• Home
  • International trips

TAGGED WITH: International trips

1999 Trip report - Copper Canyon, Mexico

19 January 2014 | 1999 Trips

The Lost Tribe Mini Trip Report

written by Neal Johns

Most photos by John Page, but some by Marian Johns, Marilyn Martin, and Virginia Hammerness

Copper Canyon again? Seems like we were just there, but I guess it has been over three years! You would think it would get easier each time, but it must be like childbirth; you forget the pain after a while. This time I will remember the pain for a long, long time. It wasn’t the people, they were great, but the gods seemed to snow on me (euphemism). Seven vehicles (Charles and Mary Hughes, John Page/Paul Ferry, Virginia Hammerness/Pat Loomis, Warren Alksnis, Ann Marie Nelson/Bill Turpin, Bob and Marilyn Martin and the Johns) met in Tucson where, to my horror, AAA would not process the border crossing paperwork as in past years. Then Warren got lost in the restaurant (thus The Lost Tribe name), and I started to get that funny feeling about things. Was this trip going to be like the task of herding cats? Short answer: Yes.           


The border crossing could not have been easier, thus lulling me into a sense of false security. The trip to Colonia Juarez (a left-over from an 1895 LDS settlement)  was uneventful, and we met with the wonderful Mike Romney family.  Everyone promptly fell in love with them.

This didn’t set too well with me because I had previously staked out a claim on Gwen and gorgeous daughter Stephanie. Remember George Romney, the Michigan Governor and American Motors CEO? He was a local Colonia Juarez boy (not to be confused with Cuidad Juarez on the border). This is the family that had captured and adopted Marian and me in the Valley of the Caves several years ago. At that time the first thing they did was take us (complete strangers) home and shower us. There may have been a message there - we had been camping out for several days. I held back some of Gwen’s fudge from The Tribe and am eating it now. Their many kindnesses would take another article to enumerate. We went to the Valley of the Caves the next day, and on the way Virginia had a flat tire. No big deal we thought. However.....It soon became obvious that the gods were not on our side. Several plugs failed to fix the leak, and when the spare was about to be put into service, it was noted that it was several inches smaller than the rest of the tires. But Wait! If you order now there is more! It was noted that the spare could not be removed because the trailer hitch was in the way. So we removed the trailer hitch which required removing the bumper. Did I mention the spare was locked on, and good old Virgie had no key? We made it to the Cave of the Olla without further ado and then visited Mata Ortiz, spending all our money on pots, and meeting Juan Quesada, the man who started the pottery revolution in the village. The next point of interest down the highway was the prehistoric ruins of Cuarenta Casas where an elevation loss and gain of 1,000 feet sorely tried my ancient feet and lungs.  

The next day, with a little help from Bob Martin, we found the Basaseachi waterfall nearly dry  and then headed toward Creel in a snowstorm. Yep, a real snowstorm on a dirt road no less.  I get nervous in snowstorms, reminds me of when my mother put me out in a basket for the wolves to get. Creel had not changed much, well maybe a little, like the new KOA we stayed in.  That darned Gringo culture is showing up everywhere! Got the troops lost twice trying to find a nearby waterfall. 

Then pointed them toward Batopilas at the bottom of one of the four canyons which make up Copper Canyon Country. Running late, we stopped at the old silver mining ghost town of La Bufa and found the local character, Don Bush. 

 I plan to go back someday and steal his library. Outstanding! He took us to a Tarahumara Easter dance but didn’t tell us they put a curse on the Hughes’ radiator.

Four or five of our guys, led by Paul, took it out and fixed it. One to do the work and four to tell him contradicting stories on how to do it. The high point for Pat was the friendly but drunk Tarahumara who showed up in their solitary darkened campsite with an apparent crush on white haired Gringas. 

Back in Creel we let Warren go off by himself, and he promptly flung his truck sideways into some poor Mexican kid. He claims the kid ran into the side of the truck of course. Everyone went down to the police station and surprisingly, in a friendly fashion everything was sorted out.

Then we were off to points on the railroad like El Divisadero where you can look down into Copper Canyon. It was then that the cat herding became impossible. Three of the crew left to head home early. This left Page/Ferry, Dippy Nelson (w/Bill), and the Martins to go to Urique with us.

 We noticed Page’s front wheel leaning but presumed it was just cringing from the several thousand foot drop at the edge of the road. A closer look showed it suffered from the usual Nissan bolt-dropping syndrome. The next town (Bahuichivo) had two auto parts stores and three repair shops, or was it the other way around? Eureka! They had the right bolt and two stripped bolts were replaced with different threaded bolts for 10 bucks. Got him all the way back to Anna (Who probably didn’t care anyway after the way he kept trying to apply shampoo to my poor wife’s wet slippery body the whole trip). 

The high point of the trip was no doubt the Roach Hotel in Chinipas. We gave our roaches names which made it kind of homey. Overheard on the street was a screeching sound when someone backed into the Martin’s cow skull. The Caves we had heard rumors about were a two day hike UP to the top of the mountain. Forget UP, so we headed on to Alamos with The Fearful Leader running at both ends.  Hard to command respect that way. 

Alamos was a bust. Dr. Pender was sick, and Bernie had left the day before so we had no hacienda to show people. There was, however, La Mansion, the converted-to-hotel hacienda we stayed in. Our bedroom suite was almost bigger than our house!

 The trip home was uneventful for our group, but the poor Hughes’ got run into in a gas station and had to go to the police station getting the same good treatment as Warren. I have never traveled with such a large number of criminals before. And my Toyota? Came home without a scratch, but there is the matter of the broken coil spring in the front. Probably sabotage from someone I yelled at. Toyotas rule! Thanks to the several people who, trying hard to lighten our communications burden with the natives, mistakenly thought they were speaking Spanish! Ha!


DE Logo-with-coyote



Copper Canyon Completion


by Charles and Mary Hughes


After much discussion we decided to leave Creel Monday afternoon figuring we could make a 100 or so miles before dark. So we left, and the adventure began. Warren thought if we got to Madera we could camp at 40 Casas as the signs we saw at the park said it was OK to camp. We got there about eightish and the gate was locked. Went north a ways, nothing. Turned around headed back to 40 Casas. About a mile south of 40 Casas we spotted a dirt road and took it. A good spot for camping was found. 


We were on the road early next morning. Warren found the gravel road, and we took it to the blacktop. When we got to Gomas Farias we retraced our steps through town. Warren thought we were going the wrong way and made a "Uey". After a little discussion we turned back and found our way. At Buenaventura we missed the left turn and went the wrong way on 10. I thought it was the wrong road as nothing looked familiar. I thought Warren did such a good job the day before he must be right. The further we went the more I thought it was wrong. As I reached for the "mike" Warren called and said he wanted to check the map. I felt all along we were wrong and should have said something sooner about it before we got to Ricardo Flores Magon. Made a "Uey" back to Buenavetura (60 clics). Made the turn and on our way to Janos. 


At Janos we stopped at the Pemex. I left Mary in the car and headed for the men’s. I came out and Mary said someone hit the car bashing in the doors on the right side. The guy would not trade papers and was very belligerent about the whole thing. I asked the Pemex guys to call the Policia, and they said no Policia in Janos to go to the next town. I told them I would not move the car until the Policia came ( We were blocking the pumps ) Mary said the car would not start. Sure enough it was dead. Warren gave us a jump, and it started. The Police came, and I moved the car to the side. We went to the Police Station, and they brought the driver in. After much discussion they gave me his driver info etc., and said they would make out a report and send it to me. I didn’t think they really would, but I had no choices and hoped I had enough info for the insurance Co. We left, headed for the border a 100 miles away. About a mile up the road I stopped to check the load on the roof and retie it when 2 of the cops pulled up behind me. They said they needed $10.00 to do the reports. I gave them the ten and told them I would send another ten when I got the reports. They shook hands on the deal, and away we went. 


We got to the Border, and Warren headed to US customs. I told him we had to turn in our car permits. He said US Customs would take them. I said no way they don’t care about them. It’s not their concern. Luckily he asked a Police Officer, and the Officer got him out of line to head over to Mexican Customs where after a 45 minute wait they took the stickers off. We crossed the Border. 


In Douglas I found the local Wal-Mart and with the battery warranty got a new battery. The battery was only 18 months old so we got a new one free. Off to Tucson. Just outside of Bisbee I turned on the headlights. Went to turn up the dash lights, and the car died just as I touched the switch. I said what the hell has that got to do with the car stalling? It cranked OK so I assumed my low fuel light was also out as the dash lights didn’t work. Dumped in the 5 gallon can of gas. Car restarted. Got into Tombstone and the cops pulled me over. I said what now? The whole day was downhill. I might as well get a ticket to top it off. The officer said my tail lights were out. I said I was having electrical problems as the dash lights were out also. I told him I was headed for the gas station just ahead to fix them. He said OK. We put in a new fuse, gassed up and decided to camp in Tombstone as it was so late after all the fooling around. Warren asked the gas guy about camping, and he sent us to a good area. 

Early AM we were off for Tucson where we split with Warren. He wanted to follow us to BHC to make sure nothing else happened. We convinced him it was not necessary as we have AAA+ and could get towed home if needed. We got home without further mishap, no leaks, no blown fuses, no lights out, no dead batteries. We were very, very fortunate to have been traveling with Warren. He was always thoughtful of us, never in a hurry and never complained about all the setbacks we continued to have on the trip home. He was just great. Once home, Mary became violently ill, which lasted into Friday. OK now, and we have finally settled back in. Our thanks to all for the help given at La Bufa. It was greatly appreciated.


  • Click to enlarge image 01jhn2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 01trnt2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 02rom12.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 02rom22.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 02tmpl.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 03artfc2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 03cave2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 04camp2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 04hphr2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 04mortz2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 04ollal2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 04paq12.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 04paq22.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 05cas2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 06alsno2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 06bas2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 06guer2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 06koa2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 06stor2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 07buf2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 07cusa2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 07losw2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 07sqw2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 07upsw2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08altr2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08bshpa2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08chrc2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08dncyn2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08gate2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08insp2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08mis2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08sat2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08trk2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 08trls2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 09aftr2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 09cyn2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 09fix2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 09flud2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 10altar2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 10brg2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 10cero2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 10cucyn2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 10divis2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 10door2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 10guap2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 10urqcn2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 11bons2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 11cav2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 11lnch2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 12chnch2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 12rprs2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 13chnpr2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 13chnrv2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image cynmap2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image mxmap22.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image patvirg2.jpg

2002 Trip Report - Desert Explorers in Peru

26 January 2014 | 2002 Trips


September 2002

by Marian Johns



       The idea for a trip to Peru was an indirect result of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center tragedy. A group of us Desert Explorers was all set – money paid - for a trip to the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China. Every participant, except me, wanted to cancel, and I wasn’t going to go alone, so cancel we did. Reda tried to set up a trip to Patagonia, instead, but the cost for two weeks was $5000, not including airfare – way too much. Reda asked – where else can we go? And I said – how about Peru? She said – sounds good; let’s do it – you be the leader.

So by December, 2001, plans were beginning to hatch – mainly, the possibility of renting vehicles and driving ourselves, which would basically be a do-it-ourselves trip. Having driven all the way to South America years ago in a Jeep, I knew a trip like this was possible. I just had to convince others who were somewhat skeptical and more comfortable with the idea of a commercial, but less adventuresome, less risky tour. So, slowly, over the course of the next months, plans congealed and eventually became a reality.

(click Read More, below, to continue reading) 

Back in May, 2002, airfares were exceptionally low. The cost of a round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to Lima on American Airlines was only $471. So I e-mailed all prospective travelers and said, “You will buy your plane tickets now if you are committed to making this trip!" Lo and behold, 12 people bought their tickets, so we were in business.




Desert Explorers Peru Trip, September, 2002


  • September 4, Wednesday - LAX to Lima 
  • September 5, Thursday - Lima 
  • September 6 Lima to Pisco       
  • September 7 Pisco to Nazca       
  • September 8 Nazca to Camaná       
  • September 9 Camaná to Cabanaconde
  • September 10 Cabanaconde to Arequipa
  • September 11 Arequipa to Puno       
  • September 12, Thursday - Puno      
  • September 13, Friday - Puno to Cuzco    
  • September 14, Saturday - Cuzco   
  • September 15, Sunday - Cuzco to Ollantaytambo   
  • September 16, Monday - Machu Picchu   
  • September 17, Tuesday - Ollantaytambo to Cuzco   
  • September 18, Wednesday - Cuzco to Abancay    
  • September 19, Thursday - Abancay to Nazca    
  • September 20, Friday - Nazca to Lima   
  • September 21, Saturday - Lima to Chavín de Huántar    
  • September 22, Sunday - Chavín de Huántar to Caraz   
  • September 23, Monday - Caraz to Trujillo   
  • September 24, Tuesday - Trujillo to Chiclayo    
  • September 25, Wednesday - Chiclayo   
  • September 26, Thursday - Chiclayo to Chachapoyas   
  • September 27, Friday - Chachapoyas to Leimebamba    
  • September 28, Saturday - Leimebamba to Celendín   
  • September 29, Sunday - Celendín to Cajamarca   
  • September 30, Monday - Cajamarca to Trujillo    
  • October 1, Tuesday - Trujillo To Lima    
  • October 2, Wednesday - Lima to LAX 


 Day 1, Wednesday, September 4


LAX to Lima  See Map  Sept. 4, Wednesday - The big day has finally arrived. Up at the ungodly hour of 2:45 a.m. Neal, the stubborn old fart, refuses to go, claiming he isn’t up to such an ambitious trip. So my cousin, Charlayne Horton, is going and will share hotel rooms with me. She took Amtrak from Merced to Bakersfield and then the Amtrak bus from Bakersfield to L.A. Strange it doesn’t go all the way to L.A. Lorene Crawford came over to our house last evening and stayed in one of our spare bedrooms. She is also going to Peru, so Neal took us in her 4Runner to the airport, dropped us off, and then drove her car home. He will also pick us up when we return home.

