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ABOUT THIS BLOG

In the summer of 2009, Nicolas Rapp decided to take a break from his Art Director job at The Associated Press to attempt a one-year overland travel around the world in a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was back in New York in February 2011 after traveling 15 months and 37,000 miles.

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MONTHLY ARCHIVES

THE ROUTE

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  • On the shore of Lake Titicaca

    Posted on March 1st, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    Pisac, in the Sacred Valley

    Pisac, in the Sacred Valley

    Ten minutes after I got to Cusco, a guy took a laptop from the trunk. I chased him and got it back. Twenty minutes later, as we were away from the truck, some other dude tried to force into the trunk, breaking the lock, fortunately with no success.

    Cusco, Plaza de Armas

    Cusco, Plaza de Armas

    That was a warm welcome in the charming and colorful city built by the Spanish and located in the mountains at 3,500 meters high. After these events, we spent our time locking and unlocking doors and trunk, and paying extra attention to the surroundings.

    Cusco

    Cusco

    We arrived on Thursday and as Dan was leaving us the day after, we hurried to take a tour of the city in the afternoon. It was great to stroll along the streets of one of the nicest city we saw so far. The highlight of the day was a visit of the food market where we had coca leaves tea and bought a massive amount of cheese, the best I had in a long time. Peruvians are good bakers too, and at time, the bread can be similar to the one you find in France.

    Cusco, food market. Lot of cheese!

    Cusco, food market. Lot of cheese!

    We took a hotel room (Inka’s Inn, US$4 per person), and after this long day, I just stayed in the room eating cheese and organizing photos I took. Of course in the morning, I was unable to get hot water. That became a classic, as always hotel owners promise it to you, and you never get it. Hot water became our Machu Picchu. Always wanted to see it, with no success. 

    Cusco, Plaza de Armas

    Cusco, Plaza de Armas

     I drove Dan to the airport, and got back to our street, where our French friends had parked their RV as well.At the beginning of the afternoon, we went back to the market to buy food, and left all together for a two-days excursion in the sacred valley. Our first stop will be Moray, a stunning site used by the Incas as an open-air crop nursery. There, depressions are lined with terracing.

    Moray, an agricultural laboratory

    Moray, an agricultural laboratory

    We slept there, covered with many blankets, as the cold weather is here to stay for at least two weeks, following us through Peru and Bolivia. (Free camping is allowed on the site’s parking)

    Will we go through?

    Will we go through?

     The following morning, we departed for Pisac, a major site of the Sacred Valley. This is definitely the substitute for Machu Picchu, as the latest will be closed for few more weeks and we will not be able to visit it in this expedition.

    Constant animal presence highlights reasons to not drive at night

    Constant animal presence highlights reasons to not drive at night

    Pisac is an Inca fortress 30 kilometers of Cusco. It took us three hours to visit the site, larger than Machu Picchu. The walk through the ruins goes across terraces, temples and housings, purification baths and water channels. Everywhere you can admire the fine masonry work of the Incas.

    Pisac, agricultural terraces

    Pisac, agricultural terraces

    Later, we rolled back to Cusco, and as night was falling, we stopped in Chinchero to admire the church and the plaza.

    Pisac, the temples

    Pisac, the temples

    Back in Cusco, we returned to the same hotel we spent our first night (to make sure water was always as cold) and had a great pizza in the same street. It is nice once in a while to have something to eat from the old country.

    In the Sacred Valley

    In the Sacred Valley

    We spent the following morning walking in the city and went back again at the food market. The next step was the Lake Titicaca, and we wanted to make sure we had enough to eat while up there.

    First snow since the U.S.

    First snow since the U.S.

    At the beginning of the afternoon, we left the French convoy, and started our trip to the lake. We went up high in the mountains, and saw snow in some villages. We also noticed several scary looking peaks with eternal snowcaps or glaciers.

