Crossing from Ecuador into Peru early September was a great initial experience to start our third South American country. The border was so clean, organized, efficient and lacking of “helpers” that it reminded us of crossing from the States to Mexico. The older gentleman in the Aduana position on the Peruvian side was slow but a hoot. He could never find the numbers on our documents, not due to lacking info but due to poor eye sight. And when he couldn’t mark ‘crema’ as our vehicle color Eric described the car as ‘blanco sucio’ and he lost it, repeating the joke to himself and laughing under his breath at least three times. Within an hour we were on our way to the coast!
Our first impressions of Peru were holy crap that’s a lot of: terrible drivers, trash and desert.
The drive along the coast was pretty but so dry. We arrived in Mancora first to spend two nights on the beach and enjoy some awesome ceviche and cervezas before making our way southeast to the mountains. There were quite a few small beach towns between the border and Mancora. All of the towns were building houses and hotels along the beach, a lot of construction for the little beach areas. We are curious to see what it will be like in 20 years. Mancora, while not as quaint as others, was a good spot for a much needed beach day complete with sunshine, beer and napping. That evening we actually ran into the same Overlander group we had met in Ecuador again. After Mancora our goal was to get to Caraz and the Cordillera Blanca range as speedy as we could. Days like this always put us in weird places because we are just rushing without a general desire to be in a spot. That evening we took a recommendation from the iOverlander app that ended up to be pretty terrible, so we moved over to a less terrible place but still just in the middle of nowhere. We had a fancy dinner at the supermarket and battled the tiniest ants ever in our room. Sometimes the reality of travel is not nice.
After being in Peru for four days we had already been pulled over at checkpoints at least 6 times, which was a ton compared to normal. They would start with “turn on your lights”. We respond with, “one is broken and nowhere in the world carries this stupid, old headlight.” Then they say, “your front license plate isn’t on”, then we say, “it’s safer and the bolt is broken” and they respond “put it on, but not right now.” The final straw was the policeman who asked much too directly for a bribe. He told Eric that the infraction we had made was very serious. So Eric replied that he was sorry and could pay the ticket when he got to the city. He explained that the ticket is really expensive and we should pay some now, and Eric said “no that’s ok, please write my ticket and I’ll pay at the office. Where’s the office?” At which the officer says “How much money do you have right now?” Eric, “None.” “Ok you can go to the ATM and I’ll wait here when you come back.” “Ok”, says Eric. And they both smiled, Eric knowing he won and the police man annoyed he wasted his time. So after that we decided to make a pit stop in the larger city of Trujillo. Not only to get supplies for the upcoming Santa Cruz trail but to also try and find a new headlight and some bolts to avoid these checkpoint delays. In Trujillo we had awesome luck and after three different shops and quite the run around we actually found a headlight that worked! From there the only other time we were stopped was a produce check point and after seeing the sadness that came across my face with all the fruits and veggies we had just bought, I think the guy let us go out of pity.
Our final day before heading inland, the drive took us through an incredible desert. Huge dunes, so much trash, minimal plant life, and the smallest, poorest shacks in the middle of one of the driest areas we have ever seen. The pictures below don't even begin to describe it. We ended the day in the small town of Santa where our turnoff to the east was. Another iOverlander app success, we found the super cheap hostel with freezing showers but secure parking. That evening we found the most popular restaurant in the 20 square block town, a rotisserie chicken joint with a small friendly staff.
The next day we started on a narrow, paved road only for it to turn to dirt about halfway through our journey. We wound through the dustiest roads yet, along Rio Santa, gaining in elevation until we made it to the Canon del Pato and the famous tunnels. The area was interesting with amazing views and the 35 tunnels were pretty impressive. The tunnels are carved into the hillside and the road turns to a single lane for most of the way, just large enough for a small semi-truck. Most of the tunnels are small enough to see the glimmer of light at the other end but there are a few where there are at least three tunnels all together separated by only a small break, definitely not large enough for a car to move out of the way. There are signs along the entire route to continuously honk your horn around corners and through every single tunnel. It was surprising that just one time we had to reverse to get out of the way of two large trucks. Although Eric may have been a little on edge from the drive, it was the perfect way to travel from the coast to the mountains.