Posts tagged: Sillustani

38 – Los Perros del Peru

By , March 26, 2014

October 29 to 31, 2010

The Tinajani Canyon, Peru

In a Cuzco garage, Yuki’s leaf springs (in the foreground) await a rebuild.

I called the mechanic early in the morning from the campground. Is my truck ready? Yes, yes, it’s ready. Come and get it. Good, I thought. I took a taxi across Cuzco and stepped into the garage compound. Sure enough, two mechanics were still working under my truck. With a sigh and practiced eye-roll, I found a chair and flopped down to wait. Two long hours later, the mechanics emerged and handed me the keys. It was time for a test drive.

Whatever irritation I felt evaporated as I accelerated down the dirt street that, for some reason, was peppered with random dirt piles – unfinished road work? Anyway, I chose a pile and hit it dead on. I expected the truck’s rear end to bottom-out and transmit the shock right up my spine. Instead, Yuki, the Suzuki Samurai, and I sprung skyward and then returned to terra firma – and I barely felt a thing. I was amazed. The mechanics had added an extra steel leaf to Yuki’s rear suspension resulting in an extra three inches of suspension travel. I suddenly felt invincible! No longer would I fear speed bumps, potholes or washed out bridges. Instead, I’d just bounce over ’em. Like Tigger!


…and after.

Now, one drawback of raising a vehicle’s suspension is that it also raises its centre of gravity. Yuki was no exception. She was pretty tippy on the fast, tight corners so I made a mental note to slow the fack down. Back at the garage, I gave hearty handshakes to all the mechanics, paid the more-than-fair invoice of $200 and returned to our campground. Along the way, I aimed for every pothole I could find.

At the Quinta Lala overlander campground, Roz and I packed our truck and said good-bye to our fellow travellers. Back on the road, we made one quick stop at a French bakery for buttery croissants and finally said goodbye to Cuzco. The city had been amazing, but our Peruvian visas were running out and it was time to head south to Bolivia. Hasta luego Cuzco!

We drove a few hours in light traffic and just as it got dark, we reached a hot springs “resort” called Aguas Calientes (not to be confused with the town near Machu Picchu). The place was a little rundown, but good enough for us hot springs addicts. We parked Yuki next to the all-night attendant’s hut, rented a shabby, lock-free room, and checked out the hot pools.

Roz was sporting a few sore muscles (which she ironically sustained through stretching exercises) so we first treated ourselves to a session in the private medicinal herb pools. Located in a drab and dimly-lit concrete block building, three hot water tubs were filled with a variety of aromatic flowers and herbs. Settling into the broth, I felt like we were being cooked for someone’s dinner. While it lacked a view, it was quite pleasant and Roz’s muscles appreciated it.

A half-hour of simmering later, we joined the open-air public pools just as a rain storm began to roll by. Floating on my back, looking at a dark sky as raindrops tickled my belly, I couldn’t think of a better place to be.

After our pool session, we discovered that someone had moved into our assigned room. Groan. We found the attendant – who was very apologetic – and he soon found us another room. A room filled with several boxes of supplies…and a bed. Evidently, we were sleeping in their store room. Nice. When we got into our rickety bed, it fell apart and we crashed majestically to the floor. Really nice. We stood up and pulled the mattress off the broken bed. I looked at Roz and with a practiced sigh and eye-roll, I flopped onto the mattress and fell fast asleep. Just another day on the road.

The next morning, we had a nice chat with the resort’s security guard, Fermin, while drinking our coffee. He showed us the smallest volcano I’ve ever seen (no more than 5 feet tall – must have been pretty majestic in its day), then it was one more dip in the outdoor pools, some pics with Fermin and we were back on the road. It wasn’t long before we left the highway and found ourselves exploring an amazing canyon called Tinajani. The rich red rock walls were all these crazy shapes, no doubt formed by thousands of years of wind, rain and other geological stuff. The entire canyon was also strangely deserted.

Hungry, we pulled off the main dirt road and, using Yuki’s hood as a table, began eating the roasted chicken we’d bought in the last town. In the middle of our meal, two big black dogs appeared in the distance and began to run at us while barking ferociously. I told Roz to get in the truck. I then stood on the door sill and, while waving a chicken leg in one hand and a knife in the other, screamed at the dogs not to mess with me or I’d cut their stinkin’ throats. Fifty feet away, as if on cue, they stopped and sat down. Roz and I returned to the front of the truck to finish our lunch – with one eye on the canids, of course. Satiated, we dumped our leftovers on the ground, bid farewell to the dogs and drove off. In the rearview mirrors, I could see the dogs run to the food. As expected, the alpha scarfed down the french fries and left the salad to the beta. It’s a dog’s life.

