Crossing the border into Bolivia went smoothly, but they charged us 160 US Dollars a person to visit their country because we are US citizens, our European friends entered for free. We drove on to Copacabana, yes – this is the original Copacabana we were told. The one in Brasil is named after this town. Downtown was buzzing with international backpackers (young and old) and vacationers from La Paz. We camped at lake Titicaca in front of the gate to a hostel, at the edge of town. Every morning I watched two women row out their wooden boat and come back with buckets of trout, they fished with gillnets, wearing their skirts and shawls and all. Then they wrapped their shawls around the bucket, heaved them on their backs and walked past our camper to the market. (The trout is an introduced species from the northern hemisphere and is endangering the survival of several native species in the lake.)
The town has two highlights, the Basilica the Nuestra Senora de Copacabana and the Franciscan padre that will bless your car. The cathedral is really beautiful and should not be missed. On the way out you might see the padre blessing that are decorated with flowers and banners. For a small donation he will bless your camper too.
We planned to meet up with our overlander friends Lise and Laurent from Elsass/New Caledonia and Sabine and Andy from Switzerland to celebrate Christmas, visit the salt flats and drive through the Laguna road together. Our original plan to celebrate Christmas in the historic town of Sucre was changed quickly when we had another flat tire shortly after we got off the ferry that took us across lake Titicaca, from the peninsula to the mainland. We really did not want to drive all those unpaved and rough roads in the Bolivian Altiplano to Chile with four bad tires and one badly patched spare. So off we went to La Paz in search for tires yet again. And yes: We found them!
We camped a nice quiet camp ground near the city called “Colibri camping”. It is perched on a sand stone cliff with great views of a valley below. Our Land Cruiser friends showed up and as a bonus Petra and Anders on their motorcycles roared in too.
Everybody contributed a dish or two to the Christmas dinner and it turned into a feast.
Our plan was to drive to Sajama National Park, then cross into Chile near Putre, drive south on the Chilean side and then cross back into Bolivia to visit Salar Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). When we arrived at Sajama National Park the weather did not look very inviting and the park fee had quintupled since October, so we camped in the Pampa near the border and crossed into Chile the next day.
Bolivia, Chile and Argentina have strict rules about bringing fruits, vegetables, plants and sometimes meat into their country. So we always have to make sure we do not have any of these items along or else they get confiscated. So you come into Chile without much fresh food and then there are no stores anywhere for many miles. In Putre we found some blackish bananas, apples and a cucumber and then we set off, drove south through beautiful desert and mountain scenery. We stopped at different hot springs for the night and went for walks along salt lakes and watched vicuña and flamingos.
Back on the Bolivian side the three of us decided to take the shortest route to the north entrance of the salar. Like it happens now and then, the road in the map is not always a road in reality. So the six of us (two Land Cruisers and one XP) took the road less traveled and after crossing a waterway and some dry riverbeds finally ended up in sand dunes and the road was gone. On the way there we passed through a huge area of curiously round houses, hundreds of them, with fields dotted with sheep and llamas. We were in Chipaya land. As we were debating what to do next, a man in a grey poncho showed up on a bicycle, he was a Chipaya. He was very friendly and had a great smile. Anthropologists believe that the Chipaya are direct descendants of the Uru ethnic group, which populated the Altiplano thousands of years before the Aymara and after that the Incas came here. The Chipaya seldom get visitors, overlanders lost in the pampa are an exception 🙂 They live in and around the small town of Santa Ana de Chipaya, on the pampas that fringe the Coipasa salt desert, a smaller version of the Salar de Uyuni. Neither their language nor their customs have changed for millennia and they are different from the Quechua and Aymara ethnic groups that dominate the Altiplano today.
The man was very friendly and kept on talking to us, he was hard to understand but we figured out that he tried to tell us that we could not continue on. Sadly, we had to turned around. We drove back and on to Oruro, it was not however a wasted day because we got to see what few people see. (A few weeks later we talked to a nice man near Laguna Verde, he told us that the Chipaya do not like visitors and will throw rocks if you try to take pictures. No wonder the road is gone 🙂
December 9. to 15. 2015
The magic word. Who hasn’t heard of Machu Picchu and seen the Pictures of this Inca citadel on top of the mountains.. Many of our friends have been there, it is one of the most famous places in the world. The photographs of this mountain settlement of the Incas are breathtaking, traveling in Peru and not going there was not an option for us. Knowing how any place as famous as this was going to be touristy, we braced ourselves and joined in. We are no stranger to mass tourism and once we leave home to take a trip we are tourist too, tourists of a different kind though .