            We were supposed to be at LAX two hours before the flight, but we managed to get there an hour early because traffic was so light at that time of day. Check in didn’t take as long as expected, so we had time to twiddle our thumbs. Assembled there at LAX were Chuck and Kathy Mitchell, John and Joann Kosharek, John Page, Lorene, Charlayne, Reda Anderson, and myself. 

Our flight on American Airlines went to Lima via Miami. There in Miami, with an hour layover, we were joined by Lorene’s daughter, Mary Crawford, and her husband, John Hunt; they flew down from Jacksonville, Florida. Mary, with the rank of Commander, just recently retired from the Navy.

        Both flights were uneventful – thankfully. Arrived in Lima about 10:00 p.m. – about half an hour late, but the Hostal Residencial Victor, where we are staying sent two vans to meet us. That was a relief – not having to call or arrange for enough cabs to get us all to the hotel. One of the hotel vans had to return to the airport again a little later to pick up Washington State resident, Paul Ferry, who came in on a flight from Vancouver, B.C. Customs at the Lima airport was not a problem.

            So now, we are twelve travelers total. Instead of relying on a commercial tour, we have planned our own trip, created our own itinerary, and reserved hotels on our own. We have also reserved three 4x4 double-cab rental pickup trucks which we intend to drive all over Peru to see archaeological sites, museums, cities, towns, villages and the extraordinary scenery.

            As the so-called leader of this venture I bought five guide books and then scoured them for information about not-to-be-missed sights, car rentals, road conditions, mileages, travel time, hotels, health issues, preventing altitude sickness, money, security, etc., etc. Using this information, I worked up an itinerary that lengthened into a three week proposition. Still, three weeks didn’t allow enough time to see much of northern Peru. So, four of us (Paul, John Page, Reda and I) have opted for an additional week. Even though I am the trip leader, we will be relying heavily on Kathy Mitchell because she speaks fluent Spanish. She took on the arduous task of phoning all of the hotels to make reservations. And she also made the reservations for the three trucks after calling and comparing four rental companies. Now that we are actually here in Peru, she will be our chief communicator. Thanks to the men of this group, emergency tools, a first aid kit, and GMRS radios for inter-vehicle communication were brought from home.


Day 2, Thursday, September 5



Lima   See      Map 

Sept 5, Thursday – After a continental breakfast, we were ready to be tourists. We had originally planned to take cabs to the museums today, but the hotel owner arranged for a 15-passenger tour bus to take us, instead, for $20 each for eight hours. We got an unexpected extra I had not planned on – a driving tour of downtown, central Lima that included the cathedral and government buildings, plus a stop at the Sheraton Hotel (elegant – bring money) to use the ATMs there. I screwed up at first, pushed the wrong button, and got US dollars instead of soles. Did it right the second try.

      John and Mary have volunteered to be our kitty keepers. They will use it to pay for our entrance fees to museums and archaeological sites and later when we get the trucks, they will use kitty money to pay for the fuel. They will also buy food for on-the-road lunches, bottled water, and any other group expenses. Luckily for us, John is also a doctor. He brought the first aid kit.

      After the excursion around central Lima, we went to the Museo de la Nación which is a huge, ultra-modern structure of unusual and imaginative design. It has a good overview of pre-Columbian cultures and incredible artifacts. The ceramics and textiles are just amazing! And there are so many cultures and sites I have never heard of. Peru indeed deserves the title of “archaeological center of the western hemisphere”.


            For lunch, our bus driver took us to a shopping mall with several restaurants interspersed among the shops.At an Italian “Pasta Pronto” place, I had ham and mushroom lasagna – different from any lasagna I’ve ever had – very creamy, but good.

     Last stop of the day was the Museo Nacional del Antropología, Arqueología y Historia. It was similar to the other museum, but housed in an old, yet well-maintained building. The gift shop has some very nice and reasonably priced replicas of pre-Columbian pottery. I’m sorely tempted to buy some, but I don’t want to lug them all over Peru for the next four weeks.


            The tour bus and driver, despite the cost, was an excellent introduction to Lima sights - and Lima traffic which we are in no hurry to experience first-hand. Got back to the hotel about 5:30 and rested up a while before dinner. The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant, so we had a dinner of chicken, fries, and salad that was ordered and brought from a nearby take-out place. The chicken was very good – almost as good as Pollo Loco at home.


Day 3, September 6, Friday
Lima to Pisco  See Map 


Sept. 6, Friday – The tour bus picked us up at 9:00 a.m. and took us to the Museo Raphael Larco Herrera. It has an unbelievably huge collection of Moche pottery. Displayed are hundreds and hundreds of ceramic pots. These pots depict every aspect of Moche life – occupations (artisans, farmers, fishermen, servants, slaves, and beggars), musical instruments, tools, jewelry, foods/crops, food preparation, domestic and wild animals, marine creatures, houses, surgical procedures, people afflicted with various diseases, ceremonies, ceremonial pyramids and temples, priests/nobles, warriors, captives – including punishment, mutilation and death. My favorites were the “portrait” pots which represent individuals – fat, thin, smiling, laughing, somber, young old - you name it, it probably exists. Even sex is shown realistically and the museum has a collection of erotic pottery in a separate building. I’m guessing it’s in a separate building so the school kids who come on field trips won’t be scandalized. In addition to the pottery, there was also an impressive pre-Columbian gold and silver show.


            After the museum tour, our bus driver, as requested, took us to the big, nearby, super mercado. This was a real super market, similar to ours – a hub of activity with a wide selection of products. The produce section was particularly interesting to me. There were a number of strange fruits and vegetables, and many varieties of potatoes – a Peruvian staple. Here we purchased lunch fixings – bread, fruit, cheese, and lunch meats, and John Hunt bought a rotisseried chicken.


            Then it was off to the airport where we picked up the three double-cab pickup trucks we had reserved with the National Car Rental company. John Page, John Hunt and Kathy Mitchell each put a truck in their name and on their credit card. At the end of the trip everyone else will need to pay their fair share. We were supplied with two Toyotas and a Mazda, but only one canvas tarp to tie down over the luggage But since all of our luggage wouldn’t fit into one truck, we needed at least two tarps. So, we were taken to the National Car Rental maintenance garage where we were supposed to get an additional tarp.


            While we waited there, we decided we’d best go ahead and have our lunch on the tail gate of one of the trucks. That worked out well - by the time someone finally showed up with the tarp, we had had lunch and were ready to head out of Lima.


            Lima is different from what I remember when we were here 36 years ago. I suspect this is partly due to the fact it was so long ago – memories that far back have become fuzzy. Lima seems to be more congested – narrow streets – it’s nearly impossible to find your way around. Luckily, a kind gentleman from the maintenance garage took pity on us and guided us, by driving one of the trucks himself to the outskirts of the city, and got us on the Panamericana (Pan American Highway) headed toward Pisco. I guess he had to take a bus or taxi back.


            The process of getting the trucks and tarps took so long, we had to skip ruins of Pachacamac and went directly on to Pisco where we found our hotel – the Hostal Posada Hispana – without too much trouble. After settling in, we all walked to a restaurant a few blocks away for dinner. I had fish in garlic butter – pretty good. John and Mary, who were sitting across from me, ordered ceviche, a traditional Peruvian dish made of marinated raw fish or other types of seafood. I sampled a bite – not bad, but don’t think I would want to eat a whole meal of it.


Day 4, September 7, Saturday
Pisco to Nazca     See Map


Sept. 7, Saturday – Got up early to have a continental breakfast and then drove ourselves down to the Paracas port for the Ballestras Islands boat trip. We pre-paid for this trip while in Lima at Victor’s hostal. Victor’s mother, who lives in Pisco, went with us and directed us to our guide and boat. On the outward boat trip, we first followed the coast south a short way to see the Candelabro, a huge trident-shaped geoglyph scooped into the sand hill above the ocean cliffs. It is not certain who made this or what it signifies. From there, we motored on  out to the islands to see a myriad of sea creatures and birds. The government allows the collection of bird guano once every seven years. This was last done two years ago, so not much has accumulated yet. The islands are very rugged – riddled with caves and arches. They don’t appear to have any access, but somehow strange-looking piers that hang out over the thrashing water have been built. We saw lots of sea lions (called ‘wolves of the sea’ by Peruvians), birds and a few penguins. We watched in amazement as sea lions, with only their clumsy flippers, managed to climb out of the water and up onto near-vertical, jagged rocks .


            Back on shore, we continued down the Panamericana to Ica where we had lunch at a nice restaurant. Most of us tried the special which was a hunk of veal with a bean sauce and another hunk of yuca – a starchy sort of root that reminds me of a cross between a potato and a plantain – a very good meal.


            Also in Ica, we went to the Museo Regional de Ica that has displays of locally-found Paracas, Nazca, and Inca artifacts – mainly textiles, pottery, mummies and examples of trepanned and deformed skulls. The latter were purposely deformed. Evidently it was considered becoming to have a pointy, flattened head.


            We took a short side trip to Huacachina, a touristy place built around an oasis which in turn is surrounded by sand dunes. It’s an attractive place in photos, but the water is actually rather murky and not very inviting, but the locals don’t seem to mind. Locals also come here to go sand boarding .


            Just north of Nazca, the next destination, we stopped at the mirador (observation tower) and climbed up to see a couple of the mysterious Nazca Line figures – a tree and hands. These huge ancient figures and geometric designs are etched into the desert surface and visible only from the air or heights such as the mirador.


            In modern Nazca, we stayed at the Hotel Alegría. It’s a busy place - with lots of other tourists here too. Charlayne and I are on the third floor and no elevator. Yikes! Two doors down from the hotel, we found an inviting restaurant where we were serenaded by a group of six Andean-style musicians. I had “potato salad” – four thick slices of potato in a cheese sauce. And then a main dish I can’t remember, except it had potatoes too. The musicians were hawking CDs for $10 US. Some of our people bought them. I already have two at home that I got in Seattle and at the L.A. County Fair.



Day 5, September 8, Sunday
Nazca to Camaná   See Map

Sept.8, Sunday – Left the hotel about 7:00 a.m. for an 8:00 flight over the Nazca Lines. We flew over at least 12 figures – a hummingbird, monkey, dog, whale, hands, spider, “astronaut”, condor, vulture, tree, parrot, heron, and lots and lots of gigantic, elongated trapezoids. Erich von Daniken has suggested they are extra-terrestrial landing strips made by aliens from outer space - a controversial theory that is not accepted by serious scientists. 

Again, we pre-paid for this trip through Victor back in Lima - $50 US. We probably could have paid less if we had arranged it on our own, but it was worth the extra cost because it gave us (me, at least) peace of mind to know we had reservations. At the airport, I bought a small silver charm with the monkey design ($13) and a small, double-spout pot decorated with a Nazca-style design ($20) – both were way overpriced in my opinion, but that was the only place around to buy things.    

        The airplane made Charlayne nauseous. Riding in the truck also bothers her, so Dr. John gave her a medication-dispensing patch to put behind her ear, and that seems to take care of the motion sickness.

            John took care of Charlayne’s problem, but now has one of his own. While backing one of the trucks out of the parking area behind the hotel, he hit the roof support post next to the truck, and put a fairly big dent on the right-hand side.

            We didn’t have breakfast until about 10:30 - after the plane flight. So, we skipped lunch and drove south along a desolate stretch until we came to the Yauca River Valley with its many olives trees. When we stopped there in the village of Chala to buy some olives, Mary and John miscommunicated their intentions and locked the keys in one of the trucks. It took the next hour, plus the help of some locals to get a coat hanger grip on the lock latch to open it.

As we drove on south, the highway became quite twisty and was perched high above the seashore – I’m guessing maybe 500 ft., with sheer, hair-raising drop-offs. Instead of building oodles of bridges across innumerable arroyos, the road engineers merely turned the highway inland up each dry canyon and then back down, then up the next canyon and back down. This made for very slow going, but eventually we reached Camaná where a large river, the Majes, dumps into the ocean.

            Our hotel, the Primer, was the least inviting of all so far, but they had parking for the trucks in the basement level. We walked to a nearby local-style restaurant for dinner - simple food and no ambience – definitely not a tourist hangout. I had chicken noodle soup, a fried, whole, but small fish and rice. Later, we walked down a pedestrian mall to an ATM.

Day 6, September 9, Monday Camaná to Cabanaconde     See Map

Sept. 9, Monday – Everyone had hot water except for Charlayne and me, so we skipped the shower this morning. 

The Panamericana turns inland here – near Camaná and heads toward Arequipa. At the turn-off for the side road to Corire and the Toro Muerto petroglyphs, we stopped for a powwow. Should we take the time to see the petroglyphs even though we would probably have to drive in the dark to reach our hotel in Cabanaconde? It was decided to go ahead and do it.

            This road starts off over dry, flat desert, and then drops dramatically into the deep Majes Valley. The floor of the valley is a green patchwork of fields, mostly rice paddies – a spectacular sight! Peru is supposed to be a major, world rice producer. At the bottom, a one-lane bridge crosses the river at the tiny village of Punto Colorado. By following the guide book directions, we continued on a short way to Corire, took another lesser side road and found the site. A caretaker let us drive up to the first group of petroglyphs. That saved us at least an hour and a long, hot walk up the steep road.


The most common representations I saw were llamas, snakes, sun disks, and abstract and geometric designs. 

Just as we were about to leave, a group of school kids and their teachers arrived after a steep hike up from the entrance. Kathy chatted with them for a few minutes.   

