Where in the world are Chris & Dave?
Thanks for asking. We're in beautiful Valparaiso, Chile.
Thanks for asking. We're in beautiful Valparaiso, Chile.
Ruta del Desierto and One of driest places on Earth: San Pedro de Atacama
Nov 17th – was a down day in Iquique. Occasionally we need a day when we do nothing and rest up from previous drives. Weather has been glorious.
Nov. 18th – we caught a local bus and headed into the historic center of Iquique.
“The city was developed during the heyday of the saltpeter mining in the Atacama Desert in the 19th century. Originally a Peruvian city with a large Chilean population it was ceded to Chile as result of War of the Pacific (1879–1883). Today it is one of only two free ports of Chile.”
We started in the Arturo Prat Plaza to check out the Torre de Reloj (clock tower) and strolled up the pedestrian-only Baquedano Street with its colonial-era houses with balconies that are slowly being renovated and turning into restaurants, galleries, museums and shops. While there one of the two restored trolleys made its way slowly up the street. Reminded me of San Francisco’s cable cars.
Afterwards we took a taxi to “the Zona Franca of Iquique (free zone of Iquique) which has traditionally been called Zofri. There are around 2.4 square kilometres (0.93 sq mi) of warehouses, banking branches, and restaurants.” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iquique)
Iquique turned out to be such a surprise with its history, urban size, physical setting against humongous (technical term) sand dunes and nestling next to the Pacific Ocean, great weather for us Pacificans, lovely breezes and lack of insects.
On Nov. 19th, hating to leave Iquique but knowing we need to keep going south, we left Iquique behind and followed the Coast Highway 1 staying within a few miles of the Pacific all the way to our next destination – Tocopilla.
Along the way, I started noticing areas marked with white chalk on the barren sand dunes/sandstone. We couldn’t figure out what these irregular shapes were until we spotted several groups of people teeing off. They were golf courses on dirt; ‘greens’ outlined in white chalk.
This entire day the drive reminded me of the US Coast Highway 1 through California’s Big Sur with its towering cliffs (except for sparser vegetation.)
Tocopilla is a mining support town/port and is Not beautiful. But it was a good spot to overnight in; because we needed to head east the next morning up into the highlands on the next leg of our journey.
Nov. 20th saw us heading up and over the coastal hills, across the dry and sandy center basin around Maria Elena on Highway 24 to Calama up in the highlands.
After checking into Camping Casas de Valle in Calama, we walked into the downtown area looking for the Tourist Office to sign up for the free Codelco (government-owned) mining tour to the largest open pit copper mine in the world at Chuquicamata. Turned out to be a bust. Once we found the right address, the Tourist Office had been abandoned. And we couldn’t find where it had been relocated to – if at all.
Nov 21st – We spent the day driving to San Pedro de Atacama which is at approx. 8000′ but which is an oasis in the middle of the desert. Our first campground choice wasn’t open so we spent time driving around looking for the alternative choice.
Although San Pedro’s outlying streets are paved, they have kept the downtown area unpaved with narrow one-way streets (I guess to maintain its laid-back vibe). Plus the town is over-run with tourists who are walking down the middle of the dusty streets. Difficult to navigate; eventually we parked in the one parking area two blocks off the main square, even though we had been advised other Overlanders’ vehicles had been broken into there. Because there were so many people around, we hoped for the best. (As it turns out it was ok for us.)
Our first task was lunch and then to find a tour company to make arrangements to take us out to the Tatio Geyser Fields the next morning. We ended up booking with Terra Extreme an afternoon tour to the Laguna Tebinquiche south of town for an evening drive as well the next morning 4:30am pickup for the geyser trip. We wanted a tour company because we knew the road to the geyser fields was not paved and didn’t want to drive the camper over 50 miles of notoriously bad dirt road.
Weds 22 – Tatio Geyser Field.
It was our mistake to take a large tour; we should know better. The tour companies herd you through, insist everyone stay together in one group and there is limited time to photograph. And when we arrived at the geyser field (which pale in comparison to Yellowstone btw), we were one tour bus out of 20-25. So people were everywhere. On the other hand, their vehicle took the beating over the washboard road.
When we arrived back in San Pedro, we had lunch, retrieved the camper and drove south on Highway 23-CH to see if we could get into A.L.M.A. (Atacama Large Millimeter Array – a large grouping of radio antennas watching the skies.). But discovered not open to public unless with your group.
We ended up boondocking in laid back non-touristy Toconao on their plaza. But the tour companies make this an evening tour stop (to show off the historic church tower badly in need of repair) so around 5-6pm, the plaza was filled with tourists from San Pedro but they eventually cleared out so the locals could enjoy their Zumba class. Finally everybody settled into their small town sleepiness routines and it was quiet overnight.
