PERU - Caraz

The hotel fronts onto the central city plaza and is clean. The room is good, although the beds seem better suited in size for the Peruvians than two long-legged Aussies.

There's no chance of a hot shower here and the door between our room and the private shower/toilet connecting it could have been another two feet higher. These inconsequential differences to our old standards are becoming normal; although we still noted them for our letters home and spasmodic entries into the diary.

Walking through the streets we had come across three small boys playing a game of soccer. We asked them to make a few passes to us and before we knew it, we had drawn on a few onlookers and had our own little game going. With all the laughing and screaming we soon had our own crowd and it became one of those magical moments. What comparisons! With our heavy walking boots on we would surely have some advantage over these bare footed kids. But it wasn't to be. The altitude and the superior skills, plus lots of laughing and clowning by us, was enough to bring us down to size. One thing was sure though, and that was, that we walked back to town surrounded by a whole group of happy, bouncing children, still kicking and passing and imitating the actions of all the great soccer stars.

The hotel we're staying in is typical of the "haciendas", the Spanish design and colouring. Double storeyed buildings which form a square, an internal verandah looking down on a courtyard. At the centre of this courtyard stands a greened sculpture which beckons to be a water fountain, but which has become redundant as a support for the clothes line. Pot plants abound both upstairs and in the centre, and chairs are positioned to capture the early morning sunshine. Breakfast place of the backpacker gentry. Several travellers sit discussing places they've walked to, exchanging information, drawing makeshift maps, so that others don't make the mistakes they have.

Outdoors is the place to be even though the soccer game has sapped my enthusiasm for expounding my youthful energies.

I have my sketch book out and that draws the attention of the caretaker, who is sweeping out the room next to ours. We make piece by piece conversation, eventually deciding that I will attempt to do a sketch of him. He is flattered, even though it is his suggestion that I should do the sketch. Maybe something was lost with my lack of the language and he was thinking that it had been my suggestion. Not to worry, do not stop, "art in progress". Broom and dustpiles long forgotten.

Jorge Norabuena Maguina sits there very still and attentive to the needs of the budding artist. His face is the typically strong face of most high altitude dwellers. He is young, probably about twenty years old, his eyes as dark as his ebony hair. His skin is a colour unique to one of Inca decent with Spanish in his blood line, neither brown nor white nor yellow nor black. Probably a little dab of all onto the palette, mixed together in the right proportions.

I'm finished. The drawing has a nice tight/loose interplay. I had really become involved in the tight qualities of his eyes and mouth and then loosely played with the shadows of his shirt. Far from an exact portrait, but another time when you feel the barriers are lowered and good feeling revitalised. Art meets earth beings; art the universal language. He is inspired to much handshaking and delivers smiles to the value of any Mona Lisa's worth.

We decide to make another walk from Caraz. Up at six thirty a.m. and at the designated meeting spot we become a part of the negotiating system that is needed, almost performed, in order to decide upon the price for our transport to Lake Paron. It is a small red ute with the steel framing arranged at the back so as to allow a canopy to be put on in the rainy season. Our representatives at the negotiating table are two Spanish climbers who will attempt one of the peaks which surrounds Lake Paron. It seems to me that both sides know what the eventual price will be, but the bargaining is all part of the intricately balanced system of life that exists here in the Andes. The two Spanish guys come back to us with the look of yet another conquered peak below them and I scan quickly to where the driver is and notice a similar look on his face. Another lesson learnt!

The road stopped just short of the lake's edge and so it was on with the packs and upward. We found ourselves a nice place to camp and before long we were off looking for new "vistas", possibly lost civilisations of Peru.

Camped by the shore of the lake we had uninterrupted views of numerous snowy caps. Above us, on our side of the lake, was a mass of boulders for as far as our eyes could see. The resultant debris of an avalanche.

A couple of days passed by quickly with numerous exploratory walks and time spent staring across the cold waters of the lake to where we imagined the two Spanish climbers might be by now.

Already they would be nothing more than two small specks of dust amidst the monoliths of rock and crevices that surrounded them.

Insight was gained as to the movement and feeling of any climber when I tackled the eternity of rock avalanche above us. Blue sky met the mass of spilt rock for as far up as I could see. I could imagine getting to that finite point and there being a sheer drop on the other side.

Every hundred metres I climbed would be rewarded with some new view, a new perspective. More summits exposed. Some were like great spearheads covered in some magical white potion. Others were just so overpowering that surely they were just some artist's impression painted up there on the sky. Sitting for a rest, replenishing my thirst with a swig of water and an orange, I studied every peak. I noticed how the position of the sun and the shadows it cast, played a big part in their presentation. Sinister or searing.

Facing straight onto the sun, they would transform the sun's rays into their own form of light. It was beaming, intense, and yet the expanses of white seemed to soften the overall effect. Hitting another from the side, the light would create sinister looking markings that showed the real depth of such headpieces. Jagged claws and the markings of some type of wild alpine animal, I thought. Small icefalls would crumble down the face, the resultant puff of white looking as if this animal were snorting its displeasure at something.

High on the energy and excitement that such sights bought upon me, I rock-hopped like some Swiss mountaineer back to our camp at the bottom.

We left on our twenty-five kilometre return walk to Caraz early next morning and being downhill all the way meant all that you had to remember to do was lift your legs up and the momentum would do the rest.

Sore feet and newly installed memories, we strode back into town. Four days without any shower meant that cold or hot water wasn't even worth consideration; just cleanliness.

That night we witnessed a colourful parade with fireworks, singing, marching, cheering and the school band. It was to be the prelude to an inter city volleyball and basketball match. We would be leaving next morning.