(Part 1 of 2)
Here goes the update on what has been going on over the last few weeks… I apologize in advance for any ground that has already been covered but this is to keep you all posted on our travels in Peru thus far.
After taking a night bus down to Lima; Phil and Quita set about looking at another thirty trucks in one day. They had the assistance of a driver called Alberto for their time in Lima and he was a major help in all their car dealings. The second day was one of incredibly mixed emotions as the selection of six trucks all seemed to have major problems. Freddy, our new mechanic, and the team were in low spirits as they thought a 1970 Datsun might be the only option. A blue truck then suddenly appeared on the horizon and after discovering that it might be in our budget (a rarity) we gave it a serious inspection.
Freddy told us that the car did not need too much work and would be ready in a couple of days. We met up with the owners the next day and agreed on a price. (A massive thank you now has to go to Leonor, she kindly put us up in her flat, and signed the paper work for the car). After problems with the group cash card everything now had to be done on a budget… this would mean only getting two new tires on the truck.
The truck had quite a few more problems than first thought. These were only discovered when she was taken apart and it looked like we were going to be there for around a week (Quita now knows more Spanish than English works for truck parts). The truck has been named by Quita and as she is the only girl in the group she wanted another female companion. The name ´Celeste´ stuck from the start as she was a celestial blue and came appeared to us on the horizon.
Ed and Nick had already set off on the horses and it was important that Phil and Quita made it up to Cajamarca soon. Freddy and all the mechanics worked on her all of Sunday so that we could set off on Monday. With the normal South American timings Celeste was ready and was leaving the outskirts of Lima at 7 in the evening. There were plenty of police check points along the way and Phil and Quita were stopped for thirty minutes as a very observant officer saw that there were no reflective stripes on the side of the car. Luckily the kind officer accepted a ´on the spot fine´ and they were able to get going again. Suspecting that they might need to pay a few more fines they attempted this again at the next check point… only to have their ´fine´ politely returned! A hotel was found a couple of hors later and there were no more problems at the remaining police check points. Phil managed another twelve hours of driving the next day until Celeste finally pulled into Cajamarca. After leaving the Pan American highway the roads had taken a turn for the worst and the going became considerably slower.
After finally getting in touch with Nick and Ed the car set off the following day towards the small town of Catacatchi. Phil and Quita had tracked down the GPS chip in Lima and it was definitely needed as the boys had taken a rather round about route so far. They had f1ound a police station to spend the night in and with Rocio looking a bit lame it was a very safe place to take a rest day. Nick and Phil had to return to Cajamarca to pick up their remaining possessions and Quita was all set for her first day on the Inca Ride. The car had its first problem, when it got stuck in the mud, whilst trying to leave the police station. Luckily, there were plenty of children around to push her out. After another day in the garage (fixing a broken cylinder) she is now back to full health.
IRC 4 - ¨…being back on ´the horse´ has been incredible. With Nick we rode up to heights of over 14,000ft (a result of taking the wrong road out of Cajamarca) and saw immense 360 degree views of Peru´s savage Andes. Then after Rocio recovered from a brief lameness Quita and I left behind multitudes of school children to ride down into the Cajamarca valley. It was Quita´s first proper day on the horse since arriving in early April (after the many car confusions) and her first day was a microcosm of the best bits of our trip so far. We had sun, rain, high mountain passes, shortcuts, dusty shanty towns, main roads, bridges, valleys and midnight dramas.¨
Soon truck and horses were reunited and we were able to give the horses a plentiful supply of both food and water before Ed (still feeling the effects from his fish - consumed around 400 miles from the sea) swapped places with Phil. Phil and Quita rode the next two days and with the help of the GPS they managed a few new short cuts. Life suddenly looked like it could be getting easy as the car was waiting patiently for the team to arrive the following day and a fresh supply of food and water was already waiting for the horses. Was this kind of efficient organization and teamwork going to become the norm…? The team made it to a town called Yamobamba and it was here that we found out about the strikes.
