Luckily for us a German overlander told us about Hitchhikers Hostal in Lima and we were very happy to find 3 overland vehicles there. Our welcome was warm and everyone made a big effort to help us squeeze into the small courtyard. It really was great to meet our lovely neighbours - all of whom had driven down from the USA and had some great stories to tell.
Lima is a huge sprawling city - each sight involves a long bus trip or a death defying taxi ride through the crazy city traffic. The Museo Rafael Larco Herrera was a place that Dave initially refused to visit stating that - “ Looking at 50,000 ceramic pots will make me potty!” (crazy) - but after our visit to the limited collection at the Museo de la Nacion I was determined not to leave the city without trying again and thank goodness we did as even Dave had to admit that the 50,000 ceramic pots and gold display was well worth the expensive entrance fee. The erotic room was very entertaining but most were too graphic to publish the photographs!
Our days passed quickly but the permanent grey skies and traffic noise made us anxious to get back to the beautiful Andean sunshine and people so drove from sea level to 4,200 metres in one day. Fortunately we had only spent 15 days on the coastline so our bodies adjusted immediately to the height and we suffered no altitude sickness.
The ruins at Chavin de Huantar were good and the museum was excellent but we both agreed that they were not worth the bone shaking drive we’d had to endure. After a quiet night we were looking forward to the great track we had been promised. The route we found was “fantastic” - fantastically bad - we were never able to drive more than 20km’s / 12.5miles per hour!
But we did have some highlights along the way - like sitting on a sheer drop ledge waiting to let a local truck pass only for him to stop and begin a long negotiation for buying our truck as we sat nervously looking at the land we were parked on. Or arriving in the village where the locals traditionally eat cat during their annual festival and searching for cats to ‘rescue’ - we only saw one cat and it was running for it’s life. Clever kitty.
Three back breaking, tyre chewing and exhausting days later we escaped this route - very unhappy were we until we reached the peak of the pass that led us back to asphalt. The road plummeted over 1,000 metres down a impossible spaghetti track surrounded by fabulous snow capped peaks. Undeniably gorgeous but still not worth the bumps we’d had to endure, especially when we got to the west side only to find the mountain views were far better and the women more traditionally and brightly dressed!
The Cordilleras Blanca is a famous mountainous region we wanted to explore so we drove directly to Huaraz only to find ourselves in a ugly modern town full of very drunk people - it was Saturday. After 90 minutes of searching for somewhere safe to park we finally happened upon a place and just as we were wondering why we had made the decision to come here we saw a British motorbike! Adam has spent 5 years riding around the world and it was great to spend a evening sharing a beer and listening to his tales.
We could not decide which route to follow up the mountain range - the east or the west side. Both read well but we always enjoy getting off asphalt and going to places less touristy and we had met a French vehicle that insisted we drive the east side for amazing views and “fantastic piste”. So we made the fatal decision to back track 25 kilometres and then turn to drive up the east side. It was a BIG mistake....
In our minds “fantastic piste” means a really good track so we were a little shocked to find the first 75 km’s to be asphalt that was very badly broken into large and sometimes deep holes in many places. Ironically we came upon our first road block on one of the better sections - it was a father and son team who spend their day filling in the holes and when they hear a vehicle approach they place large stones across the road forcing you to stop so they can demand money.
As we came to a stop they stood nervously on the roadside waiting to see our reaction. It took a few minutes for them to realise that we were pleased to see some-one making a effort to improve the road and we happily gave them 2 soles for their work. As the father went to clear the road for us we asked the son to pose for a photograph - everyone was happy then.
A very excellent day was waiting for us - the drive through Canon del Pato - a fabulous fun filled day of driving through almost 50 narrow hand cut rock tunnels many with terrifying stress fractures. Travelling in our truck made the tunnels seem all the more claustrophobic and we had good reason to find the experience thrilling as all the local hydroelectric vehicles are fitted with heavy duty roof protection for the falling rocks! A big bonus was meeting the many overlanders that drive this route especially the 2 British bikers - Mark and Claire - who have also ridden down from the USA.
We were so busy chatting about our exciting day that we completely missed the shortcut to Trujillo and ended up spending a night on a beach before arriving in the city the next day.
Lovely architecture in central Lima, glittering gold in the Museo de la Nacion and guards at the paranoid palace.
Items from the superb Museo Rafael Larco Herrera
Our road working ‘bandits’, a stone head from Chavin and the village where all cats run from the cook pot.
At the very end the trip became interesting.......
50 tunnels + a great canyon = LOTS of FUN!
And yet again we meet even more overlanders who have all driven down for the USA - it’s almost a convoy of vehicles on this route! We can’t believe how many great people we have met since Lima - it seems the south bound folks all have a very healthy overlanders attitude and we swap movies and tales. A special mention is worthy of a lovely Norwegian couple in their Nissan Patrol - Malin and Espen.
We spend some time in the seaside resort of Huanchaco watching the local fishermen set out to sea on tiny reed boats. And we take the local bus into nearby Trujillo - a lovely city with beautiful old buildings and some of the tastiest cakes in Peru!
