I, Taylor, have been to Peru before, in 2015, and enjoyed my 2-week visit. It was eye-opening to the different landscapes and lifestyles people live, but after that visit, I didn’t have that big travellers urge to come back. The roads are crazy, the drivers are even crazier and the part of the country we visited, and most of what we would drive through, was a desert. A giant, dusty desert scattered with gritty cities. If there was one word we chose to describe Peru it would be ‘rough’. Although there is a noticeable, widespread poverty, the standard of living is different from home and job type concentration as well. There are many farmers and those who live off their lands by means of necessity and tradition. There are many roadside sellers and tiny restaurants owners. Those who are living a middle-class life by Peruvian standards, which appears to be plenty, resides in little shacks surrounded by dust and dirt, blending into their surroundings. Even though much of this isn’t seen at home, like women carrying huge sacks in their back while herding bulls on the side of the road, I still wouldn’t deem poverty the word for Peru. It’s rough. It’s rough to live here. It is a rough life farming on the side of tall mountains. It’s rough in the mountains having to drive 40km over 3 hours to get gas. It’s rough having to make a living in the desert where nothing grows or lives. It’s rough living around the second driest capital in the world. There is a tough attitude for trying to make it in this crazy country.
Although our experience in Peru might have been tainted slightly by our bull vs Landcruiser incident and dealing with the dysfunctional law we have much appreciation for the people here. On our drives through little backroad towns we witnessed tiny women carry loads on their back, wrapped simply in a blanket, that we wouldn’t imagine to ever try. We saw communities coming together to mix cement by hand, building bricks over the fire on the street by hand as well to make a little home. Although their honking is annoying as f*ck to say the least, it is amazing the amount of patience they have for everything else which they shouldn’t. They drive like crazies yet everything else moves incredibly slow. Don’t you dare think of running a red light or you’ll get hit, because with the countdown beside the red, once it hits zero, or eve before, the cars are off to the race.When we were staying in Lima at the Air BnB for the week while our car was being fixed, our host made many comments about Peru being a 3rd world country. So I genuinely asked her if it was because we had been debating for days if it was second or third, trying to remember the definitions. Well, either way, her statement was it was a newly industrialized country and it was very visible to see that they were coming along. Peru is a really interesting mix of modern yet a flashback in time from infrastructure to cultural prevalence and traditional looks. To quote our Lonely Planet book of fun facts I read to Frederik while he drives, many Peruvians still look and are dressed the same as when the Spanish arrived and conquered. Amazing.
When we got to the border it was the guard’s lunchtime so no one was around besides two tourists who looked a bit stranded. When I got out of the car the one guy starts speaking to me in another language, completely caught off guard I just stared at him trying to guess what the language was because it sounded familiar. He exclaims that he was sorry, he saw the Danish flag on our car and thought I was a Dane. After he and Frederik caught up, excitedly speaking in Danish together, we found out, in fact, the he is a Dane who lives in Canada! What are the odds! After a five minute procedure to get out of Ecuador we crossed the bridge to Peru, leaving the car at the ‘gate’. This crossing, all in all, was the simplest, fastest and quietest crossing we have seen yet. So refreshing to not stand in a line. We were now in Peru and ready to take on these notorious Ande roads.
Much to our surprise the whole way to our first campsite was paved and decently wide. Meaning it was an actual two-lane road. We followed the valley, past numerous rice fields and fruit stands, until we finally found a little pull off down to the water hiding behind tall grass. It was a beautiful night. The water was fresh for swimming, the sun setting perfectly behind the mountains.
We made our way the following day towards the ancient ruins of Kuelap on still surprisingly nice roads. However, it wasn’t until after Kuélap did we hit the true Peruvian mountain roads. There are 2 options of how you can arrive at the ruins. 1. By a gondola which takes 20 minutes and makes your heart flutter a little as you sore above distant valleys below and climbs up mountains 2. You drive an extra hour on slow 1 lane gravel roads. We chose to act like real tourists and get a different experience than driving and it was totally worth it.
