97. back to PERU – Northern Highlands


Our previous time in Peru didn’t involve the northern Peruvian Highlands. John, particularly really wanted to visit this part. It is at least a 1.5-2 weeks beautiful drive loop with much to see on the way, waterfalls, an archaeological site Kuelap, ancient tombs carved in the cliffs, mummy museum, deep canyons and mountains and so on.

Our start -leaving Vilcabamba didn’t go very well. John fell into a mysterious illness with painful stomach cramps and a night-long fever. The German and Swiss couples didn’t want to leave us on our own in case John’s condition gets worse. This was very kind of them but John felt a slight pressure to move on as he didn’t want to hold up the group. We crossed the border and dropped down to just a few hundreds of meters in elevation and were reminded of the humidity and heat for one night. John’s condition kept fluctuating, he felt a bit better one minute but then felt awful again and we were in and out of pharmacies and finally when he took our advice to see a doctor it was Sunday and no doctors available. By this point we were travelling every day longer or shorter distances but he was keeping up like a trouper.

After about 4-5 days we reached our first point of interest with was a waterfall (apparently the World’s third longest one) First we found a little village over the valley and with a prime view at the waterfall, where all three vehicles and us were welcome. They made us park up next to the football pitch on the main village square. The first moments felt right and people were so friendly and smiley, even the village representative walked up to us to say welcome and all but when he said that we arrived at the right time as there is a whole day-night fiesta just started we weren’t sure of the opportunity of an all night party. We all remembered very well the 9 day fiesta in Vilcabamba so we thanked them very kindly but left faster than you could imagine. Luckily we found another village that was so sweet and friendly. They let us park up on their basketball court and one by one, half the village came to introduce themselves and welcome us.


The next morning the German/Swiss guys went for the hike to visit the waterfall meanwhile John and I decided to drive on for a bit to the next bigger town, Chachapoyas in seek of a pharmacy or med help.

Here we bumped in to the Bulgarian couple who we met about 4-5 months ago in Guyana. It is so incredible how you meet someone again in the smallest corner of the world. It surely cheered us up and we spent the afternoon together.


They helped us translate at the pharmacy and we ended up with a bag full of pills. That night we drove out of town a few kms to a viewpoint of a deep canyon where they let us park for the night.


The following morning we were back in town for a breakfast with Teddy and Yuri for the last time. This was their last day of the travel, from here they were on for a 23 hour bus ride to Lima and fly back to Europe the next day. It was really nice to see and spend a couple of hours with them again. At the same time the German and Swiss trucks rolled in so we were hooked again.

From Chachapoyas we headed to the main attraction, Kuélap, an archaeological site well worth seeing. Some of the travel books suggests that if you don’t have a chance to see Machu Picchu, this is the best alternative.

The drive was wonderful but the last 37 kms is gravel (not bad at all) but it took 1.5 hours just that last bit. It is surely breathtaking. Once at the site, there was plenty of space to park up and a little while later the two other trucks ran in as well as the US solo overland biker, Brian who we met in Chachapoyas the day before. So a nice little group got together here and we spent 3 blissful days here, visiting the site, eating, chilling out, schmoozing with the local very friendly dogs and just generally enjoying the scenery.


John was getting better and on the last day at Kuelap we said goodbye to Brian and left for the next destination which was the ancient tombs that are carved and built in vertical cliffs. It wasn’t far but took about 3 hours to get there. Had to drive through a small village where, again everyone was so friendly and smiley. We parked up near the trailhead and the following day hiked up to the tombs. It was really worth it and had the most wonderful view.


The following day we were ready to get to our next point of interest the mummy museum. We missed the opening hours by 15 minutes and the car park gates were closed where we were hoping to stay overnight. Though just a 100 meters further up we found a good alternative. The next morning we had a chance to visit the museum before we headed on.


This was the section of the road (about 100 km between Leymebamba and Cajamarca) that we thought was mud road and particularly difficult in the rainy season. At the museum -which is quite cute and have friendly staff they gave us water and a very good piece of information about the road. It is paved! All the way. Though is a single lane road and very narrow at places, but is doable with an our-size truck.


As we were turning out from the museum’s car park we saw a hitchhiker and picked him up. A Russian Buddhist hitchhiker who travels around the world and now he is in our truck.

The road was smooth and fast and the scenery was breathtaking all the way to Cajamarca. It took a lot of spaghetti, spicy Thai soup cooking, storytelling and 3 days to get to Cajamarca and a little beyond to Cumbe Mayo.


Driving across Cajamarca is a bit of a nightmare especially with three large vehicles and listening to the GPS which constantly wants you to drive through the historical centre and drive down on stairs! Then John took over and finally found the right way and lead everyone out of town, By then we all were on the edge of our patience, hunger, need for a wee and so on, oh! and we had our engine oil seal broke so we were using oil and pressure so had to be quick. It was a nightmare actually. But as always, John was a hero. When we reached our destination (we didn’t stay at the sites’ car park as they were greedy and wanted money from us, so rather stayed at a large gravel spot nearby with a spectacular view of a stone forest and sunset) everyone was not just in a better mood but somehow having a great time laughing at ourselves struggling through town. The boys jumped on fixing the seal and this was the time when actually John got Burt’s power back. Which was a great news for over all to us. I cooked and got everyone in for dinner. We even opened the bottle of alcoholic herb drink we bought in Venezuela to celebrate and most of us got slightly hammered on it.


We stayed one more night.

The whole loop took us about 2 weeks and we sure had ups and downs and good fun, good food and drinks. This was our last port of call, from here we were taking the faster route to get down to Huanchaco, where we started 7 weeks ago to have a few days catch up on internet, shopping, washing then say goodbye to our friends, to the Buddha and John and I head to Bolivia in a few days just driving down the PanAm (possibly the most boring, unimaginative route) to make sure we can have a couple of weeks in Bolivia before hopefully meeting some friends in Argentina for Christmas. (Yes, that’s you, the Snaith family)

Next, Bolivia….


Another long break between posts but sometimes there’s so much happening or not much, or just not inspired or simply too busy meeting new friends, do yoga, cook and eat and have a glass of wine instead of sitting and typing. Though I do like writing, it helps reflecting on things and somehow the written words put feelings and thoughts in order.


So here is what happened next;
7 weeks ago we left Huanchaco, the nice little surfer beach town and headed north to the Ecuadorian border. It wasn’t easy as we meet and made great friends and simply we were just having too much of a good time there but after 8+ days we really needed to leave.

We choose to cross into Ecuador in the hills (the middle border crossing out of the three) to stay slightly elevated in the good temperature. The crossing was breezy and couldn’t be faster. We even had a chance to fill up full with diesel in the nearby small and friendly town. My first impression of Ecuadorian people was very good. Usually border towns are shady, doggy and you wanna get out of there asap but this was a simple, friendly town with a good ambience so we even stayed the night.

In the next couple of days we spent driving to get down to the coast. Our travel book was raving about Montanita so we headed there. For fairness, it is a small but westernised, busy surf town that gets noisy and somewhat trashy at weekends. Our timing, as usual was a little bit imperfect and we arrived on Friday afternoon and was expecting a riot over night. Ahead of this we decided to walk down to town and made ourselves comfortable at a swanky bar where we met Tom Cruise’ alter ego (Tom Cruise in “Cocktail”, not so much the look) This guy was living and breathing cocktails. He was an acrobat with the shaker, bottles, glasses and cocktail cherries. Never heard anyone talking about basil leaves, lime or vodka with such knowledge and passion. I believed he was Italian deep inside. Besides our bartender friend, there was a table attendant, a local “mute” guy. I know it sounds odd but he either didn’t have the ability to speak or he didn’t want to but instead he was miming everything and with such skill I have never seen before. On top of all he was wearing a black and white horizontally stripy top which gave the impression of a French street mime. The fun really completed with the crown jewel, in form of a glimpse at the manager’s freshly done tattoo that covered his back and that was slightly distasteful but kind of funny. So our bar experience made up for the slightly noisy and mosquito infested night.

The next morning it was clear to us that we definitely don’t want to stay for the weekend so we got out of there before the beach party kicked off. In just 20 something kms we found a charming and peaceful hostel/campsite that was located on the top of a great cliff with a marvellous view of the ocean that was full of migrating whales. (Islamar Hostel near Salango/ south of Puerto Lopez) Shortly after our arrival a German couple we met in Cusco briefly, rolled in and we were very pleased to see each other. We spent 1 week there together and didn’t do anything else for the entire week but get fresh fish from the fishermen every day, cook, eat, drink and have long conversations. And it was marvellous.




Then John and I headed to Quito visiting Lago Quilotoa and Cotopaxi National Park. Both are absolutely wonderful places with breathtaking view.


Quito was an experience itself. One of the very few (proximately 3) capital cities we visited on this trip. We had a waypoint to a 24h car park in the centre next to Rotten Ronnie’s (McD) so had wifi right next door. Besides we needed to shop for fancy stuff like new trainers, jeans some electrical stuff, phone chargers and such, plus a new colour nail varnish for me. We had a few nice days with fine dine and the first night with appalling “Scottish” beer. Pretty disappointing so for the rest of the days we just stuck with the local Pilsner but through that one night in a bar we met a Shaman and we had the most fascinating conversation.

Just to pop back in time… after the 7 days, costly service we have had done in Cusco we had a problem. It was heart sinking to find out when we left Cusco that whatever they made to “improve” Burt’s power in altitude actually backfired. We rolled in to the workshop in Cusco with a powerful truck and came out with a weak one. It was upsetting to listen to the engine struggling through the Peruvian highlands but we knew that there is a proper Mercedes garage in Quito and John had a plan.

We found the garage and booked in. We also were pleased that the manager was an English speaking German who also fully understands mechanical issues. This was a relief and John was so happy to communicate our problem properly. But this reason or another we ended up staying for 5 days (again, just way too long) and they only could resolve half of our problem. We decided to give up on the fancy garage, paid the juicy bill and left.  *Jumping a few weeks here to add that at the end John learned how to fix it and did it himself. For free!
Also going back a few weeks… In my last post I mentioned that we had a bit of a wobble and that we needed to rethink, recalibrate the travel and we were still working on that. We actually went as far as checking shipping details from Ecuador to all sorts of directions and destinations and created an A, B and C plan. Within a couple of weeks through talks and just experience things cleared out and we decided to stick with plan C which was; Let’s continue the travel but have a week or so “break”. Which in my case includes yoga, good food and people. This is where Vilcabamba came in to the picture.

Vilcabamba is a  small, easy going town in a valley with friendly locals and expats. There’s a hostel a little outside of town where we intended to stay. Even book in to a nice room if they had one but if not, they let Overlanders stay in the car park. What to me was the real deal that they have yoga lessons twice a day (most of them are for free!)

yoga studio at the hostel

yoga studio at the hostel

When we got there we were very impressed by the beautiful, well kept property. These are usually the places where they do not want overland truck parking in their car park so I was bracing myself to be shooed away. Instead we found the two most friendliest hosts who not just let us stay in the car park but insisted to park in the top one, near the restaurant and facilities. This was partly because the church over the road just kicked off a 9 days fiesta and the nights are very noisy at the lower car park. They didn’t have a room but at this point it didn’t even matter. They asked a very reasonable price for the car park using all facilities.


We had the most fantastic 8-9 days there. Me having yoga twice a day, making brilliant new friends, walking down the village, making more friends, dancing on the main square for a music video shooting, dancing at the church party one night, hanging out with the new friends at the hostel’s bar, having delicious German dishes and just indulging in the goodness this whole valley provided. Possibly the best place we have been on this journey.


