Carpa Pastoruri + Gramadal, Peru – Blooming giant pineapples and the ultimate camping beach

It doesn’t only call itself the world’s largest flowering plant but possibly its most unusual: Puya raimondii is a member of the pineapple family that grows from 3,000 m (10,000 ft) to over 4,000 m (13,000 ft) of tropical elevation. The plant is up to 15 m (50 ft) high and gets 40 to 100 years old. Only then the spherical perennial with the long sharp leaves produces the high cigar-like inflorescence where in the average 8,000 white lily-like blossoms with 8 to 12 million seeds arise. The rare and endangered flower raises this accomplishment only once in its life, and then it dies. Puya raimondii is found in the Peruvian Andes, close to Huaráz there are several stands.

You’d have to turn east seven kilometres south of Catác into a gravel road to the signed national park Huascarán Sector Carpa Pastoruri. You’ll be 5 PEN per person poorer after 13 km at the pay station. Two kilometres past the entrance there is a gaseous spring whose water is undrinkable. After another two kilometres the odd Puya raimondii grow directly beside the road, and a viewing platform allows a glimpse into a deep clear source point of a mineral spring. Besides young and already died perennials tiny flowers and cacti fight for their survival – in 4,500 m / 15,000 ft. There is a glacier at 4,900 m / 16,080 ft to visit at km 22 (500 m horse ride, 500 m walk, access to the glacier not permitted), but deep dark clouds are moving in from there.

At first we don’t succeed in escaping, ice-cold heavy rain and 7° C / 45° F catch up with us. We are rushing down, down, down, from 4,500 m / 15,000 ft to sea level, heading to the coast at Barranca. Eventually the rain gets caught in the mountains, we reach the desert, only interrupted by the narrow irrigated strip along the river that produces watermelons, avocados, and yellow plums. Suddenly people wear tank tops and shorts instead of thick wool sweaters and ponchos. When reaching the Pan Am we feel the influence of the cooling southern Pacific. We turn north for another 40 km just to see that one beach: Playa Gramadal.

It doesn’t appear in any travel guide, it’s completely unknown, so here is the crazy story: When standing in front of the stationary rack in Trujillos’s supermarket Joerg discovers the photo of miraculous shifting dunes on the packaging of printer paper and with it the magic word: Playa Gramadal. Got it into our head to see exactly this beach, we finally found it on Google Earth. The village Gramadal consists of each two houses on both sides of the road, that’s it. But the people can point us the way to the beach. And here’s the best: the feeder trail is very hard sand, not long, and in the end is a levelled concrete foundation in safe distance from high tide, as it if was made for camping: the optimal beach for RVs of all kind who wants to spend some lonely days and nights at the beach. Playa Gramadal: S 10°23’53.6’’ W 78°00’03.3’’.

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