Continuing On Our Epic South American Journey…
If you have read our previous round-up ’38 Days Overland In Brazil’, you’ll be aware that ‘Sector 2’ came to an abrupt end with our route north sailing up the tributaries of the Amazon abandoned and our journey through Brazil cut short due to escalating troubles in Venezuela, (where we were scheduled to make our next border crossing). And so it was that we set forth into uncharted territory for our overland company.
Ithaca setting forth on a new adventure into uncharted territory…
But hey, that’s overlanding! Not everything can go to plan on a trip as ambitious as this. Of course we were disappointed that we wouldn’t be going on our Amazonian boat trip, it was to be one of the major highlights of this journey. But when our personal safety is an issue, it’s just not worth the risk. It was a good call from head office, one that we would have made ourselves if we were travelling independently. So for the start of Sector 3 we found ourselves venturing into the unknown with a new set of border crossings and a completely new itinerary.
The Start of Sector 3
Instead of travelling north, we headed along the southern Amazon basin where a new road had only just been opened going west towards Peru. It was a long driving day, with a border crossing as well, as we headed for our first Peruvian city, Puerto Maldonado.
Storm clouds coming in over the very swollen Rio Acre.
But when we arrived, another disappointment ensued… To make up for our cancelled boat trip and Brazilian jungle trek, we were scheduled for a 2 night trip into the Peruvian jungle instead, only to find much of Puerto Maldonado under water, including our jungle lodge. It was rain, rain and more rain! The River Acre had burst its banks, with the city experiencing the worst flooding for 30 years.
A local braving the flooded roads on her moto.
The outskirts of Puerto Maldonado under water.
Not deterred by the weather, we stayed at a family run hotel for a couple of days while we went from ‘plan b’ to ‘plan c’! Instead of the jungle lodge then a bushcamp, we headed towards the Andes and the charming city of Cusco where we were pleased to be staying for 4 nights. Having an extended stay meant we could fit in lots of exploring and one of our favourite pastimes, shopping!
Plaza de Armas in charming Cusco.
Having a photo with locals in traditional Peruvian dress.
We had a great afternoon navigating the main sights of the city on the open top sightseeing bus, then wandered through the artisan markets admiring all of the handmade woollen products on offer. There was a whole array of knitted items for sale from ponchos to hats to bed socks, all in bright funky colours. How could we resist buying a few authentic Peruvian goods?!
100% alpaca woollen socks!
I couldn’t go home without a poncho!
Fantastic ornaments for sale.
On the final day in Cusco we enjoyed a day trip to the Sacred Valley, visiting 3 amazing sights from the legacy of the Incas, Sacsayhuaman, Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
Driving to Pisac through lush green valleys.
Heading for the top of Ollantaytambo.
The sheer scale of the Inca settlement is breathtaking.
It only served to whet our appetite more. We are returning to Cusco in April as part of Sector 4 for our scheduled hike through the Lares Valley to visit Machu Picchu. (A future post will be dedicated to this lesser known community based trek).
From Cusco we had a spectacular drive through the Andes as we headed towards the Pacific coast, spending the night bushcamping en route.
A long, tedious driving day rewarded with this lovely rainbow.
It was a long couple of driving days. Everyone was feeling a bit wearisome and fed up, especially having to set up camp in the dark by the side of the road and cook dinner at 10pm. But come the morning we were all smiles again, rejuvenated by the beautiful scenery we woke up to.
Our unexpected but beautiful bush camp in the Peruvian mountains.
A perfect place to enjoy a cup of tea!
Soldiering on, we headed to Huacachina in the Peruvian desert. Here we experienced a huge adrenalin rush as we raced across the sand in dune buggies and got the heart racing further with some incredible sand surfing!
Preparing to race across the dunes in this buggy!
First time sand boarding…
A full scale adrenalin rush!
After all this excitement, with just our sleeping bags we set up camp in the dunes, watched a stunning sunset and spent a night under the stars, an unforgettable experience.
Gorgeous skies at sunset in Huacachina.
From Huacachina, we had a couple of nights of ‘luxury’ staying in a hotel in Lima, Peru’s capital city. Having only one full day to explore the city we decided to embark on our own ‘gastronomic tour’ where we feasted on a number of traditional Peruvian dishes including the famous ‘cerviche’ which is raw fish.
The capital city, Lima, with a well preserved colonial centre.
Wayne sampling the ‘cerviche’.