All good comes to the end and after being here for a week we felt it is time to move on. We prepared for a couple of days and were ready to move on. While at the hostel, there were several overlanders checked in, including a young German and a Swiss couple who were also ready to leave the same day going to the same direction so this time we left with two other vehicles.


Next, back to Peru…

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.

197 Wari ruin

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…

92. BRAZIL – From Manaus to Porto Velho


After we packed up with the essentials (3x wheels of Italian cheese, 6kg each, 10×24 Venezuelan beer, a few bottles of cheap rum and vodka and of course cheap fuel) we headed back to Brazil and were making our way south to Manaus.

It took 3 easy days to drive down that involved stopping by the equator line and take some photos. According to Samantha, our GPS, the monument isn’t quite on the 0.000000 spot but 4 steps south.


Then we drove through an Amerindian reserve which is basically the road BR 174 that leads through the Amazon rainforest, though is very strict -no parking anywhere, anytime, no stopping at all -not even for a sneaky pee, no photographs and so on.

On the other side of the reserve we stopped for the night at a family restaurant and bumped in to a couple (French-Spanish) overland cyclists. That is super hardcore travelling in my opinion. They were a super jolly couple and were heading north (from here to Venezuela, then to Colombia where they lived) They heard about the Amerindian reserve as well, so they decided to hitchhike through the 120-ish km stretch.


From here, the next day we headed to Manaus.

Manaus is a huge port city in the Amazon. From here there are no roads and all consuming happens by shipping to the rest of the country. That makes everything quite expensive in town.

Actually there is one road, B319 that leads about 800km south to Porto Velho. This road is legendary for a couple of reasons;
A. it is the only overland connection from the south to the north and leads through the rainforest. There’s an ongoing battle between the government, locals, the forestry industry and environmentalists that involves road and bridge improvement-budget that keeps getting lost….
B. about 4-5 years ago there was a couple overland travellers with a similar vehicle as BURT who fell through one of the bridges.

John and I, for years talking about the BR319 that it would be great to drive down on it. We knew we aren’t suitable -at least what we knew of the condition was 4-5 year ago. Though coming to Manaus for us was clearly for shipping.

For a port town it was quiet tricky to figure out where the ports are. Interestingly enough. Although you cannot just wonder lost on the streets of Manaus without people walking up to you, asking politely “can I help you?” or “are you lost? How can we help” and so on. I had a good feeling about Brazilians in the past few days and when we got to the city, people were even more helpful and friendly.

One of these helpful people, Carlos called his daughter -who spoke English to come over and help us. Carlos also called his mate at a port to help us with the shipping. When it was finally clear to him that we are travellers and what we are doing he was surprised that we are not DRIVING from Manaus to Porto Velho. He said we have time so can take it easy and just drive south on BR319. He was so sure that we would be OK…..

From that moment John and I decided to do a little research. We visited the municipal police, the military, the Federal Police, we met truck drivers who knew the road and even met an Argentinean family who just drove up from Porto Velho on BR319 so we asked about the conditions of the road and bridges. The police and military said the road and the bridges were improved, all bridges classified up to 30 tons but there are part of the road that difficult to pass in the rainy season. So we thought we give it a try.

We had to take an hour ferry ride to the other side of the Amazon River where BR319 began…


Long story short, it took 2 days to get to the first difficult part of the road (very muddy, deep and slippery surface) where we stuck but got ourselves out of it by the end of the day and stayed the night. Overnight there was one 2 wheel drive car tried to pass and stuck right next to us. It was midnight by the time we got them out of the mud.


The following morning we were having second thoughts but still excited to be on the road and have the chance that we might be able to drive all the way, even if it takes a week…. Then at around 7AM two cars arrived from the south -heading to Manaus. When we asked about the conditions further south they just shook their heads and said that we would not pass with our vehicle. Hm. Of course we couldn’t ignore this guy who was very certain that we wouldn’t make it.

It has been raining all night that made the surface of the road extremely slippery and deep muddy. The locals know the routine; wait 4-5 hours till it dries enough to drive through so that’s what we all did. I was supplying water, coffee and tea for everyone. By midday the first car gave it a go. With our sand ladders and shovel and everyone’s help of pushing (except the girls. Women just stay in the car and wait till the men get them out of there!) Not me. I was up there digging and pushing but eventually they made it out. Then the second car drove through too with a few little bumps but also made it.


By this point Johnny and I decided to turn back. John wasn’t entirely happy but you just have to listen to the voice inside. We waited a couple of more hours then packed up and planned our escape route through the deep watery and muddy ruts. By then there was one more vehicle but he was having trouble getting through so the driver decided to wait few more hours till the surface is drier.

We planned our rout and John gave it a go. We slipped in to a deep rut and the digging began. It was 36C, humid and no shade. We were up to our thighs in the water and mud. The car driver were just standing over us and tried to have a chit-chat while we were lying under the truck trying to free the difs with our bare hands, shovelling the heavy sticky clay, collecting gravel and so on. It took the whole afternoon shovelling, positioning the sand ladders, clearing the difs then John trying to get a grip. The quality of the mud was this slippery, slimy stuff so we were getting deeper and deeper every time we tried. We did this about 6 times and I was on the point losing my belief that we will ever get out of here.


We just set ourselves up for another try when a bunch of adventure travellers arrived from Argentina with their Toyota pickups and their winches. They whizzed by us swiftly then stopped to help. I think they were quite up for the challenge (or fun)

They positioned one pickup in front of Burt hooked up and for the first try we were out! Just needed that one little pull (or push, which I tried before on my own -which is ridiculous, without the help of the smiley car driver who wasn’t about to get his hands dirty) But we were out.


