Travels in Peru – Lima, Mountains, & Ruins

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As if we hadn’t had enough fog yet driving up Peru’s South Coast, we got our share of it in Lima. The boring, depressing, grey weather without one ray of sun for almost two weeks no doubt added to my conclusion that I find Lima the least inviting city we’ve visited thus far in South America. We found it dirty, clogged with traffic, and generally not a pleasant place to stay.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t like the people. As usual we had our special encounters: I met a couple of women who regularly come to the German Club (where we camped) to exercise, and Coen took up the invitation from Daniel we had met in Arequipa to play a field hockey game at South America’s oldest and most prestigious Lima Cricket and Football Club. We met another HASH running club (HASH, what is that? check it out here) and had a fantastic HASH outside Lima.

Detail on the cathedral’s door
Sightseeing in Lima – Catacombes

As usual, Coen made friends in workshops. One of the household batteries had blown in Cusco so our priority was to get those replaced. Coen found them without much difficulties and installed them. We could run the fridge again.

There was more to keep him busy: he put new rubbers on the tie rod ends, had the ripped tire fixed, did regular stuff like checking fluids, changing oil & filter, fixed loose engine supports, and made a 12-volt hook-up for our new compressor (which has turned out to be a great investment). Here’s the story about the workshop in Lima.

Back to the Mountains

Together with Emily, Adam & Colette, with whom we had spent quite a bit of time in Cusco as well, we headed back into the mountains. We drove to San Pedro de Casta for one last activity together: a day hike. Thanks for spending so much time with you guys, and the great conversations we had.

After San Pedro de Casta, an exhaustive but incredibly impressive stretch followed. It felt so good to be in nature again, to breath clean air again after all that dirt in Lima. Clean air – something so basic, but what a privilege. We kept away from the main road and zigzagged our way through the mountains northeast, to Cerro de Pasco.

Rough, bare mountains for hours on end where we couldn’t stop wondering how people can live here. How do you irrigate those vertical fields, seemingly far from any water source? Few people live here, but for those who do we have nothing but admiration. Life must be tough here.

An image that never tires: local people herding their animals.

Our biggest challenge was to find a place to sleep. For most of the day we had been driving above 4,000 and even 4,500 meters, which are not the best altitudes for a good night sleep. So we soldiered on into the dark until we arrived at Bosque de Piedras, could park in a parking lot which belonged to a thermal bath. Now the latter was heaven, I tell you, and after such a warm bath we slept like a couple of babies.

From a rough dirt road we returned to asphalt and inflated the tires again – like I said in the beginning, the compressor has been a great investment; why did it take years to buy one, we wonder now – driving north to Huánuco and west to Peru’s oldest ruins: those of Kotosh. The ruins weren’t that spectacular to see, but Kotosh was the beginning of another marvelous stretch all the way to Chavin. We drove here just for the sake of driving.

Okay, not everybody is always up for a chat…
This woman, whom we met on the San Pedro de Casta trail, was a great story teller.

Meeting People

Before driving to Peru, we had few expectations of the country. Most stories from travelers about corruption, people haggling you for money, and theft appeared mostly to be coming from Peru. The impression we had was that Peruvians didn’t really care for foreigners and so we started our journey here without any expectations in that area.

Now, a couple of months later, we can’t relate these stories to what we experience at all. We find Peruvians incredibly friendly. In Cusco we were told this was the case because locals are used to foreigners. However, even in the remotest areas like we’ve covered the last couple of days, we get so many hands up, friendly greetings, curious men, women & kids coming to the Land Cruiser for a chat, that Peru in this sense is fantastic.

A pig-in-the-oven dish in a remote village
This man proudly showed off his machette with own made leather handle.

Okay, we don’t get the invitations into people’s homes, like we did for example in Brazil, but we feel there is much less distance between the locals and us than say, for example, in Bolivia’s rural areas. On this stretch, from Kotosh to Antamina, we stopped in a village and were literally bombarded by questions from people that gathered around the vehicle, wanting to peek inside and expressing their wonder about how we spent our lives. It was just fantastic and after having tried the local delicacy of a pork dish called pachamanca we left with big smiles on our faces.

Antamina’s Futuristic Mine and Chavin’s Ancient Ruins

We’ve visited the world’s largest copper mine in Chile (Chuquicamata, read about it here) and we’ve visited gold mines in Brazil and Guyana. We know the devastation mines cause yet it’s a sight we don’t get used to. Driving alongside Antamina, Peru’s largest mine (mostly copper) was mind blowing.

How’s that for a slag heap?

The humongous man-made mountains, consisting of just slag (see the top photo of this blog post), are staggering. The trucks driving back and forth to dump more slag on top of it are enormous. From a technical point of view, it’s probably impressive what they achieve here. From an environmental point of view, the sight made us cry.

Meanwhile both of us were coming down with a severe cold as we hadn’t had in years. In Chavin, a man was kind enough to let us camp behind his restaurant, (an open field with view of the river) for as long as we wanted. The one-kilometer walk to picturesque town was exhaustive but we did visit the Chavin ruins, which are among some of the best we’ve seen in Peru. For days we slept and did nothing but reading and taking in the sun for as much as it showed itself.

When a week later we started to feel better we were eager to move on once more. We were on the east side of the Cordillera Blanca, where we didn’t see much white mountain tops. We looked forward to going to Huaraz on the west side and get some spectacular view of snow-capped mountains. Did we see them? I’ll tell you in a next blog post.

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

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