The Chivay Hot Baths are natural springs with lots of sulphur in there – So quite smelly ! But a good secure night’s sleep, with a couple from Colorado also there along with their lovely dog, so we packed up at a leisurely rate knowing we didn’t have far to go today. We intended to go into the little town of Chivay, have a look around, try to get some money from an ATM (we were down to 40 soles, or about $15 !!) so we could then buy some supplies and have a cup of coffee and get our email from an internet café. But first we needed money ! We also needed some fuel, and for that we also needed money !
In town, found the town’s ATM, it said Visa accepted, but as is so common down here, it would not give us any money ! Hmm, what to do ? Since Bolivia is just a few miles away, maybe I could copy one of my favourite movies and do a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid trick and hold up a bank ? Bugger – Its Sunday, so banks are all closed !! So plan B, and we wandered around until we saw a place that said they would change US Dollars _ As I had a couple of those in my wallet, in we went – But she was mean and determined, and we didn’t get a very good exchange rate – Still, we had money and could now buy a few tomatoes in the market and have a cup of coffee !
We also noticed a bar (with pool table !) for McElroy’s Irish Pub – “The highest Irish pub in the world”. Wait a minute – Last week in Cuzco we went to Paddy’s Irish Pub and they claimed to be the highest at 11156 ft. What is going on ? On closer inspection, the sign for McElroy’s says they are at 11975 ft, which would mean they win but as they were closed, we could not take the debate any further ! Sounds like a load of Irish malarkey to me – But then maybe someone like our (Irish) friend Tony McAlister could explain something like that !!
Then, as we crossed the pretty little central square, loud music blared out from the city hall buildings, and suddenly there was a flag raising ceremony with the Police and what looked like the Mayor (he had a big medallion round his neck !), so we sat and watched that happen for 15 minutes or so. The boss policeman wasn’t very good at marching and when he tried the Peruvian kind of goose step march, he got his left arm and left leg swinging at the same time !! Obviously needs more practice !
That done, we set off towards Colca Canyon and Mirador (View) Cruz del Condor. The canyon is claimed to be the deepest canyon in the world at more than 1 km from cliff edge to the river bottom. Apparently there is one at Cotahuasi that is 170 m deeper, but that is really remote and not easily reachable except by trekking. The Rio Colca forms part of a gigantic watershed that empties into the Pacific near Camana. It was formed by a ,assive geological fault between two enormous volcanoes – Coropuna (6425 m) and Ampato (6318 m). To the north of Colca sits the majestic Mismi Nevado, a snow capped peak which according to the National Geographic is the official source of the Amazon River.
On leaving Chivay, we passed an old Austin Cambridge beside the road – I had to stop and take a photo as we used to have its cousin, a Morris Oxford (with real leather seats !) when we were kids ! While I was taken photos this elderly lady came over, and I asked if it was hers – “Si”, with a big smile. I explained how we had a similar car when we were young, and she proudly posed with the car for a photo. I understood she used it every day ! Her name was Felipa.
On heading into the country we were immediately aware of some of the most impressive and intensive ancient terracing found anywhere in S America. Everywhere is terraced, however steep. The gorge immediately started to get deeper, and even that was terraced down to the bottom in places. As you proceed, everything quickly becomes very rural, although every village, however small, has an arch at the entrance to the village stating the name of the village. In a couple of places the road had been washed away by water coming off the surrounding mountains, and a new dirt road had been made to get around the washaway – In one case very deep, and obviously they had given up repairing it and you just got around it as best you could ! Thank goodness for high clearance on Troopie ! We saw two donkeys tied together at their front feet like in a 3 legged race, and as we watched, they were obviously used to it, both setting off on the correct foot, and wandering up the road together !
The road soon turned to dirt, and the gorge got steeper and deeper. Through little villages like Achoma and Maca with their narrow streets and impressive churches – The people, as always, friendly and always ready with a smile or wave or a helpful direction to show us the correct way – Often we would ask the way even when we knew it was straight ahead, just as a way of stopping and talking to them to acknowledge their presence and their village rather than just rudely driving through in a cloud of dust. I think they appreciate that.
Many people, including me, have seen stories about the Death Road in Bolivia, with the narrow dirt track and steep drop offs 100’s of feet into the canyons. I had always wanted to drive this road – Just a bucket list thing. But when you are actually here, and driving similar roads fairly frequently throughout Central and South America, you really lose any novelty of driving the Bolivian road, and I know I don’t really mind if we drive it or not ! There were certainly some steep drop offs and some narrow sections on this road – Thanks goodness no one came the other way on some of these sections !
Then we came to this incredible tunnel roughly hewn through this mountain section – No nice smooth coated tunnel, lighting, or exhaust extraction here – Just rough rock and darkness !! And it is probably about 1 km long and curved, so there is a period in the middle where you are in pitch blackness – I am not someone who likes caving, so found this quite an “exciting” drive through this mountain and was relieved when we saw light at the other end !
Still the terracing and increasingly deep gorge continued beside us. In one stopping area was a lady and her son, sitting there braiding wrist bands by tying one end to her toe while she wove the thread with her hands. Janet gave her son a sweet, so she offered Janet a prickly pear cactus fruit to eat, and peeled it for her, and after a short chat with her Janet bought one of her bands from her. Julia and her son Oscar – We left them sitting beside the road, patiently waiting for the next car to come along and stop. Just a lovely few minutes on the edge of the road.
They build stone walls everywhere here for their terracing, using the stones from the field to build the walls. They “cement” the walls together using mud, and in this part of Peru they plant very prickly cactus’ in the mud on the top of the wall – Whether this is for display, or to actually deter people or animals from climbing the wall, I am not sure, but it certainly is different, and, once the cactus starts growing, is quite pretty. On we went, deeper and deeper into the rural countryside – Men trotting past on donkeys, sitting well back so they are over the donkey’s hips rather than in his middle. A farmer helping an obviously brand new calf along the road while the cow walked ahead and the farmer’s horse behind. An old lady wandering along the road with her little black lamb running along behind her with no rope or anything to keep it under control.Historically, the indigenous people of this valley are the Collaguas and the Cabanas, and in the past they used different techniques to deform the heads of their children to better represent the shape of their respective principal Apu (mountain god), the Collaguas elongating them and the Cabanas flattening them. No longer done, it is now their hats that differentiate between them, with taller ones for the Collaguas and round flat ones for the Cabanas.
Then I had an engine warning light come on on the dashboard – And what does the manual say ? “Go to your nearest Toyota dealer immediately” !!! Ha ha. Here I am at about 4500 metres, miles from anywhere. Luckily I had invested in a thing called Scan Guage which not only enables you to read the fault so you know what is wrong, but also to switch off the warning light so you can proceed. So once I determined that it was not a life threatening fault, I did so and we were able to continue. My understanding is that it is something to do with exhaust gases – “EGR position sensor (valve out of position)”, which I deem unimportant until my mechanical whizz in Aus tells me otherwise !
Finally we reached the Mirador, and we spent some time admiring the unbelievable views, and searching in vain for condors, before we went into the car park where we intended to overnight. We had met travel friends Wolfgang and his wife Anja coming out of the canyon this morning and they had told us that early morning was the best time to see the condors. We were set up by 2.30 pm, so we had a lazy afternoon in almost total privacy, with just he occasional truck or mini bus passing above us on the road.
Suddenly at about 5 pm, our silence was shattered and a car roared into the car park – It was Michel and Sonya in the amazing (ex Omani Army) Pinzgauer 6 wheel drive who we had met in Cuzco, closely followed by Vivi and Holga in their big 4 WD truck, also from Cuzco camp site ! So we then had a very pleasant afternoon catching up on stories since we last saw them before we cooked some supper and turned in, planning an early wake up to see the condors.