Saturday, November 26, 2005

Huaraz to Chavín de Huántar

Chavín's Plaza de Armas, from my hotel room. After all the tour buses had left, I think I was the only gringo in town. The power line was within easy reach of my balcony.

7:30 p.m.

In my second floor room at “El Canoso Hostal” in Chavín de Huántar. My balcony overlooks the Plaza de Armas (the name given to the central park or square in many towns and cities here.)

The only sounds are music, children playing in the park, conversations on the streets below. Not a vehicle to be heard.

11:00 p.m.

The children have stopped playing finally, and now I hear only distant music and adults conversing below.


Back in Huaraz this morning, I awoke at 4:00 a.m. with a powerful headache and dry mouth, dehydrated. Took some aspirin and plenty of water, and tried to sleep some more. I'm slow to adjust to this altitude (around 10,000 feet).

Later, at the breakfast table, a "cold-splash shower" was the subject of conversation with Rian. He joked about running in place before he plunged into the brisk shower. We made certain Ibett could hear our complaints. Anne laughed and said her shower was nice and hot. "I must have taken all the water!"

Ibett was surprised that I was leaving, but we all planned to meet in Lima Tuesday night. Aki and Motsu came out to see me off. They’re accompanying Ibett, Simon and Beatrice to a birthday party in Caraz. Aki urged me to come, but it was the wrong direction for me. On the road to Chavín about 10:45. Due to construction, the tunnel to Chavín is only open from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. (or 6:00 to 7:00 in the morning and the evening). Simon said it takes nearly two hours.

Waiting to enter the Tunel Kawish. This pass through the Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz, Peru reaches 4,516 meters (14,816 feet). The tunnel is undergoing construction and is only open for three hours per day in the direction of Chavín: 6-7 a.m., 12-1 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Guess which one I went for?

Surprised at the good road conditions up the pass. The tunnel is at 4,516 meters (14,816 feet). Arrived at 11:55 and drove directly to the front of a long line of vehicles. Waiting for the tunnel to open, I met a Peruvian gentleman who had lived in New York.

“Where are you going to be on the 29th?” he asked.

“Lima, I think.”

“That should be okay.”

He told me that demonstrations, or a strike are planned by the local people, and it may not be safe for tourists out in the countryside.

I was still taking photos when the gates were moved and traffic began moving, horns honking for me to move my bike. I was almost run over, but managed to be the third vehicle into the tunnel. Cold, dark, muddy and eerie inside the mountain. Workers could be seen in the dim incandescent light. It was a bit tricky riding the muddy ruts in poor light. Slow cars in front of me made it more difficult ("momentum is my friend"). Someone taking flash pictures out the rear of the station wagon ahead didn't help my "night vision".

I was busy taking this photo when the barriers were removed. I was almost run over by the rush to the tunnel (center of this photo.) It's about 400 meters in length and kind of a dark muddy mess inside. I'm glad only two vehicles got ahead of me, because later in the procession, the exhaust fumes build up and the mud, I'm sure, only gets trickier. The whole time traffic is moving through, the workers are still inside.

On the other side, I passed the lead cars, then had the road to myself. I was caught off guard by the pavement ending just as the road went into hairpin curves, then farther down the pass, the road was primarily dirt. Fast-moving cars caught up to me and passed, so I was "eating their dust" for a long time.

Looking back up the pass, it was rather humorous to see the wave of traffic descending on Chavín.

I first explored town driving slowly through and orienting myself. Found the lone gas station and filled up. Asked the attendant for restaurant recommendations.

He said "Chavín Turistico" and "Don Justino" were the best spots in town, and provided directions. I only found the first one. Parked on the main street, sandwiched between "humongous" tour buses. Others were trying to maneuver on the narrow streets. The restaurant was crowded. It was clearly going to be a long wait. I ordered the "Pollo Supremo". A family of four came in and took the table next to me. The woman said they were in a hurry. I patiently waited while they were served first and silently dove into their food. When I paid my bill and was leaving, they still lingered, casually talking.

