Vincent’s visit the last six days was loads of fun, but because it was so short it was pretty tiring. Today I’m not leaving the campsite. Luckily there are loads of people at the campsite to hang out with. Lucas, Eveline and Nicolas just returned from their awesome sounding one week kayak trip in the jungle, there’s two cars with Dutch people and some more people I knew from before. The second day I do leave the camp site but only in the evening to go for beers and food with Nicolas in Cusco. We plan to go climb Rainbow mountain together in a few days. Last week I also made a shit ton of photos so I need another lazy/photo sorting day (lazy day no. 3).
Ok. That was enough lazy time. Time to get moving. I pick up Nicolas to head towards Rainbow Mountain. His car (the 37 year old Colombian Lada Niva) is at the mechanic so we drive with my van. We plan to camp at the trail head and start hiking early morning. That means we have plenty of time today for some stops. The road towards Rainbow Mountain is the same road I drove towards Cusco a week ago. It leads through the Sacred Valley and is filled with Inca sites. The first stop is at the ruins of Tipon. A pretty nice Inca site with canals and waterfalls between the buildings. It’s also the so-manieth perfect fitting Inca stones/terraces site so we don’t spend an insane amount of time here. Only a few kilometers down the road are the ruins of Picillacta. This is not an Inca but a Wari site. The difference is very clear right away. The stones are red instead of gray and they are put together with mortar instead of the perfect Inca fits. The site is way bigger than we expected and has long walled streets surrounded by the remains of buildings. After the ruins we follow the main road a bit more until we take a left turn and head into the mountains. This road starts at 3500m and ends at 4600m. The road follows a very nice valley that makes you feel you’re either in Jurassic Park or Lord of the Rings. Rainbow Mountain has only been wider known for hiking since a few years. My Lonely Planet that was published only a few years ago does not even mention it. Now there are heaps of buses bringing some 500 tourists up to the trail head every day. They all do the hike between 8 and 12 in the morning so we want to be ahead of them. We camp at the bus parking lot at 4600m. By far the highest spot I’ve camped at. Normally when I’m high in the mountains I just keep my roof tent down to not loose too much heat. But because Nicolas is sleeping there we’re in for a very very cold night. When I go to the toilet I can see a beautiful Milky Way. But it is way too cold to enjoy it for more than a few seconds and for sure way to cold to take some pictures.
At 5:30 our alarms go off. We really don’t want to get out off the warmish sleeping bags. I’m not sure how cold it was last night but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was minus 15. When we get out of the van it’s still dark and everything is covered in ice. We start walking and it’s slowly getting light. The only people around are the locals that will be selling souvenirs and hot drinks later. We decide we can’t complain about the cold. These people sleep here every night in tents (!!!) and most of them are wearing sandals without socks (!!!). We start walking to try to get warm. We pass a farm with sheep behind a fence, covered in ice. It’s so cold. Another fun thing is the altitude. The path looks like an easy stroll but we have to catch our breaths every few minutes. The altitude also does fun stuff with your insides and I need a toilet every half an hour. There’s no plants here at 4700m where I can squad behind. Luckily they have been constructing some pit toilets every kilometer or so and I use all off them. It’s still cold: lakes are frozen, rivers are frozen, the water at the toilets to wash your hands is frozen. But now slowly the sun starts coming over the high mountains and it gets warm! The view is amazing and we’re still all alone except for the llamas. When we’re almost at the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint we see some other people already standing there. That wasn’t the plan! But when we chat with them we find out they’ve been walking 3 days to get here and got up at 4 today. So I guess it’s fine. They head down again and we have the viewpoint all to ourselves. The views are amazing. Rainbow Mountain itself consists of layers of colorful rocky sand that make it look like a rainbow from the side. But the surrounding valley is great too with red hills and ginormous snow covered peaks. The viewpoint is at 5000 and a few meters. I’ve made it to 5000m. Insane! Even though the sun makes things warmer it’s still pretty cold, we can also see the herds of tourists coming so it’s time for us to leave. There’s soo many loud selfie-stick waving tourists. Loads of them have to rent a horse because they can’t walk at these altitudes. When they have to walk the last little hill themselves and almost pass out. After some 5 hours of walking we’re back at the van at 11 and we’re up for the biggest challenge of the day: starting the van. At 4600m there isn’t much oxygen and after a properly freezing night and a still pretty cold day the engine will not be happy. It takes me more than 5 minutes and some terrible, terrible black smoke to get the van run at all. After that it’s another five minutes before it can run without black smoke and without having to keep the throttle down. But hey, it’s running! So highest hike and highest camp of the trip! I think I should not pass these records again for my sake (headaches, toilet runs, breathing issues) and the van’s sake (starting, oil consumption). It was loads of fun, but it’s good like this. No reason to go higher. (Is what I say now.) We head down before the big touring cars fill the tiny roads. At the main road Nicolas catches a bus back to Cusco and I head south. We probably won’t see each other again this trip, since Nicolas is selling his car soon, so next beers are in Zurich!
