26th March 2013 Ancon, Peru
We left Javier’s garage in the afternoon heat and heavy traffic. Stan, who was in the lead, soon got out of sight. Amanda and I were now in the lead and we had understood the directions incorrectly and turned off where we saw a sign for the Pan Americana Norte. We reached it in a few minutes and, still without sign of Stan turned onto it and continued north. It was difficult to know quite what was the best course of action: stop and wait?
But Stan was ahead of us we supposed; or carry on and hope to catch up? In the end we carried on and by the time the traffic cleared we were at a turning for Ancon. During this drive both Diana and I had been more concerned with the state of health of the two untried cars and were probably not so aware that we had left Stan in the thick of it, with no map and no plan in the event of separation.
We called Stan but due to phone difficulties it was hard to hear and distinguish his words. However it appeared that he had stopped shortly after we turned off and had waited some time and then returned to Javier’s, supposing that we had had difficulties and returned for repairs. We thought he said he would catch up and worried for some time as it had taken us nearly 2 hours to reach this point and darkness was approaching. It was decided that both cars would go into the town of Ancon and that Amanda and I would then return to the Pan American Highway and wait for Stan to lead him back in.
By the time we found accommodation and parking and returned to look for him, an hour or so had passed and we sat beside the dark road until a text message told us he was already in Ancon and looking for us. The re-uniting took place outside the Hostal and we tucked the cars away in one of the few places available in this rather rough looking town. The parking site owner was so worried that many people had seen us park, that he wanted to sleep in our car and was not to be deterred. All in, the price for the three cars was 10 Nuevos Soles (about £2.50), including the sleep-over!
Much to our surprise we had really good omelettes in a Chinese restaurant and, there being nothing else to detain us, we retired to bed, exhausted by anxiety and the traffic coming out of Lima. Our room was overlooking the main street, which was quiet by 23.00. By 04.00 buses, trucks and tuk-tuks began to move and we were treated to a medley of early morning vehicle movements, at intervals designed to prevent further sleep!
27th March. Ancon, Peru.
The bakery opposite the hotel opened at 06.00 and we were glad of what it had to offer. Our fallback breakfast being drinking yogurt and rolls if available, water and whole wheat crackers if not. This morning we were in luck, the sweet rolls being freshly baked. The cars had survived the night, our guardian seemed no worse for the experience of sleeping overnight in an Austin. We were on the road by 06.30 and climbing the first hill out of town by 06.45. It has often been our experience that the day begins with a stiff climb to test car and driver. Today the test was passed: the chummy’s replacement gearbox works well and is quiet; however petrol evaporation in the filter was still an occasional issue. Bertie’s engine was in effect having to be run-in and so we were being very gentle with the throttle and trying to keep the engine as cool as possible for the first 500 miles.
The weather turned out to be cooler than had been the case for the last few days and so we were able to clock up a good mileage without stressing the mechanical components. The road was also easier on the cars, as we passed through barren desert, though often in sight of the Pacific on our left. We pressed on through the day, eventually making it to Casma, a total of 220 miles for the day. We spent the night at the Hostal Farol, which had been recommended to us by Jonathan, a chance encounter on the road that day. We had passed through a Peaje and had taken a moment to make more ambitious plans for the remainder of day as it was going well. A Peruvian-registered car was parked behind us and the driver came and introduced himself as Jonathan Sucksmith, an Anglo-Peruvian, on his way to Mancora for the weekend, where his wife owns a hotel. He suggested the Hostal in Casma for this evening and offered their hotel in Mancora for two nights ahead, short of our intended destination, Tumbes, which we had chosen to be close to the border with Ecuador to facilitate the following day’s crossing.
Despite taking it very easy during the day and the respectable mileage we had only been driving for 9 hours, including stops.
28th March. Casma, Peru.
We had a slightly later start at 08.00 despite two fairly major cities to negotiate, Chimbote and Trujillo, but the cars were running well and we managed to skirt both without incident.
