Leaving Ecuador via La Balsa was smooth as silk, and after crossing the bridge into Peru we found ourselves walking into a shipping container converted into an Immigration Office. Our first Peruvian interpersonal experience kicked off with a friendly, yet very peculiar Customs Officer. The typical bureaucratic paperwork for the car's temporary import permit began, and right off the bat it seemed like we were on one of those TV shows where the unsuspecting customers are being pranked. In our case, the officer would slide Chris a document and ask him to fill in some of the blanks, but before Chris could even put pen to paper the officer would pull the paperwork away. Over and over this would happen. He was overly meticulous in filling out the handwritten document, and unnecessarily checking and rechecking each and every word and shuffling the paperwork around. Meanwhile, he was distracted every few minutes with curious questions about us and once he found out Mallary is a nurse, he asked a few times if we had vaccines that we could give him. Ummmm, NO! We tried hard not to get caught laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole situation as a five minute process evolved into almost two hours long. Punctuating the ordeal was the officer’s frequent coughing fits that were so violent that he had to run outside, spit phlegm and slowly recover before coming back in. Seriously just the most peculiar of behaviors.
With our paperwork complete, and fingers crossed we did not catch his Tuberculosis or whatever he had, we pushed south into the rural countryside, surprisingly filled with bright green rice patties and tuk-tuks cruising the streets. Seeming great already, Peru did come with a reputation that caused us a bit of concern. Many northbound travelers told us stories of bad roads, trash covered streets, and rampant police checkpoints forcing bribes. And, even one story about some villagers using firearms in attempted robberies. To make matters worse for us, tinted windows like ours are illegal in Peru unless you have the difficult to acquire "Lunar Permit" allowing it. One unlucky northbound traveler was pulled over and harassed into giving money to the officer because he needed money to buy lunch. What the heck?? We estimated that it would require 2,500 miles of driving to traverse the country….the odds are not in our favor of making it through unscathed! Our first mission was to make it to a town where we could buy insurance without getting pulled over... Lucky for us we made it to the steamy town of Jaén and bought insurance without a problem, before making camp at a wierd little "thermal baths" place, which was essentially just some people who put rocks out in the river and called it a bath... Hello Peru... We think we are going to love your quirkiness!
|Thermal baths in the background|
|This is going to be a slow 2,500 miles at this rate...|
After a couple days of navigating our way through the rugged mountains of northern Peru, we arrived at the imposing Incan ruins of Kuelap (6°25′07″ S 77°55′24″ W). Due to its remote location, this mountain top fortress sees few visitors, and when we arrived late this misty afternoon we nearly had the whole place to ourselves. We didn’t know much about Kuelap before arriving, so it was surprisingly impressive, with it’s grandiose 360° stunning views around the large neighborhoods comprised of more than 400 circular houses. The whole place is set atop massive architecturally sound stone walls, and even complete with some fancy gemetrical interior design. The main purpose of Kuelap remains a mystery til this day... fortress, vacation homes, and a retreat from other more vulnerable areas are the suspects, but one thing is sure that its placement on top of a steep mountain at 10,000 something feet high sure makes it seem untouchable. We just couldn't help but wonder what would it have been like to live in such a place back in the 16th century???
|For perspective play a little game of Where's Chris|
|All of the 400 some houses had roofs like this back in the day|
|10 second timed photo feature is our favorite!|
|Puppies and ponies in front of ancient walls|
Not yet tired of the great views, and not ready to get back on the bumpy road that brought us here, we slept in the parking lot that night, Lola being dwarfed by a super intersting overlander whose rig (known as an UniMog) was such a monster that it could have been ample for taking over small countries! An added bonus to the night was our very own temporary dog for the stay. (This happens nearly everywhere we go.) This little cutie hapened to be sweetest little pregnant dog ever and we reveled in spoiling her until the sad moment when we climbed in bed and she looked up at us begging to join. As much as we loved her, that was just not going to happen in our bed. Just go ahead and break our hearts as you crawl under the car for the night and dissapear by morning little baby. :(
|Cooking dinner with a view!|
A day later, we made a stop at the mummy museum in Leymebamba. Once again, we did not know what to expect, and as we wandered through the rooms full of artifacts and burial offerings we wondered if in fact we were going to see real mummies or what?! But just as we were about to exit, admittedly feeling let down, we spotted a dark unmarked room with big glass windows. Intrigued, we pressed our faces to the glass and squinted through the darkness at a room with difficult to discern outlines and possibly human like faces! What could be in here? We looked around, and with no one to stop us tried a few random light switches until one finally lit up the room behind the glass... then jumped back a bit as the well preserved mummies with horrifying faces came into clear view! The creep factor was pretty high as we tried to take it all in... children, babies, and adults all folded into little fetal positions with decayed clothing and horrific facial expressions stared back at us! All these mummies came from the nearby region of the Lagunas de los Condores, where human remains were wrapped in cloth and put in tombs called chullpas high up in the cliffs. Five hundred some years later, they are still intact… haunting facial expressions and all, due to the specific embalming procedures used as well as the odd dry and cold microclimates of the chullpas. Very cool! We slipped out of there just in time to greet a swarm of local school kids on a field trip, taking hilarious selfies with their parents cellphones around every corner!
