November 26 – December 2, 2017

Leaving Atacama desert behind; Mostly

Antofagasta Chile – what another surprise. Dave and I are beginning to really like the coastal cities in the far north of Chile.

Antofagasta is similar to Iquique but its location isn’t set against such a towering sand dune like Iquique. It is, however, like Iquique set between the coastal range and the Pacific Ocean. Antofagasta is slightly bigger population-wise; both are major seaports servicing primarily the minerals being mined in the Atacama region for export, both have wonderful seaside malecóns, both have high rise condominiums and apartments scattered throughout their cities, both have interesting historic centers relating to the colonial exploitation of the Chile’s mineral wealth, and both have an arid climate with temperatures in mid 70’s and both are foggy in the mornings clearing by noon.

On the 26th, we wandered south along the Antofagasta malecón to a municipal beach and watched the Chilean families enjoying a variety of water activities and sunbathing. I became engrossed in watching one novice kayaker who spilled into the water trying to regain his seat in the kayak. No luck, he finally had to swim to shore towing the kayak.

Antofagasta’s shorline
Antofagsta’s public beach
Reminds me of Pacifica where you put on a jacket when going to the beach.
Antofagasta at night

The 27th found us wandering in the northern direction along the malecón and into the downtown historic area to the Plaza de Armas.

In the evening we made arrangements to take an astronomy tour to do some star watching since Northern Chile has almost ideal observing conditions to watch the stars and Chile has a number of international observatories scattered through the Atacama Region. Minimal water vapor in the atmosphere, little cloud cover, sparse light pollution and high peaks for stationing the observatories make for some of Earth’s best viewing of the stars.

I thought our tour was to an actual observatory; instead it was an astronomer phd. instructor and his student who drove us up to one of the peaks south of Antofagasta, set up his large professional telescope and ‘lectured’ us on what we were seeing. Interesting fact: the telescopes are now aligned using gps. He was knowledgeable and didn’t make it too technical so we could understand him and he spoke good English. So even though not what I was expecting, it turned out to be a good evening even when the almost full moon cast so much light it started to blur the stars and planets.

Sunset at our star gazing site

On the 28th we left the Coast briefly on Highway 5 to drive to Chañaral. But on the way we stopped at the El Mano del Desierto ‘weird’ sculpture set out in the middle of the windswept desert and a second even odder stop – an old huge abandoned historic cemetery for the mining company – Oficina Chile. After arriving in Chañaral, we boondocked at one of their oceanside parking lots above some docks.

Mano del Desierto
Oficina Chile Cementario

We have noticed, and there are big government billboards making the announcements, Chile is in a big infrastructure municipal projects boom. We have seen work on town boat ramps to service their fishing and tourist industries, bridges on small roads across, mostly in this area, dry streams and river beds, seawalls, roads of course, public housing, water canals, town central plazas, seaside malecóns and art projects. All for “Todos por Chile”.

On Nov. 29th we drove north from Chañaral to the Pan de Azúcar. This coastal nature reserve abuts the ocean and climbs over the coastal range so it has several different habitats for plants and animals. One of the islands offshore is a Humboldt penguin nesting ground. But they were not in evidence at this time of the year.

The dirt road leading to the reserve is in good shape but when we tried to take the side spur to the Mirador, it quickly became worse. So after a short while we returned to Caleta Pan de Azúcar and boondocked in one of their parking lots. And watched the bus loads of children and teens come through. After the buses left, it was quiet even if windy.

Pan de Azucar

The 30th found us back on the road to Bahía Inglesa and Caldera.

The Caldera fishing fleet

The most unusual stop during this mostly coastal road drive was the Santuario de la Naturaleza Granito Orbicular.

“The orbicular granite, also known as orbicular rock or orbiculite, is an unusual rare plutonic igneous rock usually of granitic composition in a general sense. These rocks have a unique appearance of “orbiculos” (concentric layers of spheroidal structure) probably formed by nucleation around a growth nucleus (mineral grain or strange rock) in a cooling magma chamber. On the beach there is a geological outcrop consisting of granite rocks with these elliptical orbits. (

Orbicular rock

In Caldera we visited the main square and had lunch at a restaurant in the fish market before driving to Bahía Inglesa where we boondocked in their new beach parking lot; quite a project with paved walking paths and covered awnings.

