Tag Archives: driving in Peru

59. Cusco to Arequipa

59. Cusco to Arequipa

Departure morning I’m up early and walk to the cochera, where no one’s in sight to open the place. I bang on the metal gate often and loudly, to no effect. When someone finally does return and open the place, one tire on the car is dangerously low. Fortunately there’s a gas station nearby.

Packing the car, I realize that the front seat will be empty. It is empty, save for the little cylindrical black-and-white pillow Ragna rested her knee on to limit the pain from long drives. The empty seat is a melancholy blessing: it reminds me of what has ended, but I can actually keep stuff on it during the drive. I put the pillow in the back seat.  Immediately that doesn’t feel right, and I return it to its rightful place. But I don’t think I’ll start talking to it, like Tom Hanks to the soccer ball.

I say my good-byes at the Q’orichaska, negotiate the outskirts of Cusco, and am gone.

Quickly I’m in very nice countryside, on a very nice morning; but I’ve a long way to drive and a lot to think about, and don’t feel motivated to stop and shoot pictures.

sm 08 5706 lake & hillsThen I do stop, to photograph a lake that probably isn’t worth it; but I’ve broken the ice, and as I pass through smaller and smaller towns, among people living their daily lives on a very nice morning, I stop here and there, to shoot a photograph or just watch and listen a little. Suddenly it seems a splendid morning.

sm 08 5715 man reading in front of houseAt the edge of town a man is studiously reading a book, perhaps a bible. He sits in the few feet between the front wall of his house and the road. Something about his intense concentration appeals to me so much that I find a place to make a U-turn and go back. I shoot from the car. He looks up. Expressionlessly, he studies me for a sm 08 5714 man readingmoment, then goes back to his reading. He doesn’t appear proud, curious, annoyed, or embarrassed. He just doesn’t give a shit. I shoot another image or two, then pass him, make another U-turn, and continue on my way.

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It’s morning in the mountains. Sometimes high hills block the bright sun. Women are taking flocks of sheep or small groups of cows to pasture. The road, sm 08 5747with periodic large trucks and very few cars, snakes through as if it existed in some other dimension, some parallel universe.  The trucks and occasional cars whizzing through have as little to do with the surrounding scene as football on television matters to a fish.

sm 08 5761I pull off the road and sit for awhile on the rail of a bridge.  It’s peaceful.  I write in my notebook and sm 08 5770stare across the river.  It’s this kind of country again: modest villages giving way quickly to steep hillsides terraced for agriculture.

sm 08 5764As I sit, a woman and her dog leave the village to head for the pasture with her animals.  I watch.  sm 08 5778She passes just below me with her small group and continues on her way along the river — toward canyons that look pretty unpromising as far as vegetation, but she sm 08 5783knows what she’s doing a good deal better than I do.   I feel very much at peace, and realize I’m enjoying the drive.   Again, driving enables me to stop at will; and again, although the road to Cusco is far better traveled by foreign tourists than the roads to Huancabamba or Cajamarca, small villages along the way might as well be miles from a paved road, because tour buses have no reason to stop in such places.

sm 08 5759Perhaps it all seems particularly precious to me because I will soon be elsewhere, in a modern, post-industrial city filled with time-sheets and lattes.   I will sm 08 5802 bicycle woman with child & lambbe in a city where there are no cows or sheep.  Where children can grow up without ever seeing a cow or a sheep.   Or perhaps it is because I felt a little melancholy and now feel, again, just wonder.  “Buenos dias,” I say to the woman bicycling pass with her precious cargo.  She just smiles.

sm 08 5827Across the road some people are working in a field.  A man with two oxen is plowing.  Others are assisting him, or perhaps dropping seeds.   I cross the road and shoot a bit.  They keep on sm 08 5831doing what they’re doing.    Afterward, as I’m just about to drive off, one of the men approaches me. He rubs his fingers together to indicate money. His expression is hopeful, but not demanding. I cheerfully give him a little money. He thanks me more profusely than seems warranted, and reaches into the car to shake my hand. He has few teeth but a warm smile. I tell him I thank him. I drive off, feeling good but with a couple of regrets: I should have given him more; and, selfishly, I should have stepped down into the field for a closer and better shot of them working. I had feared intruding more than I already was, but shouldn’t have worried.

sm 08 5863I stop in a village, possibly Checacupe, and buy bananas.  The Plaza de Armas is nearly deserted.   People are industriously cleaning the narrow streets leading away from it.

sm 08 5904In the next village, or maybe just in the southern end of the same village, two men are putting the grasses on the roof of an adobe building. They sm 08 5875watch me shoot from above, standing on a pile of logs, and invite me down closer. I drive into the village and back up to where they’re working, to shoot closer.  No reason.  Just feel like it.  It’s tough to photograph, because the sun is so bright and the men’s faces – looking down and shaded by hats – are so dark.

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When the man on the ladder climbs down, we chat casually for awhile. I answer sm 08 5936his question about where I’m from, where I started driving today and where I’m going.  I remark that we use a lot of adobe in New Mexico but don’t use the sort of roof they’re working on. A neighbor, an older man, emerges from his gate and looks curiously at us. My companion hollers to him that I’m sm 08 5892taking pictures, and that he should pose. The man assumes a rigid hands-at-sides posture, like a kid posing for a school photograph, and I shoot one, which seems to please him.

sm 08 5944Finally I leave. The neighbor assumes the same stiff posture as I drive slowly past, so I photograph him again and wish him a good day.

At the turnoff for a town called Combapata, I pass an intersection busy with local folks leaving or arriving, and a sign promising a “circuit of four lakes” just six kilometers away. It sounds good, so I make a U-turn and drive into town. Within a few blocks I’m on the Plaza de Armas, which sm 08 6326is almost empty on the near side but has shooting galleries and foosball and other indicia of a market on the left side. A lot of people are doing something on the far side of the plaza, so I park the car for a few pictures.

The Plaza is full of local women in spiffy local garb. Clearly something more than a market is happening. There are a great many women with bags of local produce on show in front of them, but almost no one is actually buying anything, or even walking around looking. Many of the women are dressed particularly finely. Some other people seem to be wandering around with papers and forms. There are few men present, and no teenagers wandering around. Many of the women have small children with them. A row of chairs and a loud-speaker blasting music, with a banner on the wall behind, suggest that something more formal is going to happen soon. A Peruvian woman is rushing around photographing the local women. When I ask her what she’s photographing, she sm 08 6066 bannersays she’s with a program of some sort to which all these women belong, or which helps them. Something to do with development, a cooperative.  The banner mentions a “Programa Nacional de Apoyo Directo a los más Pobres.”

Whatever it all means, it’s a visual paradise.

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Many of the women laugh when I shoot pictures. A few turn their heads away or put a hand up in front of their faces. Others stare at me, mostly with smiles. One sticks her tongue out, then laughs hysterically, tells those around her what she’s just done, then poses good-naturedly. A couple of others, seeing me trying to shoot pictures of their kids, entice the kids back in front of me or gently turn a kid’s face in my direction. None asks for a propina.

sm 08 6312On the way to the car I stop at a booth and shoot a gun instead of the camera, winning a couple of packages of cookies that look as if they might have been in Combapata since Atahualpa’s time.  Lunch.  

I go to the car, and pull around to head out of the square toward the lakes, but now the music suggests that dancing is imminent. I stop the car again and wade back into the middle of things – just as, indeed, dancing begins.

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I shoot until there’s a break in the dancing, then leave.

I drive slowly through town toward the circuit of the lakes.  For awhile I’m traveling along railroad tracks.  Eventually the road climbs out of town and, sm 08 6416after a couple of switchbacks, there’s a nice view back sm 08 6419toward Combapata.  From there the road continues climbing, then suddenly brings me to a view down toward a pastoral lake.

The first lake.   Serene and silent.  I do meet a young couple, walking toward the village.  There is no car parked nearby, so they are strolling.  They’re Peruvian; but they too are visitors who find this place very peaceful.  

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This is beautiful country. It isn’t the most dramatic I’ve seen, but it’s especially peaceful. The lakes aren’t the cobalt blue of the lakes in the Cordillera Blanca, reached ultimately through rock cliffs and surrounded by unrealistically pure white peaks, but more a lake surrounded by rolling hills and farmland, a tremendously inviting place to live.   Not a person in sight, just cows grazing down by the shore and flamingo loitering about in the shallow water.

sm 08 6533I park the car at the edge of the road and walk toward the water, negotiating a couple of rock walls on the way. Then I find I have to leap over a small stream to reach the field that ends at the water where the flamingos are. I’m concerned that the sudden motion sm 08 6632will spook them, but it doesn’t. I advance slowly, but they’re alert. They suddenly fly up, a profusion of red and white, but they curve in unison and fly down over the lake, passing right in front of the village I was hoping to have in the background.

Another group of flamingos floats near the shore just 60 or 80 meters away, so I I work my way toward the birds, but this time they swim away slowly as a group. I reach the water’s edge, my feet making deep indentations in the soft earth, and watch them swim out into the middle of the lake.

These flamingos are visiting with a flock of sheep.   Nobody seems in any hurry about anything, so long as the two-footed intruder keeps his distance.

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Alternately driving and stopping the car to walk around a bit, I don’t see another person except a shepherdess.

sm 08 6612She gets to sit all day in this splendid place, watching the pink and white flamingos and other birds on the blue lake, with golden fields and hills surrounding her. Does she take her surroundings for granted, and concentrate on her knitting or dream of Cusco or Lima or Paris? She certainly looks contented, but who knows?

This group of birds neither flies nor swims away, but begins walking along the shore away from me. They’re walking faster than I’d supposed they could, and it’s clear that if I start moving faster they’ll just fly away, so I leave them in peace.

sm 08 6724sm 08 6725I drive on, but stop to say hello to a second shepherdess.  I ask if I may photograph her.  She nods, and says, “Plata.” It means silver, literally; but the context suggests that in this part of the country they say “plata” instead of “dinero” or “propina.” 

I haven’t forgotten that I’ve a long way to drive. I’m concerned about the time but deeply drawn to this peaceful and tranquil countryside.   I consider driving back to Combapata, but instead continue onward, to explore.  The road climbs for awhile, with a long sight of llamas at the crest of a hill, then descends toward another lake, slightly smaller and greenish instead of blue, with a small town at the far shore.

sm 08 6800I shoot some photos at the edge of the small town, then drive in I pause on the Plaza de Armas to figure sm 08 6814out what to do next.  A woman unlocks a door and disappears inside with her three burros. The town bills itself as “Capital of the Circuit of Four Lakes.”

A cop or security man passes on my right, and when he glances into the car I ask him for some information. He confirms the name of the town, and I can see from the map that my choices are to circle another lake or two, to return the way I came, or to continue North several kilometers and drive back out to the main road up there. I settle on driving back the way I’ve come.

The cop points at one of the other men and says the man would like to accompany me to Sicuani. “Por que no?” I reply, starting to make space on the front seat. Ragna’s little pillow goes to the back seat now, along with my maps.

Meanwhile a local woman approaches the left side of the car, pleading. The men are discouraging her, gently urging her to stop pestering me. I suspect a class difference between my passenger, who’s wearing a blue sweater and clean shoes, and the woman, whose clothing is neither new nor fully clean. He is employed in a white-collar position, and she clearly is not. Whether or not that plays a role in their discouraging her, I can’t be sure, but they speak to her as something less than an equal.

Does she want money or a ride, or what? They say she wants a ride too. She is alone. I can fit one person in the back without an extended effort to move things out of the way. “Por que no?” I say again.  I get out to open the left rear door to toss stuff to the other side and make room. The men are surprised. The woman is grateful. As we start off, the man asks where I’m from, and I answer. As we turn right off the Plaza, he greets a friend, and shouts loudly that he’s going to the United States, and we all laugh.

I take a banana and offer each of them one too. They accept. Conversation is minimal. Beautiful country.  They agree.  Do tourists visit here?  sm 08 6843 town archsm 08 6844Yes.  I cannot resist detouring for a quick look at the village near the first lake.   The front gate is brightly painted, but the only inhabitants I see have little to say to us.

When we reach the main road, it’s crowded with women leaving after the event.  A bunch of them are climbing into the back of a huge blue truck with wooden slats on the sides, evidently to return in a group to their village.

The passenger in front, the man, is a teacher. We talk sporadically. He lives in Sicuani and teaches in the village where I picked him up. (It’s a long commute!) I answer his questions about my travels in his country and ask if he’s visited the U.S. Peruvians don’t go to the U.S., he says very definitely, adding a one-word explanation: “Plata.” I reiterate my admiration for the local countryside and inquire about land prices up by those lakes. He says lots can be as much as U.S. $7,000 apiece, sometimes can be encountered for as low as $2,000 – and that he has two for $3,000 each that he might sell.

Before Sicuani we reach Rakqi.  We stop.  He is enthusiastic that I must see the ruins at Rakqi.  But the village is filled with tourists holding cameras but unable even to shoot a picture of the church because their own tour-buses take up most of the tiny Plaza de Armas. Handicrafts shops. I tell him I’ll return some other time. I’m thinking that sunset, somewhere, might be nice.

sm 08 6849I let the woman off where she lives, and the man in Sicuani, and negotiate the streets of that town.  I’m sort of headed for Lampa.  There’s something there I’d wanted to see on the way up, but got outvoted.

Suddenly there looms a sign: Juliaca straight ahead, Arequipa to the right. The right turn must lead to the back roads I’d originally wanted to to take up to Cusco with Ragna and Selma, but they didn’t have time – for what promised to be a great many hours on dirt roads when the paved road would be quicker; and we wanted to go to Lake Titicaca on the way. I turn right and immediately pause to question two men standing near a motorcycle. How is the road? They say it’s much quicker, that Arequipa is much further away if you go around by Juliaca.

At first it’s paved, but quickly it’s a dirt road. The countryside is pleasant, and quite unpopulated.  At some point I pass a kid near a tiny village.  When I ask him whether I’m indeed on the road to Arequipa, he points — then says, “Plata.”

For a while, in the middle of nowhere, the road is beautifully paved, leading to the town of El Descanso. I stop to snag a juice, and ask the shop-keeper how many hours to Arequipa. I ask again outside, on the street. The respective answers are three hours and five hours.  As soon as I leave El Descanso, the road is dirt again.

Eventually I come to a large town.     In the middle of nowhere, it boasts an airport and is 3,900 meters alto, according to a sign.  I don’t recognize the name the sign mentions, but I’m where I might have expected Yauri to be based on the sm 08 6909 llamas by the side of the roadmap.   As I reach the outskirts of town, unattended llamas walk home along the road from an arduous day of grazing.  The town has plenty of one-way streets and traffic jams.  As I rush through, I stop for one photograph:sm 08 6915 blue

On the far side of town, I see a woman and ask how long it is to Arequipa.  “Seis horas,” she says, quickly reconsidering and saying, “Cinco. Cinco horas.” It is a few minutes past five. I know that the paved portion of the drive, on the main road from the crossroads to Arequipa, cannot be much, so most of the drive will be along these dirt roads, often unmarked, and perhaps without grifos, or even villages. In darkness. I should have kept to my original plan. I should also have bought gas in the town through which I’ve just passed.  I consider turning back, but don’t.  I have a bit left in the extra gas can up top.  Maybe that’ll be enough, or some town along the way will have a grifo.  

Still, it’s a nice sky and vast, empty land.  I rush on through late afternoon light, dusk, then darkness.  There are no towns, and certainly no grifos.

In total darkness now, I reach a village.  It’s cold, too. There’s a restaurant, with a bus stopped near it and passengers eating inside. I ask about gas, and am told that it can be encountered at the far edge of town.

The gas at the edge of town ain’t easy to spot. I drive to what seems like the edge of town. Nothing. I drive on, another kilometer or so, eyes scanning the night. Nothing. I return. I see a light and an open door, and look for someone to ask, but encounter only the barking of dogs. I cross the street and walk back down to a small store.  The lady confirms that they do have some gas, and disappears into the back to get it.   We stand in the darkness pouring gas into the car’s tank with a smaller can and a makeshift filter, hoping not too much of it ends up on my shoes.

I drive on through the night.  Lightly traveled, curving roads.  I was up early and feel tired.  Sometimes it’s hard to pick up the road surface, which isn’t the distinct black of a paved road.  In this light it’s indistinguishable from the dust and the surrounding countryside. When trucks pass, I can’t see anything anyway for a moment, in the flying dust.   At some point I see a sign for Chavin, and stifle a sudden impulse to go back to Cañon de Colca. 

Finally I reach the main road. I’m further from Arequipa, further back toward Juliaca, than I’d expected, possibly by 50 or 60 kilometers.

I reach Cañahaus. I could use something to eat or drink, and wouldn’t mind getting a little more gas. In the darkness I approach a road-block.  The cop asks the usual routine questions, quite surprised to see a lone gringo at this time of night. I ask him if there’s a grifo around. There isn’t – but he sells me some gas. Another makeshift funnel, in pitch darkness.

Setting out again, I’m tired. I’ve traveled a long way today; I’ve shot a lot of photographs, walked a bit, and worried about possibly running out of gas or losing my way. On the other hand, I’m refreshed by the knowledge that now it’s just another 78 km. of road, paved. Still, all I really want is to be in the flat, at rest.

There’s a further delay, of course. More than half the way to Arequipa, I spot a bunch of people surrounding a car in a small turnout on the other side of the road. Folks in distress – as I might easily have been, had I missed a turn or blown a tire or missed the gas in that small town. There’s a lot of traffic tonight, but after another kilometer or so I can turn around. I drive back and pull in where they’re stopped – well aware that friends in Lima and probably Arequipa would warn me to do nothing of the kind. Ultimately I take one of the young men to the next town, the last noticeable town before the outskirts of Arequipa, and to a mecanico. I wait awhile, until it appears that they will be all right, then continue.

Fortunately I negotiate the streets into Arequipa more accurately than usual. I’m too tired to do much beyond stopping at the corner store for some snacks and milk and juice.  I just want to crash.  Home in the flat, there’s little time to contemplate the fact that I now live here alone — or the sadder fact that I’ll be leaving Perú very soon.  I do turn on the TV, and discover a Red Sox game. Texeira is batting; but I can’t even stay awake through his at-bat.

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50. Cusco to Aqua Caliente

50. Cusco to Agua Caliente

We drive out through the Sacred Valley to Ollatatambo. 

sm-08-9521-pigs-in-the-cocheraFirst we must walk down to the cochera and awaken the proprietor, in order to ransom El Bandito, the quatro por quatro [visible up there in the background of the photo to the left].   Selma sm-08-9523-selma-photographing-pigdoes so [in photo at right].   Eventually we pay him, then go back up to the Hostal Qorichaska to pick up Ragna. 

sm-08-9539-near-pisacsm-08-9533-near-pisacThe drive begins with the same long, slow climb up from Cusco, and the road to Pisac.    [These two pictures and the one below left show the view down toward Pisac. ]

sm-08-9537-near-pisacPisac today, a market day but not a Sunday, is somewhat different.  The market takes up a smaller proportion of the town’s streets, and in the Plaza de Armas most of the market stalls aimed solely at locals aren’t there.   sm-08-9546-pisac-mercado-vendorsm-08-9549-pisac-marketToday’s market quite obviously exists because this is one of the days on which tour-buses appear in Pisac during the morning.  It’s less crowded, and not half so interesting sm-08-9550-pisac-vendorsm-08-9553-pisac-market-food-vendorphotographically.  We stop long enough to have a quick walk around the Plaza and stop at an ATM.   The vendors look lonely.  At least one of the little old ladies is making a little money by having pictures sm-08-9555-pisac-mercado-vendorsm-08-9561-victor-and-little-old-ladytaken of her.    We drive back up into the hills toward the ruins at Pisac, which are just a few km.  up a steep mountain road. 

The ruins must command a magnificent view; but there are an obscene number of tour-buses parked by the side of the narrow road for several hundred meters.   We consider parking and walking in, and would do if the place weren’t so crowded; but instead we drive back out to the main road, knowing that among the things we don’t yet know is where we’re going to stay in Agua Caliente.

sm-08-9570-near-pisacThe Sacred Valley is a pleasant drive.   It would be pleasant to spend a few days here.   There are ruins and small villages and nice countryside.   We don’t have the time to explore it as it deserves.   

At Ollatatambo we drive down toward the train, only to learn that there is no provision for parking a private vehicle at the bottom of the hill near the train station.   The traffic cop points me to a certain driveway blocked by a big sheet of metal, and tells  me to bang on it, but no one responds.   I do find a nice-looking hotel on one side of the street, and a small restaurant and hostal on the other.   Being a budget traveler, I try the smaller one, where our request to park the car for a few days, and pay for it, is so unusual that the young lady in charge has to phone the owner.  He consents.   We park the car as far into the corner of the very small parking lot as possible, then start the hike down toward the train.  

If you need to know, it is possible to buy some food and coffee and use a clean toilet at the little train station.   The train is just two cars long, at least in this season, and very clean — and nearly empty.   Peruvian music plays during the 35-minute ride along a river at the bottom of a tall, narrow canyon.  The uniformed attendants serve a snack-box, although not a very helpful one if you don’t eat meat. 

sm-08-9585sm-08-9588-view-from-trainThe view is beautiful, although photography is difficult.   The train moves at a moderate speed past river, forest, occasional farms, and a few other buildings, all dwarfed by the high peaks on both sides of us most of the way.

Suddenly we are there.  

Our exit from the train is a confused rush through a maze of market stalls from within which we haven’t a clue which direction the main part of town is in or whether we’re meant to be going uphill or downhill or sideways.    We’re also carrying a bunch of stuff.   I’m trying to glance at the Lonely Planet guide-book, call budget hostals, and walk at the same time, unable to hear because of the noise all around me.   I also don’t yet know where I’m going, so at least I stop walking for a moment and ask.   It takes several calls to locate an affordable hotel with a vacancy, and the vacancy turns out to be an extremely crowded three-bed room with its own small bathroom.   Hostal Bromeliad.

We find the place, check in, and shower, then wander out to explore Agua Caliente and get something to eat. 

Opinions vary concerning Agua Caliente.   It’s an odd place, because the main purpose of its existence is for everyone to hurry from it to somewhere else.   It’s dedicated to tourism, but because of a combination of factors — the fame and beauty of the place, the rugged mountains, and the availability both of luxury tour-buses and difficult treks — the tourists run the gamut from the very wealthy, some of whom can even afford to spend a reported $1,000 per night to stay in a hotel just outside the gate of Macchu Picchu, to the poor but determined, some of whom camp out then walk up the incredibly steep and tall mountainside to Macchu Picchu.

The evening has an odd feel to it, somewhat festive.  Maybe that is because there are so many places to eat and drink, all of them with

La Plaza

La Plaza de Armas

balconies overlooking streets or the small Plaza de Armas, and most of them with shills out front announcing that one particular restaurant has the others beat all hollow.   Maybe it is because we are excited by the imminence of our visit to Macchu Picchu.  Maybe it is because everyone is either anticipating a morning visit to Macchu Picchu or celebrating a day spent at Macchu Picchu (or the end of a trek).   Maybe it’s because at the restaurant we choose [the one to the left of the three fronting on the opposite side of the Plaza from the Bromeliad], the food is slow in coming but the Pisco sours are not.  Soon I’m on my third, feeling a general benevolence toward my companions and all the people crossing the Plaza or taking each other’s pictures by the statues there, as the local folks wander in and out of the church across the Plaza.   

Selma

Selma

Ragna & Selma

Ragna & Selma

The music is loud and the air is clean.  I laugh a lot, take ridiculous pictures of Selma and Ragna at the table, and fall silent a lot too, just thinking.

sm-08-9654-ac-plaza-de-armassm-08-9657I do wander down into the Plaza for a moment to play with the camera, long after dark.   Eventually, when the food comes, it tastes wonderful, perhaps because it is and perhaps because I am hungry and perhaps because I am working on my fourth Pisco sour.

We turn in early because the train for Macchu Picchu leaves at 5:30 in the morning, and the line starts forming about an hour before that.

Travel Notes:

Lodging:

We stayed in the Hostal Bromeliad, which was adquate and relatively inexpensive.

Agua Caliente boasts a quite varied set of accommodations in various price ranges.  Still, I’d recommend booking ahead of time, even if you usually don’t do that, because (1) it’s the sort of destination place it is, without much through-traffic for locals, values are different, and you’ll pay more for a particular sort of room here than you usually would elsewhere in Peru, and (2) arriving there in the afternoon was a real zoo.  Agua Caliente was crowded, and probably is crowded at all seasons; the lobby of the Bromeliad was a madhouse, with all sorts of folks begging for accommodations, and I was glad I’d at least managed to call from near the train station to book our room [and even so got just a three-bed room, with the right to switch to two rooms the second night]; and because it’s a small village that sees many tourists, you could find the budget places full and end up paying a lot more than you want to.   As anyone reading this blog knows, we rarely booked ahead, preferring to arrive and form our own impression of the hotels and their surroundings.   I wouldn’t try that again in Agua Caliente.

Food:

The place we supped in was good, although service was slow.  The place next door was not as good — and I’d guess some of the better restaurants aren’t on the Plaza.  There are plenty of restaurants to choose among in Agua Caliente, all within a couple of blocks.    The two we ate in faced the plaza.  Looking across the plaza from the church, the one we ate in the first night would be the one on the far left among the three or four establishments on the opposite side.

Other:

Be sure to buy your ticket for Macchu Picchu.  If you arrive in Agua Caliente without one, go immediately to the ______ and buy one, if you plan to go to Macchu Picchu early in the morning.  Note that you will also need a bus ticket, but you can purchase that early in the morning, as your partner waits in line.

I mention “early morning” often for at least three reasons: (1) Huayna Picchu is limited to 400 people, and since most folks capable of it would like to make that climb, they’re in line early, and you might miss it if you snooze; (2) since most of the early birds are headed for Huayna Picchu, the early morning is a great time for you to experience Macchu Picchu in relative solitude — and you won’t have to spend quite so long in Photoshop zapping the human forms in your pictures; and (3) as a photographer, I like the better light of early morning or very late afternoon.    In addition, since some big tours give their cattle just a couple of hours in Macchu Picchu in the middle of the day, either early morning or late afternoon means a quieter and more enjoyable experience of the place.

To maximize enjoyment of the early morning, make a sharp left turn uphill at pretty much your first opportunity, about 100 yards after passing through the gates where you show your ticket.

For the truly budget-minded, there’s a “back-packer special” train from Cusco that’s much cheaper than foreigners pay otherwise.  The authorities don’t exactly advertise it, but it’s there.

I’m not sure that if I had it to do over again I wouldn’t have left the car in Cusco and taken a tour bus.  (That’s assuming you don’t hike in on the Inka Trail, which Ragna wouldn’t have considered.)  Mostly I prefer to drive.   This particular route I might have been better off riding, getting let off near the various ruins, seeing what the experts thought I should see, and not having to figure out where to park.   Maybe.   In a perfect world I’d have done that, and then returned a few days later to explore the area by car on my own.

48. Puno to Cusco

XLVIII. Puno to Cusco

We get a late start from Puno.

I’m up early to drive down to the docks with Selma to give Simon the food and gifts we had bought for them the previous evening. We have two bags full of stuff.  The moment we arrive, a couple of guys approach us to try to sell us boat tickets, then call out to Simon for us.  Simon introduces his son Elvis, and asks whether we’d left a camera on the boat. We think not but can’t be sure Ragna didn’t, so we tell him we’ll take a look at it.

He’s happy to see the extra food. He and I carry it to the boat. Then in the office he and another fellow show us the camera: Ragna’s videocamera, out of its case. We thank him profusely, and take it with us. I’m thinking I should have rewarded him – particularly if the reason the other fellow was standing there was that he had actually found the camera. Even with Simon, although we’ve stayed at his house and become friends with him – circumstances that would make a monetary reward almost insulting if we were in the U.S. or Iceland – the gap between our financial situations makes that all hypothetical. The video camera is worth a great multiple of Simon’s monthly income, and its return before we even noticed it was missing is an honorable action that should be rewarded. Although they must think it nice of us to have bought all the additional food and brought it to them, how careless we must seem to have lost something worth hundreds of times anything they own besides the boat, failed even to notice we’d lost it, and then greet its return with merely a [profuse] “Thank you”!

Thus after I stop at the bank, and while Ragna and Selma are finishing their packing, I drive back down to the dock. This time I find Simon standing near the entrance with Elvis and his younger daughter, the one Ragna and Selma had earmarked some food for. They point to the black plastic bag with that food in it, to show me she has it. I tell him that obviously the return of the camera – whether by him or by his friend – should be rewarded, and give him S./ 200. He doesn’t say much, but I sense that he too was thinking it wrong of me not to have offered a reward earlier. We say good-bye again, warmly on both sides, and he urges us to recommend his boats to my friends. I tell him I will, knowing I have no friends likely to visit Lake Titicaca any time soon, but also that I’ll mention him in this web-site.

A further delay ensues when we start to load the car and Ragna discovers that the chicken, in a separate plastic bag Selma and I hadn’t noticed, is still in the car. It’s too late to take it to the docks, as Simon will have left at 8:30. We finally take it back into the hotel, explain that Elvis will come for it, and resolve to e-mail Elvis from Cusco.

We stop in _______, famous for making Los Toros — the little bulls on top of all the houses around here, notably every house we saw in or near Atuncolla a few days ago.

We don’t see a particularly appealing restaurant in Ayaviri, but we do feel like exploring the market with our cameras, and we do.   I shoot a lot of useless photos of kids shooting pool at the outdoor tables, and even win some cookies at a shooting gallery.   Eventually I meet up with the ladies.  Ragna is looking for a bathroom, so we throw ourselves on the mercy of the folks running the hotel on the Plaza de Armas,

Waiting, Selma and I hear music and see a parade coming, so we tell the woman at the hotel to tell Ragna we’ve walked down to the corner to shoot.   It’s Aymiri’s Fiesta.   Dancing girls, people in masks, musicians and horseback-riders, everyone having a good time, and we don’t need to know why, so are we.  The only problem is that I’m stuck with a set lens, slightly telephoto, which makes it hard to shoot a lot of what I’d like to shoot in the midst of a crowd watching dancers.

sm-08-8559-ayaviri-fiesta-crsm-08-8703-spectators-ayaviri-fiesta

sm-08-8573-ayaviri-fiestasm-08-8587-musician-ayaviri

sm-08-8581-ayaviri-fiesta

sm-08-8602-musician-ayavirism-08-8610-dancing-girls-ayaviri-fiestasm-08-8607-musician-ayaviri

sm-08-8621-girl-dancing-ayaviri-fiestasm-08-8627-danciing-girl-ayaviri-fiestasm-08-8623-young-girl-dancing-ayaviri-fiesta

sm-08-8641-flute-ayaviri-fiestasm-08-8650-man-w-flute-ayaviri-fiestasm-08-8649-girl-in-ayaviri-fiesta

sm-08-8661-portrait-of-woman-ayaviri sm-08-8676-man-on-horseback-ayaviri-fiestasm-08-8670-an-on-horseback-ayaviri-fiesta

sm-08-8694-woman-girl-ayaviri-p-de-aBut we enjoy the fun.

Shooting a few more pictures in the Plaza de Armas, I spot an old couple sitting on a bench.   They might as well have a moonbeam from heaven shinining on them, they so completely capture my attention the moment I see them.   I photograph them, and the little dog who seems to be with them, moving ever closer, but they only have eyes for each other.   There’s plenty of noise and pedestrian traffic around them, but they’re completely unaware.

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Maybe it’s their complete attentiveness to each other that draws my attention, maybe it’s their body language, maybe it’s the presence of such love [or so it seems to me, at least] in two so deeply lined faces.   sm-08-8761-woman-of-ayaviri-old-couplesm-08-8759-man-of-ayaviri-old-coupleIn any case, I shoot a boatload of images of them, and then even individual portraits.   Interestingly, to my eye the individual portraits, while nice enough, lack the zap of the earlier shots — as if without the other, some life goes out of each face.

They seem a couple who have been long together; but also I think of the couple in Love in the Time of Cholera, reunited after decades of separation.

sm-08-8793-countrysidesm-08-8812-house-and-snow-capped-peakThen we are on the road again, climbing toward Abra La Raya, the highest pass on the road to Cusco, enjoying the countryside.

sm-08-8857-old-woman-portraitsm-08-8841-old-lady-by-the-side-of-the-road2At some point we pause to glance at some odd-looking little houses on the right, unsure what they are.  As Ragna and Selma are photographing them, a woman materializes on our left, staring at me with what might be fright or curiosity.   Her face is interesting.  So are the structures.    And she clearly has a moment to assist us.

sm-08-8847-old-woman-near-the-little-housessm-08-8851-old-woman-sitting-by-a-little-house-cr

 

 

 

 

I give her a generous propina: I think I’ll like the pictures, she went out of our way for us, and she looks like she needs it.   Ragna, unaware I’ve done that, gives her a second propina, probably even more generous.

Within moments we are at the pass.   It’s cool and scenic.

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A vendor at the peak had dolls for sale . . .

sm-08-8894-at-abra-la-raya-kid-peak

. . . but the cutest probably wasn't for sale

sm-08-8942-four-alpacaWe keep playing around until we lose the light, then have more than an hour’s drive through the mountain roads in darkness, sm-08-8997-countrysideand Cusco’s big enough that, approaching it at night, it takes us awhile to figure out where the hell we are.   Then the search for a place to stay begins; and although we’re all cooperating, it takes forever.   The place we’d planned to stay only has a three-bed room for the first night, and that gets vetoed; another sounds great in the Lonely Planet guidebook, and I call, and try to follow their directions, but at a point where the map showing the road continuing the hill, that isn’t the whole truth: the road does continue, but as steep stairs that even the heroic Mitsubishi isn’t likely to climb; a third has a lovely view, in a nice neighborhood, for a low price, but cats have accidentally been locked for a few days in the room Ragna and I would get, and have done what they needed to do.  Eventually we try the Hostal Q’oriaska.  It’s back down nearer the Plaza de Armas, on a dark cobble-stoned street, and the front’s all locked up and unwelcoming, but it’s a find.   A haven.   Simple but adequate rooms, with hot water; very nice people; and a central courtyard in which to breakfast or drink a before-bed glass of wine or sit in the warm sun at mid-day.  And affordable.

We’re tired, but we’re home.

Travel Notes:

Lodging:

Hostal Q’uriaska.  458 Nueva Alta.  (I spent so much time there that the address comes instantly to mind weeks later, finishing up this page.)   We liked the place.   Although it doesn’t look so when you first arrive, it was homey and welcoming.   Rooms quite adequate, for a very fair price.   A kitchen in back, so that you could keep a little food in the refrigerator and eat in the courtyard (or the common room with the TV, off the kitchen) when you wanted to.   The people were very kind and good-humored; and we stored a lot of stuff there, first when we went to Macchu Picchu and then when we went down to Puerto Maldonado, and it was all there when we returned.    Too, it’s reasonably convenient to the Plaza de Armas; the central courtyard is one of those places where you may get into pleasant conversations with other travelers; and the rooms I stayed in were extraordinarily quiet, protected by the thick old walls from the street noise.

Food:

Other Points:

1. Not discussed in this Post, because I didn’t visit it until weeks later [Post Cusco III when I put it on here], is the Catedral.  The sort of place I might not even bother going, but was very glad I did.  It was quite interesting.

2. Cusco might be the best place in Peru to buy a camera or a lense.  Certainly the shops there had a much greater selection of camera stuff than what I’d seen anywhere else outside Lima.  They quickly repaired my damaged zoom lens.

Not di

XXIX. Lima to Ica

18-19 June: Lima to Ica 

The 303 kilometers from Lima to Ica are mostly over good road without many other vehicles traveling it.  Thus even without a particularly early start, we’re in Ica in plenty of time to go out to the dunes before dark.

In Ica we quickly settle in at El Carmelo — accurately described by the Lonely Planet folks as “this romantic roadside hotel on the outskirts of town” and “a delightful 200-year-old hacienda that has undeniable rustic charm.”   Although the hotel’s right on the main road, our room way in the back is quiet, except for the occasional and inevitable barking dog.   After drinking a cup of coffee poolside, we immediately head out to Huacachina, the smaller town right out there in the dunes.

We drive past unassuming houses at the edge of desert, and then into the desert itself.  Already the dunes are impressive, and when we reach the outskirts of Huacachina we suddenly have the opportunity [urged upon us more than offered] to ride a dune buggy around on the dunes.   I figure the ride should put us out in the middle of the dunes as sunset approaches.  We leave the car and jump into a dune buggy, along with a driver and two Asian-American women from Connecticut or New Jersey.

The dune buggy makes for a bumpy, jouncing ride, but the dunes are pretty.

In addition, the dune buggy carries boards for sandboarding.  Of course I can’t resist.  Standing, as an experienced sandboarder would do, I can’t make any progress at all. I can’t find the right midpoint between cruising much too fast for my skills (and falling) and timidly turning back into the dune, so that I come to a dead stop.   In short, I’m comically inept.

Lying down on the thing, like a child on a winter sled, works fine. Quickly I’m moving delightfully fast, and at the bottom the sandboard keeps sliding into the desert.  Best of all, there’s no need to slog back up the hill in the deep sand lugging the sandboard.  The dune-buggy races down to pick us up, and whisk us off to another site.

There’s also an oasis, which we stop above but into which we don’t descend.  Fruit and other goodies grow down there, and it looks a delightful place.  We see the remains of a paved road that once ran out here from Huacachina.

Huacachina itself is a pretty place, formerly quite trendy with upper-class Peruvians and now mostly occupied by young international travelers.  I’d thought we might stay out there — and would relish a walk in that dark desert at night — but wonder if the loud, late music would delay sleep too long.

We eat a good meal at our hotel, in a very pleasant dining room, then sit awhile drinking Pisco sours out by the pool.  The place is a delightful old hacienda, with lots of quirky, pleasant places to sit during a longer stay.   Late at night, going out to the car to get something for Ragna, I find the night watchman and another man chatting quietly at the front door, with a basket at the watchman’s feet.  It’s a dog bed, and I meet the hotel dog, a rival to the one in Cajamarca’s Hostal Hacienda San Antonio for the “Best Hotel Dog in Peru” award.   He’s extraordinarily pampered, with the basket and a blanket and a soft pad in the basket for sleeping. This enhances my appreciation of the hotel.

In the morning we stop at the museum before driving on toward Nazca.  There are a few mummies and a lot of skulls, including several that show the effects of shaping the skull, which some pre-Columbian cultures did, apparently for aesthetic reasons.   It would be interesting to meet a live person whose skull had been distorted in this way; but, on the whole, I’m glad my parents weren’t into that.

Travel Notes:
Lodging:
Most folks — particularly younger folks — stay out in Huacahina, a touristic hamlet surounding a pretty lagoon and surrounded by huge dunes.  It was once a fancy resort, and the isolation, the dunes, the palm trees, and old buildings make it worth a look.
But we stayed in the first place we looked at, the Hacienda El Carmelo.   The Lonely Planet writer calls it “a delightful 200-year old hacienda that has undeniable rustic charm,” and we readily agreed.  Later we also agreed that the restaurant was a good one.   The hotel is at the edge of town, as you drive in from the North.  On the right. Don’t be put off by its proximity to the road.   Rooms are separated from the road by the restaurant, the open-air courtyard with pool, and a couple of walls.  A night’s lodging cost S./ 110, and I think it included breakfast.
Food:

As mentioned, the hotel restaurant was a delight.  Food was good; and the area was gracefully decorated.  Part of the restaurant is open-air, for daytime, and part isn’t, as the nights can be cool in winter.

Other Points:

One tip: leaving Lima’s Miraflores to drive South on the Pan-American Highway, the map suggests that ______ is the most direct route; but someone wisely advised us instead to go _________, which looks a bit longer, because the turn for the Pan American Highway is better marked.   It was a painless exit from Lima, and the initial turn onto the Pan American Highway was indeed well-marked. (There’s also a Starbucks on the way, at which we couldn’t resist stopping for coffee-to-go and related treats.)

In Ica, sand-boarding cost us S./ 40 apiece for a couple of hours.

A ride through the dunes is fun, but could also be described as bone-jarring.   (I missed my dirt-bike — it would have been fun.)   Sand-boarding is fun; but unless you’re an experienced snow-boarder, don’t expect to go cruising gracefully from the top to the bottom of a dune straight away.   It takes more practice than you get in just a few runs, and probably an hour’s lesson would help immeasurably.    For photographic purposes, of course, go in late afternoon or early morning.   For that matter, for photographic purposes stay out in Huacachina, and shoot the desert at dawn and sunset. (Huacahina itself is down in a little valley, surrounded by tall dunes, and thus not likely to get direct sunlight at those times, but it can’t be too burdensome to climb out.)

XXVII. Huaraz – Barranca – Lima 4 June

Huaraz to Barranca to Lima  4 June:

[section “under construction”: the following account is in draft form]

We breakfast comfortably in Huaraz. It’s a pleasant breakfast, but way overpriced by local standards.

The drive is a pleasant one through high fields with white peaks behind them. It’s beautiful countryside.  Why do we never tire of snow-capped peaks?  When we pause, the silence and high, clear air is an added pleasure.

 

We stop at Conococha, the crossroads at which one goes left to Chiquian and Huancayo [ ________ Climbers] and the other right to Barranca and Lima [and a week of street noise and heavy traffic but access to many modern services and a lot of fine restaurants].   If I were the decision-maker, we might delay Lima a bit.

The crossroads features a bunch of stands and shops selling cheese from Chiquian, as well as other fairly local produce. We buy the cheese.

As we start the long descent [4,000 meters in about 130 kilometers], I’m dreaming of returning to this countryside and trekking a bit. I’m day-dreaming about buying the chalet 3 km. outside Caraz that I saw advertised on the Internet for U.S. $ 25,000. I would like to drive more bad dirt roads to ever more distant communities, and travel a bit by foot and burro or horseback. Yeah, we got to a lot of places most people don’t get to, but we didn’t get to Huari or Chavín de Huántar or Laguna Mitachocha or Punta Union.

But I wouldn’t mind a bit of stability. To sleep soundly, to arise early and make coffee myself, without bothering with anyone else or putting on clothes. More, as I wrote a friend whose e-mail had asked for more photos, we have experienced a great deal, seen some marvelous sights, had some moving encounters with people, . . . .we’ve seen and felt a lot, and shot a good deal of photographs and video, and we need a little time to process what’s in our hearts and heads and CF cards.

That doesn’t mean a week in Lima, but a month or two or three in Arequipa, in a rented flat, taking periodic shorter trips for two or three days from there. But Lima will be a good chance to recharge our batteries a bit, do some errands, and see our few friends there.