The "road" aka highway to hell quickly gained altitude out of Leymebamba and soon we were slowly slogging our way through dense fog over a high mountain pass, stopping to layer up on clothes as it got frigid. After an hour, the fog broke as fast as it appeared and we were able to see steep canyons and immenent death shooting down on one side of the road. For close to eight hours we crept along the adrenaline inducing road that hugged the cliffside, honking the horn around every narrow bend in hopes that we could avoid a head on collision in the worst possible place imaginable! Lets be real, the only thing stopping a careless driver from dropping thousands of feet to certain death were a few tufts of grass... and it was exhilarating! :) The nerve-wracking twisty road eventually dropped close to ten thousand feet down to a scorchingly hot riverside town based in an oasis of heaps of mango trees. Time to stretch the legs, eat some juicy sun ripened fresh mangos, and of course for Chris to get bloodflow get back to his white knuckles before heading right back up into the mountains to the next pass! Best. Road. Ever.
|The road cut into the mountainside|
|View of a lifetime, hopefully not the last view of a lifetime!|
|Caved in road next to steep cliff...|
|Mango tree oasis down there!|
|The half way there reward|
|Not usually big shoulders like this, but best place for a safe photo!|
We stopped over in another random town called Belén, a quirky tall white hat loving place where we had the choice of a gated parking lot to sleep in or a nice hotel room for just $12... Not a hard decision. That night we went to most crowded restaurant in town, which happened to be in the lobby of the hotel, to try some of the famous Peruvian food that the country is known for. Ironically, we had possibly the most unappetizing food of the trip yet! What gives?!? Sometimes ya just make a bad menu choice and hope it doesn't represent the country at all!!
|The streets of Belén|
|White hat paparazzi|
|Vote for the tall white hat. Vote Jorge.|
Two days later and many more treacherous miles, we reached the ocean. To say that the coastline in Peru is ugly would be a very generous compliment. It’s possible that the most putrid and miserable place on Earth is right here on the coast. Most of Peru’s coast is void of typical seaside items such as palm trees, sunshine, quaint towns with boardwalks. Here bleak, vegetation-less desert spans from the mountains to the edge of the sea. The coastal desert is covered in endless trash, slums, abandoned buildings, and is socked in by a gray haze nine months out of the year. Not to mention that there are miles and miles of 20ft high brick walls that sheild absolutely nothing but sand behind them, cordoning off plots of useless land. We only had one word to describe it: Baghdad.
|Trash fires on the side of the road|
|Someone said hola from the depths of this trash house as we creeped by... Promptly scaring us away!|
During our time cruising through Peru, we would meticulously roll down all windows to hide the tint job at the first glimpse of a police checkpoint, which there are many. To try and prevent any hassles we would go as far as pulling over before a check point to wait for a large truck to hide behind or for a moment when the cops looked too busy to flag us! This couldn't work forever though, and while cruising through the wasteland, an older big bellied policia flagged us over. He smugly walked over to the car chewing noisily on a bag of chips, throwing his plastic wrapper on the ground as he stepped up to the drivers side. Raise up your window, he gestured in hand motions. A smirk crossed his face as he quickly examined the limo tint, "your tint is illegal, that is an infraction" he said in Spanish. Based upon this cocky guys attitude, already we knew we had two moves left in the playbook….pay a bribe on the spot or play dumb. We looked at each other and in a moment of telepathy decided that it is time to play dumb. "Lo siento, no entiendo" (translation: I’m sorry, I don’t understand) we replied, and with added effect we threw off all proper pronunciation of the words. The cop seemed unphased, possibly encountering the same moves before. He continually pressed the issue on paying an "infraction", and that we couldn’t drive, while now cooly spitting sunflower shells out of the corner of his mouth. After a solid five minutes of neither of us budging, he finally said in a voice of disbelief "you really don’t know Spanish!?" Of course, we understood everything he was saying, but still looked at each other pretending not to. In a way it hurt the soul, and felt embarrassing to act so ignorant and nieve, but hey we didn’t want to pay up! Having a very serious overlander responibility of not paying bribes and encouraging the process, we would do anything to get out of this smuck's game of stealing from foriegners. Finally, totally frustrated with us, he told us to get lost. We pulled away laughing over our narrow miss, continued on down the Panamerica hoping that would be our last call in Peru.
We lucked out in Baghdad that night though, as we found our way to a hostel that was more like a commune at the time, temporarily being run by a bunch of travelers while the owner was away. They let us park and camp out in the front yard of this little oasis hidden behind a tall wall on the beach front. This group of randoms turned out to be quite the fun bunch, and we had an awesome night out in the ugly little beach town of Huanchaco. The hostel was cozy and had tons of character, the cheap burger place was a surprise with it's tastiness, the bar down the road shook up some pretty decent mojitos, and the people were all pretty damn fantastic! Maybe just what we needed to challenge our harsh opinion of the coast of Peru, in one quick night! Peru hasn't seized to surprise us with its randomness yet, can't wait to see what in world else will it throw at us this next month!!
|A rose among the depressing coastline|