On The Road Archive

The Road to Arequipa

Puerto Inca’s Abbey Road. Click here for the socks version

We made tracks from Nazca on down to Arequipa, Peru’s white city, camping on sandy beaches in beautiful desert coves. First stop was Puerto Inca, once the main port of the Inca empire. From here, the Inca Chasqui relay runners ran the morning’s catch all the way up and over the towering Andes to the Inca capital of Cuzco, so the Inca could dine on fresh Corbina and Lenguado, or Sole.

Road’s end

After a morning swim, we toured the ruins of seaside Inca homes and storehouses that run up the hillside away from the cove, behind a cluster of bungalows built by the Puerto Inka resort.

A pensive moment

We took a long hike through desert moonscapes and down into rocky coves awash in foamy turquoise and emerald water.  Humboldt penguins are said to shack up around these parts, but we missed them.

Black pavement, pink sky. Mongo takes a sunset shot

Drew and Katarina went for an aborted, cove-hopping swim that ended with Drew gouging his foot on a sea urchin as he bolted to escape the icy waters. The southern Pacific’s Humboldt current is not for the light-hearted: the water temp felt like it dropped at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the 1,000 kilometers we traveled from my Lima surf spots. It was like taking a dip in Lake Tahoe in May, for those that have had the misfortune.

Burning man, meet Peru

On the road, Mongo proves to be strong like bull but slow like turtle. Though we didn’t get very far on any given day, the camping is great anywhere we pulled over along the Pan-American.

Camp at no place in particular on the side of the Pan-Americana

Our final stop came in La Punta beach, Camana. The long beach stretches past the horizon for miles on each end, but that Sunday you couldn’t see a speck of sand it was so full of day-trippers from Arequipa.

La Punta Beach = Little Tahiti

We tucked into a beachside hut for fresh cebiche and a couple of rounds of sweet Maracuja juice, spiking it with the last of La Blanco´s Pisco acholado from our T’inka sendoff celebration. As our food hangover kicked in we sat and watched kids whip past our perch in ATVs, and decided we needed one more day on the beach before heading up into the Andes. I think there’s an unwritten rule that says when you quit your job you have to spend at least a week with your shirt off near a body of water. If there isn’t, there is now.

Home, Sweet Home, La Punta Beach, Camana

By dusk La Punta is empty, and all ours. We are treated to a parade of bright orange crabs scuttling back and forth along the tide line as the sun goes down, and again the next day during our salty morning bath.

View from Arequipa rooftops up to Chichani and Pichu Pichu mountains: Lovely smogset…

Colonial Arequipa is a welcome respite from the road. Ringed by no longer white volcanic peaks, and built of pearly white volcanic stone, or sillar, the prosperous oasis city is in many ways Peru at its best. We tuck into delicious jumbo river shrimp soups, barhop down cobblestone alleys, and tour a dimly lit museum housing one of Peru’s strangest marvels – a fully preserved Inca ice princess under freezing glass – all under the benevolent gaze of the spectacular El Misti volcano.

Colonial Arequipa

Arequipa’s got the rep of being Peru’s elegant second city and a bastion of rich conservatism, even though it has the distinction of producing the messianic founder of the Maoist Shining Path, Abimael Guzman.

He eats, he sleeps: Burrito Miguelito

The city is also well known for its hospitality, however, and it didn’t disappoint, thanks to local green businessman Reth Córdova. After giving us a crash course in the pitfalls of Peruvian biodiesel production, Reth was kind enough to invite us out to Paladar, an excellent Turkish-Peruvian restaurant he partly owns, and to take us up to his second home in the majestic Colca Canyon. And of course, he loaded us up with a full tank of turbo juice.

Off to Colca Canyon. Nothing like a full tank of wegetables

- Andy, Photos by Elliot

Hans & Marry Open Their Doors

We have a little pride about our car. It’s old enough to feel classic. It’s got a stove, two beds, runs on vegetable oil, and loves us back. When we pulled up on the beach at Puerto Inca, I saw what truly loving your car looks like. Looming above us was a cobalt blue truck and on its back what looked like the truck version of a quaint cabin. It wasn’t until the following morning that we got up the courage to go to talk to the owners, an older, distinguished looking couple, as they were lying on the beach. Warm and inviting, we soon got the back story on their amazing vehicle and a tour of the inside of their home.

