95. PERU – Peruvian highlands Part 2

It’s been a few weeks since my last confession so here’s a quick update;

After days of bumpy ride we were on smooth paved ways and the scenery was beautiful. We found a couple of gorgeous lakes, a ghost town, drove through the high-pass, visited Huancavelica, stayed at a local trout farm and visited an abandoned mercury mine -which was quite spooky but we were shooed away by a farmer so didn’t hang around long.

Huancavelica is actually a nice little town with friendly people, a cute main square and few pedestrian streets and few pretty churches -that are architecturally photocopies of each other, and about 700 Claro shops. We found a nice French girl at a tourist info office who told us about the trout farm and the mine nearby. We also asked her about the hot springs (3 of them) in town as we were so keen to visit them but she said that the water is barely warm. Same scenario we keep bumping into on the whole mountain range since Cusco so we dropped the idea. But that night we stayed at the trout farm up in the hills, about 10 km from Huancavelica. It was right next to a cute, little medieval village.


The next day we visited the ghost-mine. There were all the buildings, facilities and the offices as they left them about 25-30 years ago when the miners left. In the offices the documents, papers, log book, telephones etc were there as they left them. It was very strange. The doors were open, no signs of restrictions so John and I entered the time-travel gate and looked around in these offices. Then a farmer from the nearby farm came over and told us to bugger off. Oops.

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That day we legged it to a Nation Forest (Sactuario de Piedras) It is actually a stone or boulder forest. Pretty impressive. As we were driving to here through the valley, it was warm and sunny but the Piedras has its own climate. 2-3 days we were there it was at least 6-7C cooler, cloudy and rainy. We haven’t seen clouds for weeks up, over 3500-4000 meters so it was a nice change.

At the national forest, we bought our tickets (S1/ pers, that’s 1 soles, not dollar) and we were welcome to stay overnight at the edge of the Piedras as long as we wanted. It was very nice. Lovely locals, great hikes and chilling for a full day which we didn’t realised how much we needed. Could have stayed longer but we were still very high (around 3200+ meters) and breathing was uncomfortable and the air very dry so had to leave and make a plan for lowering ourselves down soon.

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We headed north towards Huánuco and from there we had an intense drive on the La Union. It’s a single lane, very narrow dirt road with two-way traffic and Peruvian drivers didn’t get any more polite. The rule is to continuously hoot and wait till the other moves out of the way. It was getting annoying and very tiring.

After La Union, we decided to take a loop road and visit Chavin where there’s an archaeological site and a museum. So we turned off the road up north which turned into a first class 2-3 lanes, super smooth road which was very surprising and we sped up. This was great as it was getting late that day and we had a good chance to make up some time and make it to Chavin before dark. The pavement ended in about 20-25 kms with the biggest mine we have ever seen. It was an enormous operation. The road was leading across the mine’s property, we had to drive through gates and checkpoints, we were watched at all times and it took about 2 hours to get out on the other end of the mine. They were mining away a whole mountain. Not a hill, a mountain and though they seem to have a waist pool the whole area stank of some sour chemical smell and looked as though that they are polluting the nearby lakes that turned to an unreal turquoise colour. The trip through this mine was very spooky. We never found out what they were mining for.


We didn’t make to Chavin that night so boondocked over a hill a few kms away from the last mine gate. We kept hearing the dynamite explosions all night and I still could smell that sourness in the air.


We got to the museum in Chavin quite early the next day. It was moderately interesting, then visited the site and headed to north towards Huaraz. We arrived late and stayed at a hotel carpark for John’s disappointment. He is not a fan of carparks especially if we have to pay for the stay. Which I agree with but we didn’t have much choice here at this time of the day so we had a disagreement and an hour sulking after that then walked into town where we found a pizza restaurant and happy hour for the beers and everything was good again. We also got wifi with the hotel-carpark-stay so it wasn’t all bad at the end.

There is the Huazcarán National Park that we wanted to visit and because one of the entrances was quite close we didn’t leave Huaraz till the afternoon. However by the time we got to the gate it was 5PM and we found out that if we wanted to camp inside the Park, it was going to cost us over $50. That seemed quite unreasonable for an overnight stay in a park, in our own vehicle…
At this point -possibly out of being fed up and exhausted John flipped and had a go at the gate guy, who decided not to let us in even if we wanted to. So that was done.

We drove away. John was fuming, I was angry too so asked him to stop at a dirt side-road -which happened to be a nice little, quiet place with a gorgeous view and seemed like a good place to stay for the night. John needed 15 minutes on his own so he went for a walk, and I needed to give him that 15 minutes without pour my frustration on him. When he came back he said “I had enough, we should go home. ”

Right at this moment, I was still blinking at him without being able to consider what he just said or say anything myself, the Swiss couple (we met in Cusco a few weeks back) pulled up right next to us and jumped out smiling to greet us.

It was one of those profound moments when you are standing at a cross road about to make a decision and out of the nowhere a sign shows up. It looked like our sign was this Swiss pair of kind people (the wife didn’t speak English so her and I were communicating in Spanish which humbled me. I didn’t realised how much I’m “expecting” other European travellers to speak English…) So they just appeared out of the blue, right then and right there, and reminded us of the beauty of randomness, the flow of this journey. It wasn’t so much in words, more like just their presence and gentle energy.

We had a couple of beers and a light-hearted chat with them before we all returned to our homes to cook, have dinner and an early night. John and I didn’t discuss our question further.

The next morning our neighbours said goodbye and left early. At this point we changed our plans and decided to leave the mountains for the coast and head up to Ecuador in 2-3 days. We packed up and headed to Trujillo on PE12 through the tunnels. The tunnels bit was fun (some of them looked super tight or low but we got through all 40 something of them without a scratch) Then was a boring, long and hot few hours till the PanAm highway which is the most unimaginative and ugly road we have travelled packed with trucks, buses and tuktuks. But at least we sped up a bit.


We got to Huanchaco (the beach town next to Trujillo) at the end of the day and rolled up on to the sandy flat area on the beach. Immediately we were greeted by a long-term-stay surfer, translator, full of life, pretty Italian girl who said that we are at the best place for the best pizza and we must try. She was mad as a hatter and we liked her very much straight away.


It turned out the pizza place was only open Friday-Sunday and this was Tuesday so we went for a hunt for good food on the beach. Didn’t have to look for long till we found a cute looking place and though John thought a vegetarian place is a peculiar choice we did go for it. They had a wonderful dinner menu (soup and second) which were enormous portions, they also had wifi and a couple of types of local beer so all was good.

By the next day we knew this was the place we were looking for. Fresh sea breeze, perfect temperature, (no sand flies!), free parking on the beach (police were super friendly and looked after us :)) cute restaurant (we tried the pizza. Twice! it IS good. And the veggie place was our regular with long hours of breakfast, coffee and Skyping) Very friendly locals and fellow travellers (we become friends with the stylish Italian, a quiet and sweet Russian girl and a very lovely couple from the US so we felt home) We were also adopted by a local dog who took us out for walks in the afternoons. It was just perfect for us at the right time.

For the 7 days we stayed we had a chance to recharge and chill out. The decision on the rest of our travel is still hanging there. We are heading to Ecuador, stay a few weeks, recalibrate and see what comes out.

So next, Ecuador…

94. PERU – Peruvian highlands Part 1

With saying goodbyes to the Moroccan family our journey continued on the highlands of Peru. Some roads have been improved and despite the twisty nature of driving through mountains it was fast and very enjoyable. (Though we found Peruvian drivers terrible which is sometimes quite amusing watching how they solve a simple traffic jam situation in 20 minutes)

Our trip from the hot spring  began on the winy PE30A highway towards Abancay where we took a right turn which was the longer, twistier dirt road through absolutely breathtaking scenery and at the end of the day we arrived at the lake (Laguna Pacucha) and stayed at the nearby archaeological site (Sondor, one of our favourite) A site bedded in the valley, pyramid on the top of a hill with a view of the lake and the nearby mountains. It was just stunning.


From here we headed to Ayacucho but the road was so slow we stopped by a river for overnight before we got to the city. Our book recommended a stop at this town but we only had a chance to park up with Johnny staying in the truck while I do shopping on the market and we headed out of the busy town to another archaeological site (Wari) for the night. Also a lovely site, not so much ruin to see but has a museum, a sacred cave and lovely, long foot paths all over amongst the cacti which was perfect for a morning stroll before we headed off.

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One of our plans was to drive through the “highest passable road” (5056m) which was a fair distance from here and we chose the less obvious route…. just one of those decisions. However this road was dusty, really narrow at places and climbed up to impossible mountains it was very beautiful. We arrived to Lircay, the town we needed to turn off towards the wilderness. It was getting dark and we wanted to be reach the more remote area for our night stop. It was dark when we found ourselves a nice spot next to a small river though it was difficult to see what was around we parked up and put the heating on. We were at 4700m and the temperature was below freezing.