    Don’t count on me to go up there

    Don’t count on me to go up there

    It took up six hours to go all the way to Puno, on the border of the lake Titicaca, and there, we camped in the parking of a hotel.

    Who knows if the train is still running up there

    Who knows if the train is still running up there

    For US$15 (ouch!), in addition to authorize us to park they let us also use the showers. At this point we were so tired that we accepted the price. I cooked some pork with honey I bought at the market, and went to sleep under heavy rain.

    Getting closer to Puno, at dusk

    Getting closer to Puno, at dusk

    In the morning, we wake up early to catch the boats going to the floating islands. The islands are man-made and built with layers of tortora reeds, a common plant in the shallows of the lake. The Uros Indians living on these islands live mainly of tourism, fishing and hunting. Life therehas never been easy, as freshwater is hard to come by, and the reeds rot rapidly, necessitating constant addition of layers.

    A floating island

    A floating island

    Despite these interesting facts, you can’t help but be put off by the transformation of the proud fishermen into touristic puppets. Back on the shore at noon, I was behind the wheel again, and drove straight to the Bolivian border, where new adventures were awaiting us.

    The Bolivian border

    The Bolivian border

  • The Odyssey to Cusco

    Posted on February 26th, 2010 Sergio No comments
    Dan takes photographs of the mysterious Nazca lines

    Dan takes photographs of the mysterious Nazca lines

    As usual now, it has been a long time since my last post. I can’t say it’s getting easier to get an internet access, and the last few days have been very busy, as you will read.

    When we arrived in Lima, we checked in a backpacker hotel in the Miraflores district. It was the simplest solution, since opening our tent in the center of Lima would have been challenging.

    Miraflores District, Lima

    Miraflores District, Lima

    We stayed two nights there (US$5 in any backpacker hotel, nowhere specific to recommend, god luck to get hot water), and I tried to get on top of things I had to do, like photo editing, or writing down notes for the blog. Dan and Nadia enjoyed the very cosmopolite area of the city a lot, and we took advantage of it by getting pizza in the neighborhood Italian street.

    City center

    City center

    The second day, we went for a visit of the city center. Because of the heavy traffic there, it is not considered a very relaxing experience to drive through, as we experienced.

    Huacachina dunes

    Huacachina dunes

    Out of the city, we followed the route south, and sped to Huacachina, a small oasis surrounded by huge sand dunes. We spent a night there, and in the morning, went for a buggy tour in the dunes, as well as some sand surfing. We then went to get food for the upcoming days, and we were back on the road.

    Symbols in Nazca

    Symbols in Nazca

    Nazca, our next stop, is famous for its giant lines and geometric symbols drawn on the ground. Spread across 500 square kilometers (200 sq. mi.) in the pampa, the cryptic symbols are still a mystery, as it is not know who created them, and why. As mystified as others, we spent the night in the nearby city.

    Peruvian pigs may be used as horses

    Peruvian pigs may be used as horses

    At this point, we knew the easy time was finished. Ahead of us, we had three days of road going up the mountain to reach the city of Cusco. Cusco is known for being the place people leave to go visit the Machu Picchu, unfortunately closed this year because of rain and landslides.

    Going up

    Going up

    We heard from travelers that the road was cut close to the city, because of the same weather related issues, and that we may not be able to reach it.  Regardless, we decided to give it a try, and one sunny morning, early, we went east toward the mountains.

    People in the mountains live out of time

    People in the mountains live out of time

    The road was in good shape, the scenery amazing, and the first day, we were able to drive 200 kilometers (125 mi.) of the 640 we would have to do.

    Unreal scenery, could be in Scotland

    Unreal scenery, could be in Scotland

    12_lama

    Scotland with Llamas

    Around 6 p.m., as we had reached an altitude of 4,400 meters (14,500 feet), we discovered a large lake and decided to leave the main road to get closer to it and set camp for the night. At this altitude, the highland soil is like a sponge full of water, and I failed to notice the danger of getting trapped. As we got closer to the lake, the soil got more unstable, and finally, as we were passing a small water arm, the truck got caught deep in the mud.

