Thursday, December 31

Arriving in an Andean paradise

Finally, after an eight-hour bus ride overnight, we arrived in Huaraz at 6 am. I hardly slept because the road from Lima to here was so rough. Several times, the bus had to stop completely to wiggle itself out of a pothole.

But it all became worth it when I saw the white-capped Andes that encircle Huaraz.

At an elevation of 10, 170 feet, the city is flanked to the east by the unforgiving Cordillera Blanca (White Range). Towering over Huaraz are white-capped, rugged mountains, all higher than 19,600 feet. To the west, the north-south Huaylas valley in which Huaraz sits is contained by steep hills, surely reaching 13-14,000 feet in elevation. Some people say this is the prettiest part of the Peruvian Andes.

The city itself is a mix between an Andean pueblo, a mining town and a tourism hub for Europeans and other foreigners with the guts to climb the Cordillera's mountains.

Actually, David and his girlfriend are among the many Peruvians in Huaraz who came to work for the surrounding mines. David came all the way from Arequipa to work for Ferreyros, a Caterpillar branch in Peru, inspecting mining machinery. Caterpillar provides equipment for the Pierina gold mine near Huaraz. His girlfriend, Juliana, came from the northern province of Piura to work for a mining safety company.

David and Juliana, with their blackberries and brand-name clothing, wind the streets alongside many traditionally-dressed Quechuas, both dodging sunburned tourists like me who are trying to follow the guidebook and walk at the same time.

After walking the whole city to get my clogs which I had left in the bus (they're ugly enough that no one thought to steal them), Sergio and I ate breakfast with David and Juliana and their friend Luz.

David, el sureño, and Juliana, la norteña, are quite the star-crossed couple. Or at least they joke that they are. Arequipeños are known for their hot tempers, hard-working attitudes and overflowing pride. Norteños are known for their beach-like, laid back attitudes and hot foods. But the two of them seem to get along fine.

Before we finally rested for the evening in our $10 per night hotel, we caught a glimpse of the New Year's Eve sunset against the Huaylas valley.

A perfect ending to 2009.

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