From the Peruvian Coast we headed inland along the infamous Cañon del Pato (Duck Canyon), a 45 kilometre stretch of dirt road complete with 35 single-lane tunnels, high mountain pass scenery, gorges and rivers. As Richard aired down the tires he noticed that the leaf spring shackles were getting loose. Time to pull out the wrenches! We didn’t need the suspension falling off the truck out in the boonies.
We hardly saw anyone else on the road, and it felt like we were alone in the middle of nowhere. That is, until we ran into a Brazilian family in a truck camper who made sure to stop and tell us that they follow us on Instagram. It’s funny how you can feel like you are in a very remote part of a country until you see other travellers on the road. It was definitely a bit reassuring that if we needed it, help would be available. We arrived in Caraz a tad hard of hearing as the tin can contraption only muffled so much of the exhaust roar, which echoed off the canyon and tunnel walls as we slowly made our way through.
Camping Guadalupe in Caraz, Peru
When we reached Camping Guadalupe in Caraz we were welcomed by two German couples (Hilu/Sigo and Chrissi/Peter) and a French family of four. Camping with other Overlanders can be an awesome experience. Each morning everyone would climb out of their rig and say good morning to each other with big smiles on their faces. The breakfast tables would be set up, and we would all laugh and practice saying good morning in our respective and local languages: English, Spanish, French, German. Showers were had, breakfast was cleaned up, and then we would all go about our daily tasks.
We took a trip into the town of Caraz in order to visit the market, check-in at an internet cafe, and have some lunch. Caraz is one of those towns we would normally just drive through and not really see, but we found that this small town did have some charms that we would have overlooked if not for the advice of the Germans. The market had great bread, jars of honey, and the usual fruit and veggie stalls. There are three sections of the market, separated by a couple of blocks. We picked up some cheese, had a fruit smoothie, and checked out the endless supply of items: notebooks, pens, clothing, baskets, meats (a favourite spot for the dogs to hang out), and juice stalls. We visited the La Tarazza Restaurant for the 8 peso (around $3 Canadian) set lunch. We were quite impressed as this included a fresh juice, two taquitos with guacamole, soup, and a main of stuffed yucca with egg, olive, and meat, plus a side of rice and salad. We jumped in a moto-taxi with full stomachs and headed back to the campsite.
The owner of the campsite, Jaime, is a really decent guy. He convinced us one evening to join him for a (a.k.a many) beer(s), so we accepted and had a great time chatting about his friend that works a double for Antonio Banderas in Vancouver (seriously, we saw the iPhone photos), how Jaime came to run a camp spot, and his plans for the future. One day he received a call from a hotel in Caraz that wasn’t able to take campers, but they called Jaime up and asked if they could park at his place. Potable water, hot showers, a place to do dishes… yes! One of those campers added Jamie’s place to iOverlander and now he has a steady stream of Overlanders parking at his place. You could just see the excitement and gratitude on his face – he is really happy to have the road-trippers stop by. He did this hilarious impression of the campers in the morning: arms stretched out above the head, huge smile on his face, and an exclamation of: “Ahhhhhhhhhh!”
We celebrated a birthday complete with cake, candles, and some more French travellers who popped by the campsite. What a great evening we had eating cake and swapping stories of our travels, always including the classic tales of being pulled over by the police in various countries. The Germans and French did a great job of convincing us to do a trip through Europe, especially through Germany and France which are known to have good camping. Oh, twist our arms!
From Caraz we made a day trip to Laguna Paron to start the acclimation process. We were rewarded with a blue Kool-Aid coloured lake surrounded by purple wild flowers and snowy peaks. The hike was really a flat jaunt around part of the lake, but since we had just basically come from sea level it left us out of breath from the smallest of inclines.
Our next stop was the Llanganuco Lodge, set high in the Andes, with unbelievably epic mountain views. This would be our base camp for several days as we needed to acclimatize before undertaking various hikes in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. Charlie Good, a British mountaineer and owner of the lodge, was very hospitable and knowledgable about the area. Upon arriving we were helped out by a Chris and Stephanie, a British couple who were volunteering at the lodge. We sat on hammocks in the shade and enjoyed cups of coca tea while perusing Charlie’s large collection of survivalist/apocalyptic themed books. I’ll tell you one thing, if anyone is going to survive an apocalypse, it will be Charlie and his two Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
We escaped from the sun’s strong rays and aired out our sheets under our ARB awning. Oh yeah, check out our new $2.99 table cloth! #stayclassy
Unfortunately Richard succumbed to the evils of altitude sickness on our first night at elevation. Poor guy spent several hours in the fetal position in our rooftop tent suffering from a cranium-splitting headache caused by the lack of oxygen at 12,500 feet. Luckily he passed out (sleeping) and once he awoke he was feeling much better. We took a conservative walk to the nearby lake and Ruins of Keushu the next day to get our oxygen-depleted blood moving. Acclimatization tip: drink a crapload of water and be patient with yourself, it is all about time.
Another really cool hike took us up to a glacier behind the lodge. We didn’t even realize it was a glacier at first because the grey dirt blended in so well with the rest of the rocks and silt as we made our way up. We craned our necks upward to take in the icy waterfall, snaking its way downward from the ice chunks above.
One day we were bumbling around the Lodge and we saw a grey 1994 Toyota 4-Runner pull up into the camping area. We walked closer, peering at the vehicle to see who was inside. A quick inspection revealed Virginia license plates. We hadn’t seen or met any North American overlanders in quite some time, so when Chris and Mallary popped out we eagerly ran up to them and basically decided that we were going to be friends. It was an easy decision as these two are such a pleasure to hang out with! We shared a taxi early the next morning to the Laguna 69 trailhead and undertook what was probably the most exceptionally scenic hike we’ve ever done.
Yet another dirt road took us from Huaraz to the Canadian-owned Lazy Dog Inn. We camped there for several nights and joined the rest of the B&B guests for some excellent home-cooked dinners, gathered around a long wooden table dotted with candles and glasses of red wine and beer. Not too shabby! We met an Australian family living in Lima who gave us some great restaurant recommendations, a travelling ophthalmology nurse, and a newlywed couple from Switzerland. Next up, we made our way to the trailhead for Laguna Churup, and put boots to the trail as we wound back and forth up switchbacks and over rocks and boulders using ropes and iron step ladders. We met a young American guy, Paul, who was working in Lima and just freshly out of school. He introduced us to the granadilla fruit (a.k.a passionfruit), which has a thin crackly shell and large tangy seeds inside.
Hiking in the Cordillera Blanca was a trip highlight for us. The Andes are seriously humbling – the most massive mountains we’ve ever seen. I just couldn’t believe their grandeur. We were hungry for more, so we headed off on one of the most popular trekking routes in the Cordillera Blanca and one of the “World’s Best Hikes” (according to National Geographic), the Santa Cruz Circuit.