That was the day after Germany beat Argentina on the World Cup final and these Argentineans -first thought we were Germans, without a question , without even a blink willingly helped us, hugging us when we succeeded. They learned we were from the UK but that didn’t make any difference. We exchanged stickers took some victory photos and wished good luck to each other then they left.

We still had a hundred meters to go at this very difficult part but we were in a better position and had a reasonably dry route ahead of us. With a bit of an edge but made it through. It was getting dark by then. We wanted to get through this tricky part which was about an 8 km stretch. We didn’t want to risk another rainy night so while it was drier we pushed on. Finally form, where we knew the road improves we tucked ourselves away, cleaned up and had an early night. we were exhausted.

Once back in Manaus, we found several shipping companies. Many don’t allow passengers or women on the barge -only the truck and driver. We didn’t want to split so kept looking. Finally there was a company where we found a guy who helped us. We had to sneak on at 9PM that night but we both could be on board with Burt, plus they organized that they cook for us 3x a day too. Actually they were very helpful and very very nice people.

The barge only had 12 container, us and another truck with a driver on. The small tug boat had a crew of 4 pilots, 2 mechanics and a cooking lady. Once we were set, off we went for our 8 days cruise down the Amazon.



It was actually lovely. Our fellow passenger truck driver, Mesena was a sweetie. Spoke Spanish so could communicate fairly easily. The crew was very nice and we shared dinnertime together. Every day villagers from the bank of the river came up to our barge to sell fruit, veg and fresh fish so that what we were having for dinners. It was extremely hot and at a certain time of the day for 2 hours there were an amazing amount of mosquitoes but we managed to have a nice relaxing time for 8 days. We had wonderful sunsets and river dolphins followed us all the way.

So at the end we made it to Porto Velho. I am glad we tried BR319. We were close but at the end we had to admit, the road and the bridges are not good. It is not for large and heavy vehicles.

We were in Porto Velho. Mesena lead us to a truck stop where we could fill up with water and get a little fix done, as he recommended this place as very good. Once all was done we were heading out of town.

Next, Peru…

91. GUYANA -Surama

We woke early as Tall Boy visited us with his business partner, Sydney in his logging business. Sydney was from Surama the place we were going to visit (though he was on his way to Brazil for a week so we won’t be seeing him in the village) Anyway, at our surprise visit, at half past 6 in the morning I made coffee and John chatted about logging with them for an hour or so. And after they left we took our time to pack up and leave for the northern part.

We were in Guyana over almost 2 weeks and only have been in the south or around Lethem. Which was wonderful, and as far as friendly people are concerned I could just stayed there even longer. But there are many places to visit in Guyana. Particularly this southern part of the country. Jungle, rivers, waterfalls, canopy walks, hiking, bird watching, animal spotting and so on. Loads to do. The only inconvenience for us is that you cannot do it by yourself. There are designated eco-lodges to stay only and you have to have a guide everywhere you want to go. In some places (villages or communities) you have to check in and report that you are there.
I actually like this, really nice to see that a country is building an infrastructure for safe tourism and communities actually getting something out of it. This works great for the communities that work close with tour-operators who bring them tourists. However as independent travellers, like us with our own transport, accommodation, food etc it seems somewhat a nuisance. These eco-lodges or ranches are pretty pricey. Though they are well worked out and people-focused but for us it was expensive and we realised at the end that we could only afford to visit one place.

On our way to Surama (this is the highway)

On our way to Surama (this is the highway)

It took us 2 days to get to Surama. A little Amerindian village in the jungle where the whole community is involved in eco tourism. They built a rustic lodge with palapa huts, a little restaurant and chill-out area and an office.

chill-out area on the gallery

chill-out area on the gallery

The staff is from the village and they take a turns each month to look after the lodge (from the cooking lady through the gardeners to the guides) They are everso friendly and welcoming. It is very impressive what they have done and achieved. Even the few km road (that is much better condition that the main road) that leads to the village is well looked after in every season and is dotted with wisdom quotations and welcome signs. A nice touch. Besides tourists, they receive a constant stream of anthropologists who move in here for months to study the villagers and their lives. We met one of these guys at the lodge. (there were about 7 more staying in the village)

When we arrived we were welcomed by Jackie this month’s lodge manager, and by the staff. They took us around and let us park up. Jackie was happy to tell us the brief history of the village and how the idea of tourism came first. I loved this place instantly. The humbled, dignified way they approach to tourism had its impact on me straight away. We were welcome to visit the village and look around but weren’t allowed to wonder off to the jungle on our own so we asked if we could have a guide tomorrow for a canoe ride. I also got fascinated by hearing about Malcolm the last Shaman of the village so asked Jackie if there’s a way we could see him. She organised it all for us.

our spot at the lodge Surama, Guyana June 2014

our spot at the lodge
Surama, Guyana
June 2014

We regretted arriving a day late as they put up a traditional dance ceremony for the few people who were leaving that day (and for us if we have arrived on time) But unfortunately there was nothing we could do about it. There was a young American anthropologist staying at the lodge, James who we spent our evenings with. We ordered dinner every evening and spent it, also sharing our Venezuelan beer reserve with  him. There was this female half-wild-half-house cat that wasn’t supposed to be in the dining area but try to lock a wildcat when there’s food involved. After the staff left in the evening we were still hanging out there over our beers, I sneaked her my leftover and soon we become friends. I think James wasn’t as cat-friendly as I was but he didn’t mind.


The next day we chilled out until our guide came to pick us up. She took us into the deeper jungle where we jumped in a boat and paddled down the river between the trees, she was explaining the name of the trees and birds we spotted. It was truly magical -even though we didn’t see an awful lot of animals but just the place alone was worth the trip. We got showered on by this biblical rain at the end but that just made the rainforest experience perfect and complete.

