A long but spectacular bus trip to Chavin

I relied on advice from Guilf today as to what I should do. As I had done the walk to Wilcococha yesterday and still wanted to acclimatise to the altitude before going to Laguna 69, he suggested I go on a bus tour to Chavin today. It was a place I had wanted to visit so I agreed and rushed to get ready to join the tour from town (for which I was already late!).

Maruja took me to the office in a collectivo taxi, from where I was to be picked up. An American/Mexican girl was also waiting. Luckily, they were operating on Peruvian time so I wasn’t late after all. Someone eventually collected us and we joined the already almost full bus of Peruvian tourists. But, who else should be there but the Frenchman from Truijillo that I was hoping to avoid! There followed a bit of a mix up with seats because I didn’t understand what he said in Spanish, which he insisted on speaking to me. Consequently, we both ended up in two very uncomfortable back row seats. If he had explained properly (i.e. in English, which he could speak), I would have sat next to the American girl, he could have remained where he was, we would both have had comfortable seats and wouldn’t have had to put up with each other for three hours each way. However, that was not to be!

Laguna Querococha
Laguna Querococha

The trip to Chavin was extremely long. We headed in the direction of Wilcococha and turned off at Catac, a very small town with a lot of roadworks, and headed for Lake Querococha and the tunnel through the mountains to the Chavin side. We stopped at the lake where the Peruvians were all very keen to take pictures of themselves (which was a feature of the day) and where it was extremely cold with an icy wind. However, the beautiful view made up for it.

Peruvians taking photos at Laguna Querococha
Peruvians taking photos at Laguna Querococha

We passed through some very dramatic scenery as we climbed steadily upwards towards the tunnel through to Chavin. The lake itself was at 3,900 metres and the pass, I think, about 4,500 metres. As soon as we had gone through the tunnel, which wasn’t particularly long, it was down hill all the way. When we emerged, we were greeted by a giant statue of Christ, looking a little incongruous in the countryside. Naturally, many photographs were taken by the Catholic Peruvians.

The trip down the zig zaggy road was all unsealed and exceptionally bumpy, this being more pronounced in the back seat. The scenery continued to be extraordinary, the guide continued talking in Spanish, little of which I could hear or understand, and the Frenchman had almost, but not quite, given up conversation. If I had had a comfortable seat, it would have been perfect (and the Frenchman was probably thinking the same thing!).

The archaelogical site at Chavin
The archaelogical site at Chavin
The lawn mowers of Chavin
The lawn mowers of Chavin

We eventually arrived at the archaeological site at about 1.30pm and were given a guided tour, in Spanish, of course. This is an important site built by the Chavins, originally, between 200 and 700 BC, but other people had constructed on the same site in ensuing years, prior to the arrival of the Incas.

The large temple was probably used for ceremonies, for which people from all around the area gathered, and sacrifices, with sacrificial objects being stored in the tunnels underneath. However, I had also read that people, who were going to be sacrificed, were tortured here by the priests beforehand using the sounds of conch shells and running water, which echoed around the chambers. In addition, the Chavins had created an extraordinary water drainage system beneath the temple.

Part of the overgrown drainage system at Chavin
Part of the overgrown drainage system at Chavin

One of the principal finds at the site was an obelisk, which is now displayed in the museum, as well as many carved heads that have a combination of human and feline features said to represent the transition between human and cat forms. These are also housed in the museum. The site itself is remarkably overgrown and unkempt (the llamas are not eating enough grass!), which was surprising to me, given its importance.

On completion of the tour, we were driven through Chavin and out to a restaurant in the direction of the museum. The American girl and I decided it was too expensive and walked back to the plaza in search of somewhere cheaper. Whilst he didn’t want to eat, the Frenchman joined us and we eventually found a cafe that had a 5 soles ($2) menu, which was far more reasonable than the restaurant with its 20 soles main courses. The street it was in was full of food stalls but we didn’t really have time to look as we were expected back at the other restaurant within the hour. The Frenchman had gone to take photos and it was nice to chat to the American (whose name I never knew), who is a Spanish High school teacher in her mid twenties, from Houston, who had been travelling for several months.

The Temple at Chavin
The Temple at Chavin
Plaza de Armas in Chavin
Plaza de Armas in Chavin

We were late returning to the restaurant, as it was quite a walk, and the bus had left without us, which didn’t exactly impress us, given that we had had to wait some time for some Peruvians at the archaeological site and we weren’t that late. However, it wasn’t too far to walk to the museum and, when we caught up with the group, we had already looked at most of the museum by ourselves, which was far more pleasant than listening to the tour guide.

We left Chavin at about 4.30pm for the long drive home. It was a shame we didn’t have more time in the town as it was very attractive with many local ladies dressed in their traditional costume. We arrived back in Huaraz at about 7pm and I, for one, was very relieved to get back. It had been a very long trip for such a short time at the destination but the scenery was certainly spectacular with interesting rock formations and unbelievable green and cultivated land on the steep slopes around Chavin.

I bought a couple of avocados and some bread, said goodbye to the Frenchman and the American girl and got a taxi back. The second driver I asked actually understood what I said and knew the Casa, so it wasn’t too hard. I’ve given up on trying to get the collectivos as it is difficult to find the right one in the dark. The rest of the evening was spent recuperating in my room.

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