Across the Andes to Huancayo, Peru

By Erin Hancock

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Huancayo is a city east of Lima in the eastern foothills of the Andes. High elevation, low tourism and lots of real-Peru living to be discovered. We made Peru home base for the better part of a year. Although Huancayo is a little-known city to tourists, 300 000 Peruvians make it their home. The city is fairly spread out and although a lot of activity happens around the main plaza downtown or the Plaza Real (the shopping center), every street has some stores and restaurants and an occasional market.

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It takes about 7 hours by car or bus to cross the mountains from Lima on the coast to arrive in Huancayo. Cruz del Sur provides a great experience. Slow and careful driving, meal included, personal video screens and reclining seats makes a long ride into a doable situation.

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The views throughout the mountain ride are definitely worth the gaze.

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There is a Tuesday market a block from our apartment in the El Tambo area of the city where one can get all of your wares and supplies. There is also an extensive Sunday market stretching across more than a dozen blocks on Huancavelica Street that offers everything from wool products to leather boots and herbs from the mountains.

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Like any place, friends make a place feel like home. We were able to connect with locals and foreign volunteers too. And we found or made our entertainment.

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Karaoke.

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Concerts.

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Discos and dancing.

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Parties.

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Even themed parties….like St. Patrick’s Day (a first for many).

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Music.

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Working out.

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Ask a local and get a cab about a half-hour outside of the city for an afternoon of paintball.

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You may not find yourself breaking bread with your friends (although bread is available….carbs are easily accessible), but Peru is known for good eats. Anticucho is a popular post-disco food (cow heart BBQ’d on skewers). Ceviche (marinated fish) is a popular dish across the country. You may remember cuy, another Peruvian favorite (guinea pig), from my Easter post.

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And take in a meal at a local restaurant for very little money. Like Chanciduende (pork sandwich shop) near the main plaza.

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Huancayo has been a liveable city and a great place to call home for a year. And to spice things up, we were able to explore beyond Huancayo too.

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More details and photos of nearby destinations:

La Merced (the jungle)

Huantapallana glacier

Waterfalls of Huancaya

Tarma in the mountains

 

And further away in Peru, and worth the trip:

Machu Picchu

Colca Canyon

Poor Man’s Galapagos and penguins

Into the Jungle, Peru – La Merced

By Erin Hancock

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La Merced is a warm, humid and sunny spot compared to Huancayo in the mountains. It is situated in the central east area in Peru, about 220 kms northeast of Lima between the Andes and the Amazon. You basically drive into summer as you head to the lower altitude. This region known as Chanchamayo boasts great coffee and cacao, as well as waterfalls, an abundance of fruits and lush green scenery.

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Have your coffee straight up or take it in liqueur form. Careful – it goes down way too smoothly! Nothing like Peru’s most popular spirit pisco (made from grapes) paired with some of the world’s best coffee.

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You can visit a pretty great market featuring most of the local products. If you’re ever heard of the really expensive coffee that is extracted from animal feces and apparently tastes amazing, you can buy it here. A small package runs you the equivalent of $40USD per cup. Enjoy!

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If you want to be on a river in the jungle, that’s easy. The scenery is limited as you are in a valley between mountains but it’s a nice way to spend some time at sunset.

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There are several different waterfalls to visit. If you want a longer hike, check out Bayoz.

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“El velo de la novia” is a great spot to swim and is accessible after a short walk. You can even sneak behind the powerful waterfall to a little cavernous hiding spot.

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There is a village demonstrating how the local indigenous people live. Once you arrive, before you know it someone has painted your face and dressed you up. It has to be one of the strangest and most pushy experiences into full-on cultural appropriation perhaps, but take it for what it is. It’s a little village doing their thing to make a living and showcase what matters to them. We were all up dancing. My friend Eliyse (from Estonia) even “got married” apparently in a ceremony. The community allows men to have multiple wives so she became the newest addition to his group. He may have been 50 years her senior, but they made a cute couple. Marius (from Norway) battled a snake. Ok, he just held it.

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The coypu is a local animal that looks similar to a beaver. He was friendly and allowed for lots of hugs.

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We opted not to swim in the rushing river, but the local children were more than happy to show us their bold swimming skills after jumping off the bridge and hustling to the shore.

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And then….the next week our friends in the jungle saw this in the same area…..

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If you’re falling in love with Peru, check out other posts like waterfalls in Huancaya. More coming soon – a glacier, Huancayo in the foothills of the Andes and Lima.