The ruins themselves are similar to Macchu Pichu in how they are situated on top of a mountain, however, this site is little known to the tourist world and not yet fully excavated. It was really amazing to see, once you crossed through the thick fortress walls, the life of the ancient civilizations. Hundreds of circular stone houses were squeezed inside those walls like Tetris and the views across the valley and encircling mountains was magnificent. It was a great experience to see parts not excavated and how nature really takes back what once was it’s. We have been lucky to see such a wide variety of different Inca and Maya settlements on our trip thus far.
Crazy Mountain Roads
From here we were making the mad dash to the beach, however, we didn’t anticipate just how long that would take us. 100% underestimating the drive we spent another 2.5 days getting to Trujillo which in reality on a map shouldn’t have taken us 4.5 days from the border, but the Andes mountains have unforgiving roads
We were eased into the idea of a one lane road, sections just missing or rock slides never have been removed through the valley as we climbed up in altitude. We were startled a couple times almost having head-on collisions with crazy fast Peruvian drivers whipping around turns and figuring out just how to manoeuvre so that one of us could go by. It was a learning lesson for the real challenge. 2 days worth of driving on cliff sides, no barriers, just a drop our tries could almost touch going down for hundreds of meters. Frederik drove brilliantly and I sat there white knuckled gripping the handlebar like it was a roller coast ride without the safety bar. The rule of the road is to honk whenever you are rounding a corner so the other stops and no one dies. The majority of the time we saw no one, we were just going deff and wondering why we kept doing it. However, those few times when it saved us reinsured its importance.
We didn’t end up spending more than 2 nights in Trujillo for driving recovery, making a sad attempt at surfing before heading to where we really wanted to be. Hiking in the snow-topped mountains. The road to Crauraz was spectacular. It wondered through canyons and mountainsides totalling around 30 tunnels on the route. We got in a bit late to make it to the foot of the hike we wanted so we slept on a quiet roadside just off a turn.
The destination was Lago Patron and after more uphill, we finally reached the highest lake in the Cordillera Blanc. It was beautiful, crystal blue lined with snowy mountains. We made the mistake of doing the boring, flat lakeside hike first, in order to avoid going up the same time as the other tourist group. The altitude is very high here as well, and after having lost our acclimatization Frederik wasn’t feeling super hot, so I figured I’d hike up for a couple hours on the mirador route. Well I reached the mirror 30min earlier than they said I would, and it was stunning, but I figured why not go farther. It was a scramble the whole hike which means that you aren’t hiking but you aren’t climbing, you are just scrambling your way over boulders however best you can. The higher I got the better the views. I decided to stop and enjoy the view for longer than go further. It was peaceful, utterly quite until right behind me a huge crash and boulders had fallen. A little reality check of how much I enjoyed my life sent me hopping back down to the car as swiftly and fast as I could, constantly thinking about the movie 120 hours as I climbed over stacked boulders carefully.
After dinner and grabbing supplies we headed for our next campsite down the road. The sun was just beginning to set however the site wasn’t far at all and best of all this road was all residential and had street lights, so another 20 minutes wouldn’t hurt right? WRONG! Out of nowhere, with no time to stop a black bull comes charging into the side of our car. Angry locals start a mini-mob and we were some pretty overwhelmed, distressed, now homeless Gringos. The following days we dealt with the police and the farmers and if you’re interested in hearing the whole crazy story check out our previous blog post!
Unlucky Turns into lucky
As for now, we have good news on the car. The hostel owners, where the accident happened, found us in town the following day. Feeling sorry for us still they were determined to get our car drivable so we could go to a mechanic. Him, his wife and their two mechanic friends went to work. They pushed the radiator and the fan back into place then ended it off by fixing our frame a little so the battery wouldn’t be crushed. Things got pretty creative. On the end of his Toyota truck he hooked a chain, then hooked that same chain to our front, he took off driving. It was a terrible noise and painful to watch Frederik’s face as parts and glass just fell off the front, but it worked, and it got us to Lima to start the search for a mechanic.
