Round the world Day 53

Woke up refreshed this morning and Jan and I went out to find some breakfast leaving Karen in bed.  We have discovered over our journey that the three of us have different rhythms, Jan and I are pretty similar, we wake early(ish) and get going but then go to bed early too. Karen, despite saying that she doesn’t sleep much and got up at 6 all the way across India, sleeps late and wants to stay up late each night.

We ate breakfast at Antojitos which we discovered yesterday, it is a cafe with a large courtyard at the back and is popular with gringos as it is nice and has wifi.  I’m not sure which of those attracts most custom as the courtyard had quite a few people with laptops and phones connected to the world outside.

Karen found us later and joined us for a drink before she headed off to Pisac and Jan and I decided to have another day of chilling.  This involved more time in Antojitos and time spent checking with Oscars hotel whether my replacement card had arrived then chasing it up.

Round the world Day 52

For the first day in Peru and perhaps since leaving Haida Gwaii I didn’t have anything particular to do today or even any desire to do much.  Perhaps it is the effort of the last few weeks taking its toll.  We had a bit of a lie in then walked in to town in search of breakfast.  At 10.15 we met up with Oscar at his hotel to exchange the documents and make arrangements to deliver the registration plate to Lima.

The rest of the day was then spent wandering round the town and its market,  Jan bought a pair of trousers and had them altered in a stall upstairs in the market building.  Karen had a pair of shoes repaired and I just walked around enjoying the fat that we didn’t have a deadline, a place to move on to.  Unfortunately my camera battery needs charging so I didn’t get to take any pictures.

We ate lunch in the market hall buying it from one of a line of ladies sat at the top of the stairs who were hawking their wares, selling stews and other foods from pans wrapped in layers of cloth to keep them warm.  We had a plate of stew with pork, chicken, vegetables and potatoes which was nice.  After our main course on the first landing we went upstairs to the top floor and had drinks,  I had a pineapple and orange smoothy all freshly made before my eyes.  While we sat by the balcony looking down at the market watching the world go by I noticed that under the stall next to ours was a mat and blankets and a baby asleep.  There was no cot, pushchair or carry cot, just a thin mat on the floor and the child wrapped in blankets and mother working hard and stepping over the baby as she did so.  Seeing this reminded me, if I needed reminding, of how different things are here and how far we have moved from this in the UK.  Not that all our progress has been good, in fact that has been one thought I have had in my mind a lot is that Peru and presumably lots of other developing countries seem to be following us rather than learning from our mistakes and making better decisions.

I headed back to the hospedaje earlier that the others as my retail threshold is lower.

In the evening we went back in to town to find somewhere to eat and ended up at an italian restaurant off the main square.

Round the world Day 51

Today we arrived at Urubamba!  Needless to say we are the last team to arrive but only the fourth to arrive without having to get the taxi on a truck for at least some part of the journey.

I had hoped that this last day would be easy,  I thought that all the bad roads were behind us.  Ah well….

We started quite well getting up having luke warm showers then packing the taxi for the last time.  The Lucky Lady was parked overnight in the back garden of the hopsedaje and when I drove it in last night I had seen some chickens running around but had not noticed much more.  Perhaps a day of fighting with a mototaxi across the Andes does that to you.  This morning in the daylight I could see there were lots of chickens and chicks and cages full of guinea pigs.  The landlady has pretty good english and my castilan has improved immensly (easy from a zero base) so I was able to dicover that she had 6 chickens and 51 guinea pig.  The castilan for chicken is pollo and chicks are pollito.  Anything young has the suffix -ito added to the name of the animal. All this as I loaded the taxi.  We had breakfast at a little cafe next door to the hopedaje then set off at 8.30 which for us is unheard of..

The first part of the journey went well following the river down the valley, sometimes having to climb the side on the winding roads which we are now very used to.  At one point we were following the same truck for miles, we overtook him once then he overtook us again when we stopped, probably to take a photo.  Further along the road we came to the back of the truck again as we all stopped to wait to be allowed along a stretch of construction work.  We had timed it right as there only a few periods during the day that they allow traffic through.  We waited a few minutes and more vehicles pulled in behind us.  I pulled to one side as it seems only fair to let those that can go faster go infront of us.  The young lady with the radio who was traffic marshall pulled the cones out of the way we set off on to hard conpact surface but still in need of tarmac to seal it.  There were men fitting kerb/drainage stones at the start but soon the surface gave way to softer sand and we were moved off the route of the new road, presumably following the old one.  All the traffic was kicking up loads of dust so at one point they had a dowser spraying water on the surface to damp it down.  The works lasted a few miles and at some points we were driving in the river bed where they seemed to be getting rocks to form defences. There will lots of shots on the minicam of the backs of lorries as we went through this section mainly a large Volvo.

As we climbed into the next town later in the morning we decided to stop and get a cup of coffee so that the Volvo truck could leave us behind.  Typically we couldnt find a cafe that was serving at that time so ended up going in to a chemists for Karen to replace some of the stuff she lost in the bag and to buy ice-creams.  The young man had very good english and was quite keen to chat and find out what we were doing.  After almost an hour we headed off again climbing out of the valley on another steep road and then crossing into a much higher valley with much gentler slopes.

Dropping into the higher valley.

Dropping into the higher valley.

