Thursday, September 26, 2013

The road to Arequipa.

Leaving Ilo, our next stop was going to be an inland town of Moquegua, which from our map appeared to be a medium sized town and inland means we are climbing to elevation again. However, when we arrived we found it cramped and although there were lots of people in the streets, they seemed to be more poor and the town itself more ill-kept. It reminded us a little of Tacna and after the comparative upscale feel of Ilo, a little depressing. It was still early in the afternoon, so we made the decision to continue driving to the next city of Arequipa. It will make for a long drive day but we know in Arequipa there is a hostel that has room on its grounds for motorhomes with all the amenities of power, hot water and Wi-Fi. From Moquegua to Arequipa the road first drops down to sea level before the final grind up the mountain. Arequipa is at 7,530 feet (2,350 meters) above sea level and we are hoping it won’t be too cold. We are still in what is considered to be the Atacama Desert albeit at the northern end so the landscape is still very moon-like with no signs of habitation, no animal life, little vegetation and plenty of sand dunes in colors ranging from very pale almost white sand through all shades of browns and reds. It is actually quite fascinating. Around the rivers and streams it is another story. Small homes were the people eke out a living doing God knows what but with their own crops of vegetables; corn, cabbage, cauliflower seem to dominate and a couple of heads of livestock; goats, cows and plenty of chickens. Interestingly, part of the road is also designated as the Ruta de pisco and we could see plenty of vineyards and some small bodegas offering pisco tasting and sales. We were tempted but pisco is quite strong with considerably more alcohol than wine and this is a drive day. In addition, the bodegas appeared to be just a step above a hut and we know there is a much more developed Ruta de Pisco further north towards Lima. On the final ascent into the Andes to the city, the motorhome again began to overheat a little but the motor and transmission seemed fine although with the temperature gauge on the rise, we were glad reach the final pass at almost 9,000 feet and descend into the valley. We have the GPS co-ordinates for Hostel Las Mercedes and know from other overlanders that it is by the river on a fairly busy street but with comparatively easy access even for large vehicles. The roads getting to the hostel were another matter and at times our Garmin wanted us to go down small, narrow pasajes (alleyways) that we would never have been able to fit down so as anyone with a GPS device knows, we heard a lot of “recalculating”! We eventually got onto the right street and found the hostel, a huge blue and white building with beautiful French style cornices and embellishments. As Tom pulled over to the side of the road by the double gated entrance, I went to a pedestrian entrance and rang the bell. Eventually a guard appeared and let me in as I pointed to the RV and told him we needed parking. I was amazed to find behind the 14 foot (3 meter) wall about six RV’s in various sizes from camper shell pickups to a 35 foot motorhome and a huge Rotel overlander vehicle owned by Tucan travel. I also felt a bit worried that there was no room for us and worse, little space to maneuver however the guard said there was room and pointed to a spot down the side of the hostel leading to the back gardens. It was a tight squeeze past the Rotel truck but we made it although as Tom pointed out, with no room to turn around getting out will be a bear, but that is a worry for another day. Right now we have arrived with no problems and this will be a great place to hang for a while and consider our options for going to Bolivia and Machu Pichu. In addition, the grounds are huge and completely secured and the managers have no problem with Winston roaming especially after we promise to be sure to clean up after him. We are actually quite excited as Arequipa is supposed to be an old town with lots to see. After getting the motorhome settled, we go to check out the rest of the property with Winston and to meet the other overlanders who are here. There is a French couple from Normandy, a British couple and to our surprise and pleasure, the South African family that we had met previously in Bariloche; Graeme and Luisa with their two children, Jessica and Keelan. Winston, who had had a fabulous time with the children in Argentina, greeted them like long lost family and soon we were exchanging news and getting progress reports from everyone. In the past few months they have also experienced a lot of vehicle problems with a hold up in Chile waiting for parts and right now they are waiting for yet more parts here. It seems the altitude messes with all vehicles and they have a monster heavy-duty, converted Land Rover. What can you do? Well, for now we are going to enjoy a beer and for me a glass of wine and spend the evening getting acquainted with our neighbors.

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