Caraz & Laguna Llanganuco; Caraz to Huaraz – 3 June:
XXVI A – Laguna Llanganuco
The day starts slowly. Driving, I feel sluggish and would relish an excuse to stop. I see the same white peaks we saw yesterday, and they are beautiful, but I merely nod at them like old friends I don’t feel like talking to. As we drive up the dirt road, driving seems an effort, and I find myself worrying about flat tires and loose car parts. I’m wondering if maybe I’m sick or something. Then Ragna says she feels as if she has a fever. Exactly. It doesn’t occur to us that it could be the altitude.
I’m still feeling a little slow when I reach the barrier and go in to pay for our admission. A young man approaches me and begins urging me to engage him as a guide. We rarely use guides, I’m not too sure we need one just to drive around a couple of lakes, and I’m not feeling like driving very far anyway; but I’m also unable to muster the energy to say “No, gracias.”
After Laguna Paron, the more-visited Llanganuco is perfectly all right, but unexciting. It´s not as beautiful. There are boats for tourists, guides, vendors, and folks cooking food, although we´re the only travelers I see at the moment. Unfortunately, there are also vast squadrons of mosquitoes – with little to feed on besides Ragna and me. There are some neat birds to see, some flowers to photograph, and a few mountain women cooking maiz and other food. Our guide, Nicholas knows them. We eat a little maiz, and learn a few words of Quechua, their native language and his.
Nicholas is a cheerful youth who owns nothing, has a great smile, and knows the area. When he realizes that we’re not vastly interested in facts, but do like to photograph both nature and people, he quickly adapts. He carries Ragna’s tripod, even shoots a little video, and at one point when she asks him about the flowers, he climbs up into the underbrush and stands in sometimes precarious positions to shoot with her little still camera. (He tries to dissuade me from climbing into the underbrush with my camera. I’m old, and a foreigner, and he’s startled when I ignore his warnings.)
There’s more to see up there, places we could drive on to that have more birds or a better view of the peaks; but nothing that sounds spectacular, unless we want to drive a long ways. Thus we start back down the mountain, planning to take a different route. Nicholas, who wants to go back down to Yungay, rides along with us.
The drive is fun – and more interesting to us than the lake. It’s one more drive along one more winding dirt road through steeply sloping farm country, with fine views of the countryside above and below us and occasional photo-ops among the local folks. Ragna’s particularly fascinated by a round-house, apparently a kitchen, around which several woman and children have gathered. She has Nicholas ask whether she may videotape the primitive kitchen and the people, and then pays the woman whose kitchen it seems to be. Pays her more money than she probably earns in several days.
In Yungay, we pay Nicholas. I pay him S./ 20. It is twice what Jesus at the hostal had suggested I pay the fellow who “guided” us to Laguna Parón yesterday, and S./ 5 more than I’d planned to pay him, and a very good wage for a half-day’s work around here; but it is not what he had hoped for. (Too late, I remember I’d guessed earlier that Ragna was paying the woman in Huarca a lot of money by local standards, and that this might inflame Nicholas’s expectations from us.) He is not happy. He pouts, almost like a child, and then asks whether I might pay a little more. I supplement what I’ve given him with a few coins, perhaps another 5-10 soles more. He is still unhappy, and asks if he might have a sweatshirt of mine that he sees on the seat beside him. After all, he can see that I have two serviceable sweatshirts, while his by now is perhaps 30% holes.
I like Nicholas, and would like to send him a book for studying English. He has, however, no address; and no telephone or e-mail address, obviously; and he can think of no person or store in care of which I could send him something. (It seems probable that he not only owns nothing but has no regular place to sleep; and the mail, let alone the Internet, is as foreign to him as inter-planetary travel.)
Of course in the end I also give him the Idiot’s Guide to Spanish he has been thumbing through intermittently during the morning. He has quickly seen that he can use it to learn some English, which he desperately wishes to do, and has made no secret of how much he likes it. I like it too, but I have others. He doesn’t. I’ve been thinking all day that I should give it to him.
We last see him sitting on the sidewalk, avidly scanning pages of the book, with my very old sweatshirt slung over his shoulder. Ragna thinks he rather admired me, probably as a sort of father figure, and that that contributes to his pleasure in having the sweatshirt. I don’t know about that, but do think he’s extremely proud to possess the book. He not only sees its usefulness – and I’m wishing I could see how much he will actually use it, or whether he’ll sell it in a few days if he runs out of money – but it may be, other than his limited wardrobe we’ve now slightly enhanced, his only possession. It is certainly his most expensive.
XXVI B – Caraz to Huaraz
We return to Caraz, and pack up to drive to Huaraz. It’s a short drive on paved road. Ragna hopes to stop in a couple of places reputed to have interesting ceramics. As so often, I don’t want to leave. I like Caraz, and would like to know it a little better; I’ve been moved in different ways by Laguna Paron, Yungay, and our morning around Lake Llanganuco; and I wish I could trek a bit, or at least make a more specific plan about trekking if and when we get to come back here.
Too, our acquaintances here have spoken of Huaraz in the way folks from Cuzco speak of Lima [or as, later, we’ll hear folks from Canon de Colca speak of Arequipa!], saying it’s too loud, too busy, too noisy, and/or growing more and more dangerous. As off-the-beaten-track as Huaraz may be for most of the world, other than a few trekkers, it’s the big city to folks from Caraz. It’s much more famous, it’s closer to Lima, and it has a population edge of 90,000 to 11,000.
We do stop at a small pottery studio on the right side of the road before we reach Taríca, and we enjoy the stuff we see there. Ragna buys a few things, to the immense delight of the potter’s wife and young daughter. Later we stop at a stretch where three or four places, mostly selling the same stuff, are clumped on both sides of the road, with tour buses stopping every few minutes. But mostly it’s a quick, uneventful drive. Our late start and several stops mean we arrive after dark, and we experience a little difficulty and friction finding [and agreeing on] a hotel. In this case the compromise is the El Tumi, more expensive and “classy” than I wish it were. And although we’ve read about some promising and inexpensive restaurants, we end up eating in the hotel, where the food is all right but overpriced. The dining room, with white cloth tablecloths and a fountain and waiters in uniforms, is a major change from Caraz, a comfortable change that nevertheless annoys me.
In Huaraz we stayed at the Hotel El Tumi, S./ 110 per night. Not a bad price for a would-be luxurious hotel, but more than I felt like spending in Huaraz. Budget travelers can do better. For non-budget travelers, the El Tumi could be agreeable and a pretty good value.
Huaraz boasts an immense number of restaurants that sound both high-quality and low-price, but all we can testify to is that the restaurant at the El Tumi is more than adequate but not remarkable — and that it’s impressively decorated and somewhat overpriced. And a little cold on a mid-winter evening.