We came to the first Peage we have seen for ages, I got a bit confused as the usual way of going through is to cut round the right hand side of the station avoiding the barrier lane.  I think that maybe lifting the barrier when there is no fee paid confuses the auditors.  This time however the right hand lanes were shut for maintenance so I ended up swerving to the left hand side much to the amusement of one of the locals who was stood watching perhaps waiting for a lift.  Soon after we passed the peage station we were hit by a brief hail storm.  We quickly wrapped up and I pulled my legs up almost on to the top of the petrol tank to try to avoid the hail and the spray off the road, still one hailstone managed to hit me in the eye and caused me to blink a lot for a few minutes. The valley widened out to become more of a fertile plain with mountains surrounding it and we stopped at a few places to take pictures.

Lunch was at a busy cafe in Izcuchaca where we had a great time people watching the locals including one apparently ancient woman who went out laden down with bags and one very well behaved young child.  Our meal was soup and something like Popcorn chicken, both were very good.  We left the town by crossing over the railway line and taking perhaps our last dirt road of the trip. It cut steeply up the side of a small set of hills then dropped to a little village with a large pond then over the next rise Lake Huaypo surrounded by farmer fields, some being tended by people in traditional costume.

The lake.

The lake.

Working the fields.

Working the fields.

A woman in traditional dress with her daughter /granddaughter in school uniform.

A woman in traditional dress with her daughter /granddaughter in school uniform.

We stopped here to take a few photos and then again a couple of times to replace the chain which has obviously stretched again and bounces off on the rough roads.  I slowed down a lot to make sure that I wasn’t going to spend too much time on my knees getting my fingers covered in oil.  Again here we saw children in neat uniforms walking home from school when the only school we had seen was several miles back.  We climbed out of the bowl surrounding the lake and then descended, gradually at first, then down a steep winding road into Urubamba.

I’m not sure what my feelings were as we arrived, definite relief that we had made it but also I think a sense of impending loss.  We won’t be travelling on the Lucky Lady anymore and soon the three of us will go our separate ways again.  We have only got together to complete this trip, I have known Karen at festivals for years and we travelled through parts of Vietnam together but not for such a long time as this and Jan I only met at the beginning of June at Wychwood Festival and then again at Cornbury.  Now we seem to have been together for such a long time even though it is only really a few weeks.

We found La Maizel quite easily and the staff rang Oscar to tell him that his last team had arrived.

The Finish!

The Finish!

He came down to join us, bought us drinks and told us what had happened to all the other teams with the aid of a noticboard which had the names of all the teams and comments next to them.  We had another drink and a few photos holding the finish line notice.

The finish line.

The finish line.

It then started to rain so we dashed in to the main restaurant to finish our drinks and also managed to scrounge (well Oscar did) some coffee.  The big empty room made me feel that we had missed out by not getting there for the end of rally party but to get there would have meant either putting the taxi on a truck or abandoning it even if we went back to it later.  Anti-social though it is I am glad we stuck it out,  being one of only four finishers is a good feeling.

Oscar showed us the hotel where he was staying and arranged for us to stay in the hospedaje that the taxis are being stored in.  We parked the Lucky Lady in the garden with the others but it may not be the last time we are on a taxi as Oscar has said we can use it for a few days while we are here.

We met up with Oscar and his fiancee this evening for a meal at a very nice pizza place where we chatted for ages about the things we had seen on our journey, the 4 different animals that are in the llama/alpaca family and much more.

Round the world Day 50

Jan and I had a leisurely start today as Karen had to go and try to sort out the bag that fell off yesterday afternoon.  The police station opened at 8 in the morning so Karen got there soon after.  Jan and I had breakfast in the dining room of the hotel as it was included in the price.  We loaded all the taxi as we had to be out by midday and then had to hang around waiting.  While we did so we sat in the reception area and made use of the wifi.  As Karen hadn’t arrived by the time that Jan and I began to feel hungry we nipped across the road to a small cafe and ate pastries and had coffee at a table that had a view of the entrance to the hotel.

Karen arrived just before 2 having had an adventure.  She started at the police station in the plaza was later taken to a second high at the top of the town up some very steep roads.  At one point the police chief was rung at home as he spoke the best english but refused to believe that we were travelling in a mototaxi until Karen showed the police-woman who was with her the pictures on her camera.  When this was relayed to the chief he didn’t ring back again.  Eventually Karen had got all the paperwork sorted and a crime reference for her insurance company.

Karen got a bit of lunch and we headed off down the hill to try to find a uniform shop that may have work trousers that Jan wanted to replace the ones that have already been repaired once but are failing again.  We didn’t find the shop that she was convinced she had seen on the way in but we did get fuel and asked at the petrol station which way to Urubamba.  I was glad as we had been in dispute over the direction,  Karen saying downhill and me feeling it was uphill.  We left the forecourt and headed uphill back the way we had come and up close to the second police station that Karen had been taken to.  The road continued to climb steeply, zig-zagging up and then around the side of the mountain.

Looking down on the outskirts of Abancay doesn't show the city and how steeply it climbs up the side of the mountain.

Looking down on the outskirts of Abancay doesn’t show the city and how steeply it climbs up the side of the mountain.

The afternoon was much like yesterday very high and cold with awesome views of the Andes.  We are getting close to Urubamba, Macchu Pichu, Cusco and the other popular tourist spots now so we are seeing more gringos as we drive round.  As we started to descend in to the valley this afternoon we saw a minibus full of trekker types pulled over to take pictures.

Looking across at the high mountains.

Looking across at the high mountains.

The road down.

