The crossing from Ecuador to Peru was exactly what we’d hoped for: low key. Rolling up to the single row of shacks, we came to a stop and hopped out to see a single officer come out from behind his desk. The road was empty minus a single backpacker who wasted no time in lighting a joint. We were in and out in 5 minutes after a stop to the other station at the border, and like that we were driving on the bridge over the river that served as the border between Peru and Ecuador. Except the gate to get into Peru was down….and no one was around. Hopping out of the car, we walked to the nearest building, and found two men inside, who told us we were at the right place. They’d get started on our import permit, and we could go take care of immigration. This was exactly what we wanted from the border! Making our way over to immigration, we were greeted by a worker who was just crushing it with his boom box. He sent us to the police station to get a stamp and signature. Sitting inside the police station, I looked outside to see three chickens make their way by. “This is our life now,” I thought to myself. After we had all the ‘t’s crossed and ‘i’s dotted, we made our way back to the import station. And the guys there said it would be a bit longer. We quickly realized they hadn’t even started our paperwork yet. They finally get around to it, after blaming it on the ‘system being down’ [classic line], then use a dot matrix printer to get our work printed. Bethany takes a look at it, and sees that they have Sweetcakes listed as yellow. I mean, how is that even close? They don’t even start with the same letter. We sigh, hand it back to them and they hastily redo it. I spent the time standing on the pavement stepping on ants.
With everything taken care of, we made our way out from the border and immediately fell in love with the paved highway. Ecuador did a great job with it’s paving, but the rural areas still were lacking in places, and this change of pace made us quite happy. We zipped down the road, enjoying the scenery and the open sky. The police checkpoints were more frequent than we had initially expected, and at our second one, after handing over our documents, we received a request for our ‘Luna certificate.’ Confused, we asked for clarification. The police officer informed us that cars in Peru need permission to have tint on the windows. This is actually a true law, but we quickly pointed out to the police officer that the national police at the border didn’t say anything to us, but we’d be happy to obtain one if they’d let us know where we could get one. He let us know, and we soldiered on.
“This is the place, right?” I asked Bethany, who was looking at the GPS. “Yeah, but no one answered. I think they’re closed.” “Well, no one answered because you knocked like a kid who’d hit a baseball through the neighbor’s window.” Knocking harder, the little metal peep-square slid open and we asked the man at the propane factory if we could refill our tank. We handed it over to him and he took it in to check. Happily, he was able to refill it…all 4.4lbs we’d used in the last four months. When you only use it to cook, it lasts forever!
A bit further on, we pulled into a thermal bath. Asking the man who came out, he informed us that the bath wasn’t working currently, but we could check a house a bit further down and see if it was up. Wierded out, we instead made our way to a wild-camp spot along a river back in the middle of nowhere. But we realized that spot would be awful to get out of if it rained, and there were threatening clouds on the horizon. Bagging it since it’d been a long day, we drove to the town of Bagua Grande to stay in the grass lot of a hotel. Passing through a toll along the way, we were informed that a huge landslide earlier that day had shut down the road and several people had been killed. With it being so late, we decided we would reevaluate our route options the next morning. Getting to the hotel, the woman at the front desk informed us she’d need to check with her manager about us being able to stay. We twiddled our thumbs, worried that we didn’t really have any other options. The manager showed up and was all smiles and helpfulness. He told us we were welcome to stay back on the grass instead of in the parking lot, but told us we should probably sleep in our car since we were so close to the river and alligators had been spotted recently.
The following morning, weighing our options, we realized that with Bethany’s parents coming into Peru in just five days, we should try and cover some ground, and opted to retrace our steps and break for the coast. We made our way to a hacienda and met a British guy who was volunteering at the ranch. We walked around the town, and Bethany had a great moment of catching a young boy peeing beside the town church. His friend didn’t let him forget it, and spent the next few blocks giving him grief. The following day we visited the nearby Tucume ruins of a pre-Inca society that made their huge buildings out of mud-bricks. The museum itself was extremely high quality, paid for by recent grants.
More of this in my everyday life please
spot the lizard with a blue head?
This is why you build with stone instead of mud. DID WE LEARN NOTHING FROM THE THREE LITTLE PIGS?!?
This pig literally can’t even
Making our way into the city of Cajamarca, we attempted to find the Hacienda that had great reviews, but was supposed to be kinda hard to find. Driving along the steep roads, we weren’t having any luck, continually getting turned around and frustrated. Driving up a mud path, we turned around as it led into…well…who knew where. I finally parked the car and said we would find it on foot. Walking around, we found some locals standing on a roof looking out over the city. Asking them, they pointed us back in the direction we’d just come from. We walked back along the mud road, and lo and behold, there was the place! We talked to the guy working there, then picked up Sweetcakes and came on back. The hotel/hacienda was fantastic, and they were very accommodating of letting us camp, going so far as to open up a large event room with a wall of windows looking out over the city for us to set our tent up in to stay out of the rain. The next day we explored Cajamarca and relaxed back at camp. Sunday, we awoke, broke camp, and prepared to make our way through the mountains towards Lima, as Bethany’s folks were arriving Wednesday.
Bethany: decisions, decisions Ike: oh god my wallet
But before leaving town, we wanted to stop at the Tourist police station. We’d been told at a previous police stop, where we’d again been told we needed to obtain a Luna certificate, that we could pick it up in Cajamarca. The station was difficult to find, and as we were making our way there, I noticed that the battery light had come on. That was a bit worrisome, but I thought it could just be a loose connection, but a few minutes later the ABS light came on. “I think our alternator may be going…” I said to Bethany. We found a nearby parking lot for a mall and pulled in. Hopping out, we put the voltmeter to the battery, and sure enough it was already getting low. “It’s a problem, but since the car is on, if the battery runs out, we should still be ok…” I said to her. Bethany asked the parking attendant about the sign advertising mechanic work for those who have car problems at the mall. “I called, but since it’s Sunday, he didn’t answer.” The attendant told us. A few minutes later, the car putted to a halt and died.
BAMF LVL: MAX
Realizing that the alternator being dead meant the car couldn’t run on it’s own, I started swearing to myself. Verifying over phone with Bethany’s dad that we’d need to jump it for about 10 minutes to get the battery to a place where we could drive back to the hacienda. We found a cabbie who was willing to jump us, but was unwilling to stay connected for 10 minutes. We explained his alternator would keep the battery charged, but he was having none of it. Fed up, we turned the car off, and said ‘screw it’ and wired the solar panel leads directly to the car battery. We spent the next hour and change monitoring the charge state of the battery, and once it got back to the 12V range, we crossed our fingers, turned it on, and high-tailed it back up the hill to the hacienda. Luckily, the light never even came on our way back. Upon returning, we explained to one of the workers our predicament. He verified that we meant alternator, and told us he’d be happy to take us to an auto-electrician the next morning. We verified with him that the place wasn’t too far away, as we only had around 15-20 minutes of battery life in the car before it’d die. And Cajamarca wasn’t a city you wanted to have your car die in with all the little paved streets.
In the ghetto! In the GHETTO!!!
8:30 am rolled around the next morning; the man showed up and we took off for the mechanic’s. We made our way to downtown and continued past it. The battery light came on around this time, but he assured us we were close. Manuel seemed a smidge lost, but shortly thereafter he told us to stop and ran up a street. He then came back, hopped on his phone for a minute, then hopped in the car. He informed us that the place had moved, but it wasn’t far. I told Bethany to tell him we hoped he was right, because our spedometer and tachometer had just died and we had, oh, 5 minutes of battery life left if we were lucky. The next few miles was a wing and a prayer [but the wing was on fire, and the prayer had been answered by Satan], but we miraculously made it to an auto-electrician’s shop. Pulling in, the electrician had us pull up and within 5 minutes had the alternator out after he verified it was the issue. Another 5 minutes later, he had it open and showed us the melted leads that were preventing it from recharging the battery. Asking him if we needed a new one, he told us, “All the new ones are Chinese made and are cheap but fall apart quickly. These original Toyota ones last forever and I can fix it for you.” He the proceeded to find another Toyota alternator, make some quick cuts to it, file the leads, and have it back together within another 15 minutes. He popped it back into the car, and we got a jump from another car there getting work. Tested with the voltmeter, and then handed over our $30 for the work. We dropped Manuel off and handed him some cash that he refused several times before my adamant pleas of ‘por favor!’ made him accept.
“That’s the tourist police station, right?” We verified with each other, and then Bethany went up to ask the female officer standing guard how we could obtain our Luna permit. “We’re all out, so we can’t give you one,” the female officer told me. “But what are we supposed to do then?” “Take down the window tinting,” she replied. Since our tint was original and not the stick-up kind, this was a hilarious suggestion. I informed the officer that the policemen on the road said we should be able to get a temporary permit since we were only planning to be in Peru for a month. “Come back at 6pm tonight when the boss is here, because there are a ton of requirements before we can hand out a permit,” she responded. Since we were on our way out of the city, that obviously wasn’t feasible for us. She just shrugged in response. I hopped back in the car and Ike and I decided we would tell the next policeman that stopped us that we had visited the tourist police in Cajamarca (true) but they said we didn’t need one (false). After lots of discussion with other travelers, it seems likely that our temporary vehicle import permit allows us to drive our vehicle legally in the country, no Luna permit required.
Following the battery catastrophe, we decided we didn’t want to wait a whole lot longer to purchase new tires, and rolled up to a Goodyear store just up the street. Checking with them, we saw their prices were about the same as what we’d pay down in Lima or over in Cusco. We opted for two, with a balance and alignment. We had a sneaking suspicion one of the old ones was starting to leak pretty heavily, and were happy to be rid of it. At the same time, we figured they were going to get reused on other vehicles. The alignment was also really needed, and it was obvious as the guys worked on the car that it was pretty far out of kilter. With these done, we happily hopped in the car and took off for the coast. We had to skip a lot of beautiful and interesting places in northern Peru, but between our tight schedule and the mudslides, it just wasn’t in the cards for us this time. We hope to return and properly explore the northern part of this wonderful country!
And by off for the coast, I mean spend an entire afternoon driving through mountains, in fog, around sheep, along muddy single lane roads. Yep, our GPS took us through a “short cut,” which was actually a treacherous mountain pass. Total navigator fail… oops! One stretch had particularly dense fog, and Bethany had to call out the turns ahead of time for me like a rally car driver to help make sure we didn’t go off the side of the mountain. I think it was better that it was foggy, because if I had seen how high up we were I probably would have been even more upset. At one point, I came upon a bunch of large boulders strewn across the road, and was ready to start swearing as we’d now have to turn back, but then I realized it was a flock of sheep just chilling out on the road. We finally came down out of the fog and were greeted by a verdant, deep valley with rows of mountains and a glow of the coast off in the distance. We continued on, at one point having to maneuver past a bus that was going up the one-lane mountain road.
