Adios, Peru!

July 5, 2018, Trip: Peru
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July 5th

We caught our flight to Cusco on time; all our luggage arrived with us!  Yeah – no customs issues.  Peru allows you each to bring in $500 USD worth of goods undeclared (unless they are a specific type) and we had $1000.13 between us – AND we left nearly $500 worth of stuff behind in our Civic so we were happy all the truck parts got through as well as everything else (we also had a number of personal items not included in that total that we were not going to declare so we were happy).

The husband of the owner of the campground where we left Tigger met us and upon arrival back at Quinta Lala, Joe & Josee greeted  us and we moved Tigger from its parking spot to a camp spot next to them.  We began unpacking and then invited us for a hot lunch (knowing we had no food!).

After lunch we continued unpacking and made a trip into town to pick up Fran’s new glasses (which were not ready) and some food. 

Later Joseé made Pisco Sours:

We were feeling the altitude – we don’t recommend coming from sea level to 3500m/ 11400’.  Fran had a slight headache and of course, shortness of breath but Doug was really suffering.  We bought an oxygen canister, no help; took aspirin, no help; coca tea, no help for Doug; coca leaves, no help and gross! and then a herbal thing containing coca and other stuff but didn’t make a huge difference.   We had a quiet indoor happy hour with J & J and hit the hay early

Friday and Saturday, Doug was up early and out with Tigger to a mechanic to get the parts installed we brought back:  ball joints, bump stops,and an  air bag sensor and to get the shower floor re repaired as it has a crack coming through again.  Naturally it all didn’t get done in one day so he went back Saturday.

Fran hung back at the campground as there’s a common room and she was able to do computer stuff and chat with J & J for the two days.  Saturday was Fran’s birthday and Josee took her out for lunch, 

Fran and Josee also visited the San Pedro Market after lunch that day.

That night we had a nice campfire that evening including an American cyclist from Wisconsin, John. 

Sunday we all went for a birthday lunch to the world’s highest Irish Pub on the main square.

Monday morning, Doug went out again to get the last two things done: an alignment and a car wash.  J & J packed up and began making their way south to Arequipa (we will not be going that direction as we were there back in 2011).  We hopefully will meet up again in Bolivia. 

The weather here in Cusco’s winter has been sunny every day.  Temps reach between 16-20C / 60-69F during the day and drop around freezing at night but it doesn’t seem to rain (yet!). 

As you know the FIFA World Cup is occurring this year and South Americans are HUGE fans.  Unfortunately, after the quarter finals, no South American team is left.  Here at Quinta Lala by Monday night we had SIX rigs from France here and they hung around (or returned after being here last week) to watch Tuesday’s semifinal game against Belgium.  Half the families have kids and they were all ecstatic and very patriotic, waving their flags and singing the national anthem after the win.   Unfortunately for Doug, every team he’s backed so far has lost!  Luckily, no money was involved. 

Of the ten rigs parked here SIX are French! Three surround us and then three below.

We spent a mostly cloudy and cool Tuesday at the campground working on things on Tigger.  Doug installed our newly purchased thermometer, replaced the marker light that got torn off back in Yauyos NP and rain gutters in the hope of stopping window streaking and allowing us to keep windows open more in the rain….Fran attached our new province/state stickers to our North American maps; they have faded and great deal and when she reached out to “complain” they gave us new stickers at a much reduced rate (the “dots” are national parks and great lakes). 

Fran also washed all the floor mats and the floor as well as going through cupboards sorting what supplies we had and we wanted to buy before leaving Cusco.

Wednesday morning, we decided that to save time on Thursday, we’d do a big grocery shop so we walked to the mall, (5km/3m) shopped, had lunch and returned by taxi.  Later that afternoon, Fran walked back into El Centro and picked up her glasses. All was done and we were ready to continue our journey.

Next morning before leaving we “winterized” Tigger as we knew we would be going up much higher and we didn’t want the pipes to freeze.  We had bought two large 20L containers of water to use and drained all lines and tanks as well as putting salt in the drains and tanks. This is winter in South America!

After saying goodbye to Mili at Quinta Lala (and wishing her the best with the upcoming birth of her and Edgar’s first child ANY day now), we hit the road out of Cusco towards the Sacred Valley. 

There was place up there we’d never visited in 2011 or this trip: the Salineras de Maras – salt ponds – yes, salt ponds in the mountain.

Salineras de Maras: Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the workers. The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond. The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The pond’s keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual worker. Some salt is sold at a gift store nearby.

The salt mines traditionally have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the community, and families that are new to the community wishing to propitiate a salt pond get the one farthest from the community. The size of the salt pond assigned to a family depends on the family’s size. Usually there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate an empty currently unmaintained pond, consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start working.

It was a halfway sunny/cloudy day and the drive was lovely.  Unfortunately, the maps in our GPS were not coming up for Peru as Doug had loaded Bolivian maps while we were in North America and thought he’d left Peru on there but no roads were found.  That meant relying totally on our maps.me app.  Wel,l this took us to the OTHER side of the site and included narrow dirt roads and a bridge that was probably not meant for Tigger’s weight.  Rounding a corner, we also broke off a running light and a piece of the awning end. (Fran took this video while running backwards ahead of the truck)

The last two kms were not drivable although the map thought so and we opted not to walk that section as we had NO idea what it had in store.  We drove back a bit (across the bridge!), found the real road to the site and spent about an hour walking through the site and watching workers manually mining salt.

