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: