Nasca, Camana, Chivay, Arequipa, Puno, Peru
Time for another bucket list activity! After crossing right through the plains of the famous Nasca lines on the Panamerican highway, we headed for the airport of Nasca. I had always wanted to fly in a small airplane, like the Flying Doctors, and why not here where Toribio Mejia Xesspe, a Peruvian archeologist, discovered these fascinating geoglyphs. We talked to the different companies offering flights and before we knew it, we were strapped into our seats with three other tourists and two pilots in a Cessna 207A. The pilot flew us over the whale, the astronaut, the monkey, the dog, the hummingbird, the spider, the condor, the alcatraz, the parrot, the hands, the tree and the pelican, circling every figure, so we could see them from both sides. After staring intensively at the first few figures, my stomach started to act up, luckily I managed to inhibit any refluxes until we landed. Paul and the other tourists were a bit woozy as well, so after landing we relaxed for a while on one of the benches overlooking the air strip, before we hit the road again.
After 1,300 km of coastal, desert road we thought we had seen it all, but the cliff road from San Juan to Camana was spectacular. High drop-offs without guard rails, waves crashing into the black cliffs, and huge boulders beatifying the surrounding peaks. A road that did ask for the driver’s full attention as became painfully clear when we passed a crash scene, where the front of a double-deck-bus had been completely crushed by an oncoming truck. The road felt a bit like Highway 1 on the Californian coast, very desolate, no villages and no side-roads to head inland again. We knew we weren’t going to make it to Arequipa, so we were looking around for a village with a reasonable hotel, not an easy task in this part of the country. Most tiny Wild West towns along the way did not seem to have any reasonable, safe place to stay. Finally we reached the bigger town of Camana, quite scruffy, but the tiny rooms of Hotel Monte Carlo were clean and the parking safe. The most hygienically looking place to eat was a Chifa (omnipresent Chinese restaurants) this time run by Peruvians, so instead of bami we received spaghetti with soy sauce, vegetables and of course chicken. The next morning we were happy to leave this unpleasant town.
On the map we found an off-road trail of 220 km through the Colca Canyon, which should be an interesting ride, but what would the road quality be like? We took our chances and opted to ride from Camana, at sea level, to Chivay at 3650m via the canyon, famous for its abundance of Condors. The first kilometers of washboard were not promising, but after that it became a smooth gravel ride, along rocky mountains, tufts of bright yellow grass, and cacti. Around one corner two startled vicunas just jumped off the road 5 meters in front of us. In Huambo, a quiet village with one “restaurant” we ordered the almuerzo del dia (lunch of the day) from a friendly, old lady dressed in a flower-apron. Based on the looks we got, they had not seen many foreigners here. We passed the Mirador del Condor, where we had been 6 years ago as well, this time no Condor to be seen though. We did enjoy the views into the canyon; pre-inca terraces still being used to grow rice or corn, donkeys with cacti stuck to their fur and farmers with cowboy heads. Around 5 o’ clock we reached Chivay, just before the sun would set and temperature would drop quickly. The town itself was nothing special, but the local ladies were beautifully dressed in multiple layered skirts, brightly coloured shawls, embroided hats from underneath which two long braids hang down. At this altitude evenings become really cold, so we had an early night, tucked away under nicely warm, woolen blankets. A good excuse to watch another episode of Breaking Bad on the laptop (quite addictive).
Now that we got the hang of it, we wanted to explore the old, gravel road from Arequipa to Puno as well, but a local told us that this road had not been maintained for the last thirty years and was in really bad shape. Instead we opted for the main road up to Santa Lucia and from there we would take the offroad shortcut to Puno and the worlds highest navigable lake Titicaca. Again a beautiful ride, with lots of crossing lamas and alpacas and waving shepherds. The middle part of the route was, however, in very bad shape, big rocks, ditches, mud, luckily the GPS assured us we were on the right track. Then we saw a beautiful lake filled with…. Flamingos! I never knew these animals would live at such a high altitude, an amazing sight. After an hour of rattling and vibrating and nervous sweat we got to a smooth gravel road again, winding through stunning scenery for another hour or so. In Puno we quickly found a reasonably priced hotel where we could park the bikes in the lobby, next to those of a group of Brazilian bikers. Later we filled our stomachs in an atmospheric, warm pizzeria in the touristy centre; Machu pizza and some mate (coca leave tea). This type of tea is very helpful against altitude sickness, so we had to drink it, right?!
Peru is divided into three different regions: the coast, the mountains and the amazone. According to a restaurant keeper in Arequipa, the inhabitants of each region are very different and especially the people from the mountain area are very warm and friendly. Actually we felt welcome in all parts of Peru, no hassle, no special tourist prices, no touts trying to sell you stuff, reasonably priced hotels, perfect for us! While we were warned for corrupt police, we only got stopped twice and both times they were friendly and professional. Compared to six years ago, we did not see much change in Peru, neither good nor bad. The coastal road was a bit boring, we enjoyed the mountains much more, but rainy season was catching up, so we unfortunately had no time to linger at high altitude in this part of South-America.