Peru - July, November & December 2011

From July 1st July 11th, 2011

We continued our journey by public transport to Cusco with a short stop in Puno. Our Brazilian friend Toco joined us to visit the area for a few days. While Beatrice and I were forced to rest for a few days after a bad indigestion, Aless and Toco left for the Salkantay Trek of 5 days and 4 nights leading to the Machu Picchu. This is definitely a more original way of reaching the Incan site than by train. Once recovered, we decided to visit Cusco and the few archaeological sites of the region starting with the Qorikancha (Sun Temple). This was an ancient Incan temple which was demolished by the Spaniards and on which they built the church of Santo Domingo. We continued with the visit of Saqsaywaman where we could appreciate the Incan walls made of huge rocks carved with great precision in order to interlock with each other. We continued the tour by Q'enqo, a small place partly formed by a granite cave where ceremonies, rituals and sacrifices took place. Pukapukara was a resting place for the messengers who traveled many miles, running in order to transmit information to the next runner. The site of Tambomachay, El baño del Inca was a symbol of fertility and after several hundred years, the water still flows through the fountains.


The next day, while Aless and Toco were facing the Salkantay Pass in the snow at 4600 meters, we visited the Incan terraces of Moray which were used as Agricultural Laboratory. The terraces built in amphitheater shape, each of them being at a different altitude, were receiving a different microclimate. We then visited the Salinas de Maras, an infrastructure which was ingeniously constructed by the Incas to evaporate the salt from the salt water source which is and has been flowing out of the mountain for hundreds of years. Thousands of small pools are individually filled with the salt water which gives place to pure salt after evaporation. Two million tons of salt is still extracted each year.


Unfortunately, we were unable to find tickets to visit Machu Picchu the same day as our two walkers. The reason was simple, July 7th was the centenary's date of the archaeological site. They were part of the 350 lucky people able to visit the site for this very special day. No problem, we can go the following day with another 2498 tourists... In the meantime, we enjoyed a moment of relaxation in the thermal bath of Aguascalientes.


Machu Picchu, is all of an adventure ! As mentioned above, we first had to find tickets. But to get there, we also needed a train ticket, which was the most expensive part of the expedition. The most convenient schedule is way more expensive than the one arriving at destination in the middle of the night. At the end it cost 170 USD per person for bus transportation from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, then by train to Aguascalientes, one night accommodation in Aguascalientes, the entrance for Machu Picchu with a two-hours guided tour and the return trip. To be part of the 400 lucky tourists being allowed to climb the Huayna Picchu (big rock you can see on all pictures of Machu Picchu), you must be at the entrance at 5:40 AM, before the arrival of the first bus. I left Aguascalientes at 3:45 AM, walked to be the first to the bridge crossing the river, which was not opening before 4:50 AM. After the opening, in the fifth position, a marathon started ! More than 40 minutes to climb the stairs to the top in total darkness with the headlamp, running out of breath because it was out of question to let groups passing me. Once up there I had to wait for the sunrise and the distribution of limited places for the Huayna Picchu. Oufff, I go it, and I even managed to get it for my mother who was going to arrive with one of the first bus. At 6:30 AM, before the first sun ray, began our guided tour of the famous Machu Picchu. Amazing ! Llamas where still relaxing quietly on the grassy terraces of the agricultural part of the site. In addition to the living quarters which housed between 500 and 600 inhabitants at the time, there were also various places of ceremonies, rituals and sacrifices, sacred temples, astronomical places, squares and even a botanical garden. We continued our exploration by the ascent of Huayna Picchu. Again we had to climb stairs which sometimes required the help of a rope. The higher we got, the steeper the cliff was. Other tourists descended sticking to the wall because of dizziness. After about 45 minutes, we reached the first ruins, other Incan terraces and finally the top of the highest rock offered a panoramic 360 degrees view of on the neighboring mountains and the nearby site of Machu Picchu a few hundred meters below. It was fascinating, amazing but most of all dizzying. The descent was more difficult, since all we could see were the one meter wide steps and the cliff out of sight. Slowly but surely, we reached the site of Machu Picchu. We also visited the Incan Bridge, which served as a path when the Incas abandoned the city in order to preserve it from the Spaniards. What is certain is that they did not suffer from vertigo! We returned to Aguascalientes by bus and to Cusco by train to meet with Aless and Toco.


