National Geographic : 1962 Jun
Toward this valley of sorrow, we drove a few days later. We were four: NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC photographer John E. Fletcher, our experienced mountain driver Serafin Lagos, guide Claudio A. Navarrete, and I. We came to record this monumental disaster in which, by official estimate, 3,500 people perished. Peruvian Peaks Dwarf the Matterhorn I had visited the valley 13 years earlier, and remembered it as one of the world's most beautiful spots. Travel folders call this area the "Switzerland of Peru." Actually the mag nificent peaks here are more than a mile taller than Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn. This Andean valley is called the Callej6n de Huailas, meaning "corridor of greenery." To the west, the Cordillera Negra stands dark and dry; eastward, the Cordillera Blanca is drenched and glazed. On the valley floor, royal palms contrast vividly with the glaciers overhead. Here flows the Santa River, vested in white by the froth of rapids (map, page 85 7). From the Pacific coast we had climbed steeply, ears popping; then we faced the vast, vague sweep of high Peruvian flatlands. Be low us, at an altitude of 13,451 feet, sprawled snow-fed Lake Conococha, source of the San ta River. We followed the river down. Our road was laned by eucalyptus trees, stone fences, slant ing fields. Foggy clouds hid the mountain tops; a rainstorm overtook us. I dozed, then awakened to find the Callej6n again sunny, © NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Hope gone, despair abides. Haggard with grief, Sefiora Donatilda Infantes Castillo searches the rubble burying her sister's house. "Tears bathed her face," said photog rapher Fletcher. She paid her last respects in Quechua, her Indian language. Threading a flimsy walkway across the mud, survivors carry all that is left of their possessions-sheep and sacks of clothing.