The road down.

We stopped quite early this evening, despite the firm direction not to drive at night we seem rarely to arrive at our stops in daylight. Aftre trying a few places in this tourist town we have ended up in a more expensive hospedaje and ate at the restaurant next door.  We ended up with a huge meal as we foolishly ordered what we thougt would be starters and they were huge.

 

Round the world Day 49

Started the day by doing maintenance on the mototaxi including finding that the headlight which has been pointing up in to the trees/hills/cliffs on our left all the time just needed some adjustment.  I was able to do a bit of this but could not make it completely right as there was a screw missing from the lamp fixing.  At least there is some improvement.

Karen wrapped up in the back of the taxi as we climbed.  We not at the time the picture was taken as I'm not in the driing seat.

Karen wrapped up in the back of the taxi as we climbed. We not at the time the picture was taken as I’m not in the driing seat.

We set off soon after 8 climbing from the valley up on to the tops again.  In the morning the route took us over the hills and then down in to Andahuaylas, a big town and at the time full of children on their way to or from school.  They were all smartly dressed in uniforms and we saw that there must be 5 or more schools in the town.  At the far end of the town we took another road zig-zagging up through the outskirts and heading to Kishuara.  This turned out to be a collection of perhaps a dozen houses on a bend in the road.  It was soon after the bend that Jan tapped me on the shoulder and said we needed to stop.  She hasn’t been feeling well and with toilet roll in hand disappeared off the side of the road.  While we waited I saw a fox cross the road behind us, one of the few bits of widlife we have seen.  Jan came back feeling relieved and bearing a trophy, on the side of the road she had found a wrapper from a “Krap” bar and we smiled at the irony.

Jan with her Krap bar wrapper.  Behind her the long drop but not the sort we have at Glastonbury.

Jan with her Krap bar wrapper. Behind her the long drop but not the sort we have at Glastonbury.

The road cutting round the side of the hill is just visible.

We continued to follow the road round the next spur until it forked.  We took the road which kept height but quickly lost its tarmac surface which worried me as I know we were going to be on it for a long time if it was the right road.

Once again I got the phone out to check on the GPS and disappointingly we seemed to be on the right road.  The one advantage of the road was that it didn’t lose any height, that was until we reached a diversion showing the road ahead closed.  A man sat at the junction waved us in the right direction, he didn’t seem to be a roadworker just someone sat at the junction for some reason.  The diversion took us down a steep road towards a village passing a large group of people working in the fields and their children who were stood at the side of the road and waved as we passed.  In the village we skirted quickly past the days excitement as an articulated lorry was trying to get round a very steep, sharp bend and was having a lot of difficulty.  As the driver stopped on the bend with cars stuck behind him we nipped down the inside of the bend.  There was no angry shouting as we past so I assume we had done the right thing.

The diversion can be seen coming down from the road on the right and leads down to the village just left and below the centre of the frame.

The diversion can be seen coming down from the road on the right and leads down to the village just left and below the centre of the frame.

At the otherside of the village the road flattened off again and traversed the hill towards another collection of houses.  The road was still un-metalled and pot-holed so we were bouncing around quite a bit.  We passed a lorry with a motorbike parked behind it and the two men and a woman stood by the bike waved cheerfully.  As we came to the last bend before the next village we realised that one of the bags stored under the seat was missing.  It was Karens little rucksac wrapped in a Waitrose carrier bag and must have bounced off somewhere en-route.  We headed back along the track scanning the ground as we went but not optimistic about our chances of finding it.  A few hundred metres passed the lorry we found the plastic bag but couldn’t find the rucksac. Scouting up and down the road abit and a slow ride back in the right direction weren’t successful so we came to the conclusion that a minibus that had followed us along the road must have seen it and picked it up.  Hopefully they may have handed it in and perhaps we can recover it somehow.  As we drove along we looked out for any sign of the minibus or any obvious place where it may have been handed in.

As darkness fell this evening we had still not come down from the hillside and the dirt road and when we did it was with a slightly better headlight through lots of construction works which in some places made the road only one lane wide.  The lower down we got the better the road got until it was a nice new highway once more.  All the time that we descended we could see the lights of Abancay in the distance and apparently not far below us, unfortunately it turned out that our route took us down to meet another road below and quite a few miles from the city so we had a few hundred metres of climb to do.  On the approach to Abancay we saw a large fuel station or service area with a restaurant and rooms above, outside one of the highway police cars was parked so we pulled in and Karen went in to see if the police could help.  It turned out that the police officers weren’t sat in the restaurant so we had to give up on the idea and continue the climb in to the city.

It was about 8 by the time we reached the Police station in the main square and some very young, helpful officers on duty in the plaza were able to tell us it was closed until 8 in the morning.  They weren’t able to do anything more to help us find the bag but did give us directions to hospedajes and hotels that may have parking for the mototaxi. After a few tries we ended up with a nice room in a hotel with an enclosed car park jammed full of big Toyota 4x4s with all the bars and a beacon on each, it seems the place is used by some construction firm to house its staff.  Once we had unpacked the taxi Jan crawled in to bed and Karen and I headed out to find food and beer.  We ended up having a pizza at a place a few doors down the street having first walked to the far end of the street the other way to get a few bottles of beer.

