been somebody who goes out hinting for birthday presents. If there are any, obviously I'll be curious and a bit excited to see what they are. Realising a childhood dream on my birthday though, ranks very high in the "best day" ratings...but when it's on the 50th, that possibly just knocks on the door labeled "Epic".

Summiting a snow-capped peak has been a dream since I can remember from my first books about explorers, adventurers and climbers I had as a kid. Since then I've travelled past many snow-capped mountains and trekked around more. Scrambling up hills and over boulder as a youngster, basic rock-climbing later and again in Peru just seemed like things I would be doing anyway. The big white giants of the Cordillera Blanca just continued to call louder every time I came to Huaraz since my first time in 2014.

Mid-2017 I finally set myself the goal of realising that childhood dream on my 50th birthday (26 Sept.) - at least then! Over and above the budget which was pathetically small, I knew I had to prepare well to be acclimatised to altitude and certainly have a half-decent level of fitness. Based on the budget, I decided I would aim to do Nevado Mateo with its summit at 5,150m above sea level.

At 4,450m looking out over Laguna Parón
At 4,450m above Laguna Parón with
Nevados Garcilaso & Paria in the background
It would be a 1-day trip leaving Huaraz around 2-3am in the morning and getting back in the afternoon. The other fortunate thing was that it was ideal for beginners on ice and snow climbing with a glacier section which may or may not involve some climbing with the ice axe and crampons - although even with a decent layer of snow, those would still be the most essential equipment.

Although reasonably acclimatised to the altitude already, I needed a more intense programme. This started on the 22nd of September with a trek and scramble on a route of Akilpo Trek named the Paramount Trek - ascent to 4,450m above sea level.

After a long 1,100m ascent to 4,450m and Laguna Ahuac
At Laguna Ahuac after 1,100m ascent over the 6,1km trek
The next day was to be the "burner" and also a pretty strong test of how I am physically and acclimatisation-wise - the trek to Laguna Ahuac. This is a 6,1km trek (1-way) with a constant ascent totalling 1,100m to 4,550m above sea level. This didn't turn out to be any easier than I expected but I got up there within a reasonable time.

To be sure, I would do another fairly steep trek on the 24th and then take a rest day on the 25th - also the final day for planning everything and getting equipment sorted, with the the guide, for the climb.
For this I selected the trek to Laguna Churup, and if feeling good enough, to Laguna Churupita a 100m higher in altitude than the main lake at 4,450m above sea level. Getting to Churupita was not to be though as my legs were screaming for a break after the previous day's trek to Laguna Ahuac.

View over Laguna Churup at 4,465m
At 4,465m with a view over Laguna Churup - almost 700m ascent over 3,3km

The rest day on the 25th was very welcome and I'd slept like a rock again the night of the 24th - not that I was totally knocked out after the Ahuac trek! It was an exciting day but with some nerves as I chatted to the guide and got everything sorted and bought snacks and breakfast for our 3am departure to the mountains.

The BIG DAY - and my 50th birthday (really??)
Just before 3am my guide, Eloy arrived and very promptly Eli, our taxi driver for the day, arrived and we started out the 2-hour journey to Punta Olimpica at 4,700m from where we would start our trek up the mountain to the glacier and eventually the summit of Nevado Mateo at 5,150m. Also an opportunity to get a little bit of shut-eye although excitement kept me awake.

Ascending to the glacier
On the ascent with Nevado Ulta in the background (Photo: Eloy)

After some coffee and sandwiches, Eloy and I headed off with enough light that we didn't have to use the headlamps. It was very cloudy and misty and soon we started encountering patches of snow, increasingly so until we reached the edge of the glacier - which had a very decent layer of snow after the last few days' snowing. Up to here was a mix of a little gravel trail and some rock and then happy moments calling to each other as the clouds lifted over some of the mountains including the big one, Huascarán itself standing proud at 6,868m and the highest in Peru.

Eventually getting to the glacier edge, it was time to get the harnesses and crampons on and rope up. It looked like most of it would be snow but that would could only be confirmed as we ascended and with the mist, there was no sight of the summit. This was my first time with crampons and ice axe so it took a few steps to get my rhythm and the kicking in of the crampons sorted. I was all smiles though and loving every second - even looking down and seeing the slope...just awesome!!

