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Huancayo and Ayacucho

During “feriado,” which is essentially a sort of labor day type break from school and work, I took advantage of my days off and travelled to the central sierra or highlands of Perú. I visited two very different cities and their surround areas, had a blast, and learned a lot about the different highland cultures of Perú.

I began my journey with a bus trip from Lima to Huancayo on the Oltursa line. I was a little late getting out the door seeing as I had not received the email I was promised from the bus company confirming my ticket order, and waited in line for over 30 minutes at the bank trying to get a receipt of my financial records before deciding to throw in the towel and take my chances. Traffic was horrible getting to the bus “impresa” due to the fact that the IMF summit was just beginning and the bus terminal is in San Isidro, the financial district, but thankfully almost nothing in Perú begins or leaves on time and I actually ended up having time to kill at the bus station.

I first went to ticketing and explained the situation to them, then was told I had to go to the information counter. I finally received my ticket and went to check my bag, thankfully all the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. About 45 minutes later, I finally got on the bus and began mentally preparing myself for the approximately nine hour journey. About thirty minutes outside of the city we were stuck in some sort of traffic for literally over an hour without moving, thankfully we had Mall Cop 2 to entertain us (please realise that was written with dripping sarcasm) and the included meal from the bus line (this was actually surprisingly scrumptious).

It’s crazy how the sierra begins right outside Lima, as soon as you exit the skyscrapers and barrios that dot the hillsides the mountains begin almost immediately. I spent the rest of the ride alternating between reading, sleeping, eating, and watching other atrocious sequels and some weird sort of Remember the Titans rip-off. Even though we were supposed to arrive in Huancayo at 9:00 PM or so, by the time we got there it was past 11, thankfully I had the address of a hostel and found a taxi pretty easily.

The hotel looked pleasant enough and at that point I was so road weary I was ready to plop down the first place I found. I went in paid the 40 soles for my room and passed out.

When I woke up I realised that the mattress I and been sleeping on was hard as a rock, and decided that I would test my luck and try to find another hotel. However, the hotel was connected with some tour company and I decided to take the archeological tour, which left me only enough time to drink a much needed cup of coca tea.

The tour was fantastic: my guide was incredibly knowledgable and showed as many of the important sites of the Wanka culture, as well as the first church in Perú and some other sites of historical importance. When we returned to Huancayo, I asked him for a hotel recommendation, and he said there was a good, cheap hotel right down the block. I decided to check it out, and it looked very luxurious for the price of 50 soles a night. Unfortunately, they were booked all weekend, a theme that was repeated to me at every hotel or hostel I tried for the next hour or so. I finally found one for 25 soles a night with a vacancy, but I literally felt like I was checking in to the Bates Motel. The old owner showed me to my room and there was someone else’s suitcase in it, so I asked, “De quién es la maleta? (Whose suitcase is that?). He told me “No te preocupes.” (Don’t worry about it). All I could think about was what sort of fate had befallen the owner of that suitcase, but it seemed that every hotel in town was booked full due to the occurrence of feriado and a religious festival that was occurring in Huancay that weekend, and I figured anywhere was better than being stuck with all my bags out in the street. Nonetheless, I left my bags there and immediately began my search for another hotel.

Thankfully, I found a very nice hostel with my own shower and hot water for 70 soles a night and immediately told the owner I would return promptly with my luggage. After some negotiating with the owner of the first hotel, I received all my money back and returned to the Hostel Orlak, which I highly recommend to anyone travelling to Huancayo.

After a good night’s sleep, I woke up bright and early to hike to Huaytapallana, a huge glacier a few hours outside of Huancayo. The hike was definitely strenuous, especially as I was suffering from a bit of an upset stomach, but the view and eventual ascent to the glacier was truly spectacular. My guide for the hike was also incredible, and we had great conversations throughout the duration.

I had the day in Huancayo before my bus to Ayacucho at 8:30 so I decided to take a tour of the city and its fabulous parks devoted to Wanka identity. I was too late for the group tour, but I managed to secure a good price for a private tour. First we went to Torre Torre, an outcropping or unusual rock formations right outside of the city caused by natural erosion before going to the Cerro de Libertad for the marvellous view of the city. Then we went on a tour of the Parque de La Identidad Wanka and the Parque de Los Sombreros; both incredibly interesting parks dedicated to Huancayo’s indigenous heritage. From there I took a combi (van outfitted as bus) to Cochas to see the Parque de Los Mates, which was also incredibly beautiful and intriguing. Mates are the handicrafts that Huancayo is most known for, and are intricately carved gourds.

I still had a little time to kill, so I took a taxi to Concepción to see the Virgen de Concepción, a giant statue of the Virgin Mary that you can climb inside to the top of her crown for a view of the whole valley.

After some hassle finding a taxi back to Huancayo, I made it to the bus station and boarded the bus, which surprisingly left more or less on time. I arrived in Ayacucho early that morning, and after asking a few people out and about I finally found the hotel I was looking for.

It’s a shame that Ayacucho was cut off from the rest of Perú and the world for so long, as it is truly a gem of a city. It has the highest number of intact colonial churches of any city in Perú, and they are all truly awe-inspiring, complete with regal, towering, gold-plated altars and spiritually powerful depictions of Jesus of Nazareth, the patron of Ayacucho. I spent my first day touring all the churches, and the second day visiting Quinua, a town regarded as the cradle of Peruvian artesenia and renowned for its retablos, colourfully painted boxes that open up to reveal beautiful sculpture scenes inside.

During my visit to Quinua, a local festival was occurring, and I and a wonderful time dancing, eating, and listening to huayno (Highland Folk Music) and chicha (a mix of psych rock, surf, cumbia, and huayno). On my last day in Ayacucho, I had planned to do a hike and horseback ride, but my plans were derailed due to a race car rally that was occurring on the main road. Seeing as I was already stuck there until the race was over, I figured I might as well watch the race, which was truly a surreal experience. I made some good friends and travelled back to Ayacucho with them in time to catch my bus back to Lima.

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