I hold the map up to my face, squinting at the little highlighted square, then lower it slowly, looking at the blank wall in front of me that should have been a bus station.
‘There’s nothing here.’ Sanne points out. Sanne, the third addition to our already disastrous duo, isn’t helping.
‘I know. I’ll go ask’.
I stride into the nearest shop, where a lady half my height scrutinises the map with beady eyes. She nods, and points us to the left. Obediently, we follow her directions, only to find nothing resembling a bus station, only a pavement with some fruit stalls and a matted stray dog.
‘I’ll ask again.’ I sigh.
‘Es a la derecha’. Right. Where we just came from. For some reason, we decide to listen and head back the way we came. Nothing.
Three pleas for directions later, and I’m standing in a convenience store watching three generations of a Peruvian household argue over where the hell the bus station is.
‘Oh yes, it’s the next left, then right, then it’s by the big square.’ One of the daughters tells me.
‘It’s definitely right. Then you’ll see a big shop with a sign above it: ‘bus station.’’ The man of the household asserts.
‘No you idiot they tore that down five years ago, it’s straight ahead by that café.’ A withered old lady claims, giving her son a whack on the shoulder.
I look behind me, where Myrthe and Sanne both smile expectantly, waiting for the next set of directions.
I shrug helplessly. Back outside ten minutes later, having caused a full family row at this point, we wander down the rows and rows of brightly coloured market stalls, at a loss, ready to give up.
A tiny minivan races past with a man hanging out of the door. ‘Santa Cruz?’ He yells at us.
‘Willcacocha?’ I yell back.
The van pulls over and the man leaps out, hauling us in with a broad grin. Clumsily, we make our way to the back of the van, tripping over bags of food, luggage and at least one tiny Inca lady’s top hat. Ten sets of bright brown eyes blink at us, their top hats leaning dangerously to the side as they craned their necks to get a better look. The three of us exchange glances with each other, shrug, and sit back. Who knows.
This is probably a good place to let you guys know what the hell we’re up to now. Rewind about a week, and you’d find us standing at Auckland airport, in the midst of yet another disaster. Aerolineas Argentinas had randomly changed our flight to Buenos Aires to three hours later, meaning we’d have exactly thirty minutes time to transfer to a flight from Buenos Aires to Lima. Fat chance, Myrthe thought. I was slightly more optimistic, but of course the moment we stepped on the flight we heard our departure was delayed, and I began to side with Myrthe. We’d never make it. So, 11.5 hours later, 16 hours back in time, and officially the longest 8th of January I’ve ever had to suffer through, we’d missed the flight and were stranded in Buenos Aires for the night. A three hour nap later, 6 more hours in the air, then another four hour starter nap, and a good long main course 12 hour nap afterwards, and we were ready to explore Lima. Which in all honesty was mildly underwhelming. So much so that after picking up Sanne from the airport and letting her get over her jet lag, we decided to get the hell out. And that brings us just about to where we are now, seven hours north of Lima, in the tiny mountain town of Huaraz, sitting in a tiny van hurtling along the lower ridges of the Cordilleras Blancas.
What must have been a mere 10 minutes after we first got in the van, we were lobbed back out again. The driver pointed to a bridge, and we accepted that as all the directions we needed. After all, how hard can it be to climb a mountain?
Very, as it turns out.
First of all, we are three (mostly) Dutch idiots, used to the terrifying altitude of 0m above sea level, and a country that takes pride in its one 100m hill, which is man made. Not a mountain climbing race, the Dutch. Turns out climbing a mountain that’s 3800 metres high whilst not accustomed to the height is a sure recipe for headaches and spontaneous asthma. Lesson learnt.
Secondly, the path up was marked by little blue arrows, as we found out twenty minutes into the hike, but it was a mission in itself to find the little bastards. They were dispersed every hundred meters or so, and in the weirdest of places. Painted on trees, on rocks, on the road, on fallen boulders, on walls, on houses… and even then, it was mostly luck, diversions and unimpressed Inca farmers that ensured we eventually found the way up.
Finally, we were being chased by a bitch of a storm. As we stumbled up, dark clouds rolled after us, accompanied by bright flashes of lightning and angry roars of thunder. Somehow though, luck happened to be on our side and we were only hit by the rain as we were waiting for the bus back. Thank god, otherwise Myrthe wouldn’t have been able to take these shots of our view.
The next day we decide to go horse riding in the mountains. Surely that couldn’t go wrong. Cheap, easy, fun. Right?
We booked with Bruno Mars the Second, our hostel receptionist, who glanced at his watch and informed us we had 5 minutes to get ready. We rushed to get everything together: sunblock, water, shoes, jumpers, Yep, that should be everything.
Bruno then took us for a walk for some reason, and then once more we were shoved into a tiny bus and told to get out somewhere random. And somewhere random it was, at the side of a road in the middle of nowhere. But a couple of horses stood waiting not far off, so it made sense, or so we thought. A boy missing a couple of teeth nodded his head at us.
‘Are you here to do horseriding?’ He yelled.
‘Cool.’ He answered, and didn’t move. We approached him slowly.
‘Um. So. These are your horses?’
‘Yes.’ Still he didn’t move.
‘Are we going to ride them?’
He laughed, as if it was the funniest thing in the world. ‘No.’
‘Where do we…’
‘The lady is waiting for you over there.’ He pointed, raising his eyebrows as if it was strange that we hadn’t known that all along.
We looked, and tiny Inca lady waved at us from the distance, her top hat about five sizes too small and perched lopsided on her grey hair. Shrugging, we followed her. Sure enough, she led us to a little yard, where four horses stood grazing lazily. She beckoned Sanne (or rather, ’la mas grande’) over and put her on the horse. No helmet, no instructions, no nada. She then did the same to Myrthe and I, and soon we were all on horseback, confused into silence.
Little did we know we’d just mounted the most useless beasts to have ever walked this earth. They were like three sleepy toddlers pushed into doing something they refused to do. Mine refused to stay behind everyone else, but once out in front, refused to move. In addition, it was terrified of donkeys, dogs, other horses, oddly coloured rocks and puddles. Sanne’s tripped the whole way up and down the mountain on clumsy hooves, and had a particular affinity for nibbling on other horses. And Myrthe’s… well Myrthe’s refused to do anything at all apart from plod along sulkily at the back. Oh well. At least they kept us laughing, and besides, the views weren’t bad. See for yourself.
Until next time folks,