Through it all I eventually saw Eloy get on to a crest and stop and he just motioned me to come up - that was the summit and I got new energy (even more than the adrenaline already there) from somewhere and got up to the ridge - I'd made it! My 1st snow-capped summit - a dream realised on my 50th birthday!! No money could equal this moment...and I was speechless!
My dream realised - on the summit!
On the summit!! Nevado Mateo at 5,150m (above sea level) (Photo: Eloy)
Eloy and myself on the summit
Eloy (my guide) left and me on the summit - best day of life! (Photo: Eloy)
We spent probably no more than 15 minutes up there, before we started to head down the slope. This was going to be a different ball game than the ascent as trying to walk down slowly through the deep snow was not working. Eloy showed me a quicker way doing giant strides which allows for lifting the legs out completely and stepping further. It did mean that the descent would be faster and the ice axe needed to be positioned right in the hand for self-arrest (technique used when sliding down a slope where the end of the ice axe is embedded by the person sliding down to stop the slide) - something which I got to "practice". Going down was great fun and I enjoyed (still) every moment even with a few slips and one tumble which with the combination of the rope belay by Eloy and my self-arrest with the ice axe stopped me pretty rapidly. Granted it gets the adrenaline pumping by the litre!

During the descent it was snowing and from the edge of the glacier where we got the crampons and harnesses off, even more. The rocky sections of the descent was a bit tricky in parts because the rocks were totally wet and in places there were little waterfalls. All good though and we got back down to the car where we had a bite and something to drink while I was also dancing to the music - I was on top of the world.

Eloy, my guide, sorting the rope
Eloy sorting the rope at the edge of the glacier on our descent.

The best day of my life!!


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Where to find colourful fun.

Carnival dancers (Huaraz, Peru)
PERU (Feb 2016): February is the time for very many
processions and festivals in Huaraz (Ancash Region).
Where can you go to have fun and at the same time enjoy spectacular colourful parties? Carnivals and festivals is what you have to look for, and luckily in South America it's not in short supply. The clothing is stunningly colourful, dancers and musicians will have you tapping your feet in anticipation of a dance - plus you can get super colourful photos to add to your travel memories.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Why I love waves (And you should too!)

The sight and sound of waves breaking against and over the rocks can keep us mesmerised for hours. Every splash is different - the water pulling back - build up to the next wave - crash!! No second is equal - no moment totally still. How do we explain or express this to somebody else? ...with difficulty! My passion is photography and together with a deep love for the ocean, I spend my time at the coast completely immersed - living every sound and movement of the water.
Breaking Force (Chimbote coast, Ancash - Peru)
Breaking Force (18mm - 1/40s, f8, ISO100)
Even though the shutter speed is fairly low at 1/40s - already see some speed streaking in the water.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Where are the tourists? - the case of Coishco (Peru)

Plaza de Armas - Coishco (Peru)
Plaza de Armas (Coishco - Ancash, Peru)
A brief take on Coishco, north of Chimbote (Ancash Region, Peru)
Travelling through Coishco by bus or other public transport is unlikely to leave you with any lingering memories, except maybe of the heat that appears to exceed the summer heat in Chimbote, (about 20min south via the Panamerican Highway) or the large fish design in the Plaza de Armas

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Quick Guide: photo locations around Chimbote (Peru)

Hotel Gran Chimu, Chimbote
Historical "Gran Chimu" hotel in Chimbote
Photography locations in Peru don’t very seldom include Chimbote and the areas around it; More often than not, it's remembered it as a terminal where they changed buses or like most, or just as that place that smelt of fish when they passed. The coastline of the Ancash Region is renowned for its Ceviche, a traditional and refreshing fish dish, and as I discovered - some amazing sunsets! Finding photography locations in the evening can at times be challenging but if you’re around for a couple of days, Chimbote and Nuevo Chimbote have quite a few on offer - if you’re not around for a couple of days, make a plan and stop over!

This post is a brief introduction to locations in Chimbote and the nearby district of Nuevo Chimbote, (a rapidly growing town/city in its own right) that have been very rewarding photography-wise. I include the parts of the coastline that I’ve visited so far - spots which are also great just for relaxing with that refreshing cocktail or somebody for some romantic moments. Enjoy the tour.

