Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Trip to the Central Jungle: Lima - La Merced

On Saturday we took an overnight trip to the high jungle on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Our intent was to go all the way to the town of Pichanaki, where my cousin, also named Juancho, knows a couple who own a hotel and had set a couple of rooms aside for us. Based on what we were told, we estimated the trip at around 6 hrs. to La Merced and another 45 minutes past that to Pichanaki.

The trip got off to an inauspicious start, when a patient that Juancho was to see first thing in the morning was late, putting us off schedule by a bit. Then, Juancho's daughter, Rafaela, was not ready when we intended to pick her up, causing another delay. Our intended 9 o'clock start time turned into a 10:40 departure.

We took the Central Highway up the Rimac Valley, due east from Lima, and straight up the Andes. Once on the road, however, things went smoothly, until we were up past San Mateo, where we were stopped by the highway police. That took a few minutes to sort out, but then we discovered that Juancho's car had overheated as it hadn't been adjusted to run at altitude.

We got it running, and it only required one more stop to add water and let it cool down before we reached the summit at Anticona Pass, at 15,807 feet above sea level.

At that altitude, just getting out of the car, never mind going across the roadway to take the picture, made me dizzy.

La Oroya - 12,300 feet above sea level

From there, however, it was downhill to La Oroya.

Mining camp near La Oroya (3700 meters above sea level)

La Oroya is a town and mining center in the Department of Junín, 136 miles from Lima. It is named after a basket and rope device for crossing the rivers that existed there in ancient times. In 2006 it was named as one of the most polluted places in the world due to the concentration of heavy metals in the environment from many decades of mining and smelting.

From La Oroya we turned north-east, and down to Tarma and the Chanchamayo Valley.

Tarma - 10,000 feet above sea level

Tarma is known as the "Pearl of the Andes", but is also becoming know as the "City of Flowers" because of the many varieties of flowers that are produced in the area. The area is well-known for the beauty of its countryside, specially when the fields of flowers are in bloom. Unfortunately, in both directions, we passed through in the evening. On the return, when these two photos were taken, we arrived around six o'clock, just as the bells of the cathedral were pealing to call people to Sunday evening mass.

San Ramón & La Merced - 2,460 feet above sea level

By time we reached San Ramón, the "Golden Gate to the Central Jungle," at 6 o'clock, we were all pretty tired, and frustrated by the earlier breakdowns. When we were told that we had been misinformed and we had another two hours to drive to get to Pichanaki, we decided to give up and stay around La Merced.

La Merced, with a population of around 50,000, is the capital of Junín´s Chanchamayo Province. It is on the banks of the Chanchamayo River and very much in the montane jungles of the eastern Andes. When I was a child, my parents took Danny and I on a trip to Tarma, and on a whim decided to continue to La Merced. It was February, in the middle of summer, and it was so hot that we did not stay, but took the next bus back up to Tarma. This time, it being mid-winter, it was very pleasantly warm.

We got something to eat at the main plaza, and found a hotel room back in San Ramón, at a place called the Hotel Shinampari. It was actually very nice, with a really hot shower, and a balcony overlooking the valley.

We had some beer and Inca Kola brought up to the room and sat on the balcony to enjoy the evening air. But so did the bugs, attracted by the lights, including this handsome fellow:

The next morning, awoken by a torrential downpour, we came out to the balcony, and were greeted by our firstviews of the high jungle:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent account of an excellent trip. One of the things I liked about travelling up the caraterra central was the view of the railway line that follows. Some of the twists and turns, tunnels and bridges are amazing and can only be seen properly from the road.

The big green bug that you had on your hand gave me quite a fright when I tried to take a photo of it - I didn't know it could fly!