WE SURVIVED! LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!
We came down out of the mountains and entered the desert. The coast of Peru along its Pacific side is a thin band of desert maybe 15 miles wide before leading into the foothills of the mountains. Despite this, the ample rain in the mountains flows out, leading to what I imagine the Nile delta looks like, with heavy flowing streams and tons of green irrigated land near it in the middle of the valleys, but the outside edges of the valleys brown and sandy. We drove through these, continuing our decent along with the river toward the coast. Eventually we found ourselves in the coastal town of Huanchaco outside of Trujillo. We pulled onto the beach just as the sun was setting. The beach was still pretty full of people, but we’d heard that tourists were allowed to spend the night on the beach, although Peruvians were not. We parked and immediately went to find some dinner. Coming back, one of the police cars that patrols the beach and makes sure the drunkies keep it in line came up to us. We chatted with him and he said we were fine to spend the night. We climbed into Sweetcakes for the evening, eventually having to pop in our earplugs after a car full of drunk kids rolled up and started dancing to music they were pumping through the speakers. A short while later we awoke to another cop asking us what we were doing sleeping in the car. Bethany groggily explained to him that we’d already spoken to a police officer and he said it was ok to spend the night. The rest of the night was decent after that. We awoke early, though, as we had a long day of driving ahead of us to get to Lima. We waved to some other tourists on the beach as we pulled out around 6:45am.
Worse places to spend the night! [OR ARE THERE?!]
The drive to Lima was uneventful, lots of straight clean tarmac and desert (and garbage! The most we’ve seen yet on this trip. Nasty, Peru, get your act together!), minus a stop for a car that was burning along the side of the road. The workers who were there to deal with it had no idea how to handle traffic. Many of the cars turned around and jumped a sand dune to get to the other side of the highway, and drove in the left lane with their hazards on. We attempted to do the same, but as we approached a bus got stuck in the median, and a road worker had come up to prevent other cars from going through. So we turned back and drove back up to the car on fire, eventually driving past it [on the shoulder] in the left lane, zipping through the huge cloud of billowing smoke.
“A car fire isn’t picture worthy….” -Green shirt man
And he’s stuck
Lima itself was a quick re-acquaintance to driving in big cities in South America. While not nearly as large as Bogota, it tried to make up for it with crazier drivers. We miraculously made it to our hostel without killing anyone or being killed. We did some quick errands, including going to a very bougie store that reminded us of Whole Foods.
View from Miraflores neighborhood
The following morning we chatted with some of the other overlanders at the hostel, went for a brief walk along the beautiful park that spans part of the coast, and treated ourselves to a scrumptious Peruvian-sushi fushion lunch. Then we made the grueling trek 2 miles over to the JW Marriott where we were spending the night. Checking in, we immediately felt out of place, but loved how nice the place was. We made our way to the room, enjoyed the amenities up in the executive lounge, and ended up meeting a couple from Missouri who were taking a trip to Peru. We told them about our trip, but then had to bid an early farewell so we could pick up the folks.
We hopped in Sweetcakes and set off for the airport, driving along the coastal bypass road as the sun was setting over the ocean. A beautiful site, but it didn’t last for long. As soon as we turned off the bypass road, we had to wind our way through Lima’s dark streets, jam packed with crazy drivers, tuk tuks (moto taxis), people, and basically anything you can imagine. A good reminder for why we never drive at night (except in extenuating circumstances). A solid hour later we pulled into the airport and saw there was a police checkpoint to get into the parking area. “Quick, roll down all 4 windows so they don’t bug us about our Luna permit!” The police officer thoroughly inspected all our documents, but never asked for our Luna permit. Bethany’s quick thinking: 1, Peruvian police: 0.
par for the course, or: why we never drive at night
Making our way to the customs exit where we would meet my folks, a man came up to us speaking German. We must have given him puzzled looks, because then he asked “English?” Yup! He proceeded to tell us his story (true or not, we’ll never know), about arriving in Lima the day before and his taxi driver taking off with all of his luggage. He had contacted the German embassy and they were working on new documents for him and paid for his lodging for 2 nights, but wouldn’t cover anything else. So he was at the airport begging for some money for food. Tough! We gave him a couple of bucks and wished him luck.
Soon we saw my parents come through the customs doors, looking a bit weary from the long journey, but exited to be in Peru. Big hugs all around, then we all piled into Sweetcakes for a crazy drive back across Lima to the hotel. Except when Ike tried to insert our parking ticket so we could pay and leave the airport, we were told by the security guard that we had to pay at the pay station back on the other side of the parking lot. Oh, naturally. I hopped out, eventually found the pay station and paid, then we were on our merry way. Luckily the traffic had calmed down a bit, meaning it was “tolerably crazy” instead of completely crazy. Miraculously we made it back to the hotel all in one piece. Mom unloaded bags of snickers and milky ways for us and we all pigged out a bit!