We decided to visit the archealogical site of Chan Chan north of Trujillo. This is the world’s largest adobe city, covering many hectares and completed in 15?? including nine separate palace compounds featuring rooms for the King, his family, Officers of the court and attendants. Outside the nine-metre high walls a population of 35,000 formed the centre of a kingdom which extended about 250 miles along the coast of present-day Ecuador and Peru. Inside the palace the adobe walls were decorated in either incised or relief shapes including fish, birds, the sea and the principal god worshipped by the Chumi people, the moon. Our short visit was ably conducted by a local guide, Luciano, who in the available time, gave us an excellent introduction to the Pre-Columbian Chumi culture which existed until the Incas subsumed them.
With time running short before nightfall, we sped on towards our destination, Pacasmayo, an oceanside town we had been told was good for accommodation. Approaching the town we stopped for petrol as is our practice and met two men in a truck, who gave us the name of a hotel on the seafront. Turning into the town there was no indication of which way to go and stumbling on we were passed by the same two men in the truck, frantically waving us away from our intended path. Later it turned out that road works in the town blocked the way we had tried to get in. When we finally reached the hotel car park it became clear that we would have not been able to find it ourselves and their concern was compounded by the knowledge that in the same garage on the previous evening a customer had been shot resisting theft of his car.
It being Maundy Thursday and the Easter weekend a very popular holiday with Roman Catholic Limenos, the seafront hotels were very busy and we ended up divided between two different hotels with the cars in the car park of a third. One of the hotels styled itself three star, but failed to produce any hot water in the evening and in the morning no water at all, all at North American city prices, owing to the holiday.
29th March. Pacasmayo, Peru.
The route today left the coast and passed through more arid desert-like landscape with distant small mountains on both sides, towards Chiclayo and beyond. Entering Chiclayo, a busy port even on Good Friday, we were collected by two police motorcylists who escorted us through the town by a route missing the worst traffic and deposited us, minus Stan, who had been ahead at the time, on the outskirts of the city on the Pan Americana Norte. The usual photo opportunity presented itself and produced another one for the album “Amanda, being cuddled by policemen in South America”!
This area just north of Chiclayo, was the home of several successive cultures including Sipan, however time was short and so we passed by with only a glimpse of the boards suggesting sites of ‘ruinas arqueologicas intangibles’ to whet our appetites.
Alomost immediately we entered the Desierto de Sechura for nearly 100 kms, followed by 100 kms of Pampa del Vanado, both quite flat and apparently inhabited only by the three lines of power cables on steel pylons marching in stately progress across the flat plain.
Stopping for an inspection of the scrubby growth and a driver changeover, I stepped off the narrow track and found the sand surface to be firm and compacted. Back in the car, I reversed off the track and immediately the back and front wheels dug small troughs for themselves and it took some effort and scraping away the surface sand to extricate Bertie.
Reaching Piura we made for the Intiotel, booked the night before because of the Easter weekend and found it fairly easily, although as has been common in most Peruvian cities, the roads in the cities are often in an appalling state. Piura was no exception, with long stretches of road having no made surface, and with diversions around piles of hardcore and concrete rubble. The hotel was almost new and very comfortable. We dropped off our luggage, parked the cars in an off-street park and, since we had made good time on the road, Amanda, Stan and I went in search of an ATM and found a great Helado shop. The city Plaza was fairly hopping with local people, there to attend the evening’s ceremonial procession of religious effigies from the Cathedral.
Appetites assuaged for the moment, the cars were attended to and at 19.00 we three went to dinner at an
ethnic restaurant, which Diana and River had found earlier and recommended. We met the procession of the illuminated glass boxes, carried at shoulder height by twelve men, immaculately dressed in dark suits, accompanied by a musical band and a phallanx of priests, the whole surrounded by a large crowd bearing cameras, toffee-apples and other sweet things in wrappers. We passed behind the crowd and enjoyed supper, after which the procession had made its way to the street outside the restaurant and we witnessed a further part of the proceedings before we could leave.
30th March. Piura, Peru.
Only 40 kms from Piura we passed through Sullana, where we were helped at a stop by two policemen who were standing watching the traffic. Not one to miss an opportunity Amanda dashed in when a photo of them and the car was suggested!
The area surrounding Sullana is noted for rice production and we passed through a considerable acreage of irrigated fields of rice in all stages of growth. This being the tropics, there is no season in which crops do not grow.