Sunset over the Plaza Miguel Grau, Chimbote
Photo in NW direction across the Plaza Miguel Grau
The coastal walk or malecón of Chimbote is a good place to start looking for photo opportunities. Along here you have the Plaza Miguel Grau (Plaza de 28 de Julio)with the photogenic Gran Chimu hotel, the now well-known arch and the city lights around it. 

Malecon de Miguel Grau, Chimbote
Along the malecón with the Isla Blanca in the background
Further toward the harbour, there's the view of the Isla Blanca (White Island) and the fishing boats - also the direction for sunset photos from the plaza. Try getting here at different times in the morning and afternoons for some photos - midday will more than often than not be rather unfriendly lighting for those memorable photos.

Sunset from the Miguel Grau malecon, Chimbote

The Plaza de Armas in Chimbote can be rewarding although it also depends if there are any displays or exhibits at the time. During Christmas, there's always the brightly lit-up christmas decorations and as in my photo above, buildings as well. For more photos from Chimbote, see this Chimbote album of mine on Flickr.

Going a little south, we get to Nuevo Chimbote which, between Chimbotanos as well, is renowned for the stunning Cathedral at the Plaza Mayor. During Christmas time, the Plaza Mayor is even more spectacular and lit up with the heron fountain as its central feature (see my Nuevo Chimbote album on Flickr for more photos from here).
Cathedral of Nuevo Chimbote, Plaza Mayor
The stunning Cathedral of Nuevo Chimbote at the Plaza Mayor
There are a amazing variety of beaches just in the Nuevo Chimbote district, and trust me, there's way more north and south of this district as well. I've been at two so far and here are some examples from the beaches of La Poza and Vesique.

Vesique sunset, Nuevo Chimbote
Sunset at one of the Vesique beaches
 In addition to the main beach of Vesique with its restaurants etc, there are at least 3 more beaches with potential for fantastic photography. Around them are also hills and rocky outcrops that are worth climbing (as in the photo below) for better panoramic shots.

Vesique beaches view to Chimbote
View over one of the beaches of Vesique toward Chimbote on the horizon.

Then La Poza, it's a lesser known little bay around from the Bay of Samanco where there are more beaches, some more popular with visitors than others. Obviously, each have their own potential magic spots for that special photo. The best is, as I leave you with this photo from La Poza, go out and explore these places
Once again the links for those albums:

Sunset over La Poza, Nuevo Chimbote
Sunset from a hill overlooking the little bay of La Poza


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

3 reasons why these secrets will keep you spellbound: exploring off the beaten track in Peru

Exploring the secrets of Pallasca Province, Peru
Adventure, exploration and relaxation - all at the same time in areas where you’re likely to be the only person around, following age old trails used by the communities who live in these mountains. Central Peru with its rugged beauty is a mix of high altitude lakes, rocky hills and mountains, some rising up the snow-covered peaks of the northern Cordillera Blanca of the Andes. Being totally off the traditional tourist trail, coming across people other locals from the surrounding communities is a rarity. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Prisoner of a Desert

A stunning day with clear blue skies at high altitudes many times bely the temperatures which at 08:30 were hovering around 3-5 degrees Celsius. The trail north from Parinacota passed frozen streams, wetlands and lakes winding its way in the direction of Mt Guane Guane that dominated the northern horizon here. Shouts of a distant herdsman could be heard at times between the bustling and chattering of the waterbirds jostling for space in the unfrozen parts of the lakes.

desert trekking: frozen lakes and the twin volcanoes
Partially frozen lakes with the twin volcanos of Pomerape and Parinacota in the background.