We drove back towards and around Cusco toward our next destination: Rainbow Mountain.  Now this was not even on the tourist radar when we were here in 2011 and now there are day trips from Cusco to this lovely mountain of “seven colours”.  The parking lot for the hike to the mountain sits quite hight at over 4700m/  15400’ and we were not acclimatized for that altitude so we found a camping spot on iOverlander at just over 3700 m/ 12100 ‘ (almost 300m higher than Cusco and spent the night there.  We arrived at 3 and got a few things done and repaired before dark.

It was a quiet and cold night and we were up at 5:45 to make our way the last 27 km to the Rainbow Mountain parking lot.  We understand that the day trips from Cusco arrive between 7 and 8:30 and when we arrived there were already two tourist vans in the lot.  We got dressed, did our ablutions and had brekkie before going to the trail head about 8am.  Now Fran wasn’t sure her knees could handle the hike up to 5000m/16400’ and Doug had planned to walk while she took a horse but the altitude was getting to him and the headache had begun so we both took horses. 

Now the bad part was that there were two steep sections (the parts Fran wanted to avoid!) where you have to get off the horse and walk!  WTH?  And furthermore, the horses can only go about three quarters of the way to the lookout and you walk the rest anyway.  If we’d known….anyway it did save us about an hour of walking time. Upon arriving at the mirador, blue patches appeared in the sky and the views were breathtaking. 

Vinicunca or Rainbow mountain is located about 1.5 hours from Cusco.  Although there are a few people living in small villages around the place, it was only discovered for tourism in 2015. The mountains are partly formed of colorful sediments, which give the site a unique and surreal look. The mountain itself can only be accessed by foot or horse. From the nearest road, there’s a trail leading up, which takes about three hours to walk.

Along the way:

One side was Rainbow Mountain and the Red Valley (above) and the other side was snowcapped peaks and glaciers (below). 

The sky never fully cleared (especially on the snowy side) but when the sun did shine, it was truly beautiful.

We decided to walk all the way back to the parking lot; took us less than two hours and we managed to get on the road by 12:30 before the majority of the tour buses began to make their way back to Cusco.  By the time we were at the lot there were about three dozen of them! They tend to begin leaving by two o’clock we understand and as the road up here from the highway is pretty much one lane, it was great to get down without a bunch of buses coming up or down.

Now our plan for heading to Bolivia was to go around the north side of Lake Titicaca but we’d just read on the PanAm Facebook page that very recent travelers had experienced protestors creating road blocks and it was near impossible to get through.  Doug actually had a FB chat with a couple who took five days to get through and it was a little hairy – they actually got through by telling a “story” – they showed the people an empty pill bottle and said they had to get to La Paz to get a prescription for a very special drug filled!

So we reached out to Christine and Mark and they are still just across the border in Copacabana and we arranged to meet there this coming weekend.

We figured we had time to see our next attraction:  Q’weschaka bridge.

This is an Incan rope bridge that is rebuilt each June in a festival across a canyon joining two communities. The bridge spans 118 feet and hangs 60 feet above the Apurimac River gorge. Several family groups spend three days preparing a number of grass-ropes to be formed into cables at the site, others prepare mats for decking, and the reconstruction is a communal effort. It was about a 60km/40m drive down to the site from the main highway where we were amazed and thrilled to be able to cross the bridge.  The was a nice young Peruvian man with a camera and a tripod set up at the end we parked at and we asked him if he’d take some photos and video of us while we crossed:

 

Upon returning to get our camera we offered to pay Gorky but he wouldn’t accept anything but did ask if we’d give him a ride to the town about 30km/20m  back down the road; of course we did. Gorky is a dentist who lives in Cusco and was on vacation enjoying his photography hobby.

We decided to push on to the city of Sicuani when we learned there was an ATM (we needed a few more soles for our remaining day in Peru – and all the small towns we’d gone through over the past day did not have one).  Maps.me took us down some dirt farm roads but eventually we made it back to the PE3S and he final 20km to Sicuani.  Here we found a hotel that takes overlanders and got parked just as it got dark.  The receptionist opened a room for us to use the showers and promised “agua caliente” (hot water) but that did not happen – it was just a bit warmer than cold; but we did feel clean afterward.

A roadblock we encountered:

Saturday morning, after we got up, Doug went to find the ATM while Fran got brekkie ready and afterwards we took off down the road to make the Bolivian border today. 

We had about 400 km /250 m to travel and the weather was partially cloudy and cool.   Most of the drive was on the PE3S which was in pretty good shape with some rough patches but the speed was reasonable.  We got to the city of Juliaca, just over half way and the roads were a mess and it was market day!  Took us an hour to get through.  Then it was on to Puno (which we’d visited back in 2011) but we managed to get ourselves going into town, not around it so that wasted another fifteen minutes.  We arrived at the border around 2:30 and it was amazing: boom bing bang and we were done in less than twenty minutes both exiting Peru and entering Bolivia.   We were given a 90 day TIP for Tigger but only 30 day visas for us; we were aware this would happen and tried to get 90 days (a very few lucky travelers have received this) but it was not to be  The Immigration official said “it’s easy to do in La Paz”.  

So we were in Peru for nearly six months minus our time in Canada/US.  We drove over nearly 5400km / 3400 miles, enjoyed some beach time, saw spectacular Andean scenery, Incan ruins, lovely meadows, canyons and rivers. We had various parts replaced on Tigger, a kitchen reno done and made a lot of new overlander friends

Peru, you exceeded our expectations (even though we’d been here before!).  

 

Bolivia look out:  The Calders are coming!

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