The Ocean Breeze and Birds with Backwards Knees
After dropping Nate’s mom off at the airport, we decided to get a hotel room in the city for one more night before returning to our mud pit campground at Quinta Lala. We walked around Cusco even more, taking in the beautiful architecture. While walking around one day, we stumbled upon Norton’s Rat Tavern. We found our way up the stairs to the dimly lit bar and were greeted by Hot Tuna blaring over the speakers! We knew this would become our spot, with one of the best bands in American history playing in the background and a delicious artesian draft IPA endlessly pouring into our glasses. We frequented this bar at the end of the day for the next three days, perched high up on the balcony overlooking the town square.
One evening, after our romantic happy hour on the balcony, we were walking around town when I stopped dead in my tracks and squealed with joy at the sight of a baby lamb! Nate turned around to see what the fuss was about and, before he knew it, I was juggling a baby lamb in one arm and the camera in the other, eagerly asking him to take my picture.
We finally decided it was time to pack up our things and leave Cusco to continue our journey. We skirted truck along the high plains of Peru’s farmlands. The number on the thermometer quickly dropped from the high 60s to the low 20s and we started to see frost on the ground. The terrain was rich with greens and reds and the air was moist. Although the weather was much different here, the animals and farmers went about their daily life just as they did before. The sheep continued to graze, with a light dusting of fresh snow on their coats.
We drove for over ten hours that first day back on the road. We drove as far and as long as we could before the sun decided to set and we were left in the middle of the Andes Mountains to look for a place to camp. After a few failed attempts, we finally found a spot just barely off the road and ate dinner in the front of the truck to avoid freezing outside.
The next morning, when we woke up, everything had changed color. The deep colors of the pastures from the day before had turned a chilling white and even Truck changed color from black (some would disagree with this because of it’s constant dirty condition) to a crisp blueish white. We dug out the snow scraper from the back, cleaned off Truck and took off down the road at 6am. Luckily we have our trusty old steed who started right up at over 15,000 feet and close to ten degrees!
We were plugging along down the road when Nate decided to hop out and take a few pictures. While outside, he noticed that our headlights weren’t working. It is a mandatory law in Peru to have your headlights on at all times and we didn’t feel like having a hassle that day. So, we turned Truck off and started poking around. After pulling the lamps out and putting them back in again, checking every fuse we could think of and following electrical wires to make sure everything was connected properly, the lights still wouldn’t turn on. Three broken plastic pieces later (because of the cold), we decided to just drive and figure it out later.
Once we got down to about 7,000 feet and the temperature rose a good twenty or thirty degrees, the headlights miraculously turned back on! The weird things temperature and altitude can do to your vehicle….
Bumping along the mucky, pot-holey dirt roads, we made our way through the mountains to Colca Canyon. We pulled up to the gate where two men came over to the truck to collect the fee. After telling us the price for foreigners was 70 soles (equivalent to about 25 dollars) each, we almost turned around. However, the head guy was convinced I was Latin American so gave me the “South American” price of 40 soles (about 14 dollars)! Nate got screwed with his gringo face and reddish beard 😉
With a depth of 13,650 feet, Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! We thumped down the road, stopping every so often to check out the dizzying depths of the gorge.
After spending a few days relaxing in Arequipa, we prepared ourselves for yet another border crossing. We camped out the night before in a parking lot at a public beach. We only got a few weird looks when we pulled our chairs out to relax on the sidewalk 🙂
Our 12th border crossing into Chile was a breeze. The only problem we had was that vehicle insurance is mandatory in Chile but you cannot buy it at the border. We made our first stop right after the border in a town called Arica. There, we had hoped to find insurance so we could continue our way. With the beach beckoning us, we knew we had business to take care of. We jammed our large diesel truck into the small streets of Arica in hopes of finding a “seguros” place. A few stressful turns later, we finally found a parking area big enough for Truck and headed out on foot.
