One more border to cross. On the map a fancy line divides the two countries. On the ground it’s a muddy road crossed by a river that separates Ecuador and Peru. In the Ecuador side there was no one at the customs office. Had to shout “buenos dias” and after some minutes the officer appeared with a towel around his waist and told us to wait for a few minutes till he finished his morning shower! After getting the exit stamp on our passports, we pose for a souvenir photo with the local authority, holding our passports in his hand. 200% guarantee that we are us.
We are still well in to the mountain region, but heading east to the Amazon. From the distance we admired the grand Gocta waterfall. It is one of the highest waterfall in the world, about 770 m, but the most impressive is the fact that it was discovered only in the 21st century. Of course, the local people have known it for centuries and still believe its guarded by a fair-haired mermaid. We were in the end of the rainy season and could see the damages created by the heavy rains. But for UMM and its intrepid occupants, there are no obstacles that can’t be overcome! This time only the rear bumper suffered a minor damage.
Peru and Bolivia are known for their mountainous, dangerous, winding paths over the abyss (sometimes it’s hard to call it a road). Not taking such a route was out of the question (contrary to the obvious veto of the co-pilot). It turned out that our road was closed until 17:00 (and at 18:30 it is dark) so I had to increase the pace. Now, in fast mode, all the sensations were intensified. The height of the cliffs seemed higher, the curbs tighter and the squeaking, from suspension and breaks, louder. The driver, confident on his superior driving skills, made this road seem like a three lane highway. He WAS having a ball! Can’t say the same for the terrified co-pilot. Most of the recorded movies are too shaken to be showed. Fortunately, there are some pictures.
After almost two months of wandering in the mountainous, we arrived at the shores of the Pacific. We liked it so much that one planed night easily turned into five. And good that it was like that because we met other travellers, Angelika and Andre on their amazing vehicle, a Swiss postmen MOWAG from the 60s. The proximity of the water positively influenced the diversity on the menu – fresh vegetables, grilled fish, sun and pisco sur, a local drink. Holidays. But the road called us and we moved on, again towards the mountains, more precisely to the region of Cordillera Blanca were the highest peaks of Peru are.
First, we visited the Lagoon Paron, the largest lake in the region, with a turquoise colour, surrounded by snow-covered six thousand meter’s peaks. We tried some local drinks and dishes, like coca tea and cuy, although this one Marzena refused to try, claiming that her cousin Marcin, would never talk with her again. If you are curious to know what cuy stands for just search the net. It’s an animal, cute and tasty.
Cordillera Blanca is a mountain chain in the Andes, about 180 km long and only 50 km wide. We decided to pass it twice, of course by car. We had neither equipment nor strength for such high climbs. The first pass was the tunnel of Punta Olimpica at an altitude of about 4,600 m above sea level. The road first ran through the middle of the canyon and then serpentine up to the tunnel. Amazing views, around snow-covered peaks, including the highest one, Huascarán 6768 m. On the other side of the tunnel we were surprised by winter. Very nice.
On the return journey, we choose a road near the Pastoruri glacier, at the very south of this mountain range. And this is the best choice. For half a day we did not meet a living soul. Breath taking views. The calmness and majesty of the mountains. Just like everywhere else, this glacier is shrinking year by year at an alarming rate. Sad. Departure from this valley led us through slopes of overgrown Puya raimondii, also known as queen of the Andes. It is a tall plant, the largest species of bromeliad, reaching up to 15 meters in height and living around 100 years. Unfortunately, it is threatened with extinction.
It was time to head to warmer regions, that meant east towards Amazonia. Getting there was not without mishap. The road system and the entire infrastructure connected with it, especially in the higher part of the country (and the higher is the majority), is not well developed. No need to mention the asphalt, or the lack of it, because without it you can keep on moving, but without fuel? Not even an UMM can do that. Above 2500m you can observe changes in the UMM behaviour. We were constantly driving between 4000m and 5000m. At this height the demand for fuel is bigger. The village we were passing, although with a gas station, had no diesel! I did find one place that claimed having diesel but it did not look like diesel nor smelled to it. We still had over 70 km to the next a gas station. We decided to take a chance. After 2 hours of economical driving, only 28 km remained. Good news. The bad news was that we had to go uphill, at the beginning not very steep, but at one point it got steeper and the car refused to cooperate. Treason! Felt like mutiny! How dare UMM refuse to work, even if it had no diesel? It was Sunday, as it turned out the road was not frequented either. We waited, and waited and waited and asked for salvation. After five hours, two cars appeared, one after the other. Couldn’t one of them arrive a couple of hours earlier? We bought fuel, made a sensation and probably became part of a story that would be circulating around. It turned out that we just had more 4 km uphill, after that 22 km sharply down. Missed it by that much. Now only 500 km separated us from the sun. I do have to mention the three children who came to us somewhere along the way as I found that we had some problems in the rear drive shaft. Two of the four screws connecting it to the rear differential disappeared. For now, it didn’t look like nothing else was damaged, just had to screw two new screws, but a bigger problem was already unleashed. Me working and my faithful co-pilot chatting with the children! The oldest girl was about 10 years old and, with her broken Spanish, Marzena talked with her about life. The questions “are all people as tall as you in your country?” Marzena will not forget.
Lima. I had to fly back to Portugal for a week or so, and Marzena was left alone. Well not quite, she had UMM. We stopped in Lima, in a nice hostel parking lot. It was a bit of a rest from the expedition and somehow Marzena got slightly ill, at least this was the excuse. That’s why there are no photos from Lima, but got to meet other travellers. Norwegians bickers (Norwegian that spoke Polish so well that at some point I asked how a Pole could speak Norwegian) that we hope to one-day visit in Norway; a Polish-Swedish couple that we would be with again further in our journey (but about that in another post). The rest proved to be very useful for the next adventures. We drove south to the desert, to the dunes of Paracas. We didn’t had such calm, such an immensity of sand for a long time. Here we passed almost vertical dunes. Very scary moments, with my co-pilot almost having a nervous breakdown. Pictures, or films, cannot give the right dimension of it. The bigger problem in UMM that I mentioned above was finally revealed. The nut that secures the differential pinon got some slack and… major problems!
We had to change the original plan, so we went straight from Arequipa to Puno. Again alone on the road, sleeping at an altitude of 4400m (cold, very cold). Views like from postcards and peace, tranquillity everywhere.
In Puno a longer stop would take place. We were on the Titikaka lake, pronounced Tikichacha. We decide on a very touristic trip to the lake and visited the floating islands. Islands made of skilfully prepared and arranged calamus. We visit one of them, we talk with residents, one family. Life is not easy here, I do not know if it’s pleasant. How much of it was authentic? It’s hard to know. Now it seems to be a living museum. Not the best place to visit, in our opinion.
Peru is one of the most diverse countries we have visited. This can be easily seen on the example of climate; out of 32 climates and microclimates of the world, 28 are found in Peru, and plus the richness of flora and fauna. We’ve spent six weeks here, but it’s definitely not enough. You have to return.