Meandering Northern Peru
When crossing the border from Ecuador, things immediately feel different. You are overwhelmed with the sites of poverty, trash and abandoned mud huts. There are miles of wind blown sand dunes as far as the eye can see and loads of Peruvian police everywhere. Which, because of horror stories from other travelers, your heart skips a beat every time you pass one. You catch yourself staring into the mirror waiting for the white SUV to come barreling up behind you.
The preliminary image of Peru makes you want to pull a u-turn and head back to beautiful Ecuador. However, if you are able to look past the negatives, Peru is a truly remarkable country filled with beauty, history and hardship.
Our first night was spent camped on the beautiful Zorritos beach. Driving along the highway, it doesn’t seem like there is much in between each abandoned building or struggling restaurant. We pulled into the driveway of our camp spot and it immediately opened up into a wide open beach, stretching for miles and miles each way. Truly a hidden gem, with a gorgeous sunset to top it off! We spent the next morning drinking our coffee while listening to the waves crash against the shore, then took a walk on the white sand chasing the thousands of crabs that were having their morning feast.
We contemplated staying another night in peaceful Zorritos but decided to move on to Mancora where we might be able to catch some surf. Pulling into town, we were less than impressed. We questioned ourselves: Why did we leave the tranquil, gorgeous Zorritos for this cramped, dirty, touristy town? We almost turned back until we remembered reading how our friends, Patagonia or Bust, found a wonderful camp spot somewhere in the town. We parked the truck on the main strip and pulled out our many maps/books and GPS to find the hostel. At one point, Nate looked up and could see the grass-roofed building with the words “Kon Tiki” displayed across it sitting at the highest point in Mancora. Success! After a scavenger hunt of dirt roads and security guards telling us we were going the wrong way, we finally made it to Kon Tiki. We camped there for almost a week, high above the town. During the day we would make our way down the steep dirt path to the beach for about an hour or two before having to retreat back to the hostel to hide in the shade to escape the heat. At night, we propped our chairs as far out on the point of our camp spot as possible to watch the sunsets and observe the hustle and bustle of Mancora life below us. Thanks for the tip Joe and Kylee!
We had a two day drive to our next stopping point in Huanchaco. The first day, we bounced along the coastline occasionally taking random roads into tiny towns to check out the surf. The highway gradually brought us inland a bit, where we would spend hours driving through the vast Piura Desert, not a soul in sight. Every so often, we would pass a large section of desert which seemed to be the dumping point for people’s trash. We have never seen so much trash in our lives. It was disappointing to know that people would come out here to this beautiful barren desert and just dump their trash without thinking twice about it.
There were also sections in the desert that contained hundreds of three-sided, grass woven huts- all abandoned. We are still unsure as what these are or were. Did people live in them? If so, why would they come all the way out here to live in a three walled hut with no roof? What did they eat? What did they do?
Pulling into Huanchaco, we quickly found our camp spot for the next week. No more than ten minutes after pulling into our spot, a turtle came crawling towards us from under the truck! He came right up to us to check us out and make sure we were legit. Donatello became our new buddy for the week. He would stop by a couple times a day, beg for some food, step on your feet and intently check out the underside of the truck.
Huanchaco is a chill, surf town with small restaurants, souvenir shops and a nice malecon that runs along the beach line. The beach is full of locals and tourists lounging in the sun and splashing around in the waves. Unfortunately for us, the ocean was flat and glossy- no surfing for us. We had our wetsuits and boards out and ready to go. Each day, we would walk down multiple times a day in hopes that the surf gods would answer our prayers. Instead, we would sit on the beach and admire the boats. These boats are mainly used to fish, except on Christmas when rides were given to people who didn’t mind braving the cool ocean crashing up and over the sides of the boat.
Christmas was upon us and we were ready for a feast! Dean and Vivian from The Buddy Expedition made a trip to the store for all the makings for a wonderful cook out. We spent the day eating one of the best meals we have had in a while with our new overland friends, sharing stories and drinking copious amounts of vino.
We had a deadline to be in Lima for New Years to pick up a visitor, so it was time to move. After saying goodbye to our new friends, we hit the road towards the Cordillera Blancas- the highest mountain range in Peru. We skirted along the bumpy, dirty road until we made it to the section of road that is known as Cañon del Pato, or Duck Canyon.
There weren’t many ducks in the canyon however, there were over 30 hand dug tunnels to pass through while weaving along the river. At times, it became a bit claustrophobic. We would enter into a tunnel and it would immediately become pitch black. Honking the horn to make sure no other cars were coming our way, we whizzed in and out of each tunnel like pros.
The second night in the mountain range, we made it to a well known camp spot at the base of Mount Huandoy. With a picturesque view of the mountains with snow capped peaks, we couldn’t have found a more tranquil spot. We spent a few days there, hiking around and enjoying the natural beauty that surrounded us. A short walk from our camp was a small, glowing emerald colored lake that we sat and relaxed by.
Since we were having some of the best weather that area had seen in a while, we took advantage and hiked up the valley toward Mount Huandoy, in hopes of making it to the ice falls. The trail skirted along the raging river and brought us deep up into the valley. We made our way back and forth over the river, hopping up on the walls of the dam to keep our feet dry. It was surreal to look up on either side of you and see 500 foot cliffs towering over you.
On the way back down, we stopped to soak our feet in the Llankanuku River. By soak, I mean dip your feet into the water and quickly pull them out wincing in pain. I was the guinea pig. My first attempt, I walked over to the rivers edge, stepping directly on a cactus, sat on a rock and got ready for the picture. I put my feet in the water and pulled them out so quickly that the rock I was sitting on gave way beneath me and I fell in the river!
My second attempt, I found a different rock to sit on and counted to three so I could rapid-fire duck my feet in the water. It was like the worst brain-freeze, or foot-freeze I guess, I have ever felt! What was I expecting sticking my feet into the glacial run off from the mountains? The things we do for a photo 😉
Growing up, Nate has flipped through thousands of climbing books and magazines containing surreal photos of the Andes. He was so excited to finally experience it for himself. We spent days just staring at the Cordilleras. The mountains changed throughout different times of the day. Depending on the time of day, the sun would create a vast amount of colors from warm and dull reds and oranges to bold, sharp greens, browns and whites on the face of the mountains.
Our last night in the Cordilleras was spent at The Way Inn Lodge. We took it easy, knowing that we had a long drive ahead of us the next day. We hung around the beautifully built buildings and gorgeous landscape, taking a short walk up the road for different views of the mountains. Nate quickly grabbed the camera and took shots of the house for future reference. 🙂
Driving out of the Cordilleras was a bit sad for us. We had such great weather and absolutely loved hiking around the mountains, we weren’t ready to go. However, someone very important was coming to visit us and we had to be in Lima in two days to pick her up. So, off we went!