We spent three days and nights in the capital city of Lima hoping the urban, civilized environment, coupled with decent food would improve Kat’s health. She had been suffering from bronchitis, asthma and lingering influenza for over two weeks at this point. Finally we couldn’t stand our itchy feet anymore and hit the road south on the last day of August. We really are not very good at staying in one place for more than a day or two.
We decided our route for the southern half of Peru would repeat the driving route we took back in 2008 from Lima to Cusco, just to see if our opinion was different now, considering the “Peruvian Funk” we were experiencing this time. We really enjoyed this drive six years ago in our little rented Suzuki. It had been one of the highlights of a two week trip whose main goal had been to hike the Inca Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Heading south from Lima our first stop was the Reserva Nacional de Paracas west of the town of Ica. We had blown right by this area in 2008 and WOW, we had really missed something. After a night in the Paracas and an amazing drive through the dunes, we continued south to Nasca where we turned east and inland for the high Andes, arriving in Cusco at 12,000 feet, two days later. At this point we were now BOTH sick…
The pavement stops shortly after entering the Reserva Nacional de Paracas. At first we followed this well traveled track along the coast, marveling at the endless views.
The track eventually just disappeared but we continued on, following the coastal cliffs south. Of course I couldn’t resist the challenging parking opportunities.
Can you spot Charlotte? This is where we camped for the night. It doesn’t get much more remote than this. Poor Kat could hardly breathe that night and the dense fog that rolled in didn’t help. I wished she were feeling better because, for me, this was one of the highlight spots of the entire trip thus far.
The next morning, September 1st, we continued along the coast, following a faint track and our GPS. At mid-morning we passed through this very rustic fishing village, precariously perched on a sand bar.
No fish today, but the locals still gave us a smile as we cruised through their little burg.
The ever present church and the only permanent structure in town.
The ever present satellite dish, on one of the not-so-permanent structures in town.
Wondering what was behind those tumbled down driftwood walls, I climbed on top of Charlotte for a look… more tumbled down stuff secure inside!
Heading eastward away from the coast we followed faint tracks into the dunes.
These km markers became our guides. We would get to one, then scan the horizon for the next, spot it and then head for it. All morning we found our way through endless sand dunes this way. For me, it was the absolute highlight 50 miles of the 18,000+ miles we have covered so far. Unfortunately, poor Kat continued to suffer and was not enjoying it half as much as I was. A pity because it is her favorite landscape too.
Eventually we drove far enough eastward and ran into the main highway again, just north if the small city of Ica. We restocked the fridge and drove out to the oasis of Huacachina, a tourist trap nestled in the middle of giant sand dunes with a scummy pond as a focal point in the center of it. We pretty much took the picture and left.
We continued south past the famous Nasca lines, through the town of Nasca and eastward into the Andean foothills where this photo was taken. The Nasca Lines consist of hundreds of huge (500+ feet across) geoglyph drawings of spiders, monkeys, birds, fish, sharks and lizards among other things, made by ancient Nasca peoples around 400 to 600AD. To really do them justice you need to go up in an airplane to see them. We were too cheap the last time we were here to do that, settling for some crummy photos taken from a hill just off the highway. This time the Peruvian Funk prevailed and we didn’t even stop for the crummy photo.
Our first spotting of a Pampa Galera or Vicuña, a critter that is smaller than a Llama and known for its soft wool coat. We remembered seeing these guys everywhere along the roadside back in 2008 and this trip confirmed they are still there – everywhere.
As expected, we just weren’t digging the drive as much as the last time. Maybe it was all so new and different in 2008. We were fresh off the plane from home and on a two week vacation. This time we have been immersed in the Latin American culture and scenery for months and have gotten a bit jaded. Or maybe we just felt like crap. Kat wasn’t getting any better and I was starting to feel the hint of a fever coming on…
Anyway, in these next four shots we amused ourselves with “before and now” shots. It took forever to find the perfect spot where we had taken the same shot in 2008. Using a different camera with a different depth of field didn’t help either, but anyway, for fun here they are. Note the difference in time of year, the 2008 shots being taken in March during the rainy season.
