The Long Way Brown: Máncora to Nazca
The scenery changes as soon as we cross into Peru. The trees give way to brown sand and desolate terrain. For miles and miles, our eyes see brown. Tiny brown houses made from mud and brick dot the landscape and make up the towns. The sand blows across the highway and dunes rise up along its sides. A favorite documentary of many overlanders is The Long Way Down. For us, the coast of Peru is the The Long Way Brown.
We are driving the length of this country along the coast, and plan to the take this route all the way down instead going through the mountains. Partly because John is having some issues right now with headaches that are exacerbated by high altitude, but mostly because we need to get to Cusco in a relatively short amount of time. Back in Vilcabamba we made a decision. To take a detour from the trip, a break, if you will. My parents both turn 80 this year and are headed home to Holland to celebrate with family. We decided to join them. LoJo will stay in Cusco for five weeks and we'll get a family recharge. We also need to wait out the cold weather in Patagonia so we'll spend 5 weeks hanging out in Europe. Not the worst idea we've ever had!
We are surprised at how much we are looking forward to Europe. Most people do this trip in 16 months or so, but we'll be taking over 2 years. It's a long time on the road. A long time for two people to squeeze their lives into a tiny camper. We decided the two breaks we took, each 6 months apart, reenergized us for the road. It gave us some comfort and routine we missed. Strange new places every few days, both good and bad, are the beauty of this life. We love that feeling of exploration but it can also be unsettling at times. The breaks balance our desire for freedom and our need for occasional stability. So we are taking a break and we need to get to Cusco - and the long brown coast is the fastest way.
The border crossing takes us through new roads with no signs, causing us to blow past the stop required to cancel our vehicle permit. We wait behind a busload of people for an hour in the Ecuador line to exit, then shuffle over to the next counter, and wait another hour to enter Peru. When we finally get to the temporary permit office, we don’t have the exit stamp for the rig. We are pointed from one office to another that has no idea what we are talking about. That misstep costs us an hour of time, but it is all still nowhere near the chaos we were used to dealing with in Central America. After 3 hours we are in Peru, and heading down the coast to our first night’s sleep in country number 12.
First night in Peru, just outside of Tumbes at the Swiss Wassi camp spot - an ocean front property of a Swiss/Peruvian couple
Our next stop is Máncora, a busy touristy beach town about 2 hours south of the border. It’s not the most appealing town but we figure John can surf for the last time before the water gets bone-chilling cold, and I get some hotel time after more than a month in the rig. We are south of town, in the Pocitas area of Máncora, where the beach has nicer sand and it is peaceful and quiet. A few days are spent in a cool little boutique hotel, called KiChic, that was once a private home. The owner is here vacationing and the place feels a little glamorous. Our first afternoon we stay poolside, ordering a decadent lunch with a bottle of rosé, and all seems right with the world. We relax in style and then begin our push down the Peruvian coast.
Driving the coast of Peru is fast, but a less desirable route for a variety of reasons. It’s brown of course, but with numerous police checkpoints that hassle us. And the vast amount of garbage along the road is jarring. We saw a mototaxi stop and toss a whole bag out on the side of the road. We pass piles of it burning. I start to believe this part of Peru has no garbage service at all, but then I see garbage trucks in the towns so it's all a little perplexing. And sad.
The coastal route has also seen a sharp increase in robberies targeting overland vehicles lately. Nowhere else have we been told to have one of us stay with the rig while the other goes in a store. Wild camping on the beaches is out of the question. So we go from one safe overnight spot to another, usually in some random brown town hunkered down in the parking lot behind locked gates. The first one, just outside of a town called Chiclayo, has us zigzagging along dusty roads to the outskirts of town and ending up at an “eco” complex. We got into bed around 9:00 pm, but by 10:30 the pool area turned into some kind of disco. Speakers booming Reggaeton music about 20 feet from our bed. It went on and on….and ON. Until 4:15 in the morning. On a Tuesday. So loud the whole town could boogie down since they must be awake. It was torture. And of course the roosters start around 5 am in this part of the world. This ultra loud late night party thing, this noise thing, is a cultural phenomenon I still really don’t get.