Going for our tour with our guide

Going for our tour with our guide


The following day we visited Malcolm the last Shaman in the village. He only speaks Makushi so we had his daughter-in-law, Jean translate for us. He is more like a medicine man using jungle and forest-given herbs and plants for healing. He talked to us, examined our arms and hands and looked deeply-deeply in to our eyes for a while. At the end he recommended a few things that his son could go and collect in the nearby woods (we went to him so he could explain what tree to look for if we wanted to collect more sep of it later) Malcolm also blessed a few things for us and let us go. The whole thing didn’t take longer than half an hour and I think John was a little disappointed (at that point John and I were reading a book about powerful shamans in Mongolia and he might’ve thought we’ll be partaking in a complicated spirit-calling-animal-sacrificing ceremony or something) but I enjoyed the simplicity of it and was just happy to meet a shaman.


Then I spent the whole afternoon hunting for bloomin’ cockroaches then cleaning, washing and sterilising everything in our kitchen cupboard. Grrrrr… These are different from those big ones, these are tiny like 1 cm size but they are just super creepy for me. The only creatures on the Planet I cannot stand. Johnny was amazed how freaked-out I was when I found one (didn’t even know it was cockroach first) and how cool, almost amused I was when we found a black widow in our machine room a few months back.

We spent an extra day just to chill-out in the hammocks and read and hang out with our guide (whose name I shamefully forgot) then eventually we said goodbyes to our everso nice hosts and prepared to leave the next morning.

We left early-ish in the morning, and planned to make it to the border to cross back to Brazil. So this was our last day in Guyana, this beautiful and friendly country I was so happy to visit. We legged it back to Lethem, wanted to say goodbye to Tall Boy and thank him his excellent work again. Then we didn’t just make it back to the border that day but to all the way to Boa Vista where we managed to park up for the night by the river.


We calculated the option to drive back up to Venezuela -just to the border, to fill up with the cheap fuel, stock up with few things, that were considerably cheaper than in Brazil and, despite the 500 km round trip we decided it was worth it. So the next day we headed back north for a couple of days (stayed at Eric’s place again) and did our necessaries before, for the third time entering Brazil.


Back to Venezuela for a top-up

*This border crossing was very simple and no paperwork needed for the vehicle as we were only going to Santa Elena, the Venezuelan border town so we only needed out passports stamped-in. At the border we picked up 6 Japanese backpackers and a Brazilian hippy who filled Burt with laughter and delight on our short journey to Santa Elena where we dropped them off.

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Next, Manaus, Brazil…


90. GUYANA – Lethem – Dadanawa Ranch – Lethem

As our “style” of this journey, we don’t plan far ahead, we don’t have a schedule nor a route. Though we might have a vague “wanna go there/don’t wanna go there” feeling. At the beginning didn’t “feel like” going to any of the Guyanas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) but somewhere in Venezuela -perhaps because we were next door to Guyana we considered to visit it. We read up on it and it seemed like a place worth visiting. At that point in the south of Venezuela we bumped into a guy who just came back from Guyana (2 weeks travelling) and his description of it just fired us up more.

Britain took control of the country from the late 1700’s – early 1800’s until in 1970 Guyana became an independent republic with and elected president. Guyana, despite located on the South American continent is actually part of the Caribbean Community and has strong relations with Caribbean nations. The country has a long-running land disputes with Suriname and Venezuela (the one with Suriname more or less has been cleared recently but the one with Venezuela has been going on for over 20 years and the two countries relations is a bit shaky)

The country is about the same size as England but with only 750.000 population. They speak English as their first language and -at least where we visited they are very environment oriented and live in rhythm with nature.

There are no paved roads in Guyana. Their “M1” (south to north highway) is a nearly 600km mud road, that just 20 something years ago was only a cattle herding path from Lethem to Georgetown and with a vehicle took over a week to get from south to north. Nowadays it takes 2-4 days. Obviously better in the dry season and can be quite challenging in the wet season.


The highway between Lethem and Georgetown

Somewhat British culture and the language has been left behind and I could sense a certain connection to Britain in this jungle-filled, hot and humid tropical place. It is certainly mixed with Caribbean jolly, laidback attitude or the soft and kind attitude of the Amerindians but there is this nice old-fashion Britishness behind it. How people talk, their manners. They take their time, they are kind and polite. They don’t greet each other with a Hi or Hey. I love how they say Good Day, Good Afternoon and Good Night (instead of Good Evening). Even the teenagers. They always ask how everything is and listen to your answer. Young people give respect for the older and call them Uncle and Aunty. We met a sweet guy -bit tipsy one evening. He was one of the Elders from a Makushi village (Makushi is one of the tribes in Guyana) and after a long chat he asked us, innocently and genuinely which tribe we were from.

Before we got to Guyana John emailed to the owner of Dadanawa Ranch. We read about this remote but very active cattle farm that we could partake in ranch work, help in anyways on the farm besides hiking, bird watching and such. It is a family ranch and the owner and his wife weren’t there. Sadly the wife is ill and getting treatment abroad for a year now but the friendly owner directed us to his daughter and son to get in touch with them. We found Keyla, his daughter in Lethem -as she is working for a conservation international organization and partially lives in town who was more than happy to hear from us. She and her partner, Leroy were packing up that morning to leave town for Dadanawa and she suggested to follow them.

That afternoon we left but after a few km’s down the dirt, bumpy road we suggested them to go ahead, give us directions to the first town we’ll stop for the night and we’ll meet them there as we were much slower than they were with their light Toyota pickup.

The drive was very beautiful. It is more like a savannah with big hills at the background. It is super dry in the dry season and flooded with mud in the rainy season.
After a few puddles John noticed the clutch was stiffening up. This happened before somewhere in Central America, perhaps in Belize also in a rainy season but john checked everything, plus we had it checked later at the Mercedes garage and there was no leak or anything and the clutch sort of healed and was OK after that. But here it started again and John was more cautious.
Dirt roads occasionally leading away from the main road towards small Amerindian villages and communities. Even in this epic place the houses and villages were neat dotted pretty mud huts with straw roof and their fore garden filled with flowers and mango trees -and all of them had their own solar system with portable panels (every village, every house has one from the government) instead of using generators.