Snow up at 18,000 plus feet. We took this shot at 15,000 feet alongside the highway. It doesn’t even snow at this “low” elevation. It should be mentioned that the trash problem that bugged us so much in the north was much less prevalent in the south. They still trash their country worse than most everywhere else we’ve been, but it’s just not as obvious in the south.
Use what you’ve got. This rather large spread shows how the local herdsman utilize the available rocks for all their fence building –and barn building –and house building.
What a life.
We camped two nights en route to Cusco. The first night was on a dirt track that led to a mine. Of course we had visitors. It continues to amaze us that just when we think we are in the middle of nowhere, people appear like vapor, wondering what the hell we are doing. Of course the miners were no exception, appearing with flashlights as soon as it was too dark to see anything. They were friendly and just curious and bored, eventually leaving us alone and walking back to the mine where they were presumably guards. Around three AM, more mine workers began to pass our camp, first on motorcycles and then by the truckload, piled into smelly diesel flatbeds which ground them up the hill to another long work day. What a life.
Back in 2008 one of our favorite stops on the way to Cusco was the open air market in the town of Abancay. Despite our poorly condition, this stop could not be missed. As before, it was a magical place with the most friendly vendors and crazy sights imaginable. All you vegetarians beware of the photos below!
These gals were selling feed for guinea pigs.
Competing with the dogs for the choicest cuts in the Abancay meat market.
Yummm! Cow parts anyone?
Or maybe you’d prefer a sheep today?
Kat told all the ladies I loved taking pictures of pretty girls. That accounted for some easy shots.
Don’t take my picture!
Oh, ok you think I’m pretty! I’ll give you a big smile.
Chicken dinner special today!
Ho hum. Another day at the market on Mom’s back.
Parts is Parts.
And then there is that thing about eating guinea pigs…
We remembered these crazy curbs from 2008, too. Puts a whole new perspective on getting parallel parking just right.
After Abancay it was just a few more hours to Cusco but everything went to hell. My fever went on a tear, making driving these windy roads a chore. Kat was passed out on the bed in back, practically comatose when Charlotte decided to get into the act and shredded all her belts on a particularly nasty cliffhanging stretch of roadway. To get to the engine the bed needs to be pulled up so there went Kat’s rest. Upon tearing into it I found the alternator mount cracked – again. Fu**ing Volkswagen design. The alternator and its mounting brackets have been the mechanical bane of the whole trip. All the mounts and the alternator were new in La Paz, Baja after our debacle with the welder alternator. Since then Charlotte in general has been a mechanical rock. The charging system has worked flawlessly except for the main power wire breaking off the alt. stud in Palenque, Mexico. Then we had belt destruction occurring around Baños, Ecuador when I first found the alternator mount cracked. I had a guy weld the cracks there but now they were back, worse than ever. In a feverish haze I installed more belts and we limped into Cusco.
The beautiful Plaza de Armas in downtown Cusco.
The Quinta LaLa Overland campground just outside Cusco where we stayed two nights. I’m still not sure I like staying in these Overlander “coagulation” points. It seems most of the people we run into at these places are going from one guidebook recommended campground to the next, mostly hanging with others from their same country and even traveling together from one recommended safe haven to the next. Then there are all the mixed horror stories they share of places to come and what to expect/not expect. I think I prefer what Kat and I have been doing, driving blind with no guide books at all, staying wherever the end of the day finds us and mostly just conversing with locals.
Curious chickens check out an unripe banana at the Quinta LaLa campground. A good thing about these places is the wealth of info shared, such as where to find a good welder who could fix my busted bracket. It turned out Cusco featured a mobile mechanic (via taxi) who had the market cornered on Overlanders and their problems. I jockeyed for the work time of “Juan” with several Germans who seemed in need of his services at the same time. Juan spoke pretty good English and quickly grasped my ideas on how to modify the stupid VW designed bracket and add some more strength to the wretched part, already work hardened and metal fatigued from it’s last welding session.
Juan needed a day and a night to perform his magic. We were both so sick now that we just lay low at the campground. The weather was freezing cold and it rained off and on the whole time. All we wanted to do was get out of there and keep going south. Any magic about being in Cusco, Peru was lost on us. The fact that we’d been here before probably added to our lack of curiosity. We had no desire to repeat a visit to the tourist trap that is Machu Picchu. Seeing it six years ago was a climatic let down compared to the four day hike on the Inca Trail we undertook to get there. We were in no shape to do the hike again and the über expensive train ride to get to MP proper wasn’t even on our radar. So we waited between these huge RVs, one from Germany and one from France, wondering how either of them could have experienced half of the places we’ve been to, just due to their sheer size.
Finally the bracket was returned. Ol’ Juan added so much material to it I could barely recognize the original part. Of course all that strength added weight which had me concerned that now the weakness would just move down the line – to the two wimpy 8mm bolts that hold the thing to the engine… Still feverish, I put everything back together in a freezing rain, loaded a shaking Kat into the back and got the hell otta there, hoping that by going south, back towards the coast, it would get lower in elevation and warmer. Ha!
Instead it snowed…
We could have really enjoyed this incredible scenery had we not been so incredibly sick.
…and the altimeter went up! To the highest we’ve driven during the entire trip, 15,841 feet to be exact. It took us two days to drive to the city of Arequipa where we hoped to find a decent hospital if needed. Kat had been sick for almost a month now, even after being on two different sets of antibiotics. I lost the fever after three days, but was left with the same nasty cough and congestion as Kat and had a somewhat small elephant sitting on my chest 24/7. I think we had the worst driving day of the trip the second day out of Cusco. We’d spent a freezing night hidden behind a small knoll alongside the road. The icy fog was our best camouflage. The next day the road deteriorated into muddy slop, coating Charlotte top to bottom in a milkshake-like goo. Kat was out cold on the bed and I drove in a fever induced, delirious haze, pretty much akin to the mud covering all of Charlotte’s windows. Then the road ahead appeared blocked by several semis all stuck in the mud attempting to climb a small hill with their huge loads. As I stepped out into the ankle deep goo to access the situation, I discovered our left rear tire completely disintegrated, it was nothing but a muddy blob attached to the rim. In my weakened, high feverish state it took me over two hours to change that stupid tire. I guess it didn’t help that we were at 15,500ft and I already couldn’t breathe thanks to my goop filled chest. I was so covered in mud and so disgusted I never even took a picture. We rolled into Arequipa late in the day and found a nice hotel in the old colonial part of town. How they let us in and allowed Charlotte into their garage is beyond me. We left a trail of mud all the way to our room. I had to ask them for a hose to wash the mud off of Charlotte’s shift linkage. I couldn’t get her into reverse to pull into the garage!
And so here we are in Arequipa, Peru, less than 100 miles from Chile and once again hanging in a city we don’t want to be in while we attempt to get well. After spending the day getting a new tire and caving in to having Charlotte professionally washed for the first time since leaving home (the rains had been doing a pretty good job up until the mud bath) I found Kat in the emergency room of a third world clinic looking like this. She had spiked another high fever and had dragged herself into a taxi and gone in search of answers. Instead, she found a complete lack of English spoken, substandard, shabby facilities, dirty bathrooms with no soap or towels and total confusion. When I arrived she was dazedly looking back and forth between two different doctors, neither of whom could agree (in Spanish) on what was wrong with her. One kept asking if her stomach still hurt, conjecturing that it could be E. coli from Peruvian cheese (!), and the other insisted it was a bladder infection! Since she had already given detailed information about her RESPIRATORY symptoms, we couldn’t figure out where the gut diagnoses came from! I could read her face at that point, silently screaming, “Get me the _____ out of here!” Finally, they listened to her re-explain her condition and, despite telling her that her chest X-Ray and blood tests were fine, sent her off with yet a third round of antibiotics. We went back to the hotel disgusted and frustrated with Peru overall. At this point we just wanted to get to Chile. Maybe things would change in Chile…