… and back to the Andes

I awaken to the cold steel light of dawn filtering through the drawn curtains. The windows are fogged over indicating how cold it is outside, but I occasionally catch glimpses of the passing scenery. It looks like Iceland – barren tundra, ice floes in the river paralleling the road. Mist and fog hang over everything, reducing visibility to 50m and adding to the mystique. We’re climbing over the pass at 4,000m (13,100 ft.) and my ears are popping as we approach the mountain city of Huaraz.

Being on the second floor of a luxury bus (just $5 above economy class), my seat reclines nearly all the way – meaning I actually got some sleep through the night. It was $15 for the 9-hour trip, and comes complete with a hostess who hands out drinks, snacks, and blankets. I could get used to this. They fingerprinted and videotaped each of us as we got on the bus which I guess reassures me? Oh, and wove a metal detector cursorily over our bags, putting the TSA to shame at it’s own game of security theater. I’m finding that overnight buses are often the only option for covering long distances, and while it’s efficient and saves the cost of a hotel room, I’m pretty much wiped out the following day. Plus I miss watching the scenery rolling by. I have a front-row seat on a large picture window, but being nighttime, can’t see a durn thing.

We pull into Huaraz a bit past 7am and I leave my bag at the station to walk around and find a hotel. Being such a touristed town, there are a ton of cheap hotels and not-so-cheap gringo restaurants and coffee shops. Really nice comfortable groovy places that look like they’re straight out of Berkeley, Madison, or Asheville. WiFi abounds as does good coffee, and I even found a microbrewery! Real beer at last – made solely with hops, yeast, water, barley, and in a local twist, coca leaves. The George Clooney look-alike proprietor took a liking to me and kept feeding me tastes of brews he was working on. A jet-black porter. A pilsener which I usually don’t go for, but this one tasted so fresh, and got even more interesting when he muddled it with yerba buena (an herb similar to mint). I highly recommend this bar (13 Buhos) if you find yourself in Huaraz. The owner invokes such a fun, happy spirit in his guests that you can’t help getting swept up. One night, the traditional Alcatraz dance broke out – a sensual dance in which the woman has a tissue or napkin tucked into her waistband hanging down between the cheeks of her ass, while a man circles around with a candle trying to light it. She sways her hips and dances in circles trying to get away from him and his candle. Full of innuendo and metaphor.

This particular stretch of the Andes is called the Cordillera Blanca, and it’s the highest mountain range in the world outside of the Himalayas. Crazies Climbers from the world over come here to test their mettle on 34 peaks over 6,000 meters (20,000′). The first successful ascents were made by an intrepid American woman named Annie Smith Peck who was over fifty years old at the time. After a teaching career in classical studies she became fascinated by mountain climbing while traveling through Europe in 1885. That year she became the third woman to climb the Matterhorn, and the first to climb it wearing long pants instead of a dress! A truly inspiring woman, she continued to travel right up until the time of her death in 1935 at the age of 85.

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