Rainbow Mountain and the Grass Rope Bridge, Peru

From Pisac we headed south….but not for long. As we reached the small community of Urcos, Vanna started protesting. It was the same intermittent problem we had had since Colombia. But this time she stopped and refused to move. Thanks to the iOverlander app we could see that we were close to a recommended vehicle repair shop. After a rest,  Bob coaxed her the few hundred meters up the road and then down an incline into El Tigre. Over the next few days we worked with the owner, Cero, and his crew of mechanics, to get Vanna running properly.

Suffice to say we spent the weekend in a hotel in Urcos.

Our room had a corner view of the square. The town seemed dead and we resigned ourselves to a boring weekend. Sunday morning the street noise woke us early, like 5 AM early. When Big Ben in the square announced 7 bells, I finally got up and took a peek out the window. Surprise. A market had sprung up on the side street right below us. Blue tarps were strung up with string and sticks, and underneath each sat a seller with their wares.  We had to take a closer look.

As the day went on the market got busier. People arrived in the back of 3 ton trucks or squished into colectivo vans in traditional  dress. This was not a tourist market, as we saw only 2 other gringos all day. Several blocks long, the market had the usual fruits and vegetables and open air meat. 

Flowers for sale at the market, Urcos, Peru

One group of women had a long row of flowers with huge red roses. We saw sheep’s heads for sale, and tiny live chicks. Stacks of eggs, huge baskets of fresh bread and lots of socks and underwear. Some women were selling towers of round white cheese. We walked around until I found a cheese woman who was not sitting right beside a raw meat stand. Turned out that we really liked the cheese as it tasted like feta.

Checking out the spices at the market, Urcos, Peru

Everyone ate lunch at the market. We chose seats near our hotel where a woman was offering a platter for 5 soles (2.50 Cdn) Another woman sat behind the table and peeled potatoes for the fries. Rice, fries, a wiener cut in fringes but held together at one end, a fried egg on top and a tasty tomato cucumber salad. Everything but the rice and the salad was cooked in a small fry pan over a propane burner on a table in front of us. There were three stools.

As we ate two young girls came along with their dolls. One doll in a stroller and the other wrapped in a pink blanket and carried over the shoulder. They ordered fries and we all laughed when they pulled out little pink wallets and counted their coins on the table. For their age they had a pile of money.

That evening there was a parade. We could hear the band playing from our hotel room and we hurried down to the square. First came a  float covered in balloons and carrying the winners of a pageant. The young prince’s sported black suits. The princesses wore satiny dresses with wide winning ribbons wrapped across.

Prince and princess float, parade in Urcos, Peru

Following the float was a school band, kids with drums, saxophones and trumpets all dressed in colourful costumes. The short stocky bass drummer just whacked that drum, and even though he was constantly turning to look all around, he never lost a beat.

The band led the evening parade, Urcos, Peru

For the next hour we watched dozens of different school classes, or clubs, parade through the square. Carrying home made banners, each group had a different costume, an unusual hat or headpiece, and performed a unique dance.

ONe of the dance groups in the evening parade, Urcos, Peru

Some kids pranced like horses, others twirled and jumped, some had a little shuffle forward and back. The crowd loved it and so did we.

After several days of running around, and thanks to Mike from slowcarfasthouse for providing the correct model of fuel pump assembly, the guys at El Tigre had Vanna up and running. She now sails up the hills without complaint.

Leaving Urcos late in the day, we headed south on PE3S and stopped at a small hotel run by a friendly family. For safety, the kind owner insisted we bring the bicycles in to the main floor restaurant for the night. His wife ran around bringing us an extra pillow, then toilet paper, then towels – items that aren’t usually in the room here when you arrive.

The next morning we decided to have our breakfast there. What were they serving you ask?  Caldo de Galina. A large bowl of flavourful chicken soup, including a boiled egg, a small purple potato, a small yellow potato, a chunk of yucca and some part of a chicken. Coffee was also unusual. First they gave us a thermos and Bob poured out two cups. But it was just hot water. Then they brought a glass carafe of coffee. We thought “OK here’s the coffee”, and poured the hot water back into the thermos, then poured ourselves two full cups of coffee. But the coffee was cold. Light went on. You pour half and half. Then you have hot coffee. Don’t ask why, just drink the coffee. And then eat your soup.

