I wanted to visit Machu Picchu before June, the start of the busy tourist season and we did it, we got there on May 31st! I worried that we may not get entry tickets at the last minute but luckily it was no problem. We booked our train tickets from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, our hotel in Aguas Calientes, entry tickets to the site and bus tickets all with only a few days notice.
We chose not to do a guided tour of Machu Picchu but we did want some background information so we watched a couple of documentaries before our visit and this was a good idea. MP was only built 500 years ago, it took fifty years to complete and abandoned after only 100 years but what I find absolutely fascinating and incredible is that this was a stone age society , no wheels or iron tools were used and the quality of the building and architecture is mind blowing, it is beautiful! How wonderful to have such a fine example of what can be accomplished with stone, ingenuity and let’s be honest A LOT of patience.
Once we visited Machu Picchu we felt more relaxed, we could really enjoy our time in Cusco and we did, we stayed for almost three weeks, the longest we had stayed anywhere. I LOVED Cusco, it is without a doubt my favourite city in South America. The history, the architecture, the landscape, the vibe, I loved everything about it. My self control was tested by all the beautiful boutiques selling high quality Alpaca wool clothing, the artists selling colorful paintings and handmade crafts, the great restaurants, bakeries and chocolate shops, Cusco has everything!
We were really excited about coming back to Peru, there was still so much to see! We started by visiting Arequipa, a picturesque Colonial city surrounded by three volcanoes. We managed to find a parking spot just a 15 minute walk from the impressive Plaza de Armas. Arequipa has a great vibe, we really enjoyed our two days there, I particularly enjoyed the Santa Catalina Monastery. I am not sure if it was the tranquil atmosphere or the splashes of color but I was quite taken with the place and could not stop smiling or taking photos.
Arequipa is situated close to the two deepest canyons in the world; Cotahuasi and Colca. Cotahuasi is more difficult to get to and Colca is known for its Condor sightings. We are nearing the end of our time in SA and our tolerance for long drives and rough roads is, let’s say, diminishing. The pay off has to be huge to justify a long AND rough road so we chose to skip Cotahuasi canyon.
The drive from Arequipa to Colca was yet another spectacular drive however I was taken aback initially as we entered the canyon when I saw how populated it was, I expected it to be more like Grand Canyon, a spectacular place primarily visited by tourists but Colca is heavily populated except of course for the deepest and steepest sections. We parked overnight at Condor lookout and were rewarded in the morning with several Andean Condors riding the thermals. We counted seven at one point and they were a joy to watch! but they were only there for about an hour, 9-10am and then they were gone. The canyon is impressive, not as stunning as the Grand Canyon but it is the Condors that steal the show. Click here to view our latest Flickr album.
The start of May could not have been in a more breathtaking spot, the Serranía del Hornocal within the Quebrada de Humahuaca region of Argentina’s JuJuy province. The Serrania del Hornocal is a geological formation that stands out for its different shades of colors and is also known as the Cerro de los 14 Colores (the hill of 14 colors) this limestone formation called Yacoraite was the most beautiful rock formation I had ever seen.
We wanted to drive back into Chile from Salta in northern Argentina and there are two borders to choose from, we chose the highest pass, Paso de Sico which reaches 4580 meters and is incredibly beautiful. It was a good long drive, with a long section of rough road, we did it in two days which meant we spent one night up high in this very remote area with no light pollution which meant fantastic star gazing, we saw the Milky Way in all its glory!
There is a lot to see and enjoy in Northern Chile, we hugged the coast on our way South but we were really excited about exploring the other side of Northern Chile. San Pedro de Atacama gets a lot of visitors and it is easy to see why, if you want to see volcanoes this is the place, star gazing, yep that too, geysers, salt flats, stunning lunar like landscapes and wildlife, it is an incredible area of the world. From San Pedro de Atacama to Chile’s far North were some of the most beautiful landscapes we had ever seen. The North Eastern corner of Chile is truly special; the only inhabitants seem to be Alpaca farmers, wild Vicuna, flamingos and us, it was heaven. We were never not in sight of Volcanoes we even stumbled upon a gorgeous thermal pool surrounded by volcanoes, Vicunas and flamingos and we had it all to ourselves for an evening we will never forget. Leaving Northern Chile was as hard as leaving Patagonia. Chile easily stole our hearts.