After three hours and several head shakes “no”, we decided to refuel/use the internet at the best place we could find- good ol’ Mickey D’s. There was not one company in Chile that would sell vehicle insurance to a foreigner. Although neither of us wanted to admit it, we both knew what the other was thinking: we’re screwed. Since we couldn’t find insurance, we did the next best thing: Make our own. Now, let me start off by telling you that neither of us wanted to go this route. After the accident in Colombia, we swore to never drive again without insurance. Since it was seemingly impossible to buy insurance in Chile, we would have to wait until we got to Argentina. Our homemade insurance document would get us through police checkpoints and the border crossing into Argentina and we just crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t hit any bumps in the road along the way, no pun intended.
That night, we were making dinner in the shared kitchen at our camp spot when Nate said “Sarah! What is that behind the stove??” After telling me it was black and a bit larger than a rat, I shrieked and jumped up onto a chair. Curious, Nate decided to turn the burner off for our dinner and pull the stove out to get a better look.
With a little coaxing with some queso, we were able to lure a very skinny kitten out from underneath the stove! Little did we know that he would become our best friend for the rest of the night, jumping up onto the table trying to steal our spaghetti when we weren’t looking and perching itself on Nate’s shoulder, refusing to get down.
Oh yeah, and, we are going to need to get an adapter!
We decided to stick to the coast for a bit. We missed the sounds of crashing waves, the sea breeze and the hot, beating sun. There was free camping everywhere! Everywhere you turned, you would see people camping out along the coast in their tents. We had fun hanging with the lizards, mocking the vultures and watching the sunsets.
Of course, there comes a time when you have to tear yourself away. It never gets any easier leaving these wonderful places, but we have many more exciting things to see! We pointed Truck East and followed the road which skirted along the border with Bolivia. We waved hello to Bolivia, which was no more than twenty miles away, and headed towards the intriguing area of the Atacama Desert.
We spent our first night camping out at the mirador and watching the sun set behind the Salt Mountain Range. The sun splashed reds and oranges across the wind and water carved rock formations. We had the whole place to ourselves until the tour buses with hundreds of people started to arrive around 5pm. We didn’t mind sharing, though 😉
The next day, we ate a nice breakfast with the valley as our backdrop. We decided to take our own tour of the salt flat in the Atacama Desert. We drove over 150 miles in and around the salt flat. The way the salt forms by the water draining down from the surrounding mountains and seeping into the land is unique and eery. Walking along, I could have sworn we were on the moon.
There isn’t much for wildlife on the salt flat but we did get an up close and personal experience with some flamingoes for the first time. They were not as interested in us as we were with them, they were too busy dragging their beaks along the bottom of the lake fishing for algae.
Our last night in the Atacama area, we drove up to El Tatio Geysers. One of the highest-elevation geyser fields in the world, it sits at over 14,000 feet! We pulled up in the late afternoon and were immediately greeted by yet another curious Andean fox!
We took a drive around to check out some of geysers and the natural hot springs. Although it was only about 40 degrees outside, we threw our bathing suits on and hopped into the warmest pool we could find!
We had heard that the geysers are best seen bright and early in the morning so we decided to camp there for the night and get up early to drive down to see them. With our alarm set, we eagerly crawled under the down comforter and fell asleep listening to the wind howl outside.
The next morning we didn’t even need an alarm, as hundreds of people showed up in tour busses and woke us up. We started Truck who, again on the first try, roared and spewed black smoke on anyone standing too close to us. However, because it was so cold (in the teens) and we were above 14,000 feet, the headlights wouldn’t turn on again!! We threw on our winter jackets, hats and mittens and hitched a ride to the geysers with a girl we had met the day before and let Truck rest.
The way the cold morning air interacts with the steam from the geysers created a surreal display that we drooled over. The geysers boiled and gurgled underneath the delicate desert and spewed steam as high as a four story building! Once we couldn’t feel our fingers and toes anymore, we made the long trek back to the truck, cautiously stepping over mini geysers along the way.
On the way out, we even got to see the shy, but curious, viscacha, a relative of the chinchilla. Mixed between a squirrel and a rabbit, this unique creature didn’t hang out for long.
We were only about 100 miles from the border to Argentina, so we spent a relaxing night in the town of San Pedro de Atacama, getting our fill of internet. We even got to Skype for the first time with our furry babies, Brady and Baer, who are patiently waiting for us back home! Oh, and Nate’s parents too ;-P