11-Nov-2009: Villa General Belgrano (Argentina)

In our last newsletter, we left you at the Hotel Chasqui del Sol in Copacabana on the Bolivian shores of Lake Titicaca where we had a delicious trout dinner fresh from the Lake. After an early breakfast, we made our way to the Bolivian border post 5 kilometres away at Kasani. Exit proceedings took very little time and before long, we were at the Peruvian border post getting our passports stamped. We then had to go to the Aduana (customs) office to get a temporary vehicle permit for Troopy. The senior customs officer was very helpful and even spoke a little English. He took some time typing all the necessary details into the computer with just one index finger. He stressed to us that we need not ever show the permit or our vehicle registration at police check-points. We were given a permit sticker for the windscreen and that should be sufficient. Then he sent us off with his best wishes and a big smile.

We wondered if the countryside would change dramatically when we got into Peru but it did not. The people and countryside stayed the same, only the farming plots were bigger. There were more houses with tinned roofs and the towns seemed to be bigger. We were still travelling at over 3500 metres in altitude en route to Puno on Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the biggest and highest fresh water lake in the world at an altitude of 3812 metres. Puno is the port from where you can take a boat to the islands on the lake. The most popular trips go to Uros and Taquile islands. Amantani is the biggest of the islands and offers overnight home-stays with host families, a great way to see and learn a little of the way of life of the Quechua speaking people.

We checked into the parking lot of the four-star Sonesta Posada del Inca Hotel for USD$15 per night. This was at the high end of what we would usually pay for camping but cheap compared with the minimum USD$180 per night for their single rooms. We had very nice hot showers and free 24 hour high speed Wi-Fi internet access. The car park area was also a very pleasant to camp with 24 hour security, nicely manicured gardens and alpacas happily grazing in the backyard.

We woke up very early the next morning and took a taxi down to the port to organise a boat ride and an overnight stay on Amantani Island. When we arrived at the port, we were constantly harassed by lots of people trying to secure our business. There were also hordes of tourists with cameras hanging from their necks following their tour guides to their pre-booked boats. We stood and watched the proceedings before we talked to a few locals who told us to go to the Amantani booking office at the entrance to the port. We booked a home stay on Amantani Island. The boat would visit the Uros reed islands, Amantani Island where we would spent a night and Taquile Island. The nice thing about the booking we made is that all the money goes directly to the island communities.

After a short wait we set off with our friendly and conscientious Amantani boat captain and made our way to the Uros Islands. There were three other couples from Spain and a number of locals on our boat. Within 20 minutes, we were navigating through a narrow channel. We saw people cutting down reeds and cutting big blocks of the stumps in preparation for building another floating platform on which to build their reed houses. The Uros people started to build their communities on floating reed islands to escape the Inca influence hundreds of years ago. A small cluster of families live on each floating island and they build reed boats to travel from island to island and to the mainland. Each island has a tall tower for communication and for scouting potential intruders. We suspect that the towers are cosmetic only since most people seem to carry a mobile phone!

Before we knew what was happening we were being dressed in the traditional costumes of the Uros people. They showed us their very tiny and simple reed houses which consisted of a bed and some standing room only. Then they uncovered their collection of handicrafts in the hope that we would buy up big. There were a lot of fine handiwork embroidery, tapestry, beading and weaving. We then took a ride on a reed boat to an adjoining island. Along the way three islander girls accompanied us and sang songs in Spanish, Quechua, English, French and Japanese. They were very adorable little girls! Then they put out their beanies to collect money. What an enterprising lot! They sure know how to earn a small income for themselves!

We eventually returned to our boat and continued our journey to Amantani Island which took another two and a half hours. When we arrived, our captain assigned us to our host families who were already waiting to welcome us. The home stays run on a rotational basis so that every family has a turn at hosting tourists on the island. We paid for our all inclusive food and lodging direct to the host family. Our hostess, Dyonisius, led us to her house along a steep uphill track. It was hard work walking uphill at altitude but we got there eventually. As we walked into the courtyard, we were greeted by the family sheep with a “Baaah....” We were given lunch on arrival. Lunch started with potato, quinoa and vegetable soup followed by a plate of boiled potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomato, cucumber and an egg. We also enjoyed a refreshing cup of wild peppermint tea. It also felt odd since there are no vehicles on Amantani Island.

We were fortunate to have arrived on a day when there was a special ceremony on the Pachatata and Pachamama hilltops. It took us at least an hour as we huffed and puffed up the steep walkway to the ceremonial site. The hard work paid off as we were treated to a colourful display of traditional dancing and pan pipe music. All the locals from each of the eight communities turned up in their traditional dress. As far as we could tell, they were seeking favour from Pachatata and Pachamama for a more prosperous season of tourism. Each community had its turn at showing off their carefully rehearsed dance routine. All the ladies had a ceramic bowl with an offering of incense, flowers and grain to Pachamama and Pachatata. The elders got together to make speeches to encourage their people. When the ceremony was over, we then had to walk downhill back to our homes. We stopped in the community square where we helped to celebrate the birthday of a 7 year old boy from Spain. He and his family have been sailing around the world in a yacht for the past 6 years. They had moored their yacht in Venezuela and were spending a month visiting some of the highlights in the interior of South America.

We were thankful that we had brought our head torches along as there is no electricity on the island. Our host family had a solar panel and we were fortunate to have a light in our room. Many families only had candlelight. Dyonisius and her mother-in-law were cooking in the cookhouse of mud brick and thatched roof. Cooking was done on top of a two burner clay stove. The fire was fed by wood chips, gum leaves and small sticks of wood. In the dim candlelight I could make out the silhouette of a guinea pig soaking in a tub of water. We were glad to be spared this Peruvian delicacy for dinner that night. This was definitely not the thing for those with childhood memories of their pet guinea pig. It was good to have a chat to Gabriel and Dyonisius about life on Amantani. That evening, their daughters came up to amuse us with their folk songs and Kienny tried to teach them Waltzing Matilda and a Chinese folk song, without much success. However, we all had fun laughing at each other’s efforts to speak a different language!

We had a very warm and cosy night’s sleep on a mattress stuff with dried reeds. We took care not to disturb the family sleeping on the ground floor below us. The floor boards had very wide gaps and the only insulation was a tarpaulin so we could hear every one talking below us. We had pancakes for breakfast. Dyonisius then changed into her traditional dress and escorted us down to the jetty to bid us farewell. We had a lovely time with Dyonisius and her family. It was a good experience to see her way of life on Amantani Island which is not an easy life at all. It makes us appreciate our home in Alice Springs so much more.

