QUITE POSSIBLY PARADISE

Apacheta Pass (4750 metres altitude)
Apacheta Pass (4750 metres altitude)

Often the road between Cusco and Tarma is so high you feel as if you’re orbiting the planet. During the four day drive we cross six passes ranging in altitude from between 4000 and 4850 metres. In fact, apart from descending to transit the major towns, most of the journey seems to be above 4000 metres. It’s inhuman to live up here – yet people do. And, to be honest, they seem very content. Why else would you tie multi-coloured ribbons to the ears of your livestock if you weren’t ecstatically happy.

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Lake Choclococha sparkles in the sun at a mere 4700 metres of altitude. There’s a fish farm at Lake Choclococha. It never ceases to amaze me what the Peruvians get up to at high altitude. In Britain, if you kept fish at this height you’d be up before the judge on a charge of cruelty. And the Save The Trout Action Group would send a van load of skinheads to trash you’re filleting line. But not in Peru – high is mighty!

Choclococha Lake (4700 metres altitude)
Choclococha Lake (4700 metres altitude)
Plaza de Armas, Ayacucho
Plaza de Armas, Ayacucho

During the 80s and the 90s the city of Ayacucho was pretty much off-limits for tourists due to the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a Maoist revolutionary movement terrorising the region. Today, like most revolutionary groups that are past their sell-by-date, political and social upheaval has been set aside in favour of commercial interests, namely the trafficking of drugs. Gun battles between Sendero Luminoso members and the Peruvian armed forces occur from time to time. During mid-August three leading members of Sendero Luminoso were gunned down by the police in a town north of Ayacucho.

Hacienda La Florida
Hacienda La Florida

After so many peaks and valleys I’m as deaf as a post when we arrive in Tarma (3000 metres). We head straight for Hacienda La Florida, situated on the road from Tarma down to the Amazon Basin. On our arrival Marco, the owner of the hacienda, throws open the iron gates to let us in. As his instructions are muffled by my humming ears I follow his hand signals and park in the courtyard. There are no insects here, the sun shines every day and, most important of all, there is this marvellous collection of retired machines to feast your eyes on – Marco quite possibly lives in paradise. And I suspect he well knows it.

A retired resident
A retired resident
A pair of Puchs
A pair of Puchs
A DKW scrambler
A DKW scrambler
The sensuous curves of an old bailing machine
Appreciate the sensuous curves of an old baler machine
Hacienda La Florida: a great place to let the grass grow under your feet
Hacienda La Florida: a great place to let the grass grow under your feet

Times have not always been so peaceful, though. Hacienda La Florida was regularly visited by Sendero Luminoso terrorists, and they weren’t calling round for a spoon of sugar. The threat became so bad the family, for a while, had to abandon the property for Lima. Thankfully, all that is behind them. In the walled garden the hammocks sway in the breeze, a horse munches the grass and narrow irrigation channels weave between the greenery. I’m quite sure, very soon, I will be able to hear the birds.

Hacienda La Florida
Hacienda La Florida
Hacienda La Florida
Hacienda La Florida
The hacienda's workers bring in artichokes from the fields
The hacienda’s workers bring in artichokes from the fields
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