March 28th, 2018
That night in Huanuco, after that loooooong @ss slow drive, we decided we wanted burgers! There were no restaurants around the square where we were parked that looked like they might satisfy us so Fran saw on maps.me that this city had a mall with the grocery store we like in it, Plaza Vea, so we caught a moto taxi with two things on our minds: burgers and groceries before moving on.
The mall had the usual Peruvian food court fare: KFC, Pizza Hut, ice cream places and a burger joint called Bémbos that looked like it could do the trick.
We ordered bacon cheeseburgers and, boy, they were good! They were actually quite large and Fran couldn’t finish hers; take that American fast good joints! We stocked up after at the supermarket and caught a moto taxi back to Tigger. The night was not that quiet and neither of us slept well again. While it had been quite damp and cold in Catac the night before, tonight we were much lower in elevation and so we had to leave the windows up for air; hence the increased noise factor. Oh well, such is the life of overlanders at times; besides it was free!
We used our shower and got clean and shiny before hitting the road again the next morning after stopping for gas. We asked the attendant about the condition of the PE3N south and when he advised it would get bad, Doug continued the driving.
As continued southward, we again began to climb; from 1900m/6200′ to 4400m/14400′. Once at the “top” it became very flat and the road continued to be quite good; we kept waiting for the bad section….. Up here there were lots of lakes and swamps and we saw a small herd of vicunas cross the road in front of us.
British overlanders, Julie & Marcus, whom we’d met back in Colombia, told us about a “sweet park” called Yauyos-Cochas” that they quite enjoyed the drive through. They went north to south through the park so we planned to take the route in reverse.
Now we knew this week was Semana Santa (Holy Week) and in the previous three years we’ve tried to get ourselves somewhere out of the bustle of this holiday week in Latin America but for some reason, neither of us took it very seriously this year – MISTAKE! (more on that below).
The PE3N turns into the PE3S as you get to a point that is due east of Lima (in Peru, the world revolves around Lima like it does around Toronto in Canada) and the road continued to be quite good. We got to the little village of Pachacayo, a little west off the highway and began the drive into the park. It was a beautiful day with a few clouds but no rain seemed to be in sight. The road quickly turns from pavement to dirt with lots of potholes and at the first turn off we smell gasoline. Doug goes out to check and sees we’d forgotten to put the inserts in the jerry cans when we filled up so they were leaking a little.
However, the bad news was Doug noticed the cover on the hot water heater was missing!
Since we’d only come about 7km along the dirt road, we thought we should drive back as it made sense that if it fell off since we’d filled up just up the highway about 20kms ago, it would have fallen off on this section of bad road. Well unfortunately we didn’t find it but it will still work. We’ll see about buying a new one when we go home in May; all part of the journey: sh*t happens and in the scheme of things, it was not that big a deal. (Thanks Christine & Matt J for accepting delivery of this for us.)
So that road at first was dirt with some reasonable sections and we again begin to climb back up to 4600m. At first we were following a small river which was quite pretty and then we veered away. The scenery was nice and the drive was pleasant enough with virtually no traffic but we were beginning to wonder what all the fuss about this route was. We saw a few shepherds with their herds (who must have thought we were crazy going out, back and then out again in that first section of the reserve!) but other than that, just a couple of trucks as we began the descent towards the tiny town of Vilca.
Here we began to see what the “fuss” was about. We reached the Rio Cañete and the views were improving greatly. There was the river, ponds, rapids and waterfalls! – this made the drive all worthwhile (unfortunately the video camera battery had died by this point today).
Our plan for the night was to wild camp in the southern part of the reserve and we thought we’d get there midafternoon: wrong! As we began stopping along the road at lookouts we began to meet more and more cars – of course, it’s Holy Thursday and people were coming up here for the long weekend. We began to be concerned about whether the spot we’d picked out would be free as we began passing cars parked on the side of the road and lots and lots of tents set up on the grassy spots alongside the river as we descended. Uh oh!
As we approached the village of Huancaya, we came to a standstill. Someone was directing the traffic on this slightly more than one lane road and we were all told to wait until the opposite traffic came through. We waited a good fifteen minutes and about five cars squeezed past us. Now it was our turn to make our way past the line of parked cars, vans and combis.
Well, it started out fine, then a larger combi/bus vehicle parked on the left was a bit too wide. We sort of got stuck and the only way past was to scrape by it. The driver was nowhere to be found and we had lots of “helpers” directing us. The main problem here was not only that the road was narrow, but there was a drainage ditch on the right that people kept telling us to drive up onto the curb of but they didn’t appreciate that the curb was half the size of our tires wide and that if we went a bit too far right, into the ditch we’d go and as the ditch was about the same size width as our tire, we might not get out without causing a lot of damage.
So we inched by the bus, broke a side running light, our cable tv hookup and opened up the back right corner of the rig – again – but we’re sure he had more damage as the rack that holds our back storage boxes on, had to have scraped the side of the bus. It was crazy that he felt he could park there and have another bus or something else as wide as us get by! This whole traffic jam wasted almost an hour and we still had to get through the village ahead!