Back on the boat we were reunited with the other Spanish couples we had met the previous day and headed for Taquile Island. We had another steep walk up to the main plaza at the top of the island. Lots of other day trip tourists were also huffing and puffing uphill at 3800 metres. The view from the main square was fantastic. The waters on the lake seemed so calm and very blue. The whole island had a tranquil atmosphere. We saw some Taquile men knitting their own beanies. The patterns were quite intricate. We had a fascinating time browsing in the textile handicrafts community museum where all items were for sale. These islanders were indeed very talented. There were also many young girls weaving very colourful wristbands which they were trying to sell to the tourists. They were very persistent in a sweet manner. Visiting this Island was quite a shock to the system. This is the first time in South America where we have seen mass tourism. 

After the plaza, our boat captain took us to a restaurant overlooking the lake for lunch. We had quinoa soup and pan fried trout. It was again very delicious. We then had a steep climb down 540 steps to the jetty. We felt very sorry for the many locals who were hauling very heavy loads on their backs and climbing the very steep steps. Even they were huffing, puffing and perspiring from all the hard work at altitude.

After an enjoyable and relaxing two hours we arrived back in Puno. We caught a motor taxi back to the Sonesta Posada del Inca Hotel where Troopy had been well looked after. We stayed that night and made good use of the free Wi-Fi, Coca tea and hot showers.

We left Puno around lunchtime the next day on Ruta 3S. The road out of Puno was under repair, so it was pretty rough going until the toll plaza. From then on, it was a nice bitumen road so I guess the toll money is being spent on the roads. For most of the afternoon we were at altitudes of over 3500 metres. We reached a maximum altitude of 4339 metres at the Abra La Raya pass. We were travelling on the high plains where everything seemed very dry and brown. Along the way, we saw some pre-Inca ruins at Pukara (3887m). The mountains were also starting to get taller and more rugged. The highway parallels the Puno to Cusco railway line. Almost as soon as we came over the pass at Abra La Raya, we started to descend in altitude where the high plains were funnelled into a green valley following the course of the river. This was a populous area with many towns in close proximity to each other. The area was more affluent than what we had been accustomed to seeing in Bolivia. There was more machinery, the soil looked more fertile and the farms plots were bigger.

It was not so easy to find a spot to bush camp for the night with so many people in the towns, countryside and even on the road! Just as the sun was setting, we found a small track leading down to a gravel pit that was below road level. We would not be seen from the main road at night and we were hidden from the farm houses across the river by a tall stand of eucalyptus gum trees. Though we were close to the road, we did not hear too much traffic noise during the night.

We were up and mobile by 07:30am the next morning, a record for the Kingsmills! It was a very scenic drive through a lovely deep lush green valley at 3340 metres above sea level. There were lots of gum trees, sisal and yuccas growing in this area. We were also able to catch a glimpse of the Laguna Huacarpay Archaeological Inca ruins, a foretaste of what we can expect at Machu Picchu.

We arrived in Cusco around midday and drove to the Quinta La La campsite, well known to many overlanders. This campsite is run by a Dutch couple and is located right next door to the Saqsaywaman ruins. It is a very pleasant campground with green grass, hot showers, laundry, kitchen, gas heated lounge and best of all, Wi-Fi internet! Helmie was very welcoming and he gave us an information sheet containing everything an overlander would want to know: supermarkets, mechanics, where to refill gas bottles, water, fuel as well as the different ways to get to Machu Picchu and more! We could even purchase fresh eggs and orange juice for breakfast! The Quinta La La Campsite has a website which catalogues all the overlanders who have stayed here along with their photos and websites recorded for the benefit of all overlanders. Quinta La La is a wonderful and secure place to relax in Cusco. It is in a very good location, being a short 20 minute downhill walk to the main plaza of Cusco.

Our first day in Cusco was spent looking around the Plaza de Armas with its impressive historic cathedral buildings. There were lots of tourists out and about and an equal number of touts and enterprising women in traditional dress with a lama in tow. The women made money by allowing tourists to photograph them for a small fee. The historic precinct is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets with many hostels, hotels, restaurants and handicraft shops all catering to the tourists that come to Cusco en route to Machu Picchu. Helmie recommended that we try lunch at the Granja Heidi which turned out to be very filling as well as delicious. We also bought our entry tickets to Machu Picchu from the INC office.

We left Quinta La La Camping at 6am the next morning as it was a 6 to 7 hour drive to Santa Teresa where we planned to leave Troopy. It was a bit tricky navigating the streets of Cusco as there were many one-way streets and roads that turned in footpaths. However, it was not long before we were out of town and heading towards Machu Picchu. The road to Santa Teresa took us through some unbelievably amazing scenery. These Andean mountains are on a grand scale rising tall above the fertile valleys and rivers. Just when we thought the mountains could not get any higher, the clouds would lift a little to reveal even higher snow capped mountains in excess of 5000 metres. For much of the morning, we had been travelling on a good paved road at an average of 3000 metres peaking at 4316 metres at the Abra Malaga pass. We travelled through Ollantaytambo which also has some very good Inca ruins. The last 60 kilometres to Santa Teresa was gravel with some very narrow mountain hugging roads.

We arrived at Santa Teresa at about 1pm and found the Inca Tour Hospedaje where we could park Troopy securely for a couple of nights. We then bought one way train tickets from Hydro-Electrica to Aguas Calientes. With parking and train ticket organised, we took a 40 minute collectivo/minibus ride to Hydro-Electrica to catch our train. Hydro-Electrica is a hydroelectricity generating town with many waterfalls and rushing rivers. Due to the lower altitude, the weather is much warmer and more humid resulting in lots of biting insects. We were glad to have packed our insect repellent for they were very friendly gnatty creatures!

We waited almost an hour before we were allowed to climb on board the train. Foreign tourists have an assigned car. Local Peruvians have to travel in the other two cars. The locals only pay a fraction of the price that a foreign tourist has to pay. The train left at 4.30 pm and took an hour to get to Aguas Calientes. It started out by climbing switchbacks three times before travelling on a level plane for the rest of the way.

When we arrived in Aguas Calientes, the train dropped us off at the end of the line in the middle of town. We all had to walk a short distance on the railway tracks to get to the Plaza de Armas where we found accommodation at Gringo Bill’s Hotel located just off the Plaza. Almost everyone here seemed to speak English which was music to Geoff’s ears. We had also been told that there is a very good French Restaurant which we must check out whilst at Aguas Calientes. The Indio Feliz restaurant has a warm cosy cottage feel with lots of stencil work on the wooden furniture. Sure enough, the food was divine. They gave us hot home-made bread rolls with real butter and the fresh limeade was a big hit! We both enjoyed our main courses very much. If we ate too much, then all we had to do was to waddle downhill a little and we were at our hotel!