Round the world Day 48

Ayacucho is down in the guide books as a colonial city with churches and other sights to see, the problem with the Mototaxi Junket is that though it isn’t a race we have limited time to get to Urubamba. If we don’t make it by the 24th we will have to pay a daily rate to cover the additional expenses that The Adventurists will incur so there is not much opportunity to have a look round. We got up and had breakfast in the hotel as it was included in the price of the room, Karen had to go to the bank and I tried to get the wayward credit card sorted. It took me a few attempts as the number they given on the card for “Other countries” including Peru doesn’t seem to work in Peru so I ended up using the UK number and hoping that I wouldn’t run out of credit. Eventually I managed to give them the address of the hotel that Oscar is at in Urubamba and they say they will despatch it asap.

I then had a major disaster when I turned the mototaxi around in the yard. I misjudged the distance behind me and managed to knock over some plant pots. Jan assures me that I only just clipped the first pot but it was then like dominoes as it hit the next and so on. This included one of those wire frameworks which stack three pots. When the sound of breaking pottery had died down there was a mess of pottery, plants, soil and roots. I was mortified partly with the damage but also at the fact I had messed up the manoeuvre. The staff refused to let me tidy up the mess and only asked for 20 soles to cover the damage. When Karen arrived we finished loading the taxi and headed out of the city, this is always easier said than done and this morning was no exception we had to follow the one way streets up the hill to take another road across the hill to come down further along. Ayacucho is a very busy city so traffic on all these roads was solid and left little room to manoeuvre. We managed all the way across the city until we were passing out the other side, here we took a left fork when we should have taken the right and had to double back to rejoin the highway. Once out of the city the road climbed and climbed and climbed giving us some stunning views across the city and the mountains around. It also got colder and we had to stop and add layers of clothing as well as take photos.

From near the top of the first hill.  The outskirts of Ayacucho may just be visible in the centre.

From near the top of the first hill. The outskirts of Ayacucho may just be visible in the centre.

The road today has taken us over high mountains with stunning views but very cold. The road seems to have been newly made or at least up-graded, it had smooth tarmac and new barriers at the side. The drops are similar to the ones we had on the first days but the road surface and barriers make it seem much safer.

Newly laid roads still

Newly laid roads still

Another view over the Ayacucho valley. The ploughing in the foreground is done by hand and you can see some of the people working on the left of the shot.

Another view over the Ayacucho valley. The ploughing in the foreground is done by hand and you can see some of the people working on the left of the shot.

As we descended in to the next valley we stopped at a restaurant in a village for lunch, the owner must have been further down the street looking up as we arrived as he came in after us in a rush and greeted us enthusiastically.  It appeared to  be his daughter who was waiting tables (table we were the only ones in) while he did the cooking.  The food was good and he was an attentive host.   The place had obviously been used for a birthday party as there were streamers and a big banner on the wall.

The view of the high mountain from the highway.

The view of the high mountain from the highway.

After lunch we set off again, heading down the valley, our host and chef had told us the the nearest hospedaje was about an hour away but amended his estimate to 2 or 3 hours when we pointed out that we were on the mototaxi.  Checking on the map we could see a few places that may have accommodation not too far distant.  In fact the most likely place turned out not to be on the highway but high up on the side of the main valley that we reached late in the afternoon and only accessible by a dirt road.  We stuck with the main highway though we were convinced that we would soon run into another diversion and be stranded overnight at the side of the road with only my hiking tent for shelter.  At about 7 o’clock and once again in the dark we reached a village that did have a hospedaje with secure parking and wifi.  I was knackered so went to my room while Karen and Jan explored the village.  Soon after they left there was the noise of a parade outside and the local children walked down the road with homemade laterns in various designs.  We found out later that it was to celebrate the anniversary of the school.  While Jan and Karen had a roadside view I was able to lean out of my window and watch.  Once it had passed I got in to bed intending to nap but didn’t wake until morning.

 

Round the world Day 47

We had a great night’s sleep in the hospedaje, possibly because of brand new matresses which were about a foot thick. We went back to the restaurant next door for breakfast, unfortunately the chef was not on duty so we could only have coffee and cheese rolls. I loaded up the taxi and rolled it back out onto the track outside the hostel. It then refused to start, I had a look and it seemed to be an electrical problem as I could see a melted section on the HT lead and felt a bit of a shock when I touched the starter to try to test the spark. We ended up rolling it down the hill to a mechanicos at the back of the church which Jan and Karen had spotted on a walk round when I headed to bed last night. I seem to be having earlier nights than the girls but that is probably down to the fact that there is less chance to nap on the bike at the front than on the bench at the back. There have been a few times when I have turned to say something only to find that both Jan and Karen have nodded off. I take it as a compliment that they are not clinging on for their lives.

At the mechanicos we explained the problem again and had to wait a few minutes while he dealt with another customer. He then cut back the HT lead and replaced the plug cap and it has solved the problem. While we waited Jan and I sat on some big rocks watching and Karen went for a bit of a walk. As we watched a woman came out of the workshop with a large air filter obviously off a wagon or bus and gave it a good clean with the air hose getting lots of the light coloured road dust off.

The road followed the river but in some places climbed the side.  We waited for this coach to pass us.

The road followed the river but in some places climbed the side. We waited for this coach to pass us.

In lots of places the road was slipping down, these white lines had recently been marking the edge of the road.

In lots of places the road was slipping down, these white lines had recently been marking the edge of the road.