The next morning we headed upstairs to the executive lounge for the breakfast buffet, complimentary for our room because of Ike’s status. I suggested that we just send my parents up since the room only had 2 registered guests, but Ike was confident that all 4 of us could eat there for free. We all waltzed into the lounge and were immediately asked for our room number. “All four of you?” “Yup!” After loading up our plates, the woman who was “working the door” approached Ike and informed him that since only 2 guests were registered in our room, we would have to pay $20/breakfast for the additional 2 guests. BUSTED! It was a delicious breakfast, though.
Thoroughly stuffed, we hailed a cab and headed for the historic downtown of Lima. We enjoyed the beautiful colonial architecture, Mom spotted a small market and we purchased a few items, then we took a guided tour of the San Francisco Monastery, which included a beautiful church, the monastery buildings, and catacombs. All Catholics were buried in the catacombs until the first cemetery was built, so there were lots of bones down there! We were surprised to see most of the bones appeared to be femurs and skulls, but our guide informed us that most of the other bones were fragile enough that they broke down over time. The church and monastery quarters were covered with intricate wood carvings and many of the walls were covered in frescoes, and they were discovering new frescoes every year.
After the tour we hailed another taxi and headed in the general direction of the car rental office. We knew which avenue it was on, but not exactly where. We zig-zagged across the city and miraculously ended up a half block from the office. We entered the building and were told to wait “for a few minutes.” Ike and I both knew what that meant, and sure enough “a few minutes” turned into an hour. The workers finally finished processing the paperwork for the 2 groups ahead of us, one of which was a group of guys with a gazillion surfboards that they loaded on the roof of their rental truck and then realized it was barely too tall to get out through the gate. A couple of the guys hopped on the tailgate to weigh the truck down, and dad was quick to get in on the action; all 100 pounds of him! :)
With the long delay at the rental car office, we were a few hours behind schedule. Ike and I wanted to make sure we were out of Lima before the rush hour traffic hit. We hustled back to the hotel, Mom & I hopped in Sweetcakes, and off we set. Sweetcakes and the girls led the way, with the boys following behind in the rental car. I was pretty nervous since I hadn’t driven south of the US border. But we made it out of the city with only a couple of close calls. We stopped for a very late lunch as soon as we got out of the city, introducing Mom & Dad to Peru’s “typical” (and very cheap) lunches.
We cruised south along the coast, admiring the giant sand dunes and the desert landscape. The road became crazier and crazier as the sun set, another brutal reminder of why we typically don’t drive at night. We stopped near the town of Pisco to purchase a SIM card for Dad’s phone and a couple of bottles of the area’s famous liquor: pisco! While I was busy playing frogger across the busy highway to jump through all of the bureaucratic hoops of getting a SIM card, Ike was being hazed by the pisco shop owner. He insisted Ike try a dozen of his infused piscos before making his purchase. Ike begged for mercy and explained that he had to drive. He ended up with two bottles, one mint-infused and another infused with “snot fruit” (see our Ecuador blog).
We were all tired from the long day’s drive when we rolled into Huacachina that evening. Our hotel turned out to be quite nice, and even had a swimming pool! We played a quick round of Hand and Foot (our favorite card game), had some mojitos, then called it a night. The next morning we were stunned to see the giant sand dune that went right up to the hotel’s back gate. Since we had arrived in the evening, we had no idea just how large and near the sand dunes were. Mom & I went for a quick dip in the pool while Ike and Dad checked Sweetcake’s brake pads, in preparation for all the mountain driving ahead of us. Later that morning the 4 of us loaded into one of the giant dune buggies, the driver barely waiting for us to fasten our 6-point harnesses before taking off (he didn’t wear his the entire ride!). We drove out onto the dunes and were shocked by their scale, sand stretching as far as you could see in every direction. We were in for quite the ride – without warning, our driver plummeted off what seemed like a sheer sand dune and we were all thankful for the 6-point harnesses as we caught air. Dad was pulling out his phone to take a video when we went over the cliff and before he knew it he was flying out of his seat! After a few thrilling drops, the driver stopped and pulled out some sandboards for us. Dad tried to cut across the dunes, using his snowboarding skills, but the sand is much slower than snow. The rest of us opted to ride down on our bellies, a much quicker way! The sandboarding was fun, but the sand was brutally hot in the mid-day sun and burnt our feet, so after a few rides on the boards, we were back in the dune buggie for more thrills.
Overland ready vehicle right here
Sand fo days….
Man I look cool. shame I have NO idea what I’m doing
We stopped for a delicious lunch of ceviche and paella, then continued south along the highway. We tried to visit a winery in Ocucaje, but were told it was no longer open for tours. A bit further down the road we pulled over to a mirador to see the Palpa lines. Similar to the Nazca lines, but much smaller in scale. There were a half dozen designs visible from the mirador.
This is what happens when we can’t tour wineries!!
We continued down the road and eventually came to the mirador for the Nazca lines. The Nazca lines are still a complete mystery. The designs cover an area of about 500 acres and the designs are so huge that you really can’t appreciate them from the ground. Instead, most people fly over the lines in small airplanes. We had heard that many people get sick, since the pilots have to bank sharply, so we opted to just appreciate the designs as best we could from the miradoralong the road. Some people believe the lines are the work of supernatural beings, since the designs are geographically perfect (lines and circles), which seems impossible to do without a bird’s eye view.
