Over Borders and Into the Andes

So much has happened since I´ve last blogged, it may be difficult to recount it all! But I´ll try. After my last post…

We spent about a week camping along deserted beaches in Northern Chile, watching stars fill black clear skies, cooking delicious meals out of the back with our cook stove, sleeping in of our beloved station wagon and waking up to biting flies and crashing waves. There is absolutely nothing in that part of Chile except sea, sand and desert. Nothing green. The rivers were dry. The sky was blue, but everything else was tan. Needless to say, we were anxious to head north into Peru and back into the mountains.

We were nervous about crossing the border into Peru since we´d read that others in our situation had been rejected, but we approached it optimistically. Sure enough when we arrived, we were told we weren´t allowed to cross into Peru and that we´d need to turn back and cross over through Bolivia (adding many hours and miles to our trip). But with a little begging and one empathetic border patrol officer, we were allowed into Peru with a temporary pass, giving us 3 weeks to get back to Chile with the car. We drove happily into Peru, thanking the stars, and stayed one night in Tacna before continuing the long journey through our first stretch of Andes to Arequipa.

We immediately noticed the difference between driving in Chile and driving in Peru. Peruvian drivers have dangerous tendencies- such as ignoring speed limits, passing around blind corners, honking incessantly and treating skinny two lane roads as one lane roads, passing as they please. We drove as carefully as possible- we were constantly on edge, waiting for trucks to pass into our lanes around corners and gripping the wheel as trucks honked and passed us on the left. We´ve become more accustomed to the driving now, so although we´re not constantly on edge, we´re still always ready for anything (cars passing blindly, cows in the road, dogs chasing our wheels… fun things!)

We arrived in Arequipa by night, somehow magically finding our hostel in the dark among the hectic streets. We stayed in a great hostel with lots of hang out spots, two kitchens, two movie rooms, game rooms and a great outdoor patio. After a few days of exploring the city, enjoying street food, and visiting a 500 year old monastery (which was awesome), we began to prepare for the journey north through the heart of the Andes. We took our car to a mechanic (putting our Spanish to the test) and had the carburetor adjusted for high altitude, knowing we´d be crossing a 4,800 meter (15,700 foot) pass. We left early the next morning, drove out of the city and into the shanty outskirts as we climbed further into the surrounding hills. We were heading to Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world, to spend a few days hiking and camping.

After an intense climb, we reached the top of the pass just as smoke started to pour out from under the hood. We discovered the radiator cap had come off and we´d spilt most of our water. Luckily, we hadn´t lost the cap and we had plenty of water to replace what was lost.  After that, it was smooth sailing to Colca Canyon. We passed several snow topped mountains, open fields filled with lamas, alpacas and vicuñas, along with sheep and wild dogs. We began to descend into the canyon near dusk and were taken away by the scenery. After spending too long in the desert, we were amazed by the lush valley below us, filled with waterfalls, rivers and yellow and purple wildflowers. It turned out to be an amzing week camping along rivers in the valley, driving along dirt roads, seeing ancient Inca terracing in the hills, passing all sorts of animals in the roads (baby donkeys, cows, horses, sheep and lamas), meeting local shepherds grazing their herds, and watching condors fly through the canyon.

We did one major hike, descending 1200 meters (nearly 4000 feet) into the canyon on a slippery, rocky path. It took us 7 hours and we were literally sore for days afterwards, but the hot spring baths we arrived at once we reached the bottom were (almost) worth the grueling work. We camped and soaked in the tubs that sat at a steaming 39 degrees Celsius (100 F) right on the Colca River for two nights. I woke up there on my birthday, 25 years old but feeling like an 80 year old, sore as could be, but feeling incredibly blessed to be in such a beautiful place. After a pancake breakfast, we trekked up to the road and caught a ride in the back of a truck out of the canyon. We stayed one more night before driving north to Cusco. Even though I had come down with a nasty head cold, we ate a delicious dinner (fresh river trout and quinoa risotto- yum!) and treated ourselves to a real bed for a good night´s sleep. It´s impossible to describe how appreciative I´ve become of the little things in life- like a hot shower, a soft bed and a hot cup of Coca tea. Alright, or a cold beer 🙂

The next day, we drove another 10 hours to Cusco, half of which was on a bumpy dirt road that crossed more incredible passes. We ran into collapsed bridges, passed high altitude lakes fed by springs, slowed for sheep in the road, picked up locals needing rides from secluded work areas back into towns, drove through rain and lightening storms at night, and eventually arrived in Cusco safely. We could hardly believe we´d actually made it, after all we´d put the car through. Early the next morning, my sister Chelsea and her friend Le arrived, bringing a little bit of home to Peru. The next 8 days we spent together deserve a post of their own 🙂

ImageBeach where we camped in Chile

ImageWe made it!!

ImageSanta Catalina Monestary in Arequipa

ImageCows and the Colca River in Colca Canyon (Inca terracing in the background)

ImageCampsite in Colca Canyon

ImageHot spring natural bath on the river

ImageBirthday pancakes!

ImageUmm are we supposed to cross this bridge?? (Luckily, we found an alternate way)

ImageHigh altitude lake fed by a spring

ImageDriving through the Andes

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About rainbowpaw

This blog is meant to document my travels through South America, beginning in November in Bogotá, Colombia... destination, unknown!
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