Huaraz is a town which will quite literally take your breath away. Situated in the Peruivan highlands, it is at an altitude of more than 3,000 feet. At this height, the clouds enrobing the surrounding mountain-tops seem very close indeed. Everywhere you turn in the town, the view is spectacular. The Cordilleras Blancas mountains rise up majestically, their snowy peaks a brilliant white in the sunlight.
The town itself is a ramshackle collection of buildings, brightly coloured facades and a whole lot of noise and movement. Taxis toot their horns almost in conversation with each other, combi ticket collectors shout from the open door of the minibus, people cram on, paying their 80 centimos and the tiny vehicle continues on its way. In the centre, travel agencies advertise their hiking trips, women in traditional Peruvian dress sit on the pavement, knitting gloves, hats and cardigans. It is often brutally hot here during the day, but at night temperatures can drop to freezing. Other vendors sell sweets and drinks, mothers carrying babies on their backs pause to chat. Local police stand at the crossings, ready to blow their whistles to allow pedestrians to cross the street. Further along, shops give way to market stalls selling traditional handcrafts or food. Ice-cream and pizza sellers offer their wares. Dogs roam the streets, some playful, some shy, others rather intimidating.
There is a sense that this is the real Peru; there are tour agencies, but it is not a town overrun with tourists. Its priveleged postion in the mountains 9 hours north of Lima means that foreigners are generally few and far between here. The sight of fair skin promotes excited cries of ´gringo!´ and English is barely spoken. However, most people are friendly and welcoming, greeting you with kindness and warmth.
Most of all, the people in Huaraz know how to live the good life. Whether that’s setting up a chair on the roof to stargaze, catching up with old friends in the Plaza de Armas or buying a pretty new trinket to add to their already elaborate costumes. It feels like a town on the brink of change, with fashion-conscious and gadget-loving young people aspiring to a Western lifestyle, but hopefully the old traditions, pre-colonial heritage and indigenous culture will survive the relentless march of modernity. The timeless and awe-inspiring landscape demands nothing less.