Boondocking in Bahia Inglesa

After another quiet night with only the sounds of the shorebirds, we left Bahía Inglesa on Friday Dec. 1 and turned inland. Only when we got closer to Copiapó and along the Rio Copiapó did vineyards and other farming areas start dotting the valley.

We made a stop at the Museo Minera de Tierra Amarilla just outside Copiapó but what a disappointment. The outside exhibits had limited signage so the numerous displays just looked like chunks of rock and the interior rooms weren’t even open. I had wanted to see the capsule that brought the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in 2010 up to the surface. Later we learned that the Chilean President delayed their release for several hours so he could get there for the photo op. Politicians are the same everywhere. (Speaking of that politician, he just won re-election on the 17th.)

What was interesting was when we continued west on C-411 back to Ruta 5 we discovered miles of vineyards covering the valleys’ floors and partially up the otherwise brown dry hillsides.

After driving for some time on Ruta 5, we turned west at Vallenar and followed the verdant Rio Huasco orchard valley filled with olive trees to the port town of Huasco. Where we boondocked in one of their beach parking lots after exploring the center on foot.

The desert in bloom along Ruta 5

Dec. 2nd we drove from Huasco to La Serena or more precisely Coquimbo, a beach community on the southern end of Serena to the campsite Turismo El Huerto. After ascertaining that we would fit into the individualized parking slots, we put up the roof and the vent cover just nudged up the net awning over each of the slots.

Coquimbo at night

An unusual campground in that each of the parking spots had not only their own table, benches, BBQ pit and shelving, each one had their own locked individualized bathroom with hot water showers. Was extremely handy to leave toiletries in your ‘own’ bathroom.

More on La Serena in the next entry.

Nov 11 – 16th 2017

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.

Finding German influenced architecture in Chile didn’t take long.

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.

The 21 de Mayo paseo.
We didn’t expect to see a McDonalds in Arica, 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.

With Victor, our taxi driver, for scale. He turned out to be a Pinochet fan.

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.

Volcan Parinacota is located near the Bolivian border and Lago Chungará at 15,000 feet.
View of Volcan Parinacota from the south
A southern viscacha at the Lago Chungará ranger station
You do not want to mess with this guy.

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.

Church at Santiago Humberstone ghost town
300-seat theatre at Santiago Humberstone 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.

A hostel constructed from shipping containers.
(Pronounced ee-KEE-kay) View to the north from our campground.

View to the south from our campground.

More of our adventures in Iquique in next blog entry.

October 24 – 31, November 1, 2017

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.

Bungalow #12 – The mosquito net had holes in it. We were badly bitten on our last night.

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.

This may not be the road to hell, but it can you close to it.

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.

Very weird.
Morning in Colquepata, Peru.

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.

The DIYers.

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.

Morning traffic in the Peruvian altiplano.

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 survived another one!

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.

Andean Condors – The lower bird is a juvenile.
Andean Condor

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:

September 27 – October 9, 2017

Maybe I shouldn’t buy smaller clothes just yet. Lima – Foodies Capital of South America.

18 Months On The Road & 20,000 miles

But first: We left our bird sanctuary and headed straight south (always south) towards Lima on the PanAmerica Highway 1 at 9 am on Wednesday, September 27th.

  1. We knew this section was rife with police stops.
  2. We knew it was required to have lights on.
  3. We knew this section had numerous complaints about foreign vehicles being stopped.
  4. We knew fog was prevalent through this section.
  5. We knew police asked for extras.


We had our lights on previously, but we stopped for a soda and they turned off; I had been nagging all along about lights but didn’t after this stop, 5 minutes later toll taker wished us a ‘buen viaje’ (good trip) but nothing about lights, and within 100′ feet of toll plaza, we were pulled over by Policia and cited for No Lights.

Discussions started out at 600 Peruvian Soles ($200).

But special deal Gringo.

If paid within 5 days, only 30%. Ok. That brings it down to $60. And copper, he’s still holding a copy of our vehicle title, originals of Peruvian insurance and Peruvian Custom’s paper (I have made copies since) and Dave’s original driver’s license.

After 15 minutes of soft-spoken debate and implying 600 soles was outrageous, we agreed to 30%. I knew that was acceptable from earlier travelers’ readings. But knew when he brought a folder and asked us to put cash directly in folder without him touching it, what it really was. No ticket. No record.

