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.
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!
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.
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.
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.