Just after 5PM we arrived in the Makushi village where everyone seemed to know we were coming. Very kindly they led us to someone’s land with a little convenient shop to park up for the night. Keyla and Leroy were on another farm nearby and they organised a guide for us tomorrow to come with us and show the way to Dadanawa.

We hardly parked up when people were gathering around Burt chatting and being curious who we are and where we were from. Two young British guys appeared, who were there on a year teaching contract at the village school. They were so shocked to see a British number plate vehicle that they left watching the world cup game that the whole village was watching in the small convenient shop.

The teachers hopped up and we had a few beers with them and a good chat. They were near the end of their contract and were looking forward going home. Once they are done the school has its summer break and the organization in Britain sends another pair of teachers from September. Each village in this area which has a school connected to the same charity organization so there are always young teachers from Britain all over the place here. We were happy to bumped into them as for us it was unique to meet Brits (after our fellow travellers the Brit Family) So it was fun.

The next morning Keyla and Leroy came to introduce our guide who will travel for us today. It was apparently important as the mud road leads all over the place and we could get lost plus as this was the rainy season – they had some heavy rain recently, we might have to go on a longer, more complicated route to cross a bridge while to the ranch while the Toyota can cross the river (as lighter) if the water isn’t too high.

It was a long day. but the drive was beautiful but bumpy. We were driving through huge puddles and deep slippery mud at places.

We also noticed that the clutch was back to normal again -which points it to the direction of some water leak or something but we can’t find any crack. We just have to go and see.
It was sometime mid-afternoon when we got to the bridge (our guide decided to lead us straight to the bridge because by then the flood was obvious and we had to take that route if we want to cross to the ranch) Well the bridge was there, the road was there -at least from this side, then as we crossed the bridge the road disappeared under the water. The river just swallowed it up for miles.


the bridge


the road

We turned back and in a couple of hours we got to the point on this side of the river where everyone (of the ranch) leaves their pickups and trucks in the entire wet season.

What they do -and what Keyla told us to do is park up here by the river and beat the big drum so they can hear it on the ranch and can come to pick us up with a boat. So that’s what we did. Drumming and honking and in 20 minutes they came. Also to pick up three barrels of fuel Keyla dn Leroy brought from Lethem. We locked up and popped in too. The river, in normal form is about 25-30 meters wide but this time it flooded the entire woods next to the river and it took 15 minutes for the little motor boat to cross the water.


Dadanawa Ranch is a huge cattle ranch and we came at an inconvenient time as it is the rainy season when nothing much happens. We knew this and still decided to come over. Keyla was very inviting and when we got here she was so happy to show us around. The farm is so big that they actually have a mini-village for their workers and families. The ranch has its own community even a convenient shop (which I loved!)

They have a couple of guest houses and Keyla offered for us to stay there. They have their family house where they just had their community meeting before we arrived. They are also involved in a birding project saving the red siskin which is native in the area and was near extinct a few year ago. Thanks to these guys it’s looking good now. (they can take you to places to see them in their own habitat) So we were taken around at this fascinating places and our hostess was so willingly explained everything from how the ranch is run through the paperwork to the type of fruit trees. I couldn’t help but love the place, even that I knew by this point that there’s not much we can do here.


Someone arrived when we finished our ranch tour telling us that we should move our truck because it is close to be under water. The river was coming up and up and flooding the area more. Though it wasn’t raining right here it must’ve been raining further up the river.


We said thanks and goodbye to Keyla and the guys and hopped in to a motor boat to get back. It was about 5-6PM. Yep the water almost touching BURT’s front wheels when we got to the other side. Which was amazing as we parked pretty far away from the river bank on a small hill. Anyway we moved back and levelled out for the night. We chatted a bit with the guys who took us over then said goodnight and started making dinner and had an early night.

All night was raining and so was all morning. Really thick rain… Despite we wanted to spend the day on the ranch we decided to pack up and make our way back. We didn’t know for how long the rain was going to last. If it was going on for even just the day, we would probably have to stay here for a week or so (if it doesn’t rain anymore, which is unlikely in the season) to wait until it’s dry enough so we’d be able to drive out. We wrote a note put it in a ziploc and left it on Justin’s (Keyla’s brother) car windshield.

I remembered a few tricky parts on the way here and I knew if there was any rain it would be worse. Well, if these places look really bad we just have to take it slow or stop, look and consider. When we got to the one them -the worst actually. Yesterday it was only a deep and large puddle but after the rain it became a lake. The river came up to this point and created an actual lake. It was still raining. John got out and walked into it. He only got half way which was as his mind couldn’t resist freaking him out with the piranhas and their cousins with long sharp teeth (we saw their terrifying sculls yesterday on the ranch) and caimans that live in the water and give you no time to escape once they get hold of you. So he turned back but he got to the deepest point. We prepared and pushed through the water and we made it. Then 2 minutes down the ray we stuck in a shallow slippery mud. It didn’t take long to get ourselves out and we were on our way again. A few hours later we reached my third concern which was a long way, very slippery clay mud on a narrow elevated single lane road, flood both sides. We got out to walk first. It was a sloshy ice rink, and the soles of our shoes picked up a layer of clay at every step. The wheels were covered with an inch and a half thick layer too. I freaked out but John was confident and so we made it. He navigated through this crap effortlessly and dealt so well with the sliding that threatened us to slip off the road. He was excellent.


this how it looked the day before


and the morning after (John is checking the depth)


Once we got to the Makushi village -where we stayed on our way down, we stopped for a break and catch my breath. We found the teachers and had a relaxing chat for a short while.