Simply cash in a folder. Paid.

Anyway, we’re back on road. (First Bribe since Mexico btw.)

I have lived in Pacifica CA for 30+ years. I know fog.

The next section from Huacho to just north of  Lima was foggy. At one point, Dave and I are creeping along at 20 mph with lights on and hazard lights blinking continuously. We couldn’t see more than 30′ in front of us. Only good thing, it was a divided good paved highway which cut down the hazards.

After navigating through the fog, I ignored Google’s directions to go through the heart of Lima with its 10 million inhabitants and instead opted to go west around City on a major bypass through the industrial sections and by the airport.

The industrial sections posed its own special problems because it led through ports. Heavy semi truck traffic, mis-used damaged roads, heavy port traffic, and another police stop.

This time we had our lights on. So papers were checked and then we were motioned to proceed. Two lanes narrowed down to one because of stopped semis trying to get in/out of ports, oil refineries and storage facilities.

But with only one missed turn and we just went around the traffic circle again; but took a different  wrong turn out of traffic circle again and had to do a-turn. (Getting good at bullying our way into traffic with our out-sized vehicle.)

Anyway, we pulled into the Hitchhiker’s Lima Hostel around 2pm on the southwest side of Lima in the upscale safe neighborhood of Miraflores on Pacific Ocean’s cliffs.

This Hostel is primarily a hotel with a few parking places for RV’s. And I mean a few. We’re not a big RV at 8.5′ x 20′. This parking area will only accommodate 4 of us. But there are no other options in Lima that offer secure parking. (I had emailed five hotels within Lima about secure parking that would accommodate us; 2 replied and said no. Never heard from others at all.) (Good thing I had reserved us a spot at Hitchhikers.)

So we squeezed in, set the parking brake and said “Lunch.” (Squeezed in with about 1 foot between us and another truck camper. And we’ve had to back out and in several times to let other vehicles leave.) (On the other hand, secure, centrally-located and only $10/a night.)


So began our first taste of Lima.

I randomly picked the closest restaurant. What a find. (But so far, they all have been finds.)

It was a upscale buffet that had a salad bar, a ceviche stand and a cold plate and a hot plate section and the best dessert bar since our trip began. I waddled back to the camper.

Lima is in a desert. It is the second driest Capital in the World after Cairo. (That is why the melting of the Andes Glaciers due to climate change is so critical to Peru. Lima is situated on the Pacific Ocean’s cliffs; it is – just like Pacifica – generally foggy in the mornings with clearing in the afternoons and temperatures year-round are in the low 70’s. Perfect for us Pacificans. It only rains 5-6 times a year.

For the first week, we have done mostly chores and errands we had put off (ok-procrastinated) until we were in a major city. Namely, we had 30+ chores/errands between Dave’s and my To Do List such as 1. Locating a reliable mechanic – Done: Mario Gil, 2. Locating and getting four new all-terrain tires installed (in some parts of Chile and Patagonia, there are no paved roads). Thank you Mario. 3. Getting new shock absorbers bought, cut, filed and installed. Thank you again Mario. 4. Defrosting freezer. 5. Cleaning camper after dusty roads on east side of Andes. Washed and waxed: Followed Mario to nearest site. 6. Getting 9 kilos of laundry done. 7. Getting care package from my sister containing new debit card from DHL office and testing new debit cards. 8. Sending package of woven goods from Central America back to US, 9. Finding fast wifi so Dave could upload Ecuador highlight photos, and 10. Getting jeans shortened and new pants ordered for Dave.

Anyway, you get the idea. Only a few items remain on List and will stay on List.

And in between, we have had Great lunches. Restaurants: 1. Brujas de Cachiche, 2. Edo Sushi Bar, 3. Alfresco (best of the best), 4. Montalvo and 5. Canta Rana.

I will spot these Liman restaurants against any in San Francisco on any day. And I know San Franciscan’s Fine Dining!!!!👍👍👍🍷🥃🍾🍹!!!

Hence the need for me to delay buying new smaller clothes.