After six weeks of travel with us from Brazil through Argentina and Bolivia, is was in Cusco, Peru that Beatrice, my mother took off to find the summer heat of Switzerland. During the trip, we had to change routes or program due to various events such as the closure of the road on the Jama Pass between Argentina and Chile because of a snow storm. Because of this, we didn't get the chance to visit the region of the Atacama Desert nor the South Lipez in Bolivia. Then our van had a hard time to support the hundreds of kilometers of corrugated iron effect in Bolivia, which has forced us to continue by public transport from La Paz to Cusco. It took a little adjustment to live in a very small space for those few weeks, but after some time, we got used to sleep the three together in a 1.40m wide bed... We traveled during the winter, in one of the coldest regions of South America without heating system. With good sleeping bags and insulating curtains made by Beatrice, we survived the night below -10 degrees with ice on the inside of the windows in the morning. We spent four weeks between an elevation of 3500 and 4000 meters without having too much trouble to acclimatize. It was a pleasure to share these moments with my mother. She was able to realize that we are not exactly on vacation, but a long journey. A journey full of surprises, beautiful encounters, but mostly unexpected situations...


We left our friends Toco and made our way back to La Paz in Bolivia to find our vehicle which we hoped to be back on wheels…

Click here to read the following story in Bolivia.

From November 14th to December 14th, 2011

After we crossed the border from Chile, we reached Arequipa, the second largest city of Peru. Our GPS guided us gently to a small secured parking in the center by making us avoiding traffic areas. The Monastery of Santa Catalina was a haven of peace, its narrow streets and colorful flowers forming a kind of small citadel.


We continued our journey towards the Colca Canyon where we grazed the 4900 meters above sea level before descending to Chivay where we relaxed in the nearby hot springs. The condors flying over the canyon at the Cruz del Condor will remain a myth, as when approaching the raining season, they become rarer. At Cabanaconde, we met Sabine & Gérard, a French couple traveling the Americas with their vehicles since two years already. Being a mountain lover, Gérard explained the different possible treks in the region.


The four of us left for a tree days walk in the Colca Canyon. After a few hours of descent, accompanied by some rainfalls, we reached Llahuar where we relaxed (one more time :-) in its hot springs. After a night's rest in the refuge, our friends took an alternative route for the day. Meanwhile, we found a guide like no other. The price for his services was rather an exchange of favors. We carried his drinking water, made him hugs from time to time and he, in turn, kept us company. I'm talking about our doggy friend Louloutte, of course! Dogs from Cabanaconde are in rather good shape, following tourists during their few days loop. Once back in the village, they rest for a day at most and leave with the most generous tourist, accepting biscuits, cakes or sandwiches... Louloutte guided us through the paths overlooking the Colca river, terraced fields and plantations of cactus for nesting scales, used as a natural dye. At the oasis of Sangalle, we enjoyed the sun near the swimming pool of "Paraiso de las Palmeras". I must say that this place was well named. With the help of water, this part of the valley was green, crowded with flowers and palm trees. It's the next day in the afternoon that we climbed up the canyon to Cabanaconde.


Back to the village, a surprise awaited us. A huge puddle of oil was under the van. After checking the oil level, the level was higher than the maximum limit and oil seemed to be more liquid and transparent than usual. Finally, we realized that gasoline seeped into the oil. In this small village, we couldn't rely on the services of a mechanic and even less in founding spare parts. Our friends could tow us, but with a pass at 4900 meters and the long descent to Arequipa, it would be too dangerous. Before thinking about worth case scenarios, we tried to find what could be the problem and retraced the passage of gasoline from the reservoir through the filter and the fuel pump, carburetor, cylinders, then the explosion. The only place seemed to be the fuel pump which was activated by a mechanism in the engine. Since we had a spare one, we replaced it and did the oil change with the few liters we have left. The engine ran for half an hour. Everything seemed to work fine and the oil level did not change. Escorted by Gérard and Sabine, we returned to Chivay for a relaxing evening in the thermal baths before reaching Arequipa the following morning.