Being dressed with adequate layers, I was not overly bothered by the cold and crisp air - in fact, it made for refreshing walking. Stopping along the way to enjoy the various views and lakes, I eventually made it to a viewpoint at one lake which ‘blocked’ the trail further to Guane Guane. From here the trail made a big loop back to the village of Parinacota…not where I wanted to go so early on in the day, there was still heaps to explore. I had only arrived from Putre (read about my journey to get here at Wandering the Ancient Routes)

desert trekking: farmhouse and surrounding plains
View of the farmhouse and surrounding plains from a nearby hill
desert trekking: countless rocky hills on the trek
View of just a few of the countless rocky hills that I crossed along the trek
I started heading back along the same trail thinking I’d find a trail heading toward the Cotacotani Lakes. Along the way, I met up with the herdsman following his alpacas. After the normal greetings, we chatted about the different trails and I then asked about the ‘nearest’ trail to get to the lakes. He directed me to a road I’d crossed earlier from where I should up up past a farmhouse and then over the hills from there - not far he said. He reminded me that it was important though that I check whether anybody was home at the farmhouse and get permission to cross their land - being a biosphere reserve, there was still a lot of private land in the Lauca National Park. All the greetings again, and I headed off - it was only 09:45, so still early and loads of time to explore.

Stopping at the edge of the farmhouse property, I found the gate locked and nobody apparently at home other than the mildly curious dogs who soon stopped barking and continued lazing around the gate. So on then, along the fence-line over a couple of small rocky hills (pretty much everything here was made of rocky hills and sandy trails). As the fence-line cut off to the left (north), I decided to head out “straight” in the direction of the lakes - the snow-covered peaks of Parinacota and Pomerape were visible a lot of times so I was not going to get overly lost. (And I had offline maps on my iPhone and the gps)

So on rough calculations I would cross the trail soon…”soon” turned out to be a very relative term as the peak of each rocky hill just revealed more rows and rows of rocky hills. Admittedly the views were spectacular all the time, even when they only sometimes consisted of rocky hills and the twin volcanos. 
desert trekking: llareta between the rocks
Llareta between the rocks
There were varying amounts of Llareta growing on the different hills and appeared to be more dense on certain slopes contrary to other slopes and hills where there were virtually none. Growing only near the ground where the air temperature is 1-2ºC warmer than the mean air temperature would explain why it’s more prolific in certain spots than others.

The Llareta is a strange plant but wonderfully adapted to these high and dry altitudes with the extreme cold during winter. The general appearance is that of a rock covered by moss (and is rock hard!) but actually consists of thousands of individual plants packed tightly together with tiny wax-covered leaves to prevent loss of moisture by evaporation. To appreciate how old some of these plants are, they only grow about 1.5cm (15mm) annually!
desert trekking: hillside with llareta plants
Hillside with Llareta plants

Eventually after countless rocky hills, I was on the northern-most trail again to the Cotacotani Lakes and then a dirt road that goes along the western edge. I was left speechless at the views even though there were some dry lakes but where there was water, there was always a stack of birdlife around. Birds included the common Andean Coots, Giant Coots, Chilean Flamingos, Puna Ibis, grebes and swallows to mention but a few.

desert trekking: Cotacotani Lakes route and map
The route I trekked to the Cotacotani Lakes (approx. 12km) Min altitude 4,400m - Max altitude 4,600m.
Mark along the main road shows where there's an excellent viewpoint of the lakes.
desert trekking: along the Cotacotani lakes
Along the Cotacotani lakes

The road passed another trail that headed back to Parinacota near where I stopped to rest, take some photos and just relax in the spectacular surroundings. A perfect example of how stunning a desert can be! As the norm is here at this time of year apparently, the wind picks up between 11am and midday and adds a decent wind-chill factor even out in the sun. 

So just after 1pm, I started to head back to Parinacota village along the other direct trail. At a very relaxing pace this sandy trail was about 1 hour and added even more panoramas to my growing memory bank of amazing scenery here. I didn’t want to leave this place…the tranquility and beauty was leaving me mentally super refreshed! …and physically a little bit tired but still wanting more!
I was mentally a prisoner of this desert where at least my mind would always return to for some respite.
desert trekking: volcanoes and Cotacotani Lakes
The volcanos of Pomerape and Parinacota (in the foreground) dominating the
view of the Cotacotani Lakes from the main road;


Monday, 4 July 2016

Wandering the Ancient High Routes

Putting my hand outside the bed covers resulted in a very rapid withdrawal - the temperature was freezing...only about -2 Celsius! I had to get up and get out on the road to do some hitchhiking to the village of Parinacota, only 42km away but first I had to brave the cold by getting out of bed and getting dressed. This was only one of those few times when I actively thought about devising a way of warming my clothes in the bed first and then getting dressed, all without leaving the bed. Idea discarded; needed a lot of refining still!