The tourist things we have done during our stay in Lima was:

A. Food Walking Tour (who would guess) of Miraflores (suburb we are in). We were educated about and tasted some new fruits and Peruvian dishes:

  • Tuna (pitaya)
  • Granadilla
  • Chirimoya
  • Golden Berry
  • Ceviche in ‘leche de tigre.’
  • Causa pollo
  • Papa Rellena

B. Self-guided Walking Tour of Barranco –

(Another suburb of Lima that was originally a vacation area on the Coast for Limans that is slowly being re-gentrified and swallowed into Lima.) Highlights included:

  1. Museo Pedro de Osma with its extensive silver collection (thought of you – Peggy) and gorgeous detailed inlaid furniture.
  2. MATE Museo Mario Testino – current high-fashion photographer
  3. Plaza Chabuca Granda. She was a well-known Peruvian singer and composer. (

After checking out the bohemian neighborhood, we had lunch at a highly-recommended local restaurant – Canta Rana. “Around for decades, this unpretentious spot is draped in flags and plastered in photos packs with the locals with its offering of more than 17 different types of ceviche.” (

C. Scheduled City Driving Tour with Mario. Ended up driving all over City true – not to any tourist spots – but still doing errands. Saw parts of the City no tourist will ever see.

D.  Circuito Mágico del Agua. A 3-City block water park. Had 3 major fountains synchronized to light, sound and laser effects with numerous other fountains and water features. Puts Las Vegas’ Bellagio fountain to shame. Also the day we were there they had set up a large screen tv for Peru’s World Cup playoffs with Argentina. (Match ended up 0-0 tie which Peru considered a ‘win’ since probably knocked out Argentina’s chance to appear in World Cup for first time in 15 years.

E. Self-guided Walking Tour of historic Lima center with:

  • Cathedral with 15 side chapels built in the 1570’s,
  • Government Palace,
  • Plaza Mayor (aka Plaza de Armas),
  • Santa Domingo Church,
  • Alameda Chabuca Granda,
  • Hotel Bolivar,
  • Monastery de San Francisco, and as energy level was lagging,
  • Plaza San Martin.

September 22 – 27 2017

Adios, Huaraz.

We’re not happy unless we are zigzagging across the Andes, so on Friday Sept. 22nd, we headed to the east side of the Cordillera Blanca.

To get to a road that cuts through the southern end of the Cordillera Blanca, we drove south from Huaraz to Catac to take Hwy. 110 across. Of course, Google maps had us turn too soon and tried to get us to drive across a footbridge. 

I kid you not! 

But I found an alternative bridge to cross the Rio Santa. The further south we headed and then east, we entered vast stretches of rolling grasslands with the white-capped Cordillera Blanca forming the backdrop. Gorgeous!

We followed a good paved road that just had been re-done so it was an easy drive up to the pass at 14,800’+ through the new Tunnel Kahuish. Immediately after the tunnel, the road turned to graded gravel sections interspersed with the old pavement on the eastern downslope. And filled with transportation workers upgrading that section. With only a few waits for construction areas’ one-way delays, the drive down was uneventful other than extremely dusty and dirty. We were coated with dust by the time we arrived at our destination – Chauvin de Huantar. 

We pulled into the tiny Plaza de Armas (it seems to be a requirement in Peru that their main squares all be called Plaza de Armas), parked for the night and found us a lunch spot. After dining on sandwiches, the dueña (owner) requested that Dave stick a pin in on a world map to show her where we were from. 

We wandered the town for awhile trying to locate a tour company to take us to the Chauvin Archeological site. We thought we had made arrangements with a taxi driver to pick us up the next morning at 8 am. 

So on Saturday, we waited but no taxi driver. We ended up walking up to the site that turned out to be only 1/2 mile out of town. But it didn’t open until 9 – contrary to the advice of the taxi drivers from the day before. So we walked back to a nearby restaurant, had a Coke and waited. 

The reason for our visit to Chauvin is because it’s an ancient site dating to 1200 bc and it is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

“While the fairly large population was based on an agricultural economy, the city’s location at the headwaters of the Marañón River, between the coast and the jungle, made it an ideal location for the dissemination and collection of both ideas and material goods. This archeological site is a large ceremonial center that has revealed a great deal about the Chavín culture. Chavín de Huántar served as a gathering place for people of the region to come together and worship.”

One climbs down and up ladders to explore the still structurally-sound tunnels.