Hans & Marry Stöpler are from a small town near Rotterdam, Netherlands. Hans, a former PE teacher and his wife Marry, decided in their retirement to travel thoroughly around the world and to do it in style. Around 20 years ago, Hans bought the cab of a ’60s Mercedes truck with a classic design and beautiful rounded lines. From there he decided, with the help of a mechanic friend, to take on building out the ultimate mobile home. The interior of the truckcabin is all wood native to Australia where their son lives. The seats in the front cab are covered with zebra stripes. From the cab you go through a round porthole in the back living space. Originally a metal rectangle built by Hans, the entire surface has been covered in the same wood and designed much like a boat. Two beds stacked and pivoted 90 degrees made of carved wood, take up the back wall. The kitchen has many round drawers and a small stovetop, and the kitchen table is a giant wood chessboard.

The exterior of the car is a deep cobalt blue and is covered in stickers from their many sponsors. Strapped to the car are various lights, horns, gadgetry, and on the back, two dirt bikes, another passion of this amazing couple.

After retiring, Hans & Marry, have shipped their truckcabin to a different continent once every few years to slowly explore. Their original trip was to Africa, starting in South Africa and making their way north. This time, they shipped their vehicle to Buenos Aires and had already been on the road a year when we met them. Clearly used to a bit of attention, Hans and Marry dish out advice on where to go, and share photos of the construction of their home. When asked about their adventures they talk not only about the spectacular places they have visited but also about some of the challenges: exotic car troubles, a bit too much attention from police, and persistent theft – a fair warning to us younger travelers.

Meeting Hans & Marry was also a reminder to keep in mind how much broader the range of choices available is than I normally think. Although sometimes at the cost of routine comforts, it is a remarkable example that this couple has done so for the sake of their strong instincts and imagination.


Paracas National Reserve & a Bad Day for Mango

Half the journey is getting there. We reached the Paracas National Reservation, a stretch of coastal desert that is home to some of the densest marine wildlife in South America, on our second day on the road. After driving south from our beachside campground, we crossed through Pisco, the town hit the hardest during the 2007 7.9 magnitude earthquake that centered on the Ica region. On every street at least a few lots are still piles of rubble. Many buildings and much of the infrastructure are still clearly damaged despite the international effort at reconstruction.

After taking a minor detour, we (now a we of five, joined by Katarina Horrox) found ourselves blocked from the main road into the Paracas Reservation by a strip of sandy desert. The only way across was a private road, owned by the Hilton Doubletree hotel. After being pointlessly denied passage by the guardsman on duty, we were pushed to attempt a path consisting of tire tracks barely etched into the desert in our extremely heavy ’82 Westfalia. With Cap’t Kote at the wheel and the pedal to the floor we jostled our way to within a few meters of the highway on the other side, before coming to a halting stop stuck deep in the sand. No pushing, no friendly fisherman, could get our lumbering beast out of the dunes.

Don’t take shortcuts – even when hard-ass gatekeepers at the Paracas Hilton Hotel refuse to let you use their paved road back to the highway. A few friendly fisherman tried to help us out to no avail…

Our only option was to implore the hoteljerks for help. I, for my part, stayed with the car while Andy and Katarina did their thing to convince the hotel to help us out of our jam, and was shocked when 15 minutes later a huge dune buggy pulled up alongside our van. Turns out, while the guard was unwilling to let us use the road, the manager of the Hilton was more than happy to lend us her private dune buggy to drag us out of the sand! Everyone likes to be an authority, I guess.

Do get your ass pulled out by the manager’s private dune buggy.

Mike enjoying a victory watermelon. Mongo binging on red meat diesel, bad girl! We’ll have you back on a strict diet of murky French fry oil soon.

Upon finally entering the park, I was struck by the bleakness of the landscape. The road, almost the same color as the sandy rock around it, wound through reserve before opening up on an azure bay. The deep bright blue sea looked alive in sharp contrast to the rocky landscape around it.

