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Guinea pig was the main dish at Lake Llanganuco in Peru

Posted Jun 03 2009 12:23am
Juan Albino, our taxi driver from Huaraz to Llanganuco in the Andes. (The previous post is about our family's stay in Huaraz. )

"How much farther is it?" someone whimpered. Our rear ends were aching, jammed into another Peruvian taxi - older cars that have lost most of their seat padding and shock absorbers. But the views out the window soon distracted us from our discomfort. Our jaunt through the Andes in the taxi, from Huaraz to Llanganuco Lodge, was so scenic I was soon beside myself. I exclaimed on and on about the sights like I'd had way too much coffee - sometimes to the annoyance of my fellow passengers. The taxi bounced across luscious green and brown slopes, past occasional adobe homes with plots of potatoes or corn, past sheer rock cliffs. Quechua women in brilliant clothing sauntered along the narrow curving road, or worked the vegetable gardens with their husbands. Beyond the slopes were snowy peaks, among the world's highest. I tried to memorize the whole thing: the landscape and the thrill, for me, of being in Peru instead of behind my desk at work. It was worth 10 months of slogging at the job for a couple of weeks of this. Compared to Europe or the U.S., Peru is a pretty economical destination. Our travel agent in Iquitos, Rosa Vasquez Zanetti, turned us on to some great Peruvian places with great Peruvian prices.















Andean peaks: Huandoy (above) and Huascarán (right) loomed ahead as we hurtled up the mountain in Juan's taxi. Huascarán is the world's highest tropical peak, at 22,205 feet. (These two photos by Alan Kneidel.)


We passed through the market in the Andean town of Yungay

As we jostled along in the taxi, we were intrigued to find that our driver Juan's first language was Quechua. We begged him to teach us some words and he complied. Hello is yameyocko, he said. Yes is ohmee. No is mana. Mother is mama, oddly. At least I'll remember that one. Juan even told us how to say "Can I take your picture?" - Oto hotootah tomarishkekee - one of my necessary phrases in Peru.

Our driver Juan with my family - Ken, Alan and Sadie - at a quick stop to look at a gold mine

After two and half hours, we pulled into Llanganuco Lodge at the end of Huandoy Valley. Charlie Good, the British owner of the lodge, welcomed us with his beloved pooch, Shackleton. The rooms were nice - hot water from a tankless gas heater, and duvets on each bed. At 11,500 feet, the nights are chilly. Charlie is a young economist from London who gave up the rat race to pursue his dream, and he's doing a good job of it. He offers gear for climbing and rappelling, and he's created a bunch of hiking trails around the lodge, one to a glacier, and some that provide views of soaring Andean Condors (click here to see on youtube). We saw a lot of birds at Llanganuco, including the Giant Conebill, Giant Hummingbird, Great Thrush, Puna Ibis, and Andean Goose. I'll give more details about birding near Charlie's Llanganuco Lodge in a later post. Charlie is also involved in the challenges facing the local Quechua farmers. He wrote a great piece about the threats to the Quechuan rural culture that appeared in a Huaraz magazine. I'll reprint that piece in a later post too.

The two pics below: Llanganuco Lodge, and our room's view of Huascarán


































Pic below: a small lake we hiked around, right next to the lodge
































Birding near the lodge: l to r, Charlie (lodge owner) with Alan and Sadie

Higher and higher:
Huascarán National Park

and Lake Llanganuco

We'd started taking Diamox the day before we left Lima for the Andes. It's the most popular medicine for treating and preventing altitude sickness. It works by making you breathe faster, which compensates for the reduced oxygen in the higher air. My brothers had used it on hikes in Colorado and they said it worked. The day after we arrived at Llanganuco Lodge, we called a taxi from Yungay to come get us and take us to Lake Llanganuco, a very big lake in Huascarán National Park. It was a walkable distance from the lodge to the lake, but involved a 1000 ft rise in altitude - too much exertion for the first day at 12,500 feet, even with the Diamox. We planned to walk back from the lake to the lodge instead, which would be all downhill.

The day at Lake Llanganuco was one of the happiest days of my entire life. I know I said something similar about Huaraz, but here it is again. This day was even better. On the way up to the lake, in the taxi, we had to stop at the park office to pay an entry fee, and we spotted a Quechuan family who had a food-stand outside the office. They were selling whole baked potatoes and baked corn from their garden. We bought a couple of hot potatoes to munch on, and they let me take their pictures.

Below: dad and mom, then daughter and mom - selling baked potatoes & corn at the park office

































We soon arrived at charming Lake Llanganuco (below), surrounded by snowy peaks. The rock face on the right side of the photo was covered with bromeliads of the genus Puya, which grow only under harsh conditions such as high altitudes or deserts. Photo of lake by Alan Kneidel. (If you click on any picture, the picture enlarges.)