Indiana Krenzel

One of the most interesting rooms was the Lanzón Gallery, located at the very center, which contains a sculpture of the Lanzón, which is assumed to be a supreme deity of Chavín de Huántar. The figure is anthropomorphic, with a feline head and human body. 

Editor's note: The only artifact in the entire complex where photos were prohibited.

The sculpture is 4.53 meter (14.8′) high and is behind glass and the guards made sure no photos were allowed. Here is a photo of a replica found in Peru’s Museum of the Nation. 


After walking back into town and having a delicious lunch of Trucha (trout) with a garlic sauce, we headed back to the truck with the idea we would drive further north to a scenic Mirador (lookout) to spend the night. However when we turned east at San Marcos, the road became increasingly rockier and narrower; so when we found a spot, we turned around and headed back down to valley, back through Chauvin, back through the road construction areas til we arrived at the Tunnel Kahuish where we decided to boondock for the night. 

After the tunnel intermittent traffic died down around 9-10pm, it was so quiet. Only the wind at this 14,816′ pass. We didn’t do any hiking I can tell you. And that night, it got a little chilly with temperatures down to 43degrees and with the wind chill, I’m sure it was close to freezing. At one point during the night, I thought I heard the rain turn to sleet. 

Woke up cold to a beautiful day. Stunningly beautiful.


The view we woke up to.
Laguna Querococha (High res version:
Back in the flat lands.

After driving down the western slope of the Andes and returning to Catac, we headed south again until we could take Hwy. 16 at Lake Conococha west. After leaving the grasslands at Conococha, the drive down the Rio Chancay valley led through high cliffs of interesting rock formations but by the time we arrived back at the PanAmerican at Chilcal, we had returned to the beige (some would say boring) sand dunes that seem to line the northern Peruvian coast. 

We pulled into Barranca and drove straight to the cliffs overlooking Chorrillos Beach. Felt right at home in the cool foggy environment with cliffs overlooking sandy beaches.

Playa Chorrillos

We knew from our iOverlander app this was a safe spot to boondock because well-lit with frequent police drive-bys. After a walk down the cliffs to the beach to buy our ice cream, we retired for the evening. After the local mototaxi drivers left around 9:30, we only heard the surf all night long. 

On Sept 25th, we headed into the Plaza de Armas (there is that name again) to find breakfast and locate a tour company to take us to Caral, a nearby Archeological site. 

Lonely Planet’s tour company recommendation address was in a closed hotel under construction. The google search for a tourist office led us to a closed store with no indication of when it might be open. So after breakfast we flagged down a taxi. Not so easy because gillons of mototaxi, but this site is 20 miles out of town and we wanted a bigger vehicle to travel that far. Finally, with the help of the casino’s security guard we were standing in front of, we caught a taxi. 

It took us one hour over bad roads and even worse 2.5 mile driveway (fording a semi-dry river) to get to this site. Once again we’re glad it was their vehicle taking the beating. 

Caral is the OLDEST civilization site in the Americas. Carbon-dating puts it over 5,000 years old. This is the same time as the building of Egypt’s pyramids. 

It is in the Rio Supe valley and except for 1000′ along the river banks, it is extremely dry, sandy and barren.


The site was discovered in the 1940’s but because no precious metals were found it wasn’t excavated until the 1970’s by Stanford woman archeologist Ruth Shady. 

The complex has centers all over the valley extending for miles. The site we visited contains six temples surrounding several large plazas. Because no warlike artifacts and weapons were found (no tombs) and musical instruments and woven objects were found, it is believed this civilization, and specifically, this site was for a cultural and religious people. 

“Among the artifacts found at Caral was a knotted textile piece that the excavators have labelled a quipu. They argue that the artifact is evidence that the quipu record keeping system, a method involving knots tied in rope that was brought to perfection by the Inca Empire, was older than any archaeologist had previously guessed. Evidence has emerged that the quipu may also have recorded logographic information in the same way writing does. Gary Urtonhas suggested that the quipus used a binary system which could record phonological or logographic data.”


After our guided tour, we headed back to Barranca to a well-reviewed seafood restaurant on the Playa Chorrillos – Tato’s. 

