Once back on the mainland of Ecuador after our amazing week in the Galapagos, we headed to the small city of Cuenca to visit our new friends, the Schneewinds. From Cuenca we traveled windy, mountainous roads to the quirky, gringo-ized town of Vilcabamba where we stayed four days in a cute, walled compound with our own private cabin complete with porch and parking for Charlotte. It was very relaxing and we hated to leave for the Peruvian border. Maybe we should have stayed…
Since Cuenca, Kat had started feeling weak, had a mild fever and was showing signs of bronchitis. We crossed the border (yellow with black dotted line on map) on August 22nd and entered Peru, our 13th country. Kat and I traveled in southern Peru in 2008 and loved it, but we knew nothing about the northern part of the country. With Kat’s condition worsening, I drove down out of the mountains towards the coast, hoping the lower elevation would help her breathing. Along the way we passed through one dingy town after another, all full of garbage riddled streets, uninviting smells and unhappy looking people. We stayed one night in a hotel in the unexciting city of Chiclayo, hoping Kat would get better, (no luck) and one night camped in the most disgusting “horse resort” where the animals were mistreated and everything we touched, including the ground the place sat on, felt like it was giving us a disease. The only humor to that night was being awakened to a dreadful racket on Charlotte’s roof and the whole vehicle shaking. Looking out I found a goat on her roof! We did have one outstanding cultural experience while in this area when we visited the Lord of Sipán museum in the town of Lambyeque. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures of this museum, which is said to be one of the top ten in the world. We found it to be a spectacular presentation of the burial rituals of the Moche peoples who inhabited this region 1700 years ago. Google it for more info and to see illicit pictures. We continued south along the coast, hoping for nicer conditions and better health for Kat, but the filth continued and a kind of third world funk was settling over us.
Hans Schneewind is a second generation Ecuadorian. His grandfather emigrated from Germany to Cuenca and started a clothing manufacturing business. The Scheewinds you’ll remember from our earlier Ecuador blog, (you ARE reading every one, correct?) we met on the beach, when Hans admired Charlotte as we drove by the family’s rented beach house looking for a camping spot. We promised to visit them when we passed through their home town of Cuenca.
Hans took time out of his busy day to give us a tour of his clothing factory.
The factory specializes in children’s school uniforms and doing embroidering of garments for other, larger factories in the area. There seemed to be a lot of manual, tedious work going on. Hans explained that the gals who work here make US$342 per month and that’s a high wage!
Modern, digitized sewing machines crank out embroidery like this four at a time.
But less than fifteen years ago, embroidery was created by a mechanical machine that read a ticker-tape like strip. The code on this strip produced this little Honda patch. Hans showed us shelves full of hundreds of these now obsolete tapes. It their day, each tape cost the company US$6,000 each and was only good for one style of patch.
The hand work going on was amazing. After the pink star-like thingy was sewn onto the garment by a machine, a lady hand cut away the excess material with manicure succors, one after the other, all day.
We camped one night in Hans and Elizabeth’s driveway, playing our favorite new game “Rummikub” with them late into the night. Hans’ pride and joy is his immaculate bay window Westfalia which his father originally purchased in the ‘70s. Charlotte’s road weary body and paint looked pretty sad by comparison.
Our next stop after leaving Cuenca was the Parque Nacional Podocarpus where we camped one night. We actually snuck in after hours, spent the night and went for a hike the next morning. This shot was taken when we tried to leave, got busted and had to pay the entrance fee.
The hike was only 5km, just over 3 miles, and should have been a piece of cake. Yeah right. After hiking straight up for two hours only to reach freezing cold winds and socked in clouds, we ashamedly turned tail and beat it back down the way we had come. This bus livin’ has destroyed whatever fit condition we used to be in. In fairness to Kat, this was the first day she was starting to feel bad, so we’ll blame “our” poor performance on that!
The view during the hike, before we climbed into those clouds.
These were our digs in Vilcabampa at the Rendez-Vous. We had our own little cabin, a porch with a handy hammock and Charlotte within reach. Best of all it was $28 a night including breakfast! We should have stayed longer.
Although we diss on towns that seem too touristy or “gringo-ized,” lately we seem to be gravitating towards them for good food if nothing else. Vilcabampa featured several awesome eateries. This seafood paella with homemade Sangria cost 21 bucks and was to die for at a Basque restaurant owned by an ex-pat Spanish lady.