            We returned the way we had come – back to the bridge where we found a restaurant overlooking the river. We had another memorable meal there. I ordered camarones which were not salt water, ocean shrimp, but rather river crayfish caught locally in the Majes River. They were small, but excellent – and plentiful.

        Just as we were finishing lunch, we watched a humorous little drama unfold right there on the bridge. A big truck piled high with cornstalks for animal feed tried to cross, but it just wouldn’t fit under the upper structural members of the bridge, so the driver had to back off and rearrange his load.On his second try, he had just started across when a car and small van came zipping along from the other direction and blocked the way. There followed a conference of drivers and eventually the truck backed off again even though he was on the bridge first.

            We retraced our route up and out of the valley and back to the Panamericana. Here, we turned toward Arequipa again, but only went a short way before taking another side road. This was the unpaved, back road to Cabanaconde where we had hotel reservations for that night at La Posada del Conde. It was a long drive. We had to climb up and over a 14,000 ft. pass, and as we descended the other side, darkness overtook us. Finding the correct turn to take us into town was a challenge in the dark with no signs to direct us. Somehow the lead vehicle in our little caravan “followed its nose” and got us there.

            Charlayne and I were assigned a room on the third floor again! There was no stair railing and the stair risers were not equal in height, so we had to be very careful not to trip. A bunch of Dutch tourists are also here. Ate dinner in the hotel – had good asparagus soup and steak that was just a little tough, plus rice and fries. I’m not sure why they think it’s necessary to have two such starchy side dishes.


Day 7, September 10, Tuesday Cabanaconde to Arequipa     See Map


Sept. 10, Tuesday - Up early – breakfast at 7:00     and off by 8:00 to see soaring condors at the Mirador Cruz del Condor, a view point on the brink of awesome Cañon Colca. It is supposed to be one of the deepest canyons in the world – deeper than the Grand Canyon. The Colca is a tributary of the Majes – where we were yesterday.


            There at the mirador, I could not see the bottom of the canyon, but we did see soaring condors – though not right away. There were umpteen tour buses and oodles of people waiting for the condors to make their appearance.   When we first arrived, we watched one preening himself on a boulder down below the view point. Meanwhile, brisk business transactions were going on between tourists and enterprising Indian lady vendors who were dressed in wonderful, colorful dresses and hats. I bought one of the neat, colorfully embroidered hats like the ladies were wearing. It seems this is a fee area because an official money collector came around checking to see that we all had our tickets - which we didn’t, because we came in our own vehicles from the “wrong” direction. Most tourists come from Chivay instead of Cabanaconde. John Hunt paid for everyone with the kitty money.


            When the condors finally decided to fly, they put on quite a show for us; almost as of they had been trained to perform for the turistas. First, they soared all around us in circles, coming as close as 50 to 75 feet. 

Then they caught the thermal updrafts and disappeared into the heavens.


        After we left the mirador, we stopped at the fee-collection station a few miles up the canyon where there were some modest natural history displays.


            The ancient terracing in this canyon is impressive, and it is still used today. I can’t imagine the infinite amount of time it must have taken to build them. Our road to Chivay was bumpy and slow. But the scenery and views into the canyon along way were wonderful.   


        We reached Chivay in time for lunch which we ate at a local-style place. I had more asparagus soup and a combination dish of rice, potatoes, plantain, fried egg, tomatoes and steak. Not bad!


            There wasn’t enough time to see the hot springs near Chivay – we had to push on to Arequipa. Leaving Chivay, we began the long climb up to the bleak but beautiful altiplano. On the way, we saw our first llamas – maybe alpacas too – I can’t tell the difference yet.       And I also saw a small group of vicuña, but they were too far away for a photo.


            Our road topped out at 16,021 ft. – at least that’s what John Page’s GPS said. This is supposed to be the highest pass we will encounter. Everyone seems to be handling the altitude quite well. I know most of us are using some sort of altitude sickness-prevention medication that we brought from home. I definitely feel the altitude, but I’m not sick like I was on our trip years ago.


            At the summit, I was left nearly breathless when I got out of the truck to take some pictures of several rock huts with thatched roofs and a miniature array of rock cairns stacked all around.  Have no idea if they had a purpose or if they were created just for the fun of it. They reminded me of the “Basque boys” we sometime see in the remote parts of Nevada. But the “Basque boys” I have seen are solitary rock piles/creations. I think they are made by bored Basque sheepherders. Maybe these were made by bored Peruvian llama herders.


            Not long after we started down from the pass, the Mazda had a flat. I wasn’t surprised because its tires are the most worn of the lot. As the men changed the tire, a dog came looking for handouts. Where he came from was a mystery since we were in the middle of nowhere - not a single house for miles. I noticed the driver of a bus that went by slowed down and tossed him some food. I’m thinking the dog may “live” at this spot by road because he knows the bus drivers will bring him something to eat. We also gave him some food - he ate as though he was ravenous, yet he seemed to be in good physical condition.


            We eventually reached the paved highway that took us down into Arequipa. Getting to our hotel, the Casa de Mi Abuela, was comical. Trying to get over the right bridge and figuring out one-way streets had us going around in circles. When we finally found the hotel, we were shown the way into a secure parking area. The little alley where we parked divided the hotel complex into two parts. It was the nicest place we have stayed in so far, with garden space, lawns and even a swimming pool – not bad for $13/person US. We had a nice dinner that evening right there at the hotel.


Day 8, September 11, Wednesday
Arequipa to Puno     See Map


Sept.11, Wednesday – Today is the one-year anniversary of the World Trade Center disaster. Don’t know what’s happening at home, but haven’t heard of anything extraordinary. Chuck and Lorene were not feeling well this morning.


Yesterday, coming down from the altiplano on the paved road to Arequipa, I noticed a loud howl in the truck I was driving. This morning, the men crawled under it and determined the rear U-joint was shot. Kathy called National Car Rental in Lima, and they eventually contacted a local mechanic. He came, inspected the U-joint, and agreed that there was indeed a problem that needed to be fixed before we went on. So, it was decided that four people, (Chuck, Kathy, John Hunt, and Reda) would stay in Arequipa until it was repaired while the rest of us went on to Puno and Lake Titicaca.


Before heading up to Puno, we spent the morning there in Arequipa, and walked down to the central plaza,    passing the Santa Catalina Monastery (convent) on the way. The entrance fee is $7 US – a bit much, so I passed it up. I wasn’t too interested anyway.


            After stocking up on soles from an ATM at one of the banks, we went to see Juanita, the 500 year old, so-called “Ice Maiden” and another frozen mummy who were human sacrificial victims found in 1996 on the high peaks near here. “Perfect”, high-status, young women and boys were sacrificed by the Incas to appease the gods who were associated with the high mountains. These mummies are kept frozen in atmospheric-controlled display cases. This was not on the itinerary, but should have been – well worth the short time it took.


            After lunch – mine was a chicken sandwich and an avocado/tomato plate – we left for Puno, taking the two good trucks, and leaving the Mazda and its riders. Our route took us back the way we had come into town yesterday. This is a different route from the road we took years ago which followed the base of El Misti, the conical-shaped volcano that hovers over Arequipa. The new, paved highway may be longer, but it’s much faster. Back up on the altiplano, we passed a lake and saw flamingos along the shore line. Unfortunately, they were so far away, they only appeared to be tiny specks.


            By the time we got to Juliaca, it was dark. I was in need of a baño, but none was available. On and on we drove, eventually reaching Puno. That’s when the “fun” started. The directions we’d been given were confusing, and we found ourselves in the chaos of tiny, narrow streets barely wide enough to squeeze through, with vendors and shoppers everywhere. I was amazed at all the nighttime activity going on. Because of the congestion, traffic was stopped more than it moved. We asked a policeman for directions, and he kindly got in one of our trucks to take us. But he took us back the way we had just been. Actually, we didn’t realize it, but he was trying to find the hotel owner, which he eventually managed to do. Then he got out, she got in, and off we went to the hotel. Turns out, we were supposed to go to her other hotel (she owns two) which wasn’t the one where we had made reservations. Somehow, we got shuffled over to the second hotel, unbeknownst to us.


            Once we arrived, I had to make an emergency beeline for a baño and then took some Imodium-Advanced. What a relief! I didn’t dare go to dinner though, for fear of a sudden urge, so Lorene brought me a ham sandwich from the restaurant where they ate. The hotel is a funky place, but our room has a nice bathroom and beds. However, the carpeting is rather strange. It looks like it was torn out of another place and put in here with unfinished seams in sort of a patchwork fashion. Dug out my hot water bottle as Puno is cold – not too surprising since it’s located at about 12,700 ft. elevation. There was a little portable radiator in our room and we had it going full-blast.


Day 9, September 12, Thursday
Puno     See Map


Sept. 12, Thursday – The dining room where we had breakfast was like a glass penthouse – with views of all the neighboring roof tops and Lake Titicaca off in the distance.


We decided that we had better go ahead and take the boat trip out to the Uros Floating Islands without the other four, because we weren’t sure how long it would take them to get here from Arequipa. It had taken us between six and seven hours. Also, it looked like there was be a possibility of rain. If we waited for them, we might not get a chance to go at all. The hotel arranged for a bus to pick us up and take us down to the docks. That was a wise decision because otherwise it would have been quite a long walk.


We had a knowledgeable guide who gave us lots of information about the lake, the islands, and the Uros people. 


They make the island with reeds – layers and layers of them. The lake is very shallow in this area, and the reeds grow in abundance. When the floating island reeds decay underneath, fresh ones are added on top. Walking around feels rather strange – sort of spongy. With so many tourists wanting to visit their islands, the residents have understandably become tourist oriented. The Indian ladies make and sell souvenirs – don’t know what the men do. Well, some of the men ferry tourists (like me) around on their reed boats. I took a ride on one of these boats from one island to another for three soles (90 cents).     I read that some of the Uros people now prefer to live in Puno, but still go out to the islands every day to sell souvenirs to the tourists. And being a tourist, I bought a pretty alpaca sweater with geometric designs knitted mostly in shades of blue for only ~$9 US. I also bought an embroidered wall hanging and a mobile made of tiny reed boats and colorful pompoms.


            Back in Puno, we returned to the hotel and then walked to the pedestrian mall. Found a nice restaurant where the tourist menu for 12 soles (~ $3.50) was a super-good deal. I had a salad – avocado (called palto here) stuffed with chopped veggies (potatoes, carrots, green beans, onions) in a mayonnaise sauce, and soup – asparagus soup for me again, and a main dish – trout with fried papas (potatoes), sliced tomatoes, dessert – I had flan, and a drink – Coke for me. Asparagus is a major crop in Peru and it is exported to the US. All in all, it was one of the best meals I have had so far, and so reasonably priced!



After lunch, we walked farther on to the plaza and cathedral, after waiting for a procession of political advocates marching down the mall. When I got back to the hotel, I took a nap, and Charlayne took a walk by herself – not such a good idea, but luckily she didn’t get mugged - or worse. About 1:30, while I was napping, our fellow travelers arrived from Arequipa. They decided not to go on an afternoon boat trip. We had a late dinner, but I only ordered a bowl of vegetable soup. I wasn’t quite over my bout with the trots and I had had that big lunch, so I wasn’t too hungry.


Day 10, September 13, Friday
Puno to Cuzco     See Map


Sept. 13, Friday – Not too far from Puno, on the way back to Juliaca, we made a short side trip to Sillustani to see the large stone funeral towers called “chullpas”. 


These were made by the Cholla people for the burial of their nobility. The Cholla were contemporaries of the Incas, but they spoke Aymara, not Quechua. Sillustani is located on a peninsula that juts into Lake Umayo.


On the way back to the main highway, we first stopped at the local museum, and then stopped at peasant’s farm that we noticed earlier on the way to Sillustani. We were curious about the ceramic good-luck bulls mounted on the gables of the roofs. We weren’t the only ones to stop. A whole bus load of tourists was inspecting the premises, so we just joined them. The owners had things set up as though their home was a regular tourist stop. There were two metates with large manos and ground corn? on display, and an outdoor kitchen with bowls containing examples of different foods they eat. The highlight of our impromptu stop was a little new-born, day-old baby alpaca. His mother kindly let us gawk at him and even hold him. Of course camera shutter were clicking away - I’m glad we took the time to stop.




The drive toward Cuzco was initially across the flat altiplano, following the Pucara River. On the horizon we could see snow-capped mountains. We continued north until we were right beside them. Terracing and fields exist on the slopes that are sometimes so steep I wonder how a person can even stand upright. At some point – I don’t even remember where exactly – we reached a pass and began to follow another river, the Vilcanota, which eventually becomes the Urubamba.


The closer we got to Cuzco, the more prosperous farms and homes seemed to be. People and animals are everywhere. Llamas and alpacas were common on the altiplano, but cows, goats, and sheep are more common in this area. Chickens, pigs and dogs are universal. Some dogs seem to be free-roaming strays while others apparently belong to families and help with the livestock. Cats are rare – at least I haven’t seen many.


Midafternoon, we stopped to see Raqchi, the ruins of an Inca Temple dedicated to the god, Viracocha. This structure supposedly supported the largest roof of any Inca building; it was enormous. We thought this site was way off the highway, but it was actually quite close – only a kilometer or so from the main road.




We reached Cuzco while it was still light and made our way along narrow one-way streets to our hotel, the Hostal Los Niños. It is located in an old colonial-style building with a central patio. The floors are not level. In fact, the whole building seems to be sloping. But the water is hot – really hot - almost scalding. The trucks had to be driven to a cochera, a secure parking lot several blocks away. Streets are too narrow to park on and not secure anyway.