After lunch when we started walking back to the far end of the Playa and up the hill to the Green Hornet, the restaurant’s owner became very alarmed about us walking back on the deserted weekday streets at 3:00pm for security reasons. So he called his son and had his son walk us back to the hill’s staircase. Evidently on weekdays on the Playa when not busy, armed robbery of tourists happens.  Once up the hill, we had been parked outside of a busy school with lots of people, mototaxis and frequent police drive-bys. We made it back with no problems and none all evening and night. 

Our next planned stop was Lima but because of limited parking/camping selections in Lima, I had reservations for a site. But when I emailed asking if we could come in a day early, we were told “no room for truck”.

So instead, on Tuesday Sept 26th, we drove 20 miles south from Barranca to a coastal lagoon and bird migration flyover stop and preserve to Albuferas de Medio Mundo Bird Sanctuary. 

There was no one there except the caretaker and one handyman. We had a miles-long lagoon surrounded by reeds and at the outer ring, sandy desert, to ourselves.

Two life birds here: Puna Ibis and West Peruvian Dove

Talk about quiet. In the distance were rows of farmed chicken houses. After a walk to scope out the birds, we retired for the evening to the sound of water lapping against reeds. 

For comments on our trip into Lima the next day, see our upcoming blog. 

September 14 – 22 2017

Middle Cordillera Blanca; specifically Parque Nacional Huascarán (Huaraz-based)

After checking in with the Hotel Real Huascarán, we drove through a separate gate around back to the pasture with four alpacas and two cows.

The herd that shares our camping site.

Which is where we were established for a few days. Upon our arrival while having lunch in the Hotel’s restaurant and de-chilling from our efforts to get up to the Punta Olímpico pass, we saw on the ever-present running tv, there was a earthquake in Manacuna which is about 180 miles south of Huaraz. We didn’t feel anything and no damage here. 

But Huaraz suffered a devastating earthquake in 1970 that destroyed 80-90% of its structures. “Combined with a resultant landslide, it was the worst catastrophic natural disaster in the history of Peru. Due to the large amounts of snow and ice included in the landslide and its estimated 66,794 to 70,000 casualties, it is also considered to be the world’s deadliest avalanche.”


On the 15th I woke up with a sore throat and aches all over so we took it easy for the day. It showered in the afternoon. 

On the 16th, we took a taxi to a Lonely Planet recommended tour company to arrange for another walk/hike up into the Andes. Visited an atm and replenished our cash and had lunch near the Plaza de Armas and returned to the camper before the rain. 

Bright and early at 7am on the 17th, Eli Morales from Peruvian Andean Adventures met us and took us on a walking tour through the outskirts of Huaraz and up the slopes to the village of Marian.

Our guide, Eli.

Eli is the son of a mountain climbing expedition leader and he and his brother also are mountaineers/expeditioners and jointly run Peruvian Andean Adventures. 

At one point while walking the trails, we met an old woman washing some clothes in the irrigation canal and after a brief discussion, realized she could use one of our hiking poles. As it turned out, we had a spare one because years ago, one had gotten pushed off a bridge over a rushing stream in the USA Glacier National Park (if I recall correctly) so when we got back to camper, we gave the spare to Eli to take back to her on his next walking tour. 

The women and men are weathered and look old but still manage to climb to and from the houses set on the steep slopes and their fields, so I asked Eli what was the life expectancy thinking that with their hard life it would be 70 or so. He said no. At least in this part of Peru, it’s mid to late 90’s. And here I’m struggling along in low 60’s. Geez!!!

Trails weren’t too steep but still had to stop and catch my breath occasionally and on this day, our trek took about 4 hours and covered 4-5 miles. 

At 7am on Sept. 18th, Eli picked us up and took us to 12,500-13,000′ through the Quillqueyhuanca valley. 

After an hour drive, We went on a three hour hike through the valley surrounded by Cerros Churup, Chinchey, Tullparaju and San Juan. Beautiful day through a long valley that was mostly flat but extremely windy. Gorgeous and stunning mountain scenery. 

We came across a gentleman while hiking in this beautiful valley. He asked our guide if we had any medication for a toothache.  I gave him my Advil stash that I was carrying with me. 

Man with a toothache.


Then we came back to camper and……camper key wouldn’t unlock the camper. So we ate our leftover lunch outside, cursed, fumed and tried to figure out how we were going to get into the camper.  

We first asked the hotel, whose grassy area we are parked in, for help. Of course with our limited Spanish and no English on their side it took awhile to get the problem understood and what help we needed. They tried to line up a locksmith but they don’t have mobile locksmiths here and told us to drive to their shop. Couldn’t do that because the camper tent-top was up and the switch to bring down to be able to drive was inside the locked camper. 

So I emailed Eli, our guide for help and he located someone to come over and he waited with us. The man arrived, fiddled around with it and finally got it opened. Then he took the whole component off, took it back to his shop and created two new keys for us and cleaned up the specialized camper lock. Evidently a chip had fallen off of our key and jammed in the lock.  The locksmith charged us $27 to come out, clear out and make us two new keys and re-install. 

We were so grateful to Hotel, locksmith and Eli. And it only took 5 hours. 

But we were back snug in our home away from home by 7pm. 

Then the day ended with a spectacular sunset. Highs and lows of one day. I don’t think I can take this drama. 

On Sept 21 we simply caught up on paperwork, visited the cash atm, recharged claro SIM card and had lunch at 13 Buhos. Good hamburgers – all beef. Generally the restaurants use a grain filler of some sort.

At 6am on Sept 22, Eli picked us up and drove us up the valley to Laguna Llaca and the related Ranrapalca glacier. The drive of only 27km (16.7miles) took 90 minutes. I’m so glad we were using Eli’s 4×4 truck and not the camper.

The drive took us up to 14,665′. And at that altitude, Dave and I only walked up the incline and man-made avalanche barrier to see the Laguna and the glacier. 

Small waterfall below the glacier.

As we made our way back to truck and we’re talking to the rangers, I spotted a large black bird soaring up the valley. I pointed it out to Eli and the two rangers came out with their binoculars and everyone concurred it was an Andean Condor. Yippee. It soared directly over the five of us. 

The Andean Condor is endangered like the California Condor but not as severely.

A return trip back to the valley took another 90 minutes. But our day was not over, Eli wanted to take us up to the Mirador (overlook) on the west side of the valley so we could see in the east, a major portion of the Cordillera Blanca around Huaraz spread out in front of us. As we drove south from Huaraz, a sign indicated that the side road was closed. So Eli picked another road further south that should have been closed. Once again I was glad it was Eli’s truck taking the punishment.  

But our arrival in the small village of Wilcacocha was so worth it. The panoramic white-capped Cordillera Blanca was laid out before us. A great way to end our time with Eli.  

This part of Peru has changed my mind about Peruvian poverty. This area has more agricultural and because of the Cordillera Blanca, has more tourism. People are well-fed, have newer vehicles, maintain their homes, streets and towns better and don’t throw out as much trash. I think the area around Piura suffered more from the severe flooding this past Spring than I previously thought and the Coast road is trashier simply because of larger urban areas and little employment. 

We left Huaraz on Friday September 22nd to head around to the east side of Cordillera Blanca. 

See next blog entry. 

September 9 – 14, 2017

Northern Cordillera Blanca; specifically Nevados Hunadoy and Nevado Huascarán Sur Regions (Caraz-based)

One of the top wishlist stops on our pre-journey planning was Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. A high Andes mountain range. 

Well, we made it. 

Dave and I love Yosemite and have visited and camped there many times, but the Cordillera Blanca puts it to shame. 

The US has three mountains over 17,000′. The Cordillera Blanca has 76 over 17,000′. Mt. Whitney tops out at a measly 14,505′. The highest mountain in the Cordillera Blanca is Huascarán at 22,205′. (Interesting side note: only 5 peaks over 17,000′ use a Spanish names. All the rest keep their Quechua name.)

Words, and even photographs, can’t do the Cordillera Blanca justice. 

But first to get there, we left Chocope and the spectacular Museum de Cao (aka Museo de Brujo) on Saturday 9th and drove south on the PanAmerica until we turned east just north of Chimbote and followed the Rio Santo up for our climb back into the Andes. We boondocked in the small village of Chuquicara in a windy spot before attempting the notorious Cañón de Páto drive. We saved that for the next morning. 

The Cañón drive, while spectacular, requires most of your attention on the road. Not because the paved road necessarily is in poor condition; but rather the skill required to navigate the 46 one-lane tunnels. 

We almost made it through all the tunnels with no problems except that close to the end of the this section of the drive, we came face-to-face with a van carrying people and they wouldn’t budge. So Dave had to back us up in the narrow tunnel for approximately 100 yards. 

Our destination was the Camping Guadalupe campground in Caraz in the north-south valley that hugs the western slope of the Cordillera Blanca (so named because its mountains are snow-capped and glacier-filled year round) and the eastern edge of the Cordillera Negra (so called because its mountains do not retain snow on its peaks. 

“The dry Pacific basin accounts for less than 2% of Peru’s renewable water resources. Its 62 rivers flowing west from the Andes supply the bulk of the water to the coastal region.”


“Peru contains over two-thirds of all tropical glaciers which provide important water sources for the dry western half of the country. These glaciers are rapidly melting as a result of climate change, making the flow of rivers more irregular, leading to more droughts and floods.”

“For example, the Quelccaya ice cap is the largest in the Peruvian Andes and has shrunk by 30% in the last 33 years.”


What water there is, is managed through an extensive and complicated series of canals and irrigation channels that we saw all the way down from the Cordillera Blanca to where the rivers empty into the Pacific. Some very ancient. 

On our first day in Caraz, we walked into town and lined up a driver for a day trip up to Lake Parón with Pony Expeditions. 

So at 7am on Tuesday 12th, we headed up to Lake Parón with our driver – Maximó. Lake Parón is the largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca at an elevation of 13,632′. After an hour’s drive, we arrived at the Lake. The Lake was clear with a light drizzle but the peaks around were shrouded in fog including the impressive Pryamid or Artesonraju (the Paramount Picture’s logo). We could only hike around a portion of the Lake because at that altitude we were not climbing any further up. 

Upon returning, we made plans directly with Maximó to take us out the next day to different areas. 

On Wednesday 13th, Maximó picked us up at 6am and first drove us up into the Parque Nacional Huascarán to the two lakes comprising the Llanganuco Lagunas. This was a better outing than the day before because at first, we were the only ones there and secondly because the fog would occasionally lift and we could see the glacier-filled mountain peaks. Spectacular with a nice level hike of 2.8km. 

Andean Geese

After returning to valley, we then headed up west into the Cordillera Negra to visit the area where the Puya Raimondii grow. Puya Raimondii “also known as queen of the Andes(English), titanka (Quechua) or puya de Raimondi (Spanish), is the largest species of bromeliad. It is native to Bolivia and Peru and is restricted to the high Andes at an elevation of 3000 – 4800 m.”

I tried to walk out to one specimen to provide human scale but the trail was steep and only about 4″ wide. After Dave took the picture, I had to scramble back down using my hands. Not one of my brighter ideas. 

Puya raimondii, the largest bromeliad species.
Puya raimondii with the Cordillera Blanca in the background.

Back to camper after a 7 & 1/2 hr. outing. 

We left Caraz on Thursday 14th with the plan to drive up to Punta Olimpicó pass southeast in the Cordillera Blanca. 

Best laid plans: Google maps in it’s infinite wisdom, sent us up a secondary street in Carhuaz. We drove up one steep street partially covered about 3′ high with 12″-15″ boulders dumped in the street for a construction project only to realized when we got past the pile and to the top of the steep street, there was nowhere to go. When we started to back down the street, we discovered that while going backwards we couldn’t navigate around the boulder pile because an adobe building flush with the street on the opposite side constricted the width. 

So Dave and I spent the next 30 minutes moving boulders so we could get out around successfully. Heavy suckers. Good thing my sore back has subsided. 

After getting back down to the main street and finding an alternative route, we tried to head back up into the Andes. Only to hit another snag about 12 kms. up the mountain; the town of Shilla District has placed large cement width barriers at intermittent spots through town. But of course, we didn’t discover this until we had driven up another steep 100 yards street to realize the camper was about 5″ too wide to fit through. 

So Dave had to back us down another steep incline with tires slipping because of a layer of small gravel layering over cement street; at which point we said “H}%}ll and f]}#%^k with that” and trying to get up to Punta Olímpico; so we turned around and came back to Highway 3N which runs through the Valley and drove straight through to the Hotel Real Huascarán campground in Huaraz. 

More on the next section of the Cordillera Blanca in next blog.