5 - 9 November
In true rally tradition our time in Lima was spent washing clothes, updating the web, catching up on emails and resting so we didn’t do a lot of sightseeing in the city. Lima, home to more than eight million people, is like, many of the other cities we have seen in Central and South America. With vast contrasts between the elegance of the old colonial centre and the poor areas all surrounded by the noise and pollution of the constant traffic.
One of the special pleasures of our visit to Lima was meeting with Alonso, from Landcruiser Peru, and his girlfriend Sandra. We spent a great evening chatting to them about Landcruisers – what else and he was very impressed with our Toyota, taking photos and giving her a good inspection. With over 200 members of the club Alonso has lots of contacts here and they both gave us a great deal of information to help us on our journey South and life in Peru. Alonso, is an architect who in his spare time races and compete in off road competitions with Toyota and recently took park in the 3000kms Inca Rally. You can see more of this on www.landcruiserperu.com. Sandra’s family came from Germany, so when English and Spanish translation didn’t work she and I were able to get by in German! Small world, her family came from Moenchengladbach, where I lived for 17 years!!!
Next morning, we were up early to get out of Lima before the traffic got so bad and get on the way to Nasca. Although Alonso had give us some instructions for the road out, I must not have been concentrating as we came to a dead end and, eventually, we had to stop and ask the way. Our guide hopped in and took us all the way to the access of the Panamerican Sur! He chatted all the way with us picking up key words like “left” “right” “straight on” and he sent us off on our journey wishing us well! We really have been lucky with the great people we have met.
South of Lima the beaches are more developed for tourism with small beach clubs, access roads and large areas walled off for further development. The road, continuing through the desert runs straight through high dunes on either side. We took a detour off the road to the Paracas National Reserve, recommended by Sandra, the small bay was beautiful but sadly we didn’t see any penguins which is what it is famous for.
Away from the coast the haze finally lifted and we have blue skies and sunshine once again. The only difference from North of Lima were the crops with potatoes, and lots of vineyards growing in the rich green valleys.
Taking advantage of local fruit Whats around this bend??? Down into the valley....
We made good time and arrived in Nasca around 2.30pm so, wasting no time, we headed straight for the small airport to see if we could get on a flight over the Nasca Lines that day. We were in luck and were quickly bustled into the departure hall to get our tickets for the 30 minute flight in a small six seater plane. JC’s face was a picture when he got to see the plane! Was he nervous- NO of course not!!! The Nasca Lines are one of the great mysteries of South America – a series of animal figures and geometric shapes drawn across 500 sqkms of the Pampa San Jose. Theories are that they were probably some form of agricultural calendar to help regulate the planting and harvesting of crops or ancient sacred paths. Whatever their origins, it certainly was an amazing experience. Within the small confines of the plane we were strapped in, headphones on and off we went. At each shape the pilot banked the plane right over so we could get photos, then quickly banked the other was so we could get photos from a different angle. We saw them all, the monkey, the dog, the humming bird, alkatraz, the hands, the tree and the astronaut (bit skeptical about that one I’m afraid!) From above they didn’t appear to be as large as we had expected but nevertheless an amazing sight. However, with the constant changing of the horizon and the banking of the plane I can safely say that we both felt better when we were upright and on land again.
The road to Cusco took us high, high into the Andes, cut out of the mountain side with sheer drops on one side of the road, winding up and up into the distance. Not many private cars, mainly trucks and the usual crazy busses racing along seemingly regardless of the steep drops over the side – they must do this route regularly – don’t think I’d like to be travelling with them. Then around the corner we spotted a group of cyclists whose flag indicated that they were French and travelling the world. What stamina – its taken us 1.5 hours to do 50kms on this road so goodness knows how far they will get by night fall. All along the road we saw evidence of vehicles that had gone over the edge and crosses marking places where people had died. A very sobering site and a warning to all who dream of driving in these high ranges.
A few reminders to stay alert all of the time..........................................................
On the flat plateau at the top which is the Pampa Galeras National Park we saw the herds of Alpacas roaming free, their colouring giving them great camouflage amongst the grass of the pampas. Curiously they stood on the road and watched us approach before dashing off into the distance again.