The morning we woke to the most gorgeous scenery with llama herds spreading themselves out on the pastures, keeping safe distance from herd to herd. When finally we got our selves ready in the morning we got lost 3 times (only 10-15km each time) as a result of the lack of signposts in the wilderness highland, but by about 11AM finally we found the right “road” (more like tracks) that leads us to Huachocolpa first then to the high pass.

For this we had to drive through a mine so had to check in at the gate where the very friendly man reassured us that this is the right road and was saying other things which we didn’t understand but it was all jolly and nice. He wished us good travels and let us thorough. Within 15-20kms we saw a line of vehicles on the side of the road and a man waving at us. What we could gather was that it is some kind of a fiesta and for about an hour or two we can’t pass through. But said we could drive on a bit to be closer and if we wanted, take photos. So we drove pass about 10 or 15 trucks and cars when we completely got stuck. Almost literally wedged ourselves in-between two vehicles (1-1 cm each side) We almost squeezed through when several men rushed towards us and said that we cannot drive through and instead we should leave the truck where it is and come and join them. We tried to say that is fine but if they just let us pass here we could park up 8 meters on (where we would be in the clear and leave later with no problem) but they insisted to leave the truck right at this point and come in with them. So after we squeezed ourselves out of the cab we joint them.

We were  lead up to a group of people sitting in a field  with a small altar with flowers and offerings in the middle. The men were sitting on the left of the altar and women to the right. First they asked John and I to bow at the altar then they sat us separately. (me with the ladies and John with the men)

John with Oswald

John with Oswald

At this point I understand as much as Oswald, the men looking after us, said. This was the annual festival of the “Vicuňa”.  Vicuňa is a llama-like, or long relative of the llama, wild animal. They are very rare and only lives on this, or above elevation (which was over 4700m) They have extremely valuable fur. Once a year the village (Huachocolpa) walks over the hills to gather Vicuňa herds.  They walk holding a banner and slowly they gather the animals in to a round fenced area.


Now we understood why we couldn’t drive through. While we were sitting there we were given coc leaves that we had to chew with our hosts, then we were given shots, lots of shots of cane vodka, then fed with huge bowls of soups and boiled potato with roast alpaca meat that was so tough that it was impossible to chew it. It wasn’t 11AM yet but we were tipsy from the shots and I kind of had the feeling we were not going anywhere for a while. In return, we gave them (or offered to the altar) a few bottles of Tequila and rum and dark chocolate which they appreciated very much.

Then Oswald walked us up to the top of the hill where from we could see the villagers arriving over the hills in the distance with a couple of hundreds of Vicuňas looking for gaps where they could sneak through. But the bond was tight and eventually the people gently herded the animals into the closure.

After this there was a lot of movement and introductions and more food and the cervesas came out. However the Elders, Oswald and us were going down to the field where the closure was. They set up the altar again, seated us in the same order as before and there were some short speeches from several members of the village Elders. Here we were very close to the animals who seemed frightened and were desperate to find a way out. It was heartbreaking to see this but the people tried to make this ceremony as fast and human as possible -I guess.

After the speeches, they choose a young female and male to perform a “wedding ceremony” with them. There was some blessing involved and some blood drawing (I think they cut their ears a bit) too but all together they were fine and let free as soon as this was over. I wasn’t sure I liked to see the poor animals held down like that, I believe John felt the same way.


And there we were as the VIP of the group, and we were one of the first ones being painted on the face with blood. Nothing you can do to avoid this so we just had to go with it.


After all this there were more coca leaves chewing with some horrid grey bit that looked and felt like a chunk of play dough but tasted absolutely revolting. Then more vodka, and the tequila and rum opened too. After a while it was OK for us to peel off  and go close to the animals. They were setting up for the trimming. There were a few official people from the llama/ Vicuňa society or something who were supervising the trimming project. So people went in to the closure and grabbed one (two guys for one animal), brought it out and the official people checked and decided if it is appropriate to trim or has to be let go. Many was let go free and some let through for the trimming which only took a few minutes then they were let back to the wild too. Poor things, were pretty shocked, and chilly desperately looking for the rest of the herd. But we saw many reunited and soon, as more and more was let back to the fields.


John and I were fascinated and watched for a long while. Then we decided that it might be time for say thank you and goodbye to our hosts and make an attempt to leave. So we walked back to the Elders. By now the music started and the cerveza was flooding so I thought to myself that this is definitely the time to leave. We said our goodbyes, it was very long and they were trying to get us in to the dance circle and many many people rushing up to us to have their photos taken with us.