For dinner that evening, we all walked down to the main plaza and ate in a second-story restaurant overlooking the square. I had a Peruvian chicken dish with a nicely spiced sauce. At 11,000 ft., it’s pretty chilly here in Cuzco too, so I filled my hot water bottle and curled up around it when I went to bed


Day 11, September 14, Saturday
Cuzco     See Map


Sept. 14, Saturday – In the morning, we bought our Boletas Turisticos (tourist tickets necessary for many attractions in and around Cuzco), and went to see the Religious Art Museum and the Inca Museum. I particularly enjoyed the latter, but we had to rush through it because we were scheduled to take an afternoon tour in a tour bus with a local guide.


            The first stop on our tour was Koriconcha, the site of an Inca temple that was destroyed by the Spanish who then built a church, Santo Domingo, on the Inca foundations. 


Next was the cathedral. It was enormous, with many side-chapels.      The place was brimming with tourists following their guides around just like us. As we walked through the various sanctuaries and chapels, we were accompanied by haunting hymns being sung in Quechua by a group of Indians. I wish now I had bought one of the cassettes they were selling. Our excellent guide pointed out a large painting of the Last Supper, showing Christ and his disciples about to eat a cuy (guinea pig), a traditional Andean dish.


            From the cathedral, we drove up to Sacsayhuaman, the huge Inca fortress that overlooks Cuzco. This impressive site may also have been a ceremonial structure. It is supposed to form the head of a gigantic puma – with the town of Cuzco as its body. We only had time to walk along the base of the zigzag ramparts (representing the teeth of the Puma) and marvel at the huge size of some of the boulders and the perfect fit of adjacent rocks.     It is hard to imagine the size it once was. Only about 20% of it is left - the Spanish carted off most of the stones to make their own buildings. Next stop was Qenko, a large rock outcropping that was transformed into an Inca ceremonial site with elaborate carvings. Beneath the rock are several caves, tunnels, and carved niches and steps. A little farther up the road, we were taken to Tambo Machay, a wonderful example of Inca water works and stone masonry. And nearby are the ruins of Puca Pucara, an Inca hunting lodge.


            Daylight was waning by then, so we weren’t able to explore Puca Pucara. We did, however, take time to stop at a souvenir shop. Here, I bought some of the knitted caps with ear flaps for gifts.


            That evening, we walked down to the main plaza again and ate in a little restaurant on a narrow side street. Had asparagus soup again – my favorite, and an entrée of tasty truchas (trout). On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a tourist shop and splurged ($218 US) on a beautiful little silver, inlaid figure of the Sicán culture.


Day 12, September 15, Sunday
Cuzco to Ollantaytambo     See Map


Sept. 15, Sunday – We managed to find our way out of Cuzco this morning and drove ourselves over to the town of Pisac in the Sacred Valley. It was a lovely drive with views of the valley and the Urubamba River far below. The Urubamba eventually joins the Amazon. And off in the distance were beautiful snow-capped peaks. I don’t remember the mountains being so big, nor so steep. The scenery is spectacular!


Down in Pisac, we enjoyed shopping at the colorful and lively Sunday market.    I bought some silver, inlaid pendants. Then, I helped Joann Kosharek look for some jewelry with Peruvian opal set in gold. I have seen Peruvian opal back home at Quartzsite but haven’t noticed any in Peru yet. We were in luck – we found some opal items, and even though they were set in silver, Joann bought them. I don’t think the vendors here sell pricey things made of gold. Joann is quite the bargainer. She offers about half of what the vendors ask and usually they accept – eventually, after trying to haggle the price up.


            While wandering around the market, I stopped to watch a group of Indian musicians making quit a racket in front of the church. One instrument was a large conch shell.


            Lunch goodies were purchased at the Pisac market, and then we drove up to the Pisac ruins parking lot where we made sandwiches on the Mazda tailgate.  


There is a paved road part way up to the ruins now, but it’s still quite a hike. Years ago you had to hike all the way from the bottom in Pisac. Most of us elected to look through binoculars.


            There were several children and women there at the parking lot dressed in their colorful native outfits, holding little animals – puppies or baby lambs – hoping to be photographed for a sole or two. In Cuzco, kids trying to sell stuff can be quite obnoxious with their persistence, even when it’s obvious you’re not interested in their merchandise.


            Our next destination was Ollantaytambo, down the Sacred Valley where the paved road ends. Drove through the towns of Calca and Urubamba on the way. We will be staying at the Albergue Ollantaytambo for two nights. It is located right next to the train station, about a kilometer from the center of town. We put the trucks in a walled yard nearby. Across the railroad track is the Urubamba River which presently is a roaring, slate-gray torrent. The returning trains from Machu Picchu come fairly often and spew diesel fumes everywhere while they discharge passengers.


  No one feels like walking a kilometer up to town to see the Inca ruins or to have dinner there, so we elected to eat at the hotel. I have become spoiled by the low prices for meals, so the $10 US we were charged at the Albergue seemed high. We didn’t have much choice though unless we wanted to walk to town. We had mashed potatoes, either a chicken or beef entrée (I picked chicken – just average), spinach soup (good), and cake (not too good), - a rather disappointing meal for $10.


            The Albergue has a nice garden with a beautiful datura plant – related to ours, but huge – almost tree-size. This plant has large white flowers like those at home; however, they do not stand upright, but instead hang down.


From the second floor balcony, you can see the Inca fortress in the distance.


            The hotel has three dogs – black and yellow labs that are obviously spoiled. I took a cute photo of two sprawled on the bottom two steps of the stairs up to our rooms – made negotiating our way up a bit difficult.


            Our Machu Picchu train tickets have been screwed up. I made reservations several months ago while still at home, but the day before we left, I got an e-mail saying I needed to remake reservations with a different company. It was unclear what that was all about, but when we were at Victor’s in Lima, he supposedly made new reservations for us. That evidently got screwed up too. We thought we were scheduled for the 7:00 a.m. Vistadome #1, but now they tell us we can’t go until 10:00. That will cut our time at Machu Picchu considerably. I wanted to avoid the problem we had years ago when we only had two hours to explore. As compensation for the screw up, we are being supplied with a guide once we get there.


Day 13, September 16, Monday
Machu Picchu     See Map


Sept. 16, Monday – Machu Picchu day! Mary, John Hunt, and Paul were able to go on the early train – there were three extra seats.


 Our later 10:00 train ride was uneventful, but the scenery was extraordinary. I don’t remember the canyon walls so high or so nearly vertical. And I don’t remember a tourist town at the end of the train trip like there is today. Back then, I think the train went farther down the Urubamba River canyon and stopped directly across from the road up to the ruins. Now the train stops at Aguas Calientes (new name is Machu Picchu Pueblo) and then the buses have to drive down the canyon a ways before they cross the river and start up the switchbacks to the ruins. I have read that a landslide destroyed the rail line below Aguas Calientes and there are no plans to rebuild it.


            Years ago, when we got off the train, we didn’t realize we needed to get in line to buy bus tickets, and by the time we figured out what was going on, we could only get tickets for one of the last buses going up (not really buses back then, but more like big Suburbans – I think). With only two hours to see such a large site, we were forced to rush around. This time we had about four and a half hours, most of it with our guide. That was actually enough time for me. I was pooped by the time we finished – hiking up and down wore me out.


            The site of Machu Picchu is breathtaking. Those Incas and pre-Columbian Indians must have explored every inch of this area over time. Even before Bingham “discovered” it, the local folks knew of it.


            Early on in the planning process of this trip, we considered staying at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Hotel which is located right up by the ruins. 


However, we didn’t have to consider very long – with a price tag of $300+ for a room, we all felt our money could be better spent some other way.


        Our 5:20 train (the Backpacker) ran out of daylight returning to Ollantaytambo. We arrived back at the hotel about 6:45 in the dark. The hotel had dinner ready, so we ate right away – creamed chicken over yuca, rice, veggie soup with quinoa, and a cooked corn starch-like dessert with a pleasant fruity flavor. Another $10. The hotel is owned by an American woman, Wendy Weeks, but we saw neither hide nor hair of her. However, her son was there and he and several helpers seemed to have things under control. I have caught Joann’s cold – my throat is scratchy. Those diesel fumes don’t help either.


Day 14, September 17, Tuesday
Ollantaytambo to Cuzco     See Map


Sept. 17, Tuesday – This morning, some of us went up to town to see the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo. There were lots of taxis and buses near the train station and our hotel, which is next to the train station. The drivers were waiting to take people back to Cuzco, so none of them was interested in taking us only one kilometer into town. We had to walk instead.


            Once we got to the ruins, there were mucho stairs to climb to reach the main part of this complex. I took ten steps at a time and then rested and finally made it up. Ollantaytambo is situated at the confluence of the Urubamba and Patacancha Rivers. Across the side valley of the Patacancha, are more ruins high on the near-vertical canyon walls. We could see several rows of neat, but roofless buildings. What a hike that must have been to reach those structures.


    Reda and I explored the main ruins, and marveled at the six huge, pinkish granite blocks that were moved six kilometers from a quarry across the river and up to their present location. They are part of an Inca temple that was never finished. Down near the Patacancha River, the Incas diverted some of the water and directed it here and there with stone aqueducts, and little picturesque waterfalls chiseled in stone – a pleasant, idyllic spot.


            We walked back to the hotel, packed up the trucks and headed toward Urubamba. My cold’s getting worse. In Urubamba, we made an unplanned stop at a ceramic shop operated by a Señor Seminario. They make and sell very impressive creations – from pots, vases, plates, cups, and tile to large, and very expensive ($1100 - $1200) ceramic, totem-like figures. All items are decorated with stylized figures and designs. I couldn’t resist – bought a large, tall pot/vase and a plate. Arranged to have them shipped home - $245 US – ouch! $55 of that was just for packing, shipping and insurance. All our purchases will be sent together to the Mitchell’s – which is supposed to help cut down shipping costs.


            The ceramic shop was a delightful place – seems to be their home also, complete with several colorful macaw parrots. It was very neat and tidy. Ceramics have been worked into the decorations of the buildings, yard and outer stone wall. It was another worthwhile stop.


            We returned to Cuzco by way of Chinchero which is a village built on Inca foundations. Here, we found a very nice restaurant and had another memorable meal – one of the best yet. I watched some girls by the front entrance playing jacks. Kids at home don’t seem to play jacks anymore. 


        We walked around the town for a while, after getting our tourist tickets punched. There were, of course several tourist shops. I bought another alpaca sweater – shades of red and indigo (~$8 US), some more knitted caps (~$1.25 US), and a replica Moche stirrup-spout pot showing a painted ceremonial scene ($6 US). Most of the group went on to see a museum and more Inca stone work, but I went back to the trucks.


            From Chinchero, we can see 360 degrees – there are snow-capped peaks everywhere. What a beautiful drive back to Cuzco!    


We stayed at the Hostal Los Niños
again and had dinner at a restaurant near the main plaza. I had an avocado stuffed with chopped veggies in a mayo sauce similar to the one I had in Puno. My order of soup didn’t come until everyone else was done and ready to leave.


            Kathy Mitchell arranged for a tourist shop (headquarters of the shop we stopped at last Saturday) to send a van to pick us up for some more shopping. They weren’t into bargaining, but I bought two baby alpaca sweaters for sons, Jonathan and David – a completely plain black one and a completely plain gray one – about $45 each. Haven’t decided who gets which. The van also returned us to the hotel.


Day 15, September 18, Wednesday
Cuzco to Abancay     See Map


Sept. 18, Wednesday – Today, we drove to Abancay. Went up, up, up over a couple a passes and then down, down, down into valleys. 


We made another unplanned stop at the site of Rimatambo, better known as Tarawasi, the name of the hacienda on the site. Here, we inspected a tambo (resting place) and ceremonial center – an example of well-made Inca stone work. 


  There were twelve niches just big enough for one person each to stand in. John Hunt had the caretaker take a photo of us standing in the niches. We also inspected the big, old adobe hacienda buildings next door. We noted about twenty little cuy sitting around on the kitchen floor. I imagine the cook must need to sweep their dropping out occasionally since they do their business right on the kitchen floor. The door was wide open, but they made no effort to escape, despite their pending fate. Several days ago, Reda ordered cuy for dinner, but when it was served whole, with head, eyes and tiny feet, she was taken aback and quickly changed her mind about actually eating the little critter.


            Somehow, we in the Mazda got separated from the other two trucks, and thinking they were ahead of us, went charging down the road trying to catch them and reach them on the radio. When we couldn’t do either, we considered the possibility that they were behind us and turned around. Sure enough, they had stopped somewhere back by Tarawasi, but hadn’t told us and we hadn’t seen them.


            At some point, we crossed the Rio Apurímac, a large river that flows east into the Amazon basin.


            Stopped at the Stones of Saihuite to see the intriguing boulder the Incas playfully carved with houses, animals, figures and water channels; it is supposed to represent an Inca village.


    I don’t know its purpose, but I suppose it was ceremonial because there is a temple? foundation adjacent to the boulder. We saw it 36 years ago too. I remember pouring water at the top to see it run down the maze of little channels. There was no fence around it then as there is now. This boulder used to be on the main road, but the current, paved highway by-passes it, so now it is necessary to make a short side trip on the old dirt road. There are other carved boulders nearby and some of our people walked down the hill so see them.


            Reached Abancay by 3:00 p.m. Our Hotel Imperial has parking inside their compound which is handy and unusual. 


A nicer hotel across the street is where we had an early dinner since we didn’t have a real lunch at noon. I had mushroom soup, trout, potatoes, rice and carrots. Good, but not as good as yesterday’s lunch in Chinchero. We will have an all-day drive tomorrow – from Abancay to Nazca. It’s supposed to take about 12 hours.


