driving the pan american highway

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We were warned:  “There are parades everyday all day.”

Sure, we thought, there will be some madness since Cusco’s main festival is coming up.. it’ll be fine.  Ummm, right.

It was Incansanity with hourly parades, fireworks, rainbow flags, and whole lot of dancing. Based on a religious ceremony honouring Inti, the sun god, June 24 also marks the winter solstice and according to the Peruvians it is time to party.

The days leading up to Inti Raymi were awash with bright colours and the vast array of different traditional costumes kept my finger on my camera’s shoot button at all times.  Smiles and laughter surrounded the festival, it was pretty hard not to get caught up in all the excitement.

Around 10am on the morning of June 24, along with locals and tourists we trudged up to Sacsayhuamán (pronounced close enough to ’sexy woman’ for gringo amusement) to find a place to sit to watch the day’s events.  Chairs can be purchased in the stands closer to the ceremonies for $90 USD … up on the rocks, with the locals, it’s free.  Tom scouted out a good place to sit and we settled in to wait until 1pm.  Normally what would have been a long boring wait turned out to be an entertaining show in Andean crowd antics.  People, giddy and perhaps a bit sauced, were ready for anything.  In the time we sat waiting at least three fights broke out and cheers, jeers and general excitement almost created full scale battles.  Finally the ceremony began and although we couldn’t hear what was going on we had a fairly clear view.  Everything was going okay until people started standing up vying for better viewing positions and greatly displeasing the hoards of people sitting behind them.  Starting with disgruntled yells of “Siéntense!!!” (sit down!) then escalating to throwing water bottles and then garbage, we began to get a bit concerned when the guy beside us picked up a fist-sized rock and lined up the man who had pelted his wife with a bag of half-eaten fruit. The sitters rained all sorts of debris on the unyielding standers to no avail.  We tried to hold our ground but when my head became someone’s armrest and the woman directly behind us crouched down because of the lack of ‘facilities’ we decided we had seen enough.


The Pan-American in Peru is in relatively good condition, not too may potholes and it it’s actually paved, but the oddest thing about the drive was the desolate and eerie landscape.  Perhaps it had to do with the lack of sun, it was overcast the whole time we drove, it felt like driving in a twilight zone version of Egypt.  Miles of sand lined the highway with rough-hewn hills dotting the background and very few vehicles on the road… very otherworldly.


The Peruvians have made the most of this odd landscape turning it into a tourist attraction at Huacachina, a small oasis in the midst of miles of sandy dunes.  Here you can experience this unusual setting in the back of a dune buggy or, for the more athletic, try your hand at sandboarding.  Needing a break from the drive we decided to go for both.  Little did we know how hard sandboarding actually is!

Sandy times in Peru from Kels M on Vimeo.

(Vimeo has been having some issues as of late, please allow video to fully load before playing.)

Hot and hairless

Hot and hairless, except for the bad-ass mohawk and a tuft of fuzz on the tail, the Peruvian Hairless Dog is so dang ugly it is cool.  This breed (Perro sin Pelo del Peru) dates back to pre-inca times and has recently come back from the edge of extinction. The native cultures used the dogs for hunting and companionship, developing such bonds that some of these canines were mummified and buried along with their owners to assist them in finding their way to the afterworld.  Then, in rolled the Spanish conquistadors with huge war dogs that were often let loose on the smaller Peruvian dogs for entertainment, apparently these war dogs could take down 4 or 5 hairless Peruvian dogs without any trouble.


Afterward the dogs were no longer kept as pets and they roamed along the coast scavenging for food.  In 1989 the Peruvian government decided to protect the breed and declared that each archeological site along Peru’s coast had to have a pair of these dogs.  To date this breed is Peru’s only world-registered breed.

Two noble beasts

Cleaner than most dogs (lack of hair means no fleas), loyal but wary of strangers, lively and protective, these dogs seem to be making a comeback as a pet in Peru. Referring to them as ‘luxury dogs’, many breeders are now offering the Peruvian Hairless Dog and it seems like quite a status symbol in Peru to own one.

Yes, a luxury dog

According to Peruvian folklore these dogs have higher body temperatures and curative qualities to help with asthma and rheumatism. From chatting with the locals we found out that some of the elderly folk sleep with these little guys to relieve arthritic pain! In the course researching this noble beast I discovered that there is also a Canadian Hairless Cat… who knew?


Clos … I like to give it a slightly Germanic drawl so it sounds like house. We first heard about Concha Y Toro wines from Luisa, a retired dancer from New York, who put us up in Mexico City – ‘you can get a decent bottle of red for six bucks’.

Living by the beach and watching our budget at Bob’s place in Costa Rica we found the Concha Y Toro line again, this time as Clos de Pirque and in a one-litre tetra pack … travel friendly! Clos also made a solid showing in Mancora, Peru when we hung out with Al for a few days waiting for the swell.

Al did get in touch with us after we left Mancora…  “By the way I met a German guy who told me Clos in German is slang for toilet (bog, shitter, dunnie) you get the picture. Still enjoying the odd glass though.” And while it’s not winning any wine awards it has to be said that Clos is a real backpacker favorite, this resealable, nonbreakable and fairly drinkable gem will only set you back about 3 dollars.

After saying good-bye to our lovely Colombian Tia Marta,  we headed off into Quito.  We managed to find a really great hostel, Casa Helbling, where hot water actually comes out of the taps in the sink!  We were sold and hunkered down for about a week to explore the city.

Quito’s old city is probably one of the best kept colonial towns you will find.  With cobbled streets, tiny alleyways and a bustling vibe it is hard to resist this old town’s charms.  It also has about a million churches!  Ok, maybe not a million but it has more than its fair share of holy homes.  We are not the type of travellers who have to see everything there is to see (otherwise we wouldn’t need to come back) so we decided to take in just a few of the churches.

Started in 1605, La Compañía de Jesús, Ecuador’s most ornate church was built over 160 years by the Jesuits and is decorated with some great works of art.  Oh yeah and supposedly 7 tonnes of 23 k gold was used to gild the entire inside of this house of God. Known as the most beautiful church in Ecuador, we felt that of all the churches you can visit in Quito, this is the one to see.

Church Facade

The huge paintings on the pillars inside depict the Prophets (whose eyes eerily follow you as you walk away) while the entry way showcases a massive painting of Hell and the Last Judgment which is sure to scare most people into confessing their sins and then some. And, like many churches, La Compañía de Jesús has its very own patron saint, Mariana de Jesus. She devoted herself to God and claimed this church as her home – to this day her remains are venerated in the main altarpiece and lots of religious paraphernalia with her image can be conveniently purchased at the gift shop.

Peeking in the Church

We were properly awed and walked around the church in a bit of a daze, 7 tonnes is a huge amount of gold and seeing it all over the walls, altarpieces even part of the ceiling was quite a sight.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to take photos… or so we were told. Deciding that this rule did not apply to us, Tom managed to snap a few sneaky photos though they don’t really do the church justice.

Stolen photo of Golden Church

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