(Juneau, Alaska, our second home, is a perfect example of what we try to avoid on our travels. Cruise ships ply the waters of the Inside Passage and deposit thousands of tourists in our towns every day from May to October. They shop in mostly cruise line owned or affiliated stores and line up at the “Crab Shack” drooling as if they had not eaten in days. Back on board their floating “all-inclusive” hotels they happily line up at the buffets while their ship pumps their sewage into our fjords and switch to highly polluting bunker fuel as soon as they have left the harbor and rounded the corner, leaving a trail of brown smoke in/above their wake. Sorry, cruise lovers.)
But back to Peru:
Anna, my Cousins daughter from Oberstdorf was backpacking in South America this winter and we decided to meet in Cusco. She and her friends planned to do a treck to Machu Picchu.
We left the coast and stopped at the Nazca area to looked at some of the lines, one really needs to take a plane to see them and the extend of the area where they are located.
Then back up into the Andes, past herds of vicuña, through little towns and past beautiful lakes. The nights got colder as we worked our way up higher. The first evening we turned off the main road and drove into the hills to find a place to camp for the night. But the fields were fenced in with rock walls and finally we ended up in a little town called San Juan. We parked by the beautiful and very old little church and asked a lady if she knows a spot for us where we could spend the night. She and a horde of children directed us to a lot near the central plaza they called the “pampa”. There we stayed for the night and part of the next day, it was interesting to watch town life and we were being watched too. There are few cars and it was very quiet, we shared the “pampa” with some donkeys. A representative of the town hall came over in the morning to welcome us and wanted to know why we are here. The children hung out for hours and we let them come up the steps and look inside the camper. “Line up two and two” Günter told them, so we had a long line outside, two and two. We figured that close to 60 Children got to peak inside our “Casa Rodande” while most adults watched from a distance.
It took us three days to drive from Paracas on the Pacific coast to Cusco.
Cuscos historical center is very beautiful and worth a visit. Although we do not like to go to camp grounds and there are very few anyway, the one in Cusco sounded perfect for us since it is in walking distance to the center of town and right next to one of many Inca ruins in the area: Sacsaywaman was the site of one of the most bitter battles during the time of the Spanish invasion. The stone work is impressive and a walk through the ruins is very pleasant, with a great view of Cusco. We hooked up with our friends, shared a dinner and spent a nice evening together. The next day they were off to the Inca trail.
There are different ways to go see Machu Picchu, you cannot drive there however.
You can hike in or take the train. We visited a few places in the “Sacred Valley” on the way to Ollyotambo, the end of the road and starting point of the train.
They valley is pretty and has several interesting sites.
Dreadlocks are alive and well in the Sacred Valley, New Agers flock to different retreats for spiritual enlightenment, it is big business in some corners or the valley.
We hiked around the ruins and amazing terraces of Pisac, spent the night above the salt ponds of Salinas and finally left our camper at a litte hostal in the last town Ollantaytambo. From there we took the train to Aguas Calientes, spent the night and got an early start with the 6 am bus up to the ruins. People try to get there earlier for the sun rise, so when we left the bus there were already a few hundred people ahead of us. Ok, we hike up and around for a while and when it got fuller, we split up. Günter climbed Cerro Machu Picchu, all steps – it was not easy, but the expansive views from the top made it all worth while. While Wayna Picchu is more popular and one has to sign up ahead of time to climb it, it gets quite crowded and Günter was glad he chose the other mountain where he was the first one up there. I in the meantime I headed for Intipunku, the Sun Gate, part of the Inca Trail. There are a lot of steps at Machu Picchu and hiking poles are not allowed, I had to go all the way back down to the bus station at one point to got to the bathroom and then back up to where I had left off. Plenty of exercise and people to negotiate around.
The ruins are indeed beautiful and the location amazing, the morning was cloudless and even when a few clouds crowned the peaks around in the afternoon we could not stop marveling at the ruins and the surroundings. Most people head back to the busses around lunch time, so it was less crowded in the afternoon.
We left Aguas Calientes again that evening by train, a funny train trip with entertainment, the conductor doing some Inca dance dressed in a costume and the “train attendants” modeling alpaca sweaters and shawls for sale.