Day 16, September 19, Thursday
Abancay to Nazca     See Map


Sept.19, Thursday – Got up about 5:00 a.m., had breakfast, backed the trucks out of the narrow parking area, and headed for Nazca. We had information indicating that this route would be entirely paved by the time we got there, but it was not to be. Despite a lot of road work going on, it looks like pavement is still a long way off.


        We drove down, down to the Rio Pacacocha, and then followed it up-stream for many miles 


until we at last found ourselves on the altiplano again. We passed through the vicuña sanctuary of Pampas Galeras. We weren’t disappointed – saw large numbers of these wild, llama-related creatures grazing in small groups. 


  They are noted for their fine fur and once a year they are rounded up, shorn, and released to run wild for another year. Back at Machu Picchu I checked the price of a vicuña neck scarf - $400!!


            We had a tailgate lunch up there on the chilly heights (about 14,000 ft.), 


and then started down the long descent to Nazca. We stayed in the same hotel as before, arriving about 5:00 p.m., but this time Charlayne and I got a first floor room out in the older section. Had dinner in another nearby restaurant.


Day 17, September 20, Friday
Nazca to Lima     See Map


Sept. 20, Friday – The drive up to Lima was uneventful. I took some photos in Ica of the mausoleum-type cemetery, also took one of huge mounds of trash strewn along the streets – disgusting! Don’t remember seeing this on our way through Ica the first time.


            Pachacamac, the Inca and pre-Inca archaeological site that we missed on our way from Lima to Pisco two weeks ago, was on our route back to Lima. 


With a little extra time, we made a quick driving tour of the ruins, stopping briefly at some of the huacas, and then hurried on into the city. It was there at Pachacamac that we saw our first Peruvian hairless dogs – strange looking, almost repulsive, and they do feel extra warm, just as we had read.


            Somehow, with Mary’s navigational help, we made it through Lima’s chaotic traffic and found our way to Victor’s hostal. We were all bushed, so the hotel ordered us another chicken dinner, just as they did when we first arrived in Peru. Lima has been overcast both times we’ve been here, and years ago, I remember it was the same. It has to be one of the ugliest cities I’ve ever been in. The central plaza area is nice enough, but much of the rest is dirty and dreary – a hodgepodge of residences and businesses. Many building do not appear to be finished. They are built side by side with no room in between. It seems 90% of the cars and vehicles are for public transportation – taxis mostly, which are commonly Toyota Corollas and tiny Daewoo vans. There are also larger passenger vans and finally big buses. It’s impossible to describe the way these people drive, yet there seem to be very few fender benders. Maybe it’s because every one has to be super alert, plus traffic isn’t overly fast.


            Somebody screwed up again, and locked the keys in the one of the trucks. This took a while, in light rain, to remedy.


            For the rest of the trip, I have decided to leave my big, heavy bag at the hotel and just take my smaller daypack. After telling everyone else to pack light, I have brought too much myself. The heaviest items are the satellite phone and all that radio stuff I haven’t even used. There is plenty of radio equipment for the three trucks without mine. The radios are indispensable communication aids, especially when we are trying to maneuver through strange towns. We would have a much more difficult time without them.

Day 18, September 21, Saturday Lima to Chavín de Huántar     See Map


Sept. 21, Saturday – It took about ten hours to drive to Chavín de Huántar, our next destination. It is located in the Callejon de Conchucos on the eastern side of the Cordillera Blanca. First, we drove up the coast in fog which keeps the hills somewhat green, and then inland up a dry river valley. Higher and higher we went until once again, we were driving across the altiplano with snow-capped peaks in the distance. Then we turned off to the east, climbed even higher, stopped to take pictures of beautiful Laguna Querococha, and topped out at the 14,500 ft. Cahuish Tunnel. 


  We drove through the tunnel and down the other side, passing a huge, white statue of Christ. 


Surprisingly, there was a considerable amount of traffic on the road. We continued our downward descent, dodging on-coming buses, trucks and vans on a one-lane dirt road barely wide enough for one vehicle, let alone two when they needed to pass.


            It was just dark when we finally reached Chavín and made our way to our hotel, the Hostal Turistico Rickay. After unloading, we all walked up the street, past the plaza to a restaurant for dinner. We eat most of our lunches on the road. We use the Mazda’s tailgate because it carries no luggage. I still have a cold, and several other people do too. That should be no surprise, being cooped up with one another all day long. Kathy’s not feeling well and skipped dinner.

Day 19, September 22, Sunday
Chavín de Huántar to Caraz     See Map


Sept. 22, Sunday – The archaeological site of Chavín de Huántar is back at the edge of town the way we came in last evening. It is estimated to be 3,200 years old. This culture had a well-developed art form that focused on a feline motif showing large, menacing fangs. These creatures are quite similar to early Chinese representations, so some scholars have suggested there may be a connection. 


      We walked around a large sunken court surrounded by stairs and mounds. Part of the complex has underground chambers which are lighted with electric bulbs so that tourists can explore them. Inside one of these is a lance-shaped stele called the Lanzon de Chavín. The Stele Raimondi, originally found here, has been removed to the Museo de la Nación in Lima where we saw it earlier when we visited that museum. Returning to the hotel, we packed up the trucks to make the long trip back over the mountains.


            On the western side of the Andes again, we followed the main road down the Callejon de Huaylas, between the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra. The highway here is paved. It was a beautiful drive – high, snowy peaks off to our right and lower, snowless ones on the left. We drove through Recuay, one of the cleanest little towns we’ve been in and then continued down the valley through Huaraz and on to Caraz where we stayed at the Hostal Perla de los Andes which is right on the main plaza. We were running short of time so had to skip the Monterrey Hot Springs and the waterfall that is supposed to be somewhere near it.


            Had dinner at a restaurant a few doors down the street – up on the second floor. They didn’t have enough help, so meals were served in an on-going fashion - those who were served first were done long before the last people got their food.


            As we were leaving to return to the hotel, noise and commotion caught our attention. We had the pleasure of watching a celebration in honor of the spring (our fall) solstice. We enjoyed a bird’s-eye view from the second floor of the hotel. Local people were celebrating with a parade around the plaza. There were dancers and musicians in colorful costumes, a couple of floats – one with a queen, and people carrying critters made of paper such as cats and butterflies. It seemed the most of the town citizens were in the parade. The first time around the plaza they evidently were just getting warmed up, because they went around a second time. It was dark, but I took lots of photos with the flash.

Day 20, September 23, Monday
Caraz to Trujillo     See Map


Sept. 23, Monday – This morning we made our way out of town and headed down the hair-raising, breathtaking, Cañon del Pato, an enormous, deep gorge that has been cut by the Rio Santa. Sheer cliff faces tower several thousand feet above the river, and it is so narrow in some places, it resembles a slot canyon. We passed by a rickety-looking suspension foot bridge. A fellow just crossing, asked for a lift which he was given – riding on the truck pickup bed. We also passed a small, but spectacular side tributary with a seven-tiered waterfall that must have been hundreds of feet high.




            The dirt road that has been blasted out of the canyon walls has no guard rails. As it wends its way toward the hydroelectric facility at Huallanca, it passes through 35 tunnels. I didn’t notice an intake for the diverted water and can’t imagine where the tunnel was, unless it was directly under our road bed. By the time we reached the coast, Joann had counted 47 tunnels total. The drive was spectacular, but also long, hard, bumpy, and dusty, yet worth doing – at least once.




            In Trujillo, we stayed at the Hotel Continental. It has an elevator, the first one we have seen on the trip – hurray! Went to a bank up the street and used the ATM to get 1200 soles which should be more than enough for the rest of the trip. We all had dinner at the nicer-than-usual Mochica Restaurant. Mine was fish and rice with onions – good. Also had an avocado salad, but not as good as previous ones.

Day 21, September 24, Tuesday
Trujillo to Chiclayo     See Map


Sept 24, Tuesday – Kathy arranged for a guided tour today - $20 US per person – a little steep, but worth it. With traffic in major cities so chaotic and intimidating, we have found that hiring a local guide and tour bus is an ideal way to see tourist attractions. It saves time and helps prevent frazzled nerves, plus the drivers know what streets to take to get places quickly and the guides have a wealth of information.


            Our Trujillo area guide, Michael, was very knowledgeable and he spoke good English – in fact, he was English - married to a Peruvian. He was a complete contrast to dark-haired, dark-eyed Peruvians. He had blond, nearly white hair and blue, blue eyes. First he took us to the Huaca de la Luna with its colorful friezes. This, I think, has all been uncovered since we were here before. He said the Huaca del Sol may also have friezes, but archaeologists have not yet attempted to excavate it to find out. In the souvenir shop there, I bought Mary and John a modern ceramic pot decorated with a Chimu design, as a thank-you for all their help as the kitty keepers.


            Next, we went to Chan Chan, the huge Chimu city and royal palace compound made of adobe. I think much has been done here since our earlier trip. 


Our guide mentioned the reappearance of a large fresh-water well – more like a fresh-water pond that, up until recently, was dry. It evidently existed in Chimu times, but dried up when the city was abandoned. Bought a replica Moche “portrait” pot there for only $3. 


And last, we visited the Huaca Del Dragon with more large friezes similar to the others. It has been nicely restored. We saw this 36 years ago too.


            I asked Michael why we see so many fields of marigolds and he said the flowers are used to make orange colorant, some of which is fed to chickens to make the egg yolks oranger.


            Back at the hotel, we said goodbye to our eight traveling companions who are going home early. We remaining four, Reda, Paul, John Page and I, who are staying an extra week, started the drive north to Chiclayo – arrived there about 6:00 p.m. Charlayne will now share a room with Lorene for their remaining two nights. Lorene had been Reda’s roommate. I will share a room with Reda for the last week. Reda will now take over the kitty-keeper duties and Paul will be our chief communicator since he knows more Spanish than the rest of us.


            Our hotel in Chiclayo, the Kalu, isn’t quite as nice as most we’ve been in, but it’s adequate and only $13 US for a double ($7.50 each), plus they have a parking area in the back. Unfortunately, our rooms are on the fourth floor! And no elevator! Actually, it’s more like the fifth floor because the hotel entrance is on the second level, with shops below at ground level. That evening, we walked six blocks to the plaza, looking for a restaurant. There were scads of rotisserie-chicken places but we wanted a regular restaurant with a choice of Peruvian food, not just chicken – we can get chicken like this at home. Once again, I ordered asparagus soup, but it didn’t look like asparagus soup or taste like it – good anyway, what ever it was. Also had Chicken Milanese, a breast pounded flat and thin, breaded and fried. This came with French fries.


            At dinner, Kathy and I were surprised (at least I was surprised) when Mary and John presented us with gifts from the group as a thank you – me for planning the trip, and Kathy for making all the reservations and being our Spanish-speaking liaison. Kathy was given a lovely necklace made of purplish spiny oyster shell? - I think. And they gave me a replica Chavin–style, stirrup-spout pot, and a Seminario (Urubamba pottery shop) serving tray with a unique duck design. Mary was very observant and remembered things I had admired in tourist shops. I actually didn’t have to be much of a trip leader once we got to Peru. Seems everyone pitched in and took care of things. The men, for instance, just assumed it was their job to change flat tires, take the trucks to secure parking lots each night and load and unload the luggage each day. They also installed the radios each morning. Others, especially Mary, became navigators when we arrived in new towns. I didn’t have to do much at all – just made a few decisions now and then.

Day 22, September 25, Wednesday
Chiclayo     See Map


Sept. 25, Wednesday – Up early and out to breakfast at 7:00, but we couldn’t find any place open. Bought some pastries instead, and then on the way back, found that the restaurant right next door to the hotel had opened in the meantime. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and got baloney and cheese. Guess here in Chiclayo they call baloney, ham.


            On the drive out to the site of Sipán, we missed a turn. Stopped a couple of times to ask for directions and eventually found our way back to the correct turn. That little detour cost us an extra hour. 




Sipán, a site where Moche warrior-priests were buried, has replicas of the funerary goodies in situ – just like they were when excavated. 


My UCLA thesis advisor, Christopher Donnan, was one of the archaeologists who excavated Sipán. I doubt that he would remember me, since he was only my advisor for a few weeks after my original advisor, Ralph Altman died. There is a little museum there also. I bought a $3 “Sipan – Peru” T-shirt there.


            Next, we drove to Lambayeque to see the Brüning Museum where the actual, real treasures from the Royal Tombs of Sipán are (were) on display. 




That was a disappointing turn of events. Seems the Sipán artifacts are being moved to their own Museum of the Tombs, which is scheduled to open October 3rd, a day after we return home. Luckily, I was able to see the Royal Tombs of Sipán show when it on tour at UCLA. I was overwhelmed by the richness and beauty of the gold, silver, inlaid, and beaded funerary apparel in which the Moche warrior-priests were buried. The Sipán treasures are, in my opinion, on a par with Egypt’s King Tut. Even though we missed the Sipán exhibit, the Brüning Museum was a worthwhile stop. There, we hired a pleasant, enthusiastic, English-speaking, local man to be our guide. He was pretty good even though he had a heavy accent.


            When we asked our guide if he would take us to Tucumé (for an extra charge), he agreed. 




It is an immense site with many huacas (adobe pyramids) that are slowly eroding away. We hiked up a nearby cerro (hill) to a view point overlooking the site. 


He also took us to the new Sicán museum in Ferrañape which just opened last year. 


The Sicán people were from a later culture than the Moche of Sipán. Their original capital was centered at Batan Grande, but when that site burned, they moved to Tucumé. The Batan Grande site, which is being excavated by a Japanese archaeological team, is not yet open to ordinary tourists. But the new museum is outstanding. The artifacts found at Batan Grande rival those of the Sipán tombs.




            Back in Chiclayo, we had dinner right next door to the hotel – where we had breakfast. I had tallerin con pollo – noodles with chicken and veggies. It was good and plentiful; however, I was awake most of the night with the trots.


