I have always loved road trips so much, where conversations stretch over hours, where all sense of time seems suspended, where the familiar sound of tires speeding down the highway hums continuously, where you never know what you’ll discover at the next stop. Our two day trip to Huancaya and Laraos was by far the coolest road trip I can remember. The first pit stop turned into a white-water rafting excursion, barreling down the river between two sets of mountains and the houses on either side. The sun beat down and balanced out the freezing green water. It was so clear you could see all the rocks coming up ahead. The air in la sierra was so different from Lima’s humidity and pollution; it was dry and clear and smelled smoky, dusty, and a little sweet.
Through all the hours in the car that weekend, it was hard for me to peel my eyes away from the window. The color scheme was always uniform: yellow and pale green mountains, low deep-green trees, dusty unpaved roads, bright blue sky. I have never seen mountains sitting so close together and so steep and towering, at least as high as any skyscraper in NYC.
This was the weekend of Fiestas Patrias and the Peruvian independence day, 28 de julio. Every town we drove by was doing something to celebrate: playing music, red and white banners and flags everywhere, families together, eating outside, having parties, people making speeches on microphones.
The highlight for me was our stay in a small town called Laraos, tucked so far up and into the mountains it was quite difficult to get there by car. We had to get out of the van so that the driver could make it up the last stretch of hill. Even considering the separation from valleys and towns below, I was still surprised how well-preserved their lifestyle and culture are.
Our guide, Tio, walked us through his town, explaining all the traditions. Families build their own houses with plaques marked “feliz hogar,” something like “happy home” in English. It really amazed me that every single person we passed on the streets recognized that we were tourists (one way or another) and said “buenos días” with a smile or a nod.
The kids were practicing a choreographed dance at their school for the town’s Fiestas Patrias celebration the next day. Out of nowhere a line of cows ventured onto the basketball court, right in the middle of the dance. Everyone scattered and screamed and one calf slipped on his little spindly legs.
Tio told us stories about spirits he had seen in his life under the stars as we sat around a bonfire that night. I have never seen stars so bright and so innumerous. I brought the Holy Trinity of ingredients from Lima to make s’mores. He didn’t really understand why s’mores were a thing, or how to eat it, but said he liked it.
Thank you to Tio, all of Laraos, Casa Hospedaje Katita for a great stay, and Vicky for a great tour!