South American Travel Tales


Exploring Peru from the lowlands to the highlands

The Andes. Changes for New Hope. Machu Picchu. Lake Titicaca

We landed in hot and humid Lima around midnight on August 5. We did not have much time or motivation to explore the hectic Peruvian capital since we had a bus booked that night to Huaraz, the “Chamonix” of the Peruvian Andes. The journey to Huaraz was long (350km) and cold (-5°C) as the bus lacked heating while it crossed high passes over 4500m altitude at night. We only had a short glimpse of the Andean landscape thanks to the full moon that was partially illuminating the land. This revealed an arid environment, lacking vegetation with the exception of a few cacti species. We arrived in Huaraz early next morning and checked in at a chic backpacker’s hostel known as Caroline Lodging. Here we had the pleasure to taste some genuine Peruvian breakfast: avocado, gem, margarine, coca tea and flat bread. Later during the day, we met with our local contacts: Christian Silva Lindo, an experienced mountain guide, and Jose Luis Flores, the owner of a mountain equipment shop. The rest of the day was spent sorting out the logistics, food supplies and technical equipment for the next few weeks.

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In the following few days, we climbed to several photographic locations in Cordillera Negra and reproduced over ten panoramas of Cordillera Blanca and Rio Santa Valley, including the massifs of Ranrapalca, Huandoy, Copa and Huascaran. Preliminary results of the photographic comparison indicated a relatively high rate of glacial recession, with some glaciers retreating by as much as ¼ to ⅓ in the past 70 years. Additionally a high urban and rural expansion was observed, including an increase in building density and area covered. Land use changes were also observed which in turn indicated an increased agricultural pressure on the local soil resources. A detailed qualitative scientific analysis of the landscape changes are presented in the report uploaded in the “Articles” section of this website.

One of the most important valleys we explored was the famous Quebrada Cojup. Here, in 1941 a catastrophic flood event, which was caused by a large serac fall into the moraine impounded Palcacocha glacial lake, swept away Huaraz city and killed over 6000 people. In this notorious valley we reproduced several key photographs and advanced our acclimatization process, reaching an altitude of 5035m. During this important trip we also sailed on Palcacocha Lake, and saw the first avalanche of our trip, roaring down the northwest face of Pucaranra. Dramatic anthropogenic changes were observed at this location, as the Peruvian authorities have carried out moraine consolidation and water drainage works in order to control the flow of meltwater and avoid future catastrophic floods.

Another fascinating location we explored was Laguna Paron, the largest glacial lake in the Peruvian Andes. With its beautiful turquoise waters and jagged snowy peaks, the valley of Paron never ceases to enchant the viewer’s eyes. The lake used to be part of a giant hydroelectric plan connecting Canon de Plata, however due to poorly managed runoff rates, and pressure from local communities the lake’s waters are not used any more to generate electricity. Besides reproducing historic photographs, our team climbed a famous pyramidal peak called Artesonraju, located at the head of the Paron valley. Artensoraju is believed to be the source of inspiration for the Paramount Logo, the two being strikingly similar.

 “A typical day in Cordillera Blanca starts with a clear sky, the snowy peaks shine brightly under the first rays of sun. By 10:00 it is quite hot in the lower valleys and even suffocating heat around noon if the up current has not set in earlier, first in single gusts, then with increasing strength. Wind starts to increase in strength, lowering the noon temperatures but at the same time raising dust and sand grains. The summits and crests become shrouded with clouds. In the evening, the clouds start to dissipate; glaciers are coloured flaming red and eventually dusk sets in quickly. The up current from the valleys decreases in intensity and eventually settles down. A clear sky showing the stars and the Southern Cross spans the landscape”.

