Huancayo's ugly. There's no way to sugercoat it. The plazas are grim, the architecture lacks creativity, and the streets stink of pollution. Odds are the Inca Empire will be rebuilt before trees and flowers ever bloom here. It is a paradise of cement and dirt, engulfed by juice bars, chifas, cheap clothing markets, and dog poop. The cacophony of honking cars never ceases, a persistence rivaled only by the relentlessness of the local shoeshine mafia.
Don't get me wrong though, that's just the exterior. The people are as friendly as anywhere. You can find everything you need within a few blocks. The food is authentic and the nightlife is pumping. Huancayo is a great place to live but prolly not to bask. Nothing to feel ashamed of but nothing to boast either. It's a typical city and I guess that's my only problem with it. I miss the dudes holding massive lizards, the old ladies taking their llamas out for walks, and the six year olds smoking cigarettes on the corner. But maybe I'm just too used to all the little quirks by now...save some imaginative hotels and interesting special import shops.
Fortunately, the blandness of Huancayo is contrasted with the brilliance of the surrounding Mantaro Valley. Green hills, festival after festival, and every town professing its own claim to fame. With each location only about a half hour bus ride away, I try to explore as many as possible during my free afternoons. Here's some reviews on places I've already visited.
Besides having a superb name, I also work in Chupaca everyday so I am partially biased to this town. However, I didn't think I'd be coming on a Saturday morning until my host family told me they were having a huge animal sale there. Sounded interesting and I was on the next bus over.
You couldn't really tell who was a buyer and who was a seller. And actually, if it weren't for the numerous bulls, cows, sheep, donkeys, and such wandering around, you'd think you were just at some outdoor keg party. Everyone was pretty much standing in circles passing around a bottle of beer and making fun of their wives.
And then I walk past causing the farmers to do double takes. After a bit of arm-twisting, I'm suddenly part of the drinking circle. Soon I have them convinced Bruce Lee is my uncle. But crap, I cannot keep up with these guys and by 11am, I'm hammered. At that point, I honestly tried to buy one of their bulls but it was just too damn expensive (about $750). The picture below depicts my desperate offer to teach them all kung-fu in exchange for the animal. Close, but I went home empty-handed with the exception of some severe beer farts. Rating: A
One of the unique arts in the Mantaro Valley is the mate burilado - carved gourds that illustrate traditional stories and Peruvian themes. Sounds retarted but it's actually pretty cool...and very damn impressive. At 9am, grandpa, grandma, and the whole family were etching, engraving, and burning away. Nothing's painted, the colours come from heat. And every fifth house in the small village is doing the exact same thing...hundreds of original pieces...which only made me wonder who buys them all and how the hell can they all afford to make a living through this.
The artists get really attached to their work too. One of the old dudes we met spent an eternity talking about his gourd depicting the story of the Prodigal Son. Holy shit he wouldn't shut up. I think he even tired himself out because he couldn't keep his eyes open during this photo. Rating: B+
Awesome views atop Cajas. Once a year, there is a festival which involves a troupe running up the hill, yanking out the cross, affixing it to one guy's back, descending triumphantly into town, marching around the plaza, and then going back up to return the cross to its original spot. All the while an entourage band eggs on the carrier and the rest of the troupe dances and whips him. Sounds pretty cool. Then again, part of me thinks Julio (pictured) totally made all of this up. Rating: B
A town renowned for its gold and silver jewelery. This nice old lady taught me how it was done even though I had no interest at all. I just wanted to get some gifts and get the hell out of there. Rating: D-
Poor alpacas and llamas never stood a chance with the weaving madness that goes on in this town. I blew through here like a hurricane and probably sheared a full alpaca with the amount of hats, scarfs, and tapestries I bought. I had no choice...the wool is as soft as my butt. Rating: B
Laguna Long Name I Can Never Remember
You can take a small rowboat named Titanic across this lake. Just letting you know. Rating: C+
Ate a lot of fresh trout and pachamanca (bbq and veggies cooked underground). Was too busy eating to take photos or notice what else was going on in town. Therefore...Rating: A
Sandstone towers just a touch outside the city. Almost slipped off one of the edges. What's new? Rating: B
Just a few weeks left and whereas some days I'm excited to return, others I still feel there's a million things left for me to do here. I spend a lot of time wandering about. My mind seems to wander even more.