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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Huaraz and the Andes

     Huaraz and the surrounding area is full of rich culture and the sad past of a massive and destructive avalanche causing earthquake which destroyed the town of Yungay. The second day trip taken while staying at the Monte Blanco Hotel (80 soles a night for a double) was to see the Pastoruri Glacier which has an altitude of over 15 thousand feet above sea level. Although the deteriorating glacier is the pièce de résistance, my interest lied in the ride filled with the view of the Andes approaching and interesting plants with stories and medicinal uses. Conversation about the plants was sparked when a local Peruvian women sat near me in our tour bus with an interesting white furry plant in her bag. When asked what they were she gave the answer that it was used for stomach aches then I listened while she spoke about other plants found in the Huascaran National Park that can be used for other medical reasons.
Puya Raimondii

     Although the Puya Raimondii does not have any medicinal uses it is known as the Queen of the Andes because of its long life and the fact that it takes about 100 years to bloom. This plant is said to have a lifespan relative to peruvians which has lengthened as the Peruvians have started to live longer. The Puya Raimondii is only found in the Andes in Bolivia and Peru in altitudes 15 thousand feet and higher. The Puya Raimondii plant grows to about 30 feet high when fully in bloom with thousands of little white flowers on its spike above the green leaf base. Interestingly this plant dies soon after it blooms. Locals once thought the Puya Raimondii to be carniverious because their lifestock would get cut but the thorny leaves when trying to eat it. Sadly for me I did not see this exotic plant in bloom although the other Puya Raimondii still held a powerful presence. If your in Peru in August you’ll be in luck because there are a few getting ready to bloom.
     Ajinco, Artemisia Absinthium, is commonly known in English as Wormwood and used in the potent alcohol Absinth. Although its use in Absinth is more hazardous then helpful, when the leaves and flowers are used to make a tea it will combat liver disease, colds and stomachaches. Ajinco is a silvery-white color with small little fruit covered in the same fur and can be found in the Andes.
     I find it awesome how one does not have to go to a botica for panadol or advil to cure a headache. Instead putting a raw potato on your temples can sooth it. There is also a local flowering bush found in Peru which is also good for the kidneys. The trip to the Pastoruri Glacier was beautiful. The scenery was filled with blue skies and lush green shrubbery. Everywhere I looked was filled with breathtaking scenes you only see in postcards.
Anastacia is a volunteer for Karikuy in Lima, Peru.

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