There was a van in front of us and we both kept stopping and backing up to let other traffic by and/or squeeze to one side and hope they fit – then we hit the actual town The town’s streets were paved but narrow with a small drainage ditch up the middle and there was no way two vehicles could pass each other. So the van and us backed back down to the dirt, got as far right as possible and a bunch of cars came down and then we went through only to reach a gate on the other side with more traffic coming our way. The people at the gate managed to wiggle a car through past us and then the rest backed up so we could get through. This happened a few more times before we got to our “spot”. It’s now almost dark and we’ve had enough; we prayed we wouldn’t have to go further down the road to find something else.
The overlanding gods were on our side and no one had pitched a tent on the shore of this little lake and we drove down onto the grass, found a level spot, had a beer and then dinner. Strangely enough we heard more and more cars heading up the road for most of the night but other than that, it was very quiet and the only company we had were a few cows the next morning. That days driving: 367km/228m! not including the backtracking we did to look for the hot water heater cover.
We wanted to leave pretty early as wanted to make it to the south coast today and didn’t want to encounter too much more traffic on this one lane road. We were about 15km from the highway PE24 which looked like a major route to the coast.
Well silly us, assuming such a thing! It was still a single lane road but at least it was paved. This went on for just over 100km/60 miles. When we hit the town of Zuñiga, the road became two lanes with shoulder and not nearly as windy; woo hoo!
We continued another 160km/100m to Paracas on the coast. Well we actually hit the coast well before Paracas and remembered how desolate this coast is:
We’d driven this coast back in 2011 by bus from Lima to Nazca and it’s so barren and dry; even worse than the north coast where we’d been in February near the Ecuadorian border. Where we hit the coast was about two hours south of Lima (in good traffic which we understand is rare in the capital city) or 150km/95miles. This will be as close as we get to Lima as it’s not on the itinerary – been there don’t want to go there with Tigger.
We drove to a hotel on iOverlander that takes rigs but being Easter weekend we were out of luck. We checked out another place only to be told the same. So we made a decision to push on to Huacachina, an oasis near the city of Ica which we’d wished we’d visited seven years ago. As we turned off the highway at 4pm to make the last 2km drive, we hit another major traffic again. We inched along into the village only to be turned away at two places again! It’s now five o’clock and we’d had enough so we found a gas station just outside of Ica that has Wi-Fi during the day and we went there to wait out the weekend; maybe on Monday we could get into Huacachina…..Today’s mileage: 347 km/215m.
For a truck stop/gas station we had a pretty good night and despite 32C/90F temps during the day yesterday, it cooled up quite nicely overnight – down to about 18C/65 F. As we’d read, the Wi-Fi did not work once the restaurant closed for the night around 7 but we were hopeful for the next couple of days as we’ve been disconnected since last Sunday other than phone data which gets eaten up too fast when using laptops. There were bathrooms and the attendant gave us a key to use the cold showers when we wanted.
Doug then discovered that one of the new shocks that we had installed in Cajamarca had broken (the welding did not hold) and one of the sway bars was once again down – the price you pay for driving these back roads.
Saturday, we awoke to blue skies and temps that kept rising again as the day went on. After breakfast Doug began chatting with a man at the truck stop and he said he could help us with the shock and sway bar problem. He was one of the truck drivers and he was stuck here till Monday awaiting his load. He was actually working on his truck and Doug offered him our ladder to assist him. Hugo took a look under the truck and then he and Doug went into Ica to get what was needed to fix the problems and they ended up buying new shocks and they actually fit. Hugo was also able to fix the broken sway bar. He installed one shock then he said he had to go somewhere for a couple of hours so Doug asked him if he knew a carwash that would be open today so off we went and did that – we got there following Hugo’s cab – amazing race style. When Hugo returned midafternoon, he said he had to take his truck somewhere (we think to check out the load he’s going to get) and that he’d be back tonight to work on the other shock.
The Semana Santa celebrations end tomorrow so we expect most people to leave by tomorrow night (it seems like all of Lima is in here in this town…..) and we hope to move to our planned camping site/hostel on Monday for a couple of days at least – we’ll see how nice it ends up being.
Hugo, our friendly truck driver/mechanic, arrived back here at the gas station around 6:30 am Sunday morning and as Doug prepared to go for a run, he reached out and quickly installed the second shock before he hit the road; so nice to meet such friendly, helpful people on the road (naturally we paid him for his time).
So Monday morning, before heading to the “oasis” of Huacachina, we ran a few errands including getting the hole in the tailpipe repaired and the hanger for it as well (lost count of how many times we’ve had that thing repaired!), had the step railing on the driver’s side tightened up and there was a screw or two missing on the cowling and steel plate under the front of the truck missing, and the same little roadside muffler repair shop we stopped at was able to help us with all three. Fran did a bit of shopping and then we went to EcoCamping Huacachina and they not only had room for us but the town is now super quiet and it is a lovely spot to spend several days.