Another favorite was this bacon stuffed gnocchi with scampi (foreground) and homemade vegetarian ravioli (on my fork) all made with local, organic ingredients. These delectable yummies were found at an earthy little corner outfit owned by a Swiss chef and his Spanish wife. This meal, complete with local beer and a big salad set us back 25 bucks.
Like I said, towns full of foreigners are generally cleaner and have great food, but in spite of enjoying Vilcabampa, we kinda had to laugh quietly at the town’s adopted inhabitants. They mostly appeared to be old hippies who burned themselves out long ago and were now looking to re-find their youth by hanging out in a backwater Ecuadorian village, waiting to discover who they really are. Vilcabampa is reputably known for its magical “qualities” which have produced longevity among the local tribes, some reported to be 120 plus years old. So the burnt out ex-pats sit around the square, drinking organic beer and smoking healthy grown-in-Vilcabampa cigarettes, eating at the health food juice bar (which appeared to be making a killing) and paying to bathe in the healing waters from the creek up the canyon. All the while they wait for their youth to return.
The road from Vilcabampa to the remote Peruvian border crossing at La Balsa. Charlotte got her muddiest yet on this road, which was full of construction. It took seven hours to cover about 80 miles.
La Balsa was the sleepiest, quietest border crossing ever. We were the only vehicle crossing into Peru and it appeared there hadn’t been another in quite a while. The Peruvian guard was so slow on his computer that we jumped in and filled out some of the forms for him! He also appeared colorblind as he never did figure out Charlotte’s color but asked us what it was repeatedly. By the time he was finished it was dark, so we asked him if we could camp on the “lawn” in front of the border hut. No problem! The whole experience was such a switch from our usual border experiences where we have crossed fingers for no trip halting red tape, and can’t wait to get as far away from the area as quickly as possible.
We spent a peaceful night, except for around 4am when we were awakened by the sound of horrible, native singing accompanied by top volume, Peruvian rap music. (For lack of a better description) We both peaked out, expecting to see some kid in a car parked with his stereo blaring. Instead, in the single yellow street light, we viewed two guys and a donkey ambling down the street. The donkey had a boom box strapped to its back. Welcome to Peru.
This was a typical front yard of many of the homes we passed, heading for the coast.
Northern Peruvian roads are littered with these Moto-Taxis which are darting everywhere, making driving among them hellish.
Gotta wonder how the laundry is ever really clean in conditions like this.
At one point we were starving so we stopped for a local meal at this open-air restaurant. Whatever they were cooking was bubbling away in huge pots, heated by a wood fire below.
I’m still not sure what she served us.
At least the fries and rice were edible.
This one is for Colin at Mac’s Tie Downs. Always keep a firm hand on your load, least it fall off on the next pothole!
Working our way down the coast we stopped in the beach resort town of Huanchaco, just above Trujillo on the map. Further south we headed inland through the beautiful Cañon del Pato (Duck Canyon) and along the snow capped mountains of the Cordillera Blanca.
Several Overlanders’ blog sites we’ve been following all highly recommended visiting Huanchaco for its amazing surf and unique reed rafts used by the local fishermen for centuries. I don’t know what we’re missing here, but we found the place filthy, with flat surf and no fisherman fishing, just the famous boats propped up for tourist photos. From the color and texture of the ocean I wouldn’t be quick to eat any of the fish that came from these waters. Note the dead pelican on the beach next to beachgoers who seemed to think nothing of it.
We put on our best smiles and strolled the Malicon, looking for the allure. All we found was a dirty beach, cheap trinkets and bad smelling food. The next day, Kat’s fever and coughing, complicated by asthma, prompted her to see a local doctor who prescribed antibiotics.
Never did get the name of these things but they started out in the bucket on the left. A finger was stuck into the sticky paste, whipped in a circular motion and flicked out, producing a round blob of the stuff which was then flung into the bubbling grease and fried into a kind of lumpy donut. They were served with syrup and people were eating them like mad. I guess we’re missing the Peruvian experience ‘cause neither one of us wanted anything to do with them.
This was cool. We spotted this very well worn Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair and its owner parked along the street in Huanchaco. Kat and I have been big supporters of this organization, even traveling to El Salvador a few years ago to deliver the chairs. You can find more info on this charity elsewhere on our web site. I couldn’t get a face shot of this woman as she hid in shame when I tried, and mentioning FWM resulted in blank stares. No matter, the point is she was out in the world, experiencing life, instead of shut away and forgotten in a dark corner somewhere, all because of a $78 wheelchair given to her thanks to some anonymous donor.
