I’m sat writing this in a cafe, having a pleasant locally brewed beer. Earlier today I popped to the bank to get some cash out, bought a few essentials from the supermarket, microwaved some left over pizza for lunch and got some washing done.
So what’s so unusual about all that? Nothing, save from the fact that I did all this at twice the height of the highest point in the British Isles.
We are currently in the town of Huarez (pronounced Warez – blame the Spanish) in the high Andes. Why visit Huarez? Well, superficially – don’t! The town was almost completely flattened by an earthquake in 1970 and the new town that has grown up in the past 42 years resembles little more than a large slum. However, this is a slum which is sandwiched between the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negro (one may suggest a name change for the later to the Cordillera Marrón).
The result of this prime location is a hub for walkers, hikers, climbers and adventurers alike. Tours leave daily for trips into the Andes, ranging from day trips to week long treks from one side of the range to another. One can hike up to glaciers, camp beside lakes high in the Andes and trek across passes higher than most in Europe.
In the town itself, a quick scratch beneath the surface reveals a culture recognisable instantly to those who have visited outdoor centres the world over. The cafes and bars where hikers and guides meet after returning to civilisation after days in the mountains. The restaurants with guidebooks and climbing magazines to read while tucking in to your guinea pig and the countless shops selling everything from maps to crampons. There is a close knit community feel about the town, everyone sharing a common goal or ideal – to tackle the mountains as best they can, to come back safe and sound, with stories and photos of adventure.
So I guess I should get onboard, we’re off for 4 days to cross the Punta Union pass – over 15,500 ft and 45km of walking.
Oh, and Andy? He’s a really enterprising guy, seems to own half the town – Andes Cafe, Andes Restaurant, Andes Adventures, Andes Explorers, even Andes Hostel. I’m sure he’s a great guy, but he needs to work on his spelling.