Rainbow Mountain had been on our mind since our visit to Peru last February. And now we just happened to be close to where an access road had been newly constructed.  It was a 2 hour hair pin drive. But spectacular.

Driving through the mountains on the way to Rainbow Mountain, Peru
On the 2 hour drive up to Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Surrounded by mountains, red soil, and sage vegetation, we drove up and along a med colored river as it raged downwards, through small villages, past small corn plots. Alpaca everywhere.

Returning from Rainbow Mountain, Peru

The road was narrow and if I put my hand out I could easily touch the rock faces as we squeezed by. There was no room for 2 cars to pass by but fortunately this new route had little traffic. Because of all the bends we could see a car coming which gave us time to find a spot to pull over and let it by.

Drive up to Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Array of colors on the drive up to Rainbow Mountain, Peru

When we reached the higher level parking spot there were only a half dozen other vehicles there. We left Vanna and started the hike. It was gruelling. Take a few steps, stop, gasp for air. A young couple descending stopped to give me a sniff of Muna oil. Thanks folks, that helped considerably.

Peruvian Flag on the left, Rainbow Flag of Cusco on the right (does not represent the LGBTQ) but is a symbol of Cusco and its Incan/Andean history

An hour and a half later Bob and I stood at 5,036 meters, staring across at Rainbow mountain. Stripes of greens, reds, golds, greys and teal run down both sides of the peak making a V-like formation that is captivating.

Spectacular array of colors on the Montana de Colores, Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Along with 100 others who were on tour from Cusco, and had hiked up from the other side, we stood in the icy wind, and were awed by this Montana de Colores. Struggling on the way up I had  asked those young people “Vale la pena?” (Is it worth the trouble) and the answer returned was “yes”.  Now at the top I definitely agreed.

We made it to the top, Rainbow Mountain in the background, Peru

That night, by accident, we stayed in a lovely refurbished  colonial hotel in the town of Sicuani. I had read the reviews and read “40 soles” but when I went in to the reception, she said 140 soles. Oops. But having spent most of our Anniversary lolling about a mechanic shop, we were due for a splurge. The hotel had beautiful wood doors, tiled staircases with wrought iron railings, and a common area with fireplace.

Our room at the Hotel Wilkamayu, colonial hotel in Sicuani

Our room had a sitting area with a comfy chair and a proper hot shower.  Dinner in the restaurant was excellent, and in the morning the included breakfast was not chicken soup.

On Friday  we opted to visit a UNESCO grass rope bridge, a little off the beaten path. It turned out to be one of the most scenic routes we have ever driven. From Sicuani, we drove north to Combapate, then west on PE34F to Queswachaka (the rope bridge) and then south on CU130 to the town of Espinar. It took 5 hours.

On the scenic drive from Combapate to Espinar, Peru

The wide valley vistas were incredible. We drove through sleepy adobe villages, past  of cattle, sheep, llama and alpaca accompanied by shaggy black sheep dogs.

Typical farm yard, scenic drive from Combapate to Espinar, Peru
On the scenic drive from Combapate to Espinar, Peru

Women in wide red skirts and leggings were hoeing or seeding or sitting on the grass watching over their flocks.  We waved, they waved, young children ran to get a better view of us, then shyly waved. We saw a few discers attached to tractors but most work being done was by hand.

Bicycle cart for transporting goods, rural life, Peru

There were only a few other vehicles all day. But there were thousands of potholes to drive around. Some were too wide to straddle and we had to dip carefully down and across . Average speed 15 km/ hr.

On the scenic drive from Combapate to Espinar, Peru
Rural life, Peru

In one small community we passed a group of school kids dressed in yellow soccer jerseys waiting at the side of the road. A few adults, maybe their coaches, waited with them. They yelled, and whistled at us as we drove by.

Most  towns were quiet, but one we drive through was celebrating.  Throngs of men in leather cowboy hats and women in sparkly top hats were getting on or off transport vans, climbing in and out of the back of trucks. Good in baskets and canvass bags were piled everywhere. Main Street through town was closed to construction and the detour was choked with Tuktuks, motos and 3 ton trucks. We inched our way past.

