Vida Huancaína

Our adventure in the Andes


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Why is there an olive and a hard-boiled egg in here?

You have to be careful when you take a bite of a tamale here.  Inside the unsuspecting corn-flour dough exterior, there invariably lies an olive mixed in with the shredded chicken–with the pit still inside.  One careless bite and you could chip a tooth.  For whatever reason, they are really into putting olives, and also hard-boiled eggs, inside of foods here in Peru.  Our host mom makes delicious stuffed peppers and papas rellenas (meat inside of a mashed potato covering that’s shaped like a football and then fried to hold it all together).  Both of these are filled with ground beef, along with a small olive and a quarter of a hard-boiled egg.  I have to admit, it was a bit strange to get used to having these things mixed in with ground beef, but the tastes do all seem to work together somehow.  Moral of the story, watch out for the olive pits.


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Hiking Huaytapallana

We climbed to 5,100 meters/16,70 feet and touched a glacier in the Andes this weekend!  We have been wanting to visit Huaytapallana–taller than any mountain in the continental US at 5,557 meters/18,232 feet and home to a huge glacier–since we arrived here in Huancayo.  Now, almost seven months after arriving and adjusting to the altitude, we went with a tour to check it out!

We departed from the center of Huancayo at 8:30 am in a tour van with our guide and 12 other tourists, and we arrived at our starting point at 4,000 meters/13,100 feet above sea level around 11 am. We bundled up, took happy “before” photos with the trailhead sign, and started off along what was going to be the hardest hike either of us has ever done.

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Almost as soon as we set off, it started to snow lightly and continued to precipitate (either snow or hail) the rest of the day.  The “trail” was a mix of dirt paths, scrambling over rocks, and scooting carefully along the side of a mountain face.  Our guide was cheerful and agilely sped down the path, all the time telling us to hurry up while we were falling behind and sucking wind because of the altitude.

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After climbing up two steep inclines, we finally arrived at an overlook called Mirador Yanaucsha where we made our ofrenda (offering) to Huallallo Carhuancho, the apu (god) of Huaytapallana.  To give thanks to the apu and ensure a safe journey, you leave three coca leaves, a lit cigarette, and fruits or sweets (our host mom insisted we take five different kinds of fruits with us to make sure that the apu was sufficiently pleased!).  You also share a bit of caña (kind of like a moonshine made from sugar cane) with the apu, pouring a little from your cup to the earth while saying, “Gracias a Taita Huamaní, gracias a pachamama y gracias a mama pacha” (thanks to Taita Huamaní (the father of the mountains), thanks to the earth mother and thanks to mother earth), and then drinking the rest of the liquid left in the cup. (P.S. it burns going down!).

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View from Mirador Yanaucsha

Chris making our offering

Chris making our offering

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There were tons of cairns all along the path, especially at the places where offerings were made

We sat and took in the view for a few minutes, then continued on the journey, climbing up even higher while clouds and fog rolled past us in between the peaks and sometimes obscuring the view entirely.  One minute all you could see was the path for a few feet in front of you, and the next a beautiful vista would open up, and then just as quickly it would be gone again.

Finally, we reached the highlight of the journey–the glacier at 5,100 meters/16,700 feet above sea level!  (For those of you who are counting, by this point in the trail we’d already gained at least 3,000 feet in elevation! Legs and lungs burning!)  The sight of the glacier was impressive.  It reached way up above us and into the clouds, making it size seem even more immense.  The glacier provides all the water for Huancayo and unfortunately has decreased in size by nearly half over the past 20 years.

Snowy vista during one of the heaviest downpours

Snowy vista during one of the heaviest downpours

First glimpse at the glacier from the trail

First glimpse at the glacier from the trail

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So excited to touch the glacier!

So excited to touch the glacier!

We made it!

We made it!

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After tossing a few snowballs, the tour group turned around and headed back down via a different trail that took us past a series of glacial lakes.  You could see the rivers from the glacier running between the lakes as we descended, sometimes forming waterfalls as the water tumbled down the mountains.  Some of the lakes were a deep turquoise and our guide told us that rainbow trout thrived there.  The trail down was much easier than the one coming up, much smoother and better marked with fewer rocks to scramble over.  From the path we saw a few birds and also a herd of alpacas!  From a distance they just looked like sheep, but upon closer inspection when they stood up you could see their long necks!

Camouflage birdie!

Camouflage birdie!

Laguna Cochasgrande

Laguna Cochasgrande

Alpacas!

Alpacas!

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Pathway along the mountain face

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Six hours of hiking later, we finally reached the end of the trail!  We all climbed into the tour van, trying to get warmed up as we started the descent back down to Huancayo.  We arrived home finally at 8 pm, completely exhausted and even more in awe of the Andes and their mystical beauty than ever. Hiking Huaytapallana was an amazing experience that we’ll never forget.

Exhausted, but still smiling!

Exhausted, but still smiling!


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Adventures in High Altitude Baking: Strawberry Shortcake!

Since it’s strawberry season here, I just had to try making strawberry shortcake!  And, since this is Huancayo, we had to make more than a few adjustments to the traditional recipe.

Instead of a true shortcake, I made a few adjustments to the quick drop biscuit recipe I had developed to make them a little sweeter, almost like a scone. I added a tablespoon of white sugar to the dough and then sprinkled some “brown” sugar (which is almost like sugar in the raw here) on top of each biscuit.

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We cut up the strawberries into quarters (the berries were huge!) and sprinkled just a teaspoon of white sugar over them to sweeten them a bit and bring out the juice.

The whipped cream proved to the biggest adjustment.  We looked in the big grocery store downtown and couldn’t find any heavy whipping cream.  After wandering down the baking aisle, however, I did lay my eyes upon a package of instant crema chantilly!  You basically pour the dried contents of the package into a bowl, add a cup of cold milk and whip it until it comes out to the right consistency.  The instructions call for you to use an electric mixer for that part, but we weren’t thinking far enough ahead and I forgot to ask my host mom to borrow hers, so we used good old fashioned elbow grease to whip it into oblivion.  While the consistency came out more or less correct, the taste was a little more like frosting.

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The end product was delicious!  We were both transported back to our childhoods and thoroughly enjoyed every bite!  We will definitely be making this again before the strawberry season is over!

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August is for kites

August is the month for flying kites here in Huancayo.  The winds pick up in the afternoons during this last month of the dry season, and children happily fly kites in the street or in parks in their neighborhoods after they come home from school.  Some kites are handmade, others are store-bought with pictures of popular children’s cartoons or neon stripes on them. What a fun pastime!

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El Lugar de Memoria / The Place of Memory

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Today, August 28th, marks the 11th anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report.  The report attempted to document and begin reconciling the crimes that had been committed in Peru between 1980-2000 at the hands of the Peruvian armed forces and the guerilla groups, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and M.R.T.A. (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement).

The healing process is still underway today, with memorials and museums being constructed to honor the estimated 70,000 victims of the conflict and to promote peace and reconciliation in the country.  One such museum opened recently here in Huancayo, the first to be completed in all of Peru.  It’s called the Lugar de Memoria (Place of Memory).  The museum is beautifully constructed with five stories of exhibits ranging from written information to traditional textiles and artwork.

The main exhibits feature heavily on written descriptions (in both Spanish and English, with titles also in Quechua) of the events leading up to, during, and the end of this violent era of Peru’s history.

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Deaths and disappearances reported to the Commission by province. Yellow: 1 - 50 Green: 51 - 100 Orange: 101 - 500 Red: 501 - +

Deaths and disappearances reported to the Commission by province.
Yellow: 1 – 50, Green: 51 – 100, Orange: 101 – 500, Red: 501 – +

The exhibits incorporate traditional textiles from the region, including tejidos (weavings) and mates burilados (carved gourds).  Replicas of photos from the era are woven into tejidos and the mates burilados have scenes of the true events, as well as messages of hope for the future, carved into them.

Tejidos

Tejidos

Mates burilados

Mates burilados

 

Video of spinning mate burilado:

 

The centerpiece of the museum is a waterfall that cascades from the top floor all the way to the lobby.  The water is meant to represent a means of healing the wounds caused by the violence.  The exhibit explains:

The water we are given as a healing element offers us the change of being born anew in the face of death and tragedy.  Not to remain stagnant in our pain, but to let ourselves flow in the loving memory of all that we value and all of those whom we knew.

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Images of victims projected onto the waterfall

Images of victims projected onto the waterfall

The museum is informative and moving.  Entrance is free to the public and we recommend that everyone coming through Huancayo visit El Lugar de Memoria.

In memory of the thousands of deceased and disappeared during the internal armed conflict in Peru and the Junin Region 1980-2000.

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Festival San Roque in Hualhuas

The Festividad en Honor al Santo Padre San Roque (Festivities in Honor of the Patron Saint Roch) have been going on for the past week in Hualhuas.  We had heard that there would be some sort of celebratory activities happening there on Saturday and we decided to head over to check it out.  We were not disappointed.  As per usual, Peru totally surprised us.

Main plaza of Hualhuas filling up with revelers

Main plaza of Hualhuas filling up with revelers

We arrived around 11 am and there were people gathering in the main plaza.  We were there only a few minutes before a band started up and the Avelinos starting pouring into the town.  Dressed in wonderfully colorful costumes with hats and/or masks, the Avelinos represent and celebrate the bravery of the soldiers during the time of the War of the Pacific (1879-83) under the command of Andrés Avelino Cáceres. The dancers’ clothing represents how the soldiers had worn rags (pretending to be beggars and feigning madness) and infiltrated enemy lines. The costumes have changed over the years and the Haulhuas Avelinos now wear all varieties of hats and masks–everything from the traditional to Homer Simpson to scary Halloween masks.  Check out the video link below to get the full scope of the music, energy and crazy assortment of hats and masks!

Avelinos video

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Once the Avelinos had finished circling the plaza and whipping the crowd into a frenzy, more bands started up with a much slower tune introducing the Chonguinada.  The dance has its roots in the colonial era, when the indigenous men of the towns would imitate the dances and gestures of the Spanish as a form of mockery.  The women wear skirts and mantas (blankets worn over the shoulders) exquisitely embroidered with flowers and birds, and hold a white, silk handkerchief in their hand while dancing. The men wear short pants, hats with large, colorful feathers on top, and dance with a cane.  Some also wear wigs and masks to make them appear more like the colonial Spanish.  The Spanish had come to the Mantaro Valley region to reap the benefits of the mines and, to represent this, the men wear coins on a sash across their body and the ladies on a bib on their front.  The music is slow and the dance includes small, elegant steps performed in groups or pairs.  There were groups of Chonguinada dancers scattered all over the plaza in Hualhuas, each with their own band, oftentimes playing music and dancing at the same time.  Watch the video below to hear a sample of the music and see the diminutive dance steps.

Chonguinada video

 

Beautifully embroidered matching mantas, with roses and birds.

Beautifully embroidered matching mantas, with roses and birds.

Getting ready to dance as a group

Getting ready to dance as a group.  Check out the bright yellow and pink feathers on the mens’ hats!

Coins adorn the front of the womens' costumes

Coins adorning the front of the womens’ costumes

While the Avelinos gathered in the plaza to drink beer and the Chonguinada music played and dancers danced, yet another tune started up across the plaza.  A procession exited the church to commemorate the death of and honor San Roque (Saint Roch), the patron saint of plagues and pestilence.  The procession continued all the way around the plaza, stopping at arches at each corner of the square and saying a prayer.  The music sounded almost like a dirge played by the procession’s own band that followed the group around the square.

Procession Video

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Procession to commemorate the death of Saint Roch

The overall cacophony of music, energy and dancing of the festivities was a lot to take in.  It was definitely an education in yet even more dances and traditions of the Mantaro Valley.  And we didn’t even attend on the biggest day of the week-long celebration.  On Monday there were even grander celebrations planned, including firework displays and dancing until 4 am!  Maybe next time.


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Arwaturo Ruins

On Saturday we trekked to some nearby pre-Incan ruins called Arwaturo.  The name Arwaturo comes from two Quechua words that mean hueso quemado (burnt bone).  The ruins are located on top of a hill at 11,338 feet/3,456 meters above sea level, just outside Chupaca near the Laguna de Ñahuimpuquio (the brother of Laguna de Paca).  To get there from Huancayo, you take a combi (public van/bus) to Chupaca and from there hop on a collectivo (a shared taxi) to Arwaturo/Ñahuimpuquio.  The station wagon collectivo we took had 10 adults and kids crammed into it, and Chris rode in the trunk!

There are two entrances to the ruins, one with a steep climb up a stone stairway and the other along a pre-Incan walkway that cuts along the hillside with switchbacks taking you up the hill more gradually. The ruins were constructed out of rocks and mud/clay by the Wanka people approximately 1,200 years ago. There are 17 buildings in all that were used primarily for keeping grains dry and also for keeping a look-out over the valley.  The site itself is unprotected except for a local guide who can give you a little bit of information about the ruins.  The people from the nearby town still graze their cows there, and small chacras (farm plots) are carved into the hillside leading up to the ruins.

The view from the ruins is breathtaking.  You can see nearly the entire Mantaro Valley, as well as a beautiful view of the snow-capped Huaytapallana.  It is a peaceful spot where there is hardly any noise, save an occasional braying donkey or song coming over the breeze from a Santiago party in a nearby town.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like as a Wankan to wake up and look out over the peaceful valley.  How beautifully breathtaking it must have been!

Entrance to Arwaturo via the stone steps

Entrance to Arwaturo via the stone steps

Stone steps

Stone steps

View of Laguna Ñahuimpuquio from the top stairs on the way up to the ruins

View of Laguna Ñahuimpuquio from the top stairs on the way up to the ruins

Entrance to Arwaturo

View of the back side of the ruins as you finish climbing the steps

View of the ruins as you enter the site

Flowers and ruins

Flowers and ruins

Chris enjoying some ruins!

Chris enjoying some ruins!

Enjoying the view of the valley and Huaytapallana in the distance

Enjoying the view of the valley and Huaytapallana in the distance

The buildings extend all the way down the hill top

The buildings extend all the way down the hill top

View of Huaytapallana through a space in between buildings

View of Huaytapallana through a space in between buildings

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Buildings against brilliant blue skies

Chris taking it all in

Chris taking it all in

A little birdie friend

A little birdie friend

The pre-Incan walkway to the ruins

The pre-Incan walkway to the ruins

Placing another rock onto a stack along the pathway

Placing another rock onto the cairn along the pathway

Stacks of rocks along the path

Cairns dot the pathway

More stacks of stones on top the of the ruins

Another cairn on top the of the ruins with a glimpse of Huaytapallana in the distance

My make-shift panorama of the valley from the ruins!

My make-shift panorama of the valley from the ruins!

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