It’s not every day you have a camp spot with turtles coming by to visit. This guy seems to be looking at Vaca Muerta in the same way many humans do… huh??
This has to be the best starter castle we’ve come across. Yes, the guy in the brown coat actually lives here, squatting on this cliff side.
A study in wall construction, complete with a security cap on top.
It continues to amaze us how one soul can work so hard to have a nice looking place, complete with a little “yard” in front, while the next door neighbor’s place is a complete dump. But I guess it’s like that all over the world.
More laundry drying in immaculate surroundings.
I hate to keep harping on the filth, but really? This was a common scene everywhere near urban centers in northern Peru.
Another common scene was these huge political campaign “posters” hand painted everywhere. Wonder if Acuña, if he gets elected, will do something about all the trash in front of his sign.
We left the coast north of Chimbote and headed into the vast barren desert that makes up much of the Peruvian coastline. This terrain is our favorite, reminding us of our beloved Nevada deserts and the wilds of Baja. We were overjoyed to be driving along endless straight roads through empty nothingness. No more windy mountain passes. No more jungle and rain forests. No more rain. Well, at least not for a few days.
The drive through the desert let us into Cañon del Pato which features over 40 hand dug tunnels, allowing the single lane road to pass through the unbelievable landscape.
We’ve never seen these cute little guys before – or since. They were only about six inches tall and almost as round. These were the only ones we saw.
You’ve gotta wonder how bright you are to be driving around on roads where all the locals have wire mesh guards on the tops of their vehicles to protect them from falling rocks.
This was about the only shot we took of the snows of the Cordillera Blanca. There were numerous remote roads that led up into these mountains and stories of great hiking and rock climbing in the area. However, our funk was worsening along with Kat’s breathing, so we just kept on moving. The drive through Duck Canyon made this run inland well worthwhile, but we hardly did the area justice, missing plenty of cool stuff I’m sure.
From the Cordillera Blanca we drove west again, back to the coast and back into our favorite desert terrain. Then we headed south along the barren coast to the capital city of Lima where we hoped a stay in a nice hotel in an urban environment would shake Kat’s illness and our increasing Peruvian funk.
An interesting “sandwich” I had one day. The yellow was cold mashed potato with chicken, avocado and tomato sandwiched inside, different and pretty good. Inka Cola, a Peruvian standard since 1939, made with real coca leaves.
Camped back in the desert, I made us breakfast while Kat was banished from my kitchen. Still feeling like crap, she amused herself by taking timed photos of the scene.
Along the Pan Am heading toward Lima we passed dozens of religious pilgrims walking north. Some were hauling huge crosses with a wheel affixed to their end to ease in dragging them along.
Close to Lima the roads improved to probably the best we’ve seen in 18,000 miles. Four lanes, no traffic and beautiful views of the Pacific lifted our spirits somewhat.
The shantytowns on the outskirts of Lima.
The view from our hotel room in the Miraflores area of Lima, where we stayed three nights, hoping a dose of the modern world would shake off the funk. It helped, but Kat continued to cough, despite the antibiotics, and I continued to wonder when I was going to catch this thing, living in such close quarters… At this point she’d been suffering for 11 days with what we’d decided was a respiratory flu.
We wandered around the high end Miraflores area a bit, taking in the urban sites. We even went to a movie and a department store –whoohoo! Kat rested in the hotel while I changed Charlotte’s oil and rotated her tires in a deserted parking lot down by the beach. At 18,000 miles and counting, this was the fourth time I’ve performed this ritual.
For a country so covered in its own trash, we found it particularly interesting to see a city worker hand scraping chewing gum off the sidewalk!
This Swiss (!) place around the corner from our hotel quickly became our favorite restaurant. It was so good we stayed another day in Lima just to have dinner there again.
For once we don’t have pictures of the food because we ate it too quickly. These were our favorite waitresses at the Swiss place who couldn’t have been cuter. Shirley, in the middle was Peruvian and named thus because her parents liked Shirley Temple. Antonia was from Romania and had come to Lima with a boyfriend who had subsequently dumped her. She had been in Peru for two years but said she was sad and lonely and was thinking of going the join her mother in Germany, but didn’t look forward to it because she thought Germans were so cold. We wanted to adopt her! Here was this cute young girl with no country, no home, no family and looking at a dim future in a country she didn’t want to live in. We are so lucky to be Americans.
Watch for Peru Part II to find out if the southern half of the country lifts the funk. Does Kat get better? Do I get sick? Stay tuned!