We awoke very early the next morning in time for a 5 o’clock breakfast. It was only a short walk to the bus station where we bought a one way bus ticket  to take us to Machu Picchu. Despite the long queue it did not take long before we were on our way up the steep mountain road to Machu Picchu. There were a number of elderly couples in front of us, loaded with their lethal walking sticks poking out from the back of their day packs, waist-belts loaded with water bottles, pedometers, sunscreen and cameras ready to shoot. They were dressed in very fancy hiking clothes and boots ready to charge up the ruins! We had to be careful not to get too close behind them or risk being whacked by their walking sticks!

There were approximately 22 buses running tourists back and forth all day long. The twenty minute bus ride took us along a dusty mountain road which zig zagged back and forth up the mountain side to the entrance gate of Machu Picchu. The mountain peaks were shrouded in mist so it made the approach to Machu Picchu all the more mysterious and exciting. We disembarked and stood in line to get through the entrance gate. Our tickets were inspected, signed and stamped at least three times before we made it in. Then, there was a quick rush to get to the best vantage point to photograph the ruins which were still mostly shrouded in mist. It was a very grand and special sight to behold! How clever the Inca people were to build a city with such big massive rocks in a such a magnificent setting. Many of the walls were made from large rectangular stones that fitted together so precisely that  it is not possible to slide a piece of paper through the joints.

We decided to first climb the very steep Waynapicchu which is the tall mountain that appears as the backdrop to all the famous pictures of Machu Picchu. Only 200 people are allowed to climb in the morning and another 200 in the afternoon. The registration hut opened at 7.30 am. We were the 120th and 121st people to register for the morning walk. It was hard work climbing Waynapicchu which peaks at 2765 metres. We took it very slow and steady and made it all the way in an hour. Some of the steps were very tall and narrow.  We were glad to have the steel ropes to hold on to. When we reached the top, we found many other people perched on top of rocks and ledges like penguins clamouring for standing room at their rookeries. The view over the whole Machu Picchu complex was very impressive. At times the narrow tracks would go very close to the cliff edge and it gave us both a very uneasy and dizzying feeling. We had to put one hand on the mountain side to steady ourselves so that we would not feel like we were in free-fall. By this time, the sun had completely exposed this “lost city” and we were able to get a bird’s eye view of the magnitude of this amazing sight. After recharging ourselves with chocolate bars, nuts and water and taking far too many photos, we descended the mountain. We met a few younger people who were doing it really tough as they were not as acclimatised to the altitude as we had been. They were really struggling and looking quite worn out.

We spent the rest of the day just wandering around the Machu Picchu complex and chasing after the elusive Llamas that seemed to know which buildings allowed them to make a quick exit to escape the inquisitive human beings. All in all, we spent about 7 hours exploring the ruins. We then made our way back to Aguas Calientes by walking down the 1020 steps to the river below and a further 20 minutes following the river back to town. After climbing down those massive steps, both of us ended up with a sore knee. That evening, we were both walking as if we were in a three legged race as we supported each other down the hotel steps to the main town square to once again have dinner at the delightful Indio Feliz French restaurant. We had another scrumptious meal.

After another early breakfast we set off on a three hour walk along the railway line back to Hydro-Electrica. It was a lovely cool morning. The walk followed a river where the vegetation was lush and green. We were visited by many colourful butterflies and birds. We could hear lots of chirping and tweeting coming from the eucalyptus gum trees and tall stands of bamboo, avocado, banana and mango trees. There were a number of colourful wildflowers, birds of paradise and nasturtiums. We started out walking along the footpath beside the railway line but the large mounds of railway gravel made the going too unsteady for our Machu Picchu wounded knees. We found it easier to walk on the sleepers. It took a bit of concentration as the wooden sleepers were at uneven intervals. After 10 kilometres, we eventually arrived at Hydro-Electrica. We engaged a collectivo (minibus) to run us back to Santa Teresa where we had parked Troopy. .

After paying the owner for parking, we had lunch and started our drive back to Cuzco. We slowly wound our way uphill and over dale to Ollantaytambo. From here, we took the Sacred Valley Road from Urubamba through Yucay, Culca, Pisac and Tambomachay. It was a picturesque green valley at around 2900 metres. There were fields upon fields of corn, bananas and other crops growing beside the wide expansive sweeping river. From a distance we could also see remnants and ruins of what looked like ancient Inca architecture.

We spent a further two nights at Quinta La La Camping in Cusco catching up on laundry, grocery shopping and one last meal at Granja Heidi, a German owned restaurant with good value and very nice tasting meals and desserts. We left just before sunrise the next morning and took the same exit road out of Cuzco on Ruta 3S to Abancay. The countryside was the typical rural scene similar to driving through Malaysia thirty or more years ago. As we passed through some of the towns, there were piles of dirt on the roadside, mud brick houses that looked unfinished with long steel rods sticking out at the tops of the flat roofs. Many of the double and single storey buildings under construction had no roofs, balcony railings nor glass in the windows. All the windows were either finished with plastic, cardboard or half sealed with mud bricks. There were people waiting for collectivos on the roadside; cows, pigs and donkeys grazing on the grass verges and small children tending their family goat herd on the roadside. The children were as young as 4 or 5 years old. In Australia, parents would be very concerned about letting their 4 year olds out on major highways all by themselves for fear of being run over or kidnapped. Many of these dear little ones walk 5 kilometres uphill to attend school. They looked very smart in their school uniforms with the girls in brightly coloured pony tails giggling uncontrollably while the boys would lag behind throwing and kicking stones as they walked.

We started out at an altitude of 3600 metres. By mid morning, we had dropped to about 1900 metres at Abancay.  We also had to pay a few tolls along the way, most of them were inexpensive. We passed quite a number of foreign motorbike riders who were part of a motorcycle touring group. We were on Ruta 26 through Chalhuanca and again ascending in altitude up to 4126 metres at Iscahuaca. We stayed at over 4000 metres for the rest of the afternoon, much to Troopy’s dismay. The road peaked at an altitude of 4532 metres where we encountered drizzle, sleet then snow! There was snow all along the high plains and the temperature was cold as well. By late afternoon, we emerged out of the winter wonderland to wetlands on the high plains with lakes and flamingos. We managed to find a bush campsite just on dark, at a disused gravel pit off the side of the road at 3800 metres, not far from the town of Puquio. It was another chilly alpaca night down to 2.6° Celsius. We heard trucks passing by during the night but they would have had no idea that we were there for we were well out of view hidden by a tall rocky outcrop.

