Start: September 19, Nazca
Finish: September 27, Santa Teresa
Days Jess & Kobus Spent Puking: 4
Alpaca Steak Consumed: 1.5lbs
Death Roads Successfully Traversed: 1
The past week we left the coastal roads of Peru at the mysterious Nazca Lines and headed into the Andes to the historic town of Cusco. Our end goal is to reach the ruins of Machu Picchu, a milestone of epic proportions for any overlanding expedition in South America.
It's not the easiest place to get to, but as you will see we took our time. Partially because Jessica and Kobus both fell deathly ill on two separate occasions and partially because driving 8 or 9 hours a day does not equate to having fun times. So we hit up a craft market, sampled more of Peru's delicious cuisine, and generally did our best to slow things down.
Just outside the town of Nazca we stopped to see the famous Nazca Lines, created by the peoples who inhabited the area between 450 and 600 AD. Very few of the glyphs are visible from the ground. We stopped at a lookout along the Pan-Am and paid $.75 per person to climb a staircase to view a couple of the smaller "drawings".
The only real way to see the lines is to charter a flight in a tiny airplane with a questionable maintenance history. And at $100 per person and the very likely chance of puking all over our Peruvian pilot, we opted out.
From the Nazca lookout we took this shot of a pristine stretch of the Pan-Am winding through the Peruvian coastal desert. We spent the night in the town of Nazca and then got up early to bring the long inland drive to Cusco. In total it's about a 14 hour drive that we opted to break into two chunks.
The first chunk of the drive was the longest, about nine hours. Quite possibly the longest driving day of our trip thus far. We stopped along the way to enjoy the scenery, which wasn't anything more spectacular that we'd seen the past couple times we traversed the Andes. Lots of cows and not a lot of people.
After five or six hours, the long drive takes its toll on the passengers. Luckily Kobus is still awake enough to get us to our midway point while somehow managing to safely take pictures of the two of us snoozing.
We overnighted in Abancay, which turned into an extra night due to Kobus' contraction of "code brown". Meaning he was all sorts of sick and unhappy. Luckily after a day of rest, and a pile of Cipro, he felt up to continuing, and after a few more hours of driving we'd found our way to Cusco.
We camped at Quinta Lala, the much recommended overlanding stop in the hills above Cusco, and the only campground in the area. At an elevation over 11,000 feet it got cold at night, very cold! Jessica had to break out her super sleeping bag to stay up past sunset.
During our five day stay at Quinta Lala we came across a ton of overlanders, mainly from Europe, who had been traveling around South America from a few months to a few years. We swapped notes, toured some kitted-out vehicles and enviously noted how we were the only ones spending our nights in a tent.
After our first night in Cusco Jessica fell victim to a stomach bug, necessitating a longer stay that we had originally planned. To pass the time Kobus and I whip up a batch of empanadas, cooked over charcoal in our Dutch oven. After two days of being sick in the cold Jess and Kobus left to spend a couple nights in a hotel closer to the city. Fortunately they left me with most of the empanadas.
After two nights recuperating in a hotel Jessica started to feel better. Whilst I was gnawing on doughy pockets of deliciousness and slurping down cup-o-noodle soup, those two were enjoying a night out on the town.
Once Jessica regained her apetite the two went to a fancy restaurant near their hotel to sample some alpaca shishkabobs whilst I moved on to my second cup-o-noodle.
After five nights in Cusco we still hadn't spent much time in town taking in the sights. Cusco is a huge city, built upon by many cultures, including the Incans who designated it the capital of their empire. Between grocery runs and stops for coffee, we hit the town three or four times during our five day stay. On one of those days we found the central square, Plaza de Armas, packed with people watching a parade celebrating the anniversary of the city's many scholastic institutions.
From Cusco we headed to Pisac, a small town about two hours away that is famous for its craft market. We camped at a place that can be best described as a cattle ranch for tents. Unfortunately their bathrooms were beyond filthy, the hot water system broken and to top it all off the manager was a jerk. He insisted that $10 per person was a cheap price to pay for camping with nasty bathrooms, and if we wanted hot showers it would cost extra. Adios, jackass.
If you're thinking of going to Pisac, don't camp at The Royal Inka.
Thoroughly put-off by an expensive, dirty, and rude night at The Royal Inka we drove into town to check out the craft market. Our (un)trusty guidebook mentions that the market is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. We came to find out is that it is open every day of the week, but those are the designated days when the tour buses show up to disgorge hundreds of people out for a day trip from Cusco.
Nevertheless the market is nice. More or less what we've come to expect from markets that cater to tourists. A lot of stands selling the same stuff, and a few more interesting displays and shops such as these two ladies who specialize in every color of dye and every type of corn that can be found in Peru.
Before leaving Pisac we stopped at a bakery to pick up a few snacks for on the road. Inside was a castilla de cuy - a guinea pig castle. You might be saying to yourself that it's very nice for such an establishment to build a house for these cute critters to enjoy, but you would be wrong. This is a Peruvian lobster tank, except instead of lobsters there are guinea pigs. Pick your pig, and an hour or so later it will show up on your plate fresh from the wood-fired oven. Yummers.
Further up The Sacred Valley we get our first taste of Incan terraces. The road to Santa Teresa - the closest you can get to Machu Picchu by car - is lined with ruins, making for a scenic drive, at least until the fog rolls in.
Up and over the Andes we went, for the fourth or fifth time. Winding roads, fog, and dozens of suicidal downhill bicycling tourists made for a rough bit of driving. Once we cleared the 14,000 foot pass and got below the fog we were greated with a spectacular view of the valley and river that lead to Machu Picchu.
The last stretch of road to our stopping point at Santa Teresa can best be described using the my new favorite adjective: death-roady. A huge drop off on one side, a narrow dirt road, and enough blind corners to scare the crap out of even the heartiest adventurer. Halfway through we had a tourist van come within inches of driving off the road as he passed us. The look of horror on the faces of the gringos in the back of the van said it all.
Our overnight stop in Santa Teresa was the base camp for hiking tours headed for Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. It's safe to say we've never camped on a patch of grass with 20 or 30 other tents until this point. Fortunately, aside from the biting bugs, all was tranquilo. Tomorrow everyone (including us) would be getting up early to hit the trail!
Up Next: We brave the tourist mobs and bad expensive food at Aguas Calientes before reaching our ultimate goal: Machu Picchu!