Peru – Land of the Incas

Up and on the road the next morning we quickly approached the Ecuadorian side of the border, turned in our paperwork, got our passports stamped out and jumped back in the truck. A few miles further the large Peruvian tourism logo greeted us. Welcome to PERU! Country #12.

It took us about an hour to clear through the entry paperwork. We encountered the standard hiccups which we are used to by now. Note to future overlanders, If your car title has your license plate number listed, make sure it actually matches the tag on your truck…. Our original plates were stolen back in Baja, we were issued new ones and have the proper registration paperwork but it always causes a snag when they see the title and the registration don’t match up. Just a tip!

Paperwork completed, we were free and clear for 90-days of fun in Peru!

We scooted on down through the sketchy border town of Tumbes and were soon cruising some of the best blacktop we have seen the entire trip.

Suprisingly, the landscape also quickly changed from the low-lying coastal jungle of Ecuador to straight Peruvian desert. I soon learned the entire coastline of Peru is actually a giant desert, appropriately nicknamed “The Egypt of South America”. The dunes rose up out of the earth towering everything in sight. Bundle in the lower range of the Andes directly behind them and you get jaw-dropping scenery unlike anything we had ever seen before.

As we cruised along the coastline, we checked in with our friends SprinterLife for some Peruvian travel tips. SprinterLife gave us the downlow that the mountains are actually the perfect place to be right now. We cut up from the desert coast and started heading into the Andes. Closer towards the low-range of the Andes we saw the desert transform from a lifeless sandbox to lush green fields and rivers.

Climbing further up the mountain we soon discovered the source of the greenery below. A giant dam has been constructed here to collect water from the mountain snows/rains and slowly disperse it to the farms in the valleys below.

It’s a dam lake

We crept further and further into the mountains until eventually arriving at a small city named Cajamarca. Cajamarca sits around 9000FT. The city has a very rich history dating back thousands of years to pre-Chavin culture. The Incas took up residence here for a while as well, before being conquered by the bloody Spainards. It has a lovely colonial style town-square, we found a cheap hostel and setup shop.

We strolled around the town taking in the beautiful colonial churches, hospitals and various other historical sites. SprinterLife had been right, the weather was perfect up here the mountains.

Located just outside of Cajamarca are the “Banos del Inca” (Inca Baths). Here there are naturally occuring hot springs that the Inca elite used for bathing and ceremonial purposes. Nowadays even regular Joe’s can swim or bathe in the waters. The Peruvians have constructed a large complex of various showers, pools, and baths. You can get even get a massage on site. The baths are cheap, around $2. An hour long massage only running $10 or so.

Steaming thermal pool

Lauren testing the water in one of the ancient Inca bath houses. Yep, its hot!

We paid our soles and got our own private bathroom where they pipe in the thermal waters. The water was insanely hot straight from the tap, luckily you could regulate the temp with a series of valves. Even so, after 20 minutes of being in there we felt pretty light headed. Lauren actually had to quickly step outside and sit on a bench before she fainted.

Ladies, Try your best not to swoon.

We explored the hills around Cajamarca, passing through many small Andean villages, seeing people go about their daily lives.

Cruising these backroads you often come across locals trudging up the mountain towards their homes. One guy flagged us down and jumped on the sliders. He let me wear his sweet ass hat so it wouldnt blow off in the wind. I was pretty excited as you can see.

Currently Cajamarca and the surrounding villages are in a huge battle against large foreign gold-mining interests who have been destroying their land, rivers, and food sources. There are daily protests, roadblocks, and there have even have been some attacks on the miners by locals. Read more about the situation here.

Unfortunately, we managed to get mixed up in a roadblock where the villagers mistook our large Toyota truck as being a “Mining truck”. Things got a little intense as we approached about 20 villagers including grandmas, children, and pregnant ladies all armed to the teeth with various implements of destruction. Rakes, hoes, pickaxes, and other farming tools take the place of guns here. As we approached the roadblock they started screaming and banging on the sides of the truck. I yelled out the windows that we were “solo touristas!” and pointed to the innocent looking Lauren as proof that we were in fact NOT greasy miners. Once they realized we were just a bunch of dumb gringos, they yelled at us to get the hell outta the way so they could finish their roadblock! Whew, that was a close one! Sorry no pics.

We eventually made it to our destination “Ventanillas de Otuzco”(Little Windows). The ancient Cajamarca cultures dug these small crypts out of the side of the mountain. Inside they would place the bones of deceased leaders along with tools, gold, and other important items much needed in the afterlife. Pretty cool, unfortunately looters had pillaged most everything before scientists ever got a chance to get in there.

After spending a few more days enjoying the area we hit the road back towards the coast. We picked a random road that led back towards Trujillo. Though slow going, the winding roads provided us with never-ending stunning vistas. We spent a lot of time pulled over just gawking at the beauty around us.