Decided to first take a hotel, then go to the Chavín ruins. This hotel is recommended by "Lonely Planet". Entering the courtyard, the smell of diesel permeated the air. They had just oiled the mezzanine with diesel. Delightful.

But I got a second floor room opening onto the square, so the air was fresh. 20 Soles. Carried my gear in as the maid prepared the room, then rode my bike up over the curb and a couple of good steps, and into the entry.

Camera in hand, walked several blocks to the ruins. 11 Soles entry fee. Sunny and warm. I had not brought sunscreen.

At las ruinas de Chavín de Huántar.

Cabeza clava on the outer wall of Chavín's Castillo

At the entrance to Chavín

No English tours today, so I wandered among different tour groups, picking up just bits of information about the ancient Chavín civilization which long preceded the Incas, "existing from about 1,000 to 300 B.C." according to "Lonely Planet". In 1945, this site was completely buried by a massive avalanche, and has since been only partially excavated.

A corner of Chavín's Castillo

At Chavín, an elaborate lighting and ventilation system delivered reflected sunlight and fresh air deep into the interior of the Castillo. The entire site was buried by a huge avalanche in 1945. Consequently, there's little fresh air and sunlight in these chambers.

Lingered until 5:30, re-exploring some of the subterranean chambers and returning to have a more leisurely look at the Lanzón de Chavín. (The chambers were now completely deserted.)

This carved figure in the Chavín catacombs is apparently the highlight of the tour. But there were no English-speaking tours when I was visiting. So I don't yet know the story. If Cathie is reading, maybe she will shed some light on it! I will also look into it on-line. (Update: According to my new Lonely Planet guide, "in the heart of the underground complex is an exquisitely carved rock known as the Lanzón de Chavín. It is a thrilling and distinctly mysterious experience to come upon this 4m-high, dagger-like rock stuck in the ground at the intersection of four narrow passageways deep within the Castillo.")

I was the last one wondering the grounds, well after closing, but when I straggled out to the gate, no one commented. So, I stayed even longer visiting some of the souvenir booths, their operators eating dinner while they slowly shut down for the night.

The grounds at Chavín.I waited until everyone had left and the llamas had moved in to take this photo.

Returned to the hotel, walking the now-quiet streets. At night, the locals take back their town. I felt a pretty chilly reception to my presence. "Gringo” comments muttered by passing townspeople, kids walking down the sidewalk four-abreast, forced me into the street. A colorfully-dressed local woman, knitting in a tienda doorway refused my request for a photograph. When I asked to buy something in her store, she simply said "no."

As I walked down this street, that was earlier crowded with buses and tourists, John Lennon's "Imagine" was playing in the upper apartment on the right. It was a very powerful moment.

Returned to the same restaurant for dinner: soup and a cheese sandwich. Talked with a gentleman from San Marcos, a few miles up the road. I will pass through there tomorrow.

Went to one of the two internet cafés in town, but the connection was very slow. But for a group of teens, this was clearly the most interesting place to be (versus hanging out at the Plaza de Armas.) Stayed until they closed at 9:00.

The environment in this 10,000-foot Andean valley is remarkably dry and dusty, very harsh. Rough on the body; my gringo skin is dry and chapped, nose "runny".

Looking over maps and my guide tonight, it's funny to see Peru's many "highest", "biggest" and "oldest" claims.

Compact fluorescents tubes are omni-present in Peru (and in other countries.) But they don't generally fit fixtures originally designed for incandescent bulbs. Consequently, you see these tubes protruding from globe-less fixtures everywhere, casting a stark bluish glow. An odd aesthetic.

Before retiring, I talked with the hotel owner’s daughter. She's studying English in Lima and asked some questions about her latest homework assignment.

Worked on my notes a bit (which have fallen way behind!)


Drew Kampion said...

Hey, is this the earliest-known carving of Otto?!

babycondor said...

Aren't you glad you bought that Lonely Planet guide?

timtraveler said...

I must admit...yes.