Travesía Panamericana
Week 16

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Southern Central Peru/ Northern Bolivia

July 22-24, 2002

Pampas, Peru

Odometer: 207,482

Written by: Barbara

The Pampas-Ayacucho-Andahuaylas-Abancay section of our route to Cusco was characterized by desolated gravel roads, sometimes roads that were scarily steep, roads with awful pavement (full of crater-like holes and all kinds of obstacles), and roads that somewhat abruptly climbed and descended more than one thousand meters. This part of the trip was also marked by mountains and deserts of extreme beauty and silent majesty, and by isolated indigenous communities whose main form of transportation was on foot, by mule, or by sparse minibuses packed with people, and with the roof rack overflowing boxes, blankets, baskets, bags, and/or animals. Ayacucho was the most important of the mentioned cities, and the place where the guerrilla group Shining Path was born. The center of Ayacucho presents beautiful colonial architecture and it boils with activity and movement. The section Abancay-Cuzco was the exception as far as the road conditions goes: the pavement was mostly smooth, a gift for tired Guapo.

Even though the distances between cities did not seem to be that long, we moved forward really slowly due to the awful state of the roads, always fearing that the car was going to fall apart any minute. An additional danger was embodied by the occasional trucks and buses, whose drivers behaved as if they were in a rally, barely leaving us any space next to precipices, or squeezing us next to the mountain each time they passed us. (Practically the only vehicles that we saw were public transportation, taxis, or trucks; no private cars). The animals that regularly crossed our way constitute another chapter: we had to be careful of all kinds of animals on the road, from dogs, chickens, sheep, and goats, to llamas, cows, and mules. It is worth mentioning that at one point we had to stop to let a group of cows and bulls go through, and one of bulls (apparently unhappy with our being there) decided to charge against us. Fortunately, Cris suddenly accelerated and was able to avoid this angry bulls attack. Finally, another situation to pay attention to when crossing some villages, was the fact that children between 5 and 8 years old were fond of traveling in the rear bumper of the cars that drove through (without the drivers permission). All of these things usually happened at the rhythm of Chance's anxious barking and crying each time he saw an animal or person, or when we slowed down to enter a village.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

We arrived in Cusco the night of the 24 of July. After several days of sleeping in parking lots, and washing with water from the creeks or using our solar shower, we were ready to try a hotel. We stayed at the friendly hotel Valicha Wasi, a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas (main square, at the Cusco center). An additional advantage of this place was that the employees offered to take care of Chance while we visited the city and Machupicchu.


July 25-27, 2002

Cusco, Peru

Odometer: 207,983

Written by: Barbara and Cris

Cusco, Perú

Our first day in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire, was dedicated to visit the city and to try to figure out how to get to the archeological site/sanctuary of Machupicchu the following day, our wedding anniversary. Cusco is quite an interesting and cosmopolitan city, with a combination of Inca and Spanish colonial influences in its architecture. Many of the downtown buildings show stone foundations crafted by the Incas with incredible precision. Even though mortar or any other joint material were never used, it is not possible to introduce the smallest piece of  paper between what sometimes are automobile-size stones. There is, of course, a strong Spanish architectural influence; courtyards, columns, tiled roofs, Plaza de Armas (and others), gateways, etc. The citys cathedral is a smaller version of the one we visited in Puebla, Mexico at the beginning of our trip. Peruvian red and white flags were flying all over the city, in preparation for the countrys independence day on July 28. You can see loads of tourists strolling in the narrow and winding streets or in the Plaza de Armas; indigenous people selling crafts and food; shoe shiners, cigarette and postcard vendors; and restaurant employees offering their products/services as you walk by, and many people crowded in the market where you can find almost anything. The city is very well prepared for tourism, which means that there are lots of services. On the other hand, prices can be really steep and everything is becoming too commercialized.



The Train Cusco-Machupicchu

Thanks to the intervention of a woman we met in the train station, who was determined to help us out, we were able to get train tickets to Machupicchu, even when it seemed that we would not be able to go (this is high season and tickets run out fast, and  taking the train is the only way to go to the site).  We spent a wonderful day exploring the ruins, learning about the Incas history, and hiking on a lush trail that goes from the ruins to the station where you take the train back to Cusco. Machupicchu is simply amazing; just  its physical location makes it special, surrounded by steep lush mountains, with the view of the river very far down, and the usually-present clouds. In addition,  the relatively well preserved buildings and what they tell us about the Inca culture help to create an almost magical place. Unfortunately, the large influx of tourists and the way they are handled deter from the experience of being in such a special place. This was not the case during my first visit to the site, in 1986. Back then we were able to do the Inca Trail for almost free and with no guide, share a train back to Cusco with the locals inexpensively, and pay an admission to the ruins that was acceptable. Nowadays prices have skyrocketed (e.g.: U$S 75 for the gringo train ride from Cusco, U$S 9 for the bus from the train station to the nearby ruins, etc.), and restrictions abound (Inca trail with paid guide only, not allowed to take the local train, etc.). I understand restricting the place due to too many visitors, but that restriction shouldnt be based on a price because then low income people (especially Peruvians, even though they have a discount) loose. Nevertheless, Machupicchu was still a highlight of our trip.

Machupicchu and Huaynapicchu

We Saw Amazing Stonework in Machupicchu

When we came back from our visit we realized that Chance had some wounds. It took a lot of inquiring to get the facts straight about what had happened to him, since nobody seemed to know or did not want to tell us. Apparently, a friend of the owner arrived to the hotel with another male dog and they got into a fight, not the first one in this trip. (Chance got more health problems, wounds, and fights with other dogs in four months of traveling through Latin America, than in his 4 years of life in Eugene). The following day and previous stop at the vet, we headed to the border with Bolivia, via Puno. We slept in parking of a hotel in the small town of Ilave, relatively close to the border.


In the Altiplano

July 28, 2002

Ilave, Peru

Odometer: 208, 260

Written by: Barbara

Early in the morning we crossed the border to Bolivia. We were surprised about how easy and inexpensive was this border crossing. The whole paperwork process, leaving Peru and entering Bolivia, probably took between 45 minutes and 1 hour, and we did not have to pay anything. A couple of military in a Bolivian check point tried to find something wrong with our documents in order to extract money for us. But Cris firmly refused to give them anything, and finally they let us go.  By now we are really tired of the police and military authorities, even when they stop us legitimately, so we deal with them without much patience (In Peru the police stopped us 20 times exactly to check us out, though without mayor consequences but our annoyance).

Welcome to Bolivia!

We entered Bolivia through the town of Desaguadero, we went by La Paz (without entering), and we continued to the South during the rest of the day. We traveled through high altitude planes and under a lead-gray sky most of the time. We were barely escaping the rain. We saw a black Lake Titicaca because of the coming rain, a far cry from the blue of the postcards. The best thing of the day for Cris was to find some treasures (useful or rare auto parts) in an old VW split window bus abandoned outside Oruro. Our goal for the day was to reach a the place where we would make a decision: whether to continue our trip in Bolivia through the Pan-American highway, or whether to take a more secondary road to visit the famous Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. After helping a family with car problems, and after pouring rain finally caught up with us, we arrived at the crossroads. We slept in the town of Huari, hoping to make a good decision after getting more information.

On Our Way to Machupicchu


Machupicchu and the River Below

Found a VW Deluxe Microbus Clone in the Jungle Near Machupicchu. What is it?

Lake Titicaca Under a Storm

Cusco, Perú

Peruvian Bug in Cusco

Week 17