Now heading towards the coast we began to glimpse the ocean in the distance and finally descended to the coastal plain at Cabo Blanco and the run to Mancora, where Jonathan had kindly reserved rooms for us at the family-run hotel.
The final part of the journey along a dusty, rutted lane brought us to Puerto del Sol boutique hotel beside the beach. Amanda and I braved the ocean and it was a pleasantly warm surprise. Around this point on the coast the Humbold current, the cold upwelling from Antartic Ocean begins to turn west and the Equatorial current from the north meets and mixes, bringing the temperature of the sea to a bareable 21degC, the surf was quite strong and after 15 minutes we retreated to the hotel pool at a more agreeable 28 deg C.
While I was rotating all five wheels on the car during the late afternoon, and chatting to Jonathan, who was seated on a low wall nearby, he suddenly went white and nearly fell backwards into a stair well. He had seen a fairly sizeable iguana come charging into the paved yard, directly towards us. I had my back turned, and was just in time to see the iguana, now feeling trapped, hurtle under the car and then back the way it had come, the large claws on its front feet looking decidedly fierce and menacing. At that point we decided it was beer-o’clock and decanted to the bar to watch for the green flash as the sun went down (not evident, as usual).
Today we passed 4,000 miles since leaving Buenos Aires about 39% of the total distance.
31st March. Mancora, Peru.
We left at 07.00 in order to get to the border as early as possible. It being Easter Sunday, we were unsure about the traffic volumes we might encounter. We covered the 130 kms to Aguas Verdes, passing through Tumbes quite easily, arriving at the border post at about 11.00. The last 5 kms were quite a different experience to the rest of Peru, excellent overhead road signs, dual carriageways, with sweeping bends and immaculate road surfaces. The modern buildings, neat roads and smartly dressed security guards we hoped were an omen of good things to come. In the air-conditioned building, a short, orderly queue of no more than ten people at the first desk, a supply of appropriate immigration forms and no television made for a very pleasant surprise. Within ten minutes we had been signed out of Peru, at the next desk signed into Ecuador and our passports stamped. A few metres away the cars were signed out of Peru and there in the same building was a point at which we could purchase our SOAT (basic road insurance) This took rather longer; the manufacturer Austin does not exist on modern computer systems and so we blithely suggested that the nearest equivalent was the basic 850cc Mini. Because we have chassis numbers that are not world standard VIN plates, a further consultation was necessary, however in about 45 minutes we had purchased insurance at $US3.50 per car for a one-month stay. River enquired where we might deal with the final step to temporarily import the cars as personal possessions, which was apparently 5 kms further along the road into Ecuador.
In slight disbelief, since it seemed very odd not to have that facility with the other parts of the process, we covered more like 10 kms and then diverted off the road, along with all the other traffic through a very informal looking customs check point. This was a dusty area beside the road, with a scruffy-looking building in front of which were parked a motley collection of vehicles, some obviously having been there some time. We parked in front of the building and were immediately assailed by fresh fruit and peanut vendors. On enquiring at a window-counter, the official informed us that we would need copies of all our car documents, passports and entry forms, the nearest copying facility being across the highway. As it was Easter Sunday however, when we crossed the road it was closed. Back at the window we were told that the next nearest copy facility was in Arenilles, about 15 kms away and that a taxi would take us there. After some discussion and cajoling, River persuaded the officer that had we been told at the border or had there been information to this effect we would have made every effort to get the necessary copies before arriving and eventually, the neighbouring customs office agreed to make the necessary copies on this occasion. It defies understanding that an office that demands copies does not have a machine available to do this and make a charge for the service, also a mystery is what happens to all this paper and how is it stored? Whilst we do have copies of the car documents, we also had to have a copy of our passport page showing the new entry stamp, so we could not have made copies before entering the country.
Now time was beginning to get short. The faffing about had cost us more than 90 minutes and we wanted to make progress on our way towards Cuenca, our destination for the following day. The climbs ahead of us were going to be steep and we were unsure of the road conditions we might meet, the first 10 kms having been a very mixed bag of three-lane highway, which deteriorated every few minutes into unmade road surfaces, diverted from the straight road and anything up to an equivalent often lanes wide, often with traffic in both directions, taking whatever they thought to be the best option of surface. The resulting mass of traffic in a blinding dust storm in various directions at huge speed differences, depending on the ages of the vehicles and how well or not they were being treated was scary and bewildering!