The Alpacas........................................................................ This one escaped the shears......
Although the road was not in bad condition, progress was slow and by 11.15 we had only made it 111kms to our first peaje. To make things worse, at the peaje we were given information that the road would be closed, between KM118 and KM155, from 9am to 12 noon and then from 1pm to 4pm – so basically if we didn’t make it between 12noon and 1pm we would be hanging around until 4pm! Thankfully, although work was going on all along the road we arrived at the place that was closed and only had to wait 5 minutes before we were on our way again. Only trouble was that there was a queue of heavy lorries in front of us that we would have to follow for some way along this ridge.
Other wildlife on the road........... These guys had been waiting so long they were off regardless of the road conditions..
With fantastic views over the ochre coloured fields against the blue skies we made it over the highest point marked on our map - 4,327m without as much as a cough from the Toyota and dropped down into Poquai a town with no paved streets, lots of dust and a diversion to Cusco – it looked as if they were trying to keep vehicles out of the centre of town probably due to the roads having been washed away, given the height of the man holes sticking up on the road we had to use.
Once again we climbed and reached a plateau on the top with lakes at either side. We stayed up there in the sky until after 300kms we dropped down into a valley. On the top the small villages we passed through were mostly mud and adobe brick type homes with children playing in the streets and ladies knitting or spinning at their doors all dressed in their colourful outfits. The road seemed to go on and on, never ending and by 4.30 we had still only done 340kms. A tiring drive for JC even with his experience. At one point he said “well at least it’s not snowing up here”- guess what fifteen minutes later we were in a hail storm with hailstones as big as marbles battering us. Fortunately it did not last long and we finally dropped to a much lower altitude, where we both felt better. The road followed the river valley and we were making better progress. With little accommodation along the way and no good place to camp we decided to press on for another 150kms to Abancay, hoping to reach there before dark. Then, as if in a mirage, we came around the corner and found Hotel Tampumayu. We couldn’t believe our luck. Safe parking, good clean rooms in Italian ski chalet style, pretty restaurant and very friendly staff who were almost as happy to see us as we were to see them!! Lots of hot water to wash off the dust of the day but still both feeling a bit headachey with the altitude and couldn’t do justice to the supper provided by the chatty chef. We apologized for leaving the food and explained it was due to the altitude – he recommended the Coca Tea. So we had our first taste of this “magic cure” for altitude sickness recommended everywhere. Wearily we headed off to bed, happy to have found this place. The road has been tough but the turbo altitude compensator had made so much difference to the Toyota, especially on these crazy mountain roads. JC says that it is the best money he has spent on the whole trip.
Despite weird dreams (effects of Coca Tea??) we had a good nights sleep and after a good breakfast we said goodbye to our lovely, friendly hosts who waved us on our way, the final stretch hopefully to Cusco. The road twisted and turned following the route of the river bubbling and twinkling in the beautiful morning sunshine. We were enclosed by the vast mountains either side of the valley. As JC said it was like driving along in Austria or Switzerland but on a much grander scale and without all of the traffic. We went for miles without seeing another vehicle. This was too easy and after Abancay we reached for the sky again winding our way around the mountains until 380kms later we arrived at Cusco 3610 meters above sea level! No wonder we were both having a bit of difficulty breathing. They say it gets better after 3 days!!! We stopped for lunch on the top before we took the road down into the city which has expanded up the sides of the mountains with almost vertical roads to the homes on the side. As usual, we had not pre-booked any accommodation and for once this proved to be difficult. Cusco is world famous – lots of tourists so not many vacancies. It is also a place of narrow streets, many of which are accessible only on foot and hoardes of small Daewoo taxis ferrying tourists around at a manic speed. Most tourists, unlike us, come in by plane, therefore there is no requirement for parking at the many hotels. After a frustrating hour amongst the cobbled streets we felt like we were not going to be able to find anywhere when finally we found a room, but no parking. The receptionist gave us directions to a parking area and once again we entered the melee of traffic looking for what we thought would be an underground car park or something. Unable to find it we returned to the hotel and Carlos, one of the staff came with us. It’s just as well he did we would never have found it. Although it was only about 200 yards from the hotel, it would have been the furthest thing from our minds that it was a car park. On the corner of the street an indigenous family have retained a small plot, where they live with their chickens and dogs whilst earning money from cars and taxis that park there overnight – they must make a fortune in this sandy little spot. Although it would not have been our choice for parking, Carlos told us that it was secure, there were big double gates, other expensive vehicle parked there and after much shuffling of other cars the Toyota was reversed right into a corner with her back against the wall. Poor old Carlos had a long way to carry our bags!!!
