Disaster in Peru’s Central Highlands

22 11 2010



A pottery church is guarded by a local dog in Quinua, Ayacucho

I expected Huancayo’s astonishingly miserable buildings to soften into something more aesthetically pleasing as I trundled to the main plaza. But they didn’t. I sulked as the backpack and I walked through the dreary city, the largest in Peru’s central highlands, which spits out nasty brickwork, grey-faced placards, several homeless people and, um, not much else.

After having been presented with the innards of some creature for my dinner (I left the restaurant hungry) I mooted over what to do the following day.  This was the easy part. Actually trying to get some sense from the hostel owner and directions from ten different people, was mission impossible. No one seems to know what goes on beyond the end of their nose in Huancayo. I eventually stumbled upon a woman who pointed me in the right direction. “But watch out for the thieves,” she cheerfully concluded.

Me in the central highlands

Pitiful Pucara

Beyond the city are alleged craft villages with rotating daily markets. I jumped in a minibus to be deposited unceremoniously at the side of the road, not quite at my intended destination. 
“Oh, we don’t go there,” said the conductor uninterestedly. Hmmm, she failed to mention this half an hour ago. I took a combi (shared taxi) whereupon the driver announced that Pucara didn’t have a market. There were a few shops, he said, which I discovered sold the national fizzy drink Inca Cola and a few stale biscuits.

Not wanting to head back to Huancayo, which would be the equivalent of a tourist in the UK winding up in Salford, near Manchester, (think of highrise flats, smashed shop windows and a plethora of snarling thugs), I plodded around Pucara – although to be fair, Huancayo isn’t anywhere near as bad as Salford. 

Rain tipped down on the ‘village’, which was simply an extension of Huancayo and just as uninviting, making it look even more bleak.

Finding a farmer’s trail, I walked alongside fields surrounded by chequered hills (the upbeat part of the day) and women in their puffy pleated skirts and bowler hats, occasionally looking up to see the gringa walking by. One lady was alarmed by my solita (solo) walking, announcing it was dangerous. Perhaps someone might have attacked me with their hat, I thought. When I asked why, she said something about dogs and cows and then asked for money.

The day was rounded off by a trip to the supermarket – which was by far my best experience in Huancayo.






A pedestrianised street in Ayacucho


I did however, visit Ayacucho, another central highland city which was

One of the 33 churches in Ayacucho

much more appealing. It did, however, suffer at the hands of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) during the 1980s and 90s. The leftist guerrilla group, fighting for a revoltion to overthrow the government, carried out many of their atrocities in the region. During the 20 years, over 70,000 people were killed in the fighting by both the rebel group and the military.

The area is safe now and away from the ‘gringo trail’.

During the 20-hour bus journey from Cuzco, the familiar scenery reminded me of England with green undulating fields, bulls and a few sheep causing a mini traffic jam. 

The central plaza, a cute area with arched buildings and churches dotted around (the town boasts some 33 religious buildings), is the centre of the town’s activity.

A woman in Peru’s traditional highlands’ hat

Sun blazed down and clouds seemed a distant memory. Enjoying the weather and oblivious to my surroundings, I was soon accosted by school students and wound up teaching English at their school for the afternoon. The teacher had given song sheets for The Cranberries hit ‘Zombie’ but had failed to explain anything about the song. Using my best acting skills, I mimed a zombie impression that would have landed me a part in Shaun of the Dead.

After playing teacher for a while, I headed out to the nearby ruins of Wari, the pre-Incan rulers of Peru for over 400 years (from 700 AD to 1000 AD). Cacti and giant crickets dominated the ruins, made from dried stone. Beyond them was the indigenous village of Quinua, home to the area’s pottery making locals. Every house has figurines or distinct Ayacucho churches huddling their roofs.

Narrow cobbled streets adorned with a few curious men lead to a dominating white monument overlooking the village. A few local children tried their luck for money by singing like strangled cats. I’m not sure if they expected money to shut them up or to continue their wailing.

Ayacucho is renowned for its pottery



  • Peru borders the South Pacific Ocean, between Chile and Ecuador
  • Leftist guerrilla groups including the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement tried to overthrow the government for 20 years from 1980 to 2000
  • Roughly 70,000 people were killed by both the rebel groups and the government during the fighting


  • Largest city in the central highlands with a population of over 300,000
  • Not a city I’d recommend visiting
  • If you do however, there are ‘villages’ nearby but don’t expect too much from them


  • Gateway for hopping off to the nearby Wari ruins and Quinua
  • Was at the hands of The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), a leftist organisation that launched a guerrilla war in the highlands of Ayacucho in the 1980s
  • Is now safe and off the main gringo trail
  • Fantastic weather for most of the year



2 responses

22 01 2011
Tony Batchelor

Heck, if that place is like Salford it must be bad! Presumably gringo is a word meaning foreigners or tourists.

22 01 2011

Yeah, it wasn’t the nicest of places! Gringo is the generic word (unaffectionately) used for foreigners. Gringa is for girls.

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