After a couple of days in Huaraz, I wanted to visit Chavin de Huantar and tour the ruins, thought to be a ceremonial center of one of the oldest civilizations of South America. I took a cab from where I was staying in Huaraz to the bus terminal and arrived a little after 10 in the morning, hoping to catch the 11 AM bus. Unfortunately, that did not happen because the 10 AM bus was being worked on, or so it seemed. (In Peru, the bus driver is also a bus mechanic!) The next departure time for the next bus was 1 PM and I bought my ticket for S12, approximately 4 to 5 dollars. I figured that would have to do since I had vacated my room and had my packs with me.
With over two hours until departure time and feeling a little frustrated, I started to walk to the California Café. I soon grew tired of carrying my heavy packs and decided to flag down a cab. As always, it was good to be at that café where I ate breakfast, enjoyed a cappuccino, and talked to my wife on Skype. I was happy that the café has wifi, since I had time to wait for the bus. Luckily, I also chatted with people I had met in there the day before.
Finally it was time to go back to the bus terminal and I went outside and flagged down another taxi. I arrived at the terminal about 45 minutes early, sat down, and waited for them to call us to board the bus. I should have known better because in Peru local buses seldom leave on time!
With my rudimentary Spanish, I cannot say I completely understood what happened next, but gathered that the bus was not going to depart from this particular terminal. Thank goodness for the two local people who became my saviors!
A young woman who worked at the terminal made me understand that I had to go to a different terminal to catch a bus to Chavin. Motioning to me to follow her, she started running up the street and around the corner, followed by the two locals who indicated to me to follow. The three of us pursued the woman for another few blocks when she turned back, indicating the rest of the way to the two locals. Because I was running at 10,000 feet with my heavy packs, keeping up with everyone was a real feat.
Once we got to the right bus terminal, I felt overwhelmed by what appeared to be total chaos but was probably well organized. I do not think I am exaggerating too much when I say that everything imaginable was being loaded onto the bus, which made some sense since it was the major mode of transportation for the local people!
On top of the bus, I spotted a man who was using a rope to haul up cages full of chickens. Feathers, dust, and undoubtedly chicken shit were flying everywhere! Chairs, tables, appliances and who knows what else were also being hauled to the top of the bus. Down below in the buses storage compartments, the bus assistants where cramming in all sorts of things the locals intended to take to the other side of the Andes.
One of the bus officials kept trying to shut one of the lower storage compartments which would not close properly, much too full. He tried and tried, to no avail. It would not close all the way so he just left it semi-closed, probably assuming it would not open.
In all this pandemonium, I finally got my pack onto the bus with the help of one of my saviors. I said a little prayer that it would even make it to my destination. Needless to say, with all this loading, the bus was ready to depart around 2pm, an hour late. Passengers piled onto the bus until there was only standing room; luckily I had a seat. Passengers brought aboard all sorts of things, from flat screen TVs to guinea pigs, probably destined for the dinner table.
The bus backed out of the terminal, sputtering as the driver popped the clutch to get it going, not very reassuring. Then, he stopped and let in even more passengers till there was no more standing room.
One thing you must know that in Peru the local buses keep picking up passengers along the way, making riding on them a long and tedious way to travel. How more people crammed in I do not know but we finally got on the road out of town.
We finally started making our way up over the Andes, always a slow part of the trip and challenging to the engine. Everything was going smoothly until the bus pulled over and stopped about half way up the mountain pass. Now what was the problem? Everyone started piling off the bus. Our bus had a blown-out tire! At least it broke down in a nice location, right near a beautiful lake and a view of the mountains.
While we waited, I took some pictures of the surrounding scenery and then just sat down with the other passengers, waiting while the bus crew changed the tire. About 45 minutes later, we finally got going without any more difficulty.
To reach the eastern side of the Andes, the bus climbed up the pass, then passed through a tunnel cut through the mountain. Just as we exited the tunnel, our journey was blessed by a white very tall statue of Christ built by Italian missionaries. The view down the east side was incredibly beautiful, reflecting the varied landscape of the East side of the Andes.
The rest of the ride down the east side was uneventful. I was a little edgy because I wanted to get off in Chavin but was not sure of the location of the stop. Unfortunately, I missed the stop by about a quarter of a mile! Lucky for me one of my saviors noticed and let me know when the bus pulled over to let off some passengers. I had to carry my pack back into town, grateful I had not missed it by much more.
Once in town, I went right to the hotel I had chosen, Hostal Inca, located right on the Plaza and recommended in the Lonely Planet Peru (Travel Guide). I was blessed with a good room, plenty of hot water, and a comfy bed. I enjoyed discovering that people I had met in Huaraz were staying at the hotel next door, called La Casona. (If you head that way, you might want to consider it because it was a bit cheaper and looked quite adequate.) When staying near the Plaza in Peru, make sure to get a room at the back because the street side rooms can be noisy, especially on a Friday or Saturday night when there often seem to be an all-night fiesta! Otherwise the town is extremely peaceful.
It takes a few days to visit the ruins and the museum. Plus. there are very relaxing thermal baths about a half hour walk south of town. And be sure to eat at Boungiorno on the way to the ruins, just before the bridge. I really enjoyed the lomo a la pimiento.
On my return trip, I decided to take a colectivo taxi back instead of the bus, not wanting to chance any bus repairs. It proved to be much faster and only 20 soles or about 7 dollars. (A colectivo is a shared taxi that departs once it fills up with passengers.)
Because of the rain, landslides, and the deep ruts left by trucks and buses, the roads get really rough. I watched some local residents repairing the road out of the valley. It was a family project; able family members, even the women, used sledge hammers to break up huge rocks and fill in the pot holes. In California, we put up with pot holes, waiting for the government to fix the roads. In this part of Peru, the families seem to do what is needed to keep traffic flowing!