The drive towards Lake Titicaca is long. The views are nice but there isn’t much to stop for. I drive to the beautiful valleys and pass my last real mountain pass (4200m) for a while. From here it should be more or less flat all the way to La Paz. Tonight I plan to camp in the Tinajani Canyon which was recommended by some friends. It feels a bit like driving Monument Valley with large red rock formations. When I get to the valley it’s golden hour and the photo options are great. The camp is at a little farm/guest house and is run by a friendly old couple. You can stay in your car if you give them a donation after a tour of their little museum. The museum consists of one room of photos of their land and one room with animals the owner found on his land and stuffed. He’s clearly not that good at stuffing animals and it looks like a freak show. I’m not even sure if all the parts belong to the same animals. Apparently it’s been cold here too because the owner specifically asks me if I have antifreeze in my coolant and offers me to park in the courtyard of the guesthouse instead of on the normal camp park spot to be out of the wind. I guess some people got stuck here lately. I do have to cross a wide river to get to the less windy spot, but nothing can stop my van now. Since we got up for the hike this morning at 5:30, I’m now dead tired and sleep early.
The night was cold but with my roof tent down and at “only” 3900m, it wasn’t that bad. The bucket of water I’m supposed to flush the toilet with is frozen solid. Luckily, nobody is around to see I’ve left a present that I couldn’t flush away. I’m not driving very far today and it might be good for the engine to get a bit of sun before I head out. So I go explore these great rock formations. When I walk past the neighbors’ house their dog starts walking with me. He leads me into a side arm of the canyon filled with huge rocks. I had seen that a Puya Raymundii (a 10m tall flower) on the plateau behind the camp site. There should be a trail leading up there, but I can’t find it. So I start heading up a slope that doesn’t look too bad. The dog leads the way and I just follow him. But it turns out this is actually pretty steep and even though the views are great I don’t manage to get to the top. Every way I try I always end up and a shear 4m cliff going up or down. So I head back down and back to the van. I try to keep the dog off the campsite land but he manages to get over the fence and keeps following me. This of course results into a dog stand-off with the camp site dogs. Fun!
Another stop today on the way to Lake Titicaca is at the Necropolis of Sillustani. These ruins are located on a small peninsula on a lake and was build by the Quella people. The graves are located in 15m tall towers. The afternoon sun, the towers and the dark blue lake look great. I plan to camp near Lake Titicaca just south of Puno. Puno ruins my first views of Lake Titicaca. It’s a big ugly city and all traffic has to go straight through the towns steep roads. It takes me forever and when I get to my camp it’s already getting dark. It’s getting cold again. But it shouldn’t get much colder than minus 5. I guess I’m getting used to this.
No morning sun because I’m parked in the shadow of the surprisingly tall hotel. Next to me is an older Argentinian couple, they give me some good tips for Argentina and Chile. That afternoon I go for a drive on a peninsula on Lake Titicaca. The views are once again really good. The dark blue lake, the brown wheat fields, if it wouldn’t be so cold you’d think you’re in the Mediterranean. The road starts paved but soon becomes unpaved and keeps getting worse and narrower. I find a spot on a cliff which will be my lunch/relax spot for today. Finishing the loop isn’t far from here so there’s no hurry. But of course a few minutes after I continue driving my map stops matching reality and the roads keep getting worse. I end up at steep downhill road leading onto someone’s land. The farmer sends back and explains me how to continue. I’m not sure about the farmer’s instructions, maybe I should just turn around. The road is getting muddy/swampy and I don’t want to get stuck. The road is too narrow to turn around here, so I’ll continue another 100 meters where my map says there should be an intersection. Now everyone gets to guess what happened next…. Of course… I got stuck… real stuck… Dusty windows from the dirt roads and low sun made me miss this one muddy track. I try to to keep moving but I end up stuck. I get out of the van and see that my right tires are 30cm deep into the mud. Almost halfway. I try to squeeze some planks under my tires to get some grip but no success. The noise and smoke get the attention of some nearby farmers. They don’t have a car to pull me out and there are no trees around either. So it’s time for some work. It ends up taking me and 3 farmers two full hours to get me out. We use the jack to lift the van up to put wooden planks under the wheels. But because I’m stuck so deep and the mud is so soft, the only way to get the jack to work is to not put it on the jack points but in the middle of the van. Now my sliding door frame is bent and the door doesn’t open and close properly anymore. That sucks… When I’m finally out I find out the paved road was at this next intersection… only 20m away from where I got stuck. That doesn’t make it any better, but at least I can now go home quickly. Dead tired, once again.
I can’t drive into Bolivia yet because I’m still waiting for my insurance. This is the first border where I can’t buy insurance at the border but have to get it beforehand. Good thing though is that this insurance will cover all of the remaining countries of my trip. I ordered the insurance a few weeks ago and it should be valid as of tomorrow but I haven’t received the paperwork yet. So today I spend the day at this not too interesting campsite, grumpy because of the unnecessary damage I’ve done to my van and these insurance people being so slow. Finally the paperwork arrives and the lady at the campsite even has a printer so tomorrow I’ll head to the only land locked country of the trip: Bolivia!