At one point of our canyon exploring, we followed a spur road for a mile before it dead-ended at a small plowed field. We got out to take pictures of two massive rock pillars when an old man appeared. He had a mischievous smile and referred to the stone columns as mother and father. He then hit us up for a few soles and anything else he could get. I don’t usually cave in to requests for charity, but this guy was kind of funny and quite enamoured with Roz, so we gave him a few bucks and a chocolate bun. I’d like to think he was the local shaman, but who knows.

Continuing on the dirt canyon road, we discussed the idea of camping in the area. As we did, we passed a black dog that was sitting on the side of the road. It watched us as we passed. Then on a hill, another black dog watched us pass. These weren’t the usual skinny dogs of Latin America – these two were big. Plus, there was something menacing about the way they looked at us, so we decided to find another place to camp.

We returned to the highway and once again saw black dogs sitting on the side of the road – this time every few hundred meters. Some of them would even lick their lips as we passed. What the hell was going on here?! We were getting seriously freaked out. But then I realized that today was Saturday, the day most rural families go to town for the market. I think these dogs were waiting for their families to return – and perhaps hoping for and anticipating treats!

(ROZ: Right, the dogs. That was super freaky for sure. In fact, the whole day in the canyon had felt very other-wordly and surreal. But seeing all those dogs just laying by the side of the highway was the capper of almost three months of bizarre dog sightings in Peru. It finally got to the point where I began noting all the strange places we’d see a dog. This is as good a time as any to share my “Dogs of Peru” list: highway dog, sand dog, garbage dog, ditch dog, hill dog, curb dog, railing dog, shrine dog, flat (dead) dog, wall dog, doorway dog, car roof dog, bathroom dog, headless dog, gas pump dog, pothole dog, bridge dog, table dog, underneath Yuki dog(s), poolside dog, (outdoor) firepit dog, (indoor) fireplace dog, firewood dog.)

We rolled into the little town of Lampa as dusk descended, but instead of driving around to find a hotel like we usually did, instead we asked for help from a guard standing outside the local church. He graciously led us two blocks on foot as we putt-putted behind him to a nice little hotel that even had a parking spot for Yuki. Gracias Sr. Guard.

The next morning, I struggled to start Yuki at our 12,000 foot altitude, but eventually she fired up (higher altitude means less oxygen means the carburator’s fuel/air mixture is richer than ideal). When we opened the hotel’s garage door, we were surprised to find the street crowded with people and market vendors. It was market day right outside our door! With a sheepish grin and Yuki’s horn going “beep beep”, I rolled slowly into the street and the crowds parted like the Red Sea. We slipped through the crowd and in no time, turned off a side street and departed Lampa. Happiness is a little truck.

Our next stop was the “chullpas” of Sillustani, near Puno. Despite having our fill of ruins in Peru, these structures still managed to fascinate us. Built by the pre-Incan Colla people over 700 years ago, the huge stone towers (some up to 10 metres high) overlooked Lake Umayo and were thought to have contained the remains of the nobility. The view from the towers across the lake were breathtaking and the grey, overcast day added to the atmospheric “other worldliness” of the place .

Check this out link for an interesting story the BBC did on these towers linking them to infant sacrifices!

Heading south again towards the Bolivian border, we passed through the frantic and filthy crossroads town of Juliaca. Recent rains had left the streets’ massive potholes full of water and while other drivers dodged the suspension killers, I delighted in blasting through them in our very springy truck. At the edge of town, we pulled over and wondered aloud if we were really ready to say good-bye to Peru. Only a few days remained on our visas, but if we drove hard and fast, we could visit one more Peruvian highlight: The Colca Canyon. Deeper than the Grand Canyon, it was also famous for condor-spotting.

It wasn’t a great plan as it didn’t allow for any wiggle room should we break down, but on the other hand, when would we ever have another chance to see condors? The birds won, so we turned around and once again, drove through Juliaca to get onto the road to the canyon.

We were running out of light and still had a day of driving ahead so we began looking for a camp spot. On the GPS, I spotted a lagoon ahead, but when we got there, it turned out to be a dry desert. Too exposed to camp on, we retreated a few km to a cozy quarry and set up our tent. (ROZ: I guess our ideas of “cozy” differ. I would call the camp spot remote, isolated, stark, cold and stunning in its own quiet beauty, but not “cozy”). We watched the sun go down while enjoying a pasta and chicken dinner, and then it got cold fast. That’s what happens when you camp at 14,000 feet above sea level. We retreated to the warm blankets in our tent and watched a couple of TV shows on the netbook. Before drifting off to sleep, we both agreed that we made the right decision to spend a few more days in Peru. Weird dogs and all, this country had won our hearts.


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