We really appreciated everyone’s help and suggestions for who to call or where to go however what happened it the end, we couldn’t have gotten luckier from an unlucky situation. The most well-renounced mechanics on Overland Sphere quoted us $2000. So we obviously left. After that, it was hopping from one recommendation until another until Frederik finally came upon a couple of genuinely nice guys who just wanted to help. I had hurt my back during the accident so I was at the chiropractor unaware of what was going on as we don’t have phone plans. We got the cutest Air BnB for the week, thinking the repairs might take 2 weeks, so there I was till 8 pm worried and waiting. He rolls up grinning ear to ear exclaiming come out here you have to check this out! He had made friends with the mechanics (no surprise he can make friends with anyone) and they banned out most of the bad dents for …..free. All they wanted when Frederik came back the following day to instal the lights was Inca Cola! Incredible. So after 2 days and a lot of money saved we have 5 more days to figure out what to do in Lima.
Lima: The Capitol
We are both very active people, always on the move so sitting still for this long was a challenge in its self. We made the most of the apartment by cooking great meals every night that we couldn’t necessarily do on the road and baking cheesecake!
We did a lot of recognisance we had been missing for the last while and tried to fill our time with anything else we could think of. We toured the city a little bit, however overall we didn’t have a great interest in seeing it all rather than just living in a home for a bit while we could. One day we did make the drive through crazy Lima traffic to an automobile museum. The museum is actually a personal collection which has been opened to the public in recent years by Mr.Nicoloni. It is amazing and if you are in Lima we think it is totally worth the journey out there if you like cars. He has one of a kind cars to the only version of the car found in South America. The oldest one dates back to 1904! It was a special exhibit too as the guide takes you into their workshop where only 10 men restore these cars, sometimes creating everything from scratch and customizing the chrome exterior. It is amazing the work of art these men can do.
As Saturday closed in and it was our check out time we were getting cabin fever and ready to be on the road again, ready to put the pedal to the medal and make miles.
Our first stop was a little campground in the sand dunes of Ica. I had been here with my brother years before and was excited to take Frederik sand boarding and watch the sunset on the dunes over the desert oasis of Hiacachina. Well we were a dune too far away to get the aerial view it is known for but we succeeded in becoming covered with sand as neither of us could sand board.
The Altiplano/Colca Canyon
Frederik this past summer had visited the Grand Canyon, so when we did some research on Peru and discovered that it was home to the largest canyon in the world we had to go and see the grandest of them all.
After a great morning, waking up slowly, relaxing and watching the clouds dissipate and reveal the canyon before the other tour buses came we headed back to get to Puno.
We were getting low on gas, as we had just used our first spare tank and couldn’t fill up in the tiny valley town because of our lack of cash, so Google maps sent us on a shortcut to the next nearest gas station. As we were driving down this beautiful highway that never seems to end, going right through a valley in the middle of nowhere, all the sudden we were told to turn. But turn onto where? It was a dirt road.
And Frederik was thrilled as he had been looking for pull-offs for the last hour and we took off towards the hills. We have essentially taken the PanAmerican highway for the last 3 days, and the road to the canyon was phenomenal so he had a hankering for off-roading, it’d been so long. Well, we went down the dirt road, then off the dirt road onto the vast openness of shrubs and lamas for a quick spin. The road was in fact in amazing condition and all was going smoothly until we hit a lake blocking our path. Now with gas running low, we didn’t really have the possibility of turning back after we’d come so far, but we were alone and not ready to risk getting stuck in this lake of who knows how deep. So we set off to make our own path around it. We passed by little stone homes and walls that looked like they had been forgotten about for centuries, following a tiny motorcycle path and keeping a look out for when the stream seemed crossable. Eventually, the path disappeared and we made a go for it.