Finally, the road into Paracas National Reservation.

A set of small buildings are set around the bay brimming with clusters of brightly colored boats and flocks of seagulls and pelicans perched on rocks.

Boats and birds on an electric blue bay. Hard to imagine some of the world’s most plentiful marine life is here, surrounded by desolate desert.

Ah, bird shit. Vestiges of the guano era. The stuff of Inca legend, the backbone of 19th century economies, and a spark of Peru and Bolivia’s embarrassing loss to Chile in the War of the Pacific.

After some delicious cebiche & the world’s smallest free pisco sours, we made it the spectacular La Mina beach, home of the Winter Olympics Sur. 1st event: drive a van down a 45 degree incline with a steep leftward tilt. (video) 2nd-6th events: see below


Opening Ceremonies – Winter Olympics Sur 2010. Athletes stretch in preparation of grueling trials.

Elliot Whalen, in the Synchronized Stoning event

Andrew Whalen, landing a triple axle in the Dodge My Rock event.
Michael Kote’s internal monologue the Stone Toss event: why are we throwing rocks again?

Drew Straus, executing his patented Granny Toss. Needless to say, it was a show-stopper.

The Send Off

So it turns out this T´inka ceremony is not as dubious as we thought – just our execution of it, most likely. It is a ritual still practiced by indigenous peoples across the Andes to Pachamama, or the godesss Mother Earth. Esteemed Dr. Federico Kauffman, former Director of the Museo Nacional de Antropología y Arqueología e Historia del Perú, has kindly given Verdant permission to link to his analysis of the ritual (Spanish speakers only).

Lima: when you set off a rocket, you leave behind a little ash

Ah Lima, a nice airport for a layover and a change of planes for most tourists on their way to Cuzco. The city has got a bit of a bad rap on the gringo tourism trail, but you won’t really understand Peru without at least a quick stay. During two years living here, I developed a functioning, love/hate relationship with this frenetic coastal capital. Just when you think it’s growing on you, you realize its sunless winters and soul-crushing traffic jams have turned you into a grey-skinned hermit. Just when you’re ready to pack up and leave, the sun comes out, the beachfront clubs open up, and Pisco Sours rain from the sky. Buried under the city’s grime and aggression are some hip hideouts, not to mention plenty of gems for collectors of the odd and bizarre. (Home to the world’s best frog smoothie, if your sex drive happens to need a boost). On the unequivocally good side are the facts that the surf is great year round, and that the city is one of the globe’s cheapest gastronomical gems. Travelers beware: the food is dangerously good, especially for all you seafood lovers. Stay long enough and cebiche withdrawal is unavoidable.

Elliot, Mike, and Drew landed in mid-January and we spent two weeks planning our trip and enjoying the best of Lima’s cebicherias and funky nightlife. We also rented a house for a weekend at one of the hopping beach communities south of Lima and, just for balance, dropped in on an Amazon Indian squatter’s slum. Not a bad start to the trip.


Colonial Lima. Ooh look, a government palace! All you need to do to live here is rob the state blind in your first presidency, flee to Colombia, hobnob in Paris, then come back and dance an Andean jig (see Alan Garcia).

Rimac’s colored shanties. This is where the other half lives, within sight of the government palace. Brick looks so much better with paint.

Lima’s got some cool haunts if you look hard enough, including the criollo Bar Quierolo in the old city. Order your drinks from the burning virgin behind the bar.

Lima’s Costa Verde. Good cebiche, good views from swank apartments, and good surf – just be ready to dodge garbage.

Poison, poison, tasty fish. No seriously though, delicious food is everywhere in Lima, and only a hint of Atahualpa’s revenge! This sampling is from La Mar Cebicheria, run by Peru’s celebrity chef Gaston Acurio. He opened a branch in San Francisco last year, if you decide you need a taste back in the states.

Shipibo Indian Charly Romas and Andy in Cantagallo, Amazon Indian shantytown in Lima.

The crew (where’s Drew?) and Lima friends at San Bartolo beach.

Facebook button