We were so enthralled by the rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Cordilleria Blanca we decided to drive a loop through the park and around the mountain ranges that would give us a few days of some fun 4×4 driving and spectacular views. We made this decision when the sun was shining.
As we started driving up across the first really high pass the day after our hike the weather began to turn. We had the sun in the morning, but as we climbed up the steep dirt road the rain began to start hitting in bursts.
Rain is not a big deal when off roading when you have the truck we do, however, there were parts of this tiny back road where our tire treads began totally filling with the clay mud. This was where on this drive we began our version of the XP version of the Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift. Drifting sounds fun, but we were on a single track dirt road with an alarming drop off, it was not fun at all. I think this was the most worried either of us has been driving on the trip. It was like driving on ice on the edge of a cliff, scary as shit. We just went slow and steady and finally got through it and kind of deliriously laughed about it later that night.
The drive was really fun, we went through many tiny villages with people wearing the traditional dress of the region and were blocked many times by locals herding sheep and cows along the road past us. As we drove by the small rural villages, I never get tired of the look of surprise when we drive by. We always try to have our window down and wave to all we pass, calling out greetings if we are going slow enough (which on these roads we were always going slow enough).
Also, it was an election year in Peru and all the candidates paint their election symbol on people’s houses. It is a really crazy way to get out the vote, it seems so permanent and houses are painted everywhere! I am fairly sure because of the literacy levels, people vote by symbol, not name, so houses are painted with trees, oranges, condors, and my favorite candidate, the cat.
We arrived late in the rain into the charming little town of Chacas and of course had nowhere to stay. I started asking people if we could park for the night somewhere and before I knew it I had a group of people surrounding me all trying to help us find a safe place to park. One called the school teacher and asked if we could park in the school yard, he said no, so finally a woman told us we could park on the mud lot in front of her house and she would keep an eye on us. It was not the most beautiful place to camp, but the warmth of the people in the small village made us feel welcome and safe. The people of Peru have been wonderful so far to us and always willing to help us camp.
On one of our last days of the drive we had to head through the Punta Olimpica Tunel which is a mile long and at over 15,000 feet. As we headed up the pass the rain turned into hail, then that turned into snow and soon we were driving in a total blizzard. Our friends had driven the pass a few days before us and it was sunny, the weather was really fickle in this part of the Andes.