We got up at 6 am – I won’t say we woke up because I don’t think either of us slept much all night. The altitude was affecting us quite badly – Sleeping at just under 4500 metres (that is almost 15,000 feet in the old measurements !) left us quite breathless all night – About every third breath has to be a really deep one because otherwise you feel like you are suffocating. In addition I had a splitting headache – Janet is on a diet of Panadol for her knee and this seems to prevent her getting headaches. I also had a really upset stomach, but I think this was just altitude as well rather than anything we had eaten. So we weren’t in very good shape when we started the day. And as we started up the car to get moving, Troopie obviously decided she didn’t like altitude and freezing temps either, and started missing and blowing white smoke out the exhaust ! (I might add that during the night we had ice rain (almost hail but different), snow, and rain !!) No tornadoes though, fortunately !!
In a Lotus white smoke usually means a blown head gasket, and with a turbo sometimes means a blown turbo, so I wasn’t sure what was going on. But I was feeling so bad, and we were so far out in the boonies that I couldn’t call up anyone for a tow truck, so I just slowly went off up the road letting her warm up slowly. And within 10 minutes or so everything seemed to be OK. So with all fingers and toes crossed, we continued on our way across the desolate landscape.
First thing we noticed was all the snow, not just on the mountain peaks in the distance, but in places on the ground right next to the road – There had been quite a lot of snow last night !! And it was caused some interesting steam / cloud action where steam appeared to be rising from the ground. Most odd. And in the middle of nowhere, and I mean NO WHERE, every so often a couple of people would either be walking along the road, or sitting beside it. Waiting for the bus ? But where had they come from ??? Unbelievable.
2 hours later we were still driving through the same amazingly bleak terrain, but we had now climbed slowly to 4551 metres. By this time we realised we weren’t easily going to reach Cuzco tonight either, so we started to look for somewhere short of Cuzco that would then give us an easy run into Cuzco the next day. East of Abancay was a place that sounded excellent, so we aimed for there. By about 9.30 we started to drop altitude, and came down into some great gorges. Lots of country people on the road – Some leading donkeys, some just walking along dressed in their colourful clothing. We came on down. Almost to 2000 metres, and in one gorge an untethered horse saw us coming and galloped off up the slippery road in fright. We kept well back, hoping he would turn off before a truck came the other way and collected him head on – Fortunately he eventually did disappear down a side track – I just hope it was his home track !!
Eventually we reached Abancay, and after the very good roads ht we had been on for a while, getting through Abancay really was a bit of fun !! We have almost got used to the lack of road direction signs now, and Garmin is useless, so we succeed by using our google maps to tell us when we have gone wrong. But Abancay tested our skills !! There was a coach headed to Cuzco (according to the signs on it) that we had first seen way back up the road when we stopped for a cup of coffee, and had since seen occasionally because he kept stopping to pick up passengers. He entered Abancay in front of us, so to start with we just followed him ! But he then turned off into the Abancay Bus Station, which left us guideless, and was when we got into strife ! When you look at some of the pics of Abancay, remember this road you see is a main road !! Eventually, a mixture of google maps, asking for directions, and repeating sections of road 3 times until we worked out the one way system (all these towns are on a one way system) helped us get through – And just as we got back on the road, or coach pulled out of a turning in front of us ! He had managed to pick up his new passengers and get going again before we even found our way out of town ! We followed him until we were well out in the country !!
Suddenly, on leaving Abancay, we were back in an amazing little switch-back pass climbing up the sides of a mountain, and before we knew it we were back up at 3000 metres. After some 45 more kms, at about 2 pm, we arrived in the little village of Curahuasi where we knew of what sounded like an amazing camping spot called Casa Lena – But all we had were the co-ordinates, so we were rlying on Garmin to take us there. Right where Garmin said the lane should be, sure enough there was a tiny dirt track – But no sign – Could this really be it ?? We went down a little way, but it got narrower and there were no wheel tracks – But there was a man there. “Case Lena ?” we enquired. Si Si, was the answer, pointing down the lane, so off we went. After about 100 metres, we knew this was not right – It ended in a little shack with no where to even turn around ! Yup, I reversed all the way back up this narrow muddy slippery lane – With Janet behind making sure I didn’t drop into any of the steep gullies on either side of the wheel tracks, I slowly backed out – Found out later that she had actually fallen down into one of the gullies at one point – I think that was when I was calling out “I can’t see you – Where are you ??” Eventually out, we came back into the village and enquired again, and were assured Casa Lena was somewhere ther, so tried again, but no luck, so we gave up and tried to find a small National Park that was signposted out past the cemetery, with a “tent” camping sign. Not much better luck there either, even after asking directions twice ! So we went back to have one more go at finding Casa Lena, and met a young boy of about 12 who said he knew where it was. So we squeezed him in the front seat with Janet and set off to find it – And it was in a totally different place ! Well, actually the house was right where the coordinates said it was, but the Garmin was trying to get there up the wrong lane ! We gave the lad a couple of soles and drove down this lane that wasn’t a lot better than the other ones we had been on, and suddenly, painted on a rock, we saw a sign saying “Casa Lena” straight on !! We had found it – And what a surprise it turned out to be. It is owned by Stephanie and Gilda (apologies for spelling if I am wrong !) – Stephanie is from Belgium and met Gilda when she was volunteering in Cuzco some years ago, and long story short, they have now built (and are still building) their property here. But Stephanie is a teacher, and she now runs a school / play group for some 35 local children who come to her house after their “proper” school finishes at about noon, and when otherwise they would just be left to fend for themselves because their parents are out working in the fields or wherever. And to achieve her (or should I say “their”, because Gilda is totally a part of it all) goals, she has young volunteers over from Europe who live in a dormitory in the house, and help work with the (very boisterous) young children. So their home is in fact a wonderful project, unsupported by the government or anyone else, and is just the most beautiful environment for these children. We really enjoyed seeing what they were doing, and how they had committed themselves to this. The “camping” on their property is just a way of providing some extra income to help support their work. The only unfortunate thing is that the lane into their property is so narrow and steep in one place that nothing bigger than a 4WD could really get in – Certainly not a big motorhome. But a car or 4WD is no problem at all. And the volunteers also get plenty of time to hike ad explore the beautiful mountains in the area surrounding the house that you see in the photos, as well as learning Spanish while they work with the children. A great project, and I provide their contact details at the foot of this page because they would love to get some volunteers from other countries apart from Belgium ! If you know of anyone interested in spending some time in a beautiful part of the world, please contact them directly.
Needless to say, we spent a great night there, overlooking the mountains.
Footnote to Troopie’s morning hiccups. I have been in contact with Dean Futcher at Aus 4 WD on the Gold Coast who put Troopie together for me and answers my technical questions, and he assures me that the combination of cold and extreme altitude was probably just unburnt diesel – Maybe a glow plug or two that were a bit lazy in those extreme conditions.
Thanks Dean !
Casa Lena Project Details :-oyelenainenglish.wordpress.com
Facebook – oye LENA Volunteer
Photos here :- https://picasaweb.google.com/117739775480775657932/0144HuashuccassaToCurahuasi?authkey=Gv1sRgCK3a6vTK5p2dGw#