Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Trujillo to Cajamarca climb

So I have a few trips to catch you up on… Let’s start on the journey from Trujillo to the northern Peruvian city of Cajamarca.

Preparing to check out at the Hostal Colonial, my home sweet home in Trujillo, I reflect on my experience as a guest…  On the plus side the staff was friendly and there was always an English speaking staff member on duty during the day and evenings.  The premises are peppered with lovely sitting patios and courtyards, and the room nicely decorated (well, after I made a change the first day).  Check in and out was efficient and friendly, and the on site tour agency took care of my requests and bookings in a timely manner. 

However the sheets did not actually fit the bed, they were flat single sheets used as both bottom and top sheet on a double bed, which basically meant that every time I slept in the bed the sheets jumbled and I ended up sleeping directly on their public mattress. (didn’t take me long to buy a set of sheets to use)  I received no services in room at all, their sheets weren’t changed once during my week long stay, and not once during my stay was my bathroom wastebasket emptied (ew).  Not a big deal right?  Except in Peru toilet paper is not flushed down the toilet but rather put in said wastebaskets.  (double ew).  There was an open bathroom window that could not be closed, and at least once provided rooftop workers and/or peeping toms with a lovely view of me passing time on the toilet.  My room was flooded after a heavy rain, although it was quickly dealt with when I asked for help. 

It gets a so-so rating this time.

My destination, Cajamarca, is a city that I had not yet visited but have been intrigued by for some time.  I had heard that the journey was beautiful and I looked forward to a daytime bus ride from the coast eastward headed into the mountains.

We departed on time mid morning after sorting out a reservation hiccup.  When booking the bus I deliberately chose a seat mid bus on the upper level for the best view, however unbeknownst to me there was a change of vehicle and I found myself seated in the front row of a single level bus, which had no side window and no view facing forward.  After expressing my dismay (read I wasn’t going to accept the assigned seat), and with the translation help of a young multilingual Brazilian couple, I was moved to a seat with a view… albeit next to the bathroom in the back row.  No biggie, few people attempt to use the facilities while the bus winds around, up and down. 

The first hour of the ride had us headed north again along the two lane Pan American highway.  It was a gloriously sunny morning (of course, it being a travel day and all) and the view was clear for as far as my eyes could focus.   As we left the city behind the coastal desert became the predominant view, lined on the west by the Pacific Oceans’ surf and the ancient blanched looking mountains to the east. 

The cream coloured sands formed green covered mounds and saharaesque sand dunes, some of which rest high up on the south sides of the mountains, blown north by the prevailing winds.  It was easy to envision fabulous archaeological sites under the mounds, spurred on by the knowledge that such finds had been made in these dunes in the past. 

Occasionally there were areas along the highway being claimed by people in the process of building houses.  They had a desolate look to them, sitting partially finished in the middle of nowhere, unused piles of bricks guarded by dust blown individuals with plastic or metal shacks to meanwhile call home. 

There was occasional passage through small towns, and many of the homes were made beautiful by bright colourful flowers such as Cana and Calla Lilies, Roses and many sprawling Bougainvilleas of all sizes in full bloom.  Sigh.  Sure wish my home climate supported such glory.  We passed police manned road blocks and rolled  gently over speed bumps set up on the highway to slow traffic as it passes the towns dotting the route.    

In areas of water availability, (thanks either to rivers or aqueducts) the desert gives way to fertile agricultural land.  Swaths of Sugarcane, potatoes and corn in various stages of growth, fields prepared for planting.  And rice. In the desert.  Still surprises me.  Just goes to show how much rain comes down off the mountains… and of course the rain control culverts and river washes are clues too.  

Along the route I catch glimpses of animal life, such as trees full of egrets and the usual roadside culprits like donkeys, cows, horses, sheep, pigs and chicken.

Slowing down through one small town I see what look like oversized ancient adobe bricks, complete with family signatures.  Methinks there have been trips made to archaeological sites. 

I didn’t actually feel our departure east from the main highway, just noticed that the bus had turned into the mountains.  Snaking alongside a river, all available land between rock formations and mountains was used for agriculture.  And the abundance… fruit trees, more corn and other crops.  But the real enchantment was seeing how people had planted their rice fields… from flat desert plain to graduated rising terrain.  The fields were shaped and divided, with the irrigation channels using gravity to flow the water from field to field.  The soggy rows in the fields were straight, winding and in some cases squiggly in layout.  

Our winding path took us into a narrowing valley and headed up into the mountains.  Moving my gaze towards the peaks ahead there were rain clouds gathering.  On the sides of the lush valley snaking upward the mountain grade grew steeper, and consisted of a dry, cactus and scrub filled, rock strewn sierra desert.  Evidence of rain erosion could be seen in the plentiful vertical run off grooves running down the mountainside. 

We passed a large open pit type mine to the left, the hillside laid bare high and deep. A modern scar on an ancient landscape.  On the left was a large dam holding what looked like a tailings lake, it being a light turquoise colour not common to the region.  Thinking about the damage being done all through the country by huge mining and multinational corporations I wonder just how much cleaning and quality control is observed before it is released downstream into the agricultural lands waiting downstream. 

A little past the lake the bus pulled over at a rest stop for a lunch break.  There was a woman cutting open and selling fruit picked from trees nearby, a selection of chips and snacks, and a restaurant.  The bathrooms were more or less dirty buckets and the odour emanating from them wafted over the scene.  There were the usual stray dogs wandering around hoping for crumbs, and one of them had the biggest tick on his back I have ever seen.  A very dry sweet bun later I was more than ready to reboard the bus and head up into the clouds.   As we left I felt thankful that I was not the woman standing there peeling fruit, day, after day, after day….

Five hours of upwards switchbacks and we finally hit the summit at 3050 meters (or just over 10,000 feet).  As we headed into the clouds shrouding the higher sections of the road, conditions themselves deteriorated… potholes and washouts were frequent, visibility worsened, and in what was a pre-taste of roads to come the shoulders were narrow and soft, and the drop offs steep and scary. 
Farms lined the road and formed a patchwork up the sides of the mountains within view.  Corn became the dominant crop the higher we climbed. 

Thinking that after such a long upward journey there would be a long downward journey, I was surprised when the city more or less materialized within minutes of passing the summit in a sea of red brick roofs spread across a gently curving high altitude valley.  So ended our seven-ish hour bus ride.   An easy cab ride to the hostal and I was ready for some sleep.  

Another Peruvian travel day.

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