So now we are on the other side of the stream, far far away from the dirt road, and there are Stone walls and fences miles long blocking us from off-roading back to the dirt road. There is nothing you can do but go forward and hope the fence ends. Well, it did, and we were let out into a huge alpaca ranch with a women staring at is in the distance. Frederik went out to check the surroundings, see where it was deemable to drive as it appeared to be a marsh and talked to the little farm lady. She was about half of his size and is his broken Spanish he explained that we were lost and looking for the road. Of course, we were lost in her eyes because there was no road close by! Thankfully she just laughed at us crazy Gringos and pointed us in the right direction. So we ended up finding it, after an hour of detour, only to encounter more problems. What the bull didn’t do the insanely bumpy ride did. As we were on the road out, to the gas station, Frederik noticed the battery wasn’t working. The cars battery tray and arm had broken. While he was out there like a champ making some on the spot fixes a local stopped to make sure we were alright and thankfully informed us again that we were going down another flooded road. However now worries the right turn was right behind us.
So we are off to the races ready for gas, and the guy says no, they don’t take visa. Well, we had used both of our containers and had under 20% left to make it 77km….. We pull up to the second pump station and give the guy our remaining 20 soles explaining how desperate we are but that’s the only cash we have. On no worries, he comes back with a credit machine…….thanks first guy. So this time we are ready and on our way to Puno getting into crunch time for sunset. Not 20 minutes down the road, after climbing a slight hill it starts to snow, so much so we cannot see where we are so we pull off for a quick stop at a lagoon filled with pink flamingos. Uhoh The lights aren’t working, and the horn. So here we are, only 4km down the road further sleeping on the side of the highway as Frederik works his magic and/or we wait to drive in the daylight without lights till we reach the big city of Puno.
Lake Titicaca/ Puno
It was a freezing night sleeping above 4000m. We woke with headaches as we came up from sea level at a pretty fast pace. Most of the day was spent in the city buying auto part after auto, part, having a local lunch for the equivalent of a dollar, and finally getting to the hotel parking lot to relax. It was on the outskirts and this particular small hotel had built outdoor showers and bathrooms for overlanders like us who parked in their big stone lot. It is the perfect spot when it is sunny but the whole second day, as we were too lazy to leave, we spent huddled up under our awning, thank goodness we finally installed that. All in all, it was a nice rest up for what would be a crazy day at the border
Just and FYI and PSA for anyone interested in doing a trip like this in a different style!
While in Trujillo we spent the first night ‘wild camping’. It was more like parking lot camping but it was a beautiful location right off the beach. As we were driving around looking for a place we saw about 25 motor homes lines up along the shore in this parking lot. We wondered if it was a dealership or if this was the biggest overlander gathering that we had ever seen! Well as we toured around the parking lot we noticed everyone license plates were from Germany, France or Switzerland. In the morning when we woke I got talking to a group outside and found out there were on a tour, this was not just a coincidence! This company, based out of Germany, organizes tours from Argentina to Alaska. You have to provide your own RV and they do all the rest. They coordinate your shipping (which is a pain in the ass), they have a GPS map for you with coordinates of interesting stops along the way and markers for where you will all meet back up at night and sleep together. You are free to follow the leader, or you can do what you’d like during the day. They handle all border crossings as well. It is in the same timeline as we are traveling however in luxury with the safety of numbers and knowledge aspect! Check it out for those who are interested in this idea! There are tons of tours similar in the Americas and all around the world.
#2 As we were drinking our morning coffee and tea this giant bus roles up. At first we thought it was an overlander car until we saw the bus seats still intact. Un able to know what to make of it we asked the drivers what it all was about. Well they to were an overlander tour company with a different twist! Here, if you don’t want to go through the trouble of buying and driving you own car, and want to travel with others you can hop on in this bus. It will take you from bottom to top as well however you can get on or off at any point you like! This time they had a group of 15, and 2 drivers, who camped all around the Americas, again on the same time line as us. They started their company doing these types of overlanding tours in Africa and now are around the world. Check it out if you like!