IRC 5 - ¨ Since I last wrote Quita and I had just about made it past the peasants in one piece. In the village where we´d been forced to stay due to the strikes, we were surreally cheered on our way by men and women beating sticks against the ground. In our attempt to be foreign diplomats we managed to obtain a permission slip (written on the page of a child´s maths book) from one of the four presidents of the strike…….. After my failure to form coherent Spanish sentences on national radio in Piura I thought it was time for Quita´s turn in the limelight. The whole village gathered round to hear Quita´s interview as she brilliantly told the outstretched Dictaphone of our love of Peru, our respect for the strikes, but most of all how we hoped to get on and save the children of their country. There were nearly Hollywood cheers and soon Celeste, Quita and I were on our way. Not before the former decided to not start, requiring a push start by most of the village.¨
Luckily the horses did not have to worry about road blocks and were soon on their way towards Conchuchos. Quita was not feeling 100 percent so it was Nick and Phil in the saddle. It was not long until they started climbing up onto the puna and were well over 14 000 feet. After seeing numerous birds of prey Phil attempted a little wildlife photography…. with rather limited success. At around 5 o´clock it became evident that the horses were not going to make it to the next town. A small village (three houses) appeared on the map and three kind ladies let us graze on anything that we could find. After a rather chilly nights sleep we made our way towards the next town and discovered that Conchuchos (according to GPS) was only eights kms away. A few short cuts were attempted and soon Nick and Phil believed that they were only a few hours ride away. All they needed to do was cross a rather large valley that looked like it contained a coal mine (which Nick thought were reminiscent of the mines of Mourir). After working their way down some very windy mountain roads they decided to set up camp next to a lovely little pond and some excellent grazing. After unpacking they went down to see it the river was fordable and they were greeted by two security guards carrying pump action shot guns. They soon realized that this was not an old coal mine but the second largest gold mine in Peru! After explaining our predicament they became very helpful but at around six p.m. word came from the boss that we had to be moved. The horses were hastily packed as we assumed that we would only be taken a few hundred meters. The dark soon descended and we were to be guided to a ´safe house´ by one of the workers. After fording the river we set off up the hill following a guide who was in a manic rush. After hastily tacking up the horses (expecting not to have to ride) Phil suddenly found himself under Pajarito and proceeded to roll a little way down the bank. The sensible decision was then taken to lead the horses but this became increasingly difficult on a hazardous track over a river. The horses all behaved beautifully as this was some of the toughest terrain they had yet covered and they were attempting it in the dark. The guide suddenly realized that we weren't going to make it so pointed us in the right direction and scarpered with his tail between his legs. After avoiding any serious accident thus far Nick and Phil opted to set up camp close to the riverbank. The following day they both went on scouting missions and soon decided that the best plan was to carry on along the valley. The riders were to test their fitness as they led the horses out of the valley and soon came to a house where they claimed it was only one hour to Conchuchos. After reaching the main road and inquiring at another house it became clear that this was the wrong Conchucos. Our Conchucos was around 100 kms away… Spirits descended to an all time low. Luckily the phones suddenly found some reception and we discovered that Ed and Quita had made it through the road blocks. We were all to meet close to a town called Tulpo, where we would give the horses a well deserved break. The riders were down to their last two packs of soup and had found civilization again in the nick of time.
A days rest with plenty of good grazing was just what the horses needed and the team was even able to build their first camp fire of the trek so far. The rest day was put to good use and all washing and repairs were finally done. Phil and Quita were due to ride down to Siluas but Phil fell ill so Ed took his place. The truck was going to have to take a very long route around and the riders would be by themselves once again. After making very good progress the riders had reached Conchuchos two days later. The truck was having a few more problems over the mountain roads and the petrol gauge was looking a little on the low side as they passed few a few small villages on the second night. They managed to coast all the way down one mountain (around 30 minutes). As they arrived in small village, where they were guaranteed to find petrol, they found everything closed. With the main town and the hope of a hotel only 20 kms away they decided to go for it. After 8 kms Celeste finally gave up - although the antiquated petrol gauge said that there was something left in the tank. The boys spent the night sleeping next to the car and Nick went back into town to find some more petrol. After returning with five more gallons the car was started again, after great difficulty and they were back on the road. Nick had sucked the petrol back into the engine and was now feeling a little tipsy.. Phil decided to do the next leg of the driving.
Ed and Quita were having more luck. They had managed to track down a guide to take them from Conchucos to Siluas in one day, over heights of 14 700 feet (a new Inca Ride record and sadly there was enough reception for Ed to send a rather smug text to the others). The horses arrived in Siluas about 20 minutes before Celeste and both teams set about looking for a place to stay. A small corral was found and a large bale of alfalfa was given to the horses after their long day. A two day rest was now required and the horses were shod after the easy boots had started to rub the fetlocks again…..