Eco my ass. We never know when the impromptu dance parties will pop up. Seemed like an ok spot to overnight, and then...Reggaeton!
Another of our random overnight spots - parking lot of a hotel in the town of Huarmey
For hours and hours, day after day, the road heads arrow straight through the sand. On one side high dunes back up to brown hillsides, and on the other is the ocean. Sand and dirt butt right up to water, but “beach” doesn’t feel like the right description. Paint on the sides of buildings, garish letters identifying presidential candidates from the recent election, is often the only color in the brown towns we pass through.
We saw so many of these little shelter settlements, most without a roof - no idea what they are used for.
In the beach town of Huanchaco, just outside of the big city of Trujillo, we find camping that speaks to us. Well, it speaks to us just enough to entice us to stay for a couple nights. On a patch of grass next to a pool, behind a hotel on a little hill we discover cool and quiet at the Huanchaco Garden RV & Hotel. The beach is average but the local fishermen make it an interesting place. They still use the same narrow reed boats used by the Moche people of this region 2000 years ago. These fishermen are the few remaining people who know how to construct the feather light boats, each one lasting only a few months before they are waterlogged. We also found amazing ceviche in this town – and we would in several more towns down the road. The Long Way Brown does provide the traveler with delectable seafood.
The new and the old...surfers and reed boat fishermen share the water.
The building with the sign on top, toward the left side of the beach is Big Ben restaurant. An oasis of fresh delicious fish and cold wine.
Lima is our next stop and we don’t expect to stay long. After so much time on the road, big cities are for getting things done. Colonial squares, churches and classic museums do not draw us in anymore - we've seen our fill. Lima is mostly known for its food anyway. A few important errands and good food are our only agenda. We will fly back here for a couple nights on our way to Amsterdam, so we have another shot at this city. A backpacker hostel in Miraflores, that amazingly lets in a couple rigs like ours, is our destination in this sprawling city of 8.5 million. Behind a big gate in a nice residential area, we pull in to a small courtyard. We are parked smack dab in the middle next to a clothesline, crammed in among the ping pong, foosball and patio tables. It’s too noisy to sleep. After one night we go find our favorite friend, the Sheraton. I am on a hunt for sushi and by accident we hit one of the best in town, Maido Sushi, right down the street. We did visit one new museum, MATE. It's actually more of a gallery, housing a collection of Mario Testino's work. He is a very famous Peruvian fashion photographer and was the last person to photograph Princess Diana right before she died. After the gallery, we have more fantastic fish for lunch...and then head on down the road.
Reserva Nacional de Paracas is a little over three hours south of Lima. It is a vast desert landscape on a peninsula, and the brown here is quietly beautiful. Tracks crisscross all over the horizon, allowing us to drive wherever we want. The wind is fierce though, blowing sand in every direction and we have been warned not to camp alone out here. It’s hot, and a day of climbing in and out of the rig has left us covered in sand. So a hotel is not a tough choice - and once again we eat well. We discover Tiradito - thin slices of succulent raw fish cut sashimi style, floating in a delicate spicy sauce. Amazing.
On the way to the town of Nazca, the last stop before we turn away from the coast, we drive straight through the Nazca Lines. We stop at the mirador (lookout) and climb the metal stairs of the observation tower to see the outline of a few indistinguishable figures. The Nazca lines are an archaeological mystery. Spread out over 500 square kilometers, there are more than 800 straight lines, 300 geoglyphs, and 70 animals. They are made by removing the dark top layer of stones and piling the rocks on either side of the lines. Theories abound how they were made and why, but the most logical seems to be some kind of water worship. The only real way to see them at all is to do a flyover by plane. We think about it for the morning, but in the end decide to push on.
Tomorrow we turn east, to make our way toward the mountains, Cusco…and hopefully some green. After 1,165 miles, it was a long way brown.