Thurs. 23 Thanksgiving – We awoke early and drove out to Laguna Chaxa which was larger than the previously visited saline lakes, fewer tourists and more flamingos. Plus many other bird species and lizards. A couple came up to us and asked us if we had driven all the way from CA after they spotted our license plate. Turns out they were living in Washington DC and the gentleman grew up in San Bruno – a suburb close to Pacifica. And we exchanged Thanksgiving greetings – a nice touch for our Holiday.
After enjoying our walk along Laguna Chaxa, once again we headed south to the high Andean Lakes, Laguna Miscanti and Laguna Miñiques (mostly paved road except side road which was 6km one way). Beautiful terrain across flats and up into the lakes area.
We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn line (we’re slowing making our way south), surprising immense fields of lupine in bloom in this dry area, towering volcanoes and breathtaking views across the flats.
After returning to San Pedro, we checked into Glamping Alta de Quitor a few kms. northwest of San Pedro so we could get an early start on the Cordillera Sal as well as the Valle de la Luna.
Nov. 24th – we ended up spending all morning at the Cordillera and the Valle de la Luna with their wonderful and colorful rock formations, large sand dunes and canyons.
After leaving the San Pedro area, we returned back to the upper plateau and boondocked at a Calama Shell station. Gas stations are generally noisier than other locales; on the other hand, they are open 24 hours offering a level of security.
Leaving the high Andean plateaus once agin we headed down across the arid, and mostly barren, central Basin to drive to Antofagasta.
On the way we stopped at the historic mining ghost town of Oficina Salitrera Chacabuco to wander around. When we first arrived, we were the only one there and the dogs had to alert the custodian to let us in.
But more haunting was the fact that after the mining and processing operations closed in the 60’s, Dictator Pinochet after the military coup, used it in 1972-1974 as a detention camp for political prisoners who subsequently ‘disappeared’.
Another stop in Baquedano, didn’t yield us lunch (once again we were told “no food” even though there were other patrons eating. We don’t know if they’re trying to save it for the regular locals or since clearly we are not locals, they have something against foreigners eating at their establishments. This only started happening in southern Peru and now northern Chile. Not an issue anywhere else in 20 months of traveling.)
We crossed over the road, through the historic railroad station grounds to the railroad ‘museum’. Not really a museum as such, just abandoned train cars, locomotives and cabooses. Most interesting aspect was the repair house turntable that could bring in 13 locomotives at once.
See the next blog entry for the continuing travelogue.
Northern Chile and Ruta del Desierto
On November 11th, we hired a taxi to take us into Arica since the Don Hugo Campground is in Villa Frontera – a small ‘resort’ area north of Arica approximately 11 km. The ‘resorts’ consist of numerous sandy lots that offer camping.
We first went to Arica’s historic center and visited one of the two buildings in Arica attributed to Gustave Eiffel (of Paris Eiffel Tower fame) – the Church of San Marcos. (The other building attributed to him, the Customs House is undergoing renovation and is closed.) The church is extremely interesting made up entirely of painted metal with a pointed vaulted ceiling.
But first we tried to locate the insurance company for the mandated Chilean truck insurance which supposedly was located in the Aduana Office on the Port but everything was closed up since it was a Saturday.
So instead we walked over to the 21st of Mayo Calle which is a blocks long pedestrian-only shopping strip to first get wifi at the McDonald’s and secondly to buy a new telephone SIM card to use in Chile.
Problem is that Chile changed the rules regarding selling and activating SIM cards Sept. 2017. Now foreigners must register their phone through a third-party certification company with the Chilean governments and the process takes days to register. Of course, none of this information was available when asked of any of the major telephone carriers such as Entel, Claro or Moviestar. Spent hours on Saturday trying to get the SIM card. Then Dave had to spend hours online hunting up the process and for a certification company when he could get a wifi signal.
Sunday 12th we hung around campground since we knew offices would be closed. Numerous Chilean families came out to picnic, party and swim on Sunday at our campground so we had lots of company although no one else stayed overnight.
On Monday 13th, we took another taxi into town and after several false leads and starts finally located a small hole-in-the-wall store who would sell us truck insurance. And thought we had a lead on getting the SIM card activated but after waiting around for the blocks-wide power outage to be over discovered that company couldn’t do it either.
We then hired a taxi to take us up to the overlook at El Morro with a view over Arica. Arica is a big port city with lots of trucks coming down from Bolivia and bringing minerals (we assume) to the port. (Additional research indicated that after Peru/Bolivia/Chile settled their border dispute war in the late 1890’s, Bolivia – having lost their ocean access – was granted a untaxed route through Northern Chile to bring their minerals down to Arica’s Port.) Arica also has a major refinery area because we saw hundreds of gasoline tanker trucks parked by roads.
Our taxi driver took us to Unimarc supermarket to stock up and we headed back to Don Hugo’s.
On Nov. 14th we left Arica and headed straight up into the Andes with Putré as our destination at 11,975′. It was to be our launching pad for the next day’s foray into the high Andean lakes. We ended up boondocking on Putré’s plaza which had access to the free Chilean wifi in public places.
Nov 15th, we were up and driving by 5:30am and broke our rule of never driving in the dark. But we wanted to get to Lauca Natl. Park by sunrise. Turned out going up it was good because over the last 10 km. to the Ranger’s Station, there was roadwork underway. But since we got there before 7am, we could jump to the head of the long line of semi trucks (100 or so) waiting to continue their drive from Arica’s port to Bolivia. The road crew let us through.
We arrived at Chungará Lake at 15,102’and set up and Dave captured the Lake and Volcán Parincota – maybe his best photo of the whole trip. For sure in the top 10 and in my opinion, National Geographic worthy.
Coming back down was more difficult because road work had commenced and the road crew was letting eastbound semi traffic through approximately 15 semis at a time. But the distance was so far between the ends, we couldn’t tell if there was oncoming traffic or not. More than once, we had to pull into the lane being worked on to let semis coming up the grade through.
The biggest delays were when four large semis carrying extremely heavy and wide pieces of equipment met us; each had two semis tractors pulling and creeping, up the gravel inclines. The trailers had ten tires running front to back, duallys – so 40 tires on trailer alone. Dave and I speculated that they were probably carrying some big mining equipment pieces since this area is rife with huge mining operations.
After returning back downhill to Arica, we opted to return to the Don Hugo RV campground in Villa Frontera and head south in the morning.
Nov 16th – We left Arica and went up through the verdant Azapa Valley known for its ancient and historic olive growing areas to the Chinchorro Mummy Museum. Interesting gardens and nice museum.
After returning to Highway 5 we drove south through the desert. Drove across desert up and down major huge mesas; one had an 18km decline.
On the way, we stopped for short side trips to the Presencias Tutalares (large stone carvings erected in the 1990’s that symbolize the cosmovision), el Gigante de Atacamba petroglifo, and lastly visited the Humberto Saltpeter ghost town.
It was super windy and originally we had wanted to boondock in the Humberto parking lot, but decided to press on to Iquique because of high winds.
On the drive west on Ch-16, when almost to Iquique there are painted spaced triangles on the roadway to show what speed you should be driving at depending on how many of the triangles you can see in the shoreline fog. What a great idea. Pacifica and Skyline Blvd. in Daly City should incorporate.
Iquique is unique. It is a huge modern city at the base of an enormous sand dune – 2000′ high. Looks like Honolulu with all the skyscrapers apartments and condominiums.
We stayed at the Altazor Flight School – a Hang gliding school. The hostel area is made totally from shipping containers. Our ‘view’ included to the north the main building section of downtown and to the south the cliffs. Gorgeous weather. Sunny after early morning fog in mid 70’s.
More of our adventures in Iquique in next blog entry.
Arequipa and Lake Titicaca
Farewell Peru, Bienvenidos Chile
As mentioned briefly in our last blog, we left Colca Cañón on Weds. Nov. 1 and on our drive over the highest pass to date at 15,947′ we drove through the vicuña preserve. In places the preserve looked like dried up salt lakes and we did see vicuña herds along the way.
Arequipa, a industrial and mining city of approx. 1m people, spreads out for miles and is situated at approximately 5800′ in an arid desert surrounded by volcanos. The temperatures are generally in the 70’s and it is sunny for 9 months of the year; with only three months making up their rainy season.
We pulled into our RV spot, Hotel Las Mercedes and the parking area is a narrow strip of grass. In fact to get to a spot, two other Overlanders, a French couple with their two young children and a German man with his Peruvian wife, had to pull in awnings and move their tables and chairs so we could pass.
On Nov. 2 we walked to the historic center to join a free Walking Tour. The young guide had lots of stories but I don’t know how much of it was true. She took us to the main square, Plaza de Armas, and told us about the Cathedral, but didn’t go in. Next on the tour was the Jesuit’s Compania de Jesus and she explained one painting. We visited the school next door then off to the Mercado. Then things got dicey. She took us to four vendors and essentially wanted us to buy off those vendors. We left the tour after the final one.
Instead we went to lunch at a TripAdvisor recommended restaurant -Zig Zag; turned out to be a good choice. Excellent salmon and alpaca served on sizzling hot Volcano rocks. And excellent Peruvian wines!
Nov. 3 turned out to be a cleaning day to get out all the dirt and dust from our three days on dirt roads with Dave doing the truck interior and I did the camper. And in the afternoon we walked the block and half to a large supermarket and stocked up.
On Nov. 4 we took ourselves back to the historic center and visited the wonderful Cathedral, which has been meticulously renovated and preserved (not dripping with gold or fantastic carvings and gilding – but beautiful anyway) and then visited the Compañía de Jesus in a more detailed and leisurely fashion. The highlight was the Monasterio de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Convent.)
This Convent is a city within a city and covers five acres. During the renovation leading up to the re-opening in 1970, they discovered over 400 art pieces that subsequently have been restored and a large number of the art pieces are hanging in two large exhibition halls set out in the form of a cross.
That day we lunched at another TripAdvisor recommendation – Dimas – which also turned out to be wise choice.
Sunday, Nov. 5 we got to the Plaza early so Dave could photograph the Plaza’s surrounding building colonnades in the best light.
After photographing the buildings, we had a late breakfast in one of the restaurants on its second floor balcony overlooking the Plaza.
We hit the Monday morning commute traffic on our way out of Arequipa on Nov. 6. And we had to backtrack north and east around the El Misti Volcano to keep on paved roads to get to Puno – our next destination.
Actually the drive back up to the Altiplano and over to Puno and Lake Titicaca went extremely smoothly. Good road and since only one, no chance of getting lost. 😎
We settled into the Casa Blanca Hostel 12km outside of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca in their walled-in yard. That night there was one other group of Overlanders traveling in a van; they were Swiss and had made the drive from Alaska to Puno in only five months. All they must do is drive. I’m so glad we can take our time and stay in one location for more than one night.
On Nov. 7th, we walked down to the road to catch a collectivo (shared van making short trips) but instead flagged down a taxi to take us into Puno and met Juan who was our courteous, friendly and safe driver for the next two days.
The first day we spent in and around Puno taking in the historic center sights as well as various overlooks around Puno.
Puno is nestled in the basin of the hills surrounding it on a large sheltered bay in Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca “straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia in the Andes Mountains, is one of South America’s largest lakes and the world’s highest navigable body of water at 12,506′ (3,812 m). Said to be the birthplace of the Incas, it’s home to numerous ruins.”
Juan picked us up early the next morning so we could take a ferry out to Uros, one of the populated numerous islands built up off of platforms of reeds. The ferry wouldn’t go unless it had 10 paying passengers; so we bought 8 of the seats because we didn’t want to wait any longer ($26 total) and shared our boat with, as it turns out, two San Franciscans, Cheryl and Rich. (Once again a tourist spot not catering to individual travelers, most people visit the islands on organized tours that bring them in from either Cusco or Arequipa and have arrangements with various boat operators.)
Our ferry was captained by Pablo and was much slower than the tour boats. And not as maintained. At one point on the return trip, the Captain had to pull over to a reed island, Dave held the mooring line while the Captain dug reeds out of the propeller.
Once back at the dock, Juan picked us up and took us east to the Archeological site Sillustani. This site has high round stone towers that are believed to be Incan burial mounds. Fascinating but at that elevation with the hot sun blasting I was reminded of the saying “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the hot sun midday.” I wonder which one we were.
We left Puno on Thursday, Nov. 9th and drove back across the Altiplano to Moquegua. We saw maybe 30 vehicles all day. And the drop down out of the Altiplano to Moquegua reminded me of the desert environment around Arequipa.
High elevation for the day was 15,021′ (4,578m). One stop was fascinating because after we stopped for photographing the sinuous river bed, we discovered on the other side of the road, a geyser erupting out of a block of rock stuck in the middle of the river.
Another interesting sight was llamas (or maybe alpacas – too far away to tell for sure) grazing on sand dunes. I can’t imagine what they were foraging for.
Once in Moquegua, we boondocked in front of the police station on the Samegua Plaza.
Friday, Nov. 10th, we followed the Moquegua River verdant green valley on PE-1S back down to the sand dune country that we have discovered runs the entire length of Peru for about 30-40 miles inland from the Pacific where the foothills start.
Once down in the sand dunes, we saw the biggest solar farm we’ve ever seen. (And in southeastern California from Barstow to Las Vegas Nevada there are some big solar farms.)
Makes total sense to have solar farms here. It never rains (average rainfall for the year is 18 mm or .71″) and it is sunny all day.
We decided since we were within 30 miles, to go ahead and try to get across the border into Chile.
We hate border crossings. There are never enough signs to explain where or what to do – even in Spanish. We have to rely on other Overlanders accounts and they’re not always accurate or clear.
The first set of buildings we drove to were not the right ones. But not discovered until we drove around and parked. Guard came over and pointed us down the road.
So we drove approximately 1 km down the road to another set of buildings. One Overlander’s account said park in the parking lot. But there was no parking lot on our side; I moved two orange cones for us to get to “a parking lot”. Which turned out to be wrong as another official came over in his vehicle and said “Not here, there”.
“There” turned out to be 7 or 8 lanes of randomly parked vehicles. We parked in one of the lanes and went and stood in the line.
The one good thing about this border crossing is that Peruvian and Chilean officials are in the same building and you simply move to one window to first sign out of Immigration in Peru, then right to next window for Chile Immigration. Then around the left side for Peruvian Customs for getting truck and camper out of Peru, slide over one window for Chilean Customs to get truck/camper into Chile.
But First, you have to have the right forms. We must have looked pathetic because first agent dug up a blank form from behind his desk to complete on who and what was going into Chile. Another agent went and retrieved another set of forms to complete on what food we were bringing into Chile (no fresh fruits, vegetables, uncooked meats, raw eggs or honey.) And another form describing the vehicle we were bringing in. And of course, everybody has to stamp and date in multiple places. One form ended up with 5 stamps.
Then you have to pull forward under the canopy for the actual inspection. But instructions were not clear and we went too far and it was a major hassle to back up under the canopy. Finally an inspector came through and I pointed out the various food items we had. She did confiscate the two sacrificial apples we had saved for this very purpose and cracked the four hard-boiled eggs to determine they were not fresh.
Finally we were free to go into Chile.
We drove 12 km down the road to the small recreational area called Villa Frontera to the Don Hugo campsite and called it a day.
Peru – we spent 81 days and drove 5,733 km (3,562 mi.) zigzagging across the Andes in Peru.
More about Arica and environs in next blog.
Bad roads and more bad roads.
Cock of the Rock Lodge & Colca Canyon
We left Cusco on Tuesday, October 24th after finally contacting Inka Natura, the tour company responsible for booking accommodations at the Cock of the Lodge, a private preserve adjacent to Manu National Park on the eastern slopes of the Andes in the cloud forest at 5800′.
The drive started out well even if it took some doing to get out of Cusco proper. Until the Puacartambo/Cusco road east towards the Amazonia Basin. About 30 miles up the road, we hit road construction. And irregardless of what the posted sign and paper handout said, which is that it would be open from 12-1, the road crew wouldn’t let us pass. Said we had to backtrack to a town not on our maps, take the dirt road shortcut across to Colquepata and then on to Paucartambo. Finally deciphered they were talking about the town called Mika.
From that point on for the next 60+ miles, it was a one-lane dirt road. First dusty and dry on western slope, then foggy and cold when at top, then wet, windy and warming as we descended on the eastern slope into the cloud forest where the lodge is located. It took us 5 hours once we had to start the detour to reach the Lodge.
When we arrived at the Lodge, they were somewhat surprised to see us. The Lodge caters to organized tour groups who come for two nights and leave. Not for individual travelers like us and our Cusco tour company hadn’t informed them of our imminent arrival.
Luckily they had a room available since it was the last week of the season complete with balcony, king size bed and mosquito net.
At this Reserve, there is no electricity (candles in the room), no cell service and no wifi. The Lodge runs a generator from 6-9pm so people can re-charge camera, smart phones and computer batteries. (Dave and I joked about charging people to use our camper solar-powered battery system for re-charging.)
Also we found out that the lek, the prime viewing ground for the national bird of Peru, the Cock of the Rock, wasn’t on the Lodge’s grounds, but a 45 minute walk away. And one had to make arrangements with the guard the day before to enter the Lek at 5:00am (prime viewing hours) the following day.
So the next morning after a tasty breakfast, (turns out all meals were tasty, nutritious, and tastefully presented), we trudged up the road to the Lek to find no guard and the place locked up. Walking back on the road in the heat, humidity and bugs, we were disappointed and discouraged.
But over lunch, as we were trying to make arrangements at the Lodge for someone to get us into the Lek, another Tour Operator, Elci , took pity on us and said we could go with her tourist couple that afternoon for the evening viewing.
So that’s what we did. Turns out the couple, Joan and Mark, were from Sunnyvale and Morgan Hill. Elci convinced the guard, upon arrival at the Lek, to let us in without prior arrangements – small incentive tip offered and accepted.
And it turned out great. The birds were close; the 8-9 males were especially active when a lone female arrived and the males started displaying and Dave got great photos.
Plus it was great to see and talk to some fellow Americans about the sad state of affairs in the US.
The next day we hung around the Lodge birding the hummingbird feeders and relaxing.
On Friday, October 27th, we left the Preserve and headed back up the horrible road.