The call in to the mechanicos had not delayed us by long, perhaps an hour altogether and we headed off following the river further down the valley. In one of the towns further down the river they were having a market, it had obviously been going since early morning as some of the stalls were packing up. We decided it was a good stop so I turned the taxi round and we parked up. I left the ladies to explore the market while I got into the back of the taxi and tried to have nap. The three young lads who were packing up the veg stall next to me found this very amusing and would make loud noises to wake me up and then try to look innocent. The three of them were in their early teens and the driver who seemed to be an older brother may have been in his late teens. He seemed to be young to be driving a truck even if it was only a 4-tonner. It took them half an hour or so to get all the unsold veg in the back of the truck and then they reversed out and headed away. I gave up on dozing and sat watching the world go by, as has often happened quite a few of the local men came across to say hello and ask what we were doing. By this time I was needing the toilet but Jan and Karen weren’t back. Luckily I spotted a new looking public toilet across the road and decided that I could risk leaving the taxi unguarded for the short amount of time it would take. Needless to say having waited for the ladies to get back and got more desperate it was just as I was coming back from the toilet owing 1 sole for the use, that they turned up and Jan was able to pay my 1 sole at the same time as she went herself. We went had something to eat before heading off further down the valley.

This afternoon we reached the diversion that other teams have mentioned, the tarmac that has been intermittent anyway ran out completely at a bridge over the river and for the next few hours we were riding along the unmade base of the new road. It will be a great road when it is finished, wide with sweeping bends and some of the gradients flattened a bit, for the moment it is not good. The fact that a grader has been over most of it to flatten it made it better than some of the roads we have been along which have been damaged by water and are uneven. The first stretch of road was a steep incline going through a cutting and at one point Karen and Jan had to get out and push. When it is tarmacked it won’t be so bad because the wheels won’t have to cut through the stones.

It is a great sign when you don’t know what day it is, I think it is Sunday which would explain the lack of work going on and the lack of traffic. We didn’t actually get diverted at all though we kept expecting to have to turn of the main track but I think we are the only team to have taken the Tobaconas route on the first few days so the rest may have found this more traumatic than we are.

As we got closer to Huanta we met more traffic including a few tuktuks one of which we followed for a few miles in to the outskirts of the city. As we came in to the bottom of town we passed a funfair crowded with locals and it was hard-work persuading Karen that we didn’t have time to stop. We also had the problem that we were running out of fuel, if the gauge was to be believed we had none, and I was keen to find fuel before we did anything else. Luckily there was a very new petrol station just a few hundred metres beyond the fair and we were able to fill up. We turned out of the petrol station and round the corner realised how much we were literally at the bottom of the town. The road though nicely paved was a long steep hill and as we approached the junction at the top Jan and Karen once again had to get out. Even with the passengers out the taxi could not cope with the incline and stalled lots of times as we tried to get it up the last few metres before we could turn on to the next street which traversed the slope. Once round the corner I waited for the ladies to struggle up the hill which must have been 1 in 4 (25%) or steeper. As we passed through the town there was the usual lack of sign posts but in the main square there was a celebration going on with a band and dancers in traditional costume. Reluctantly I took the next left turn and came in to the top of the square so that Jan and Karen could get out to see what was going on and take some pictures. I waited with the taxi and as the parade moved down the square I pulled down as well. I could see that somehow Jan and Karen had managed to hi-jack a film crew and were being interviewed, when they returned they were “buzzing” about their moment of stardom but hadn’t thought to ask the English speaking interviewer the way out of town. We got back on to the road and at some point saw a sign for Ayacucho directing us straight on and immediately after a road called Ayacucho Ave going to the left. We stopped and asked for directions and were send in the opposite direction but could not find a main road and ended up coming back up the hill. We decided that the people we asked had decided that we were going to take the bus and would not be driving the taxi there as they had directed us to the bus station.

We headed out on the road that we had originally taken up the hill and high on the top as it left town we managed to check with another of the highway police that we were on the right route.

The road high on the top.

The road high on the top.

At one point when putting on more clothes we saw these alpine flowers.

At one point when putting on more clothes we saw these alpine flowers.

The road to Ayacucho took us down in to another valley where we saw some of the brick kilns being fired up. We have seen a few of these kilns as we have driven round but these are the first we have seen in action. There is an orange glow and lots of smoke but we weren’t able to get close enough to get a good view and take pictures. As we came down to the valley floor we came to another police check point but as with most of them they waved us through when they realised we were foreign tourists. By this time it was dusk and the light goes very quickly so as we climbed again into Ayacucho it was dark and we were getting in to a very busy city.

I have dug my heels in and refuse to do circle of the towns each night trying to find a suitable hopedaje so tonight I was sat in the main square (which is forbidden to mototaxis) while Karen and Jan walked round trying to find the places listed in the Lonely Planet. They were away for more than an hour and during this time I had seen a few police cars circling the square with their lights going and two have been to speak to me, one from the tourist police who was able to give me directions to a few hotels and hostels in the area. The second police car was just the local police and were just asking why I was waiting and what we were doing.

When the ladies returned they had found a hospedaje close to the square which had parking and hot water, the only problem was that we had to do a circuit of the square and then a second circuit of one of the blocks to get on to the one-way street in the right direction. The hopedaje is a good one we have a suite at the top with a huge en-suite and a small lounge area.

Once we had unpacked we headed off to find food which took us a long time as Karen is always keen to find a restaurant that serves beer and few of them do, this evening the ones that did appeared to be closed.