Knowing that it will take us a while to acclimatize to this altitude we plan to rest for a couple of days before going to Manccu Piccu and have also managed to get the Toyota booked in for a service whilst we are here.
At 3610 metres we are both suffering badly from the altitude here in Cusco. All of the books tell you to sleep until you become acclimatized, however, neither John nor I have been able to get a good night’s sleep since we arrived here due to the lack of oxygen. For me it is mainly a permanent headache and tiredness but John has really been wiped out with it – not wanting to do anything and being constantly tired. For the first time on the trip it was my turn to be “travel weary” wishing I was back at Well Cottage, despite the bad weather you are all having! Didn’t last very long though and I was soon back on form. We did manage a walk around Cusco but, because of the altitude, JC felt that he would not be able to manage the trip to Manccu Piccu which was a big disappointment to him. Having done it, I know he would not have been able to cope with the very long day on the train and the heat and thin air at the top. I was exhausted at the end of the day.
I was picked up at 5.45am for a train journey of around 4.5 hours which was amazing – first the train does a series of switch backs up and over the mountains which gives a fantastic view down onto Cusco and for most of this part of the journey it is only around 10 metres from the homes along side of the track. I took the Vista Dome train which had ceiling windows allowing for fantastic views of the mountains along the way. Then, after meeting up with the guide there was about a 20 minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes up to the site. This road too was a series of switch backs on a graded road – thankfully only the regular buses use it and their drivers seem to sense when something is coming the other way and pull into passing areas on this very narrow route.
My writing abilities are not good enough to describe the splendour that is Manccu Piccu – it thoroughly deserves its place as one of the new seven wonders of the world! The weather was great, the guide was excellent and the two and half hour walk around the site was tremendous. Sometimes the going was tough because of the altitude but mainly because I have been sat down for the best part of 6 months with little exercise. I really felt it on some of the uphill climbs. However, in the distance I could see the Sun Gate which is where the Inca Trail trekkers come over after four days walking. Their view from up there must be absolutely amazing and their sense of achievement tremendous. Hats of to Rosie and Carlton who did this earlier this year! You have to see this place to understand what an achievement it is to walk here.
Back at the station for the journey back down to Cusco with time to spare I wandered around the market stalls which surround the place, selling everything that the tourist could wish for from blankets to silver it’s all here.
On the journey back down we were entertained by a local dancer and then by a fashion show of the wonderful Alpaca wool clothing they make here. Needless to say this was followed up by a sales pitch but the cabin team did a great job of entertaining us on what felt like a very very long journey back down to Cusco which ended in a fabulous view of the town all lit up and twinkling as the train switch backed its way back down the mountain. A fantastic day for me – another thing which I have long wanted to do. Seems like all my wishes are coming true on this trip. Thanks mainly to John – not many people would want to do this trip by road.
Today, the vehicle is in for service before we leave tomorrow. I went with JC this morning to help get them started. My Spanish is improving but even I have problems with Limited Slip Diff!! So, as usual, he is doing his pantomime act and I have left him there with the Spanish dictionary.
He is feeling much better today but we have decided that once we have visited Lake Titicaca, we will head back down to the coast and into Chile, missing out Bolivia. Three reasons for this really. The main being the altitude – La Paz is even higher than here, the second is that it is the rainy season down there and some of the roads that we planned to take may be washed out – we don’t want to be stuck at altitude for a couple of weeks whilst they sort out the roads, and the third is that there are some political issues in parts of Bolivia where the FCO are not recommending travel.
Hope you enjoy this weeks blog its a bit earlier than usual but we have to "make on" when we have access - and keep your messages coming in.