Catching a bus is a experience - there is only one road linking Huanchaco and Trujillo and every bus travels this route yet the bus drivers deem it necessary to constantly sound their horns at every person they see anywhere near the roadside to catch potential passengers attention. But this is not enough. The driver has a assistant - who hangs out of the door like a Hollywood stunt man - death defying the madness of Peruvian drivers and traffic. His job is to shout and whistle at every person he sees anywhere near the road to say where the bus is going. The foreigners put a hand up and get on the bus with no hesitation or fuss but the locals seem incredibly confused - ‘Should I make eye contact or not’; ‘Is this bus going to Trujillo or not’; ‘Should I get on it or not’ etc etc. A debate begins between the assistant and the confused local - ’Are you sure you are going to Trujillo?’ ‘Which streets do you drive?’ on and on it goes. We would be tempted to answer ‘ The same blooming streets we ALWAYS drive!’
Getting off the bus is even funnier - the assistant constantly mutters, without pausing for breath, get off get off get off get off get off - the evil in us begs for us to hesitate on the step and time how long he can last without taking a breath! We really do love this wonderful crazy country.
The north of Peru is full of ancient pyramids, one site alone has more than 50, and each site charges entrance fees - it means we have to be very selective with our sight seeing choices. So we choose only two temples in this area - Chan Chan is the largest pre Columbian city in the America’s and La Huaca el Brujo - a little known but superb museum and pyramid temple site where the tattooed mummy of Princess Cao lies surrounded by gold and other precious items. We enjoyed both sites immensely.
Reed boat fisherman, our bus driver and Dave enjoying the lovely Trujillo architecture.
Dave in Chan Chan
the room where Princess Cao’s tomb was discovered in Brujo.
Security continues to be a problem in Peru. When we find a place that is quiet locals tell us it is ‘dangerous’ and when we go to a place that is meant to be ‘safe’ it guarantees a sleepless night because of noise! And our seaside parking choice at Pimentel is a classic example - a local tells us that drug users with knives rob people here at night so we leave a place where we felt safe and pay to park in a secure hotel area. We later met overlanders who also tried to stay here and the police forced them to leave the beach and park outside the police station at night. We would like to say that it is crime paranoia but there is clearly a big problem.
Chiclayo is our next city stop and we find it very disappointing. The world famous museum displaying the fabulous gold and treasures found in the royal tomb of Lord Sipan is the highlight of this area but Dave is deeply unhappy that everyone is body searched before entry and absolutely NO cameras or phones are allowed into the museum. And he has a point - we can take photographs in the Louvre or the Guggenheim so why not here?
A visit to the city centre market with it’s witch doctors is interesting with lizards, herbs and birds of prey forming some of the key ingredients but we’re not sure if killing Condors for ‘medicine’ is acceptable practice.
Just when things are going smoothly we encounter a big problem - we fall madly in love - with a dog. Of all the countries in the world Peru is the place where no dog needs rescued - every dog we have met is loved and cherished as a important part of the family unit. Yet here we are researching British import laws for animals and the costs of transporting a dog. And it is the WRONG kind of dog in every way - a pedigree - bred for money and profit. Dave would have bought her on sight but this dog stands against every principle I have and although I am practically in tears at leaving her for one night, I stand fast and the next day she is sold to a local family. We are very happy she has found a home and I am a little relieved she’s not ours!
Love, love me do.....
A witch doctors ingredients and a parrot waiting for a important call in Chiclayo.
We make the decision to take the back road from Chiclayo to Cajamarca, our next big city, stopping to ask about road conditions along the way. We loved India and have many fond (if somewhat frustrating) memories of our time there and this northern area of Peru becomes a ‘mini India’ for us. People stare - really stare, tapping the sides of Nessie forms a essential part of the locals day - is she wood, plastic or metal? And one tap is not enough to make a decision - OH NO - several minutes of tapping are required! And asking a question can create some crazy answers - if some-one does not understand what you are asking or if they do not know the answer then they will simply say the first thing that enters their head!
So, we find ourselves asking a local bus owner about the road conditions and are amazed to be told that after one short section of dirt it is asphalt all the way to Cajamarca! A nice surprise for us. We leave the village and have to sit for 90 minutes waiting for the road workers to let us through - ahead we can see lovely new asphalt. So imagine our horror when we get through only to find dirt, dirt and more dirt. Further on we have to wait for another section of the road to be dynamited - all the workers and their large construction vehicles come down a hill and park beside us - someone plays British pop music from the 1980’s and the female workers beg me to dance on the dirt track with the male road workers! Fortunately Dave saves me from embarrassment by bringing out his magic tricks and entertaining the guys, who are very keen for Dave to get out some cold beers from the fridge. Oh yes, we could have had a big party but the explosives went BANG and everyone had to go back to work. The rain got heavier and heavier and we had had enough. After seven hours and only 55km’s we make the decision to turn and drive back toward Chiclayo - we will take the main road to Cajamarca.