Waterfalls of Huancaya, Peru

By Erin Hancock

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Peru has it all – mountains, waterfalls, deserts, highlands and everything in between. One Saturday morning – bright and early- we (my European volunteer friends – Heather, Eliyse and Marius) hit the road from Huancayo to Huancaya. Along the way, we enjoyed some beautiful scenery. Huancaya is directly east of Lima in the Andes mountain range.

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Huancaya offers a series of waterfalls. From a distance they are something to marvel at. Up close, they’re even better.

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There are some stunning canyons along the road toward Huancaya too.

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We hit a hail storm which sounded intense and awesome on the van roof on the drive back to Huancayo. The hills were dusted in white. Although we were at high altitude, we weren’t expecting snow and hail, but we got it. Again, Peru has it all!

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If this interests you, check out Adrenalina Tours. More on Peru coming soon!

Top of the World at Machu Picchu

By Erin Hancock

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Machu Picchu is known the world over for its’ spectacular location in the mountains of southern Peru, as well as its’ intricate structure – a whole town of stone, that makes the most of the landscape.

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So to visit when there’s the least amount of tourists and the best views, get there early! See our chipper (ok, a little put-on) faces at 3:30am.

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We did the 1 hour hike straight up the mountainside from the little town of Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. By half way up (shown above), we had a lot of colour in our faces!

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We made it! There are 3-5 day hiking options to get to the magnificent destination, but we opted for bus and train from Cuzco and then just the morning hike. No regrets.

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Lots of tourists have this shot (perhaps one of the most epic selfies), but that didn’t stop us.

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In my opinion, Machu Picchu is not an overrated tourist destination. It’s beautiful, the tours are informative and the air is fresh (and after traveling by bus in dusty towns with tons of engine exhaust, that was appreciated). Catch a little of what I learned in the video below.

 

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Take your time to take it all in. Additional hikes are available – be sure to book ahead of time as there is a daily limit to protect the area (for that amazing view from way above Machu Picchu). We walked all around, did a tour, peered over and out for what felt like a long amount of time….and we were still back down the mountain by 9am 🙂

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After hiking back down the hill to Aguas Calientes, treat yourself to a dip in the hot spring pools.

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Grab a cheap (and yummy) bite to eat on the way back down from the hot springs on Avenida Hermanos Ayar ($3-5 USD for a 2-3 course meal with a drink). Then tour the great markets in town and enjoy a cold drink – beer or pisco are both readily available.

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You might find a gem like I did at the market! A hat and ear muffs….couldn’t hear a thing!

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Visiting Cuzco, Peru

By Erin Hancock

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Cuzco is one of Peru’s loveliest places to visit. It’s a mecca for succulent cuisine, the closest big city to Machu Picchu and a great place to learn salsa (once you’ve adjusted to the altitude of course).

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The markets are full of colourful wares, alpaca wool sweaters and semi-precious jewelry.

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One of our favourite restaurant was Tinta, a little spot with kind staff, great art and yummy food near Plaza de Armas.

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We finally tasted the chicha (purple corn juice) that is a staple in most Peruvians lunch menus. We asked for unsweetened chicha (something fairly uncommon as the drink usually comes extra sweet) and it was a tart, refreshing drink.

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It’s easy to make friends while staying at one of Cuzco’s social hostels. We were pleased to make some new friends and new memories while staying at Periwana hostel. Karaoke has a way of bringing people together….and bringing out some amazing dance moves! Thanks for the pilates session Sonia!

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We celebrated American Thanksgiving with David, Sabuat and Soni[t]a. No turkey, but lots of talk about how we’re all so thankful to be able to travel. #givingthankstogether

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Cuzco at night is stunning with the mountains in the background. Be sure to head up the hill and take in the whole city at night. Although you’ll be chasing your breath for a bit once you get to the top, the view is worth it (vale la pena as they say in Spanish).

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Thanks for a great visit Cuzco!

Colca Canyon and Condors, Peru

By Erin Hancock

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Peru is a nation full of different landscapes, different elevations and so much natural beauty. If you head by land from Lima to Machu Picchu then be sure to make a stopover in Colca Canyon (a common tour for those stopping over in Arequipa). If you love the scale of the Grand Canyon, this canyon is over twice as deep!

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Be sure to prepare for the altitude. This means taking every opportunity to drink mate de muna (the herbal tea shown above), chewing on coca leaves, eating little, drinking lots of water and taking it easy overall.