The problem was solved, but anyway we had planned on doing a service. The engine was back down in order to change the seals of the oil cooler which we had not found in Brazil. Since the beginning of the trip (~70,000 kms), our brake pads on the front were still in middle life state, we now understood why they seemed indestructible. During the revision of the brakes, the mechanic realized that our front brakes were partially blocked, one plate of two was not moving when pressing the pedal. They spent hours removing all the components, lubricating, changing seals and adjusting. After two and a half days in the garage, an invoice for the work of less than 100 USD, we were ready to hit the road.

In Nazca, we flew over the famous lines forming drawings of animals. From the sky, the geoglyphs did not seem as big as they were, while from the viewpoint, one can't even see an entire drawing.


Near Ica, we discovered the huge sand dunes around the Huacachina Oasis. Accompanied by a buggy driving us up the dunes, we had fun sand boarding as in the snow.


Although we are not fan of the big cities, we made a short break in Miraflores, the chic neighborhood of Lima. The cliff along the beach had nice flowery walks and parks where people walked their children or their dogs while others enjoyed paragliding. Again, we did pretty well crossing the city, guided by our GPS.

A little further north of the capital, we found the nice campsite of Medio Mundo, located at the edge of a freshwater lagoon, a few hundred meters from the ocean. The lagoon is a place of passage for migratory birds such as egrets and herons, while the beach was covered with thousands of fishing birds, flying away from us, forming moving clouds.


Despite the beginning of the raining season, we decided to visit the Cordillera Blanca. The asphalted road from Barranca to Huaraz goes from sea level to 3800 meters through a mountain pass at 4200 meters in the same day. In Yungay, a rather poor track leaded us to the Huascaran National Park, known for its snow-capped peaks over 6000 meters above sea level and for its emerald lagoons. Llanguanuco lagoons, accessible by car were lined with Queñua trees, which the orange trunk made a beautiful contrast with the amazing color of the water.

For the third time in Peru, we met Sabine & Gérard, with whom we had been trekking in the Colca Canyon. The next day, the four of us left for a day's walk to the Laguna 69. The ascent at 4870 meters to reach the refuge Peru was quite challenging. Although we drove over 5000 meters high with our vehicle, I was not used to the climb it by foot. The clouds which were present early in the day, went away after our arrival in the laguna 69, revealing an incredible panorama made of magic glaciers, lagoons and waterfalls. Despite the descent in the rain, we had a great day !!


We reached the coast through the asphalted road which goes from Huaraz to Casma, and followed our way north to Huanchaco, where we could appreciate the beach-surfers atmosphere and then Piura where we made our 3rd party insurance for Ecuador and Columbia.

The coast was in general not the nicest we have seen, with rather rough waves, blurry and cold water and some areas where really smelling like processed fish. It was only from Mancora to the border with Ecuador that the water color started to change and be more appealing...

This was the first country in South America where the police was so present. At each entrance or exit of villages, in the middle of no-where, they were everywhere! Apart from a misunderstanding from one of them regarding our vehicle insurance, the controls were more about curiosity and simple document checks than anything else.

We woke up our taste buds with fruits and vegetables which we had not had the opportunity to taste for some time. Apricots, strawberries, mangoes, watermelon, red bananas, asparagus, sweet potatoes, avocados, and all as sweet as their price...


Peru, the country of encounters. Apart from the south of Argentina where we met some travelers with their vehicule, we had not met as many at a time as we did in Peru. First of all we met Gérard & Sabine (French) which we met four times without giving each other a meeting place. We had a great time hiking and sharing dinners together. In Lima, we met more French's, Bernadette & Michel, Josiane & Jean-Marie, and enjoyed a nice evening sharing travel stories. In Laguna Medio Mundo, we had a nice cocktail with Josiane & Robert (French). We also met some travelers from Switzerland, Priska & Stephan from Obwald, Hans & Maria from Bern, Edwin & Regula from Fribourg and finally Marianne & Albert from Germany.

Click here to read the following story about Galapagos.

See the album "Peru - July, November & December 2011"