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Senior Correspondent

Day 23: Cusco, Peru

We are now in Peru and have two days off. Why? Because most of the participants are going to Machu Picchu. We will not go. Lots of reasons, but now we are glad this didn’t work for us because we both have some effects of altitude sickness. Ed more than me. Fatigue and shortness of breath mainly, but it’s not a good feeling. It is difficult even to walk far in this lovely town, the center of Incan culture. I did walk to the main square, Plaza de Armas, and photographed La Catedral and other churches that surround it. Our hotel, Monasterio, has it's own history. It was built in 1595 as a monastery and has retained its distinction and charm.

Back to a bit about the rally: we crossed the border on Dec. 1 and was a four hour process that took valuable time in what should have been a relatively short driving day. Nothing compared to our crossing from China to Kazakhstan, in 2011, which was 10 hours.

Peru is not like either Argentina or Chile. Here are my first impressions:

  1. The food is better.
  2. The drivers are worse, rude and aggressive. There are no lanes in most towns, few posted street signs and the only way to get through an intersection is to push on in. Not our style of driving, which sets off a lot of horn honking. Traffic jams are the norm.
  3. Peru is more exotic than either Argentina or Chile. It is like stepping back in time.
  4. Traditional dress is the norm for older women complete with Peruvian hats. The contrast between the young, with their cell phones and jeans, and the older population is startling.
  5. All these countries have a great deal of poverty. I don’t know if Peru is really worse, it seems so, but that may be the route we are driving. The people who live in the desert of Chile are certainly poor and hardy. Houses are adobe brick or tar paper.
  6. Peru has some of the most spectacular scenery with lush farmland and mountains too.
  7. Peru has high altitudes, not just border crossings. Cusco is at 10,000 feet.

I must go back to our favorite stop so far. It was in Atacama, Chile, in the Atacama desert. 

Our hotel was beautiful, surrounded by the desert and volcanos. It reminded us of the wonderful safari lodges in Africa, minus the elephants, zebras and giraffes. We did see lots of llamas and alpacas though.

A little about the rally. The discussion at dinner is mostly about car problems from an axel breaking, overheating in the high altitudes, suspension failure, tire replacements, broken shackle bolts, headlights and cracks in windshields. Many, including us, have experienced vapor lock in the high heat and altitude. So far we have mostly been sympathetic listeners. Hope it stays this way.

One fascinating stop was an abandoned Saltpetre village in Humberstone, Chile. Very eerie, and reminded us of the abandoned mining towns in the US west.

Before we leave here, we will take in an opera show and dinner at our hotel. Then we head to Nazca, Peru and will take a flight over the Nazca lines which were created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD for reasons still debated. Then just one more day and we will finish in Lima, Peru.

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