After returning from the Santa Cruz trek and resting up in Huaraz, we decided to spend a few days exploring the Ishinca Valley, located in Huascarán National Park. A nice bonus of choosing this valley was that it was supposed to be much easier to access - only an hour or so out of Huaraz by public transport, compared to 3+ hours for many other hikes.
In the end, we weren't able to get on the direct bus, and instead we took two taxis, one of them being a shared Toyota Corolla station wagon, with a total of 11 passengers plus assorted luggage! I think this was definitely our most crowded transportation to date.
Once up in the mountain village, the walk to the trailhead was very beautiful, and we passed through several small farms as we climbed our way up through fields to where the roads ended and the national park began.
The hike up was fairly gentle, with some steep, sunny sections at the beginning, but then it changed to a peaceful, undulating trail through the woods. We took a brunch break in a beautiful meadow to cook up some scrambled eggs and coffee, as we had only had a light breakfast before setting off.
As we continued down the trail through the woods, eventually the vegetation thinned out and we found ourselves amongst some truly incredible scenery. The valley bottom sloped gently upwards, eventually coming to a halt below the giant bulk of the largest peak in the area, Tocllaraju. Although we had opted to camp, there was also a cozy refugio with bunkbeds and meals available for very reasonable prices.
The area is a mecca for climbers, so while we didn't have the valley to ourselves, it was interesting to hear about some of their expeditions to summit the surrounding peaks, and the valley floor at 4,350m was certainly large enough for everyone to spread out and find their own quiet area to camp.
We had decided to camp two nights in the valley, and so on our second day, after having a relaxing morning drinking (instant) coffee and reading on sun-warmed boulders, we decided to hike up to the Vivaque Longoni. The vivaque is a simple climbers' refuge located beside the turquoise Laguna Ishinca at 5000m, which is often used by climbers on their way to summit the nearby peaks.
The hike up provided spectacular vistas, and was quite steep as we ascended almost 700m over a few short kilometres. We passed through beautiful wildflowers, strange flowering cacti, and even alongside herds of grazing cows.
It was all worth it once we got to the lake! The landscape was stark and rocky, but the contrast of the bright turquoise waters of Laguna Ishinca was incredible to see. We peered into the climbers' refuge, but as it was locked up tight we continued up to a rocky ridge overlooking the lake for a snack break. As we relaxed under blue skies, the weather changed quite quickly and ominous-looking clouds moved in. We could see a party of climbers on their way up in an attempt to summit Nevado Ishinca, but they saw the same clouds we did and wisely choose to turn around without making it to the top
The skies had cleared over Tocllaraju by the time we got back down to camp, where at 700m lower, it was also much warmer. We were treated to an incredible sunset and unreal views of Tocllaraju in the setting sun. The pyramid was fully clear and visible, and it was an amazing sight to see. Everyone in the valley seemed to have paused what they were doing to find a spot to gaze at and photograph the mountain in the fading light.
The next morning was also bright and sunny, and we thoroughly enjoyed the hike back. We were able to choose a different trail about 3/4 of the way down, so we ended up in a different town than where we started. It was quite a sleepy place, and although we asked everyone we saw, we weren't able to get a ride back down to the highway. Following their recommendations, we continued hiking down to a crossroads, where it was said to be more likely that we could find a spot in a vehicle. We found ourselves waiting alongside a nurse who was heading to work, and a young woman with a sack of live chickens that she had purchased from local farmers and would then sell for a higher price in town.
Eventually a taxi came down the hill and some friendly Czech climbers invited us in with them. We ended up taking the taxi all the way back to Huaraz, and I think it was the first time our taxi driver had driven in the city! I suppose he normally just shuttled people between villages, as he drove incredibly slowly on the highway (an absolute rarity in Perú), and once we got to Huaraz, was nervously gripping the wheel with white knuckles and creeping along in the busy traffic at dangerously slow speeds, looking up and down every side street in a vain search for the hostel that the Czechs had requested. Luckily they were able to get directions on their phone and direct the driver, and we opted to get out at the same spot instead of having the poor guy struggle any further!
As we were in and out of Huaraz over a period of three weeks, we ended up staying in a couple of different places and sampling a LOT of food in town. There were great set-menu lunch specials to be found all around, and you could get an appetizer, entrée, juice and sometimes dessert for only a few dollars.
The first hostel we stayed at gave us wristbands that provided discounts at restaurants around town, and one of the places that we went to because of this was La Brasa Roja, a vast, upscale-looking rotisserie chicken joint. They served the most amazing chicken, and for $4, you could have a giant chicken breast, potatoes, salad and five dipping sauces(!), and with our hostel wristbands, we also received a free pisco sour each time we went there - I think we ended up there on four or five separate evenings!
One more thing that we had to take care of in Huaraz was getting Yellow Fever vaccinations. Our (unhelpful) travel clinic in Vancouver had suggested that it wasn't really necessary for South America, and because the shots were very expensive, around $175 each, we agreed to skip them. Turns out that we did need the shots to meet entry requirements in both Bolivia and Colombia, but for Bolivia we lucked out and they didn't check for the certificate at the border. However, since we were going to be flying into Colombia, we realized that we better figure out how to get the shots, and we needed to get them at least ten days before flying in order for the vaccination to be valid. The very last thing that we wanted was to be turned away at the airport and lose the money we invested in our flight from Lima-Bogotá.
So, we spent an entire morning visiting the various hospitals and clinics around Huaraz, desperately hoping that we weren't going to have to make a 18-hour roundtrip journey to Lima and back (the only place guaranteed to offer the vaccine). We had some luck at the Huaraz public hospital, as they informed us that they run an infant vaccination clinic from 8AM-9AM on Saturday mornings, and that they had a certain number of vaccines available for each clinic. If we were lucky and they had Yellow Fever vaccines left over after the clinic hour, then we would be able to get them. The following Saturday, we arrived at the hospital early, with fingers crossed that it wouldn't be a busy morning at the clinic. We ended up being very lucky and were able to get the shots - which were free! - for only $2 each that went towards hospital paperwork.