Chaos, Tranquility and a Slight Hangover in Yungay, Peru

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Katy Stewart is moved by Yungay, Peru, a place she didn’t think she wanted to go during her extended visit to South America

I really, really did not want to go to Yungay.

It was the morning after the night before, or more precisely, as I had been out celebrating my birthday the night before, it was a mere few hours after I had gone to bed.

[pullquote]A couple of hours later, after a stomach-churning journey along pothole-ridden roads, the combi (a rickety minivan) shuddered to a halt and we emerged, blinking in the bright sunshine and began to explore  Camposantos and Yungay. [/pullquote]Still, a new Peruvian friend, Jessica, was coming especially to take us to this small town in the Cordilleras Blancas mountains, so at 9am, I was up, paracetamol in hand, ready to go. My other friends, Chris and Jessie, didn’t look any more enthusiastic than I did and we were all wondering why we had agreed to this. Jessica arrived, full of energy and brightness and dragged us out of the house.

A couple of hours later, after a stomach-churning journey along pothole-ridden roads, the combi (a rickety minivan) shuddered to a halt and we emerged, blinking in the bright sunshine and began to explore Yungay. People in traditional Peruvian dress thronged amongst colorful market stalls. The women, in their full skirts and tall hats, had babies and shopping slung on their backs beneath bright swathes of fabric.

We wandered through, ducking beneath the canopies and weaving through the Sunday shoppers, stopping to look at the odd nick-nack for sale. The air was alive with the shouts of vendors, the rapid conversation of old friends, the squeals and laughter of children. With hunger getting the better of us, we found a restaurant, one of about two in this small town. It’s difficult to complain when the meal only cost 4 soles (less than $2), but the odd-tasting, watery soup and the scary-looking whole fried fish was not exactly satisfying. However, it filled us up and we were soon ready to go again.

We walked out of Yungay back along the road we had arrived on, surrounded on all sides by the most spectacular mountain scenery. They rose up domineeringly at the end of side streets, clouds touching their tops. However, it was the twin snow-capped peaks to the East which were the real show-stoppers and which also provided the backdrop for the memorial we were about to visit.

On May 31, 1970, this area, including Yungay was devastated by an avalanche. Camposantos is a cemetery and memorial garden commemorating that event. They couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful spot for it. The moment you enter the gardens, the road with its honking cars and the bustle of the town fades into utter tranquility. Grass pathways meander past blooming flowers, native plants, and tuneful little streams, leading towards a great monument – a sort of outdoor church that fits perfectly in the surroundings. Its arched ‘doorway’ and glassless windows act as frames for the picture-postcard view of the mountains beyond.

Opposite, in the distance, stands the cemetery, a round structure with Christ the Redeemer standing triumphantly at the top, arms raised to the heavens. As we approached it, we saw that the curved walls were made up of brickwork of alcoves, each bearing a message, many with flowers. The devastation of that avalanche on this community cannot be underestimated and the sense of it here is very powerful. However, the people could not have made a better or more wonderful tribute; it is a divine work of art perfect place for a soul to seek salvation.

We climbed the steps to the very top, where we stood at the foot of the giant statue and marveled at the landscape. I hadn’t thought it could get anymore perfect, but from this vantage point, the panoramic views were spellbinding. A fine mist hovered over the Cordilleras Negras in the distance, layers of mountains, each a subtly different hue. The sun was just beginning to dip behind the mountains, casting heavenly rays and illuminating the sky. The late-night, the early start and the bumpy ride were all forgotten. I was completely entranced.

Eventually, we drank in our fill of the view and walked back down the steps and along the paths back to the gateway. Abruptly, we were thrust back into the hubbub and dust of the street and we began the walk back to the center. We were a weary but very happy bunch who boarded the combi back to Huaraz. I was very, very glad that I’d been to Yungay.

All photos property of, and by Katy Stewart

Have you seen The Inspiration Board? We post a daily photo from the Travels of  Belles around the globe (that is you and you can submit). Here’s a recent one from Katy’s visit to South America of a full moon over the Andes Mountains.

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About the author

Originally from Salisbury in the UK, Katy Stewart is an itinerant freelance writer. She indulges her passions for travel, film and literature at her blog, Starry-Eyed Travels. You can follow her on twitter @SEtravels.

2 thoughts on “Chaos, Tranquility and a Slight Hangover in Yungay, Peru”

  1. Don’t you love it when you stumble on some treasure you almost skipped, or the guide books recommended against? Algeciras, Spain, was such an experience for me. Just a stop-over on the way to Morocco, I came upon a local flamenco festival. No tourists but me in sight. Just happy spontaneous bursts of dancing from people who did flamenco only for fun. It was a somewhat gritty town, but from the kids I played with on the beach to the produce vendors I watched in their early-morning work, to the enticing ethnic diversity and the views of Gibraltar, the place was magical.

    Thanks for this great article.

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