Back in Cusco we stocked up on groceries but did not go back to the camp ground since one of the German ladies there had been very rude to Günter. There were several German campers in the camp ground, retired couples mostly. When we first arrived there from the coast this woman had asked us for help with different issues (truck, laptop) because her husband was gone and Günter did his best to fix her problems on several occasions. The day we left she got really mad at him for warming up the engine of our truck for just a short time. She accused him of being “totally Americanized”, I guess that is supposed to be an insult, she told us we probably do not have children and grand children to worry about so we just pollute the environment. (Never mind that she and her husband drive a diesel truck camper around.)Oh well, we were so shocked about this ungrateful and insulting behaviour that we just turned around and left her standing there. The shame is on her.
We wanted to go camp by ourselves somewhere, where it is peaceful and quiet. It was time to move on and go south, to Bolivia.
This reserve is on the wind-swept Peruvian coast, it is beautiful in its own way. Devoid of much vegetation it consists of sandy hills and mountains, high cliffs, coves, bays and beautiful rocky islands. There are many seabirds breeding in these cliffs and sea lions hang out on the rocks offshore, we heard them and to us it is a very familiar sound.
Some overlanders avoid this park because it has had a bad reputation, robberies of campers were reported. We decided to go for it in spite of the stories and hoped that those robberies had been isolated incidents.
Driving to Paracas you pass through the town of Pisco, made famous by the drink. Pisco (destilled wine) it is mixed with lime or lemon juice, egg-white and sweetened with cane syrup to make a ” Pisco Sour”. Lots of fishing boats lined the beach and even more were on anchor offshore. At closer look we saw, that there were hundreds of large fishing boats ( purse seiners) out there, waiting to unload. At night, they fish for anchovies and other small fish along the coast and sell it to the huge fish meal-oil processing plants that line the road to Paracas. It smells so bad it takes your breath away, we could still smell it when we were already at the park entrance.
The salmon farms in Chile and other countries, as well as other aquaculture factories are in need of this product.
But there are different fishermen along this coast too. Small one man operations, they are the dive fishermen. We talked to them and were amazed at how hard they have to work for so little,
with leaky neoprene outfits in the cold water. They pry limpets from the rocks, spear fish for octopus, collect sea cucumbers and harvest sea weed. They show up in the morning and disappear in the waves, in the afternoon they bring in their catch, clean, sort, pack it in big bags and head to town. On two different occasions we helped them get their trucks started and were rewarded with fresh seafood. The limpets made delicious ceviche, the little corvina tossed in for good measure. So we had company at our camp site, got “high fives” from them and felt secure.
Hiking the cliffs of the park was just amazing, the boobies had fledglings in their nests and were busy feeding their hungry offspring. You could sit on the edge of the cliff and watch for hours.
The fishermen had a trail down to the beach, it was steep and treacherous, I would not attempt it without my trekking poles. They on the other hand hike up and down this trail with heavy bags of their harvest barefoot – and never miss a step.
On the third day we decided to drive south through the park on the road that looked like a regular road on the map . After we passed some beautiful bays and many sand dunes the “road” disappeared and we just followed the tracks of the trucks the seaweed harvesters had made. Finally we were at wit’s end and decided to back track. We hate to backtrack and Günter kept saying “could have..should have” but really, there were 35 km of sand dunes without a road ahead of us and this was the prudent thing to do.
It was time to head up to Cusco and go to Machu Picchu, my cousins daughter and friends were on their way to Peru, backpacking and trekking, and we wanted to meet up in Cuzco.
Let the pictures give you an idea of the road through the eastern Cordillera Blanca. It took us two days.
Some of the highest mountains in South America are part of the Cordillera Blanca most are more than 6000 m high and loom majestically over steep green valleys that are dotted with little settlements inhabited by the descendants of pre Columbian people and the Incas.
The mountains are draw for climbers, trekkers and hikers all over the world.
We left the coast and drove up to Caraz by way of the Canon the Pato, a one way paved road with lots of little tunnels. From Caraz, quiet little farming town that specializes in growing berries and carnations, a small dirt road winds its way up to a beautiful lake surrounded by all those famous mountains. Laguna Paron (4200 m ) is as picturesque as it can get and we decided to spend the night by the lake. The high altitude does not bother our sleep anymore and waking up to the aquamarine lake surrounded by snow-covered peaks is an unforgettable experience. We hiked to the end of the lake, an easy hike with great vistas.
Laguna 69 is another nice hike in the area, we camped in a field with cows near the trail head. The hike is very popular, so Günter got up early the next day and hiked up by himself. I stayed near the camper and watched the water fowl and viscachas (rabbit like animal with long tail, related to the chinchilla)near laguna Llanganuco. The drive over to the eastern side of the range was beautiful and long. Small dirt roads led through little towns, up passes, down canyons, it seemed like it took us forever to get to the ruins of Chavin de Huantar. In one particular town we saw several harps on the porch, it must have been a musical town, however, we did not see or hear anybody playing and the people were quite shy.
The ruins are not much to look at when you get there, but the interesting part is underground which was just fine since it had begun to rain. As we wandered through the underground rooms and hallways we finally found “Lanzon de Chavin”, the mystical obelisk 4,5 m high. It made us stop and think for a while. The ruins were a ceremonial center from a major cultural period around 1200 BC to 500 BC, long before the Incas. Chavin also has a nice museum and Querco thermal baths which we visited on a Monday, after the cleaning. We had a large tub that could hold a family and soaked in the sulphury water, it was great.
One of our tires was giving us a lot of troubles, it had been patched four times and still kept leaking air. We drove to Huaraz, the hiker/climber/trecker/mountain biker hub, to get the tire fixed yet again. We did not like that town and left as soon as we could, we read in our guide about a plant that grows only in a few places in the area. The grow in the valley that leads up to Nevado Pastoruri, the plant, Puya Raimondii is in the pineapple plant family and can grow to 7 m high, it matures late in life, can reach to proud age of 100 years and blooms only once. Its high stalk bursts with thousands of white flowers that buzz with humming birds, other birds and insects. We hiked up to the glacier and then spent the night in the midst of these majestic plants, something you can only do if you travel the way we do.
Lima was our next destination, we decided now to just get a set of new tires and were hoping that in a big city like Lima we can find the size we need.
CHAVIN DE HUANTAR RUINS:
After a visit to the museum in Leymebamba we drove up to Calla Calla pass and spent a foggy, quiet night tucked away near the road. The museum in Leymebamba is well worth a visit, it displays mummies and other items from the tombs (that had not been raided yet) of Chachapoyas.
The fog on the pass lifted in the morning and after a nice morning walk up the hill and a beautiful sunrise we headed down the other side. West, toward the Peruvian coast.
Several hours of white knuckle driving brought us from the pass at 3600 m down to hot La Balsa at 800 m, the river valley is lush with mango trees and palms. We bought some fruit and then wound our way back up to Celendin, on to Cajamarca and finally to the Pacific Ocean.
The coast is barren and windy, with big rolling sand dunes and the occasional desolate town. The windblown garbage and thousands of poultry farms from the San Fernando company dominate the scene. No wonder they seem to live on “arroz con pollo” in these countries.
They produced 45 million fryers a week in 2013, and probably more now.
We stopped in Huanchacho – north of Trujillo – , camped in the garden of a little hotel and decided to explore the town with the bicycles. There is one of the oldest churches of Peru, we drank our first “pisco sour”, watched the sun set over the ocean and the fishermen working on their nets. The reed boats are not in much use anymore, they don’t last long and there are just a few left in the harbor. The bars along the surf beach are populated with beach bums of every kind, the surfing is good they say, and living is cheap.We moved on. Wanted to drive up to the Cordillera Blanca, where there are snow-capped high mountains (Huascarán, 6,768 m , 22,205 ft), blue lakes, steep, verdant green valleys with forgotten towns and – you guessed it: More ruins.
We never found out what this celebration was all about:
Revash, we decided, will be the last ruin we would visit here in the Northern Highlands of Peru. You can’t see them all but even if you visit a few you get an idea about the past in these places. Next would be the Inca ruins around Cusco.
So up we drove again, past the trail sign for “Revash”, we had read that the hike it long, steep and hot when the sun shines. There is a fairly new dirt road that leads to the little town of San Bartolo. From there it is an easy hike over to the rock cliff where there are many colorful little houses wedged into cliff ledges and cracks. They are not homes for the living though, they are funerary buildings and used to hold mummies. Years ago they were looted by grave robbers and all that remains are the structures. We parked in the square of San Bartolo and hiked through the town toward the cliff. I was glad I brought the hiking poles as the trail got a little steep and narrow and the drop off got bigger. Finally we were there, there were many little structures up high and below us. Some were not accessible, it must have been quite a feat to make it to those ledges and hold a funeral.
Also below us we saw two people resting and called down to them. It turned out they were two young backpackers from Germany, they had come up the long way and were surprised to hear from us that there is an easier trail. Later they hiked down again, missed their bus and got a ride from us to Leymebamba.
While we enjoyed the ruins I have to say that the little town of San Bartolo was just as interesting to me. Traditional houses, laid back people, children playing in the square. So I took my time walking back from the ruins, made small talk with some locals and enjoyed the goings on the cobble stone trail. Meanwhile Günter, always hungry, went ahead and tried to find out if we could get lunch somewhere in town. Well, the town is to small for a restaurant, but he found lady and her daughter that agreed to cook as a lunch. The houses are built of clay/straw/wood and have few if any windows. We entered their house and it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the darkness. Sparse furniture on earthen floor is all we could see. The ladies were very nice and produced some toasted hominy, a soup and the standard rice, potatoes and chicken on a plate. It was good, the kitchen is semi outdoor and just as sparse, a fire in the stove, stacked dishes and a gaggle of guinea pigs running around.
A special little town.
Kuelap, fortress in the clouds. (3000 m) The Chachapoyas culture inhabited the highlands before the Incas came and they left behind interesting ruins and graves, thirty known but many yet to be discovered. Driving up to the hilltop city ruins of Kuelap was amazing by itself. The road hugs a steep mountain and is very narrow, I was glad we did not meet much oncoming traffic. Once we had the worst part behind us I got a chance to look up and saw the remnants of the cloud forest that once covered these mountains as far as you could see. It still houses wild animals like spectacled bears, tigrillos and many – many birds, sadly, there is not much left of that forest. Reforestation is often done with Australian eucalyptus trees or pines. I don’t like the eucalyptus trees, bromeliads don’t like them either, and I never see birds nests in them.
Chachapoyas means “People of the clouds”. Kuelap has a nice little visitor center and quiet parking lot. Since the drive up there is not for everybody, it does not get many visitors. We were allowed to stay in the parking lot and spent two nights there, beautiful and quiet.
The ruins were beautiful and very impressive, pre-Columbian built around 500 to 1500 AD. We spent most of the day wandering around sitting on ledges and tried to imagine what it was like when they were inhabited so many years ago. All the houses were round with thatched roofs. The kitchens had separate walled off corners where the guinea pigs were kept. The guinea pig was first domesticated as early as 5000 BC for food, the people in the Andes eat them like we do chicken or other domesticated animals.
The views in all directions were expansive, with cloud forest and patchwork quilts of fields everywhere. Other than a few llamas and archeologists, we had the place to ourselves most of the day.
There is some excavation of another kind going on beside the visitor center, the government of Peru decided that Kuelap needs to get more tourists and tourist money. They call it the second Machu Picchu and are in the process of building a cable car (together with Doppelmayr from Austria) up there from the town of Tingo Nuevo. They plan to be operating in 2016 so we are glad we came here when it was still peaceful and quiet.
There are quite a few ruins and other archeological sites in Peru that are much older than what Peru is most famous for, Machu Picchu. They are remnants of a civilization who inhabited the land before the emergence of the Incas. In the Northern Highlands there are several very interesting sites and we decided to visit a few of them. The first one is near the little hamlet of Cruz Pata, as we drove through the long valley south along the Rio Utcubamba we looked up to the mountains on both sides and saw the windy roads snaking their way up to the high plateaus. Up there is a different world, sleepy towns, friendly people walking along the roads, the women usually spinning with their spindles or knitting while they walk and socialize. Children splashing in the creek and men plowing the fields with teams of oxen. We always greet and wave to the people we pass and most of the time they wave back. At Cruz Pata we parked, a local lady charged us 5 soles per person to hike to the canon where the six sarcophagi are situated. A one hour nice hike down brought us the a cliff where we got a great view of the figures are sitting on a ledge overlooking the valley. They are long faced human figures made out of straw and clay supported by a wooden frame, much like the houses. Behind the figures are their coffins that house(d) mummies. A very impressive site, the rock cliff is also home to a flock of green parrots as well as a pair of falcons, their nest is perched under an overhang. Two little heads were eying us strange tourists as we walked underneath. The hike back was steep and two ladies came down with their horses to offer us a ride up, it is a way for them to make a few extra pennies. Günter did a lot of driving on crazy roads that day, because we decided not to stay, but instead drove back to down to the river valley and up the next dirt road, to mountaintop fortress Kuelap, our next destination.