2018AdventureHighlightsLandscapesPeruSouth America

Driving challenges in the northern Peruvian Andes

After 5 days of good rest in Vilcabamba with sports and yoga, we are ready for new challenges and drive on a small track along beautiful Andean mountain landscapes to the mini border crossing to Peru at Balsa. We love small border crossings: exotic, no waiting, friendly border guards and everything very familiar. In just over an hour, including all customs formalities for our two vehicles, we are through.

We are very excited about Peru, because when we drove along the coast in March on our journey to the north we got a mixed impression of the country and the Peruvians. This time it goes through the Andes from the north towards the Cordillera Blanca, then on to Lima and then to Cusco.

First of all, however, we visit the third highest waterfalls in the world – the Gocta Falls – where we arrive back at Shujaa only after dark, after a 4-hour hike. Then it goes on to the archaeological site of Kuelap. It can be equated in historical significance and proportions with the much better-known Machu Picchu, but due to the complicated journey through the northern Peruvian Andes it is much less visited.

The mighty fortification was built on one of the highest ridges at over 3,000 meters, from 100 to 200 kg heavy hewn stone and was discovered in 1843 by accident. The entire complex is surrounded by a 1.5 km long and about 20 meters high wall. The Incas were never able to fully control the plant built by the Chachapoya Indians and the colonial Spaniards never discovered it. A state-of-the-art circulating gondola lift installed a few years ago has made traveling much easier. In the last part of our visit, it starts to rain heavily – with my shorts it gets suddenly bitterly cold at over 3,000 meters and also the small dirt road which we have to drive down from the cable car station with Shujaa gets extremely soggy in a short time. When maneuvering in a tight serpentine curve, only four-wheel drive and all three differential locks protect us from a deep trench. Shujaa was already threatening crooked and only a few inches from the rock face.

We drive on through the increasingly lonely but beautiful Rio Utcubamba Valley to the south on one of the notorious Andean streets. The branch to the mausoleums Revash is – although dirt road and also drenched by rain – initially good, after another branch, however, the road is extremely muddy. Although Shujaa still has good traction on the uphill, we decide to reverse back for about 3 km. Under highest concentration Karin runs backwards and gives me instructions via radio. I’m scared all the time that Shujaa is slipping on the muddy downhill drive with the mud filled tire profile …. Fortunately, we are back on the solid dirt road after 30 minutes and get our camp there along the way. I am very exhausted. This was certainly the most dangerous moment in our world trip so far in terms of a possible total loss of the vehicle.

The next day we head to one of Peru’s toughest mountain trails – from Leymebamba to Celendin. Many Overlander with significantly smaller vehicles have reversed, often the track is impassable for weeks due to landslides. However, our weather is dry, later, even the sun comes out. What we experience on the next 150 kilometers, for which we need just under 9 hours, can only be described by the term “extreme and unique”.

Technically a huge challenge with a big rig like ours: over long stretches, the track is just as wide as Shujaa’s track, on one side the rocks (often with overhangs), on the other side the unsecured slope, where it goes immediately over 1,000 meters steeply downhill. A driving mistake and that was it – with us, with Shujaa, with all our dreams in life. Although there is little traffic overall, from time to time cars and even trucks are coming. Then it is said to partially back over longer passages to the next bulge. Luckily, most of the time, the others have to do that, because we always have the biggest vehicle and thus at least in this situation are at an advantage. Besides, we have a lot of patience and just stay there until something moves on. Driving back on this road with our Shujaa would be madness.

From 2,000 meters up to 3,600 meters at just 8 degrees temperature, then back to the deep ravine of the Rio Marañon at 700 meters with a tropical 35 degrees. Karin once again buys fruits and her beloved Coco al Helado. In this place named Balsa, we have to go over a steel rope bridge, the ropes of which end diagonally down on the ground or on the rock. We almost do not get through with our height on the other side…. Then it goes up again on the narrowest roads with wildest serpentines to our night place at 3.000 meters elevation. The scenery is a dream – an absolute highlight of our journey so far. After arriving on our dream pitch overlooking the river valley and almost the whole runway of the day I go jogging to reduce the adrenalin.

The next day we continue south through Celendin, Cajamarca to Huamacucho. After having looked at the local market, it goes up to 3,600 meters to the archaeological complex Marca Huamachuco. The so-called “village of falcons” extends to 5 km and is about 500 meters wide. It was built 400-300 BC on a step-shaped crater and is surrounded by gorges up to 800 meters deep. We walk for 1.5 hours through the area: the partially still well preserved ruins in front of the beautiful Andean landscape is an absolute highlight. Our pitch can be found only 200 meters below the complex in a curve of the access road – with also dream views.

One comment

  1. Félicitations pour leymebamba celindin avec shujja….

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