Day 23, September 26, Thursday
Chiclayo to Chachapoyas     See Map


Sept. 26, Thursday – We drove north on the Panamericana about 60 miles, then turned east on a paved road and began the climb up to Porculla Pass – about 7,000 ft, the lowest pass over the Peruvian Andes. The road then dropped down to the town of Jaen in the Rio Marañon valley. From there, we followed a tributary, the Rio Utcubamba, to Pedro Ruiz and then on to Chachapoyas.


            I felt lousy the whole way – I’m not yet over what ever started last night, but at least I wasn’t in frequent need of a bush. I didn’t even have enough energy to get out of the truck to take photos of this beautiful area.


            Most of the way between Jaen and Chachapoyas, the road was gravel and full of chuck holes, but the scenery was exceptional. The Utcubamba River cuts through a spectacular area of high vertical cliffs. The vegetation is lush – green and tropical. It rained – not a surprising event, considering the jungle we traveled through. 


By late afternoon, we finally reached the side road that took us up the mountainside to Chachapoyas, the small town where we stayed at the Hotel Revash. I was feeling worse and I was cold besides.




            For such a small, off-the-beaten-path town, our hotel room has a nice bathroom, all color coordinated – except it looks like they never finished the tile work around the tub/shower. Thank goodness the water in our bathroom was super hot. But there was no toilet seat, so I had to sit on the cold, porcelain edge. Then, I filled my hot water bottle, took two Cipro tablets and felt even worse. About half an hour later, I threw them up and felt better. Went to sleep cuddled up with the hot water bottle – so glad I brought it. I skipped dinner, of course.


Day 24, September 27, Friday
Chachapoyas to Leimebamba     See Map


Sept. 27, Friday – I feel much better. The hotel doesn’t serve breakfast, so we went to a restaurant next door on the second floor to eat. Returned back down the mountainside to the main road by the Utcubamba River and then followed it up to the village of Tingo. Here, we took another side road that goes to Kuélap, the huge fortified city built by the Chachapoya people who were eventually absorbed by the Inca Empire.


            It took one and a half hours to make the drive up from the principal gravel highway along the river. First, we passed the clean, tidy village of Nuevo Tingo which has an array of topiary animals in their central plaza, 


and then climbed up a narrow, one-lane road with scary drop-offs. The views of the countryside were spectacular – fields are cultivated on steep slopes and livestock graze on these steep slopes too – don’t know how they stand up on such steep terrain. There doesn’t seem to be a level inch of ground anywhere.


            At the end of the road, we were faced with a hike up to the ruins of Kuélap. The guide book says it’s a ten minute walk - a gross underestimation, I would say, even for a fit person. It took me much longer because I went extra slow. Yesterday’s bout with a bug has left me less than my usual self, which isn’t very fast to begin with – plus the elevation is nearly 10,000 ft. 




Kuélap is located at the end of a mountaintop ridge. The exterior walls, which surround the entire city, are truly impressive – 60 ft. high in some places. The two entry ways are narrow slots, easily defended should an enemy try to enter.




            A secondary level inside is reached by another slot. I wore myself out climbing up to that secondary level, but didn’t see much there; however, the view from there, of the precipitous hillsides and our narrow little road, was awesome. The high wall of the enclosure on that side, which is perched at the edge of the near-vertical mountain side, must have been quite a challenge to build.


            The guide books say the building material used to construct this citadel was greater than the largest pyramid in Egypt. It appears that much of the “building material” was rubble used to fill and raise the interior level to the tops of the wall. Inside the fortress are the remains of more than 400 dwellings. 




Most are round, and one has been reconstructed. It was quite roomy inside, with a raised sleeping platform about one foot high against the back wall. In the lower living/kitchen area was a large, flat stone – sort of a giant metate. A steep, conical, thatched roof rested on a circular stone wall that was decorated on the outside with geometric stone designs.


            I was completely bushed by the time I started back down to the truck. On the way up, I managed, unintentionally, to miss seeing the ticket booth. On the way back I saw it, but I wasn’t about to retro-pay. I was just too exhausted to go out of my way. I made it back to the truck by going super slow. I’d do it again though; what an incredible place.


            Back in Tingo, we continued up the river canyon on the main road to Leimebamba. When Kathy was making hotel reservations, we found that the guide books gave no phone numbers for the hotels in Leimebamba. However, there is phone service there after all, and last night’s hotel owner in Chachapoyas kindly called ahead for us to make reservations in an old home called La Casona with several second-floor rooms that had been converted for tourists. There were no directional signs to this place, so we just asked and finally found it.


            We were allowed to park the truck inside, behind locked doors. By opening several adjacent doors at the entrance, our host made a seemingly wide access; yet, it was still quite narrow and something of a trick to get the truck in the tiny space available. First, John tried going in frontward, but the street was so narrow and the truck was so long, he couldn’t swing wide enough to make it without hitting something. So, he tried to back it in, and somehow, for some reason that worked. I’m still mystified how it is possible to back in some places when you can’t drive in forward.


            Considering Leimebamba is even more remote than Chachapoyas, it was a fairly nice place – even if the floors weren’t level. We walked a short distance to the main square and found a simple restaurant where we had truchas (trout). They were a bit small, but there were lots of fried potatoes to fill us up. We met a German fellow who was also having dinner there. He spoke good English, and told us that German men are required to serve two years either in the military or in some humanitarian-type program. He had chosen the latter, helping a Catholic, church-based endeavor.


        He encouraged us to see the new Leimebamba Museum that houses artifacts of the Chachapoya culture – many of which were found in mummy bundles initially discovered by looters plundering cliff, shelter caves of that region. Everyone we talked to says it is a must-see. The only problem is our schedule; we won’t be able to make it all the way to Cajamarca by tomorrow night. Someone thoughtfully asked the museum caretaker if he would open early for us - he will, so we decided to stay in the morning long enough to tour the new museum. Tomorrow night we will probably stay in Celendín.


Day 25, September 28, Saturday
Leimebamba to Celendín     See Map


Sept. 28, Saturday – This morning, Reda got up at 5:00 instead of 6:00. At 5:30, I asked her why she was up so early - she replied it was 6:30 and I had better get up too. A check of both our watches revealed hers was set an hour early – a mistake that happen when she dropped hers and needed to reset it – she set it wrong by an hour. So we didn’t have any trouble making it to breakfast by 7:00 down at the restaurant where we had dinner last night.


            The museum caretaker and his helper, who live in town, hitched a ride with us to the museum which is three kilometers on the road out of town – the road toward Celendín. We were properly impressed with the Leimebamba Museum and it was indeed worth the delay and time. 


Not only is it brand new, it is also nicely done with attractive displays, and descriptions are in English as well as Spanish. Its construction was financed primarily by Austrians. The highlight was a temperature and atmospheric-controlled room with 200+ mummy bundles that have been rescued from a cliff, shelter cave overlooking Laguna de los Condores. Grave robber had destroyed some of these mummy bundles, but much was saved. There was also a life-sized replica of a Kuélap house – with a tall, conical-shaped thatched roof. 


We two ladies found several things to purchase in the tiny gift shop. I bought a replica Chachapoya/Inca-style ceramic pot with a rounded bottom – supposedly to make pouring easier.


            Across the street from the museum, we watched a woman weaving on a back-strap loom. It must have been twelve feet long – so long that she had to work standing up instead of sitting down.


            After leaving the museum, we continued on toward Celendín, first climbing up the dirt road into drizzly clouds/fog – this is, after all, the land of the Cloud People. We reached a pass and then drove down, down for many miles it seemed, to the Rio Marañon, the same river we crossed at Jaen two days ago. 


Many places, the road was extremely narrow, with alarming drop-offs, just as scary as the road to Kuélap yesterday. At the river it was uncomfortably warm, but we stopped for a quick lunch anyway on the other side of the bridge and watched as a man drove his herd of goats past us.


            From the river, we ascended one more time to yet another summit. We were able to relax a little because the drop-offs weren’t so dramatic and the road seemed somewhat wider. Along this stretch, we once again saw condors soaring, but they were quite high and soon drifted over the mountains out of sight.


       Then, it was down, down again and into Celendín. Since we hadn’t planned to stay there, we didn’t have reservations, and the guide books didn’t recommend any of the several hotels there. So we were on our own – picked one on the main plaza with a neat, clean patio and a pretty fish pond/fountain – the fountain wasn’t working, but the water was clean and the goldfish looked happy. Our room, however, was dowdy, with high ceilings and a smelly bathroom that had the lower four feet painted black. Plus, there was no hot water even though we had been told there would be some that evening – no shower for us. But at least we had clean sheets. We watched the owner put them on.


            It was still early, so we walked to the market looking for additional travel bags. I need an extra one for all the goodies I have purchased along the way, and so does Reda. I found one for 28 soles ~$8 US. It expands, but the wheels on it look rather cheap, and I doubt they will last even long enough to get it home. But I desperately need something, and I can manage without the wheels – I hope.


            Many of the people in this area wear tall hats – both men and women. I have been amused by all the different regional styles of hats we have seen throughout Peru. My favorites are the colorful, knitted caps with ear flaps we saw around Cuzco.


            The hotel was noisy and so was its restaurant. They did turn the music down when we asked though. I had soup with some sort of rice-like grain, plus a piece of fried chicken that was cut in such a strange fashion, I couldn’t tell what part of the chicken I was eating – but it was good.


Day 26, September 29, Sunday
Celendín to Cajamarca     See Map




Sept. 29, Sunday – This was Sunday market day, and the town was bustling with activity. When Paul went to fetch the truck from the cochera, he found a near-flat tire on the right rear. This is the second flat the Mazda has had on the trip. We pumped it up with the battery-operated tire pump that had been brought from home, and then drove it to a little hole-in-the-wall tire repair shop. 


The leak was in the side-wall and the only way to fix it was with the addition of a tube. The shop owner then discovered that the spare was also flat. It had not been properly sealed to the rim, so he fixed that too. A few days ago, when we got on the bumpy dirt road, we began to hear a persistent rattle. This morning, I noticed that a spring shackle on the left rear looked loose and when I kicked it, it rattled. That is the source of our noise - it seems one of the spring leaves has broken. The men wrapped some duct tape around it, to silence the racket.


            On the way out of town, we were side-tracked by an animal market where we stopped to watch and photo the sea of tall hats and animals - mostly cattle, but some pigs, goats and sheep.


            It was supposed to be six hours to Cajamarca, and that’s about what it took us. We passed through a small town, not far from Cajamarca, that was just as lively as Celendín. As we squeezed our way through, we saw another livestock market, another anything-everything market, and some sort of political rally.


            By lunchtime, we reached Cajamarca. Actually, we stayed in the Hostal Galvez right across from the Baños de los Incas, about five kilometers outside of Cajamarca. We ate lunch in a nearby restaurant popular with the locals. We all had the “set” lunch which was soup, fried chicken, rice, and potatoes in a good, but mysterious, orange-colored sauce.


            The Baños de los Incas is where Atahualpa, the Inca noble, was camped when Pizarro arrived. That was the beginning of the end for the Incas. Atahualpa was captured and held for ransom. Pizarro demanded a room filled with gold once and twice with silver, and then executed Atahualpa anyway. Today, the baths are modernized and crowded with local Peruvians; we didn’t go in.


            At 2:30 a guide came, who had been contacted, at our request, by the hotel manager-lady. His name was Edwin. Peruvians seem to use Anglo first names frequently. He brought his little boy along who slept most of the way. We asked to be taken to see the cave paintings near the village of Llacanora that are said to be 7,000 years old. It was a steep hike up to these red-colored pictographs. 


There were only a few and they were not in a cave. Our guide explained that they had once been in a cave, but it collapsed. There were a couple of other caves there too, but neither had pictographs, so we didn’t bother to walk over to them. It was interesting to know the pictographs are so old, but for such a strenuous hike, I was disappointed there wasn’t more to see.


            There is supposed to be a waterfall nearby that I wanted to see, but our guide said they haven’t had much rain lately, so it is currently dry. He then took us to the Ventanas Otusco. Near Cajamarca is the suburb of Otusco where a cliff-side is riddled with ancient burial niches. 




These niches are carved into a soft, tufa-like rock that reminds me of modern mausoleums with several rows stacked on top of one another. I didn’t feel like hiking uphill again for a closer look, so I stayed at the truck and watched some workmen building a new adobe house nearby and two young men on their little Peruvian horses all decked out with their silver-studded bridles and saddles.


            Back at the hotel, we walked down the street looking for a restaurant. Pickings were slim – only a couple of very simple places. We chose one and I had Lomo Saltado, small pieces of meat - beef I think - fried with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, and served with rice - actually quite tasty.


            On the way back to the hotel, I saw and petted a Siberian husky! I told the shop owners, who were also the dog’s owner, that I had three, like theirs at home. Theirs was named “Dinky”. Made me homesick – a month is a long time to be gone. Oh yeah, I miss Neal too.


Day 27, September 30, Monday
Cajamarca to Trujillo     See Map


Sept. 30, Monday – We prearranged to meet Edwin, yesterday’s guide, at 7:30 a.m. for a tour to Cumbe Mayo, the Bosque de Piedras (Forest of Rocks), and 3,000 year old petroglyphs – all in the same area.


        The road out of town was an obscure and complicated route. Without Edwin, we would have had real trouble finding the way, and undoubtedly would have wasted much time asking directions and backtracking when we took wrong roads. Paul quipped, “Hey, we could have found this easy. Who needs a guide?” The road we took climbed up and up, from about 8,000 ft. to nearly 12,000 ft. where once again we were surrounded by a barren, treeless landscape. But this was an altiplano dotted with beautiful rock formations, and not as flat as the other altiplanos we have driven across. When we arrived at the archaeological site, we found the driveway in blocked by a chain. Edwin and Paul walked over to the buildings to see if anyone was there. There wasn’t, so Paul stayed with the truck for security reasons while the rest of us walked down, first going to see the petroglyphs that are in a shelter cave in the eroded rock formation at the bottom of the hill. The designs are supposed to be Chavín in style, but it was difficult to make them out.