I was in Putre (3,530m altitude) in the Arica & Parinacota region of Chile, the northernmost region sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean, Peru in the north and Bolivia in the east.

Tarapaca Volcano at the village of Putre

Eventually dressed and a fleece jacket with a soft shell jacket over that and good gloves, I was out of there with backpacks, the whole ton of weight of them, well 47kg to be exact. The owner of the hostel had told me last night I needed to get out to hitchhike between 7 - 8am - it was now 08:00 exactly as I reached a final junction in town. Yip, I was late but there was no way I was going to give up on the idea now. First goal was to at least get up to the main road about 7km from Putre town. 
Hitchhiking to Parinacota, the main "highway" between Arica
and La Paz, Bolivia. (Putre village to the left of this road)
It was an hour and a half later at 09:30 when an elderly gentleman stopped and gave me a lift to the main road; initially he thought that I’d just mentioned wanting to go Parinacota at some time in the future, not today so was about to give me a lift to Arica! Anyway, he dropped me off at the main road where there was a Chilean truck driver waiting for a mechanic to arrive from Arica. We spent a good time chatting while seeing the umpteen Bolivian trucks passing with maybe two slowing down a bit as they passed but none stopping to offer a lift.

One Bolivian truck stopped and the driver was taking a break and doing some checks and said that he’ll give me a lift if I’m still there when he leaves. Turned out to be just fancy words as with the bus that stopped to drop somebody off and told me they were full then promptly let two other people get on! I had a few colourful words to say about this but hey, that’s what hitchhiking is about - some you win, some you lose! It was 12:40 when another bus stopped and said they could drop me off at the junction to Parinacota village for 4,000 pesos (about US$ 6.00). 
View of Las Payachatas  (the Twins) from Parinacota

It wasn’t long before I had my first views of Las Payachatas (The Twins), the two snow-capped volcanoes that dominate many of the landscapes of the eastern Lauca National Park. Seeing those snowcaps across an arid landscape is just something that left me speechless, I took a few photos with the phone through the bus windows but they never would do any justice to the magnificence of those views.

At the junction of the road to Parinacota village
After about an hour on the bus and some dodgy sections of road, the bus stopped and the conductor told me that we were at the junction to Parinacota. Getting my things off here and then being left standing alone was quite a moment of “What the hell?!” as I was surrounded by miles and miles of arid desert - well, there were some wetlands in the far distance but they certainly weren’t within strolling distance. It was hardly 10min before a small car with a couple stopped and asked if I wanted a lift into Parinacota - the smile on my face was huge!!

As is normal, the couple asked me where I’m from and the woman let out a little yelp, she was South African too! This was unbelievable how I meet South Africans at high altitude; the 1st South African I met in South America was in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru and chatting to one girl at Laguna 69 (4,625m), she also turned to be South Africa - now again at around 4,500m I meet another South African. We had a good chat on the drive of about 5km and then some more when we got to Parinacota.

Parinacota village (4,450m altitude) and one of the nearby lakes
Pulling into this village was like going back in time, other than the obviously modern 2-3 vehicles parked in the little square, the obvious feature of the church tower and the surrounding adobe houses was from another era. For the umpteenth time in the last few days I was just speechless. 

The church tower in Parinacota at sunset
The church dated back to the mid- 17th century when Parinacota was along the main route between Potosi in Bolivia and what is now the Chilean coast. Due to the Spanish influence, churches were built at every single little village and town along the way with around 50 just in the Chilean side being part of a restoration project.

The friendly Don Leo who owns and runs the Alberque Uta Kala accommodation was around and he showed me to my room. The rate was 10,000 pesos/night (about US$ 14.50) and included dinner with breakfast (2,500 pesos - US$ 3.50) and lunch (3,500 pesos - US$ 5.00) optional. I was in a “dorm” room with two ‘normal’ beds and the the 2 beds of the bunk but alone, so in fact a large private room - I wasn’t complaining and the rate was really reasonable.

I was in heaven with my camera and I loved the remoteness of this village! The high altitude and cold air made for photos where blue sky was really deep blue and in stark contrast with the arid surroundings. Sitting down along my walks around the wetlands and lakes in the afternoon was one of the most relaxing things I’d done in a long time. A few moment then viscachas would start moving around again and the birds would be closer again whilst the cool air was quiet otherwise. I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d want to be right at that moment!