That night we stayed at a Swiss hotel near the airport. It was OK, but they over charged and the staff were not very helpful. We ventured back into town for dinner, buying 2 pounds of fresh figs at the market (which we promptly forgot about and went bad in our car, doh!) and feasted on a whole chicken and a mountain of french fries that evening. The next morning the hotel staff didn’t have breakfast ready at the designated time and told us it would be “just a few minutes.” Since we had a long day’s drive ahead of us, we munched on fruit and yogurt from our car and jumped on the road. Soon we were climbing up and up into the mountains.
We were going from sea level up to over 4000 meters that day. The elevation change was very quick! Soon the road disappeared into think fog and mist, and we showed our parents the joy of blind-passing semis on South American mountain roads. They were good sports, though. A couple hours in we came to a toll booth. We pulled over to use the restrooms and stretch our legs, and we immediately felt the altitude. We were around 3800 meters already. There was a new cafe by the toll booths and they asked us to pose for a photo drinking instant coffee in their cafe. Sure, why not. Immediately after we finished the photo shoot, Dad started to feel ill. He sat down on the side of the road. We tried to get him to drink water and eat a couple of crackers, but he was already very nauseous.
Don’t mind us!
Life at 13,000 feet
He was able to make it halfway to the restroom before he had to sit down, and promptly lost his stomach. From there, it was another 7 hours of driving with Denny trying to keep down water and some crackers as we soldiered on, eventually peaking at 4400 meters and Bethany and I hitting the highest altitude yet on the trip. 4K+ meters reminds us of northern Canada – the trees begin to thin out, the landscape rolls along with lots of rocks and moss. There’s a stark beauty to it that we really enjoy. Lunch for the four of us was in a tiny town: 3 entrees and soda for 19 soles [$6], although the soup had chicken feet and hearts in it. [the hearts were edible at least!] We returned to the vehicles to have the rental car’s battery dead after the lights were on for 30 minutes. With a jump, we were back on the road, but not before Denny noticed our brake line was leaking fluid. Never a dull moment! As the sun set, we continued to push forward as fast as we could, with us getting passed by trucks clearly having the same thought as us, but with engines with a few hundred more horsepower than ours. The switchbacks leading into Abancay along the mountains included some gravelly water crossing that Sweetcakes ripped through without any issue and miraculously the little Renault Logan made it through too, although I definitely gunned it in 2ndgear and held the accelerator down as we crossed.
GNARLY OFF ROADING! [not pictured: the teeny Renault doing it 5 seconds later]
We quickly called it a night after getting in to our hotel, as we needed to drive for most of the next day as well. The next morning we hopped in the car and took off, with clouds and rain taking us most of the way into Cusco. Luckily Denny was starting to feel quite a bit better. En route, we stopped at a large Sunday market in a town. The place was almost completely packed, over 100 meters long each way, and full of some of the craziest niche vendors. Yep, there’s the lady selling mint, herbs, and goat heads. There’s the other lady who exclusively sharpens knives and scythes. Bethany and Janis picked up some fabric pieces while Denny and I tried to one-up each other with services being offered.
Bodes well…. (Believe it or not, Sweetcakes was rescuing the rental here)
“Get yer Goat guts! get yer goat guts and mint right heeeerrre!!!”
Wallet feeling lighter already…..
Coming into Cusco, Janis and I attempted to navigate our way to the hotel we were staying at and we got to share what it’s like driving through steep colonial towns with them. After some back and forth, we found ourselves out front, got parked, and went inside where the guys running the place told us to take a seat and enjoy some Coca tea. We happily obliged. Shortly thereafter we made our way to Fuego, a restaurant specializing in burgers and steaks. Bethany and I killed the alpaca burgers, onion rings, and pisco sours for all. [happy hour!] They didn’t skimp on the pisco either, and as we made our way back to the hotel, Denny, Janis, and I made our way into the tienda next to the hotel and promptly spent $20 on junk food. #noregrets
And the talking just starts to speed up!
Pisco Sours are just the best guise
These are a bit easier to ride than the live ones
Ohhhh boy. Girls whipping the guys
The next morning was errands first and foremost, as we needed to zip around and take care of tickets for Maccu Piccu and the Via Ferrata. We finally got data set up on Denny’s phone, and our tickets purchased. To celebrate, we had an amazing lunch of pizza, pasta, and sangria. From there, we visited a couple of churches in Cusco, but were bummed because so many of them either had a steep entrance fee or were flat out closed. That evening was more Hand and Foot, and a dinner of street burgers for Bethany and I. It was early to bed though, as the next morning was a packed day.
Central square of Cusco
Aren’t they the cutest! Bethany and Janis look good too.
We loved looking at the perfectly cut Incan stones that still abound in Cusco.
