The trip would coincide exactly with the national holiday celebrating Peru’s independence. From Friday until the following Wednesday Peruvians would be traveling around Peru taking advantage of the holiday. We would also be traveling around Peru, only under different circumstances. We left later than we had anticipated from Lima. We didn’t get on the road until dusk. We spent the day gathering supplies for the trip, and getting everything organized before our departure. We decided that with our late start we would need to cut the trip to Ayacucho in half, and stay for the night in a town called Huaytara. Stopping in Huaytara would also give us a chance to begin adjusting to the higher altitude, which often causes headaches and nausea to people such as ourselves who aren’t accustomed to the thinner air. Huaytara is situated at a little less than half the altitude that we would need to climb on our way to Ayacucho–which would take us to a couple hundred meters shy of 5000m above sea level in a relatively short period of time.
After about a 5-hour drive with a dinner break at the halfway point, we arrived in Huaytara at one o’clock in the morning at our hostel. We were in no hurry to hit the road to following day, when the real climb to higher altitude would begin. We spent a couple of hours eating breakfast and exploring the town. Overlooking the town was an old yellow church that was built upon the remnants of an old Inca building, which seems to be a common trait of a lot of old churches in Peru. After exploring the town we got back on the road. The kids must have been tired after going to bed so late the night before, as we adults were, but they seemed to be excited about the drive ahead.
We immediately began to climb up the mountain to thinner air. The climb was dramatic and the scenery was amazing. Mountains and snow-capped peaks surrounded us, with small villages at various heights of the mountains in the distance. We encountered many llamas and alpacas grazing along the road and stopped a few times to get some pictures and some video. There were hundreds of them at one point along the road, and we stopped and chatted with their owners as they let them graze. Not long after we climbed above 4000m did we encounter a flock of vicuña, a wild relative of the llama and alpaca who only live at high altitudes. They are an endangered species and are protected by law, as the wool that they produce is very fine and expensive. We couldn’t get very close, but it was a rare experience all the same. We eventually reached the highest point, which was marked by a sign along the road. Jose Pablo went outside among the snow flurries to take a picture as proof. It was only downhill from there, as we descended back into the 2000m range on our way to our destination, the city of Ayacucho.
Stay tuned for Part III