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Laying fully clothed shivering in my hotel room bed I was reminded of Paul Theroux’s problems with altitude sickness: the staggering and the sweats. As I had ascended gradually in Ecuador it hadn’t been a problem. But a bus straight from sea level to Huaraz at 3052m followed by a hike to Lake 69 at 4600m, had proved too much for my body to handle.

Prior to this my brief coastal interlude, first at Mancora and then Trujillo had been a welcome respite from the mountains. Trujillo and it’s surrounds were especially interesting.
Inspired by Michael Jacobs (author of Andes) I visited the ruins of Chan Chan, the former capital of the Chimu Kingdom and the largest pre-Colombian city in South America. It was an impressive site and with the help of an English guide I was soon envisaging how the city and peoples had functioned when it was built in AD 850 until it was taken over by the Incas in AD 1470. After an educational morning I headed to Trujillo and lounged in the colonial square and restaurants before taking a trip to nearby fishing village Huanchaco, which had once also been part of the Chimu’s land.

Fisherman bobbed in the waves on their ‘Caballitos’ (reed fishing boats) while backpackers, volunteers and surfers loitered on the beach and in bay side eateries. This welcoming village was just managing to retain its traditional charms, despite the swarms of tourists who have now discovered this peaceful spot, with it’s relaxing atmosphere and good waves.

My urge for the coast now sated I took a taxi to catch a bus back into the mountains, this time heading further south to Huaraz.
“How much do you earn in your country? I only earn $200 a month, it’s a hard life in Peru for a taxi driver.”
Back in the seventies, Peru, according to Paul Theroux, was the poorest country in South America, now this is not true and Paraguay sits bottom of the economic pile, with Bolivia and Ecuador following and Peru just above them. My complaining cabbie, seemed not to be aware of his improved status and told of the difficulties in his life for the entire 20 minute journey to the bus station. I couldn’t decide if he was annoying me because he just wanted a bigger tip or whether I felt genuinely sorry for the man.

In my bed in Huaraz a few days later I was certainly feeling sorry for myself. I vowed to take things a little slower in the future and chuckled at the irony as I thought of Paul’s frustrations when taking the train from Lima to Huancayo: “Why was it in this landscape of such unbelievable loveliness that I felt sick as a dog?” I agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment.

Finally feeling better I ventured out to see what the city had to offer. The streets were lined with Andean women in their traditional hats, bright shawls and skirts selling fruit and vegetables. As I surveyed the buzzing market streets a man tapped me on the shoulder: “Tortuga?” Tortoise? I thought, that’s a bit odd why did he say that? Then the chap turned around to reveal a huge tortoise on his back, crudely covered by a plastic bag. I jumped and yelped with surprise: “No gracias?!” It was certainly the first time anyone had illicitly offered me a tortoise on a street corner.
The local women looked very tough and judging by their surrounds they have to be, the harsh Andean climates and the poor living conditions combining to make their lives quite a struggle. I often saw women carrying heavy loads on their backs and in one instance I spotted a lady rolling a huge rock across the road which I’m sure heavyweight lifters would have struggled with.
But I didn’t linger long in Huaraz, because I needed to get to Lima in order to catch the train to Huancayo. This train, to my elation, does still run but only once a month so I hopped an overnight bus, this time bound for Lima.

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