Thanks for the response.
It's now much clearer why you wrote the section about caution as you did. Some other issues I didn't mention also got much clearer after reading it. Like, when you mention "terrorism", it was Guzmán and the rest of the SL bunch you had in mind.
Yes, the sixth sense is always very important to calibrate according to the environment you're in and I must admit I felt it should be on a quite high level when in many areas of Peru. Potential back street robberies and the "gringo syndrome" were the most common reasons.
Pre-Fujimori Peru was pretty hot in some spots. I remember the risk of being mugged back then was enormous. As you say and as I have interpreted what's going on in Peru now, the country is probably on the way to something better. I really hope so. This beautiful country deserves so much better than guerilla warfare and corrupt politicians.
I have the feeling Peru will be unspoiled for some time. There aren't enough Peruvians ready to exploite all these climbing (also kayaking, trekking, surfing, etc) areas. The rest of the world seems to be interested in other places. Stay safe. Hope to see you out there some time.
I find your advice a little bit strange and I feel I must comment this.
I have been to the mentioned area and there's a lot of curious people around. They are mainly, as you say, farmers. A stranger is a big attraction for the people living out there and they come around to have a look at you and what you're doing.
I have never had any bad experiences and I wonder how you could interpret curiousity from women, children and farmers a possible robbing attempt? Have you ever heard about any kidnappings done by a group consisting of women and children? Was there any indication whatsoever anyone was going to steal your car?
What was so scary with the situation?
I strongly disagree with following:
A small "donation" of money and food got them off our back
Handing out money willy-nilly paves the road fine for the next person coming along that trail. This is why some trails, treks and climbs are nightmares nowadays, locals following you for hours asking for gifts. If they don't get what they want, agressiveness sometimes follows.
My recommendation is to stay within site of your car, try to stay away from the locals, and stay away from the trafficked roads.
Stay away from the locals?
How fun is that and how feasible is it?
How do you climb a mountain, when you at the same time have to stay close to your car?
Appreciate the comments. Maybe I have a different perspective. I am glad you know the area. I am Peruvian and have lived in Peru much of my life. My family lives in Arequipa. Sometimes having a sixth sense about what is happening around you in this or any third world country is what keeps us safe. As beautiful as Peru is and as kind the people can be, do not be misled. The real world in Peru can be very different than our initial impression. At all times you should exercise caution. Remeber that most of the Sendero Luminoso are "just kind farmers" until you are at gun point. This area behind Misti and Chachani has been site to many kidnappings, assaults, car thefts, etc. During the height of terrorism in the area, they used to paint large boulders black and put them on these roads at night. When you smashed your car into the boulders, you would find yourself surrounded by these kind farmers.
I say we were surrounded by men, women, and children only to show the point that it can be a very unnerving situation because you wonder why they are harassing you in the first place. Believe me the 4 males that were "talking" with me assumed I was "gringo" and I was able to pick up on much of their wispering and body language. The report I gave was to show that this area can be used to acclimatize, but also caution should be used.
Staying within eyesight of your car, unfortunately, is safe advice I can give to those who don't know the area. This only holds true for the large desolate areas along these roads. The basecamps for all these volcanoes and climbs are perectly safe. I don't think leaving your car off the side of the road for a few hours is very smart. You have a decent chance of returning to a car without lights, mirrors, windows, or worse wheels. It happens all the time in the cities...that's why people park in garages or pay a kid to keep an "eye" on the car.
This is a beautiful undeveloped part of the world. In addition to appreciating this we must also exercise due caution and respect. We are the outsiders here and Peruvians don't always see trekkers and climbers as that interesting. Thankfully that has changed a lot in the last 20 years. There used to be a time when riding your bike on the roads or running through some of these neighborhoods or leaving your car abandoned was suicidal. I believe it is better than it has been in the past, but it is not the US or Europe down there and we should be aware of that.