The cold of the night told us that we were getting close and the stars showed us the way to the mysterious Huayllay. We arrived and could see the different shapes drawn in the rocks: a king’s crown, a dog, an Indian, a little girl. We started to feel the freezing wind on our skin: it was minus 4°C and we were at a height of more than 4,000m.
A pair of gloves, a hat, a hot lamb soup and a mate de coca calmed the cold of the night. What could make this more perfect? A bonfire, its flames reaching into the sky and the crackle of the embers wrapping everyone in an exquisite trance.
*High Altitude Festival*
The next day, and with a background of rocky skyscrapers, we took part in the offering to Apu, the obligatory payment to the earth before we could start this Huayllay Festival. The festival took place Sept. 6 – 8, and there wasn’t just music, but also a extreme sports and, for those looking for an adrenaline rush, a high-mountain cycling competition through the Rock Forest.
Contestants from Huancavelica, Huánuco and Lima, among other cities, gave their best and showed strength and stamina. The ride is about 22 km, from the Chanchacucho to the lake of Japurín, where Maykol Rodríguez and Roberto Morales, members of the Committee of the National Sanctuary of Huayllay (El Comité del Santuario Nacional de Huayllay) waited for the arrival of the participants. “Most of the time, all the competitors make it all the way. However, there’s always an ambulance in case someone needs it. We’re keeping an eye along the whole route to check that everyone’s ok,” Maykol told us.
In the festival, we enjoyed typical dishes from the Pasco region. From fried trout to pachamanca, lamb on a stick, guinea pig picante, chicarrón (deep-fried meat), among other delicacies, there was no danger of us envying Mistura-goers.
Dusk arrived and the colors of the sky melted into the rocks, gently drawing their outlines. Everyone told us that we had to find señor Alcibíades, the master and lord of the Rock Forest. We left to look for him, going into the immensity of the heart of the Bonbón Meseta. After traveling a few kilometers, we found the picturesque house of the legend of Huayllay.
“I was born here and grew up here. All of my ancestors have dedicated their lives to the forest, these are my rocks.” As well as being a guide, Alcibíades offers accommodation for tourists: a place to sleep, food and a bathroom. “Señor Alcibíades, we’re hungry!”, calls a group of young people. With a paternal smile, he offers to make them something. We promise to return the next day.
Accompanied by the music of Katy Jara, Agua Marina, Alberto Barros, among others, Huayllay danced like never before. When you’re there, in the middle of all that euphoria, there comes a point at which the cold becomes part of the adventure.
The next day, we went back to find Alcibíades and hear his story:
“When I was eight years old, my mother died. My uncle, the brother of my father, brought us up. He told us lots of stories of the forest about the fox, the spider, the apus, the eagles. Now, I like to pass this on to the people who visit us,” narrates the owner of Shapra, Layca and Tifón, the three dogs who guided us on the route to Los Frailes, rock climbing area.
“I am the Auquilio of Huayllay, I will die, my body will depart, but my spirit will continue living next to my rocks,” he intoned, and then he left us, showing us the stream that we needed to follow. An enormous natural wall towered above us. At the top of it, there was no space for fear. Getting to the top and shouting until your voice gives out is worth all the effort of the climb.
The wind blew stronger and little drops of water started to fall. Suddenly, hailstones covered all of Huayllay in white. People went looking for cover and the festival area was left completely empty. The snow covered the stage. The concerts of Quique Neira, ex-vocalist of Gondwana and Willy Iturri had to be canceled, but they announced that they’d reprogram them in the next couple of days. The snow brought the night and now it was time to leave. We promised to come back.
*Tribute to Salsa*
The Master of Ceremonies, Alberto Barros got people warmed up with the best hits if Colombian salsa. Izquierda Alcbíades, guardian of the Rock Forest, took us to see Huayllay’s 500 cave paintings.
*How to get there*
Huayllay is in the heart of the Bonbón Meseta (Huayhuash mountain range) in the Pasco region. From Lima, take the Central Highway: Lima-La Oroya-Junín-Cahuamayo-Huayllay (312km, 7 hours journey time)
The best time to visit the National Sanctuary of Huayllay (Pasco) is from May to October, when the rainy season has passed. Being at an altitude of more than 4,000m, the climate is very dry and the temperature drops at night.
*Where to stay*
As well as camping in the Rock Forest, you can stay at the municipal hostel of Huayllay, in Canchacucho, or in Alcibíades Cristóbal’s hostel, 300m from Canchacucho. The village of Huayllay also has basic hostels.
The mysterious Rock Forest of Huayllay, at an altitude of 4,000m, is a natural marvel. It’s also the location of a festival like no other that has been taking place for the last 16 years.