Inspirations from Wilder Places

After our time in La Union de Ocumal living in a rural agricultural community, we started to make our way south in Peru. We had hopes of finding places to connect more deeply in the natural world.  Huanchaco on the coast and Huaraz in the mountains were inspiring for me. I have a strong connection to the coastal environment and I felt I needed a recharge of ocean energy! In both of these places, we encountered people who are working towards stewarding traditions and conserving the environment.

Huanchaco is about 8 hours north of Lima in the northern coastal area which is mostly desert with sand dunes. The ocean at Huanchaco is cold! But I still loved getting in the water and playing in the waves. It rejuvenated and refreshed me. The coast of Peru is affected by the Humboldt current, a cold water current coming up from Antarctica. This current causes upwelling of deeper nutrient waters, which make the waters offshore of Peru highly productive and home to a diverse and large number of marine birds, mammals and fish. It felt like coming home to be at the coast again. The feeling of expansiveness of the long stretch of beach and ocean horizon brought me joy.

Huanchaco is known for “Caballitos de tortora” (little reed horses), reed boats that local fishermen use to paddle through the surf. These fisherman are preserving a 2,000 year old tradition by continuing to build and fish from these boats. They go  about a mile or more out to sea and catch smaller fish that have little or no commercial value. They sell them on the beach or at the local market. There are only about 30 fisherman left carrying on with this style of fishing and few of their children are following in their footsteps. Unfortunately, it seems to be a dying art.

Long beach walks and jogs allowed me to see the reed beds where the fisherman grow and dry reeds for the boats which were also great birdwatching spots. I also discovered a huge sea lion carcass and a dolphin as well, hinting at the wildlife calling this stretch of ocean home. The big floods the month prior had brought a lot of debris to the beach and so much of it was plastic.

After our dose of salt and sand, we headed back into the Andes to the city of Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca, a stunning mountain range of glaciated peaks of up to 6,768 meters high. Huascaran National Park protects this wild and scenic area. I hiked higher than I’ve ever been before up to 14,600 feet!

We treated ourselves to a stay at a mountain lodge, Lazy Dog Inn,, perched at around 12,000 feet, just outside the park boundary. It was an inspiring visit in many ways.  The feeling of peace and respite there was lovely after spending 4 days in the city of Huaraz. Diana and Wayne, the owners of Lazy Dog are originally from Calgary, Alberta. They have realized an incredible vision of sustainability working with the community and in building their eco-lodge. They created a community center that offers pre-school programs and other enrichment programs for the locals.

I was able to focus in on learning about the birds and wildflowers of the area while exploring the various trails up the “quebradas” (valleys). I had the help of a fantastic little book that I discovered at the lodge: Wildflowers of the Cordillera Blanca by Helen and Kees Kolff, a couple we know from Port Townsend! I knew they had lived in Peru but didn’t realize it was in Huaraz area. The book was a partnership with the Mountain Institute,, an NGO with programs that promote natural resource conservation, sustainable economic development, climate change adaptation and resilience and cultural preservation. Helen and Kees spent a year on the project and interviewed many indigenous people to gather ethnobotanical information on the plants. Many of the common names of the plants are in Quechua which is spoken in many rural mountain communities.

The flowers above from in clockwise direction: 1. Andean Lupine. Uses: has an edible bean called chocho.  2. Hypericum laricifolium: Chinchayo or Tsintsoncu. Uses: Yellow dye for cotton or wool, treatment for warts. 3.  Oreocallis grandiflora: Tsacpa or Saltaperico Uses: branches for baskets or worn in hair to indicate a woman is single. 4. Barnadesia dombeyana: Qontsicasha or Anquillo Uses: construction of roofs on adobe house, creating a lattice on which tiles are placed.

I loved getting to delve into the botany and cultural uses of plants.  I had a good amount of time in solitude on these hikes which really allowed the deeper connection in nature I was hoping for.

While in Hauraz, we had a fun visit with Ted Alexander, co-owner with his wife Jen, of Sierra Andina brewing,, and Skyline Adventures  Our friends Kelley Watson and Gary Perless from Port Townsend both worked with them in Chile for Outward Bound. Ted and Jen also have a restaurant that features their micro-brews and organic farm grown food.  I am so impressed with the accomplishments in sustainable business and tourism they have created. They partner in many ways with the local community and in conservation of the area.

I can’t believe it’s the middle of May already! We’ve been busy enjoying and experiencing other parts of Peru since Huanchaco and Huaraz including one more visit to the coast to an amazing coastal reserve where I saw Humboldt Penguins. Yippee! While I was on the coast at Paracas, Jason stayed in Huascaran National Park and did a camping and painting trip. Here is his account: Semana Solo- Solo Week, check it out, he had a wonderful week.  I hope to get another post out soon about my time in Paracas and our latest adventure into the Amazon Basin. I’m headed to Machu Picchu next and the Sacred Valley. Then it’s onward to Bolivia!










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