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.

November 1 – 10th, 2017

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.

Wild Vicuñas on Peru’s Pampas Blanca.
Wild Vicuñas on Peru’s Pampas Blanca.

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.

The largest organ in South America. It was damaged when shipped from Belgium, and was out of tune for 100 years.
Fruit seller, Arequipa mercado.
Juice maker, Arequipa mercado.
Compania de Jesus
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas

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. 😎

Vicuñas on the altiplano between Arequipa and Puno.

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.

Lake Titicaca. Puno in the background.

The first day we spent in and around Puno taking in the historic center sights as well as various overlooks around Puno.

Puno and Lake Titicaca.
The Puno puma
Puno Catedral

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.”

https://www.google.com/search?q=lake+titicaca&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-us&client=safari

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.

Ferry boats on Lake Titicaca.

 

 

 

 

El Capitan PabloCaptain Pablo removing reeds that fouled 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.

Sillustani
Sillustani
Portrait of a woman we met on the drive back from Sillustani.
Seen on the drive back from Sillustani.

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.

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:

October 15 – 22, 2017

Cusco Peru

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.

Miguel (L) the mechanic and Eduardo the electrician.

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.

Oct 9 – 15 2017

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.

Gray Gull
American Oystercatcher
Chilean Flamingos

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.)

STUPENDOUS!!!

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.

The Astronaut. (For more images go to https://daveyuhas.smugmug.com/Peru-2017/Nasca-Lines/).

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.

Wild guanaco

 

and alpacas.

Alpacas
Alpaca herder

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.

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.

STILL…..

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.)

YEAH FINE CUISINE

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. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chabuca_Granda)

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.” (https://www.lonelyplanet.com/peru/lima/restaurants/la-canta-rana/a/poi-eat/415896/363412)

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. 

(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chav%C3%ADn_de_Huantar)

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: https://daveyuhas.smugmug.com/Peru-2017/Cordillera-Blanca/i-F4GDh8h/A)
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.

Caral

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.”

(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caral)

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.