 

Round the world Day 46

Last night I parked the mototaxi in a locked yard with several big boxer dogs so felt it was very secure. This morning once again we had hoped to be up and away earlier but I was delayed having to wait to get the gate unlocked.  Jan was not feeling good so had to make a few trips back in to the toilet and Karen was also delayed. Eventually we got going after Karen had been to a stall across the road to get some food.

The view from the hospedaje window showing the stall across the road as well as the hills around.

The view from the hospedaje window showing the stall across the road as well as the hills around.

We headed out the same way we had arrived last night, I think it was too much the same route and that we went the wrong side of a road island where we re-joined the main highway. I noticed after a short distance that we needed fuel so at the first roundabout we turned on to another road back towards town to get to a fuel station. They didn’t have petrol so we had to go back the way we came to where we had joined the highway and call at a petrol station that Karen remembered was there. Having filled up we set off again but didn’t get far before Karen realised that the lightweight towel that she had hung on the back of the taxi to dry was not there. Once again we had to retrace our steps, visit each fuel station and head back further in to town. Unbelievably we found it lying in the gutter at the side of the road.

We set off again and this time got further and did not need to return. The next stretches of highway are obviously going to be used for the Andes Marathon, we say sprayed markings on the road and signs up advertising the fact. We haven’t been feeling the effects of the altitude since we came down from Cerro de Pasco but we are still pretty high and it gets very warm in the sun so I don’t envy the runners. I remember how hard the London Marathon was when I ran it (OK I jogged and walked in equal amounts).

The finish of the marathon was a Huancayo our next city so the mileage markers for the runners were also useful for us.

Huancayo was a bit of a disaster for us as the mototaxi decided that a big city with lots of traffic, grid-locked in places due to road closures for a rally, was a good time to start failing. As we came into the centre and began to make lots of stops for traffic lights and things the engine started to cut out. I could keep it going some of the time by keeping the revs up but it got much worse. Karen wanted me to stop near the centre of the city but I kept going until we were in the outskirts again thinking that not only would it be cheaper but it would mean that I didn’t have to battle with horrendous traffic again and could relax. Having negotiated the centre of the city we found a workshop with a couple of mototaxi outside, did a U-turn in the road and pulled in. We explained the problem to the man who appeared to be the owner who summoned a young man to do the work. He stripped the carburettor and looked at the state of the oil in the engine. Cleaned the carb and did a service on the engine. We sat outside in the sunshine and Karen and Jan went for a walk to a nearby shop. The older man who seemed to own the place wanted photos taken with us including posing with a framed certificate as if we were presenting it. When the taxi was finished the young man took me for a spin to assure me it was working. We went at break-neck speed up the road a few miles ducking and weaving between the rest of the traffic and all seemed well. I decided that I had just not been riding aggressively enough.

When we set off again we got as far up the road as the lad had taken me and all was not well, we started to conk out again and to make matters worse the chain came off as well. We limped back to a new petrol station and tried to phone the workshop using the numbers they had given, Karen managed to get help from the lady attendant and we got through but by this time I had replaced the chain and after several attempts managed to get the taxi to keep going well enough for us to limp back to the workshop. They set to again and this time concentrated on the spark plug and electrics. The older man then adjusted the chains and lubricated all the drive train. After another hours wait we were ready to go again and this time we kept going. We headed off down the 3N to the next town where we stopped to try to find food. As we pulled in to the plaza there was what appeared to be a funeral procession on one side of the square and Karen set off to see and perhaps join in. Jan went in search of food and I stayed with the taxi which I had parked outside a police station despite advice from the back seat. I got woken from my day dreams by a blip of sirens from a police car which wanted me to pull forward a bit and then went into shock when one of the policemen getting out of the car said “Good afternoon” in very good English. The shock obviously showed on my face as his colleagues burst out laughing. We chatted a little mainly about football, a subject I never do well on but I think I hid my ignorance enough to be polite. Soon after they had disappeared into the station a procession of coaches came through to celebrate the anniversary of the coach firm. There was much sounding of horns and the coaches had all been decorated, some more than others. Some had their doors open and people leaning out and waving, I managed to get a few photos as they went past. Once my passengers returned we ate then set off again.

The parade of coaches.

The parade of coaches.

The next part of the route was along the valley bottom until the next village where the road started to climb again. Just we hit the slope we passed a few people walking who tried to get a lift and one of them decided to run after us. We weren’t going at a great speed but it was enough to keep ahead of him though we weren’t extending our lead. After a few hundred metres he gave up but was still smiling. At the time the sun was high in a blue sky and the landscape around was different again from previous days reminding me of the south of France or Italy with a patchwork of fields and tall trees like poplars. The colours have changed from the rich greens of the rainforest to a mixture of pale greens and light browns.

Bits of the new landscape as we began to climb.

Bits of the new landscape as we began to climb.

Towards the end of the day we dropped again into a valley and followed the river and railway downhill.

The view down the valley.

The view down the valley.

Showing the road going down.  A vast improvement on the roads we day on the first few days if a little boring.

Showing the road going down. A vast improvement on the roads we day on the first few days if a little boring.

An abandoned railway carriage on the other side of the river.

An abandoned railway carriage on the other side of the river.