“The map says the entrance is across from the train station, across the river. I don’t think we cross the river, as the train station is past it over there.” Driving around, we were trying to find the small entrance to the Via Ferrata [Iron Walk] we were doing. After back tracking, we found the little road leading up. We waited for a few minutes, then the bus pulled up with the guides and the two other participants. Sebastian and Katie, from Frankfurt. The six of us got suited up in our harnesses with the help of Cesar and Cynthia, our guides. We walked over to the start, and Cesar scaled the rock wall up to the folded ladder. “Ok, just like that!” he said with a grin before unfolding the ladder. Looking up, all I saw was sheer rock. Somehow I thought the walk would be harnesses and walking along some iron bridges that were stuck to the side of the mountain. I think I’d seen something like that in China before, but I did NOT expect it to be a 400 meter ascent up the side of a mostly sheer rock face. I’m not….the bestwith heights, but it was too late to back out now. It was cloudy and had been raining up until we started, which seems awful, but good hiking boots and ridged iron rungs made our grip pretty sure. It also kept it cool which was nice considering the workout we were getting. The ascent was going well, and then Bethany turned back to me and said, “Look up over there!” and I looked up to see a ‘bridge’ consisting of a couple of wires for the walkway and another strung up about chest height for holding on it. “AWW F—” was the first and only thing I could say. With three people and nearly three hundred meters behind and below me, the only option was forward. I made sure to only really focus on where my feet were [the wire was kinda slippery from the rain] and either looked at my feet [but not past them] or at some distant rocks so I wasn’t thinking about being suspended. The hardest part is that you have to lean forward onto the guide rope to keep better balance, but when you’re taller the rope is more chest level then above your head, so your center of gravity is out over the edge. Weeeeiiirrrddd [read:awful] feeling. Thankfully I had cheerleaders backing me up the entire time [so they say, all I was really doing was saying, “Ok…ok…ok…ok….ok” to myself every two seconds] to get me across. As I reached the other side, I slumped against the rock wall as my arms and legs started trembling uncontrollably from adrenaline, tension, and fear.
Bethany: smiling Ike: rictus of terror
I didn’t die!
That was the most difficult mentally, but technically there were a few other spots that really worked the quads or triceps [all of us but Denny were sore for a few days afterwards], and a few more that made you think [or in my case, say] “I don’t think I can do this….” But in each case, Cesar or Cynthia provided helpful advice to make sure you placed your hands and feet just where they needed to go and in the right order so you surprised yourself.
We crested our 400m climb [still only about 2/3 of the way to the top] and broke for lunch, then hiked along the side of the cliff [or side-climbed in some cases] up past the three capsule rooms that you can sleep in overnight. Cesar informed us how he spent every day for two months helping install the capsules, starting at 4am every day and going until dark. He was suspended alongside the capsules as they winched them up from the ground, and then suspended them using 12 anchor points each, drilled a meter into the rock. He certainly earned the ‘fun’ part his job is now.
With the hard part over, the next hour and a half was spent ziplining back down the 400m. Compared to the climbing, this was a nice, relaxing ride to the bottom. The longest of these was half a kilometer long, and afforded us plenty of time to enjoy the view of the valley below us.
We rested as we rode the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, a short 30-40 kilometers but an hour and a half. We rode alongside the river, through the valley and looking up at the mountains and clouds between turns of hand and foot. Arriving, we left the station through a maze of vendors [how clever!] and then camped on a side street as Bethany and I bopped between hotels and asked to see rooms, prices, and if they had wifi [most important question]. We found a great hotel on the cheap, with nice hot water and clean new rooms. It had a view right over the central stream of Aguas Caliente, and we got to enjoy watching the buses turn around in the middle of the street, more of an art form than anything else.
ALL OF THE GRINGOS
Making our way around town for dinner, we had our hopes set pretty low. We heard the touts were pushy, the food wasn’t good, and the prices were high. We settled for a restaurant that had mexican food. All of them claimed to have 4x20S drinks; but they were each about 4oz and took 15 minutes to come out. Our restaurant had a neon sign proclaiming free wifi, but when we inquired, our waiter/tout looked confused and said they didn’t have it. He also told us about ‘free nachos!’ but turns out they come with the meals [of only some of the entrees]; but at least those were good.
We planned to play it loose with getting to Maccu Piccu depending on the weather and having our return tickets set for 6pm. The next morning though it was beautiful and we decided to head out around 7:15; not super early but allowing us to beat the rush of day-trippers from Cusco. We split up in lines for bus tickets, waiting in line for about 20 minutes and learning that morning that we totally could have purchased tickets the day before and saved ourselves quite a bit of time. We quickly appreciated our decision to bus up to Maccu Piccu instead of hiking up, as upon arrival it was immediately obvious who had hiked and who hadn’t. We ran into Justin from Washington as we went into the park, and spent most of the morning with a +1. After entering we continued straight on up to the ‘Caretakers Hut’ for the famous view of the ruins, then made our way back to the Inca Bridge path after briefly admiring a Japanese dude using his phone to adjust his go-pro-selfie-stick while posing with an alpaca. The Inca Bridge path was pretty sparse [on the way up we heard a ton of middle-aged Americans bitching about the hike up, and upon summit-ing several more saying that they were ready to leave after seeing the view. WTF PEOPLE?!] and we enjoyed the flat hiking instead of climbing stairs. There was a close brush-in with some alpacas galloping down the path too. The bridge is now closed after some moron fell off it and died a decade ago or so. Past the bridge the restoration work stopped and we all were flabbergasted at what the path actually looked like. It was a simple narrow footpath along the side of the mountain! “How many bones do you think are down along the bottom?” I asked Denny, while we admired the cojonesof the people who trekked in that way. They’ve found six seperate points of ingress to Maccu Piccu, no doubt all of them as pants-filling as this one.
Perfection. The Incas were master stone cutters.
This is why we can’t have nice things
The line of green is the trail. Nope! Nope nope nopenopenope.