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There are tons of opportunities to see the terraces carved into the mountainside. These Inca “steps” were built to create better farming application in the Andes. Different steps were at different elevations, therefore with a different temperature and different sun and rain exposure. This means different crops can grow on different terraces. Smart.

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The canyon is full of birds….as well as ‘entreprenuers’ giving tourists an up-close-and-personal experience with the birds like the above pic of Julia. In the photo above, right you’ll see holes in the canyon wall where some birds build their nests. Great location to stay away from predators.

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The more famous of the canyon birds is the condor. Unfortunately it’s a waiting game to see a condor pass. If you squint, you’ll see them in the distance in the above photos. You’ll recognize the song below that commemorates these national treasures.

 

And the 1970 version by Simon and Garfunkel is more popular in North America.

 

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And the birds aren’t the only fun creatures to observe in the Colca Valley.

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Llamas, alpacas and vicunas are pretty adorable animals to see up close. And when petting a vicunas, you understand why their wool fetches so much more at market (mas suave).

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After a day of hiking, touring or simply coping with altitude sickness, one can kick back in the hot springs.

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There are many small villages in the valley that while simple, are friendly to tourists. In Chivay, we took in some local music and dance.

My friend Julia was lucky enough to get selected to participate. Great spirit Julia!

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Alpaca meat is readily served at most restaurants, but we opted for quinoa soup.

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The town squares are a key part of all of the villages and towns. It’s where people gather, where school children dance together and where vendors pedal their wool products. But much like the rest of the world, no town (no matter how small or remote) would be complete without an Irish pub (above, right photo). That’s right – not an Irish person to be found – but the pub existed. And we certainly made friends and brought the Irish spirit to the pub.

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All in all, a couple of great days in the canyon. Most hostels/hotels in Arequipa can arrange a tour or trek to the canyon. Keep the altitude in mind when planning to trek. You’ll feel 30 years older and move a lot slower, so pace yourself.

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Beautiful Peru (more posts to come)

Slave tunnels in Chincha, Peru

By Erin Hancock

So after spending a month in Lima studying Spanish, finding our local hangouts, making some new friends and making the most of our membership at Gold´s gym it was time to see more of the country.

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Gold´s Gym, Miraflores, Lima

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Peruwayna Language School, Miraflores, Lima (Gracias Melisa! Tu eres una buena profesora!)

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So Erin and Julia bid farewell to Jackson (who landed a chiropractic gig in Huancayo, northeast of Lima!) and the girls headed south.

 

Chincha Slave Tunnels

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Heading 200 kms south of Lima, you arrive in Chincha. The town is most known for a gorgeous property named Hacienda San Jose with an important history (in fact just on the outskirts of Chincha). Underground, beneath Hacienda San Jose is home to what tourists call the ‘Chincha Slave Tunnels’ — a series of nearly 20kms of tunnels accessible from the property. By this name one would hope that some amazing history exists – perhaps of slaves digging a tunnel to escape their slave masters and making a new, free life. That was what we hoped to learn when visiting the plantation (now an upscale hotel hosting some of Peru’s fanciest weddings). However, the story is a much sadder one.

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Starting on a tour through the home and adjoining church, one sees the opulent life of the plantation owners (cotton and sugar were the main crops). The hacienda has been set up to showcase how the property looked in the 18th century, at the time when the property hosted a huge cohort of African slaves.

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After heading to an entrance to the underground tunnels, you can explore a portion of the tunnels….enough to lose your tour group! The reason why they are so long – mainly to bring slaves from the shore at night (who arrived by boat) to the hacienda 17 kms from shore, thus avoiding the port authorities charging a tax on the slaves. The other reasons include providing a safe haven for the slave owners if they needed to escape danger, a safe place to store riches if needed as well as catacombs to bury the bodies of slaves (again, thus under-reporting how many slaves were actually on the property). One gets a chill when entering the dusty, dark tunnels so it’s imperative to have a reliable light. Your mind can run wild with you as you think about the history, while listening to the echoes of others in the tunnels and finding shadows at every turn.

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Knowing this history, you might think it would be hard for someone to want to vacation on the property or give their wedding vows, but the vacancy rate is very low. The beauty of the property wins people over. At times you might even think you´re on a plantation in Georgia. Today the town/region remains a hub of Afro-Peruvian culture and history.