Cordillera Huayhuash

On August 17 we left Huaraz early in the morning and headed towards the famous Cordillera Huayhuash. In Llamac village, the base on the western side of the range, we hired Camilo Basilio, a horse and four of his donkeys to help us carry equipment on our trek around the Huayhuash range for the next two weeks. When we arrived at Quartelhuian, the first camp of our trek, we were surprised to see the tents already pitched, by Camilo. His kind intervention was much appreciated. The next day, we crossed Cacanapunta pass, and trekked the high ground towards Laguna Mitucocha, where we set camp. Interesting folding and dipping strata near the lake made me go off track to document these features as much as possible. A fantastic view of the east face of Jirishanca can be observed from this point, reflecting into the crystal clear waters of the lake. There is no doubt that this face will inspire any climber who wishes to attempt a daring ascent in this part of the world. After we passed through Yanapunta and negotiated some muddy slopes we reached Laguna Carhuacocha, where one of the best views of Jirishanca, Yerupaja and Siula Grande can be admired. Here we found a piece of the plane that crashed into the east face of Jirishanca in 1954, carefully guarded by Hermes – a charismatic Quechua shepherd. On August 21, we reached Rondoy camp, after we crossed the notorious Garagocha Punta and almost got lost and injured on the steep scree slopes. It seemed that the shortcut proposed by Camilo was quite dangerous and very misleading. Next, we reached Laguna Jahuacocha but not before seeing one of the most beautiful alpine landscapes my eyes have ever seen. From Sambuya Punta, we admired the heavily glaciated west side of Rondoy, Mituraju, Jirishanca, Yerupaja and Rasac. We were in awe for quite a while finding the view of Rondoy, Mituraju and Jirishanca truly inspiring. Using our long-focus lenses, we studied the west faces of Jirishanca and Yerupaja for the most efficient and safe route to climb. The next few days were spent recuperating and preparing for our big ascent at Laguna Jahuacocha. Here we ate fresh truchas, potatoes, onions and maize thanks to the hospitality of a Quechua family who live in a stone hut just next to the lake. From August 25 until August 28, we attempted to climb Yerupaja Grande, a rather dramatic experience resembling that in Touching the Void.

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 Changes for New Hope, Machu Picchu & Lake Titicaca

During the last two weeks of the expedition, we collaborated with Changes for New Hope – an NGO aiming to improve the lives of the unprivileged children of the Peruvian Andes.  Through the dedication of Jim Killon, the founder and president of the organisation, along with volunteers and supporters worldwide, Changes for New Hope develops opportunities for children to reach their fullest potential and to enhance the level of respect, self-esteem and community awareness. We met Jim at Caroline Lodging earlier during the trip. Jim invited us to see some of the children he works with, not very far from the hostel in an area known as Challua, situated in the floodplain of the Rio Santa. We were surprised to be greeted with applauses by the children. They seemed very happy to see us and showed great interest in our cameras and tripods. We played with Lego, and communicated with the children, showing them where we come from on the plastic Earth as well as photographs from the places we explored in Peru. We also photographed and video recorded every activity carried out by the organisation with the children in order to produce a photo essay and video trailer. These in turn will be used to promote thee organisation worldwide. Their humble and rather mannered behaviour of these children but also their signs of depression and low self-esteem impressed me profoundly. Very intelligent individuals, they asked insightful questions about us to which we ere happy to respond. Through art projects, nutrition and psychological assistance, coping skills and support from people all around the world, these children can become the leaders of tomorrow.

We also visited the popular and architecturally rich city of Cuzco and the mysterious Machu Picchu, one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. From the latter adventure I remember the crazy driver that took us from Santa Maria village to Hydroelectrica, going at full speed through a very steep and treacherous canyon, having six people in his car and listening to loud Peruvian music. Machu Picchu is a tangible evidence of the great Inca Empire at the peak of its power and achievement. It is a citadel of cut stone fit together without mortar so tightly that a knife blade cannot penetrate its cracks. The complex of palaces and plazas, temples and homes could have been built as a ceremonial site, a military stronghold, or a retreat for ruling elites. With its dramatic location, it is certainly well suited for any of these purposes. The ruins of Machu Picchu lie on a high ridge, surrounded on three sides by the windy, turbulent Urubamba River some 600 meters below in the tropical forests of the upper Amazon Basin. The archaeological site lies at the centre of a network of related sites and trails with many landmarks both man-made and natural aligned with astronomical events like the solstice sunset. The Incas had no written language and so there is little or no information on why the site was built and how it was used. Nevertheless the marvellous archaeological site stands as proof of the Incas superb engineering skills, even more impressive in the light of the knowledge they lacked (Machu Picchu was build some 500 years ago with no iron, steel, or heels).

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We left Machu Picchu deeply humble and impressed and headed south towards the border with Bolivia. It was truly astonishing to find out that 3500 people live on floating islands (Los Uros) in Lake Titicaca made of bundles of dried tortora reeds. In Andean folklore, Titicaca is synonymous with the birthplace of the sun. In addition, it is the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable body of water in the world. It is easy to understand why we chose this particular place to mark the end of our wonderful trip. Our return journey home was marked by a long flight but with no major incidents. Freshly arrived in Transylvania, our families greeted us in high spirits at the airport. After two and half months of mountain exploration we can conclude that the expedition has been a tremendous success!

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