The sky cleared out by the afternoon and the road was considerably better form this point. We wanted to get as close to Lethem as possible so tomorrow we only have to drive a short distance, besides John was seriously concerned about the clutch now and thought that in Lethem we will have to find a mechanic to have a look at it.

We made a good progress by 4-5PM and were looking for a spot to stop for the night -it isn’t hard. Everywhere is peaceful and beautiful. Though it is Indian land and better ask permission. We did in the Makushi village where they said we can stop wherever we want. So we were just looking out for a nice spot when the clutch snapped. I mean snapped. As John pushed the clutch in it just gave up and broke. Bugger. Of course there was a moment of looking-at-each-other-wide-eyed then had a think for a few minutes. We had the only option of stopping the engine, putting it in to low-3rd gear then start again and travel in that one gear.

Soon we found a peaceful place to stop for the night. While I was preparing dinner John took everything apart and found the problem. The water leaked into the flywheel. It wasn’t the water actually that caused the problem, it was the grit in the water of course which eventually caused a small (plastic) component to give up and break.

Knowing what the problem and cause was gave us power…or peace of mind… At least we knew what we need to deal with, who we need to find and what we will have to watch out in the future. This is an ongoing learning curve. Sometimes I’m still looking for a big purpose of this trip. Something we can gain from it and I have to realise that these things give us the lessons. Not necessarily truck mechanic stuff but dealing with sudden crisis. I remember driving down on M1 in England, delivering BURT to the port in Southampton and we ran out of diesel in one of our tanks (we were still new to the tank switch and had the wrong tank on) I was so stressed and nearly in tears. Now if that happens without a blink we jump out, tip the cab forward pump the air out of the fuel system and off we go. Takes about 3 minutes.

We had an early start the next day and when we got to Lethem, almost immediately John found just the right guy for fixing the problem. Tall Boy. (In Lethem, almost everyone has a nickname) Tall Boy had a few trucks and deals with mechanical issues on them with his two boys. When John was explaining the problem to him he knew exactly what the cause and the solution was.

We rolled up at his place and they immediately jumped on the problem. An hour later John came to say that we might stay the night here so Tall Boy can fix something else we wanted to be looked at in Manaus (in Brazil, as we thought that’s a shipping, trucking city) But Tall Boy knew exactly that solution too, right there. He needed a few bolts the next day but can fix it. When I asked John “but what about the clutch?” he said that was already fixed. Tall Boy recreated the component and fitted it in. Done.

On that note, John thought we could ask him to look at a couple of other things too so we actually stayed 2 more nights. His place was conveniently located in town walking distance to everywhere, also right next to his daughter’s Grill restaurant who was a sweetie and I ended up sitting there all afternoon chatting with her. We also met here a fun Bulgarian couple travelling in South America and had an evening out with them. There were also the Brazil games to watch back at Shirley’s bar with the locals also kept meeting Keyla and Leroy, Haan and the Bulgarians. So got ourselves very comfortable here. Tall Boy’s family was fabulous and on our last day they took us out to a waterfall for a swim. This was also our test drive and after the swim we stayed out there for the night. Cooler, quieter than the town.

The next day we rolled back to Lethem do some shopping and get ourselves ready for a trip north form here. All was great. BURT was healthy again, we finally found water to fill up (not so easy), packed the fridge with food and went to say goodbye to Tall Boy. He offered to stay on his land out of town if we wanted to. This was towards the end of the day so we decided to take up on his offer. Found his land, let ourselves in and had an early night.

Tomorrow we will be visiting an Amerindian community Surama about 100 km north from here. We heard wonderful things about it and we got in touch with the village. They are expecting us.

Next, Surama…

89. GUYANA – Border crossing

There is no border crossing between Guyana and Venezuela -despite they’re neighbouring countries. You had to check in to Brazil first, travel a couple of hundreds of km to Boa Vista, then head east for another 180km to the border of Guyana. This was actually necessary, from the point of you of getting a visitor visa for me -as a Hungarian citizen. In Boa Vista there’s a Guyanese embassy where this could be done.


We travelled all day from the Abyss to the border and stayed the night on the Venezuelan side as the border offices and the international petrol station was closed by the time we got there. The next morning we got in line at the pump station first. Apparently if you have other foreign (than a Brazilian) vehicle they let you go ahead in the line. We didn’t do this, but for diesel it is always lesser cars than for petrol so we didn’t have to wait long. They call it the international fuel station as here foreigners are allowed to purchase fuel. The diesel here costs BsF 32 as opposed to BsF6 like in the centre of the country, but it is still much cheaper than in Brazil so we filled up.


After this we went through the border crossing formalities. This was the easiest, quickest crossing. The most time the Venezuelan check-out took but with all the wait and queuing took only 20-30 minutes, then the Brazilian side took about 10 minutes. Weirdly -and we checked with 4-5 different people, we didn’t need the usual vehicle temporary import paper for Burt or anyone cared for checking the vehicle.

We got all done by 9AM and we were in Brazil. I loved it already. People we came across with so far were very friendly. The road to Boa Vista is a good, paved road that for a short while at the beginning winds its way down to sea-level and then the rest of the road is pretty much straight all the way to the city. It took 3 hours to get to Boa Vista, a large spread-out city with modern shops and avenues. We knew the address of the embassy so headed right there. I got the visa the same day however it was late afternoon when we finished so we just found a convenient place to park up for the night in the city, had something to eat, a couple of beers watch a game on the screen and have an early night which was relatively quiet and cooled down by the rain.

The Morning was grey and rainy as we drove out of the city heading to Guyana. It was an easy drive and took only a couple of hours to get to a quiet, relaxed border crossing. We checked out on the Brazil side within 5 minutes. In Guyana they drive on left hand side and most of the vehicles are right hand drive so we felt home. On the Guyana side of the bridge there’s a clever little lane-swapping system so without confusion (or even notice it) drivers find themselves on the correct side of the road.