‘Sopa’ of the day. Standard South American lunch is a soup starter.
It was also the start of what became a month of gluttony, with us mainly eating fried chicken and chips, one of the cheapest and most popular dishes in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador!
Pollo asado y papas Francesca.
In Lima, we also sampled a few pisco sours (Peru’s national cocktail) and visited the ‘Magic’ Water Park to see the impressive nighttime light and sound show, complete with a holographic ballerina dancing in the fountains.
Not a holographic ballerina! Wayne in the fountain.
The light and sound show commences…
Long exposure light trails from cars driving through Lima.
From the city it was back to the desert and another night of bushcamping. It was a complete change of scenery from the lush green mountains of the Andes to the once again arid, dry, western coast that was just miles upon miles of ‘nothingness’.
The drive took us past a section of the famous Nazca Lines. (We will revisit this area in Sector 4).
Our desert bushcamp. A distinct lack of bushes for when nature calls!
Camp chairs set up for dinner…
Wayne in the luggage compartment. ‘Bags’ is his new job for Sector 3.
We stopped near Chimbote at the ancient Sechin ruins that date back to 1600 BC. Here we had a guided tour of the archaeological site where we saw the remains of adobe buildings decorated with reliefs representing sea, rain and human sacrifices, amongst others.
Adobe ruins that are still being excavated.
Symbolic images, many showing human sacrifice.
After more driving, we stayed at a beach campsite near Chiclayo that shall we say was a little ‘rustic’. I consider myself a ‘flashpacker’ rather than a true overlander, so thank goodness it was only for one night!
Not quite my ‘flashpacker’ standards!
The rustic showers, complete with ‘mini’ shower curtains!
Another beach camp at the surf town of Mancora followed this, but as we only got there in time for sunset and left early the next morning, unfortunately there was no time for surf lessons.
Sunset over the surf town Mancora.
Sadly it was time to say farewell to Peru for now. But we are heading back there in April for the start of Sector 4… So more pisco sours, more photos with llamas and more Peruvian mountains and beaches to come.
Pisco Sours – Buy one get one free! It would be rude not to!
I had to have my photo with a llama!
Next, we crossed over the border into Ecuador at Rio Bamba and headed straight for the busy market town of Otavalo. Surrounded by volcanoes, the town is set in a stunning location. We wandered downhill to peruse the market, then had an uphill walk back to see the local waterfall in the village of Peguche where we camped.
Otavalans selling colourful fabrics at the market.
One fish or two?
In Otavalo, the campsite came complete with wood fired oven so we made use of it with Wayne taking charge of ‘Cook Group’ and preparing a batch of his famous pizzas.
We made 8 huge pizzas like this with various toppings to feed the group!
Just a quick stop in Ecuador however as we pushed on in time for carnival and crossed the border into Colombia. Another two long driving days ensued before finally reaching San Augustin, an important town that is home to a number of UNESCO archaeological monuments dating back as far as the 1st century. We visited a handful of them on horseback and had an eventful day trying to get to grips with horse riding as it was only the second time we’ve been in the saddle!
Stunning countryside on our drive into Colombia.
Horse riding in San Augustin.
Sacred figures carved in stone.
From San Augustin we made our way to Bogota, Colombia’s cool capital city. We stayed in the lively student quarter but this meant we were fairly close to all the main sites. Top of our list was the ‘Museo Botero’, a FREE museum displaying the work of Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist. The museum contains a collection of his paintings and sculptures dedicated to all things ‘chubby’.
Does my bum look big in this?
In Bogota, we also visited the ‘Museo del Oro’. Containing more than 55,000 pieces of gold from all the major pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia, it is probably the most impressive gold museum in the whole of South America.
A golden mask on display in Museo del Oro.
Our next stop was San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia. As we’re not really into adventure sports we decided to dust off our hiking boots and set forth on the Camino Real Trail, where we hiked between the small towns of Barichara and Guane. It was a lovely walk that made us feel like we had stepped back in time… And it was a world away from the hustle and bustle of Bogota.
The beautiful whitewashed buildings of Barichara with colourful doors and window frames.
The Camino Real Trail leading to the village of Guane.
Well it has certainly been a jam-packed busy couple of months travelling through Peru, Ecuador and Colombia! But that’s not all… This post shows only half of what we’ve managed to cram into February and March 2014.
Overlanding has its moments, but we’ve definitely seen and experienced some amazing things along the way…
Watch out for ‘Part 2’ coming next!