During this leg, we took our time and stopped numerous times to take in views and for Dave to photograph the beauty of the Amazon cloud forest.
We didn’t make it back to paved roads by the afternoon, so we stopped in the small village, Colquepata, and boondocked on their small Plaza de Armas for the night.
On Saturday, October 28th, we made it back to paved roads and headed south to Sicuani
to stay at the Villa Sicuani for the night. But first we drove down to the River Vilcanota where men have established vehicle washing sites using water pumped up from the river. For 25 soles (which includes the tip; $8), they washed the dirt road dust which had turned to caked-on mud from the cloud forest rain, off the camper and truck.
Leaving Sicuani on Sunday, October 29th, on Highway 34G the drive started out great. Good paved road with interesting scenery. But 12km east as we were coming into Espinar, the pavement ended and became a wash-board dirt road. We had hoped by the time we got to Espinar, the road leading out would change back to pavement.
The road got worse. We spent the next two days traveling from Espinar to Chivay (105 km or 65 miles) driving on narrow dirt roads at 8-10 mph. We had to boondock at the Trés Cañones Information Center in the Apurimac Canyon the first night. The only good thing about this road was the fantastic scenery, little traffic so ok to stop in the middle of the road to take photos. We got lost once; but thanks to satellite gps, saw after 3-4 miles, that we were leaving the ‘road’ and really heading out into the wilderness.
The next night Halloween Eve, we boondocked in a wide spot in the road in front of three huts occupied by llama and alpaca herders.
Tuesday, October 31st, started out with our Trick – 26 degrees inside of the camper. We knew it had been cold the night before but nothing in camper or truck froze and all systems started up.
When we reached Sibayo and a paved road again, we were stopped at a fruit inspection center and our apples and oranges confiscated.
Then for our Treat – fantastic viewing of an ash eruption from the Volcano Sabancaya on our drive into Chivay.
We stopped in Chivay for a quick walk around the Plaza and along the market and had a late breakfast/early lunch.
But we moved on because our real goal was the Colca Cañón rim drive. Luckily this road has been recently upgraded and was an easy drive.
This is one of the few places in South America where you can see the endangered Andean Condor reliably. And we did see them soaring over the Cañón. Us and about 50 tour buses.
We spent the afternoon viewing the Cañón along the rim drive and ended up boondocking in the parking lot of the Mirador Cruz del Condor. Quiet after all the tour buses left around 1pm. But first buses pulled in the next morning at 8am. And the Overlook was teeming with people by 9am.
We watched the condors for a brief time then headed out up across the altiplano (high plain) (15,947′ – highest pass so far); through the vicuña preserve and down into Arequipa. We’re staying in the Hostel Las Mercedes parking area within walking distance of the old historic center. Weather is perfect – mid to upper 70’s.
We’ll stay a few days, but will keep you informed.
The altiplano on our way to Chivay (pronounced chee-VY) and the Colca Canyon:
We left our overnight stop in Limatambo and headed to Cusco. Although there was a light drizzle and fog crossing over another Andes pass, we were doing fine until we got to the outskirts of Cusco.
On the northwest outskirts, Google Maps tried to send us down a one block street to get to the Don Bosco road, a major thoroughfare which we wanted to use to go up into the foothills for our planned campground. Only one small problem: The one block street had put up barriers and only allowed small cars to enter; hence, not us. Which left us scrambling to find a way out of the historic center of Cusco with its narrow one-way streets and dead ends.
Long story short, we ended up damaging our passenger rear camper jack in a narrow alleyway. Then when we arrived at the Quinta Lala campground 1 hour later (1500 yards uphill), the gates were locked and caretaker wasn’t in. So we sat in truck, stewed and waited. Finally she arrived and we entered.
So this week has been largely spent with us waiting around in the campground for a mechanic, a metal worker and an electrician to show up. Because although they say 8am, they might show up at 11am. But as of Saturday the 21st, we have a re-vamped metal bracket to hold the jack in place and an electrical jack that works.
After visits by repairmen, we have walked downhill into the historic center of Cusco and visited the ever-present Plaza de Armas, the Cusco Basilica and the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus.
We have also visited the local Starbucks several times to use their wifi since the campground’s wifi is off half of the time.
Weather has been cool, rainy and drizzly in the afternoons with temperatures dropping down into the high 40’s at night. It hailed one afternoon so we dodged into Starbucks again.
After our sightseeing and wifi work, we have topped off with a late lunch at restaurants in the historic center before taking taxis back up the hill to the campground. We have discovered fine cuisine has arrived in Cusco as well as Lima because of the high tourist influence. One afternoon, one waiter, after the lunch crowd had cleared out, tutored us on where grown, how made and which Piscos are the best.
On Sunday, October 22, we were in the campground because it was Peru’s Census day and there was a curfew from 8am – 5pm. Even tourist are subject to curfew and shouldn’t be on roads unless one has applied and received a special waiver. It’s raining off and on so that was ok.
HIGHLIGHT: Nazca and Palpa Lines
On Monday, October 9th, We decided we had to leave Lima and its excellent cuisine behind since we had accomplished the 30+ chores/errands on our To Do list and head on south.
But we got off to a rocky start. The Miraflores suburb where we were staying is on the cliffs. The first road we wanted was down at the beach level. No problem getting down but at some point we needed to re-climb up. And we missed the underpass to return to the top road, so we had to backtrack for about a mile until we could do a u-turn on the divided street. Second time we found the underpass and made it through another industrial area in southern Lima.
First off I must say the area north of Lima and now south of Lima on the PanAmerican Highway is some of the most desolate, depressing and dreary scenery I have ever seen and I generally can find Something interesting about all the landscapes we have driven through. Hundreds of miles of beige sand dunes hundreds of feet high. Not even white sand. Made even drearier by constant high fog. The only interesting thing was the miles of sandy beaches.
And as one is driving by, one spies hundreds of small empty stacks no more than 8’x8′. No roads to them, no tracks through the sand, no electricity or sewers. The only thing we could figure out is that they are temporary housing for migrant workers; but what those migrant workers are doing since there is no agricultural, construction or industrial areas nearby is confusing.
After we had taken one road construction detour and was pulling back onto the Highway, there were 6-8 police trucks with about 20 officers pulling people over. At least this time I didn’t feel they were targeting the gringos because they were pulling everybody over. Our lights were on, our seat belts were cinched and our documentos were in order so they let us go.
But not more than 2 miles down the road, a single police truck with one young cop and one old guy started their lights and motioned for us to pull over. The young guy asked for our documents and David handed them to him. Then the old guy got into the act. Dave asked why they pulled us over. No answer.
The old guy said lights weren’t on and we said yes they were on and still were on. Then he said seatbelt wasn’t strapped and we said Dave undid it so he could reach his wallet for his driver’s license (after the young cop asked for it.) Then when Dave said ‘We’re not paying a bribe.’ things got tense. Old guy is yelling at top of lungs with hand on hip gun holster saying ‘No respecto de Policia, en Estados Unidos, no respecto de Policia.” And wouldn’t let Dave get a word in. Finally he ran out of steam and we said we wanted all of us to go to closest Policia station and get it solved there. That’s when he handed back our documents and said to go. Sour note to add to dreary scenery.
We made it to Paracas National Park and found the beach access parking lot and the kite surfing company. We boondocked there for the night after watching the wading birds and flamingos and having a Pisco Sour to de-stress from our police encounter and resulting arguments.
On Tuesday, Oct. 10th, we drove straight through to Nazca where we knew we could park and sleep in the small airport parking lot for approximately $10/night. At least in this part of the PanAmerican when we started to climb, we started seeing rock formations with different natural striping from iron deposits in the lava flows so was more interesting.
Our goal in Nazca was to book a flight over the Nazca Lines. The first thing that happened when we pulled into the parking lot was we were met by one of the air companies’ representatives before we could even get our doors open. We went into the airport with them and they explained the various options as to length of flight, size of plane, custom or group tour and whether the air flight included just the Nazca Lines or also included the Palpa Lines – just north of Nazca. We decided to go all out and booked a flight over both sets for 7am the next morning in a two-seater with Aero Santos. (Not counting the pilot and co-pilot/tour guide’s seats.) (Wishing it would have been Randy flying us.) Dave took his Dramamine and we settled in for the night.
Bright and early on Wednesday, Oct. 11th, we caught our flight. Sunny, clear and not too windy. (Unlike the previous afternoon’s dust storm that caused sandy grit to drift into the camper even with door and windows closed.)
This hour-long flight over the Nazca and Palpa Lines was one of the most unique, awe-inspiring and unreal experiences of my life. We have flown in small planes before so that wasn’t the highlight. We have seen desert landscapes before so it wasn’t that either.
It was the sheer number of easily recognizable figures of animals and humans etched into the desert sands. I had known there were generally 8-12 figures but from the air, we could easily discern hundreds of geometric figures as well. And these ‘drawings’ are large. One of the hummingbird ‘drawings’ is three football fields long – 300 yards. From carbon dating, it has been established that these were created around 500bc. This area gets little rainfall and lack of water erosion has preserved them. And various Archeological studies have shown how they were made.
But no one has any valid idea of why!
After that flight, one can easily understand why some people think they were created by aliens. Made one feel very small and insignificant.
After returning to earth and getting a breakfast in the airport cafe, Dave slept off the residual effects of the Dramamine and we decided to spend another night in the airport parking lot. (Generally after the last flights land around 3pm, the airport staff, the cafe workers and the t-shirt and tourist stuff vendors leave around 6pm, it is deserted. That night it was us and one other Overlander camper and the security guard. And that afternoon, flights were grounded even earlier since another dust storm reduced visibility to about 200 yards.)
On Oct. 12 we left Nazca and headed back up into the Andes. Our next destination was Cusco which we will use as a staging area to go down into the Amazon Basin to a reserve adjacent Manu National Park.
As our drive took us up, we started seeing more rock color combinations other than just beige. Road was in decent shape and we found out why when no more than 45 minutes after leaving Nazca we came upon our first road construction delay of the day. The flag woman said 12 or12:30. She said “doce y media” and we thought we mis-interpreted it. But no, we were stopped along with 100 other vehicles from both directions for 2 & 1/2 hours so that it was 12:20 when we could go through the approx. 2km. section being re-tarred. After getting through this section, we had two more shorter delays.
But after climbing up and up (highest point of the day was 10,261′) we arrived at the wind-swept grasslands known as pampas. That is when we started to see wild guanacos.
Also, although it is the dry season, when we were up on the pampas, it started to rain. So it was cold, windy and wet.
Consequently, we didn’t get as far as even halfway to Cusco. We stopped at a very basic restaurant, La Finca de Pachan, outside of Lucanas to have a late lunch and since the owners have allowed Overlanders to park overnight in their upper parking lot before, we opted to stay there for the night at 10,241′. It was in a shallow cleft in the mountain so the lot was protected from the wind.
Oct. 13th: After having one of the oddest breakfasts of our trip at their restaurant, we headed back out on PE-30A northeast towards Cusco.
After filling up with gas in Puquio, we climbed up and down the Andes several times and reached at the highest point 14,854′. At times it was only us, the trucks, the llamas and alpacas on the road. And for another day, it was raining, windy and cold. And another road construction delay, but this time for only 45 minutes.
Around 1pm, we descended into the Rio Apurima Gorge. This gorge went on for miles and was gorgeous. At times, the Gorge was, perhaps, only 100′ across and at other times opened up wider so that there were banana and other fruit tree orchards. In places, there were thermal bath resorts.
We stopped at another Overlander app recommendation – Hotel Tampumayu at 2:40. Pulling up to one gate which was chained and locked, I rang the buzzer and a staff member motioned us to another gate which was also chained and locked. (Because as usual, there were no signs to indicate the correct entry.) But he unlocked the gate and let us in and we parked on the grassy area above the river and I checked in.
We were told the restaurant would open at 3:30 so we chilled for about 30 minutes. When the young chef arrived, we ordered our meals. Dave had the standard lomo saltado and I had beef in a three pepper sauce. Both were good so we ordered dessert crepes for postres.
At that time, we thought we were the only ones staying there. But after dark and in the rain, a troop of 9 Gringos pulled in on their huge touring motorcycles along with their support truck to stay the night. They were on a bike ride from Arequipa to Cusco. Later a three vehicle caravan from Peru Adventures brought in more Gringos. But those groups all stayed in the hotel. So evidently the Hotel is a tour group stopping point.
October 14: After a specially requested breakfast of ham and cheese omelettes, we headed northeast on PE-30A which soon turned into PE-3S. We followed the Rio Apurima Gorge for quite some time until we climbed up into the large town of Abancay. After leaving Abancay, we climbed once again up into the Andes and through rain and fog, but spotted our first snow-capped mountains since leaving the Cordillera Blanca range in mid-Peru.
First we followed the Rio Berbejo and then the Rio Colorado valleys. Highlight of the day was when we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant, they were celebrating the re-opening with a new owner. So in the middle of our lunch, they ushered us out, locked the door, gave the key to Dave for him to re-open with fanfare and photos. Then 5 minutes later, ushered us out again into the rain and some official made a long speech and then cut the ribbon. So our 50 soles bill was the first earnings of the new owner. I hope he frames the bill paid by the Gringos.
The second river gorge was extremely scenic
so after numerous photo stops, we decided to boondock in the small town of Limatambo on its main plaza instead of pushing on into Cusco. It was relatively quiet except for the three young boys shooting the pickup with their plastic guns. That stopped when I stormed out of camper and confronted them and flagged down a passing policeman who gave them a talking to.
The next morning October 15th we were awakened at 6am by crews setting up sound booths and stages for a festival. So we had a quick breakfast and scooted out of the plaza before we were penned in.
Foggy and wet drive into Cusco. Will follow up our drive into Cusco to campground through narrow streets and damaged camper jack in next blog post.