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Perils in Peru 1 - News - bespk

Perils in Peru 1

Posted on Sunday, 17th February 2013 by Eunice

Our journey to the Ecuadorian/Peruvian border was quite exciting with some very slippery off road driving as they were upgrading the road to dual carriageway. At present the temporary road goes alongside the new road.  Heavy rain the previous night made this even more interesting.  We passed through an enormous banana plantation, but as we neared the border the lush vegetation gave way to sparser shrub.

The border itself is well ordered - a joint venture between the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Governments.  An example that could be adopted by many other countries.  There is an entry point for Ecuador on the left as you approach.  It was here we had understood that we needed to go to get the car’s papers cancelled  but things have changed and now all of the exit details are dealt with in the buildings five kilometres further on; on the right hand side.  (Both aduanas are very distinctive with their blue and white buildings and are secure and enclosed).

Having parked the car; we were able to attend one immigration office, where we were given exit visas for Ecuador and in the adjacent queue able to get entry visas to Peru.  It was all very well ordered to the point that people trying to push forward in the queue were discouraged (a first in all our travels). There was even help at hand from officials and we observed an elderly man who could not read or write being given preferential treatment (a whole different world from our previous experiences).  We then had to get the car documents and insurance sorted.  The only expense was the $10 insurance fee. The whole process took less than one and a half hours.  This included quite a lot of standing around in the car park talking to people interested in the car.

The first thing we noticed on entering Peru was the change in (or lack) of vegetation.  The atmosphere is more arid and dusty.  The distance between villages is greater.  Those that we did pass had evidence of newly constructed, charity donated long drop outhouses; distinct with their red corrugated iron.  There was evidence of some livestock, mainly sheep, goats and donkeys, but it was difficult to see how you could survive in such a barren landscape.  We had planned to stop overnight in Tumbes; but it was overwhelming. The swarms of tuk-tuks, cars, buses, motorbikes and handcarts were all vying for road space, with absolutely no sense or order.  Car horns, loud speakers and shouting all added to the chaos.  Real sensory overload! 

So we drove on further to the town of Zorrito, which is on the coast. We stopped at the first hotel we came across.  Perhaps not the best idea, but feeling rather hopeless and shell shocked the idea of going any further did not appeal.  It was basic, clean and we had a room overlooking the ocean.  Guy was so exhausted by the day’s ventures that he fell asleep for two hours.  In the evening we walked along the beach, realized if we had gone another 500 metres we would have found other hotels, but this is all part of the travelling experience. The sunset was beautiful and after an enormous plate of rice and seafood, we fell asleep to the crashing of the waves.

The following day (26/01/2013) we continued our journey south.  This was a much interrupted experience; as we were continually stopped by the vigilant traffic police, who were fascinated by the car.  In total we were stopped four times, mostly at official points, but on one occasion by a police truck with lights flashing and loud hailer steaming up behind us.  They were all very friendly, wanted to shake our hands, know about the car, listen to the horn and most importantly have their photos taken with the car.  Then we would be on our way again.

We thought we had seen big sand dunes in Oregon, but they are nothing compared to the scenery we were travelling through.  These are vast, wind blasted hills of every shade of brown you can imagine.  The road winds up and down and then on to a long flat plateau that seems to go on forever. Until at last you wend your way down to the coast again.  In the valleys; where there is water, the landscape changes and the iridescent green of rice fields dominate the landscape.  A really extreme contrast. 

Signs of population between the towns are even scarcer and where there are dwellings they are surrounded by large screens of reeds to protect the inhabitants from the winds which sculpture the landscape.  There is a real sense of survival here.  Unfortunately this is coupled with a disregard for the environment and there are piles of festering rubbish everywhere which are liberally distributed across the desert by the wind.  The towns are centres of bustle and disruption.  Everywhere there are yellow and black taxis that swarm like bees (we fit in well).  This is normal for Peru.  It would seem they drive their vehicles like unbroken horses - no sense of direction or purpose.  Guy is adapting to this style and the horn is used frequently.  Eunice meanwhile is becoming increasingly grey!

We arrived in the city of Piura, a large sprawling urbanization, with a centre of colonial charm and shopping streets.  We had decided, as it was the weekend, that we would book in advance through and had reserved a room at the Hotel des Portales; right in the main square.  This is an amazing old colonial building and was obviously a centre of real importance in days gone by.  They were keen to help put the car into secure parking. They advised us about our safety; only take a taxi recommended by them. But they insisted on accompanying us to a secure ATM in their own casino.  In the evening a very kind taxi driver took us to a restaurant.  When this was not open he took us for a tour around the town; back to the restaurant, which was still closed. So he took us to another restaurant of his choosing returning later to collect us.

Although it was Sunday, we were awoken to the sound of hammer drills.  This may explain why the room was such a bargain. The whole hotel reverberated to the sound.  With everyone woken at the same time, breakfast turned into a real bun fight.  We found a table by the pool and were refreshed with freshly made fruit smoothies.  We had thought the scenery yesterday was monotonous at times, but we had not bargained for it getting worse.  This landscape was mainly flat, the road straight and the colour sand and grey shrub just went on and on.  The car was happy. It wasn't having to work too hard, Guy spent the time counting miles of straight road between bends, Eunice timing the half hours between sweet administration.  It felt like an area of pure desolation.  The squalor outside human habitation seemed to get worse.  The police stops were three in total, but no requests for photographs.  We wondered if the police commissioner had got wind of the previous day’s antics and issued an edict!

We arrived in the town of Chiclayo and got completely lost.  The directions we had to the hotel mean nothing and having driven through several streets we decided to stop and ask for directions.  This was outside a pub, Sunday afternoon  and the several kindly gentlemen who gave us directions all had a different variation.  We headed off in the general direction of consensus and eventually found the hotel in a busy part of town.  Surrounded by the street noise as well as the wonderful sounds of Latin American music playing loudly in the bar down the road we booked in; the car again locked away in secure parking and warnings about being careful.

Despite the noise we did manage some sleep and prayed that our journey could only get better.   Certainly it could not get much worse.  But no!  Now there is no grey shrub, just sand;  miles and miles of it.  And wind.  This means interesting shapes in the dunes, sand in the eyes, ears and everywhere.  Where there is greenery, it sits on the tops of the dunes, like woolly hats protecting them from the onslaught.  We arrived in Trujillo feeling incredibly dirty and strangely scoured.  Maybe there is some mileage in a new beauty treatment of depilation using a sand blaster?  Trujillo is a truly beautiful town with its main square polished and shining in the sunshine, surrounded by the cathedral and beautiful old Spanish colonial style houses, with intriguing windows and balconies.  The City is close to ancient pre-Columbian sites: the Temples of the Sun and Moon as well as Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world.  A good place to stop for more than just one night, but we are on a mission.

Leaving town we got lost again and ended up heading in the wrong direction.  Guy now feeling more experienced in Peruvian driving, did a U turn and luckily we hit the right road.  On the outskirts of the city we are passed by a couple on a motor bike, who then stop and want to talk.  Dave is from the UK and his wife Lina from Columbia.  They are en route from Houston, Texas to Montevideo, Uruguay where Lina is relocating for work they have decided to do the trip by road.  We commiserate about the tough going, exchange email addresses and then are on our way, theirs much faster than ours.  It is these events that make the bad days good.

Another day of deserts, dust and distress for many miles.  Only one police stop, but this leads to lots of public interest, more photos and handshakes that enlivens the day a bit.  Then we are travelling through an industrialized area (large cement works) - the first sign of any real industry since we entered the country. We enter into an extensively irrigated area of lush greenness and a wide variety of crops; maize and sugar cane predominating.  Despite the frequent signs for Coca Cola and Pepsi that pepper the desert and feed your thirst we did not encounter any factories.  Then back into the desert, more bleak and reminiscent of scenes from Star Wars.  The housing here is very simple, mainly dried reed screens held together on bamboo poles, shielded by larger screens, or adobe homes built into the sides of hills.  We pass through one area named the "valley of the Gods" and could well have been time travelling back into the era of the building of the pyramids.

After driving nearly 200 miles we arrive in the town of Huarmey; that straddles the Pan American Highway and is really the only place to stop for miles.  Feeling absolutely filthy we a very glad to find accommodation in La Posada de Huarmey, a small motel offering sanctuary to the weary.  What a joy!  The warm shower felt like heaven and after a delicious glass of pineapple juice for Eunice and beer for Guy it was almost possible to feel human again.  Sylvia and Peter have been running this hotel for several years, having escaped from Lima and they offer their guests amazing hospitality. The car was parked securely in the back yard. When Sylvia learnt of our quest she charged us only for the delicious food that she cooked and waived the cost of the room.  Such kindness!  Peter (her husband) warned us of the road ahead and advised us about driving in Lima. So after a good night sleep (as much as large trucks thundering past allows) we set off for the big city.

More desert, interspersed with large verdant valleys full of vegetation, now more varied.  Many fruit trees, vines and experimental centres; where behind large tree and fabric screens the productivity of the desert sands is being tested to its limits.  We begin to appreciate the extensive industry that permits us, in the UK, to have year round asparagus and other similar crops.  Then a long steep hill looms above us across the other side of the valley.  Peter has warned us of this, but Guy has great faith in the mighty Austin and although the going is slow we reach the top.  From here the view must be spectacular, but unfortunately the heat of the land and the chill of the sea create a levanter effect and we see nothing but clouds of sea mist, mixed with sand.


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