    At this point, we went out of the vehicle, got rocks to put under the tires, dug out wagons of mud, but could not get the truck out of the pond.

    Our next bright idea was to try to get help from the road. I thought it would be hard to find someone who would risk to come down to help us out, but we tried. Few minutes after, we had our suicidal candidates. Two Peruvian truck drivers decided to let their trailer up on the road, and come down to try to haul us out.

    Nadia goes out of the tent in the morning in a great mood and a lake of mud

    Nadia goes out of the tent in the morning in a great mood and a lake of mud

    Soon enough, they were in the exact same situation than we were, unable to move an inch in any direction. For few hours and as night was falling, we dug again, tried to build ramps of rocks, piled wood sticks under the wheels of the heavy truck with no success.

    By then, we knew what would be our next problem. Altitude. Several times during our trip, we had to go pretty high, and had no problems with that, so we assumed we got acclimated to higher ground, and that altitude sickness could not get us.  But this time was different. We were now higher than 4,000 meters, which seemed to trigger a stronger reaction. We were exhausted after spending hours moving rocks and digging, and felt terrible headaches and chest pain. It was pitch black and the temperature was falling quickly as we opened the tent in the hole of mud to try to get some sleep. The Peruvians were also going to sleep in the cabin of their truck.

    We were still really sick in the morning, and continued the work to push the Peruvian truck out of the mud. Eventually, they were able to get out, but of course, after twelve hours in hell, they would not try to help us out another time.
    All morning we tried to dig out my truck with no success. Every half hour, I would just collapse on the ground, and wait for my body to let me know I was still alive. Nadia was on the road, trying to stop a truck that could help us out. Around noon, an Argentinean family stopped in a Toyota truck, and gave it a try, but my truck would not move at all.

    Finally out!

    Finally out!

    A bit after the Argentinians left, they were able to alert road workers down the road, and at 1 p.m., they came over with one of their machines, and finally got us out of our hole. You can only imagine how happy we were to be back on the asphalt, and how happy the workers were to see the green colors of American banknotes. Soon after, we went down in altitude and were feeling better.

     Able to enjoy again the mountain scenery

    Able to enjoy again the mountain scenery

    At night, we camped in a village along the river and spent time with kids down there. The morning was rainy, which was a concern since rocks were constantly falling off the mountain.

    The road is cut

    The road is cut

    Finally, we arrived to a location where the road was covered by rocks, and stones kept coming from high up. At the end we had no choice but go straight through the stone rain and hope for the best, as other were doing. Maybe because we had been unlucky earlier, this time, we went through without problem, as did Felix, who arrived with his RV few minutes after us. This was definitely the scariest moment of our way up to Cusco.

    11_second_day

    On the second of our four-day drive to Cusco

    But we were lucky only for a short time. Few hours later, 30 kilometers after Abancay and going up, I felt that the brakes were getting weaker and weaker. We decided to backtrack to the city in low range to have the brake looked at. Down there, at the Toyota garage, they decided some air probably got in the system, and they purged the circuit. It was now too late for us to get to Cusco, as the road was only open few hours every day, so we decided to check in an hotel, and got diner with Hector, a English-speaking Peruvian we met at the garage. Dan and I also went for drinks with him in one of the city discotheque. At the end, after few tea-pisco, we were happy to be stranded there.

    With Hector in a local restaurant

    With Hector in a local restaurant

    The morning after, at 6 a.m., we were leaving the city determined to make it to Cusco by the end of the day. Three hours after departure, we got to the difficult part where the road had been washed out, and drove in the mud for 20 kilometers.

    Getting closer to Cusco

    Getting closer to Cusco

    Everything went well, and after four days of travel, we arrived in the city, exhausted but happy to be alive. Dan will leave us on Thursday to get back to the U.S., and learn again to live like a normal person.

    Cusco

    Cusco