April 8, 2018
Sunday we left Huacachina, after breakfast and stopped for groceries in Ica before heading southeast towards Nazca. First stop was near the village of Palpa where the geoglyphs of the Paracas peoples are found. Somehow these are not as famous as the Nazca lines but are equally interesting. They actually predate the Nazca lines but more or less 1000 years and instead of mostly lines on flat surfaces, they are mostly on gentle slopes and consist of mostly anamorphic and zoomorphic figures. In many instances, the Nazca lines cross the Paracas figures. The watchtower spot off the PanAm gives you a view of eight different figures, called the “Royal Family”. There is a small visitors centre with some information manned by a woman, she charges you two soles to climb the tower (which is really not necessary as you can see them from the ground). We were glad we stopped as we’d not heard of them until we saw a notation on iOverlander.
A little further down the road is the Nazca lines tower which we’d been to back in 2011 (at which time we also did the flight that goes over the sites) but decided to stop anyway to take some photos. This tower charges three soles and here you see three large geoglyphs of a lizard, a frog and a tree. (more pics of both these sites in the galleries)
As we’d already done the sites of Nazca seven years ago we pushed on a little past to Cerro Blanco. We did not have much info on it but Doug was able to find a road that went to the trailhead. We found the road, got about 1km down the 7km ish /4m road and had to “find the track” which ended up being down a creek bed!
As we went about 500m further down the road, Doug felt the ground was too soft and sandy to go much further. We got out and tried to scout a way around that section and decided it wasn’t worth the risk. We moved about 100m back towards the highway and camped for the night. We had a few sprinkles of rain in the late afternoon/early evening but it didn’t amount to much.
Monday morning Doug couldn’t pass up the opportunity to climb this pile of sand; the biggest dune in the world. Maps.me showed a western approach and a northern approach. He chose the western approach and we parked about a mile from the start of the dune. He left early the next morning (4am), hoping to avoid the heat. Even with a flashlight he found it difficult to stay on the route in maps.me, as there is little sign of a trail because the sand quickly returns to its natural angle of repose. It turned out to be much harder than anticipated as it involved pumping sand (by foot) for 1200 vertical meters (almost 4000′)! What a workout, but what a view, and so much fun watching sand move. After 5 1/2 hours and summiting many dunes he made it to the top of Cerro Blanco, elevation 2080m (6825′). He had lots of fun going down the sand and made it back in 1 1/2 hours.
Fran stayed behind at the rig enjoying a morning to herself and hoped to catch a photograph of the dune in full sun and although it got close, it never quite happened. Around 9:30 she spotted someone coming down off the dune but it didn’t look like Doug. About a half hour later a young Frenchman walked by. He’d had a taxi drop him off at the other end of the trail and was being picked up at this end. He’d not see Doug at all…. He advised that this western approach is much harder.
So we left the wild camping spot at Cerro Blanco and began the climb back into the mountains (which would be up and down, up and down until we reach Cuzco). After about an hour, the clouds really came in and then the fog set in. It began to get difficult to see very far in front of us and we were also gaining in elevation. After over ten days at sea level, we needed to reacclimatize, again.
When we reached 2500m/8200’ there was a wild camp on iOverlander and we called it a day – it was only about 1pm. It was not nice enough to walk around outside as it had begun to rain, so we hung around inside Tigger, playing cards, reading and watching videos. It was colder than we were used to being but not freezing.
We hoped to have a quiet night as normally, traffic stops around ten when we’ve done gas stations/rest stops but here, the trucks went most of the night – even with ear plugs in, it was not restful enough for Fran; Doug slept like a log after his morning adventure.
As we were both awake early and wanted to get some miles done so we wouldn’t have to sleep at 4000m,/13000’ we shut down “camp” and once again began driving eastward on the PE-30A. This is a very nice road – all paved, sometimes with shoulders and few potholes.
The drive went up to 4000m, back down to 3300m/10800’ then up to 4500m/14700’ and back down again, passing though pampa (high plains), canyons, lakes and the like. We saw lots of wildlife today: llamas, vicunas and flamingoes! At times we experienced headaches from the altitude and were glad to get lower down.
We actually made about 300km today stopping around 1pm (all paved highway makes a huge difference!) at a hotel about 20km past the town of Chalhuanca – we’re about halfway to Cuzco now from Nazca. This place offers parking and bathrooms (no showers) and Wi-Fi in the reception area of the hotel for about $8 a night. There are turkeys, geese and peacocks running around the grassy parking lot. The elevation is about 2800m/9100’ here so really bearable and no more headaches (just a little bit of breathlessness if we move too fast!).
We awoke to another “blue sky” day and continued making our way northeast towards Cuzco with more beautiful mountain and canyon scenery.
We made it to the little town of Curahuasi and parked at a hostel about a mile out of town down a narrow, gravel road. Here we met up with the young Swiss couple from Huacachina and John “the German” whom we’d met back in Ecuador on the road travelling out of Baños.
This is a little hostel with a small NGO school attached to it and they offer bathrooms, hot showers and internet. There is a small common area out back with a fire pit and a playground for children – all for $5pp per night. We think we’ll stay here a couple of days. Now that we’re approaching Cusco, we’ve reached out to the fellow we met in Zorritos, Mark, (he’s a Brit that lives in Cusco) and he has a contact for a carpenter whom we hope can help us replace the back and side walls in Tigger now that we’ve sorted out the leaking issue. We may consider getting new table tops and maybe even a new countertop while we’re in Cusco. Fran may look into getting some annual physical stuff done while we’re there too.