My favorite part about traveling overland is you never know what you might stumble upon. While we were searching for a place to camp we randomly discovered this rarely visited Pre-Inca ruin. Markahuamachuco is a huge archeological complex, over 5KM long. It is the largest set of ruins in Northern Peru, and perhaps in all of Peru. Referred to as the “Machu Picchu of the North” archeologists and scientists actually prefer this ruin over Machu Picchu for its relevance as a political, cultural, and military hub of pre-Inca Peru.

We followed the dirt track as it wound up the mountainside. I had to stop myself a few times from staring at the epic sunset over the mountains, the road was barely wide enough for the 4Runner with a sheer 1000Ft drop on the other side. Pay attention James!

We found a nice flat spot to setup camp and take in the sunset over the valley floor.

After a wonderful nights rest, we were up early and into the ruins. We were the first people there and had the entire place all to ourselves.

We wandered through the site exploring countless buildings and marveling at how in the hell an ancient culture built this gigantic complex way up on top of the mountain.

The majority of the site was surrounded by a 20-ft tall, double-layered fortification wall. Come at me hordes!

Outside of the wall there are large circular buildings, visually similar to a bull-fighting arena. However, these circular complexes were actually used as housing for families. There was only one small entrance to the large complex. Perfect for defending.

The one and only entrance to the living quarters.

Inside of the circular walls, we find the ruins of ancient family rooms, dining rooms, bed rooms, bathrooms, etc. Multiple families lived inside the thick walls.

We spent most of the morning exploring the site, we never did see any other vistors or any people for that matter. The 5KM ruin was wide-open for us to explore. Eventually we returned to the truck and hit the road.

We climbed up and over a 14,000FT pass in the Andes. Not much life up here, but it was beautiful in its own way. A few hardcore homesteaders didn’t seem to mind the biting temps and lack of oxyegen.

Driving down the other side of the mountains we eventually landed in Huanchaco, Peru. SprinterLife had just moved out of an apartment on the beach here and told us it was up for grabs. Needing a break from the road and some downtime to figure out our dwindling financial situation we considered taking them up on the offer.

We pulled up to Huanchaco and cruised the beach, admiring our potential new hometown. We discover it is a surf town, popular with Peruvian tourists. A town where the fishermen still use the ancient Caballitos de totora (Reed boats) to haul in their catch. I find I can buy giant beers for $1 and a huge plate of Ceviche for $3. Ya… I think we will get along just fine here.

We double back up the beach and pull up to the apartment, an adorable Peruvian lady speaking the worlds fastest spanish showed us the apartment, we instantly loved it and with a handshake the contract was set. Welcome to our new home for the next month and maybe more?

We lugged our gear up from the truck, laughed when it all fit inside one of the bedroom closets with room to spare. And wondered what the hell we were going to do with all this space!? ~$300 a month gets us a 2-bedroom/2-bathroom fully furnished apartment, 1 block from the beach. With all utility’s and internet included!

We throw down our stuff, grab some $1 beers and walk 30 seconds to the sandy shoreline of Huanchacho’s beach. As we watch the golden sun drop below the ocean, we look at each other and smile.

We may not be on the road, but we can tell right here, right now, together, is exactly where we need to be…


Ecuadorian Coast. Isla de la Plata and boobies galore!

While we were camped out in the jungle, our guide Diego was reveling us with stories of Ecuador’s coast. Hearing tales of the Ruta Del Sol (Route of the Sun), Galapagos Islands, and fresh ceviche was enough to have us change our destination from mountains back to the coastline.

Headed out of the jungle we picked up a flat-tire, we easily tracked down a vulcanizadora in a nearby town. A 14-year old boy and his 8-year old brother came out to greet us. As they were removing the tire I realized it was a Tuesday and asked the kids if they should be in school. They both looked at me confused and said “This is our school”. I felt guilty as I spent most of my 14-year old childhood doing my best to make my teachers lives a living hell. I think they should send little jerks like me to fix tires out in the jungle for a few months. I would be begging to come home and study. Perspective.

15 minutes and $2 later the tire was patched, filled, and we were back on the road.

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Welcome to the Jungle – Cuyabeno Reserve

Getting out to deep amazon jungle on your own is a bit difficult. The primary form of travel in the Amazon is via the millions of rivers and water ways that wind through the rainforest. There are very few roads and access via automobile is rare. We always regret not installing deploy-able Pontoons on the 4runner in situations like this…

I looked at our map of Ecuador and found the Cuyabeno National Park which appeared to be the most remote Amazon jungle area that we could actually drive to. Well you could not really drive INTO the park but you could get damn close. At the end of the road we would have to hitch a ride in a motorized canoe to actually make inside the parks boundary.

We hooked up with a cheap jungle lodge company in Quito that would agree to let us drive to the jungle ourselves. We had less than 24 hours to make it all the way across Ecuador to a random bridge in the jungle where there would (hopefully) be a canoe waiting to pick us up.

No big deal.

We hauled ass from Quito that afternoon. We crossed up and over the Andes mountains into a thick fog. We broke through the fog to see the low-lying Amazon jungle below us as far as the eye could see.

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