So it took a long while until we were free to go and walked back to the road where, by now there were several cars and small truck blocking the way in every directions. People were tipsy and jolly and trying to have a conversation with us speaking the mixed language of the local dialect and Spanish.  By now we were so ready to leave so while I was holding the front of conversations John was trying to find the “escape” route for us. Long story short, there was absolutely no way we could drive out ahead so Johnny  decided that we were going to back out all the way that only involved moving 3 cars. Finding the drivers of these vehicles was another mission. Everyone was tipsy or drunk, shouting and laughing and talking to us at the same time, and when they said something then everyone burst into laughing meanwhile John jumped in and started up Burt that was coughing black and grey smoke while the engine was warming up.

I found (the/some) moderately  drunk drivers and directed them which way to move the vehicles to free John’s way at the back. They were shocking! A simple reversing manoeuvre took 10 minutes and they clearly seemed confused so this had to be coordinated by me or the only sober guy who was very helpful. Once the road was relatively clear behind us John carefully drove the approx 100m long way with trucks, cars, motorbikes on one side and a gutter on the other leaving about 2.6 meters to our 2.4 m wide vehicle, and leaving the jolly shouting, laughing crowd behind us.

When we were clear and turned around I jumped in and said something very un-lady-like and we both burst into a desperate laugh. We were in an ecstatic state but very glad we that we were invited, had this experience and got out of it by now.  We drove back out through the gate of the mine where, now we understood what the guy was telling us earlier….

We didn’t realised how late it was in the day but we had two options. We ether stay here again or drive on the dirt road through the mountains (that none of our maps had marked) hoping that it will come out to the main road we need to be on. We agreed to move on (staying one more night on 4700 m wasn’t something any of us wanted). A couple of hours bumpy ride later we came out on the road where we expected only to realise this was the road we could’ve taken 2 days ago and only would’ve taken a few hours to get where we wanted.


But hey, this is driving in your own vehicle about. Besides we would’ve not experience the festival  if we drive down the easy route, so sometimes it is good to take the road “less travelled”

Next, Peruvian highlands Part 2…





93. PERU – From the border to Cusco


It took a few days to get to Cusco mainly because we weren’t in a hurry. On our way, in sequence we had a chance for a walk in the Amazon which was gorgeous. Then visited a local hot bath (baňo termales) which was basically a small concrete room with two small pools with half the village (most of the women practically fully dressed) soaking in them. The experience was amusing with the speakers blasting some noise which meant to be the radio but it wasn’t tuned precisely so had that cracking white-noise with the local No.1 piece in 150 decibel. Parked up at beautiful rivers and finally started elevating on to the Andes. As we were approaching Cusco there were archaeological sites to visit. Some of them small and some of them major but all was worth the visit. As we didn’t plan to visit Machu Picchu we wanted to be sure we see a few sites as they are fascinating.


Tipon South of Cusco, Peru August 2014


At one of these smaller sites we bumped in to an overlander bus with the 2 British drivers and 12 passengers. John and I had a great talk mainly with the drivers. They gave us a great tip where to service our truck in Cusco so we put that under our belts as we haven’t serviced Burt since we left and that was 50 something thousands km ago.

On our arrival in Cusco, we visited this Mercedes workshop (they service all the overlanders’ buses and have great experience with Mercedes) John had a long talk-through with Nilo, the manager and main mechanic about what would be to be done then exchanged emails so he can send us the list, price and date when we can roll in for a few days.

After this we headed to the other side of the city up the hill to the legendary overlanders campsite Quinta Lala. Of course there’s an outskirt road to get to the campground -a few k’s longer but perfectly fine for bigger rigs, but we listened to another traveller’s warning “to ignore the gps” and followed his instructions. So we were led through the colonial centre!! -I grew a few more grey hairs. (this usually my nightmare, John is so brilliantly calm and has no problem squeezing Burt through keyholes) Anyhow, we arrived at Quinta Lala a campground run by a local young couple who are very sweet and helpful.

For my biggest joy, there were already 5 vehicles parked up and the atmosphere was brilliant. We missed other travellers’ company which we didn’t have since Colombia and that was 3 long months ago. And personally I, was craving for conversations over a glass of wine, making new friendships and so on.