But even more interesting than the lake, to me, were two groups of local Quechuan women who had set up shop under the two shelters in the picnic area next to the lake. Yay!! I was so excited. Now was my chance to get to really talk to some Andean people and take some pics, if they'd let me. And if they spoke Spanish. They did. The first group was cooking lunch to sell to hikers and lake visitors. The selection: roasted or fried guinea pig, crunchy corn kernels cooked in oil, similar to corn nuts but a lot better, potatoes, corn on the cob, greens, tomatoes, and fried unleavened bread that was so good it made me giddy.

Below: guinea pig cooking over the fire, and guinea pig on the plate ("cuy picante," a traditional Peruvian dish)










































One of several women sharing a fire to cook guinea pig, etc.






I did my best to engage the guinea-pig-roasters in conversation, but they were busy cooking and tending a small child who was unhappy with the smoke in his eyes. I tried to amuse the child so the women could work, but he was afraid of me with my light hair and freckled face. So I gave up on that. I decided to try my luck with the second group of women, who were selling woven hats and scarves and gloves. They too had a fire going, but it was only to heat water for the mate de coca tea they were selling, made of brewed coca leaves - a tradition in the Andes since Inca days. They weren't nearly as busy as the women who were cooking, and they had no children to distract them. I was in luck. I made friends right away with Maria, a jovial Quechua woman who tried to get me to buy a hat, and modeled an assortment of hats to win me over.


















First hat above, second hat right. Maria looked lovely in both. I only wish I had her address to send her prints.








After the hat modeling, I had to buy a cup of hot tea from the gals, and a bag of leaves for later tea-making. (I was interested to learn that coca leaves alone have no excitatory or intoxicating properties. But they do have a lot of medicinal properties.) I then proposed some general photo-taking of whoever was interested. All six of the women selling hats jumped up, peeled off their fleeces and comfy clothes, and put on their Quechuan finery. About that time Sadie wandered up from her trek around the lake, and joined in the fun. She too had to have a cup of tea, and procure a bag of tea leaves for later. Sadie was a good addition to such a gathering because her Spanish is flawless and her social skills are better than mine too. We were hummin' along.

Photo below: Tucking in the finery for a pose.











When Sadie ambled away to prepare for our upcoming hike, the women waved goodbye like old friends (below).
We ate some lunch (yes, some of our family tried the guinea pig) then took off down the trail through Huascarán National Park back to Llanganuco Lodge. We hiked through a forest of red Polylepis trees, which are endemic to high altitudes in the Andes. Polylepis forests are disappearing, we learned, because of population growth and increasing demands on the land.

Below, four photos of thePolylepisforest by Alan Kneidel. In the second photo, a Giant Conebill forages on the tree trunk.




























In this picture, Puya bromeliads are visible on the Polylepis trees.





The trail followed the stream that ran through the forest between these cliffs.



Hiking through the red trees between monstrous cliffs was fun, but I'm not sure we were quite ready for the altitude factor. The trail was covered with rocks in places and was hard to walk on. As I discovered later, one symptom of altitude sickness is "loss of coordination" and I may have had that affliction, because I had to go at a snail's pace to keep from breaking my leg. Another symptom is fatigue, and I was definitely experiencing that. By the time we made it back down to the park office where I'd photographed the food vendors, I was completely exhausted. But we pressed on. We met some boys on a dirt road with their llama, and that seemed to revive me.
Just before dark, we made it back to Llanganuco Lodge. I popped another Diamox and got ready for our gourmet dinner, cooked by Tito, a friendly local guy who whipped up the meals at the lodge. I was ready that night for our free shot of pisco. However, one of us who hadn't taken any Diamox that day missed dinner and instead spent the evening hours hugging the toilet bowl. Luckily Llanganuco Lodge has great toilets. Was it altitude sickness? I don't know...nausea is one of the first symptoms. Or maybe it was the guinea pig, which wasn't really entirely cooked. At any rate, it wasn't our first date with johnny on the trip. In the Amazon, we'd had several days of erupting from either end, or both.

No matter, after a couple more days of hiking and birding around the picturesque Llanganuco Lodge area, we were telling Charlie goodbye and heading back to Lima for the final leg of our Peru blast...the desert coast along the Pacific. Specifically, we were off to bird the Reserva Nacional de Paracas and Islas Ballestas.

Photos and text by Sally Kneidel, except nine photos by Alan Kneidel as noted above

Click here for great photos of a birding trip to Huascarán National Park by Jeff Pippen of Duke University (not related to our trip, other than the destination, and the fact that we're all from N.C.)

Keywords:: Peru cuy picante Alan Kneidel Huascaran Huandoy Llanganuco Lodge Lake Llanganuco Andes Quechua guinea pig Andean Condor birding in the Andes Polylepis Puya pisco Diamox altitude sickness Giant Conebill Sally Kneidel adventure travel birding trip
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