The roads improved after about 25 kms, however the tarmac surface was cratered where the trucks pound the road night and day, making it necessary to be constantly vigilant for pot holes and abrupt changes in surface levels due to earthquake and water damage. We reached Pasaje the town and turned right onto Highway 80. At this point we diverged from JC’c route; he had gone north to Guayaquil to ship his car to Panama, the road ahead being blocked by a landslide. We had some knowledge of the road ahead from bikers we had met a few days previously and Fernando, who had seen us on the road after crossing the border and stopped to ask us to stay at his country hotel before Cuenco. He described the road conditions, climbs and distances involved.
We decided that we might reach Giron, if we made good progress and Sta.Isabel if not. In the event, darkness overtook us and in a light drizzle and with poor road surfaces, impossible to see in the dark and suddenly heavier traffic we
stopped at the Jardin del Valle in La Union, close to Sta.Isabel. The hotel was quiet and ‘Charlie’ made us very welcome although it was 19.00 when we arrived and there were only two staff on duty. River and Diana took advantage of the hot-tub end of the swimming pool, the room hot water being less than reliable and after cold showers for all but Stan,
we enjoyed a very good dinner on the terrace. Charlie was a dab hand at the coffee machine and, denied all but Nescafe for days, I was delighted. He also produced ice-cold glasses for the beer and altogether it was a very good evening and introduction to Ecuador.
1st April. La Union, Ecuador.
Breakfast was taken on the terrace before we set off on a short but testing driving day. We seemed to make slow and interrupted progress, in part due to the steep inclines, in part to being stopped by a police patrol, we were an easy target to fill the days quota of ‘stop and examine papers‘ routine and because we had made a last minute Airbnb booking in Cuenca and needed to receive the address from the owner and to then find it on a map. This was accomplished finally in a garage where WiFi was available, the owner knew Fernando from the previous day and had been briefed to call him if we stopped by. All this took over an hour and so we finally arrived in Cuenca at 16.00, having had trouble navigating the city streets. Amanda had our Ipad on her lap during our arrival and for some miles the Ipad, which is not one of the variety that has a built-in internet connection was showing us our moving position on the street plan? I still have no explanation for this phenomenon and am mystified.
Our saviour was a very kind driver, Martha, who was just parking and, appreciating our difficulties, immediately got back into her car and led us to the street we were looking for. Thank you Martha, we really appreciated your kindness although you dog was not keen!
As we stopped, our hostess Pilar was there to greet us and we took our luggage to the sixth floor and the magnificent apartment on three floors. Tonight was going to be G&T night, come what may, we had been without tonic for over a week and were beginning to twitch.
Pilar kindly offered to take Diana and Amanda to find phone SIM cards, tonic, limes and a few other essentials.
Stan and I set about a few items on Dusty, the principal one being the radiator, again! A few days earlier, both he and Diana had encountered a severe bump in a street at speed and it seemed to have damaged Dusty’s radiator bottom tank. With the radiator out it was evident that it had impacted on the nosecone and caused a split in the tank needing the attention of a radiator specialist. Fortunately the previous day, on one of the frequent roadside stops to cool the cars, a passing driver, Davide, had offered to help if we needed it in Cuenca, he being the president of the Cuenca Mini Club. He was able to supply the name of a radiator repairer and arrangements were made to deliver the radiator the following morning.
We celebrated that evening, as the sun set over Cuenca, with one or two of the best G&Ts experience recently.
2nd April. Cuenca, Ecuador.
Pilar had kindly offered to drive Stan and radiator to the menders and he returned about 10.00 full of admiration for Mr. Luppi and his radiator shop. The repair could be done by 14.00 or the core shortened by the following day, an option Stan decided against to avoid delaying our planned departure. Amanda Stan and I walked into the centre of Cuenca and found a delightful city, with much of its Colonial past still evident. After an helado, Stan returned to pick up his radiator and Amanda and I went to the Central Bank Museum, which houses many Inca and pre-Inca relics and a detailed history of the different cultures that have inhabited the region and the north-west of South America from about 1,500BC.
The day was showery, but bright between the blustery showers and we walked back to the apartment happy to have a little time to just wander and take in the city sights and sounds.
River had, apart from working on reports, done some investigation on the road profile from Cuenca to Quito, along the route we would be taking over the next two days and it was sobering viewing. Apart from the heights we would reach, almost the greatest of the trip, the severity was going to be a challenge. In anticipation we pre-booked accommodation in Riobamba, the next night’s stop, and decided to make a start at 07.00 the following morning.
Stan had refitted Dusty’s radiator with spacers and packing to raise it off the nosepiece and it now looked to be better positioned. All other repairs being completed, we left the cars under the stern care of Beanie for the night. Stan, Amanda and I had arranged to go to an Ecuadorian restaurant with Pilar and left at 18.30 so as not to be late back. Diana and River were being picked up by Davide, who wanted to show them around Cuenca and promised to have them back by 21.30. Both plans overran, owing to the restaurant being shut and the seven Minis that turned up to take Diana and River around being a lot of fun.
After clearing up and packing we were under way by 07.30. The way back to the Pan American being close by, we made excellent time to our first and probably the longest climb of the day. Almost 50 minutes of second gear for Amanda and me in the four-speed box saloon and most of that in first for the two three-speeders. Along the way we were accompanied by the rebuilt railway, that will run from Riobamba to Cuenca, the Devil’s Nose Rail Journey, some of it not yet in use. It looks likely to offer a great Tourist attraction when ready later this year.
Later we encountered slightly shorter but much steeper climbs, which stopped the chummy in its tracks. After a few attempts to restart, River got out and walked, then Diana had to turn the chummy round and reverse up. Twice more this happened and we developed a routine where Diana would drop River, reverse up with Bertie following. Once the climb eased at all, Amanda would join Diana in the chummy and I would descend to collect River.
In all, the 162-mile day took nearly 11 1/2 hours and we climbed a total of nearly 15,000 ft during the day. We are now in Volcano Valley, either side there are magnificent snow-capped peaks, sadly shrouded in cloud today, but we have good imaginations. The scenery we can see is very beautiful and the local people love to wave and call to us as we pass at a snail’s pace.
All three cars are down on power owing to the altitude, Feisty is suffering most, probably due to a combination of updraft carb and low compression head, Dusty is a little out of sorts and has an electrical fault that necessitated changing the coil today and Bertie, which is least affected, is panting for breath and has to be down-shifted much earlier than normal. The available fuel is probably a factor, 92 octane being the highest available and we are told perhaps not reliable in its rating. It will be interesting to see how things are when we finally descend once in Columbia, but there are still some big lumps of the Andes to cross yet!
4th April. Riobamba, Ecuador.
None of us slept well at the Hostal Bambu last night. It was cold, a car arrived at 03.00 and other guests began to rise at 04.00, disturbing what remained of the night. All central locking in Ecuador and Peru is accompanied by a series of chirps, whistles, beeps and whoops, whatever the time of day or night and so it was we became familiar with one particular car, its owner seemingly incapable of remembering more than one item at a time he wished to either put in or take out of the car, locking it carefully between each operation!
Stan had accurately plotted the route out of town and we were soon climbing again, towards, through and finally above the cloud layer as it swept up the mountainsides and filled the gullies between shoulders of unseen peaks. The day brightened and, knowing that so far we had not been defeated by a slope, we pressed on, with frequent stops for water and engine cooling. Less protracted than the previous day, the ascents were evry bit as steep in places and we again made slow progress.
Fortunately the road from Riobamba to Quito is mostly three lanes and a hard shoulder, we spent most of the day on the hard shoulder, some of it forward, some backwards, but always making progress towards the destination.
We have again found an apartment through Airbnb and with the GPS working, River directed our arrival to it in an area north of the main city. At 5.15 having managed to avoid the traffic we arrived and found the apartment, owned by a friend of Pilar, Ivan. A days rest here will shore us up for the next stage, steep climbs, almost similar heights and slow going until we hit the coastal plain in Columbia in about a weeks time.
Thanks for reading this far, I hope you have enjoyed it, I appreciate the 10,000 hits received to date. Also appreciated are your comments and encouraging words.