Today Doug was tightening the sway bar which has loosened yet again, and realized he needed new bolts etc. While doing this he managed to hurt his hand but didn’t think much about it until midafternoon, when it swelled up and began to turn blue. We figured he didn’t break it but sprained his wrist and he began icing it and taking ibuprofen, and later in the afternoon we got out the sling we happen to have (from the last time he hurt his arm).
That afternoon, a cyclist joined us after the Swiss couple left. Donna is from Toronto and began cycling in Bogotá enroute to Sanitago, Chile. Good on her. Fran and her walked into town to get some produce at the market.
at the market:
Later we had a nice happy hour with her and John after which we joined John walking into town for pizza for dinner. It rained for about two minutes before happy hour and then a lovely rainbow appeared.
Doug’s wrist was quite sore and we hoped a good night’s sleep would help.
We awoke Friday to some clouds and hung around for the day. In the afternoon Doug joined the teachers in the school and made the kids all balloon animals. He was in a bit of pain but it was much better At happy hour that night we were sitting with John and a young French couple arrived on their bikes. They are travelling north and after they got set up, they joined us for a beer.
Sidebar: I think we may have mentioned how sometimes the showers in Latin America do offer hot water and sometimes it is dubbed a “suicide shower” – here’s a pic – you don’t want to be touching this while running the shower!
Saturday morning we packed up early and headed out on the road. Today we wanted to head about 90km/55m to the PE3SF highway on which road you can drive the Curvas de Huanchaca – a series of 24 switchbacks in less than ten kilometres (6 miles) which was considered one of the dangerous roads of Peru. We saw “was” because when we read about it, they said the road was a dirt one way road; well we began the 70km/45m road and it was paved and we kept expecting the pavement to end. We came upon a family of three on a motor bike with a flat tire so we asked if they needed help; Mom and child jumped in the back of Tigger and Dad pushed the motorbike about 500m to a house and then joined his wife and child in the back; we dropped them off in the next town. And still the road was paved; there was the odd pothole but it was all in all a good road. We reached the 60km mark and it was still paved and we saw a spot where there was a view of the Curves – all paved! (Fran added the viewpoint to maps.me) So the road is no longer dangerous but it’s quite fun to drive even though it is still more a less a one lane road.
Fran stayed on the top part of the road and video taped Doug driving down; he returned to get here and she then video taped from inside.
We got to the bottom, to the Apurimac River and Doug wanted to check the brake fluid as he’d noticed a slow leak the day before; it was fine but when he opened the hood, the cool air intake valve had jumped out of place! He managed to get it back in place and the brake fluid was fine.
We had lunch and then drove back up. We are continuing to head to Cusco which is at 3300+m so we want to acclimatize some more so rather than completing the drive today, which is doable, we found a nice large pull out (a former highway fill dump site that was all smoothed out) and spent the rest of the afternoon there as well as sleeping overnight – it was at 3000m. It was a beautiful day and evening and we slept well.
Sunday was a good day to drive to Cusco we thought since it was not a work day. Enroute we picked up a few locals headed in our direction and at one time there were five people in the back! They usually ask us what they owe us for the ride, which is very kind, but we never take their money. One of the men was going to Cusco so it was his lucky day.
Just as we reached the outlying areas of Cusco, we saw Donna cycling on the highway, so we pulled over to say hi. Turns out she was headed to the same camp as us, so we offered her a ride. She turned us down but asked if we’d take her bags. We told her of course and then told her we were stopping first for groceries and could we pick her up anything. She was quite excited about riding without her gear!
We drove into the city (we’ve been here before) and hit the mall where we not only got groceries but got lunch at the food court. Upon arriving at the campground, Quinta Lala, John’s truck was there as was Donna’s bike, but they apparently had gone for a walk. We met Megan and Nick from San Francisco, a Brazilian woman named Gisela and in the top corner of the property, were Julian and Josefina whom we’d met in Curahuasi and Ica. This is one of the few places in Cusco for rigs, so it’s one of those overlander spots where everyone goes. This is also where we plan to store Tigger when we fly back next month.
It’s a grassy field with access to two bathrooms, one with a shower, power, water and internet (which does not always work….). We’re told it’s a twenty minute walk downhill into the city and a long slog back; we’ll see!
Monday morning after his run and breakie, Doug headed to a mechanic to have a few things looked at. Fran stayed behind with our computers and tried to get a few things done on the not consistent internet. Around ten Fran and Donna went for a walk into two so Donna could purchase her train and entrance tickets for Machu Picchu and they enjoyed a nice stroll and a coffee/snack at the Plaza de Armas. It was a beautiful day again.
Turns out Tigger didn’t have a brake fluid leak but a differential leak so the mechanic has ordered the part and Doug needs to go back tomorrow; meanwhile we are still trying to find a carpenter to work on replacing our back wall and repairing the floor of the upper kitchen cupboards.
While awaiting Doug to return, a young couple from Quebec walked into the campground looking to speak to the lady in charge about suspending their TIP and storing their motorcycle. As she wasn’t around, JF and Anna, chatted with us for a while until she arrived and then later joined us (including Donna) inside Tigger for happy hour before walking back to their hostel. John arrived after they left and we all stayed warm indoors.
Both Tuesday and Wednesday, Doug spent the morning at the mechanic’s and a carpenter’s. A couple of the Czech Republic arrived, as well as a French couple and a young American couple from San Francisco. The latter, Casey and Kim, joined us for happy hour with Donna on Wednesday evening. Donna stayed for dinner and we shared our “leftover” veggies and right before dinner John showed up a little for happy hour and we didn’t have enough food to share but we shared our company!
Thursday, Donna began her cycle to Puno and we moved over to our “temporary home” in a shared apartment on the other side of El Centro in Cusco and we’ll be here until May 12th.