Now driving on the left hand side

Immigration and custom seemed very “British”. Probably the only border crossing where the officers wear uniform (as I can recall it, most of the countries’ border crossing officers wear casual jeans or Bermudas and T-shirt which occasionally I mistaken them to money-changers or loiterers and sent them away!) Anyhow, no mistakes here. Guyana has a proper office for each department and in the right order too. First we needed to visit the health department to show our yellow fever certificate, then stamp in our passports and then custom. First it seemed quick and thought we are going to break our 30 minutes border crossing record we did yesterday but at custom first they asked to take a seat. After 15 minutes wait John walked up to the seaming bored and bugger-all-to-do officers (mainly just playing music on their phones, filing nails or chit-chatting one another) to ask them politely what it is exactly we are waiting for. It took an astonishing 10 minutes to get them explain to us that we actually first of all we need a vehicle insurance that we only can get in Lethem -the border town. Without the insurance they can’t proceed the import papers. Err okay, it was one of those backward thinking again… (why did they make us sit and wait and not telling this in the first place? is a mystery) Oddly they didn’t know a place in town for insurance, they had to ask around in the office to find out where we can purchase one from. When we got a suggestion, we were free to go a drive in town -which was a strange concept but by this point of our travel we aren’t that surprised when things like this happens, just go with it.

It takes 5 minutes to get to Lethem. It is a spread out small town with mud roads, lots of large Chinese warehouse-like shops (lots of Brazilians comes or used to come here shopping) and friendly locals. The most happenings are at or around the airfield. After we haven’t find the place the border officers suggested for insurance we headed to the airfield where we found Shirley -someone our travel book mentioned as a good person to ask for help. She has a shop/tourist info type of place and her son has a bar next door. She was very friendly and told us where to get insurance, where we can shop for food and offered to park up at her place (her home, a couple of blocks from here) for the night.

We got the insurance, did some shopping (Marmite on the shelves in the supermarkets!) and headed back to the border to get our papers done. There we learnt that they have an apparently new, strange and twisted policy if we wanted to go to Georgetown (capital of Guyana which is located north on the Caribbean coast)
If we want to travel to Georgetown or the northern part of the country we have to apply for a special permit err… in Georgetown. This border crossing office is not entitled to give us a permit for the whole country -only to the bottom half.
There is a river that pretty much cuts the country half, we can travel up to that point with no problem. But there is a police/military check point at the river crossing and they only let vehicles through with a permit.
Here, we can only get a 48 hours permit to Georgetown, find the custom office and apply for a longer vehicle permit there. If we slip off time -which could easily happen as the (only) road that travels from south to north is a mud road and we are well in to the rainy season, so if we miss our 48 hour deadline they confiscate the vehicle!
Otherwise we can just travel with our vehicle in the southern part of the country freely with no vehicle permit what so ever (!) as long as our tourist visa allows us. That’s not a problem.
Go figure.

Believe you me, John is not a man of letting these kind of illogical things go so easily. He grilled over and over the custom officers, firing cross-questions at them trying to make any sense out of this until they couldn’t explain any further and just laughed embarrassed. Of course, we eventually decided not to visit Georgetown, also according to our research most of the places we intended to visit were on this side of the river so logic or not, we dropped the whole thing.
I think for John, it was more that “someone” was controlling where we can and can’t go, especially by an illogical, backward rule like that. But hey, we were allowed to scoot around the bottom half of Guyana and I was looking forward to it.

So after this was sorted, we rolled back in to Lethem and headed to the airfield again. There was England playing and we found and English guy and a Dutch guy watching the game at Shirley’s. Turned out the Dutch guy was Shirley’s partner a biologist and very interesting. We ended up having some food next door at the bar and chatting and watching more football with Haan till late. Then he lead us back to their home where we parked up and stayed the night.

Tomorrow we want to visit a farm further south form here that our book recommended and here in town we can get info about it.

Next, Lethem and Dadanawa Ranch

88. 10 things we couldn’t do without (at least not so easily)


1. Sand ladders and shovel
We had welded a grippie layer to the original ladders. The shovel is vital to get the ladders under the stuck tire. They’ve been our saviours in many occasions stuck in snow, sand or mud.




2. GPS (Garmin)
Every now and then we still have to cross-reference the GPS route calculations with various other maps as it has peculiar ideas to reach an A to B point but generally Garmin is the best what we are doing in this part of the World.


3. Smartphone apps
– Mapswithme (offline) Only need to download a country once online then we have a detailed map often even with the smallest, dirt-track type of road marked on it.
– Google Translate (offline) Again, only need to setup the required language once online then we can use it without internet, translating quite complex sentences. (Used it mainly in Brazil)
– browser and emails, Skype
– Pocket, Kindle
– flashlight
– XE currency converter (offline), Calculator
– Notepad
– Camera
– iTunes



4. Air inflator for tires
On rough roads, soft sand or mud letting the air out of the tires help a great deal and when back on tarmac conveniently we can inflate the 4 tires ourselves within 20 mins.


5. Washing machine
Don’t get me started…



6. Fans
We forever got the question in the US if we had A/C, but what we only have is two small, silent marine fans. Usually use it overnight (also creates white noise) They are enough to keep us cool when it is upto 29-30C in the night.



7. on-board drinking water
Sounds like quite an obvious one but sometimes not even expensive, custom made motor homes have one. This was one of John’s prime focus to build one in.



8. Fly screens
They are/weren’t not perfect but we adjusted them and it would be impossible to be without them. (could do without the black-out blinds but not the fly screens)



9. On-board toilet

*no photos taken


10. Solar system
We couldn’t do what we’re doing easily without it -especially that we want to stay as environmental focused as possible.