In no time at all we are in beautiful Cajamarca with it’s lovely plaza and traditional streets where women wear large white hats as they sit knitting. It’s a wonderful place I could spend a long time in (maybe even live in) but there is no-where quiet and pleasant to park in the city centre. We find a side street near the plaza to spend the night but we do not sleep for one minute, local workers have been protesting all day and at night they party - music, endless loud firecrackers, singing, racing cars and people tapping the truck. Arggggggh.
A thermal hot bath is guaranteed to help soak away our weariness so we drive to the Incan baths nearby and sit up to our necks in the steaming hot water relaxing. There are lots of sights to visit in this area but they are all down separate long dirt tracks and we are becoming tired of bad roads so we move on.
Traditional life, Virgen del Carmen parade, road conditions and the stunning museum at Leimebamba - amazing!
WOW! Nobody has told us just how great the drive from Cajamarca to Leimebamba is. Perfect non asphalt conditions with hardly a bump on the road, fascinating traditional life to be seen along the way and a landscape ranging from barren high altitude to tropical jungle. Seriously superb but also seriously scary at times! This road is mostly single lane with passing places, lots of blind corners and some very steep drops down the mountain side.
We had a few buttock clenching moments on this drive and they were always just as we rounded a blind corner only to find the road was narrowed by jagged rocks sticking out of the mountain side and that the road side by the sheer drop had a weak and crumbling edge. We barely had time to gasp ‘Oh ****’ and we were over it, snapping our necks to look in the rear view mirrors to see the rocks missing our vehicle side by mere centimetres and our rear outer tyre hovering over the edge. It’s at times like this that you are glad of double rear tyres!!! Impossible to capture on photograph but fun, fun, fun for us!! Even the crazy Peruvians do not drive this road with long wheel based vehicles - it’s just not possible.
The museum in Leimebamba was another surprise - rarely mentioned yet it left us stunned at it’s displays -the mummies here are the best in South America. Absolutely fascinating.
In the village itself our usual smiles and waves are ignored - very unperuvian - and then we realise that the village had a HUGE party last night and everyone is extremely hung-over - they are using their hands to hold their heads! Luckily for us the Virgen del Carmen is being taken out of the church and paraded through the village over the hand decorated cobbled streets before being put to rest for another year after a week of merry making and festivities. We made sure to be a long way from the village plaza that night.
The mighty 700 metre oval mountain fortress of the Chachapoyas people - KUELAP.
This region of Peru is home to the pre Incan culture of the Chachapoyas people - known as the ‘People of the Clouds’ - a very suitable name considering the weather here - we have almost constant cloud and rain. The mountains, remote valleys and jungle have kept many of the fascinating sites hidden and protected for a long time and to reach many of these places involves some effort. Multiple hour hikes for us are not good but we did try to get closer to a little known site with the help of a machete wielding local but the track he tried to convince us was good for our truck was only good for horses or small cars - so we had to give in.
Fortunately the fabulous fortress of Kuelap was easy to reach. We entered Peru believing Machu Picchu would be our highlight but we were wrong. Kuelap is conserved rather than restored and walking around it’s mighty ancient walls dripping in jungle foliage we imagined ourselves to be great explorers. A unmissable site in Peru.
Another fascinating site was Karajia - a Chachapoyas funerary site of sarcophagi. The remarkable thing about this site is that the sarcophagi are made of wood and straw coated with clay, they sit unprotected from the weather on a cliff edge and yet they have survived all this time. Sadly two of the sarcophagi have collapsed and the bones now lie on a rock by the waterfall below whilst the skulls sit on top of the sarcophagi.
Then quite suddenly and unexpectedly we leave Peru!
We had considered driving east deeper into the Amazon to visit Tarapoto and Yurimaguas but it would mean a long return trip to reach a Ecuador border. Our original plan was to drive west toward the beaches and national parks of northern Peru but almost everyone we met told us how great the border crossing was at Namballe - easy and pleasant. So we cut short Peru and drive past vibrant rice fields toward the border looking for a quiet place to spend the night but every plaza, football field, side street and church area is full of peanuts. It must be the harvest season as even the roadsides are full of peanuts with the local dogs lounging on top of the crop intent on catching their fleas.
So we spend the night at the border - it was a terrible mistake. Overnight it rained heavily and the next morning our ‘easy’ border crossing turned into a nightmare with the aduana/customs/sunat man screaming at Dave to get copies of our paperwork. Dave went to the local shop to get copies but the man denied having a machine. I had enough of the bully aduana man, who was screaming at Dave again, and went into the office of the delightful passport officer who was sitting with a Ecuadorian officer who had wandered across the border for a chat. I asked him where we can get copies and say the aduana man is ‘unfriendly’. There was an embarrassed look and I left. Suddenly the shop owner had a machine and the aduana man was smiling and even singing. Not such a big bully now that he had ‘lost face’ with the Ecuador officials.
Such a shame we have to leave lovely Peru with that man as our memory, but we have had a fantastic trip and Peru, much to our surprise, has jumped into our top 3 favourite countries of the world list.