It was a slow trip to Nazca the next day due to long delays at numerous road works. We had high plains yesterday but today the mountains were rocky and the plains were of stony ground with patches of brown grass that was home to vicunas and wild foxes. We passed a large area fully fenced off and signposted as a sanctuary for vicunas, a deer like kind of llama. Finally, we caught sight of a huge sand dune. It was totally devoid of vegetation, just pure sand. Troopy was now performing like a race car since we were now close to sea level. The weather in Nazca was hot which was quite a change from what we had been used to.

Nazca is a desert city, famous for its archaeological “Nazca Lines.” These lines span an area of around 500 square kilometres of arid, rocky plains and depict many animal and plant shapes which were constructed by the Paracas and Nazca people between 900 BC and AD 600. As neither of us enjoys stomach churning flights in small aeroplanes, we decided to skip the over flights which is the best way to see the Nazca lines.

We stayed in Nazca long enough to refuel Troopy, eat lunch and raid the ATM machine. We then headed north towards Lima along the Pan American Highway. This is a very good road, with lots of tolls to be paid and lots of traffic police in nearly every town and at major crossroads. We were stopped once for a very friendly check of our temporary vehicle import permit and were waved off with a nice big smile. The road took us through some of the bleakest countryside we have ever come across. The view of the Pacific Ocean was dampened by very thick haze. The mountains and hills were totally barren with encroaching sand dunes around the base and on either side of the road. The sandy strip of coastal land was mostly taken up with row upon row of long poultry farming tents covered with white and black tarpaulin. Some of these poultry farms were very close to the seashore! In other areas, there were huge mining concessions that have built tall fences and put up lots of warning signs for the public to keep out.

As we got to San Jose and Palpa, the bleak landscape gave way to a nice green valley with fruit orchards and vegetable farming. Some of the vegetable stalls on the roadside were selling giant pumpkins! That night, we called into a Repsol service station and asked if we could sleep there for the night. The security guard was only too pleased to make a few more Soles. It was a noisy night but we knew we were in a safe place. We first had two couples pull up to buy beer from the mini market. They then played their very load Latin American music and two young women wearing very skimpy shorts and high heels danced the night away. They were very good dancers and drew a small crowd of young men. During the night trucks kept coming and going. The service station attendants were watching TV and chatting all through the night just near where we parked. Kienny ended up doing sentry duty while Geoff slept like a baby!

The Pan American highway turns into a very nice dual carriageway 27 kms north of Canete. It took us more than an hour to get through Lima which has a population of over 8 million people. There were buses, trucks and mini-vans all along the highway. The minivans and taxis are in the habit of weaving in and out of three lanes of traffic and suddenly coming to a halt in order to pick up more passengers. In Peru, taxi drivers tend to drive with one hand on the horn which made it a bit unnerving sometimes. We wondered if they were telling us to get out of their way or were upset that we had made the wrong move. In actual fact, they were only sounding out to potential customers that they have room in their taxi or mini-van. One always had to be anticipating what the minivan or taxi might do, especially in the central Mercado areas of every city. They will go to any length to pick up a fare, even hoist goats and sheep up on top of their roof racks. The women do not just go shopping for a kilo of onions and potatoes. They buy a whole sackful or two of the staple ingredients plus carry a baby or a young child on their backs.

Chancay, just north of Lima is a greener area with white and purple wildflowers on the hillsides. This did not last too long before the grey coastal desert sand-dunes took over again. At Barranca, the desert landscape changed yet again to red sand with coppery and brass coloured hills. At the town of Santa, near Chimbote, we turned east towards Chuquicara. As the sun was going down, we found a recreational camping ground on an idyllic farm 9 kms east of Santa. It was just off the main road but its sign caught Kienny’s eye, “Sol and Sombrero” (Sun and Hat). The family was very friendly and hospitable. They even have a pool and a BBQ area. Whilst the family have a farm, they have this small recreational camping to supplement their modest farming income. They made the camping fee voluntary and were very pleased to receive $20 Soles (US$4) from us. It was a very tranquil and green camp site with lots of birds in the bamboo trees, cows grazing in the paddock above us and the sound of water rushing down a small irrigation canal. All around us, there were crops of sugar-cane, corn, bananas and papayas.

We left the Sol and Sombrero campground early in the morning. The main road ran alongside irrigation canals drawn from the nearby river which was fed from snow melt high in the Andes to the east. There were numerous rice terraces in this area. Whole families were working hard to plant the seedlings in the waterlogged paddocks, a very labour intensive exercise.

Our excursion in the Cordillera Blanca began just after the village of Chuquicara. The road was paved but narrow, winding up the valley following a small river. Within an hour, we were winding our way up to Ancos (1843 metres) on sharp hairpin bends and weaving through a spectacular canyon. Just for point of reference, Ancos is on the same latitude as Bali in Indonesia and is only 940km from the Equator. As we arrived at the small town square, we were besieged upon by a group of ladies selling “Tamales” which is a savoury corn dumpling stuffed with chicken, beans and spices. We bought one to try and it was delicious! Just after Ancos, the road surface changed to gravel. As we passed Santa Rosa through to Llapo, we saw lots of peppercorn and Australian gum trees alongside the narrow single lane track we were travelling on.

The road up to the town of Llapo was a very spectacular drive. It hugged the sides of the mountain very precariously and gave us a dizzy feeling as we climbed to 3400 metres. We took a short stroll in the town square area as there were many antiquated buildings and a lovely old cathedral. We then backtracked about 8 kilometres out of Llapo and took an even smaller track to Yupan. This road had even tighter hairpin bends and loose gravel. It was a slow road but the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful! We passed a couple of smaller towns with very friendly locals. It took us all afternoon to get to Yupan. We had not seen or passed a single vehicle all day. When we eventually arrived in Yupan, we found some very jovial locals to confirm the road from here to Corongo. As it was getting dark, we found a lay-by wide enough to take Troopy and we camped for the night. Since this was a very quiet and remote road, we felt certain that we would not be disturbed during the night.

The next morning was another 6am start as we wanted to make sure we got to see the Canyon del Pato. We continued our drive to Corongo and then La Pampa where the road was incredibly scenic with sheer cliff drops, deep cut valleys, and very imposing mountains with colours like a water colour artist’s paint palette. From about 2800 metres, we dropped down in altitude to 1268 metres to follow the Rio Santa on a very rough gravel road. There were lots of mangoes growing on the roadside. Sadly they were still too green to pick.

We arrived at Huallanca after lunch. This town is the base camp for the Hydroelectricity project. The road to the start of the Canyon del Pato took us right past the hydro plant and followed the river through this very narrow canyon located just north of the Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz. Our guide book said that the Cordillera Blanca is the highest mountain range in the world outside of the Himalayas boasting 22 summits over 6000 metres high. This area is also known to be one of the most popular hiking, trekking and backpacking destinations on the continent.

The road through the Canyon del Pato was a good gravel road running through 35 narrow tunnels. This canyon was no exception when it came to steep rocky cliffs rising directly from the riverbank below.  It was so narrow that one could throw a rock across the river valley and it would most likely hit the other cliff face! What a spectacular canyon it is. It was also a lot of fun driving through the tunnels. Most of the tunnels were cut through solid rock and required no support.

Once we exited the canyon the road was paved and the valley opened up into fertile farmlands. We also passed two small reservoirs and two coal mines as we traversed the Cordillera Blanca area. It started to drizzle as we arrived at the busy town of Huaraz. The bitumen road was severely pot-holed and muddy which made the going slow. We found yet another gravel pit just outside of Huaraz where we bush-camped for the night.

We got away very early the next morning with the road following the Rio Santa for most of the way. We were travelling along high plains again as we rose to altitudes of just over 4100 metres that morning. Over the next 50 kilometres, we dropped about 2000 metres in altitude in just over half an hour. This is a common phenomenon when driving in Peru. It is a country full of amazing mountainous roads!

By mid morning, we had dropped from 4100 metres to 65 metres. We again joined the Pan American Highway on the coast at Baranca. From here, we turned south and headed for Lima. The drive through Lima was much quicker since the volume of traffic on Sunday was much lower.

The Pan American Pacific coastline was not as hazy as it had been so we were able to have a better view of the coastline and even see some distance out to sea. Having driven over 500 kilometres this day, we decided to head inland towards Lunahuana to stay at a campsite that was listed in one of our guidebooks. It was about 33 kms east of Canete and turned out to be a lovely drive on a very good paved road through an area full of grapevines and cane palms which the locals use to weave mats and baskets. The tiny hamlets we passed through were all very neat and tidy without piles of burning rubbish that we had become accustomed to seeing. Camping San Jeronimo is a very cosy campsite perched on top of a small hill with a great view of the river. From here they run river rafting tours. The campground has two levels. One for campervans and another for tents. The tent sites are on a beautiful grassy area right beside the river. The people here were very friendly and hospitable. We paid $10 Soles for camping. It was lovely falling asleep to the sound of the river rushing past, amplified by the rock face on the opposite side of the river. The temperature was also just right for sleeping, not too cold!

It was hard to get going after such a beautiful campsite but we had to push on or we would run out of time. It was not long and we were once again back on the Pan American Highway. We were heading for Paracus National Park, just south of Pisco. Pisco was severely affected by an earthquake a couple of years ago. There were many piles of building rubble and rubbish on the road and it was quite a challenge navigating our way through town, dodging the many potholes, collapsed buildings and building construction material. We arrived at Paracas National Park just after lunch. It is the only marine coastal reserve in Peru. We usually think that national parks are full of tall green trees. In fact, this national park is a coastal desert without a single blade of grass. There were lots of sand dunes, rocky outcrops, and sheer cliffs rising from the ocean floor. This marine coastal reserve is home to Chilean Flamingos, Snowy Plover, Inca Tern, South American Sea Lions, Dolphins and Marine Otters. The round trip to the Lagunillas, La Mina, Yumaque and the Cathedral Viewpoint was only 28 kilometres.. We spent the night free camped just outside the Ranger Station.

We had a short drive in the morning to Huacachina which is 10km east of Ica. This town is a real oasis in the desert. The oasis is surrounded by VERY tall sand dunes from which one can sand board or ride the dunes in a dune buggy. Right in the very midst of it is a beautiful and pristine lake surrounded by tall palm trees. There is an esplanade with restaurants, cafes and hotels overlooking the lake. There were people rowing small boats and paddling recreational crafts on the lake. It all looked very relaxing and tranquil! Unfortunately, we did not spend the night here as our time was running short. We visited a very large and modern grocery store in Ica and stocked up on food before continuing south through Nazca towards Camana.

The road south of Nazca was still coastal desert. We encountered very strong headwinds which explained why on some stretches of the road next to the beach, there were many sand dunes encroaching upon the highway reducing it to a single lane. Some of the signs were also half buried, engulfed by perfect crescent shaped sand dunes. However, not everything was as bleak as it seemed for we came upon a town called Yauca which was full of olive groves. The river valley, fed by Andean snow melt, supported  thousands of olive trees. The road was lined with stalls selling preserved olives and olive oil.

As we were driving south we saw sign posts by the side of the road advertising camping at Hotel Puerto Inka, about 10 km from the coastal town of Chala (170 km south of Nazca). Since we were driving past this camp site right at the time we would normally start looking for a camp site we decided to take a look. The Hotel was right next door to the Puerto Inca ruins. During the height of the Inka Empire, it was said that fresh fish would be sent from this fishing port inland to Cuzco using runners every 7 kilometres. We took the well sign posted track winding our way down to the ocean front. What a gem of a place this is! The hotel has rooms built on the sides of the hill with a swimming pool, table tennis table, pool table, jet skis and paddle boards. There was even a playground for children. The hotel manager was very friendly and welcoming. For $15 Soles per person, we were able to camp anywhere along the beach front and have full access to all the facilities of the resort. We decided to have dinner at the restaurant along with a busload of retired school teachers from Denmark. We both had fish for dinner which was superb! We waddled back to Troopy and lay in bed listening to the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach. This is such an idyllic campsite. It was not long before we both fell fast asleep. If you happen to be driving down the Pan American highway in Southern Peru then this is an ideal place to relax for a couple of days.

We continued south on the Pan American Highway through Chala, Atico, La Planchada, Ocona and Camana. At Camana, the highway turned inland and started to ascend in altitude. After about an hour’s drive, we turned north and headed towards Aplao, Corire and Chuquibamba. By the time we got to Chuquibamba we had climbed to an altitude of 2867 metres, where the 110 km stretch of good paved road ended. From here on, we made good time on a smooth gravel road. We drove through the Valley of Cactus and Valley of Volcanoes. The mountains were very tall and imposing with water colours of light pink, green and brown. The base of the mountain and the surrounding area were of dark grey volcanic rock, often covered in a layer of sand. Around the towns, many farms were flooded in preparation for transplanting rice. Other farms had many friends and family all lending a hand to plant sackfuls of potatoes. This reminded us of travelling along the Nile in Sudan and in Egypt. Land on either side of the river was very fertile and productive. Beyond that, the desert takes over.

After Chuquibamba, we spent all afternoon gradually climbing in altitude. By sunset, we were still at 4740 metres! We kept on driving in the hope of finding a campsite below 4000 metres but it was getting too late and too dark to be driving at night on these small mountain roads. We finally pulled off to one side of the road and camped at 4450 metres, our highest ever campsite of our trip. The temperature dropped to a chilly -3° Celsius overnight but with wind chill the effective temperature was much lower. We did not sleep very well as we have been at sea level in the past few days, so we were both a bit breathless and lethargic. It was good that we had the alpaca wool blanket to keep us both extra warm. It was difficult to get going again in the cold morning. Even Troopy had frost on the inside windows!

We were very close to the village of Cotahuasi where the road was closed for road works. We had to wait nearly 3 hours before we were allowed through. We drove 20 kms further on to Tomepampa and Alca, following the canyon and the river. Tomepampa is a nice tidy town with small canals running right in the middle of cobblestone streets! The canal was wide enough for a tyre to drop in the drain and deep enough that it would ground even our Toyota Landcruiser. We had lunch under tall gum trees in the very quiet main square of town. The town seemed to cater for tourists who come here to do their trekking and kayaking. There were nice little hostels and cafes along the main street. After lunch, we ventured back to Cotahuasi intending to make our way back to Chuquibamba to avoid having to camp at high altitudes again. Unfortunately, the road works would not let anyone through for they were laying dynamite and busy digging into the sides of the mountain. We were told the road would not be open till 5pm. We found a shady spot and relaxed.

At 5 o’clock, we promptly made our way back to the road block. It was very dusty with heavy machinery, trucks and buses all vying to be the first to get through the section of road works. As if the dust was not enough, we had the water truck pouring water on the road and we ended up driving through mud! We drove far enough to get ahead of all the road works and found a grassy patch to camp which was only at 3900 metres above sea level. This time we both slept well and even managed to get away just after 5am the next morning.

Whilst the Canyon Cotahuasi did not seem as impressive to us as the Grand Canyon in the US, it still was good to see it if only for the fact that it is the deepest canyon in the Americas at 3535m! The road back to Chuquibamba seemed different going in the other direction. We called in to see the Petroglphs of Toro Muerte at Corire. It was very fascinating to wander through the area full of hundreds of pictures carved into over 3000 volcanic rocks. We could make out the Llamas, stick figures, condors and even puma. There were also different zigzag and wavy designs. Our guide books tell us that the archaeological origins of these petroglyphs were unclear but it was thought to be the work of the Wari people some 1200 years ago.

We got back to the Pan American Highway at El Alto but only travelled for a short distance before turning off towards Huambo and Cabanconde since we were heading for our next destination, Canyon del Colca. We were only able to travel very slowly since the road was rough and badly corrugated. Once again, we were passing lots of fields of corn, potato and rice. Everything is labour intensive here as there are few tractors to do the field work, only oxen and manual labour. The road traversed grassy high plains above 3500 metres. We travelled through a couple of passes that were up to 4200 metres. As we drew near to Huambo, we entered a beautiful green valley with more rugged mountains forming the backdrop. There were many irrigation canals and channels that brought water from high up in the mountains to the neatly terraced farms. It was an incredible sight to behold the terraces that stretched from the bottom of the valley right up to the sides of the mountain.

We followed this valley for a long way to Cabanaconde and then to Chivay at the end. We stopped at a couple of miradors where we could get a bird’s eye view of the canyon. We also saw Andean condors flying majestically above our heads. The Canyon del Colca is the second deepest canyon in the Americas. This was a canyon really worth coming to as its scenery was certainly breathtaking. From Chivay, we continued to climb in altitude up over a another 4845 metre pass. Poor Troopy not only had the hiccups but was also running a bit hot. It was really hard work for our Troopy!

We got into Arequipa as it was getting dark. We were very thankful for the GPS leading us directly to the Hotel Las Mercedes where we could camp on beautiful green grass with other overlanders who had arrived earlier in the day. The staff at the hotel were very friendly and helpful. The hotel turned out to be in a very good location being close to a big supermarket and was also within walking distance to the historical centre of Arequipa. It was great to have a beautiful hot shower to wash the dust off after many days of bush camping. The hotel also offered a laundry service and free Wi-Fi internet which was very convenient indeed.

The next day, we visited the Santa Catalina Monastery. This convent was founded in 1579. Women from diverse social backgrounds have entered the convent to serve as cloistered nuns, never again to return to their homes and families. We were privileged to be able to visit a big section of this convent which housed the novices and the initiated nuns. The accommodation was quite spacious though sparsely furnished. Each apartment contained a bedroom, sitting or dining area and a kitchen. The apartments for the more senior nuns were of course more substantial with a separate sitting room, storeroom and bigger kitchens with wine cellars! It seemed the nuns loved to cook for there were many well appointed kitchens. It took us about three hours to look through every nook and cranny of the convent that was opened to the public. The walls were painted bright orange in one quarter, then white with beautiful frescoes on the ceilings in the corridors around the quadrangle and finally baby blue in another quarter of the convent. There were terracotta pots of flowering red geraniums along the convent streets and on balconies. We saw how they filtered their water, ground their flour and did their laundry. There was even a very nice cafe where we had carrot cake and lime cheesecake pie washed down with a delicious milkshake, all cooked by the nuns of today. It was a really yummy indulgence! Unfortunately, the nuns have retreated to a newer section of the convent and they were nowhere to be seen.

Whilst it was very tempting to stay another day, we had to tear ourselves away from this hotel campground with a beautiful garden, terraces and a lovely colonial sitting room. We left late the next morning and headed for Tacna, the southern frontier town of Peru bordering Chile. We were again driving through dry desert country. We were flagged down by the police at Moquegua and were asked to take an off duty policeman to Tacna. It was again a pleasant experience to get to know Raul, our friendly policeman. We have heard from other overlanders who have told of expensive experiences with the Peruvian police. However in all our travels through Peru, we have not had any problems with the police at all.

At the Peru border post of La Concordia, we found out we had to first fill out some personal and car details on a “Relacions” form. Thereafter, it was an exercise to collect half a dozen stamps from the Peru immigration, customs and exit check point and then from the Chile immigration, customs and exit check point at Chacalutta as well. It was a bit confusing at first, but we were helped along by locals who kept pointing us in the right direction. Then we were let loose in Chile!

We arrived in Arica two hours later and found an ATM to withdraw some Chilean Pesos. We then made our way to the beach where Geoff had a free beach campsite marked on the GPS. Sure enough, we saw two German overland vehicles parked on the beach. One was a very luxurious motor-home truck with lounge, bar, microwave, washing machine and dishwasher. They had been camping on the same spot for the last two months! The other was a Mercedes campervan which was on a smaller scale but still had its own toilet and shower. They had been camping there for two weeks. Then there was our little Troopy! It was lovely to camp on the beach for the first time without any fear of being disturbed, attacked or robbed. How nice it was to be back in Chile! We had a very nice time talking to the other two couples and exchanging travel stories. We went to bed late and fell  asleep to the sound of the waves and the light sea breeze from the Pacific Ocean.

From Arica, we picked up the Pan American Highway again. We continued to travel through barren desert country. It was however an amazing experience with many long uphill and downhill stretches called “cuestas.” From Arica beach at 4 metres, we climbed to 1300 metres and then dropped again to 100 metres before having to do it all again another 5 or 6 times. The downhill runs afforded the best panoramic views of the surrounding area. We arrived in the coastal city of Iquique at dusk and again, we found our way to another beach camp site (Playa Blanca) Geoff had marked on the GPS. We found another German couple in a medium size Mercedes camper on the same beach. This beach was not as pleasant as the one the night before. Sadly, it was littered with rubbish. There were a lot of sea shells on the sea shore and lots of sharp jagged rocks.

We went back into Iquique the next morning for diesel and groceries. We noticed that fuel further north in Arica was quite a bit cheaper at $410 Chl pesos per litre (US$0.80) compared with $461 pesos/litre in Iquique (US$0.92) , 350 km south of Arica. We then continued on the Pan American Highway south to Tocapilla. This was a much more scenic coastline with steep cliffs and beautiful blue water and skies. We have been amazed at how much of Northern Chile is desert in stark contrast to the lush green Patagonia in Southern Chile. That night, we camped at another beach called Playa Hornito. This time, we had the beach and the rubbish all to ourselves!

Our last big city on the Pan Americano north is Antofogasta which has a lovely esplanade and big shopping plazas. The town is very affluent due to the benefits of mining. There were lots of people jogging, cycling and walking their dogs along the esplanade. From here the road turned inland across some really barren and bleak desert landscapes. We passed two unsightly cement processing plants. They both had tall meccano set-like structures with big chimneys belching copious amounts of steam and black smoke. The whole plant looked really black and unsightly! Though the hills looked barren, there must be a lot of mining going on in this area for we passed many trucks coming and going with sulphuric acid and cement. Our campsite that night was just off the Pan American outside the National Park Pan de Azucar. We camped amongst a series of sand covered stony mounds. It was very quiet and we did not hear another vehicle all night. 

We continued inland the next day and turned onto a secondary road towards Diego de Almagro and Paso San Francisco, where we would cross from Chile into Argentina. Initially this was a very good paved road which is the main access road to all the mines in and around this area. The biggest nitrate mine here is El Salvador. We came to a crossroad for El Salvador and Paso San Francisco. From here on, the road turned to excellent gravel as we wound our way gradually through the floor of the canyon at an altitude of 2300 metres. We continued to climb even steeper up to over 3300 metres. The barren and bleak landscape gave way to high plains with tall snow capped volcanoes in the background. It was also cold, windy and dusty. Without realising, we came upon the Chilean immigration and customs post near the Salar de Marincunga, 100km from the actual border itself . Exiting Chile was straightforward and took no time at all.

We continued to climb in altitude again, this time up to 4400 metres and were very surprised to find a big crystal blue lake on the antiplano with a couple of thermal pools just beside the lake. We would have been tempted to check out the thermal pools but for the strong winds and dust. Poor Troopy had the hiccups again and the temperature gauge rose as we continued to climb to 4757 metres at the border pass, Paso San Francisco. The road from the Argentinean border was paved. The actual Agrentinian border immigration and customs post was another 20km, all downhill. We arrived at the Las Grutas border police and customs post an hour before closing time. The immigration was easy and straightforward but alas, we ran into some problems with the customs officer over Troopy’s permit.

The customs officer insisted that Troopy’s temporary import permit of 8 months had expired since the end of October. We told him that we had crossed into Chile in September at Paso de Jama but he was adamant that we had not since this was not reflected on their computer. We then explained to him that we had parked the car in Buenos Aires for 6 months while we returned to Australia (March through to September) and then returned to Argentina  to resume our trip. This went on for a good hour until he found the stamp in our passport that said we had exited Argentina at Paso de Jama on the 15-September. He finally suspected that customs in Paso de Jama had failed to cancel our permit when we exited in September. He could not issue a new permit to us until the old transaction had been cancelled. So after a few emails and a number of phone calls to his superior, the customs database was updated to show that Troopy had been exported on the 15-September. The customs officer was then able to issue us another 8 month temporary vehicle import. We were very relieved as for two hours, we wondered if we would be denied entry back into Argentina. The officer was always very courteous and friendly and we understood that he was only doing his job. By the time formalities were completed the customs officer had worked an hour's overtime. It goes without saying that we were the last people to cross into Argentina that day.

It was dusk by this time so we only drove on for another 10 kms before we decided it was too dark to continue any further. We believed that there would not be anyone passing during the night since the border was closed.  As such we bush camped right on the side of the road at an altitude of 3730 metres. The wind howled through the valley all night long rocking Troopy back and forth!

With the tempest from the night before, we decided to sleep in and have an easy morning. We also came to the realisation that we were now ahead of schedule. Our plan was to get to Villa General Belgrano about 5 days before we were due to fly home to Australia. This would give us enough time to give Troopy a good clean-up before being parked at La Florida Camping for six months. We left our roadside refuge mid-morning starting out through stony high plains and then descending into a stunning narrow red sandstone canyon at 2740 metres. It was a very beautiful drive as we zig zagged our way down through the canyon.

We finally arrived at Fiambala which is well known for its thermal pools. We picked up some fresh bread, meat and vegies and were soon on our way to the Talampaya National Park. We passed through towns with interesting names like Tinogasta, Campana, Famatina, Nonogasta and Sonagasta. All along this stretch of road were more productive land, greener valleys with healthier looking shrubs and tall established trees. We found a nice bush campsite at the Difunta Corea memorial about 15 km from Sonagasta. The whole area was full of cactus and thorny shrubs but there were also some areas clear of vegetation upon which we could park Troopy. It was a perfect campsite as we were perched on top of a hill surrounded by even taller mountains on all sides. The cacti were also out in flower with shades of pink and cream coloured petals.

We slept in again the next morning and still managed to get to the Talampaya National Park by midday. Here we found fellow Australians Barry and Carol, who we had met two months ago in Northern Argentina. We decided to stay the night and catch up with each other. Geoff went on an excursion to visit this UNESCO listed heritage park. One can only visit the park by going on a guided minivan excursion. Geoff was very impressed with the Canyon Talampaya. He said it was many times more spectacular than King’s Canyon in Central Australia with fantastic rock formations and towers, huge walls and cathedral-like spires. He also saw petroglyphs carved into stone by Aguada and Dalguita cultures dating from 600 to 1500 years old. Back at the campsite, we again had a great time hearing all about Barry and Carol’s experiences in Paraguay, Chile and Argentina. It is always good to check out how other overlanders set up their vehicles and learn lots of new ideas from these well travelled “grey nomads.” The campground here was quite nice. The National Park even provided free Wi-Fi internet access. Unfortunately, the hot showers were a bit unreliable. Kienny ended up having a cold shower while Geoff gave the cold shower a miss!

After Talampaya, we had a short drive of about 118 km to another UNESCO listed National Park named Ischigualasto, recognised for its beauty, flora and fauna as well as a site of important scientific interest.  According to the brochure, this is the only place in the world where one can find the complete geological sequence of sediments from the Triassic Period in the Mesozoic era. They have also found many fossil remains of ancient plants and dinosaurs. It was thought that the collision of tectonic plates during the formation of the Andes Mountains exposed the sediments and fossil remains of the Talampaya-Ischigualasto area.

We were able to go on a ranger escorted convoy excursion in our own vehicle to visit the park's main attractions. There were a number of areas with interesting rock formations that looked like a mushroom, submarine, a worm and an interesting area with small “canon balls” of volcanic rock, quite different from the rest of the landscape in the area. The whole area is very dry. It is no wonder the dinosaurs went extinct. They would have died of thirst! We returned to the Visitor Centre and Campground driving along the base of a the fiery red canyon with cliffs of red sandstone. It was very impressive. They say it is like the Bryce Canyon or the arid desert canyons of Utah. We happily spent the night camped in the very sparse campground utilising electricity and yet again free Wi-Fi internet access.

The next morning, we decided that we should visit Mendoza since we were ahead of schedule. We drove through the San Augustin Valle de Fertil and two fruit control checkpoints where we had to pay $4 pesos for the quarantine officers to check Troopy for any contraband fruit. Then we had to drive through a dipping area where some chemicals were sprayed at the sides and underbelly of our vehicle. The first campsite we came to in Mendoza was closed as it was not quite the summer camping season. We then drove through the centre of Mendoza to Park General San Martin where we came to another camping and recreational facility called Pilmoyken. Being a Sunday, this facility was packed with families having BBQs and picnics with boom boxes at the loudest possible decibels. We found a secluded corner to set up camp. It was lovely to be camped under tall shady trees. Yet again, the campground provided free Wi-Fi internet! Unfortunately, Kienny managed to score another cold shower. Geoff waited till the morning and was rewarded with a lovely hot shower.

Mendoza is the wine producing capital of Argentina, accounting for 70% of Argentina’s wine. Rows upon rows of tall sycamore and Australian gum trees line the avenues making this city very pleasing to the eye. The whole area is extensively irrigated with water channels running alongside streets and laneways. Downtown Mendoza has many alfresco restaurants and cafes and the mild temperature made it very pleasant to sit outside for lunch or dinner and watch the world pass by. We had a very nice lunch at one of these restaurants, a welcome treat after weeks of camping. We walked to the Plaza San Martin and Plaza Espania. Plaza Espania was especially nice with colourful ceramic tiles, historical murals and a water fountain. We slept very well after enjoying a delicious meal and from our day's walking around town..

From Mendoza, we headed to Parque Nacional Sierra de las Quijadas which was on our way back to Villa General Belgrano. This national park was much smaller and not as well frequented by tourists. However, the smaller canyons were still very impressive. We went for a canyon walk late in the afternoon. The colours of the canyon and surrounding countryside reminded us of the purple hues of the MacDonell Ranges and Haast Bluff. Even the canyons were of red sandstone with dry river beds weaving their way through the canyon floor. We saw camel-like Guanacos and very friendly colourful finches on our walk. The free campsite was the best deal of all. It would have to be the nicest campsite of all the three national parks we have visited since entering Argentina just over a week ago. It had shady trees, picnic tables, BBQs and the cleanest outdoor toilets in Argentina! Unfortunately, we had no Wi-Fi access.

From the Sierra de las Quijadas, it was another 350 kilometres to Villa General Belgrano where we have arranged to park Troopy for the next six months while we are back in Australia. Unfortunately, our dream run with no flat tyres for 6 months of travelling had come to an end. With only a few  hours of driving left of our trip, we scored our first flat tyre in South America! We had been travelling on a very rocky country track. There was a grader just ahead of us. It had left a lot of overturned sharp stones in its wake. Unfortunately one of these had an edge sharp enough to slash open one of Troopy’s tyres. Fortunately, we had two spare tyres to choose from.

We travelled on the same small 4x4 access track from Merlo to La Cruz that we took three months earlier. The landscape is a little greener this time but still looks quite dry. We arrived at Camping La Florida in Villa General Belgrano at about 6 pm. Bettina and Ralf, the owners of Camping La Florida, were there to welcome us. It felt like a homecoming!

We had arrived a few days ahead of schedule but this gave us plenty of time to give Troopy a good clean, do some minor repairs and various odd jobs. Our faithful Troopy is now having a well earned rest. We have taken a bus to Cordoba and are awaiting our flight back to Australia. Thank you to our family and friends who have been praying for us and journeying with us through our website. We have certainly had a wonderful experience in Northern Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Northern Chile. Next winter, we plan to journey further north through Bolivia, Amazon Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and the Central Americas right up to Texas. Stay tuned! 

The pictures for this section of our trip can be found by clicking here, here and here or by selecting the Next arrow button at the bottom of this page.

A map of our trip can be seen by going to or by selecting the Map button at the bottom of this page.

The WEB site containing our travels in Africa, Russia and South America is or by selecting the Contents button at the bottom of this page.

Best Wishes,
Geoff and Kienny Kingsmill