Agricultural terraces surrounded the ancient city
Billipede! – Bethany
We returned to Aguas Caliente ahead of schedule, and were luckily able to change our tickets to an earlier train for free! We hopped on, played some more hand and foot, and spent nearly an hour of the train ridge watching the staff try and sell us overpriced Peru-Rail themed goods! Everything about this fashion show needs to be described:
In no particular order –
They opened with one of the employees in a ‘traditional’ dress as a spirit who danced in the aisle and had us clap along
during the fashion show, the clapping continued, for NEARLY AN HOUR, mostly off-beat
one japanese tourist did her damnedest to keep clapping right along with him
the smiles couldn’t be more forced; the staff clearly hated this as much as we did
several older white tourists ATE. IT. UP. Felt every garment, ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhhed’ at the scarf that MAGICALLY TURNS INTO A HEADSCARF STOP IT THAT’S MAGIC
The guy in costume had to be thinking, “My ancestors built Maccu Piccu….and I’m clapping on a train. Man, @#$% imperialism.”
People ACTUALLY BOUGHT THINGS. OF COURSE an old white dude loved the Peru-Rail vest with approx. 67 pockets.
Everything was so batshit insane I left my tablet on the train.
After getting off the train, we walked up to the rental car. Walking up to it, I hit the unlock button but didn’t hear a ‘beep’. I knew what that meant but lied to myself that everything was fine. Nope, I’d left the lights on, and the battery was dead. Hooray! We tried bump-starting it in reverse while pushing it, but to no luck. We backed it out of the parking lot onto the hill, and tried pushing it down the hill to start, but no luck. Thinking because you had to have the clutch in to start it, it may not work to bump-start it. [turned out via testing later that was false] Luckily a taxi driver came buy and we all learned that even without jumper cables you can totally jump a car! He swapped in his battery, we started it, and spent another 7-10 minutes getting the cables switched from his battery back to ours while keeping the car revved. I then sat in the car keeping it lightly revved to get the alternator to recharge the battery while the rest of the crew watched a fair going on for carnaval. The carnaval was blocking access to the hostel we planned to stay at that evening but Bethany found another hotel and we made our way down there. It was a nice place there and upon checking in I realized I’d left the tablet. We rushed back to the station and explained the situation, and they informed us that they check each car after every trip for lost items. An employee came walking up about 10 minutes later with a tablet in a black leather case; except it wasn’t ours. Despite the light temptation to be like, “YUP! THATS IT!” [I mean, it was a nook and I was one of 17 people to ever purchase and actual nook e-reader!] We explained that it wasn’t that one and if it was possible to check again when the train returned later that evening. Surprise surprise, that even when the train came back the tablet was nowhere to be seen. Good luck finding an ASUS charger though!
Kids throw water balloons to celebrate Carnaval
Loved these traditional hats!
The next day we did some sightseeing on our way back to Cusco. We first stopped at a salinas, a series of nearly a thousand pools built by the Incas. A spring nearby pumps out warm salty water that the Incas diverted into a series of man made pools that they can easily block and allow to dry, then harvest the salt from. It was basically every 7 year olds dream come true. We marvelled at how a small rock placed at a certain point could divert water away from several hundred of the pools.
So a single rock here blocks the next dozen pools. Must. resist. Temptation…….!
Leaving the salinas we were blown away by how pretty the scenery was. On the way in, the rain and clouds had prevented us from seeing the countryside, but with a warm sun and clear sky overhead, we stopped at every hill to snap pictures and soak up the rays and view.
How much is land here?
Eat your heart out Washington county
We made our way along back-country roads to another tourist stop, but learned we needed the sacred valley tourist pass to get in; great if we planned to visit a ton of places, not so much for just the single one [$25 each? Pass, thanks.] We still had a great time just driving through the countryside and watching shepherds move their flocks along, or watch a stray bull run across the road and the kid guiding it running to shoo it out of our way. [Other highlights included Janis telling a kid, “Boner Dias!” [didn’t actually happen]] We stopped for lunch in Chinchero and paid a whopping S20 for four entrees [$6.30] and attempted to find the local market. Not having any luck, we pulled up alongside a couple of women in traditional dress. They told us we’d already passed it [really? Didn’t see anything!] but that they ran a textile coop and would love to give us a demonstration and show us their wares.
The demonstration blew us away: we saw how they made soap using a root [it lathered up as well as any soap I’ve ever seen] and totally whitened up the wool! We then show how efficient they were at spinning the wool, and then they process they used for dying it. This was the game-changer for me. Dried bugs that grind up to a powder that turns red with water! Add a drop of lime juice to turn it orange! Flowers for yellow and blue and purple, leaves of a plant boiled with the wool for a vibrant green, it was incredible. The coop is made up of a group of around 50 women who create the goods, and they take turns coming into town to run the stalls. Bethany and I felt compelled to splurge after the woman giving the demonstration held up a bone and asked us what it was from. “Llama? Alpaca? Sheep?” were the guesses. “A tourist who didn’t buy anything!” was the answer. I found a blanket that had 20 [!] different shades to it, and knew I had to have it. Bethany got a poncho, and they got every last scrap of cash that we had.
And then it’s magically soap that also bleaches wool. SUCK IT BILLY MAYS
“You…you’re…you’re wearing a rug.” – Internal monologue
“IT LOOKS AMAZING!” – actual dialogue
Cute and delicious? WHAT A WORLD!
We made it back to Cusco and our hotel in time for the agency to pick up the rental, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, heading to the square on a walk, grabbing dinner at the #3 [of 400] restaurant on Trip advisor for Cusco [and it was cheap!] and then getting drinks with Colin and Aurelie [and Aurelie’s family who was visiting]. Pulling the ‘American’ card, we spoke English with them [while enjoying 2 por 1 drinks at Fuego again!] while not speaking a lick of French. We’re so uncouth.
