Only the local Peruvians who have been farming these high-altitude slopes for centuries, overlanders like ourselves, and the most adventurous of travelers ever delve into this region. It's called the Cordillera Blanca (meaning white mountain range), and has some of the highest mountain passes in the world.
I now believe that anyone who comes to Peru just to go to Cusco and Machu Picchu is only seeing the face of Peru, the one in all the postcards and brochures. But they will be missing out on the heart of Peru, the one where it's only you and the llamas standing between stone ruins of long lost civilizations, and where red-cheeked babies peek out from the colorful swaddles on local women's backs. It's where white-washed peaks blend into the clouds and turquoise lakes dot the landscape.
So after months of near misses, we finally were able to meet up, and the four of us made our first stop at the stunningly-blue lake of Laguna Paron. Situated between snowy peaks, this lake was a perfect introduction to the regal beauty of the Cordillera Blanca.
Both passes are stunning and literally breath-taking since the northern road reaches an altitude of nearly 15,000 ft. (4,500 meters) and the southern road reaches over 15,000 ft. We kept our coca leaf tea handy for the mornings to help combat the inevitable headaches and stomach cramps that came from altitude sickness, as it took a few days before we acclimated.
Having come to the end of Huascarán National Park, and on the Amazon side of the mountains, we knew we'd have to cross the Andes one more time to get back on the western side. And what better place to do so than at the next National Park: Huayhuash (pronounced “Why wash?", a question which Tim frequently ponders).
Sounds like pure bliss, right? Well, not all of our adventures went as planned. Three out of four of us came down with some sort of unpleasant stomach sickness (lucky you Brendon for avoiding it with your spicy food), and Tim and I dropped the bike, ummm, I'm not even going to tell you how many times. Amazingly, and much to our chagrin, the Haks did not even drop their bike once.
The strange part is that the second half of the day after the town of Rapaz was supposed to be a breeze because we were to take something labeled as a “major road". Major roads in Peru, we have learned, can be something of a bewildering misnomer, but this one takes the cake for misnomers, because it was practically impassable.
As you can imagine, the weather did not improve as we hit over 14,000 ft. and the fog turned into a rain that seemed to have formed at the beginning of time and had never stopped. Everything was just sludge, and we saw no one else on the road, which should have been a warning sign. Well, except there was that one man who had hiked up to get his pregnant cow. Oh, and the guy in the Hummer out for a muddy joy ride who nearly hit the Haks and then actually hit us (he was a jerk, is there a rule about that and Hummers?).
But even the Hummer guy warned us not to go any farther, giving us the tell-tale sign of death as he signaled with his finger to cut his throat. Unfortunately, we did not have enough gas to go back for hours down the sloshy mud pit of a road that we had come from. So onwards we went.
Luckily, we did not have to camp there, and eventually passed the worst of the muck. We were even greeted with a lovely herd of llamas that glared at us like they had never seen people on motorcycles before. Who knows, maybe they hadn't.
We all agreed that it was time to take a little break from our adventuring and do some laundry, buy some supplies, and get bike repairs/bike washing done. So we all headed to Lima, Peru's capital, and are here now getting rested and caught up with our blogs (sorry for the wait, rural Peru is not known for its internet).
The Adventure Haks have certainly lived up to their name, and it's sad that we may be parting ways now (though not forever, we will definitely be meeting up again along the road). But it's been some of the most memorable sights and experiences from the past two weeks, and I would highly recommend to anyone interested in coming to Peru to rent a vehicle (get full insurance, you'll need it) and come to the white heart of the Cordillera Blanca where you will see a side of this country that is majestic, breath-taking, and truly authentic. And you will have an adventure that you'll remember for the rest of your life. We certainly did.
What's next? The famous Incan ruins around Cusco, and of course, Machu Picchu... we'll keep you posted.