            Farther down the hill is Cumbe Mayo, an ancient aqueduct, cut out of solid rock in this section that remains. A right-angle jog in the course was made to slow the water down. Perhaps constructed as early as 1,000 B.C., the aqueduct once collected water from the Atlantic watershed and brought it to the Pacific side. This was partly possible because it is so close to the continental divide. 


There was some water in it, but only a trickle – it is no longer used. While there, we watched two Indian ladies bring their menagerie of livestock – six cows, two burros, one pig, eight sheep, one horse, and two dogs – down the hill to graze nearby where the grass looked thick and lush.


            When we were ready to tackle the hike back up the hill to the truck, a caretaker finally came to unlock the chain gate – and just in time to collect the entrance fee. But at least Paul was able to drive the truck down the hill to pick us up, so we didn’t have to huff and puff our way back up. Once at the bottom with the truck, Paul got to see the aqueduct and petroglyphs too.


            Returning to Cajamarca, we dropped our guide off, bought some groceries at a “super market”, and headed for the coast and Trujillo. Had to drive over a pass first and then followed a river down. Ate our lunch by the river, out in the rocky canyon bottom – no trees, but it wasn’t hot. It did get hot as we descended and got closer to the coast. We passed by a large reservoir filled with clear, turquoise colored water on the way.


            In Trujillo, we stayed at the same hotel – this time on the third floor. Sure glad they have an elevator. Had a “last supper” at a nice restaurant we found by walking around. It’s amazing how lively Peruvian towns become at night. Of course, I had asparagus soup, my favorite on this trip. Reda and I split an avocado salad. For the entrée, I had shrimp in another mystery sauce over potatoes. They do love their potatoes here. At home, that dish would probably be served with pasta or rice, but not potatoes. Then my three companions paid for my dinner as another thank-you for planning the trip.


Day 28, October 1, Tuesday
Trujillo To Lima     See Map


Oct. 1, Tuesday – Our last day! We managed to find our way out of Trujillo after getting lost and then drove south. Saw lots of asparagus and marigold fields on the way back to Lima. At Casma, we made a short side trip to see the archaeological site of Sechín, one of the oldest in Peru - probably older than Chavín. Most of the temple walls have been restored. They are composed of many large stone slabs with bas-relief designs and figures representing warriors and captives. 


The small museum there was disappointing – not very well organized and lacking informative descriptions of the displays. 


We had our lunch there, in the shade of some trees. While eating, we noticed a pitiful scrawny dog. Reda and I gave it most of our bread and some left-over mayonnaise. Poor thing – it was only walking on three legs – the fourth had evidently been injured. For many creatures and people, life is cruel. Is there is a loving god? I doubt it. If there actually is a god, I don’t believe he ever, ever meddles with the course of destiny.


            The rest of the day was a nightmare. Our course of destiny was certainly not altered in our favor. Three times, we were stopped by the Policía Carretera. Never before had we been stopped even though we saw and passed by many officers and their vehicles parked along side the road. The first time we were stopped, I was driving – we were never told why we were stopped. There was no ticket or fine for that one. The second time I was also driving. This cop wanted 350 soles, the equivalent of $100 US, which we could pay at the police station by returning miles the wrong direction or by paying him directly. We felt the infraction was bogus and were seething with irate rage by the time he relieved us of $100 and sent us on our way. I decided I had had enough and turned the wheel over to John. And then, would you believe, he, too, was stopped when we somehow managed to get on the truck-and-bus-only route just north of Lima. There had been no signs that we saw indicating cars and smaller vehicles were no allowed on this route. This cop only asked for a mordida of 40 soles = $12 US “to buy gas for his motorcycle”.


We drove by the ruins of Paramonga, a large Chimu huaca, but didn’t have time to stop. Also drove by the first serious accident we have seen – a cement truck on its side evidently took a curve too fast.


Once in Lima, we took the truck directly to the airport and the National Car Rental desk. Next followed a big fuss about checking the truck for damage – not possible because it was after hours and the mechanic had already gone home. The result of that little fracas will be a partially delayed bill. We paid the fixed rental costs up front, and authorized any damage charges to be charged to John’s credit card, and then we will all owe him our share of the final bill. Paul stayed at the airport since he had a 1:00 a.m. flight home - he didn’t bother going to the hotel.


            Next, we remaining three called Victor’s hostal, and they came to pick us up. We had chicken dinners sent over again, as we were too tired to eat out. Then, I had to repack my stuff using the new bag I bought in Celendín. I got to bed about 10:30.


Day 29, October 2, Wednesday
Lima to LAX


Oct. 2, Wednesday – Up at 3:00 a.m. and off to the airport in Victor’s van at 3:30. We were told to be there three hours early. There was a $25 airport tax, but we knew about that and were prepared to pay it. By 4:30, we were checked in, and then had to wait until 7:00 for our flight. A three hour early check-in was hardly needed. To pass the time, I wandered around the airport shops and found that the nicest (and most expensive) souvenirs of the whole trip can be bought here. Wish I was rich! There were some very nice replicas of pre-Columbian pottery, jewelry, and beautiful, colorful sweaters. My only purchase was a Peruvian cookbook. Sadly, it doesn’t have a recipe for asparagus soup. Guess I will have to experiment when I get home and see if I can make something comparable.


            On the flight to Miami, a Peruvian girl, Katherine Valle, sat next to me. She is going to Long Island to visit friends, leaving her husband and toddler daughter at home. Grandma is taking care of the little one while she’s gone. She spoke enough English to carry on a conversation, so, of course, I had to tell her about our unpleasant ordeal of the day before. She was disturbed by my account because such incidents give visitors – and prospective visitors - a bad impression of Peru.


            Our lay-over in Miami was boring – with nothing to do for three hours. While waiting, I called Neal; it was good to hear his voice. He’ll be there at LAX to pick me up. Our flight to Los Angeles left about 15 minutes late, but we still managed to arrive 15 minutes early. I was sure glad to see Neal waiting for me. Got my luggage, said good-bye to Reda and John, dragged the luggage to the truck (wheels on the new bag are worthless as suspected), and drove home. I drove because Neal doesn’t see well at night.




The bottom line for me = about $2250 for four weeks, not counting souvenirs – less than my original estimate which was a nice surprise. $2250 included round-trip airfare, Lima airport tax, hotels, meals/food, rental trucks, fuel, toll roads, tour buses, guides, entrance fees, Ballestras Islands and Lake Titicaca boat trips, Nazca airplane flight, Machu Picchu train, undeserved traffic tickets, truck damage (broken spring, missing mud flaps {missing in photo taken when we had our first flat tire} and tire – not sure about the latter), and phone calls Kathy made to reserve hotels and trucks. I spent an extra $800 on souvenirs and gifts.


            Getting cash was not a problem because ATMs were available in all the major cities and towns. Although I took some Travelers’ Checks, I didn’t use them. Charlayne brought some too and cashed a few, but it was a very time-consuming operation - on the back of each T check, she had to write her life history – practically. She used her ATM card after that.


            The Peruvians are very picky about their money; they won’t accept any bills that are even slightly torn, and they examine coins to see if they are counterfeit. I had a couple of coins rejected once, but I used them later with no problem.


        Twelve participants was an ideal number for our three double-cab pickup trucks. More people or vehicles would have been difficult to manage. In fact, I think traveling in just one vehicle with only four people was quite nice, but two vehicles would probably be better for safety and emergency reasons. During the trip, we tried to rotate so that we didn’t ride with the same people every day.


            The trucks we rented were all diesels – noisy and underpowered, but diesels are very common, so finding fuel was never a problem. Plus, they got terrific gas mileage. Mary figured about 27 miles per gallon. (They measure fuel in gallons, not liters.) A gallon of diesel cost about $2.00. Years ago gasoline was incredibly cheap – only 8 or 9 cents a gallon – the government must have subsidized it back then. Gas stations in Peru are called “grifos” which means faucets. We four, who stayed the extra week, drove about 4,000 miles total.


            Peruvians stretch their gas dollars (soles) by using cute little Japanese-made motorcycle and scooter “rickshaw” taxis. They are made with room for two passengers in a back seat and the driver straddles a single seat in front just like a regular motorcycle or scooter. Some are outfitted with an enclosed body to keep out inclement weather. I think they ought to import them here. They would be great for getting around town – to the grocery store, bank, etc. However, they wouldn’t do well for long trips, nor could they be driven on freeways.


            Of all the sites and sights we saw, I would put the Nazca Lines, Machu Picchu, and Kuélap and the top of my “don’t-miss” list. And of all the museums we visited, I think I was most impressed by the Raphael Larco Herrera in Lima – with its hundreds and hundreds of Moche ceramic pots. The two other new museums in northern Peru were also first-class. The Chachapoya Culture museum in Leimebamba, and the new museum near Chiclayo featuring the Sicán culture would be on my “don’t miss” list. The Museum of the Tombs, with artifacts from the Royal Tombs of Sipan, also near Chiclayo – (the one that was scheduled to open the day after we got home) will be, I suspect, one of the highlights for future tourists.


            Would I do it again? Yes, I certainly would, even though I had the usual tourist ailments, and despite the tribulations of the last day. And I wouldn’t mind going again because there is so much more to see. On the other hand, we saw a lot! - more than the usual tourist highlights. We explored Peru from top to bottom in a way that few travelers do. We kept on schedule; saw nearly everything on the itinerary, and several that weren’t. We were also lucky not to have been troubled with very many unexpected problems. Plus, the cost was quite reasonable, considering all we saw and the length of time we were gone.


  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1025w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1026w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1028w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1029w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1032w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1033w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1036w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1038w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1039w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1040w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1041w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1042w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1045w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1046w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1053w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1054w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1058w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1059w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1061w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1062w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1064w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1065w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1066w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1068w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1069w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1070w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1072w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1074w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1077w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1082w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1088w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1089w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1090w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1091w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1098w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1101w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1103w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1107w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1109w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1110w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1112w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1113w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1114w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1121w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1124w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1127w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1129w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1131w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1136w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1138w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1139w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1140w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1141w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1143w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1144w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1145w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1146w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1147w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1149w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1150w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1153w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1155w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1156w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1157w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1161w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1162w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1163w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1165w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1166w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1167w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1170w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1173w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1175w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1178w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1179w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1182w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1184w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1185w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1187w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1188w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1191w_small.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1193w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1196w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1197w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1198w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1199w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1200w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1202w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1206w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1206w_small.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1208w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1209w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1211w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1212w_small.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1213w_small.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1214w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1216w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1218w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1219w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1220w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1221w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1224w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1225w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1227w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1228w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1229w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1231w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1232w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1233w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1234w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1235w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1236w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1237w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1240w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1252w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1253w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1254w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1255w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1256w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1257w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1258w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1259w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1260w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1262w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1264w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1265w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1266w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1267w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1268w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1269w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1273w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1274w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1276w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1277w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1278w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1279w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1280w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1281w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1283w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1284w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1285w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1287w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1292w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1293w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1294w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1295w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1296w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1297w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1299w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1300w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1304w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1307w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1308w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1311w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1314w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1316w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1323w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1326w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1327w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1328w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1331w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1332w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1333w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1334w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1335w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1337w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1338w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1340w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1341w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1342w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1343w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1344w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1345w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1346w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1348w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1349w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1350w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1351w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1352w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1353w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1356w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1358w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1359w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1361w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1362w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1364w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1365w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1366w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1367w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1369w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1370w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1371w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1372w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1373w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1374w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1376w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1377w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1378w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1379w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1380w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1382w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1384w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1385w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1386w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1387w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1391w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1394w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1395w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1397w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1398w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1399w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1402w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1404w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1405w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1406w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image DSCN1407w.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Flightm1w.jpg

2008 Trip Reports - Southeast Asia

04 February 2014 | 2008 Trips

Southeast Asia

May 23 - 29, 2008

by Marian Johns

In the January 2008 issue of the Smithsonian magazine an article appeared  entitled " 28 Places to See Before You Die", (a much more sensible number than  the "1000 Places to See Before You Die" bestseller book). And of those 28  places, I was happy to learn I would be visiting two on our (Reda Anderson and  I) trip to Southeast Asia:

Angkor Wat - In Cambodia we were awed by the magnificent ruins of Angkor Wat, a  huge temple complex built in the 12th century A.D. dedicated to the Hindu god,  Vishnu. There are many other temples in this areas; our Cambodian guide took us  to see several of the more outstanding ones.


Bagan - The second "place to see", is Bagan – an archaeological site in Myanmar  (pronounced Me-an-mar) formerly known as Burma. Bagan, like Angkor Wat, is known  for its temples, but unlike Angkor Wat, they are Buddhist temples and most are  relatively small, yet they number in the hundreds. Some say 2200, others 2800.  It depends on where the perimeter of the area in question is drawn. Our Myanmar  guide said 2217 temples, built between the 12 and 14th centuries A.D., are found  in an area measuring 16 miles square miles.

Now on to the countries we visited. How difficult it is to compact 25 days into  a short article for the Newsletter!

Thailand - We only spent one day in Bangkok, Thailand where we were escorted  around the Royal Palace by our lady guide, Benny. It's open to the public as the  present-day king chooses to live elsewhere. Now in his eighties, he is a  forward-looking and benevolent man is much loved by the Thai people.