A little background: Huacachina has a permanent population of around 100 although it hosts many tens of thousands of tourists each year. It is built around a small natural lake in the desert. Called the “oasis of America,” it serves as a resort for local families from the nearby city of Ica and increasingly as an attraction for tourists drawn by the sports of sandboarding on sand dunes and dune buggy rides that stretch several hundred feet high.
Legend holds that the lagoon was created when a beautiful native princess removed her clothes to bathe, but looking into a mirror, she saw a male hunter approaching her from behind. Startled at the intrusion, she fled the area leaving behind her mirror which turned into a lake. Other versions hold that she fled, leaving the pool of water she had been bathing in to become the lagoon. The folds of her mantle, streaming behind her as she ran, became the surrounding sand dunes. And the woman herself is rumored to still live in the oasis as a mermaid.
Water stopped seeping into the lake in the 1980s and this has now started to become a threat to the lagoon. Recently, private landowners near the oasis have installed wells, which has reduced the level of water in the oasis. To compensate for this water loss, and preserve the oasis, a group of ten businessmen devised a plan to pump water from a nearby farm into the lagoon. The process of artificially pumping water into the oasis began on April 2, 2015 and since then more than 73,000 cubic meters of water has been pumped into the lagoon raising the height of the water by as much as 3 meters.
Here we are parked on concrete, there are super clean bathrooms with HOT water, decent internet, power and a swimming pool with a swim up bar; won’t be hard to spend time here at all. We are the only overlanders but there are a few people staying here in the “luxury tent” set ups they have here, mostly backpackers. The cost for camping is 50 soles a night for the two of us which is about $17.
After setting up, we went for a little walk around the little lake (it’s surrounded by dunes on three sides (north, west and south) and the village goes along the north, east and south sides. There are lots of places to rent sand boards, do excursions, gift shops and of course, restaurants. As it was lunch time we found a little spot with a view of the lake and splurged on lunch. We’ve been fortunate to have had four nights of free camping lately and three of less than $2 a night so we’re going to splurge in this town.
We spent the afternoon by the pool and then Fran cooked dinner in the hostel kitchen to avoid heating up Tigger any more. As usual about two hours after the sun went down it was quite a comfortable temperature and we had a quiet night. The pool closes at 9pm here and quiet time starts at 10pm; weekends have a rep here of being noisy so depending what Friday night is like, we may or may not stay much longer but for now we’re enjoying not driving! From Caraz on the 25th of March, we drove nearly 1100km/700 miles to Ica last Friday, and we only have 800km/500miles to Cuzco to go with only a couple of planned stops, so we have time to slow down. We have booked an apartment for the two weeks before we fly home so we don’t have to be in Cuzco until April 28th but plan to get there a couple of days earlier so we can confirm where we’ll park Tigger when we fly home mid-May.
Tuesday after our “usual hanging out routine”, while we were at the pool, a young Swiss couple arrived in a Peruvian plated VW van (Julian & Josephina) and then an older Swiss couple arrived in a Land Rover rig – Anna and Matias are headed north – they got to Uruguay only six months ago so moving much quicker than us. We invited the latter to go out for dinner with us but they declined. We checked out the Moskito Bar & Restaurant across the road from where we were camped (which is affiliated with EcoCamping) and enjoyed the sunset and a nice meal and drinks.
Wednesday morning we got up early to climb the dunes before it got too hot. We were not the only ones but it was not nearly as busy up there as it was at sunset last night. We enjoyed nachos and Corona poolside this afternoon while chatting with Anna & Matias.
Thursday morning we decided to hang here a couple of more nights; that will take us into the weekend and we can see how busy/loud the oasis gets then. Anna & Mattias left this morning for Paracas.
Friday we booked a private dune buggy tour; private because two hours out with a large group felt like too much time (waiting for all the people to finish boarding and get back in the buggy) and not sure we were going to enjoy the boarding or not.
Doug arranged for a five o’clock start time so we could do the tour and boarding and then stay in the dunes near town to watch the sunset.
Vladimir took us out in a six person buggy and off we raced into the dunes after paying a small entry fee into the reserve (just over a dollar each).
We sped around going up and down the dunes for a bit then he stopped at a short dune, pulled out two sand boards and we each took a turn. You lie on the board on your stomach, on the foot straps side, hang on to the front straps and away you go, hoping not to eat too much sand or fall off!
We each took two turns and then moved onto a medium sized dune where we each took another turn. Then it was another ride to a large dune which only Doug went down.
After another speed race thru the dunes, we returned to a viewpoint over the oasis where we were going to be able to walk to a spot where a large group of people was collecting to watch the sun set. As being with a bunch of others did not appeal to us, we asked Vladimir to take us to the right instead, part way up the dune that is behind our campsite and after paying him, he took off and we sat for about a half hour alone watching the sun go down. We then walked back to Tigger, showered (because sand got everywhere!) and had dinner.
Saturday we had laundry done and just hung around the pool for one last day……….