Two weeks ago the whole team were reunited in Piura, a busy city in the desert of northern Peru. It was the first time Ed had seen the horses in nearly a month, and Quita's very first encounter. The plan then was to buy a cheap old pickup truck, and to ship the horses up to Cajamarca in a lorry within a week. Things never seem to work out quite that smoothly.
First we should add an explanatory note regarding our decision to drive the horses for this stint. When we first set off from La Chima in central Ecuador nearly two months ago we realised we had added a considerable distance to our journey already. It would be 300km in the saddle before we even reached our official departure point of Cuenca. We decided then that we could, if we were behind on timings, or if we might otherwise be putting the horses at risk, take a truck for an equivalent distance where necessary. The desert around Piura, while not impassable as Phil and I had already discovered, was pretty unbearable. The horses can't shed their clothes like we can - and they'll be needing all the warmth they can get once we're back in the mountains. On top of this following our delays at the border and in Piura (more below), and the two weeks it had taken to get to Cuenca, we are well behind any schedule we may have had!
Piura itself was fairly uneventful. The highlight was Ed's Birthday tea-party in the main Plaza - Happy Birthday Ed!! We must also mention the Association of Breeders of Peruvian Paso Horses to whom we are extremely grateful for so kindly letting us keep the horses at their centre not far from Piura. They were well fed, sheltered and watered which was more than we might have hoped for in the tough desert conditions. They are now fit, fat, and hopefully recovered enough for what feels like the next chapter...
The human half of the team meanwhile set about trying to find a pickup truck. The plan is that the truck will accompany us all the way to Cusco supporting the horses with feed and water, and reducing their loads... we expect this stint to be considerably tougher than much of what we have faced so far. Finding a suitable truck (at a suitable price!) proved impossible in Piura, and the impending Easter weekend (a four day holiday over here) was slowing any progress. Eventually it was decided that Phil and Quita would take the night bus to Lima where prices were said to be considerably more favourable, while Ed and Nick shipped the horses to Cajamarca. Neither task proved easy but both have finally been completed. Phil and Quita looked at another twenty cars in Lima and we are now proud owners of a practically vintage Nissan Datsun. All being well they may even be bringing said Datsun up to Cajamarca tomorow - we daren't hold our breaths.
After a frantic day chasing up necessary (or substitute) paperwork to ship the horses, Ed and Nick packed up our burgeoning load of kit for a 5 am departure on Wednesday morning. Mercifully the truck itself was considerably more spacious and comfortable than any we had seen so far so the kit and horses were packed up by 7am. Unfortunately, with two drivers, there was only room in the truck for Nick and Ed was left to fend for himself. At 9am the truck was still in Piura - a mechanical fault... At least this wasn't ten hours down the line. We finally got going. Two hours later we were stuck again. This time at a SENASA (Ministry of Agriculture) check-point. SENASA were unimpressed with our paperwork (it wasn't from them) and for an hour it looked like we'd be taking the horses back to Piura for another week. Nick had made himself scarce thus far - Gringos tend to attract a price - but eventually it looked like there was no option. He explained to the slightly bewildered officials (who had been told he spoke no Spanish) that the trip was for two charities and that the horses WERE Peruvian (this still raised eyebrows)... For the first time in any of our SENASA encounters they were genuinely enthused with the idea and, after another hour of wrangling and form-filling we were all allowed to continue. Whatever they gave us did the trick - we had nearly twenty further police, SENASA and transport ministry checkpoints over the next twenty-four hours and bribes were only required once.
After an extremely unpleasant journey in which we had had to feed, stretch and water the horses in the truck overnight, we finally made it to Cajamarca and a lush green horse farm which must have looked like paradise to our tired and hungry horses. It was 11am on Thursday and we had ascended over 2,500m. The horses had been in that truck for 28 hours. They have travelled amazingly well and, after a couple of days of good grazing, are ready to hit the road again. Ed too had made it to Cajamarca early that morning - fortunately he had had the foresight to buy a warm poncho in Chiclayo as the early morning chill was quite a shock post-Piura!
In our brief stay in Cajamarca the highlights have included Nick's birthday (re-scheduled after the truck ride) and the arrival of a luxury ration pack (chocs, John West smoked mussels, and a small pot of honey) for the team, and our trip to the natural hot springs nearby where we were able to take a shower (quite a luxury), and Nick enjoyed a birthday llama ride... poor llama.
We're off tomorrow and may even be seeing Phil, Quita, and the Datsun tomorrow night... fingers crossed please everyone!