With hundreds of half-finished concrete houses, clustered around the gaping mouth of a mine big enough to consume the whole city, and the natural climate of somewhere that boasts itself to be the "highest city in the world", Cerro de Pasco was an unlikely stop on our journey down South.
Image and information in Spanish about this man made disaster from here.
At 4330 meters, it was bitterly cold, but with the upcoming elections people were still rallying in the streets well into the night. Everyone in town wears a big puffy coat and I never saw a child without a hand-knitted bobble hat. Probably due to its isolation and freezing temperatures, Cerro de Pasco had an entirely different selection of street-food to that we've found elsewhere in Peru- rice-pudding with black maize jam, the best condensed milk-filled churros I've ever tasted, barbecued chicken feet and a skewer of disturbingly chewy meat lumps which we later decided were probably heart.
The market sprawls through half the city, filling the whole, narrow streets with warm jumpers, uncooked bits of sheep or hundreds of cooking pots. Even we indulged in two pairs of warm socks and a much needed alcohol burning stove for camping.
Over the few days we were there, we spoke to many people and befriended a lady selling S1(20p) hot chocolates who refilled our mugs for free and asked us to come back the next day for a photo.
You really can buy anything in the market...
Although it was raining, we decided to visit the nearby bosque de pedras (rock forest). I really had no idea what to expect, and setting out at 11am, thought that we might be back in a few hours...
After the forty minute car journey, what we found was beyond anything I could have imagined. As far as we could see, in opposite directions, were towering pillars of rock. Some balanced precariously on top of each other, while others formed huge walls, caves and wonky totem poles.
We were lucky enough to come across these cave paintings. Any guesses what these animals are supposed to be?! Maybe the thing on the left is a pig?
We followed the occasional markers for a couple of hours before loosing them completely and clambering back along the river bed, over giant boulders and through a steep-cliffed ravine. To be honest I was a little frightened; we hadn't seen anyone but llamas all day, had no way of telling the time and my hands and feet (now soaking wet) were going numb as I clung on and followed Dan over the slippery rocks.
Thankfully, another hour or so later, we began to emerge. The crack opened up, our path got wider and before long I could see the road in the distance.
The Bosque de Pedros is possibly the most alien landscape I've ever experienced and to explore it for S1, without the presence of other tourists, made taking this rather arduous route through the Peruvian mountains entirely worthwhile. Cerro de Pasco is a very unusual place to visit, but if you accept this mining town for what it is, enjoy the hospitality of the local people and make sure you have the appropriate winter gear, I can guarantee it isn't somewhere you'll forget.
To reach Cerro de Pasco from Huanuco costs S10(£2). The appropriate bus station, Acahauyna, is out of the city centre in Huanuco, so it is probably necessary to catch a motor-taxi or taxi for safety. Although there are less tourist related crimes in the mountains, it is still sensible to call a taxi from your hostel or check the drivers ID.
To reach the rock forest from Cerro de Pasco take either a shared taxi for around S7 or the bus for S5/6. As usual it would be advisable to leave earlier in the morning than we did as you will probably get lost and it might not be the most comfortable place to stay the night.
For accommodation we stayed in Hostal Santa Rosa, but I wouldn't particularly recommend it. Freezing rooms and limited water supplies are to be expected here, but the staff were the least friendly people we met in town. There are many cheap options around the plaza which might have a better atmosphere.
From Cerro de Pasco it costs S20 to reach the next (bigger) city of Huancayo or only S5 to the village of Junin which apparently has a nice lake with many birds to see.
Here's our route through the central highlands...
To read the first part of our journey down the high road see La Union to Huanuco.
For more amazingly welcoming places in Peru see Cabo Blanco- a safe haven in Peru and the friendly city of Chiclayo.