Soon after 5 we started looking for a hospedaje and hoped to find one in a town where two main roads met. Unfortunately we started by leaving the village on the wrong road which on crossing a bridge over the river turned in to a steep, narrow, dirt track. At one point Karen and Jan had to get off and push. Jan got on quickly and then I saw Karen get on the other side. As the track was steep and uneven I was concentrating on the driving and it wasn’t for a few minutes and perhaps half a mile of driving that I turned round again to find that Karen was alone. Jan for some reason had got off again before Karen got on and I had driven off not knowing and thinking how well the taxi was doing going up the steep road. I had already decided that the road was not likely to be taking us to a hospedaje so turned round and headed back to the village picking up a surprised and breathless Jan on the way. We asked in the village and were told that there was a hospedaje in the next town down the road a distance of 4 km.

Kilometers in Peru seem to be a flexible measurement of distance, usually longer than kilometres in other countries, those used in mapping or for calibrating the odometers on mototaxis. The four kilometres to the next town and hospedaje took us an hour or more. By the time we arrived it was dark but we managed to find accommodation and a meal. We had a room with three single beds in a place owned by an elderly woman who also had the shop next door. There was a yard between the two premises and we pulled the taxi inside the gates behind a pick-up truck which seemed to belong to the painters who were just packing up when we arrived. Our hostess directed us to a café at the other end of the block of buildings which we assumed was run by a relative and just for a change we had chicken, chips and rice for dinner.

 

Round the world Day 45

This morning, though not much warmer, the hospedaje didn’t seem as bad as it had last night.  Mainly because we could see that it wasn’t as isolated as we thought.  On the other side of the stream behind the building there is a village on the side of the hill which we couldn’t see.

The village.

The village.

A little further down there is a what seems to be a brand new sports centre, more like a barn for playing 5-a-side or other games.  Directly behind the hospedaje there are ponds making a trout farm so after I had wheeled out the taxi and put my bags on I took some photos.

Sports hall.

Sports hall.

Trout farm.

Trout farm.

We set off up the road and back into the roadworks which continued for a few more miles.  The next place along the road was a big mine, we didn’t see the mine itself but drove through the buildings and yards of the surface workings.  There were a lot of miners around in overalls with hard-hats and lamps.  More than a few were leaning on the sides of 4×4 cars in deep discussions, perhaps mine business, perhaps football.  The place reminded me of the incident a few years ago where Chilean miners where trapped underground and made me wonder how conditions compared in Peruvian mines.

Once we had left the mining area we were back on to mountain roads.  The rainforest disappeared behind us yesterday afternoon and it is now grass and small trees at the side of the road.  As we got closer to Cerro de Pasco the altitude began to take effect, not just on us but also on the mototaxi.  We didn’t become as breathless as I expected but had uneasy stomaches which I didn’t expect.  The taxi lost power and stalled more than it has done lower down.

Highway 3N heading to Cerro de Pasco.

Highway 3N heading to Cerro de Pasco.

On the last few miles into the city as we approached the top of the hills we came across fields of sheep and lama or alpaca,  I’m not sure of the difference.  Karen is disappointed that we haven’t seen herds of them.  The city itself seems built in a crater, we entered at the top on one side and meandered our way down through narrow streets until we reached the market area.  We parked outside a restaurant and ordered some soup as a breakfast.  We would have to have been very hungry and in sturdy health to have finished it as it was not to our taste at all.  I usually try to work on the principle that if other people eat it then so can I but on this occassion I really couldn’t.  I ate all the accompanying bread and make a good attempt at finishing the soup but it just wasn’t nice.  After admitting defeat with the soup I walked with Jan up through the market to the public toilets.  Down an alley from the mainstreet the “Banos” are impressively clean and well maintained with a small garden beside them all tended by a male attendant.  Jan was feeling the effects of altitude worse than Karen or I so we took it very easy walking up to the toilets and back.  Karen went off while Jan rested and I stood by the taxi watching the world go by.

The restaurant we had chosen was opposite the Police station and as I waited a police-car turned up towing a mototaxi.  As the police-man unhooked the tow rope and placed it in the boot of his car I jokingly said in english and sign-language “What about giving us a lift?” at first, unsurprisingly, he didn’t understand that it was a joke but I explained and he laughed politely.  I then asked him for directions to get out of town and he indicated to give him 5 minutes to sort some stuff out and he would help.  So it ended up that we left Cerro de Pasco behind a police-car with its lights going and the occasional blast of siren to warn other traffic that we were following.

Our police escort.  Did Steve Bourne make the light bar?

Our police escort. Did Steve Bourne make the light bar?

We only stalled four times as we climbed out of the town and only once did Karen and Jan have to get out and push while the police-car waited patiently for us.  At the edge of the city he pulled to the side to give us the final directions and let us thank him and take pictures with him and his partner.

Saying thanks and adios to our escorts.

Saying thanks and adios to our escorts.

The next bit of the journey took us across the high plain close to the railway and the Junin National Park.  The sun was shining and the sky was blue making the flat area and surrounding peaks very impressive.  The driving was easy as the highway swept in gentle curves with very little climbing or descent and we all felt a lot better than we had yesterday evening.  We stopped at a roadside cafe after passing through Junin and had a some lunch which almost made up for our soup.  Outside a motorbike and a large truck were parked, inside only one table was occupied by a very elderly woman, a middle-aged man and another a bit younger.  We jokingly discussed which of the three was driving the truck and which the motorbike.

The plains surrounded by mountains, well mostly blue sky really.

The plains surrounded by mountains, well mostly blue sky really.

When we had finished the sun was still high in the sky and we made good time to the edge of the valley where the road crossed the railway and the national park ended.  There were signs warning of lama crossing the road and we saw a few though not the numbers we hoped for.

