The city of Caraz sits in a valley at 7,500ft, just below some of the highest peaks in Peru. It’s a quiet town where I haven’t seen any gringos and doesn’t seem to be on the tourist map as much as Huaraz to the south.
I drove around the main plaza to ask the nearby hostals about accommodation. I finally found Oasis Hostal just off the main plaza. They brought out a small ramp so I could get my motorcycle in the alleyway. 20 soles for my own room, parking, and wifi.
I was in need of doing laundry and fortunately the Hostal had a washing machine. I soaked my riding pants as they were covered in dirt from the previous two weeks of dirt roads. They only charged me 1 sole for detergent (45 cents)
With my laundry done I checked out the town. I really enjoyed the local museum. I was the only one there and the employee gave me a guided tour. They have several mummies on display, including one of the smallest mummies ever found, a premature baby. Interesting history in the area. Before leaving I was given local maps to the national park and other sites including Laguna Parón.
Recently I was reading a fellow moto-travelers blog Two Moto Kiwis and saw a photo they took while visiting Lake Parón just outside Caraz. I had to get up there. The next morning I headed out of town to go camp by the lake. Two minutes after leaving the central plaza I was already on a dirt road making my way up to Parque Nacional Huascaran and Laguna Parón.
The road climbs up from the valley passing the farms and small clusters of homes along the road. Hearing there was a village before the national park I decided I would buy food and water for my overnight camping trip there. When I reached the largest cluster of homes I asked if this was the village of Parón, it was. The only food they had for sale was in a small tienda. The lady had to go get the key to open it. No water, only soda and juice for sale and not many options for food. Animal crackers, saltines, and pasta. Well that will have to do.
After the village there is a small gate for the national park. Using logs and large rocks they made a toll gate to let vehicles pass. Entrance was 5 soles. I told them I’d be camping and leaving in the morning. The road from there on turns to rock and is far from a smooth ride. I quickly picked up elevation as I rode the switchbacks higher and higher. Passing by waterfalls on the distant cliffs I kept anticipating the moment I would arrive at the top and see the shimmering blue lake.
90 minutes after leaving town I reached the end of the road. From the grassy area I looked down on the large lake. Teal in color the lake stood out from the dry brown earth that surrounded it.
I hiked down to the lake and then followed the trail around it, taking photos along the way. The clouds were hiding the snow capped peaks around the lake and the sky was mostly gray. Not the picture I had envisioned but it was still beautiful.
I hiked back to the caretakers building where I parked and I met Julio, the lone caretaker of Laguna Parón. He offered me local tea and we chatted for the afternoon. I told him I wanted to camp by the lake and he said that was a bad idea. The slopes of the surrounding mountains are always letting large boulders slip away crashing down to the flat area I wanted to camp in. Besides he said, “it’s going to rain later. Best to set your tent here under the awning of the building”. Once again it wasn’t the picturesque camping spot I had imagined when planing this but, Julio had been here for a while and probably knew best. I set my tent up on the grass by the building and just as I finished it started raining. Well maybe Julio was right. I moved my tent to under the awning.
A short while later I watched as the clouds started to thin out. First I saw blue sky near the peaks and within minutes the magnificent snowy peaks were clear. What a view! Julio said I was lucky. It’s rainy season here in the mountains and it’s rare it clears up like this. I went shutter happy for the next 45 minutes.
And then just as quickly as it cleared, the clouds and fog came rolling in. With the sun going down I went in and hung out with Julio. I made hot chocolate that I had in my bag and we listened to his battery powered radio playing the hottest local Peruvian tunes. When the hot coco was finished Julio asked if I would like dinner. I was ready to cook up my plain pasta and saltines but I won’t ever turn down food when it’s offered (most foods). Julio brought me a large bowl of hot soup and a plate with a baked potato. With sun almost down the temperature dropped and I was thankful for the hot soup.
Julio is 63 and still works 6 days a week up here at the park. He only gets Saturday night and Sunday off. He walks 2hrs from his pueblo (where I bought my food). He has six or eight kids and about 11 grandchildren. He asked about me and my family. He wondered if I had left a wife at home to do such a trip. I told him no and he said “ahh you are soltaro like my youngest son, but he is 21, not 30” Si, yo soy soltaro.
The sun was gone and when I walked outside I was surrounded by fog. Julio turned off the radio and said goodnight. Shivering in the cold darkness at 13,681 ft I climbed into my tent and tried to write about my day but my fingers were too cold. Inside my sleeping bag I was nice and warm though. I pulled the mummy bag over my head, leaving only my eyes to face the cold night exposed. With the satisfaction of seeing Laguna Parón as beautiful as it was and the joy from being treated so kindly by a stranger, I didn’t need anything else from the day; I closed my eyes hoping my sleeping bag would keep me warm throughout the cold Andean night.