 

 

 

 

The descent is through rocky, sometimes barren countryside, intermittently populated. It’s interesting enough, though neither as beautiful nor as difficult as some other recent days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Near the end of the descent, we pass a young man and his little daughter by a flat stretch of ground covered by drying chiles.  We stop to shoot a photo and some video, and offer to buy some of the chile, mostly as a sort of propina for his grace in letting us shoot; but he says it isn’t ready yet.   Thus we buy some fruit from the stand his wife runs across the road.

It soon turns out that the whole area is nothing but acres of various forms of produce drying in the sun.     

 

 

 

  

 

But there are a few human beings dwelling amidst the drying produce, with their animals.

Thus we pause and photograph these sisters, their turkeys, one of their goats, and various other animals.

Our last shots — as we reach the coast and the fog — are of the countryside near the drying produce:

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Barranca, unable to call Marc from InnPeru, we try to e-mail him. But we have a message from a woman who rents flats that sound a little more up-scale than Marc’s. We can’t reach Marc, and Ragna would prefer the more up-scale flat anyway. I tell the woman that we’ll be there by a certain time.

But as I step back outside the internet shop, the owner points at one of our tires. It’s nearly flat. He provides directions to a tire shop, a little hole-in-the-wall shop with half a dozen guys lounging around. They’re amused to meet us. They fix the tire for ten soles, and wish us buena suerte on our journey to Lima. .

Already it’s nearly dusk. We begin a mad rush to drive the ___ kilometers to Lima in fewer hours than it should take. I usually drive well over the speed limit, but push it harder now. At times we’re aided by good roads and little traffic. At times we slog through a town. Then we’re racing through the darkness again.

At one point there’s a stretch of a couple of hundred meters with many cops and many stopped vehicles. We slow down. Usually such checkpoints don’t bother with us, but pay more attention to trucks; and we almost make it through this one before a cop waves his light at us and whistles, just as we pass him. We’re not even sure he means us, but after a moment we pull over, several dozen meters beyond him. We wait, looking in the rearview mirrors, and he is indeed walking toward us. When he arrives he greets me and salutes, then shakes hands. He asks whether we are foreigners and where we are going, and wants to see our passports. He glances at Ragna’s, then asks if I do not have one. I say I do, but it’s in the luggage, and that I can get it quickly. He ignores this offer and asks whether we have any cigarettes. He is a lot more interested in this question than in establishing the existence of my passport. Ragna fishes from the glove compartment a pack of cigarettes with a few left, and we hand it over to him. He thanks us and wishes us good traveling.

We’re amused. We sympathize: it must get tedious out there in the cool night air stopping vehicles. We continue, still speeding, but with a careful eye for the frequent huge trucks without lights on, or with both taillights out.

The long finish of the drive, the outskirts of Lima, is madness, with vehicles fighting for position and pedestrians diving in and out of the darkness on both sides of the road. It’s unclear when and where we’re meant to get off this multi-lane road, the Pan American Highway, and then I miss what looks like a good choice and we have to drive several kilometers more, distance I’m sure is way out of our way.

So we get off, in the middle of nowhere, a warehouse area pretty unpopulated at this hour, but we spot a cab and ask him how much he’d charge to lead us to Miraflores, to the block of _____ near the street our new temporary home is on.

He charges a fairly modest S./ ___. [Short cab rides around Miraflores run S./ 2 to S./5, although often the driver initially demands S./ 5 or more for a ride that should cost S./ 2. To Ragna’s amusement and/or annoyance, I bargain with cabdrivers.] We readily agree and start following him.

This journey is a tricky one, and both the cabdriver and I do a good job. It requires full attention: I’ve no idea where we are, often little idea which way we’re going to turn next, and we even get on and off a freeway at some point; and the other drivers, having no idea that I’m desperately trying to stay pinned to the cab’s rear bumper, naturally try everywhere to wedge in front of me, whether we’re speeding along or merging onto the freeway – and I am necessarily an even more selfish driver than usual.

Still, we make it; and without much common language, the driver and I share our amusement and exultation at our success. I give him more money than he’d asked, and tell him what a great job he did. We’re actually early, and the landlady is nowhere around yet.

Unfortunately, we’re tired and hungry, and need restrooms. There’s a guy standing around when I tip the cab-driver, who notices I’ve dropped a few coins and crosses the street to return them to me, and I guess he might be the security guard for the apartment building, but I’m not sure. Therefore with some concern, since the car is fully loaded with stuff on a side street in Lima, we go down to the corner to get something to eat.

When we return, everything’s intact, the landlady and her husband are waiting for us, and we move the car inside and go up.

It’s a nice place, and a nice evening. The place has everything you’d need, and everything’s in great shape, and there are even a few bottles of wine and whiskey [for which we’ll of course be charged if we consume their contents, but it’s a thoughtful touch, since often guests arrive direct from the airport with no knowledge of Lima and no energy to go shopping].

The landlady and her husband are also pleasant. We sit and talk with them for a good deal longer than needed to transact our business, and all enjoy it. It’s a good close to a long and sometimes difficult day.

 

Travel Notes:

Lodging:

Food:

Other:

XXIII. Huanchaco to Caraz

Huanchaco through Canon del Pato to Caraz   31 May:

We leave Huanchaco expecting a very full day’s drive.  The drive down the coast to Santa goes so fast we can hardly quite believe we’re at the turn-off already.  At a gas station various folks offer varying opinions on how long the drive should take us. 

Soon enough, though we’re on a truly evil dirt road with lots of large rocks, and although we’re intermittently driving along a stream, the walls on each side are rocks or sand, with little sign that anything would be sufficiently demented to try to grow here.    At some point there’s a barrier and a passport-check, and we buy a couple of cold cokes, knowing there isn’t much up ahead; and as soon as we get passed the checkpoint, the road gets worse.  Higher up, there are 37 tunnels.  I read that somewhere, I don’t count.  It feels like more.

On the way there, we work our way up a very dry canyon.  The heat, the aridity, or the steepness has the car suddenly overheating, for the first time since we bought it — and we’re uncertain whether we’ll reach water before the radiator boils over.   I want to go a little faster, to help the engine cool itself off, and I want to go a little slower, to avoid kicking up rocks that could damage something underneath the car.  For a lot of kilometers I watch the dashboard as closely as the road, as the needle flirts keeps caressing the top end of the temperature guage, teasing for a moment then retreating slightly, then jumping up again.  Finally, just before we do reach a town, the needle falls back to its accustomed home at the midpoint, and stays there. 

It’s not a day when our mood or the countryside leads us to stop a whole lot to shoot photographs.  Around mid-day, I do shoot a few at a coal-mine that strikes me as hellish: the environment is dry, hot, dusty, and barren, and these guys live here for some period of time.  Access to the mine itself is over a foot-bridge across the river, and we see a few men carrying large burdens across.  Other than those and a few shots of the countryside, we’re paying too much attention to road and radiator to shoot pictures.

 

 

 

 

Caraz — and Huaraz, the larger town an hour or two south of it — I have wanted to visit since I first started thinking about the trip.   The Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra . . . numbers of high peaks . . . special beauty, yet not as popular as Cuzco.

My understanding is that this area has incredible natural beauty, but is not nearly so popular with tourists as Cuzco and Macchu Picchu.   Thus the local folks . . . no bermuda shorts . . . without the crime and tension now turning into a problem in Cuzco.  Most of the foreign visitors who turn up here are trekkers.

Starting about 20 km. before Caraz, we’re driving through a placid, green valley.  

