The Backroads of Peru to Cuzco: Part III
Cerro de Pasco Travel Blog› entry 33 of 84 › view all entries
February 14th, 2008 – by: AndySD
Leaving Huaraz was actually quite pleasant seeing that the road was actually paved and in quite good condition. Amazingly, this continued all the way to Huallanco which used to be called Huanuco, which is about 5 hours away from the place currently called Huanuco, although I´m not sure what that used to be called. As if that weren´t confusing enough there is also a Huancayo, a Huancavelica, Huallanca, Huari, Huaraz, Caraz, Carhuas, and Sihuas, all nearby the Cordillera Blanca. And that isn´t even mentioning, Pomabamba, Piscobamba, Tayabamba, Cajabamba, Bambamarca, and Cajamarca, the names just go full circle with various permutations of similar sounds and it is terribly confusing to keep them all straight.Nevertheless, my journey to Cuzco through the mountains continues with a five hour bus ride from Huaraz to La Union, an hour past Huallanco (Huanuco).
Shortly after leaving the limits of Huaraz the bus made its way south of most of the snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca and then turned east to cross the mountains. The bus was stopped at a police checkpoint right next a sign welcoming us to the high altitude zone and warning of the effects of altitude. The sign was certainly justified as the bus wound its way around high altiplano across some desolate uninhabited lands up to heights of around 15,000 feet. As we crossed this beautiful landscape there were high mountains with snow dotting the tops of the rocky peaks and then dozens of waterfalls flowing off the rocky faces down into the grass covered lower slopes.As we descended from the highest elevations we passed some small scale coal mines with hand-fashioned corrugated metal sheets funneling the black gold from up in the mountains and down to piles near the side of the road. Descending even further finally came to Huallanco, which still had thatched roof buildings on the main streets, and we had to wait for the kids to disrupt their game and take down the volleyball net that spanned the road the into town. Apparently there isn´t much traffic this way. After this the paved road faded to dirt for another hour to La Union. I can´t really figure out why the road was paved this far anyways, it didn´t seem heavily trafficked or to really lead anywhere desirable for many people. Anyways, La Union is a small town that has some ruins nearby and a big sun festival in the middle of July, but other than that doesn´t see any tourist traffic.From La Union it was another 5-6 hours to Huanuco, this time the scenery wasn´t quite as spectacular as the previous rides as we were descending all the way down to 6,000 feet. However, it did get a lot wetter and muddier for a while, before drying up closer to Huanuco. We passed lots of small towns, many had big schools that seemed to be abandoned, and many kids hanging around the streets with nothing to do, that is if they weren´t bombarding our bus at every stop and trying to sell choco (giant kernal corn), sodas, or nuts. It appears as if the economy has taken a downturn and the schools can no longer afford to operate in these rural areas. This wasn´t the case in Huanuco, as the city had a large university that seemed to be teeming with life and five thousand students.
South of Huanuco the paved road reappears and heads towards Huancayo, a large city 7 hours away. But arriving in the early afternoon I could only make it as far as Cerro de Pasco, about 3 hours south. What to say about Cerro de Pasco? On the cover it looks like a very grim place with lots of deteriorating buildings constructed of grey cinder blocks ringing a large mining pit up at 14,300 feet. The fence with concertina wire around the entire mine pit and the abundance of faded and shoddy statues makes it feel like communist bloc USSR during the cold war. Despite the cold and grayness the city was teeming with life on the streets and it seemed very friendly, although some people looked at me as if they had never seen a white person before.Amidst the dull buildings clinging to the hillsides there was this bright yellow church perched high up on a hill overlooking the city, quite the contrast with the other buildings, except that it too was falling apart and ill-maintained. It was nice wandering around the streets and seeing this different side of life, very gritty, with people wrapping scarves around their faces as darkness fell and the cold descended on the city, pretty much the exact opposite of sunny San Diego, CA. None of the buildings seemed to have any insulation or any heating so it was somewhere in the 40s inside my room, a balmy night watching the black and white TV and my breath.
Next morning it was off to Huancayo an easy ride on the paved road.I learned from the man sitting next to me that they mine zinc, silver, and uranium at the mines in Cerro and that it is one of the three most polluted places in Peru, along with Lima and Chimbote, as a result of the mining. He said that the ground and the water in the city are tainted with mining byproducts and runoff. At least this morning the town wasn´t looking so grim with the sun shining brightly and thawing out everything in its path. In the distance hovering over the mine pit you could see the Cordillera Blanca looming large. The road out of town stayed up over 4,000 meters for over an hour and a half. At this altitude, and with no air pollution nearby, the air was so clear that everything looked amazingly vivid and crisp, kind of like watching TV in high-definition.Soon the road descended to La Oroya, a junction town where the road forks off to the west for Lima, and also where the railway line passes through along the same route. There was some type of hideous factory destroying the nice scenery inside the valley, a processing point for the mining operations I think. After passing through La Oroya the road continued through the valleys finally emerging at Huancayo, a pleasant modern city with the streets packed with people in the early afternoon. With a bus ticket to Ayucucho in hand I was ready to complete the first step (of three) in the last phase of the journey to Cuzco through the Andes.
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