Tag Archives: driving through 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.


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.   



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:


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.


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.


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.

49. Cusco I; Pisac


XLIX. Cusco

    Cusco is a marvelous city.   (I cannot disagree with the oft-voiced complaint that it begins to resemble Santa Fe in New Mexico, St. Miguel de Allende in Guanajauto, and other great spots now top-heavy with tourists; but it’s still beautiful, it still has a wonderful feel to it, and there are still places in the area where you won’t find so many fellow foreigners. )  My own experience and account of it were marred by personal issues, which I mention only to explain why this and the next several posts will not provide as much detail on this fine city as I might like.   (The post is in draft form because some further information from my notebooks isn’t available to me right now but soon will be again.  Note also that two additional posts, after our return from Macchu Picchu and from Puerto Maldonado, will concern Cusco.)

    Cusco is also the gateway to Machu Picchu — as well as to Manú and Puerto Maldonado.    The presence of numerous agencies [including the eight entitled to take you into Manú itself] within block of the Plaza helps with comparison shopping.   If you aren’t locked into a particular days, you can select the tour that most fits your taste and budget. 

 We spent our first day or two in Cusco looking into possible trips to the interior.   Selma’s departure schedule nixed several attractive possibilities, and Ragna wasn’t interested in anything that involved camping out at night, and we ultimately settled on a five day, four-night trip to Corto Maltes on the Rio Madre de Dios.   This would allow us a day or two in Puerto Maldonado before and after the jungle.    [Posts to follow will describe that trip.] 

We also lazed around the Hostal Qorichaska, which I found to be a very reasonable budget lodging in a convenient location.   The thick walls made some rooms silent as tombs at night; the courtyard provided a pleasant and sometimes warm spot in which to enjoy the complimentary breakfast and read or write or gab with other travelers; and the kitchen allowed for saving money by making one’s own meals.    

Pisac Mercado

Sunday we set out reasonably early for the Pisac market. From Cuzco we drive through beautiful mountain countryside that would delight us even if it were not full of Inca ruins and small villages, and were not called the Sacred Valley.

Pisac is crowded and chaotic, as we’d expected. The market itself fills the Plaza de Armas and extends a long way along two of the eight streets that run outward from the Plaza. We enter in the corner where folks are selling vegetables and meat, and I start shooting like crazy, as I always do in markets. Most vendors and customers don’t notice or don’t care: they’re accustomed to foreigners from all over the globe photographing them. A few put up there hands or cover their heads with their hats, and of course I immediately apologize and move on, not trying to steal a shot of them. Some, including children, extend a palm or say, “Propina.” Of these, some say it with stern faces, to dissuade anyone from photographing them without paying; some say it smiling; and a few, who perhaps have not yet tried this and aren’t quite sure they can earn a few extra soles so easily, say it shyly, giggling.

So here are a few faces from the marketplace.   Some were candid shots in which the people weren’t aware of being photographed or more or less ignored the fact.   Others — like the girls with the lambs — were in the market specifically to be photographed, and particularly to be paid for being photographed.  So, I think, was the old lady in her chair.  When I visited Pisac again on the way out to Macchu Picchu a couple of days later, she was in the same chair in the same spot, and some fellow from New York was photographing her.

sm-08-9131-woman-in-pisac-mercadosm-08-9144-woman-in-pisac-mercadosm-08-9152-woman-in-pisac-mercado sm-08-9151-woman-in-pisac-mercadosm-08-9153-woman-in-pisac-mercado1



Despite the tour-buses parked back at the entrance to town, this wasn’t a tourist market.   It was extensive, and there were certainly jewelry and clohing stalls aimed at tourists; but I also saw plenty of fruit and vegetables, meat, sandals, tools, and what-not, as well as a few food-stalls where locals, but no foreigners, were chowing down.    Again, a quick sampling:


At one point we see a couple of little girls and a third, smaller child, each of the two older girls carrying a tiny lamb half hidden in her jacket. Of course we want to shoot that picture, and willingly provide the requisite propina. What a neat image! Of course, after we see the girls two or three more times, circulating throughout the market to have their photos taken by tourists, and see at least two other pairs or trios of girls with tiny lambs also wandering around for the same purpose, the image loses a little lustre.

We eat lunch at an outdoor table in one of the restaurants on the plaza.

Later I get talking with some expats from the U.S. who live around here.  They’re at the ______ — an eaterie on the Plaza that’s almost hidden by all the mercado tents.   The talk is of healers and shamans and the countryside here.  One of them runs a local b&b, the _________  — and proudly introduces me to ____ and ____, two large, friendly dogs sitting at his feet.  (Memory claims that the b&b was called the Thunder and Lightning, and that the dogs were, respectively, Thunder . . . and Lightning; but I need to check my notes.)  In any case I enjoyed talking with the guy who runs the place, and a couple of other expats who lived in the Valley; and they were serious about healing.   If you plan on visiting the area to see a shaman or drink ayahuasca, those folks would be reasonable folks to contact about that. 

We drive back to Cusco in a light rain. In the evening we dine at ____ on the Plaza. It ain’t cheap, but the food’s fine and for awhile there’s a floor-show, five or six musicians in local garb playing old Beatles tunes and some classical music on local Andes instruments, and some dancers (who dance together then circulate and invite diners or drinkers to dance with them – beware!). . .

Travel Notes:

After a long search we end up at Hostal Qorichaska, which we recommend. [see below].

Aurelio, our landlord in Arequipa, had recommended S on El Sol, and it sounded appealing:

But the evening we arrived it had limited availability. We called several other possibilities, and visited a number of them. ______ was in a location that was appealing [very high up, nice view, far away from everything] but impractical [cochera a good hike away, the last portion of the road up to the place a one-lane, cobblestone street that we weren’t sure taxis would choose to go up, having to back down 100 meters or so].

_______ was in a nice area, also high up, but convenient to Plaza ____ and some nice-looking restaurants, and the man who showed us the rooms was pleasant and helpful, even walking with us to another hostal and then providing directions back down to the Plaza de Armas] but there were a lot of dogs barking in the area, and on this particular day a couple of the rooms we saw suffered from the effects of a cat having been accidentally locked in the room for an extended period. However, there was a restaurant and courtyard area, and the price was right. The nearby ____ was also a possibility, but we decided we felt like being closer to the plaza.

The Hostal Qorichaska is an old building with thick stone walls, and we’d highly recommend it as a budget hotel, although the rates were a good deal more than those at the ones we saw higher up [and much further from the Plaza de Armas]. We slept marvelously every night. Calle Nueva Alta gets little late-night traffic, and almost no sound penetrates to our room [which was ground-floor and not hear the front gate]. The courtyard was a great place to breakfast, or to read or gab or catch a few rays during the day, or to drink a glass of wine at night. The rooms were adequate in size and cleanliness: undecorated, but pleasant. The place was convenient to the Plaza, a very modest walk or a quick cab-ride. The staff was generally friendly and helpful, and laundry was done and returned fairly quickly. Phone number, I think, is 228 974 – from elsewhere in Peru, preface that with (84) for Cusco; and from outside Peru, (51)(84) 228 974.

[to be inserted]
Other Points:
1. Read Garcilaso  de la Vega.   Not surprisingly (since he was the son of a prominent conquistador and an Inca princess , and was writing of a childhood spent in Cusco just a few years after the Conquest) his account provides a uniquely direct feel for the Inca civilization and Cusco.
2. Independent travelers: note that Cusco and Lima are the only cities in Perú in which the South American Explorers Club has a clubhouse.   The one in Cusco, just a short walk from the Plaza de Armas, has a library of other folks’ accounts of travels to Manú, the Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers, and other remote locations, with reviews of different tour operators. 
3. Ayahuasca.  I didn’t have a chance to participate, but friends and acquaintances gave me ample first-hand accounts for me to have the names of two people in mind whom I’d talk to if I wanted to drink ayahuasca.   Diego, in the Sacred Valley, and Antonio, in the Puerto Maldonado area.  More about Antonio in a later post, as one morning I talked for awhile with Antonio.    I had a good feeling about him; and he recommended Diego, whom a couple of friends had also visited for ayahuasca ceremonies.  One difference is that Diego is more [Buddhist] religiously oriented.   The night before I spoke with him, a South African couple I spent several days with in the jungle had been up all night with Antonio, drinking ayahuasca for the first time, and they spoke positively of the experience;  and he’s a serious man I tended to like, respect, and trust.    As I added this note, I googled “Sacred Valley” and ayahuasca, and there’s plenty on the ‘net to read about this stuff.  One site,  http://natureofmind.org/44/ayahuasca-information-and-retreats/ recommended the same two guys, Diego and Antonio.

XXXIX. Arequipa to Tacna

XXXIX.  Arequipa to Tacna  6-7 August

We get an early start.  After weeks in the flat, we’re excited to be on the road again, and looking forward to what we’ll see in Chile.

About an hour from Arequipa we stop at a toll booth. Just beyond it, there’s some sort of police check-point.  As we move slowly past it, a policeman waves to us. When we stop, he first confirms that we’re going south toward Tacna, not out to Mollendo, then asks for a ride. Of course we agree. He says – if I understand him correctly – something to the effect that we will be serving the country for the next two hours.

He’s a nice young guy, but harder than most folks for me to understand. He’s our companion for the next couple of hours’ drive through varied terrain, mostly desert and arid hills, with occasional drops into green river valleys. Eventually at another toll booth he leaves us. As near as I can tell, I was wrong in my initial impression that he was catching a ride home after his shift or back to work after his days’ off.   I now think he uses this method as a low-budget way to patrol this stretch of highway, and will catch a ride back the other way with someone else.

Shortly we have another hitchhiker for awhile. For some reason he’s much easier to understand, and tells us more than I need to repeat about the local economy, which hills have what kinds of mines operating in them, and the like. Still, it’s pleasant to chat with him.

We glance at Tacna on the way through – at the Plaza de Armas, nice colors, the blossoms of some tree or trees, catching the sunlight above the plaza – and continue to the border.  We arrive in almost exactly the five hours Andrea had predicted.

Unfortunately, at the border we’re told we can’t cross because we don’t have a piece of paper from customs authorizing us to take our Peruvian-registered car out of Peru.

We must drive the 40 km. back to Tacna and go to the customs department.  We turn back, but I don’t know where customs is or what exactly we need. I drive back to the Plaza de Armas, figuring I’ll see a police station or a tourist information office or the customs office somewhere in that area, and when we do see an information office I turn off the main street and park as soon as I can.  At the tourist information office, this problem – a foreign person who owns a Peruvian vehicle and needs to take it out of Peru temporarily – is a new one for the two nice ladies who help me. They are diligent, and one even makes several phone calls to customs offices, finally telling me that to drive the car out of Peru I must pay a fee that is 70% of the value of the car. I am of course disappointed to hear this, but also politely disbelieving.  She figures that’s just Perú, but makes a few more calls.  Finally she tells me that there are shipping companies that can get us the permit we need, for a modest fee, and gives me directions to drive to the office of one of them.

Thus begins a difficult effort that features visits to a couple of such companies, a new [and not unreasonable] requirement that we have with us a document showing we have clear title to the car, and the payment of a fee.  I rush across town to SUNARP, but to get the document proves impossible in the vehicle office in Tacna because we can get it only in Lima, where the car is registered.  Another guy waiting there tells me the only way is to get a friend in Lima to go to the office, procure the piece of paper, and fax it to me. We call our friend in Lima, who is willing to do that, and check into a hotel for the night.

Tacna itself is actually a pleasant town, but for the fact that we’d rather not be there at all.

In the morning we have time to kill, waiting for the paper from Lima. We walk down to the Plaza de Armas and back.  The walk includes a very pleasant visit to a small museum in the former home of a local hero who was instrumental in sparking the 1929 referendum that brought Tacna back to Peru from Chile, which had won it in war forty years earlier.   It’s now partly an art museum, and worth a stop if you’re in Tacna.

Back out in the real world, a shoeshine boy talks Ragna into a shoeshine – then afterward, instead of the agreed upon three soles wants something like U.S. $30!   (He doesn´t get it.)

Ragna in Tacna

shoeshine boy - NOT the one who tried to cheat her

Tacna, perhaps because it is so close to the border, has a market area filled with acres of foreign electronics and other goods, including what we need: warm coats for the high, cold country we hope to visit. We kill some time over there. Then there are two developments with regard to the paper we need: the first is that we learn we don’t really need it, because we can say that we will only visit Arica – and, once we’re in Chile, Peru’s customs people have no way of knowing where we actually go, and the Chileans don’t care.  The second is that we won’t get the paper today, because in my e-mail to Aldo I’ve mis-written one number of the car’s license plate.

So – 24 hours later than we’d intended – we’re off to Chile!

As we’re driving through Tacna, a pedestrian crossing the street points vigorously at the front of the car, as if pointing out that we have our lights on or something, but we don’t. After another block or so another pedestrian points, with an urgent expression on his face, but I can’t catch what he yells to us, and continue, wondering what’s up. The fourth time someone reacts that way to our approach, I stop. The fellow says the left front tire has been wobbling wildly – though I hadn’t felt anything – and is instantly down on his knees taking a look at it. He turns out to be a mechanic, from a nearby shop, and we make for there – slowly and carefully, so as not to aggravate the problem.

It turns out that we need certain parts. I am a little suspicious, and want to walk with one of these guys to the Mitsubishi place to buy the parts. However, one of them returns with the fellow from Mitsubhishi, who has the parts with him – and the prices he’s asking seem way out of line, although I know nothing about car-part prices, in the U.S. or in Perú.   At this point, I am in a difficult position. The wheels are loose, waiting for the new parts. I believe the price of the parts is way too high, but am no mechanic. All discussion is, of course, in Spanish.

I am like a fish flopping about out of water. I know something is wrong, Even as ignorant as I am about cars and car parts and prices, I feel sure that the price for these parts is inflated; but I can’t reach anyone to confirm that; and I can’t leave Ragna alone with the car and all our things while I go in search of assistance; and I can’t send her anywhere to ask anything, since she doesn’t speak the language (and, as a woman alone, might have difficulty reaching the main street, if these guys are in fact cheating us); and the two of us can’t really leave the car where it is, either. Too, these guys might actually be telling the truth.

So I sit there with my foot on the goddamned brake trying to call every Mitsubishi place and every Peruvian acquaintance I can think off – but without my computer, I don’t even have all the phone numbers I wish I had. I do manage to reach the Mitsubishi place in Yanahuara, but the guy who runs repairs is out, and I make no headway with the woman on the phone. I do manage to reach Aurelio, our landlord, and he undertakes to try to figure out the proper prices for those parts; but that may take some time, and it’s late afternoon. I know that I can’t still be dealing with this problem when night falls.

They do give me another cell-phone and a number in Lima, which I call. Whoever answers purports to be a Mitsubishi dealer in Lima, and more or less confirms the prices they’ve stated; but I’m still unconvinced, and want to call someone with my own cell-phone to be sure it’s not somebody’s cousin playing along.

This is an interlude I do not much wish to write about. Being so stupid and helpless is not part of my self-image. It’s a rare experience and not a pleasant one, not something I’m dying to announce to everyone.

People often ask, and will continue to ask, “But didn’t you have any problems, driving around so much of Peru alone?” Mostly it has been wonderful. Or difficult in the usual ways, but rewarding. I have enjoyed saying, “Not really” – not because it sounds cool, but because it seems in a little way to vindicate this country I’ve grown fond of. Now I must say, “Mostly no, but . . .” and tell everyone how stupid I was.

We drive to the border again. I feel subdued and a little tuned-out as we go through a lot of Peruvian paperwork to get the car out of Peru, then get subjected to the Chilean border guards’ careful efforts to keep Peruvian drugs out of Chile.  By now I´m getting tired.   When we finally drive away, the man at the last checkpoint determines that the Chilean document regarding the car, which requires five signatures, has only four signatures on it, and he sends us back to procure the fifth.

Finally we are across. In darkness we make the short drive on to Arica. We like the feel of the place, even in darkness, and it’s exciting to be in a new country; but our efforts to find an affordable and acceptable place to stay are as protracted and disastrous as usual.  Once again we inspect various hotels, one of which is appealing but full and others of which don’t pass muster with Ragna.

Ultimately we stay at the Costa Pacifico, a cavernous, bland sort of place.  The room is huge but doesn’t have a chair or table.  The hotel is clean, but too antiseptic and characterless for my taste,  and costlier than I might like.  (But there may also be a psychological barrier involved in spending 35,000 of anything.)

To get supper we walk to a street that’s been turned into a pedestrian mall.  It’s loud with bars, but thin on restaurants that look appealing — particularly if you don’t eat meat.  We finally do eat somewhere, but my stomach is worse.  I have a rare bout of diarrhea.   Ragna, who is happy to be in Chile and likes the feel of Arica, wants to stay up and drink and be merry, and seems angry at me for not being too enthusiastic.  We walk home.  She’s quite put out with me.  I just want to sleep.   Chile seems nice, but life doesn’t.

Travel Notes:

Tacna: Tacna Hotel – S./ 120 ?  Was a nice enough hotel, higher-class than many we stayed in — but awfully noisy during the daytime while they were constructing more rooms over the parking area!
Arica: Hotel Costa del Pacifica.  A clean, cavernous place.   People were nice, but I had a feeling we could have gotten a place we liked a lot better for less than 35,000 pesos — about U.S. $ 70.  And next time, we did. (See Section 42]
Tacna: we supped at the hotel restaurant. The food was fine, nothing to write home about.
Arica: Two good restaurants, one in town and one a kilometer or two south of town, are Tierra Amado and La Maracuyá.   I preferred the latter, the one out of town, right on the water, but they were both good, and not expensive by European or U.S. standards.
Other Points:
Get two messages from the foolish episode in Tacna: (1) don’t assume that driving a car into Bolivia or Chile or Brazil will be easy, even if Bolivia or Chile or Brazil has no objections; and (2) don’t fall for street hustles: if your car seems to be having a problem, be very deliberate in accepting assistance, particularly if it involves getting off the main road. Obviously the second point is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since street hustles come in a variety of forms, and usually work because the hustler somehow gets you a little off-balance, so that your normal bullshit-sensors aren’t functioning so well; and any description of safe conduct that would protect us from hustles would also deprive us of a whole lot of legitimate interesting experiences.

XXX. Nazca 18-19 June

XXX. Nazca

After the Museo Regionale in Ica we make the short drive to Nazca, check into a hotel, drink some coffee in its very pleasant walled garden, then go for a drive.  Nazca itself is not terribly appealing, but the hotel is pleasant.  In the morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we pack all our stuff and head for the airport to fly over the Lines. 

The Nazca lines are one of the things you’re really supposed to see in Perú. As a photographer, I’m less than excited.

Since before coming to Perú I’ve heard about the lines.  Fashioned long before the Inca era, these mysterious lines have spawned various theories about their creation. Extensive line drawings of various figures, they are visible only from the sky.  Because the Nazca culture lacked airplanes, it’s interesting that whoever built the lines could envision how they’d look from a vantage point no one on earth had yet enjoyed (unless, as some have hypothesized, visitors from some other planet were involved). It’s impressive that someone imagined it, and could create the lines; and no one truly knows why someone built them. For the Gods to see, or perhaps even the Sun [the Incas’ primary deity, though the Incas did not build the lines]. They’re a legitimate mystery.

Once here, though, I might almost pass on seeing them. We won’t be able to go until mid-afternoon, which will be flat, uninteresting light. We have a long way to drive to Arequipa. And the cost seems inflated – and has certainly increased a great deal recently. At the airport, lacking reservations, we find we’ll have to wait more than an hour to fly.

Ragna waits at the airport

I’ve seen a few pictures, and our landlady in Lima had several colorful tiles on the wall with graphic reproductions of the lines on them; but from the air, flying over desert with plenty of natural patterns and lines to camouflage The Lines, it ain’t easy to spot the first one when the pilot tells you it’s down there on the right. I turn in my seat and look, and do find it, but by then we’ve almost passed it, and he’s returning to give the woman sitting on the left a better look.

Strapped in the passenger seat of a small plane, it’s a struggle to spot the figure, organize a shot, get proper focus and lighting, all the time shooting through a window that’s going to limit the quality of the shot. I’m impressed by the lines, but no more than I was by the idea of them. Struggling to take what I know will be mediocre pictures at best, I don’t get to contemplate them. It’s nice enough countryside, the lines are unusual, and flying in a small plane is generally fun, although unsettling to some stomachs.

nature added many lines to "the Lines"

one line close to the highway from Ica


As we fly back toward the airport, I’m phrasing in my mind what I want to say about this: don’t take your camera. All my life, I’ve heard the old complaint that you lose the quality of an experience by photographing it. Usually I disagree. At Nazca, that complaint has more to it.  Not because the Lines are so spectacular or moving but because the photography is so difficult, and the potential returns so limited, that even the most avid and capable photographer ought not to bother. There are undoubtedly decent pictures, perhaps excellent pictures on sale. The reasons not to shoot more yourself begin with the fact that it takes a moment or two to distinguish the figures from the natural lines and patterns left by the centuries and the occasional rains. By the time you actually spot The Lines, you may not have time to frame and focus. If you could then shoot a marvelous photo, you’d want to do it; but: (1) you’re probably not there at the ideal time of day, and thus not shooting with the most favorable light; (2) you’re shooting through a window; (3) you’re high up, at the altitude at which they normally fly tourists; and (4) the pilot’s on a bit of a schedule, and although he makes a second pass at each figure so that all the passengers on each side of the plane get a good view, and might make a third pass at one if you requested it, you don’t have a pilot who’s wholly at your command. Also, the Lines aren’t like, say the Lincoln Memorial, where you might get lucky and shoot a juxtaposition of the right person or sign or object with the Memorial itself. From so many meters up, you ain’t gonna catch a burro or a llama in front of the lines, or a live condor perched by the drawing of a condor. So why bother?

With all those impediments to making a photograph you’d even bother to print, why not leave the camera at home?  Instead of fussing with it, look at the damned lines, wonder about them, observe something of them.  Concoct your own theory on their origins. See what they make you feel.

B. Chauchilla Cemetery

    By now it’s getting late to start driving, but even so we can’t resist stopping at the Cemetario about 30 km. south of Nazca.  After a 7 km. drive off the Pan-American Highway on a fairly easy dirt road through the desert, the Cemeterio turns out to be a dozen or so of what look like cellars with no houses on top of them.  Each is a rectangular hole in the ground, with rock walls, no ceiling, and a wooden structure above to provide shade.  Each is populated by one or more mummies, often with skulls, bones, cups, and other objects surrounding them.  Glancing down, one has almost the feeling of looking through a window into a family’s living room or kitchen.   But all the folks inside died a very long time ago.   Several hundred years before the Inca’s became the big deal in western South America.  These mummies are from the Nazca times.  Grave-robbers had scattered them around while rushing off with more valuable finds, but then someone  collected them.



















Rushing back along the dirt road to the paved road South, we pass a Christian cemetery we would likely have ignored, but for its contrast with where we’ve just been.

Travel Notes:

We stay in the Oro Viejo, at S./ 130 rather pricy for Peru, but not for Nazca. It’s a pleasant place, with a nice garden, and we’d recommend it. The S./ 130 included breakfast.

We ate at a lousy chifa, a block or two back down from the Plaza de Armas toward the hotel. Don’t.
Other Points:
Overflights of the Nazca Lines cost us U.S. $90 per person plus S./ 11.50 per person tax [ plus S./3 for parking], and involved waiting nearly two hours and flying for a half hour. 
As I recall from New Mexico, afternoon flights over this sort of country can extricate your lunch from your stomach.  Neither Ragna nor I was sick, although the thought occurred to each of us, but months later a couple of young women from Canada regaled everyone with a detailed account of how quickly and urgently they needed to use the bags provided each passenger in case of airsickness.  If you’re at all prone to that sort of thing, or haven’t flown in small planes and don’t know, consider a light lunch or none.  Or taking a pill.  The foregoing is particularly true if it’s a warm afternoon.
Unless you’re flying very early in the morning and have some special reason, don’t take your camera on the plane with you – or at least, don’t take the lens cap off. The Nazca Lines are interesting and a historical/philosophical/archeological mystery; but trying to capture a good photograph of the damn things will distract you unnecessarily from just seeing and contemplating them – all for lousy photographs. If you want photographs of the Nazca Lines, buy ‘em – unless you’re there long enough and sufficiently enamored of the lines to fly several times, at different times of day. Obviously with some knowledge of the lines and a pilot you could ask to adjust his flying to your photographic needs, you could photograph them, and maybe a plane without a window blocking your view; but if you’re just flying over them once, and you’re not getting paid for your pictures, lose the camera.

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:
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.

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: