So those of you who are following closely will remember that when we last posted we were enjoying a most delicious Lomo saltado on a mountain pass on our way towards the Peruvian coast. Since then we have really motored and are now in Argentina, but more about that later because as usual we are behind on these posts.
The contrast between the mountains of northern Peru and the coast is amazing. We descended over 4000m and picked up the PanAm highway that hugs the coast for mile after mile towards Lima and beyond. Often on one side of the road you have the crashing Pacific and on the other seemingly endless miles of barren, scorched desert occasionally broken by the most verdant sections in the valley floors.
Sadly, there is one constant blight to the beauty of the landscape throughout Peru and that is the large amount of refuse that is dumped roadside and pretty much everywhere. Definitely the worst we have seen on this journey. We survived the crazy driving of Lima (when will cities learn to build by passes?!) but unfortunately not the long arm of the Peruvian police. We were pulled over for not having our lights on (as is the law) and after some negotiation (via google translate) they decided to ‘let us off’ the full fine (S324) in exchange for a ‘tip’ to the friendly police. Whilst on principle we would rather not contribute to the on-going corruption which seems particularly prevalent in this part of Peru, if it is S50 instead of S324 and continuing on our way, then sorry I know which I choose, at least we were pulled over for a legitimate offence which is not always the case.
After the chaos of Lima, we headed for the peace and quiet of the Reserva Nacional de Paracas, a peninsula of vast emptiness and as it turns out a lot of wind. Doing our best to find a sheltered spot from the flying sand before sunset we hunkered down and hoped the tent would hold out. Somehow it does!
From Paracas we continued south, and began to head slightly inland, with a brief stop at South Americas oldest vineyard, Tacama in Ica and the famous Nazca Lines.
These lines, engraved in the desert floor are spread over 500sq km and are still a mystery to researchers. We decided (for once) to save some pennies so did not indulge in a flight over the lines as the light was very flat but you can still get some idea of the scale and impressiveness of these ancient symbols from the handful of watch towers that have been built nearby. Another fun thing to do in a desert and far less mysterious than creating ancient symbols is to drive at great speed in a buggy around the vast sand dunes and go sand-boarding, which we did when we stopped at Huacachina, a tiny oasis surrounded by towering dunes. Having watched the sun rise over the dune behind our camp near Ica, we borrowed 2 boards and decided to give the boarding a go – why did we choose the tallest dune around! 45 minutes of sweltering effort to get to the top; down in 1! As you can see from the bottom pic the only damage we have sustained to the car in the last 10 months was a dog attacking our bumper – looks more like a bear got at us!
Arequipa is a beautiful colonial city (we are at the ‘templed out’ stage of beautiful colonial cities but this one is truly stunning with its mountain backdrop. On arriving at our ‘campsite’ (read bit of grass next to a hotel) we were immediately invited by the Germans already in situ for a barbeque so with a quick trip to the neighbouring supermarket we were all set for a lovely evening. At one stage the topic of Markus’ impending birthday came up – it was in 10 days time. When he said it was likely he would be celebrating it there it highlighted the difference of someone who has been on the road 8 years as opposed to our two hundred and something days!
From here we wound back uphill to Colca Canyon.. famed for being the world’s deepest canyon, 11000 feet….this is technically correct – if you measure it from the highest peak on one edge, but either way it is an impressive sight and while we didn’t have the 2/3 days to hike it, we had a lovely early morning hike before the tourists arrived along its edge. The tourists pour in on buses early morning as it is a popular condor spotting spot. We had been lucky to have seen a fair few on the wing in the evening, but the birds weren’t playing the tour groups game and were no where to be seen that morning. As we hiked back to the car we happened to spot a solitary bird hanging out on a rock next to a couple of cow carcasses. (true tourism… they deposit a couple of dead cows every month or so to keep the birds in the area!) We decided we could walk down there from where our car was and the bird was utterly unphased as Rich got closer and closer, to within 25 feet! Rachel on the other hand was a little phased by the stench of the decomposing carcasses.
From here it was a long drive up to Cusco via Tres Canyones, a suggestion from a French couple we had camped next to on the beach a few days before, and suddenly we were back in touristville! Luckily the city is of a size to absorb it and we headed up some steep and narrow sidestreets to reach the campsite, or mudbath, which it was rapidly becoming! There we met 2 couples who also agreed that it being St Patricks Day a beer was on the cards and we had a lovely evening with Raquelle & David of @lostfordaysss and Sam & Don of @fullbelly. It’s great to meet people whose check-ins you have seen or suggestions you have followed and we had a great few days in Cusco getting ourselves organised for Machu Picchu and a very entertaining evening cookery course with Sam and Don… if you want ceviche, lomo soltado or a pisco sour – we are your team!
There are many routes into Machu Picchu, from the famed 5-day Inca Trail hike, to the train direct from Cusco. We opted to drive up through the beautiful Sacred Valley, visiting the sites of Pisac, Maras and Moray and park at the Hydroelectrica near Santa Teresa.
Leaving the car safely with a trusty restaurateur we then hiked the 13km in to Agua Calientes – the village at the foot of MP. Early in the hike we met with Kurt, an American and Franz a German who had both been hiking for a number of days but had bailed out due to the inclement weather. We had a very straightforward hike along the railway line, avoiding the occasional train, and once in town we organised ourselves (and them) for the next few days. The site opens at 6am, the buses start running from 05.30 but the queues start forming from 04.00. As we had bought tickets to climb Mount Machu Picchu, an extra 1600m of up at the SW end of the site, we took the decision to catch the bus up to the site rather than walk so we were in the queue by 5am. We were very lucky and our first views of MP were stunning in the early morning light under a clear sky, quite the contrast to the previous days constant rain. 😊
After a brief detour to admire/wonder at the Inca bridge, a narrow access trail that was constructed along the face of the surrounding cliff – way too dangerous to allow tourists on to – we started our climb. The hike is all steps and hard going, but there are plenty of spots to rest and the view behind you of MP nestled amongst the mountains, many of which we were higher than, is just amazing. After, a deserved rest at the top we descended much quicker and headed into the main complex to explore. Having done justice to our pricey tickets and inner anthropologists we walked back to our hostel. This involved yet more down and its safe to say that by the time we reached the edge of town we were both fairly pooped and desiring to never see another set of steps – up step Franz and Kurt who having reached town before us were sitting on a bench waiting for us with cold beer – legends!!! Suffice to say we celebrated with a few pisco sours that evening. There is a reason why MP is S. Americas number 1 tourist destination and even with the bus loads that are regularly deposited throughout the day it is an awe-inspiring site and well worth the effort to get to it.
Our return to the car was simple and drier than the walk in and after a short break to dry the tent (packed away for 2 days wet) and ourselves we headed back out of the Sacred Valley and towards Lake Titticaca. After a beautiful and quiet night camping on its shore we elected to drive round the far less travelled northern edge to reach Bolivia. Whilst affording wonderful views across the vastness of the lake to snow-capped mountains, the road was one of the worst and initially progress was slow and hard going but once we reached the top end we joined tarmac and on we sped. Exiting Peru was simple and once we had woken up the Aduana officer from his siesta we bid farewell to Peru and entered 16km of unmaintained no-mans land before reaching the Bolivian border post.
Our plan of spending just 2 weeks in Peru, went by the wayside very quickly and we spent 25 days here and could have spent longer.