On the scenic drive from Combapate to Espinar, Peru

At Queswachaka, the grass rope bridge was impressive. Acknowledged by UNESCO, it warranted a National Geographic article in 2018. Yes, you can find it online. 

Last remaining Inca rope bridge made of Ichu grass, Canas Province, Peru

A community undertaking, the art of traditional bridge construction has been passed down through generations. This last remaining Inka rope bridge spans 120 feet over the Apurimac River. Renewed each June, it is made by twisting ichu grass into different thicknesses of rope.

Only one person at a time, Me, on the rope bridge, Canas Province, Peru

For 10 soles ($5 Cdn) you were allowed to walk across. On my journey both the bridge and I were a little shakey. The thin loose ropes on the sides provided no sense of security. If you lost your balance I am pretty sure those flimsy side strings would not hold. You  would soon be on the last unaided flight of your life. Anyway, I walked across and back, and didn’t die.

The bridgemaster told Bob and I about how he learned from his father and that his 2 sons also now help. He said that at one time this bridge was used to move sheep and llamba across the canyon. Although that was hard to visualize. Wouldn’t those tiny hooves break right through the holes in the mat?

Proud Bridgemaster and Bob in front of the rope bridge that is renewed annually each June, Canas Province, Peru

After we left the bridge, we drove through more lime and lemon colored grass hills with tufts of spiked grass. Winding tight turns, and the relentless dodging of potholes.

On the scenic drive from Combapate to Espinar, Peru

Large dark clouds were accumulating and after 5 hours on this road we pulled into the small town of Espinar. Another hospedaje and cheese sandwiches for supper.

Return to Van Life – Canada to Peru

We are back in Vanna again. Although the rainy season will begin soon, it is sunny and warm today.

In May, when we arrived home in Manitoba we were reacquainted with the beauty and bounty. Long evenings, magnificent  sunsets, wide open spaces, orderly traffic, and plenty of wildlife. One evening a fox ran across our lawn, the deer wander freely, many types of birds and  hawks and the occasional bear sighting in the park.  No wonder that people think Canada is beautiful.

Sunset, Manitoba, Canada

We enjoyed our time at home visiting friends and family, had a canoe trip in Quetico with Dave and Sally, and then sold our home of 30 years, packed up our belongings and moved out. We will miss living there for sure.

After Thanksgiving with family, and a birthday visit with our son Brett, we drove to Calgary to stay with our daughter Kelsey and our almost son in law Chris. More good visits and last minute shopping for car parts, a few gifts, and yet another drugstore run. A stock up of things like ibuprofen, Advil liquid gel, vitamin B12, and After bite cream, all of  which you may or may not find in SA. 

Having booked a morning flight, Kelsey dropped us at the airport in Calgary at 6:30 AM on Wednesday. We landed in Cusco, Peru on Thursday at 11:30 AM.  It was a bit long.

Stone carvings, Calgary Airport, Alberta, Canada

Our first stop was the small Terminal 4 in Cancún, where the Canadians land on their quest for a warm vacation. Needless to say the mood in the plane was exuberant. Our luggage came around the carousel first, which never happens. So we were grinning as we headed down a wide hallway, the exit doors in sight. Not so fast señor. Bob was randomly selected by some uniformed hallway intelligence to be pulled over for a bag inspection. That resulted in a $50 Cdn tax on all the car parts. We explained several times that we were not staying even 1 night in Mexico. No arguments accepted. These are the regulations. Pay the money.

After that we took a shuttle to Terminal 2, a multi floor building full of international shops and restaurants. It was a long wait for our overnight flight to Lima. We arrived in Lima in the early morning, expecting to pay some kind of Peruvian entrance fees or tax. But we were not even given a form to fill out. As we headed for the exit we had a choice.  An Items to Declare line or No Items to Declare line. The first was full of tables of opened luggage. We didn’t hesitate. In seconds we were out the exit and legally into Peru …with nothing to declare.

Next was  a one hour flight into Cusco and a friendly cab driver who was familiar with the location of our Quinta Lala campground. We had a joyful reunion with Millie the campground manager. Bob had Vanna running in no time and we moved her out of the storage area and into a camp spot. Everything in the van was just as we left it, neat and orderly. Now there are piles of stuff that we brought back, more clothes, medicine, first aid, new indoor lights, a stainless steel coffee press, etc. We keep moving the piles around thinking we will find a spot for them soon. Ha.

Vanna and friends, Quinta Lala campground, Cusco , Peru

We had suspended our vehicle permit in May and now we have to unsuspend it. Levantamiento de Suspensión. Millie explained that we had to start the process on Thursday since both Friday and Monday are holidays here.

It’s  the Day of the Dead weekend.

So after a short nap and a shower we took a cab into town to the SUNAT. First we were to obtain a photocopy  of the document that Millie had prepared. Across the street from SUNAT was a sign which read Impresión. Sounded like photocopy to us. So we went inside. The woman at the desk shook her head and pointed up a short stairway. We went up but that room was bare. We went out a side door to another office. The man shook his head and pointed to the right. We went that way to another office. This guy said no and pointed forward. In that office an American woman said “This is a travel agency. We don’t sell photocopies, but we will certainly make you a copy”.

We have learned this is common navigation system in South American. Each person points you on to another location, which is the wrong place, and you do this repeatedly until you find the right place. Weird but it works.

We stayed in town, shopping at the San Pedro market for fruit and vegetables. Then we perched on white wooden benches and ate savoury home made chicken soup, served by women wearing white aprons over sweaters and blue jeans.  A battery transistor radio belted out Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers while we ate.

Special breads for Day of the Dead, San Pedro market, Cusco, Peru
San Pedro market, Cusco, Peru

Later we hung  out at the Plaza de Armas which serves as a large outdoor community center. It was Halloween evening and the square was full of local families, moms and dads escorting little goblins, butterflies, cowboys, and superheros. There was cotton candy, balloons, entertainers, and music. The niños carry small orange plastic pumpkin pails, and earlier we saw them walking from shop to shop, holding the bucket out at the entrances where they received one tiny treat each.

Hallowe’en in the plaza, Cusco, Peru
Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
Plaza de Armas at night, Cusco, Peru

We plan to hang out here for a week or so. The next step in our vehicle process is that the police will come to the campground for a van inspection on Tuesday. Until then we will relax and acclimatize to this altitude. (Cusco 3400 meters; Calgary 1045 meters). We generally feel ok but get out of breath randomly. Walking uphill from town on Friday we felt fine, but later I got out of breath just getting in to bed.

The campground is full of the vans, RVs and truck campers belonging to travellers from France, Germany, US, and a couple from Argentina who formerly lived in Calgary. The facilities include a library, a small kitchen with stove and sink, and 2 washrooms with shower, flush toilets and sinks. The tap water is cold only, but the showers are warm. Not many toilets for the number of people here but some rigs have their own of everything.  As a bonus, there is an outdoor clothes washing station with 2 large sinks, cold tap water, and a clothes line. Free.

Quinta Lala campground, Cusco, Peru
Library at Quinta Lala campground, Cusco, Peru

There are quite a few kids in camp right now. The family beside us are from France and this morning we both have our doors wide open. I can hear the kids doing their homework in English, French and Spanish, arguing with their mom who is patiently answering. I wish the kids linguistic skills would rub off on me.

Meeting other campers is always interesting. Yesterday we finally met a woman who has been following Bobs Instagram. Funny we were following her travel app comments last winter. It was nice to finally say hello in person. And George, the Germán fellow I talked with last night said he had shipped his rig to Halifax, and over a year and a half had crossed Canada, driven up to Alaska and now down to Peru. He is headed to Argentina and expressed concerns about travelling in Bolivia. There are political demonstrations there, as well as in Chile.

Both of those countries are on our route. We will have to keep our ears open and our eyes on Google.

Metal Christmas llama, purchased from street vender, Cusco, Peru,

Peru: Cusco and Machu Picchu

A major tourist destination, Cusco is chock full of museums, old architecture, and traditional customs. It is also the starting point for tours to amazing treks and many Inca ruins. Over the week, we had first-ever experiences like dealing with altitude sickness, holding a baby llama, eating alpaca steak, and waking up at 4 AM to the heart pumping sensation of an earthquake.

Basillica, Cusco, Peru

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