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Hairpin Frenzy At The Highest Tunnel In The World

Hairpin frenzy at the highest tunnel in the world

I can’t leave the hostel in the mountains above Huaraz without giving half the hostel a ride down to town. Today’s drive has quite some height meters I started at 3900 drove down to the valley at 2600m up to Punta Olympica at 4700m down to the next valley at 2800m and back up to my lake camp spot at 4300m. This will be fun. The drive to Punta Olimpica goes through the UNESCO listed Huascaran National park. Beautiful valleys and snowy mountains leading up to a hairpin frenzy. I do need some cool down stops but the views during the stops are amazing. At Punta Olimpica is the highest altitude tunnel in the world at more than 4700m, less than 100m lower than the peak of the Mont Blanc. With 1.5km it is also the longest tunnel in Peru. The road on the way up is nicely paved but after the tunnel the road gets bad quickly. The drive is still great going through the tiniest little remote Peruvian towns where I have to evade all the dogs, pigs and other animals on the road. Multiple times local women and their three sheep want to hitch a ride, but I’ll have to decline. From the valley the bad unpaved road goes up to the next pass at Laguna Huachucocha at 4300m. The first road to the bush camp is washed away and I need to do some reverse uphill river crossing to get back to the main road. The second entry road is more doable. The views are great but pretty soon it starts raining and getting really cold. I hope I get the engine to start tomorrow.

Evening view from Laguna Huachucocha

In the morning when I wake up the clouds/fog are just disappearing around the lake. It is extremely quiet with all these clouds and the views are beautiful. The van runs after replacing the disappearing fog with black smoke. The drive from the lake to Chavin is not too long and takes me along more pretty valleys and fun little villages. At Chavin I visit the almost 3000 year old pre-Incan ruins. After all the sandy desert pyramids it is nice to see some ruins made of stones again. The special thing about these ruins are the extensive underground tunnels and water systems. Quite a few of them are open and turn out to be an interesting maze of hallways and little rooms. The archaeological museum on the other side of town has just been reopened. It has a really nicely displayed collection of sculptures of mythological creatures. Sadly enough you’re not allowed to take photos and because I’m the only visitor the security guy keeps walking a meter behind me. It’s still early in the day and I camp in the courtyard of a hotel on the main square ran by an old grumpy couple. There is not much to do in town but it is nice to walk in a village in the evening again. It had been a long time.

Chavin ruins

In the morning I want to take a shower but the door is locked from the outside with a padlock. I ask the grumpy lady if I can take a shower and she mumbles that they need to do something and they’ll open the door in half an hour. After half an hour I ask again and she tells me to wait another 15 minutes. When I look at the door more closely I see that the padlock is attached to a broken off part of the door and the door can actually open. The shower works and is warm. Not sure what the problem was here. When I drive out of town I see Orlando, Diana and Gabor (who were staying at the hostel above Huaraz) with their car half parked in a ditch at the side of the road. Trying to reach Chavin  late at night their clutch had broken and they had to sleep at the side of the road. I give them a ride to town and back to find a mechanic that can fix their car. After that there is not much I can do except for wishing them loads of luck and head for another high altitude tunnel at 4500m. The road up was supposed to be bad but they are fixing it right now making it a perfectly drivable dirt road. After the tunnel the weather is great and the views even better. It slowly turns into an altiplano with the huge range of snowy mountains in the distance. After a nice last lunch with a view of the mountains, a long downhill brings me from 4000m to sea level in one go. The coast is the standard Peruvian desert but I manage to camp at a nice green bird spotting laguna.

Altiplano views

The next day I first have to hunt for a supermarket with guarded parking. They’re not very common around here. I’m not so much worried about people breaking into my car but more about people driving into it if I just park at the side of the road. After three weeks in Peru it is now time to get a SIM card. in the beginning campsites had internet but not for the last few weeks. Getting a SIM card in Peru turns out to be pretty complicated with loads of paperwork involved including finger prints. But in the end I get a SIM card for 5 soles (about 1.5 euro) that is supposed to give me one week of internet and an whole month of WhatsApp. Not a bad deal. Since I’m back at the desert coast I thought I’ll head to some more desert ruins. The road up is really really bad. Kilometers of terrible washboards. Doesn’t matter what speed you drive it feels like my van is falling apart. It’s also not 100% clear if these are really public roads. A few times I have to go through checkpoints where I have to sign in and my van gets completely disinfected. But then I’m finally at Caral. The ruins at Caral are from the oldest civilization in the Americas and are more than 5500 years old, older than the pyramids in Egypt. The site is pretty big, UNESCO listed and has a huge entry with shops, restaurants, displays and much more. However, I am the only person there. Think about that, one of the oldest archaeological sites in the world and only one visitor. The problem with this is that you can only enter with a guide which you can share with a group. I wait another hour but no other people show up so I’ll have to pay the guide all by myself. Luckily the lady at desk is friendly and to compensate the costs sells me a heavily discounted entry ticket. The pyramids are quite interesting  but there are  no decorations so it is a lot of brown on brown. The fact that it is completely cloudy does not make it prettier. For the way back I decide to take the other road to the coast. It doesn’t really go in the right direction for me but it should be much better. Except for one little problem: a triple river crossing right at the beginning. It takes some scouting out the water and rocks but I make it across. Because the road heads in the wrong direction I end up at the same campsite as last night.

Caral ruins

Tomorrow I will head into the big scary city of Lima where I will stay at a Dutch family where I get some hard needed relax time and get to overdose on Dutch food.

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