While John was parking up at our chosen spot I dived myself in to the cloud of laughter in front of the Mercedes bus that was parking at the prime spot of the ground and was decorated with lovely colourful signs. It was owned by a Moroccan family (3 kids btw yrs 8-10) who are travelling from Argentina to Canada with the purpose of spreading love, visiting schools, giving out gifts and good vibe. Morocco, truly couldn’t have better ambassadors than this family.


I fell in love with them straight away. As I walked up, Kika -the mum hugged me, gave me kisses on the two cheeks as greeting a long-seen friend and we were unseparatable. Anouar, the head of the family (and clearly, heart of the campground) welcomed me with a huge hug and said that EVERYONE here, including the hosts, their dogs and chickens, and all other travellers are SO LOVELY! (later I found how one of the Truth of life’s becomes alive in front of my eyes, as this family treated everyone around them with nothing but kindness and all they got for return was smiles, laughter, handshakes and free gifts on the market!) At this point the children were hiding but all others gathered and the whisky and wine bottles got opened. Despite the near-freezing temperature in the evening we were all out talking and laughing till very late. Oh, how much I missed a socialising event!

The next 5 days some left, the Moroccans meant to leave every day but instead the daily party scene continued. John and Anouar bonded over the solar system. We did some shopping, sightseeing in town -mainly meant visiting the Irish Pub, and made the decision that we’d go and visit the Sacred Valley for a few days then return to Nilo’s workshop for the Burt’s service.

Cusco, Peru August 2014

Cusco, Peru
August 2014


So eventually, we said our heartfelt goodbyes to everyone and left for visiting all the Inca sites along the valley.

The Valley is beautiful! So much to see and do therefore a bit touristy but we had a chance at one point to hire a guide and explain all this strange behaviour with the terracing and circles and all. But he couldn’t. Everyone is just guessing what might things mean but no one knows for sure so we just enjoyed the look of these magnificent creations and salt pools and sacred sites and temples. A tangible thing I did, was to partake in a chocolate making course which was thoroughly great fun.

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In about 4 days we saw everything we wanted and, as the Valley is a One Way street, we turned back and headed to Cusco to Nilo’s shop. W e arrived on a Sunday evening so had a chance to park up at the right spot and be ready for the work for Monday.

The following day morning, Johnny was out early meeting and briefing the guys, and I was setting up the laptop for writing and photo editing when I spotted something familiar in the window … it was the Moroccan bus!! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Found out there were here as had a problem with their gear box. Looks like we’ll have a few more days together. I got used to staying in workshops but this having friends around made so much more fun.


Especially that I spent my days with Kika and the kids in town, having lunches, coffees and hang out in the market. The family speaks French, Spanish, Moroccan and Arabic and English absolutely fluently and I’m sure there are a few more languages there they don’t tell us. So hanging out with Kika and the children was fabulous as they have the most adorable personality to engage anyone on the market or on the street. It was so nice learning from Kika. We had our personal juice making lady on the market, who was expecting us every day for an orange-mango and 4 more juices and for a good chat.

It took 6 days to finish the work, funnily enough same for the family so on the following Saturday evening both vehicles left the shop and headed to the campground. Quite late but arrived and found a few familiar faces there plus a few new ones.

We had a couple of days catch up on emails and do last minute shopping then finally left Cusco. Same day as the family. We were heading the same direction for the first 200 or km and told each other where we were heading and left it there. (hoping somehow…. we’ll meet again)

Johnny and I had a few last thing to sort out before we left which was quite late in the afternoon and somehow we got caught in the twisty, narrow roads of Cusco on our way out and, about 100k outside of Cusco we also got caught at a road work waiting 50 minutes to get through.

It was dark when we were let drive through and decided to just get to our waypoint -a hot spring, also because Kika’s waypoint didn’t make sense. It was about 7PM when we arrived at the hot spring and guess who were there! The Moroccans. The way down here was about a 3 km steep, narrow and bumpy dirt road and on our way Johnny and I said “ah, they won’t be here, it’s way too bumpy for their vehicle”…. but they were here! Screaming with joy shoot out of their bus to greet us, yet again.

So we had a few more hours with our new friends. So lovely. The kids we adorable as always. Had a last dip in the morning (the water wasn’t at all hot, only warm -caused by an earthquake a few years back that partially closed down the source of the spring) The Moroccans and us drove out together for our final goodbye… As if I lost one of my arms, I felt when we left. But they have different schedules and we wanted to stay on the mountains so that’s how life is on the road… But the connection stays and we will be in touch with them. Who knows, we might ship back though Morocco.


Next, the highlands of Peru…