Desert, sand. More desert and more sand. An occasional steep climb and stunning gorge. Then more desert and more sand !! And not a tree all day. It made the Nullarbor look like a forest ! That was today. And if you think it sounds boring, well you would be wrong. The scenery provides some of the most amazing sights you will ever see – Multi coloured sands forming an amazing sight; steep inclines through tunnels and gorges that are engineering feats, especially after 50 kms of dead straight flat road ! And jet fighters and rockets out in the desert – A perfect place for the Peruvian air force to practice their skills. On the way we made friends with truck drivers on the road with wide loads and their escorts, and at the end of the day arrived at the most deserted and stunning little place you can imagine. Ho hum, Another hum drum day in South America !!
Waking up early in our little camp site in Arequipa, I had to grease all the suspension and prop shafts with the new grease I had purchased a couple of days ago – Good to have that chore out of the way before 7 am ! I inspected the suspension bushes that had been put in in Cuzco – They are a lot better than the ones that came out, but on closer inspection I don’t think they are quite the right size. But they will hopefully get us to Santiago, and then I will bring some proper ones back with me from Aus after Christmas so I have them if needed. We had spent yesterday lazing around the camp site in the morning, catching up on odd jobs on and around the car, and doing wifi and trying to download some new maps from a site one of the German guys had given me – Maps for me, I think the App is. Google maps has some countries where it just won’t let you save detailed maps – Columbia was one, and I have just found that Chile is another – And as we will be in an out of Chile for a while, we need satellite guidance ! In the afternoon we walked up into the centre of Arequipa – Once in the middle it is delightful, with a great big central square (Plaza das Armas) with identical design government buildings on 3 sides, including impressive archways and walkways, while the 4th side belonged to the stately Catedral de Arequipa. And a big Christmas tree in front of the cathedral, and Christmas decorations up all over the square. Unfortunately they wanted considerable fees to enter the cathedral, and while I am sure it is very nice, we have seen many more that have not cost us a penny. We then went further into town to the Monastry . Once again, they wanted what we felt was an extortionate amount This may make us sound like misers, but on a trip as long as this when you are seeing SO many sights and cathedrals and museums almost every day, it can rapidly become very expensive if you enter them all – Or even half of them ! One needs to pick and choose what one wants to see carefully, and be prepared to draw the line somewhere when the value just isn’t there. Anyway, Arequipa seems like it could be fairly interesting if one had the time and inclination, but we have other places to go and see that are higher on our list.
This morning, after we had packed up, I ran into town to try to get some insurance forms that I had received via email printed out in colour so that Chilean authorities would accept them if I was asked. Luckily I found a place not 3 blocks from the camp site, so all done, easy. We had also done a shop yesterday for groceries and supplies, but apparently when we enter Chile they take all fruit, vegetables, and meat, so we couldn’t stock up on them ! Lot of farming and agriculture round here, and of course vineyards, and it seems fruit fly is a problem, so there are fairly frequent stops where they take fruit etc off you – But as long as we know about it in advance, I have no problem with that at all.
Then it was off and out of town – And almost immediately I ran into a problem when the little street I was on entered a kind of 5-way junction – 4 of which had traffic lights, while I didn’t have anything – Not even a stop sign. So after watching the traffic flow for a moment, I did a quick Risk Assessment (!!) and promptly shot across the junction, with no problem. Except suddenly whistles started blowing and I saw this cop coming across the junction towards me – Being the upright citizen that I am, I decided to stop and face the music although it was tempting to just hoof it ! Anyway, “she” (yes a female cop) of course came to Janet’s (passenger) side, and after her obvious shock of finding no steering wheel, was then met with a barrage of English. She lasted about 10 seconds before she raised her hands in disgust and waved us on !! You have to love it here !!
Arequipa is no better than many other towns in that their main roads in the outer suburbs can quickly deteriorate to deep pot holed dust bowls, and their signs have to be seen to be believed – If you can find one ! Today we were following the main road out towards Lima, the capital, and we were on a good dual carriageway. Then a really good, big, clear sign said to turn right – Onto a one lane dirt goat track twisting and turning through quite a seedy lot of houses and workshops. It was so unbelievable that I actually didn’t turn down it on the first pass because I could not believe that could possibly be the main road to Lima, but when no more likely turning eventuated in the next 100 metres, I had to do a U turn and make another pass, this time trying the goat track – And surprise surprise, 100 metres later, I turned onto a big highway !! We have got used to this kind of thing now, but initially it used to cause us lots of problems.
Almost immediately we were out in the desert, and as I mentioned before, it was to stay like that most of the day. But amazing sights – Townships that consisted of small huts spread out for miles – And not a soul in sight. We are convinced these are government allocations of land, as I have mentioned previously, but it would be good to find out the actual situation some time. We dropped down to about 600 metres which is the lowest we have been for a couple of weeks, and then it was just flat flat flat, We passed the longest wall ever – Must rival the camel fence beside the road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai – And behind it was Peruvian Air Force stuff, with lots of “No Photographs” signs, while above we could hear the noise of fighters whistling past. There were signs about rockets and “Danger of Explosion”, as well as “Zona Militar – Keep Out” – But we got a pic of the front gates with rockets outside, and escaped to tell the tale.
There were two or three passes we went through, tunnels, switch backs, and steep grades, even if only for short distances. Unfortunately it was very hazy, maybe from the sand and the perpetual wind that blows up here at what is officially the northern end of the Atacama Desert, so we could not see much in detail, but even so one can certainly see for a very long way !! Shortly before noon we dropped of the plains into a little town where there was quite a lot of smoke – Looked like they were burning sugar cane before cutting it from the black bits billowing around us. But it was a green little oasis in the middle of the sandy desert we have been driving across for the past hour or two, with crops of sugar cane, vines, maize, pumpkins, and other crops able to be fed from the river running through the valley bottom. Then it was back up and on to the plains again. At one stage we got behind two trucks with very wide loads and escorts in front an behind, and when we eventually got past them I waved and tooted, and they waved and tooted back. 20 minutes later we stopped beside the road for lunch, and when the trucks came past again, they were hooting and waving as if they were our best buddies ! Even the two escort vehicles were waving and hooting to us !! All good fun.
There is a photo in there today of a blue roadside memorial to someone who dies on the road. I do not intend to include this as a morbid item, but because they are SO common, it is something that is part of driving these countries, and not to include it would be to not paint the whole picture. As mentioned, the driving is pretty diabolical, with overtaking on any blind brow or corner, whether you are in a new saloon car, a jalopy, or a big semi trailer. So it is only surprising you do not see more accidents. In this photo there are 3 or 4 memorials, which would infer it was a family or a small group of people in one car. You tend to find these memorials on a corner or brow where it is fairly easy to deduce what happened. Sometimes you get single memorials, and occasionally you see about 20 or more altogether – That indicates a bus that crashed there, either hitting someone head on on a corner, or in some cases obviously going over the edge of a cliff. Sad, but all too common over here.
Dropping down towards Tacna, we passed what we at first thought was a lake – And which, as we got closer, turned out to be a vast see of solar panels ! With little rain, and lots of sunshine in the desert out here, solar panels would appear to be the way to go. Either that or wind turbines, because the wind out here in the Atacama is incessant, and usually pretty strong.
As we got closer to Tacna, we started to see more of the weird straw houses that we rarely see anyone near – As mentioned before, we think it is allocated land to squatters, but…… Coming in to Tacna, none of our websites like iOverlander had any information on any camping in this town, so we were preparing to drive into the middle of town and look for a hospedaje for our last night in Peru, when Janet found a small mark on the map indicating there was some kind of archeological site about 20 kms out of town, and we decided to go and see if they would let us park there overnight, like so many other similar sites. Not easy to find out way via Garmin and our (increasingly sensitive and accurate) noses, but we did, and as we pulled in just before sunset, the only person there was Juan, the night Security Guard. “Can we stay here for the night please ?” “Si Si Si” – Juan could not have been friendlier and before long we were set up, and there were even toilets available (although no showers). So from wondering where we might sleep one minute to finding the most idyllic free and secure spot in the middle of nowhere – There is certainly a knack to travelling successfully in S America, and I think we are finding it !! At last !
Pics are here :- https://picasaweb.google.com/117739775480775657932/0157ArequipaToTacna?authkey=Gv1sRgCIi2iaTUme3wWQ#