Adobo Cusqueno, culinary highlight of the country!
The following morning we bid farewell to the folks, then checked into a campsite on a hill above the hotel we’d been staying at. We then made an appointment to have our leaky brake line repaired. Initially we didn’t want to go to the Cusco overland service shop because we’d heard that they were a bit expensive, but said ‘screw it’ and went there anyway. While we were waiting to have it repaired, [after a convoluted process of having them try to meet us near the airport, then following them to the shop], we met Bethany and Michael from Toucan Travel; a tour company that has overland buses that travel all around South America! We think overlanding can be difficult sometimes, but that’s in our dinky 4Runner by ourselves; not with a tour group of 20-30, in a huge bus you need a CDL to drive, chaperoneing everyone! We quickly realized they have the patience of saints, and grabbed lunch with them after they’d wrapped up some work on their monster rig. They showed us to a little hole in the wall [literally; we had to duck to get through the door] to a patio next to a garden in the backyard of a woman’s house. We had a huge lunch for 5 soles [“I’m skipping the soup this time.” Bethany informed us, “Last time I couldn’t finish it and the grandma stood there and made me finish every bite.”] and then made our way back before the rain hit.
Couple of pretty cool cats right here
The next day was our last full one in Peru: we spent it driving towards Lake Titicaca, a beautiful drive out of Cusco and southeast towards the lake. We stopped in a small town along the way, found a vendor selling smoked goat meat and potatoes for $3 for a huge hunk of meat and 4 potatoes, then drove out to Tinajani Canyon and sat on a mound and ate our lunch while enjoying the scenery. A dog appeared from out of nowhere, attracted by the smell, and slowly made his way towards us. We left him the scraps and continued on. After a brief stop in Puno to try and find water [seriously, Peru and Bolivia do not sell water in containers bigger than 2.5L!], we ended up in a small town just past it.
Cusco from above
baby-rantula!! [incoherent babbling and cries of terror]
Oh! so this is a bowl of soup then….
They were celebrating Carnaval that evening, and we stood in the square and watched as children ran around passing out 1L bottles of beer to anyone who didn’t have one, and collecting the empties. The town had to only be a thousand people, and over 10% of them were drunk in the square. A large tree had been set up in the middle of the road, and we watched people take turns between dancing in the street to take a swing with an ax at the tree. Some people were swinging one handed, the other preoccupied by a brewskie, or were just so drunk that the rebound from their poorly aimed swing sent the ax out of their hands and into the road. Laughter at that, then a mad rush as the tree went down and grazed the car of the [likely drunk] moron who left it parked in the street. [with the tree like right next to it. That they knew was going to be chopped down that very night. Insurance fraud maybe?]
Note the vigilance of the boy passing out beer
The same 8 bars of music for 3 hours straight…..
Loving the skirts!
No caption is witty enough for how amazing this picture is
After he finished chopping down the tree, this guy just solo danced in the street with zero onlookers. The dancing – it was only for himself, and the music he felt in his bones.
Stopping for smuggled Bolivian gas the next morning, we topped off, and made our way to the border, a few kilometers ahead along the border of the lake. The crossing out of Peru was easy, and really, so was the Bolivian one, just a bit time consuming as we got stuck behind a bus of tourists. The police lightly hassled us as we attempted to leave, likely for a bribe, but it was so half-hearted that we really don’t even consider it one.
Oh look! A parade! Let’s roll down our window and take pictures!
Peru budget recap:
If you use our budget recaps to plan for your own big adventure, take these numbers with a grain of salt! Our family visited us in Peru and paid for all our expenses during our time together.
Expected days in country: 21 Actual days spent in country: 18
I still can’t believe we spent less than 3 weeks in Peru! It is a huge country and has a lot to offer. We would have loved to spend a couple of weeks exploring the northern part of the country, but the weather didn’t cooperate and we had a tight schedule. Adding it to the list of places we must revisit!
Daily budget: $97 Actual expenses: $55 (excluding car repairs) Difference: –$42 (-43%)
Our high daily budget reflects the cost of gas. We budgeted for $6/gallon, which was much higher than the prices we paid. We were way under budget because Bethany’s parents visited us for half of our time in Peru and they paid the bill! Muchas gracias, parents! Our expenses include nearly $300 in souvenirs that we purchased for ourselves.
Average price for gas: $3.72/gallon (11.16 Soles/gallon)
Gas costs were much lower than we budgeted (for once!).
Expected miles driven: 2300 Actual miles driven: 2344 (Includes ~75 miles in the rental car) Difference: +2%
Average gas mileage: 20
I like to think I am responsible for our great gas mileage since I drove Sweetcakes from Lima to Cusco, the first miles I’ve driven south of the US border!
Average miles driven per day: 130
As expected, our daily driving time is increasing as countries get larger and as we continue to push to arrive in Ushuaia by early April.
Biggest daily expenses ($/day): Not worth reporting because they won’t be accurate since our parents paid all expenses while they visited us. Instead, here are up-to-date prices for visiting Machu Picchu: S128 ($43)/person for basic park entrance
~S360 ($120)/person for round trip train tickets from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
$24USD for round trip bus tickets from Aguas Calientes up to the ruins