Lama

Lama

As the road descended it was into another river valley with the road on one side and the railway on the other.  Soon after leaving Cerro de Pasco we had seen a long frieght train stood idle and I hoped that it may come along the tracks so that I could get some pictures of one of the highest railways in the world in action, but it was not to be.

This evening we have made it to Jauja.  A little town which seems very “touristy”, this may be just because it has a festival on at the moment with a stage in the square and stalls around it.  Having found a nice hospedaje we headed down a pedestrianised street in search of food and found the stage and stalls.  To the sound of local bands playing and other performers we ate roast pork sandwiches and drank coffee then beer.  The sandwiches may be the best meal we have had since leaving Colan, so good we had seconds before calling it a night.

 

Round the world Day 44

Despite the temptation to stay in the comfortable hotel this morning we managed to get away soon after 7.30, not a record but not far off.  We managed to navigate our way out of Tingo Maria, in fact it wasn’t too hard despite the usual lack of signage.  The highway at this point follows a gorge, with steep and sometimes overhanging cliffs to one side and the river to the other.  At times there were rocks lying in the road or at the side as evidence of recent rock falls.  As we began to climb the gorge there were truck wash stations where streams off the mountainsides had been harnessed to provide high pressure water feeds to hoses.  On a morning like this morning, overcast, grey and damp, it was easy to see how they would have plenty of water to use.  Karen had been hoping to find some caves near Tingo Maria which are meant to have a huge population of bats and birds which move in and out at dawn and dusk.  As it turned out we were lucky not to find it as we were very late stopping this evening anyway.

After giving up on finding the caves we found a road-side cafe where we had breakfast before continuing the climb up the gorge.  We followed the river all morning climbing above it towards the end and then cutting across to Huanuco.  Here we saw signs for Plaza Vea, the supermarket chain that Jan and I had found in Paita and we had used in other towns since.  After only one wrong turn we found the shopping centre and while I sat with the taxi, Jan and Karen went in to do some shopping.  I was not to be bored waiting outside though as an American man came to talk to me, his original intention had been to bring me to Islam but as many others before him he soon realised I was a lost cause.  We ended up chatting about Peru, his epilepsy and other conditions, his peruvian wife who was at home in Oregon while he was here (they have separated), the fact that the house he is staying in had been broken in to and he didn’t feel secure there, politics and other things.  I think he was glad of someone that he could talk to easily as he says his spanish is not great,  he also seemed to be a young man with a few personal issues who may have found some people less than patient with him.  After 40 minutes or so he went off leaving me with a few photocopied sheets in spanish about Islam, some web addresses and books I should read.

Eventually Karen emerged from the shopping centre to say that Jan was in the Claro shop trying to get her phone sorted.  I took advantage and left Karen with the taxi while I went in to the supermarket to get some clean socks and boxer shorts.  Jan came out soon after I got back, very disgruntled with Claro as they hadn’t got the problem fixed.  I think that may have been the result of the langauge barrier, it is relatively easy to explain with pidgeon spanish, english and sign language that you want food or drink but not so simple to go in to technical problems or answer questions correctly that you don’t really understand.

By now we were all starving as it was getting towards 3 in the afternoon so we moved the taxi to the other side of the road and ate at a small cafe that I had been staring at for almost 2 hours.  Chicken again.

Leaving Haunaco we almost went the wrong way down a one-way section,  in my defense the road we had been coming down led straight on to it and it was not obvious that you had to do a hard right turn then left again.  The road at this point was not just a dual-carriageway but a quad-carriageway with a dual-carriageway coming up-hill seperated from a dual-carriage way going down by a third central reservation.  Each of the three reservations grassed and with trees growing.

We got back on to the main highway and found a garage where we managed to get a couple of bolts to secure the engine cover and exhaust.  I had noticed in the morning that they had fallen out.

The road at this point was very busy with traffic almost nose-to-tail if such an orderly arrangement was possible on a Peruvian road.  We managed to make our way out of the town and by more luck than judgement ended up on the rigth road.

Highway 3N continues to climb up into the Andes but without the huge exposed drops and poor surfaces that we had experienced on the first few days.  Late in the day we came to a small town where the traffic slowed to halt, it was then stop-start for a few miles.  At one point two young teenagers climbed on to the back-bar of the truck in front of us and hung on to the lock system to get a ride.  It looked sometimes as though they had bitten off more than they could chew as the wagon got up to a good speed where getting off may be impossible, very painful or fatal.  I don’t know how far they had intended to go but it was a few miles before they got off unscathed.

The reason for the hold-up was a series of road works where the highway was being resurfaced and in places rebuilt.  There were several stretches where the road was reduced to one lane for long distances and we had to try not to hinder the progress of the other traffic (mainly big trucks) as we all tried to get through.

The result of all todays delays, apart from the three of us and everything on the taxi being covered in a layer of dust from the wheels of trucks, has been that we are in a hospedaje which seems to be miles from anywhere and is very basic.  We have got two rooms but haven’t managed to get any food.  The girl looking after the place has her boyfriend here with his mate, they both work at the mine further down the road and were determined to be very hospitable, talking to us in English and getting drunk with us.  Admittedly they were more successful in the getting drunk than we were but we had long chats about the boyfriends motorbike which was parked in the middle of the room and many other things.  Tonight it is a pretty cold night as the doors don’t fit well and there is no heating.