We crossed back into Argentina the last week of April and continued along Ruta 40 to Ischigualasto Provincial Park to check out “the oldest known dinosaur remains.” We enjoyed our visit there, the badlands landscape was beautiful and the museum was excellent.
“The Ischigualasto Formation contains Late Triassic (Carnian) deposits (231.4 -225.9 million years before the present), with some of the oldest known dinosaur remains, which are the world’s foremost with regards to quality, number and importance. This allows for the study of the transition between dinosaurs and ancient mammals.” (Wikipedia)
Continuing North just past Londres, we visited our first Inca ruin, El Shincal an important center for Inca domination consisting of a central plaza and 100 buildings. Shincal was the southernmost provincial capital of the Inca Empire and is one of the best preserved Inca settlements in the southern part of their empire. Shincal is located in a beautiful bowl with a tranquil atmosphere and it was enough to get us really excited about our upcoming visit to Machu Picchu. Click here to view our Spring Flickr album.
In mid-April we had to make a detour back into Chile and saw photos of a “ribbon” road that we wanted to drive between Mendoza, Argentina and Los Andes, Chile. This turned out to be a beautiful drive through a scenic valley which brought us as close as we could get to the tallest peak in the Americas, Mount Aconcagua. We spent a few hours in Aconcagua provincial park hoping to get a closer view of the mountain. There is a short trail ending in a viewpoint and as we started the trail we could just make out part of Aconcagua in the distance but by the time we reached the viewpoint, less than 30 minutes later the clouds had rolled in obscuring our view.
I am embarrassed to admit that although we could see Mount Aconcagua for several days while driving we did not take one photo because we kept thinking, oh it’s too far, oh the foreground isn’t nice, we’ll get a better photo tomorrow but by the time we got close enough in the provincial park the weather did not cooperate, procrastination bit us in the butt!
Our last stop in Patagonia was Neuquen, Argentina home to two incredible dinosaur finds; Giganotosaurus carolinii which was discovered in 1993, and is considered the largest carnivorous dinosaur of all times, even bigger than the Tyrannosaurus rex and Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest herbivorous dinosaur in the world found in 1988. Presently, Giganotosaurus carolinii and Argentinosaurus huinculensis are the most representative specimens of Neuquén’s fields, and they turn this region into one of the most important dinosaur areas in South America. We really enjoyed our time around Neuquen visiting the museum and dinosaur trackways. We knew South America had some impressive dinosaur sites and we were keen to visit as many of them as possible.
As we made our way North past Neuquen we picked up Argentina’s iconic Ruta 40, it was tough leaving the beauty and wildness of Patagonia but Ruta 40 proved to be a very scenic and enjoyable drive. Click here to view our Spring Flickr album.
It may seem like a little thing but when the truck is full of water and diesel and empty of waste we are really happy.
We have to carry everything with us including our waste. Grey water, food waste, garbage, recycling and human waste. It all stays in the truck, in our living space until we can dispose of it, preferably in a environmentally friendly way. We feel a great sense of accomplishment ridding our tiny house of all our waste and I think it is because it requires a bit of effort to get these things done; we have to empty our pee pot every other day, we have to clean our poop box every month, we have to find recycling bins or centers and we have to find an appropriate place to bury our food waste and dump our grey water.
Our grey water consists of our washing water, washing dishes, surfaces and ourselves and grey water can get pretty whiffy. Believe it or not, our spatulas are very important, we cook A LOT and in addition to licking our plates clean after eating, forget about etiquette! we use a spatula to clean our cookware before we wash it. Less food going down the drain means less whiffy grey water. Then we have to find a place to dump our grey water, not by a water source or wildlife. South America does not have the luxury of water pump outs or dump stations so we feel the responsibility of disposing of it in the least harmful way and making it as “clean” as possible before disposing of it. Never before did we realize the value and importance of our Spatulas.
We have the opportunity to visit some of the worlds’ most spectacular sites but we also have the responsibility to those countries, inhabitants and sites to NOT leave our mark. Mobile living has forced us to think A LOT more about our waste.