We reach Caraz early enough to wander about trying to find and compare various affordable hostals we’ve read about. We settle on Hostal Tumshukaiko, and check in and have a coffee. 

After dark, we walk down through a surprisingly lively open-air mercado to the Plaza de Armas, and happen on a new restaurant not mentioned by the Lonely Planet folks only because it’s just three months old. [Café Venetia, on the east side of the Plaza; S./ 46 for a pretty good supper and two glasses of wine; opened in March 2008 by a fellow who lived several years in the U.S. and speaks English.]

Upstairs some tables boast a very good view of the plaza, which we suspect will soon become meaningful. Plenty of Peruvians are gathered in the plaza, anticipating something, and soon after we finish our food there begin fireworks and a parade. Numerous young folks in ghoulish or other outlandish masks, and brightly colored costumes, crack whips as they move slowly around the plaza, followed by a couple of floats with girls in white waving like Texas homecoming queens and tossing bits of something to the masses. Cheerful – and plenty of fun for the kids. 

Travel Notes:

Lodging:

Hostal Tumshukaiko, S./ 80, including breakfast.  Basic, pleasant, convenient to Plaza de Armas but a few blocks away and quieter.  A local man who spoke good English told us at supper that the hostal was the best in town [and that there was a better one just outside town, across the river, but then you’re outside town and across the river in the evening, which I guess he thought would be inconvenient].  It may be, although the Hostal La Alameda also looked appealing and quiet.

Food:

Cafe Venetia, on the east side of the plaza, was just three months old when we went there, and just not mentioned by the Lonely Planet folks.   It’s probably the best restaurant in town, certainly the best we ran across.  The second floor has a nice view of the Plaza, and S./ 46 bought us a pretty good supper and two glasses of wine.  The owner lived several years in the U.S. and speaks English.  [Note: it may be on the site where El Mirador was.

Other Points:

If you undertake the drive from Santa to Caraz, undertake it with respect.  There ain’t a lot up there, the road is uncomfortable, and the canon dry.   I wouldn’t say you need a four-wheel drive vehicle, but there’s so much loose rock that I doubt the drive would be slow and painstaking without four-wheel drive.  As I recall, we didn’t pass many vehicles of any kind on the way up; and we didn’t find the Canon de Pato so breathtakingly beautiful as to warrant going this way unless based on your plans before or after Caraz, it’s saving you a much longer drive.

XXII. Pacasmayo – Huanchaco II 29-31 May

Pacasmayo II, Huanchaco II 29-31 May

 [Note: nearly all photographs from our return to these towns are inaccessible pending further recovery work on a recalcitrant external hard-drive.

Returning to Pacasmayo feels like returning home.   (It’s particularly gratifying because our stomachs have been extremely upset since about an hour outside Cajamarca.)   We stay in the same seaside room of the Hotel Pakatnamu that we stayed in on our first night in Pacasmayo a month ago.

We awaken to sea sounds, and have a light breakfast on the downstairs balcony – then spend a pleasant hour chatting with J & S over coffee on the balcony just outside our room. White sea birds forage in the shallow vestiges of the waves until a pair of dogs chase them. (I have left the breakfast table to photograph them, but on my way to the sand I glance down to inspect footing and look up again to see the two running dogs and no birds.) The dogs hang around for awhile, sitting close to each other on the sand, alert for returning birds, then disappear. Something about their freedom and obvious friendship enriches the morning, already blessed with bright sunlight on the nearly deserted marine parade and the silver sea beyond it.

Seeing J and S again is enjoyable. We regale them with a brief account of our journey. Like everyone, they react to our visit to Huancabamba, first with surprise and then with the word “brujos.” Ragna’s account of our abortive trip with the shark’s shaman amuses them. S says we’ve already seen more of Peru than she has.

 

 

 

 

After barely more than an hour’s drive, we approach Huanchaco. We stop in the same gas station, just before the traffic circle outside Huanchaco, that we visited as we headed north, a month ago. [We left Huanchaco April 29, and this morning is May 30.]   When I walk into the nearly deserted lobby, the lady who runs the hotel recognizes me and says “Jooooolaaaaa,” making the word sound four or five times as long as it normally would, expressing a little surprise, substantial delight, and some amusement.  When Ragna comes in, the woman gushes, “Que linda!” and gives her a big hug and kiss.

I am still a bit weak and my stomach is still a bit queasy, and after our trip to the mall for medical supplies and ice cream, I rest and shower while Ragna walks on the beach. I am excited about our imminent arrival in the Cordillera Blanca. I cannot explain it, but the place sparked by far the greatest anticipation of anything I read in the Lonely Planet’s book on Peru before we came here; and reading the section more closely now, I am even more excited – although I suspect my weakness and queasy stomach will delay our departure until very early Tuesday morning.

It has been a new experience to revisit Cajamarca, Pacasmayo, and now Huanchaco.

Huanchaco is a warm and inviting place. Simple, friendly . . . Our simple hotel, the plain little restaurants with fresh fish, the Belgian woman’s place, the beach and traditional fishing boats, the tranquillity of the village. One could live here – with a view of the surf and Trujillo’s proximity. Easily.

We have had some splendid moments in Peru. Our afternoon in La Encantada. Our initial arrival in Pacasmayo, in bright mid-day sunlight, and the town’s sleepy atmosphere and fading colonial grandeur. The bracing drive to the pass on the way from Huancabamba to Jaen, then the delightful descent through fertile rainforest. Spending time with people in Sondor. A couple of wonderful meals, in Piura and Tarapoto. The carrot people. The drive down through Achupas and Chanchillo. The walk to Karajia with the three little sisters. Kuelap. Gocta. The amusing day with the radio people in Huancabamba.

I don’t suppose my photographs will communicate the wonder and joy of it all.

And we haven’t yet seen the Cordillera Blanca, Cusco, Macchu Pichu, Lake Titicaca, or the true Amazon!

At supper in Huanchaco, back at the Belgian woman’s restaurant, we are finishing supper as two boys come up onto the terrace to beg.  I do not give them money, but direct them to sit down, and order two ice cream sundaes for them.   They are so extremely delighted as they eat them, and perhaps also at the pleasure of sitting there as guests for a few minutes rather than darting onto and off the terrace seeking handouts, that I shoot a photo of them.   Their grins are so infectious that I’m probably just as delighted as they are.  The waiter seems to be amused too.  He certainly isn’t offended.  The boys make sure to thank me, and when we leave we shake hands with them and they say “Ciao,” just as a couple of young girls, with a third who can’t be more than three years old, come by hoping to get a share.

I invite them to walk with me to the small bakery and ice-cream shop at which we usually stop as we walk home.  They say something to a woman who has been going through the garbage can by the street, and follow us.  I give them each an ice-cream cone as we buy some stuff to take with us in the morning.   They are very grateful, but afterward, realizing that it is their mother we’d seen going through the garbage, I regret not having given her something.  Money.  Christ but it must be tough raising three kids, perhaps more, with her financial situation.

Travel Notes:

Lodging:

Pacasmayo: Hotel Pakatnamu.  S./ 155 for the night, including breakfast.  [See discussion in IV. Pacasmayo.]

Huanchaco: El Ancra.  S./ 50 for the night.  [See discussion in III. Huanchaco.]

 

Food:

[see discussions in III. Huanchaco and IV. Pacasmayo]

Other Points: