The route north from Lima
takes you through some completely surreal scenery. Firstly through an area of town where the â€śhousesâ€ť are built on the side of sand dunes, seemingly miles from anywhere. Then long open expanses of desert covered in mist, which remind me of the stretch of road between Walvis Bay and Swakop in Namibia. I was half-waiting to see my favourite â€śwarning â€“ sandâ€ť sign on the side of the road. Maybe it was there in Spanish and I missed it. Then through little towns which donâ€™t even appear on the map which we bought. And all this while driving on a perfect 2 lane toll road â€“ with an 80km/h speed limitâ€¦.
I said to Kat that this really reminded me of driving in Mozambique â€“ complete chaos â€“ but without so many potholes in the road (talk about speaking too soon).
We got to our town where we turn off to head inland from the coast and the road immediately changed. A bit more rough and a lot more winding. Then the climb started. I had forgotten that Huaraz
was at altitude â€“ or more accurately had not thought about it.
Along the road our little car, a silver Toyota Yaris, was christened BOO the Sardine (mostly because of the number plate but also as it is pretty frightening).
The road goes up a mountain pass to about 4,000m which is quite a climb. As you can imagine, this takes some time. And a little 1300cc engine also loses a lot of power. The 200km stretch from the coast to Huaraz ended up taking us about 4 hours. The last stretch in pitch black night. Needless to say, not a relaxing days drive by any stretch of the imagination. We had left the airport at 12 and got into a hostel, when we eventually found one, at about 9pm.
One of the things that is clear in Peru is that there are not a lot of private cars here. There are a lot of buses and taxis but that is about it.
On an aside here, the Insight guidebook we have for Peru is really nice for explaining places and showing pictures but really rubbish at showing maps and where places are within towns. The Lonely Planet guide on South America is much more useful in showing town plans and places.
For those keen on adrenaline sports, I can definitely recommend driving in Peru. Much scarier than anything else we have done to date. And this was on the â€średâ€ť roads on the map. Our map grades roads into red (main), yellow (secondary) and white (who the hell knows) roads.
Huaraz is a town of about 80,000 people and at an altitude of 3,100m. So it is pretty high and the highest altitude that Kat and I have stayed at. Could not see much as we arrived at night though. Another reason not to drive â€“ you need to find off street parking somewhere.
The area around Huaraz is 20km wide and 180km long but has 50 mountain peaks over 5,700m. The highest of these is 6,768m. For the record, North America has only 3 peaks of this height and Europe has none.
For our first experience of altitude, apart from the mild headache and light headedness, I canâ€™t explain it better than a friend of Katâ€™s, Raoul â€“ and Irishman, who is travelling in Bolivia: â€śRobert Boyle, that famous Irish scientist from Fermoy, came to my mind when first experiencing the high altitude in the altiplano. It was a 3-day jeep trip around the Salar de Uyuni and its environs, an area of surreal natural beauty full of endless salt flats, geysers, and colourful lakes impossibly full of flamingos. BoyleÂ´s Law states, that for a constant temperature, pressure is inversely proportional to volume. Or, in laymanÂ´s terms, as the pressure reduces, the volume increases. Now, IÂ´d never been at an altitude of 4400m (in fact, maybe Boyle hadnÂ´t either), so i was completely unfamiliar with the effects of altitude on the body. But his law can be readily applied to your stomach, which tends to act like a balloon - as the pressure decreases the higher you ascend, your stomach tends to bloat, so much so that you feel like you are about to explode. Frequent solo walks are needed to ease this internal pressure. But is does make you think: if you took one of these Bolivians down to sea level, theyÂ´d probably fart but once a year.â€ť