Alberque Uta Kala in Parinacota owned and run by Don Leo - Cerro Guane Guane in the background

Southern/Mountain Viscacha in Parinacota, Northern Chile
Interesting about the viscachas here is that they’re much smaller than the ones I saw regularly in the Cordillera Blanca (Northern Viscacha Lagidium peruanum) in Central Perú. For one, their ears are shorter and the colour is much more of a yellow/brownish colour - depending on the light of course. According to literature, the viscacha in these parts of Chile is the Southern/Mountain Viscacha Lagidium viscacia - still need to confirm this as the same literature also says that the latter is heavier by 300g on average (a lot for a little animal like this) than its northern counterpart.

Anyway, as the sun started to go down the temperatures were also plummeting very rapidly and with the wind that usually starts between 11am and midday everyday, it was really cold. So after a good dinner and some coffee I was deep under the covers for the night - thinking about what wonders I’ll be seeing the next day.

View to the northwest of Parinacota village over the bofedales (wetlands) and rocky outcrops


Friday, 24 June 2016

Do Borders Keep Us Apart?

Borders and unions are very much the talk of the day at the moment and my coincidental experience this morning is probably an answer that many know but can't or won't borders are created in big buildings far away from the reality.

Twin Volcanos (Las Payachatas) dominate the landscape.
Pomerape (left) and Parinacota (right)
Right in the north of Chile is the Arica and Parinacota region bordered by Perú in the north and Bolivia in the east (Pacific Ocean in the west). This area is known as the altiplano of the Atacama desert with spectacular snow-capped volcanos and gravel/rock mountains displaying a rainbow if pastel colours, advertising their mineral riches. Many villages in this part of Chile are at altitudes from 3,500m asl to 4,500m asl with winter temperatures dropping to -25 degrees Celsius.

Twin volcanos keeping watch over everything
I had been in the tiny hamlet of Parinacota, located in the Lauca National Park for two days where the night time temperature averaged -10 degrees Celsius. When all inhabitants are home from the grazing areas of their animals, there are 29 of them in the village.  Anyway, I digress...

This morning I was invited by the owner of the small alberque (hostel) to visit a local fair farther north near the border of Bolivia, near a village called Caquena. As is usual by 8am in the morning, temperatures were only just above the zero (excluding wind chill) so we were well wrapped up on the half-hour drive to Caquena through more spectacular landscapes dominated by the volcanos Parinacota and Pomerape. Most of the bofedales (wetlands) still had large sections of water frozen.

Arriving at Caquena, we stopped at the police post where they account for all people and vehicles passing. I didn't think anything of it other than it was just some control due to the proximity of the Bolivian border. 15min more along another dirt road, we suddenly came across a group of vehicles - 4x4's, little trucks etc and a lot of unloading and loading going on. This was all kept "organised" inside some rock 'walls' - handmade as is the custom here for their grazing animals.

The site of Achuta, the fería (fair) held every 2 weeks on the border
Welcome to the fería (the fair) also know as Achuta that takes place every 2 weeks (or 15 days says some) when people from the surrounding Aymara communities (non visible from here) meet and buy and exchange a variety of necessities that range from toilet paper, to candles, sodas (that don't need a refrigerator) to Alpaca wool and skins. Obviously some ladies were also serving huge bowls of food mainly consisting of rice and chunks of alpaca meat - actually looking very appetising.

Trading, meeting and eating on the border

This was taking place just inside the Bolivian border - I was in Bolivia and I didn't even know it...I didn't even have my passport with me! A few of the guys came over and chatted with me and told what the fair was about and explained where the borders were - a line of rocks designated the spot where the vehicles from either country weren't allowed (not saying "they don't") to pass. I felt very privileged to have been invited to this - it was very clear that this was not something where they expected to see gringos (foreigners) at all, if ever. Yet, they still made me feel at home and welcomed me to their little private fair on the border of Chile and Bolivia. borders keep us apart? When we ALLOW them to keep us apart, then yes they do!!
Area of the fería (fair) on the border of Chile and Bolivia
Coming soon...the rest of my explorations in this amazing remote area of Chile!