Thursday, February 9, 2017

PERU: Huancayo to Huancavelica (January 22, 2017)

At 3680 metres, the town of Huancavelica is about 400 metres higher in the mountains than our starting point in Huancayo. As the crow flies, the two towns are 84 km apart, but by road the distance becomes 114 km due to the number of switchbacks on the very steep route. Although the road is paved, it is narrow with no barrier on the valley side. I don't suffer from vertigo, but from my seat I couldn't see the road edge, only the drop into the valley. Even though we had a cautious bus driver, the journey was at times a white-knuckle experience.

At first, the landscape was gentle and fertile, a patchwork of cultivation. No doubt some of the produce we saw in the Huancayo market came from here.

As we proceeded, the mountain sides grew steeper and more barren. Photographs don't do justice to how high we were above the valley floor.

By the time we arrived in Huancavelica, I was feeling slightly dizzy and short of breath from the altitude. The town actually lies in the Mantaro River valley and is surrounded by even higher mountains, some reaching almost 5,000 metres.

Huancavelica is said to be one of the poorest towns in Peru. Since the closure of the Santa Barbara mine, once the largest source of mercury in South America, it has been struggling to attract tourists like ourselves, but since it is not on the well-travelled route to Machu Picchu, most give it a pass. We didn't see any other tourists during our short stay.
Our hotel, the Illariy, had only been open for a year. Although it was a bit cold and unadorned, it was convenient and comfortable, especially after we paid an extra 20 Soles for an electric heater. There was plenty of hot water and the included buffet breakfast was quite generous. Like most hotels in the Andes, they provided us with coca tea to cope with the altitude dizziness. Ibuprofen also helped.

We had hoped to find a thriving handcraft market, but were disappointed in the manufactured goods we saw. There was, however, a substantial book and magazine store, as long as you could read Spanish.

Otherwise, the attractions seemed to be a small square, pretty but inhabited by some snarling dogs, and several interesting churches.

The combined effects of altitude, the cold and the rain meant that we probably didn't appreciate the town as much as we would have in different conditions.

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