Cambodia – From Bangkok we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia (translates to "Siam  defeated"), the fast-growing city near Angkor Wat. Our guide, named Thai, was an  excellent leader. Of all the places we visited with him (other than Angkor Wat),  perhaps the Killing Fields stands out as one of the most memorable. There are  many Killing Fields in Cambodia, but the one we saw was marked by a square  monument with four glass sides so the bones and skulls of slaughtered Cambodians  are visible. The massacre of an estimated 1.5 million was the work of a radical  Marxist regime which tortured, starved and executed "enemies of the state". All  professionals and intellectuals were considered "enemies" and expendable. Our  guide pointed out the fact that even today very few Cambodians wear eye glasses  – a holdover from the times when anyone wearing glasses was suspect of being an  intellectual or prosperous.

Vietnam – Saigon, renamed Ho Chi Minh City, was our next destination. Here we  were greeted by "Ocean", who was to be our guide for the following two weeks.  (His real name is "Hai" which means ocean.) We learned that the Vietnamese  language is made up of one syllable words, thus Saigon and Vietnam are each  really two words.

What impressed me most about this communist country is how un-communist it  seems. It is bustling with activity and commerce; it's second only to China in  rice exports and the garment industry is booming. Streets are filled with hordes  of motorcycles, scooters and some bicycles. Restaurants and shops abound.

These people are very proud of the fact that they, just by their wits and  tenacity, out-foxed the mighty USA and won the Vietnam War. However, our guide  was careful not to rub our nose in our demise. Instead, he referred to the end  of the war as our "withdrawal".

We lost some 58,000 men (all for nothing it seems), but Vietnam paid a much  higher price. It's estimated that one million Viet Cong soldiers and two million  civilians perished in that conflict.

Vietnam is a fascinating place. We saw Buddhist temples and monasteries, a  Buddhist nunnery, an orphanage, a high school, villages, rode in horse-drawn  carts and cyclos (bicycle rickshaws), and took several boats rides. The best of  these was the Mekong River Delta and its house boat population and Halong Bay  with it 1000+ dramatically-shaped mini-islands north of Hanoi.

Myanmar – Last year's protests by Buddhist monks against economic hardships  imposed by Myanmar's repressive military regime have had a negative effect on  tourism – fearful visitors are staying away. Fortunately all was calm during our  five days there and we had a delightful time.

In Yangon, the capital, our guide, Erik (real name unpronounceable) took us to  the magnificent, gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, a 320 ft. high stupa built of bricks  and covered with 8,000+ bars of gold. Near the pinnacle are 5448 diamonds and  2317 rubies and at the very top is a 76 carat diamond. Unfortunately, they are  too high to be seen with the naked eye.

From Yangon, we flew to Bagan, then back to Yangon, Bangkok, and home – with a  three hour layover in Japan, so technically I can say I've been there too.

Since Neal doesn't like to travel outside the USA or Baja, I made this trip with  my friend Reda Anderson. We went with Grand Circle Travel – as we did when we  went to Egypt and Jordan. I can recommend them because they are highly  organized, provide excellent English-speaking guides and make sure you visit,  not only the well-known tourist spots, but also the more mundane, but  fascinating aspects of the countries such as schools and rural villages. Hotels  are usually 4-5 stars. For example, in Hanoi we stayed at the Hilton – no, not  the POW Hanoi Hilton which has been torn down except for a small section.

I'm planning on more trips (I'll be doing Russia in September/October with my  cousin). I figure I'd better go now while I can. At my age you never know.

(She just can't get over how many changes there are in the world in the 1900's –  Neal)

  • Click to enlarge image P1000666201024x768.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image P1000715201024x768.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image P1000748201024x768.jpg

2009 Trip Reports - Desert Explorers in Tibet

05 February 2014 | 2009 Trips


By Ana Romero

This is not a trip for anyone with any kind of health issues. The lowest  elevation is Lhasa at 11, 863 ft going up to a high of 17,000. Everyone got  varying degrees of high altitude sickness. We suffered neverending headaches,  lightheadedness, confusion, vomiting, out-of-breath with any kind of exertion,  and tiring easily. Catherine got heart palpitations and for a while thought she  might have to request oxygen or even leave. The roads are poor, and the last 123  miles to Everest is a washboard road. Catherine and I bloated up like balloons.  Loose clothing became tight on us, although the others didn't seem to have the  same problem. We were really glad that we didn't have a bunch of monasteries to visit. The  interiors are not that pleasant to be in. They are dark, crowded, dirty and  smell of the ever-burning yak butter used as candle wax. The Potala Palace was  indeed interesting. Over 1000 rooms, but we, of course, only saw probably a  couple of dozen. Many steps to climb to get to the Palace. Catherine and I had  to stop often to catch our breaths. Chuck and Kathy didn't go to the Palace. The food was okay, although you kinda get tired of Tibetan or Chinese food for  all three meals. The toilets are disgusting! with little or no toilet paper available. There was  an occasional "western style" toilet, but even that was not pleasant. Sometimes  they flushed and sometimes they didn't. All toilets smelled really bad. In all  honesty, we prayed for constipation, and thank goodness, we usually were.

(click Read More to continue)

2011 Trip Report - The DE in Sri Lanka and Southern India

05 February 2014 | 2011 Trips

Desert Explorers in Sri Lanka

By Marian Johns

First of all, I want to say that this was a memorable trip that I am glad I  took. I have no real regrets despite a multitude of problems, problems that  hounded us from the first to the very last day of our tour. Fifteen of us (seven  were people I already knew from our Desert Explorers organization) were  traveling with OAT – Overseas Adventure Travel. Our initial problems started  because our Air India flight from NYC to Delhi, India was five hours late. This  started a domino effect - consequently we missed our connecting “in transit”  flight to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka; there wasn’t another for 24 hours.  Air India put us up in the Centaur Hotel for the night, but by doing so, we  officially entered India. And India just happens to have a very inconvenient  restriction – not more than one entry in less than two months. Oops! So, if we  go to Sri Lanka first as for our scheduled week there – per our itinerary, how  will we reenter India for the rest of our tour?

The domino effect continued and we spent the first day in Sri Lanka chasing  around with our guide trying to work out - with the Indian High Commissioner  (embassy), how we could circumvent the reentry rule. Thus, we missed the first  day’s tour highlights and were late arriving at the elephant orphanage which had  just closed. When we left Colombo, we also left our passports with the High  Commissioner and crossed our fingers – hoping that when we returned to Colombo  at the week’s end we would have the proper documents and stamps in our passports  making an exception to the “only one entry in two months” rule that would allow  us to reenter India.

Sri Lanka, called Ceylon before 1972, is an exceptionally beautiful country.  Even though it rained the first few days, I enjoyed traveling through the lush,  tropical countryside, stopping a local markets and seeing wild elephants and  water buffalo. Our tour took us up into the mountains where the hillsides are  covered with tea plantations, and little streams, rivers and beautiful  waterfalls abound.

For me, the highlights of Sri Lanka were the waterfalls and Sigiriya Rock.  Sigiriya Rock, now a World Heritage Site, is a 600 ft. high monolith – the  remains of an ancient volcanic plug. To reach the top, a strenuous climb up a  rather scary stairway clinging to the vertical walls is required.. The climb is  worth the effort because of the spectacular views and because here are the  remains of a 5th century palace which once graced the summit. About half way up,  it is possible to take a breather and inspect frescoes, also from the 5th  century, which were painted in protected alcoves

Next month: India!


Our Fearless Co-leader Marian Johns shared a most enjoyable recount of our  January trip to Sri Lanka in the last DE newsletter. Yesterday’s news of the  death of Hindu spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba has inspired me to add on to her  tale with mention of her visit to Sai Baba’s ashram on our last day in Colombo.  We had been careening by bus for days through the lush Sri Lankan countryside  when I learned from our guide, Asanka, that the people of northeastern Sri Lanka  (the area where the recently subdued Tamils live) were suffering from the  aftermath of horrific flooding. Their fields were wiped out, animals drowned,  and houses destroyed. I asked him if there was anything I could do, some way to  donate to the relief effort, and he said he thought there might be an  opportunity when we returned to the capital, Colombo. I thought this might be a  way to see something a little different from the normal tourist fare and passed  the word but only Adventuress Marian Johns wanted to join us. So early on our  last day in Sri Lanka, we three left with Asanka in tuk-tuks (also called  auto-rickshaws) for our first white-knuckle ride through the narrow streets of  Colombo. By my request our first stop was St. Anthony’s, the strangest Catholic  church I’ve ever been in, an odd mixture of Hindu worship and Christian belief  -- very interesting but we were on a mission. We hopped back in the tuk-tuks and  headed for an upscale part of town where we were dropped off at the modest  compound of Sai Baba’s Colombo ashram. While waiting for the head man to receive  us, we took off our shoes and entered what looked like a high school gymnasium,  no furniture but a nicely polished wood floor and on the walls, paintings of the  world’s great holy men (I recognized Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha) as revered by  all faiths. On the stage was a large framed photo of Sathya Sai Baba with  piercing eyes and a very wild Afro hairdo; below were offerings of fruit and  flowers. Above him hung a lotus symbol with his tenets written on the petals:  peace, love, right conduct, truth and non-violence. That was it – no worshippers  present at that time, only mosquitoes who quickly found me, prompting me to want  to move along. We looked around, saw notices about their hospitals, schools and  missions in various parts of the country and that they were stockpiling rice and  canned goods. Marian and I signed a book, made our donation, got a receipt and  left. After another high-speed tuk-tuk ride we rejoined our group. A nice way, I  thought, to say goodbye to the beautiful country of Sri Lanka.

Southern India

By Marian Johns

We spent the first week of our  trip in Sri Lanka, a beautiful country whose people are mostly Buddhists.  Tourism, up until recently, has been hampered by Tamil Tiger terrorists, a  disgruntled Hindu minority, who felt they had no voice in the government. That  has changed and terrorists are currently not a problem; I didn’t feel at all  threatened.

When we returned to Colombo, the capital, for our  transfer back to India, we received welcome news – our passports now contained a  special stamp that would allow us to reenter India. Remember? There is a pesky  regulation requiring a two month waiting period between each entry, and we had  first entered India only nine days before.

Our flight back took us to the city of Chennai  (formerly Madras). Here, we met Arun, who turned out to be one of the best  guides I’ve had for my recent travels. This was not only because of his vast  knowledge about India, but because his forthright, candid talks concerning his  country and the problems it faces as the world’s second most (over) populated  country; by 2030 India is expected to surpass China. By the way, India is  promoting a one-child-per-couple concept - on a voluntary basis. India’s  problems include, but are not limited to: the caste system which is alive and  well, the dowry tradition, poverty, female infanticide, nepotism, corruption,  bribery, bureaucracy…. and trash – we saw trash everywhere. People ask me, "Did  the poverty depress you?" Yes, widespread poverty – poverty by our standards -  bothered me a little, but the trash bothered me even more. Thankfully, I saw no  "starving children" type of poverty. I wonder if poverty and trash go hand in  hand: it seems so in our country. Yet, perhaps it is more a cultural thing – a  mind-set of indifference. Even at the poverty level, Indians and their homes are  exceptionally clean. However, everywhere else that’s not in the immediate sphere  of their homes, is fair game for trash dumping.

We visited an orphanage partially supported by our  tour company. Upon our arrival, the children put on an entertaining talent show,  and then tried out their school-learned English with "Hello." "How are you?"  "What’s your name?" They appeared to be happy, well-fed and clothed. They were  exceptionally friendly and we all had a delightful time.

We also visited an untouchable village which I found  was not much different from non-untouchable villages we saw. Untouchables -  those who are members of the lowest caste, are even becoming involved in  politics and Indians are wondering if it might actually be possible for an  untouchable to become prime minister – much like here in this country where, not  so long ago, we wondered if a black man could ever become president.

When we asked Arun about the British rule of India  which ended in 1947, he made mostly positive comments – saying that the British  established administrative, transportation (railway), communication, judicial  and educational systems, plus they transformed India’s multiple regional states  into a unified country. The introduction of English has also helped unite India.  Hundreds of languages and dialects still exist, and although Hindi is the  official language of India, English is an "official" language too and is now  being taught in all levels of school. The British also rid India of the barbaric  custom of "sati" – where a widow threw herself – or was pushed onto her  husband’s funeral pyre; the murderous secret cult of Kali was also abolished.  Arun believed that when the British promoted literacy and established schools,  they unwittingly produced an educated class of Indian people who could not  tolerate their colonial status and who, consequently, demanded and eventually  won their independence.

About midway through our tour of southern India, poor Arun caught a cold and  lost his voice, so it became necessary for him to arrange for a new guide.  Taking over was Charles, but unlike middle-aged, Arun, Charles was only 24 years  old. Yet he was every bit as good as Arun, especially when it came to meeting  problems head-on.

Arun and Charles, to my surprise, were both  Christians. And, although Christians represent only about three percent of  India’s population, we saw a great number of churches. I learned that  Christianity was introduced as early as the 1st century AD and was further  spread much later by the arrival of Europeans in the late 1400’s.

Several of our group, including me, caught Arun’s cold, and everyone, except  me, suffered with bouts of Montezuma’s Revenge. I have no idea how I dodged that  bullet. Indian food tends to be too spicy for me. I used to like curry; maybe I  will again, but not real soon.

I must say that I have met my quota, and then some, of  visits to Hindu temples, and we toured sufficient churches, palaces and museums  too. We saw multitudes of people - people everywhere – people working – doing  just about every kind of job under the sun, often using primitive methods. Busy,  busy, busy. We wandered through lively outdoor markets, watched fishermen  bringing in their catch; visited a rubber plantation and a spice farm; stopped  to see small brick-making and tile-making operations; had dinner in private  homes three different times; spent one night in a substandard hotel due to a  mix-up, and two nights at an ultra-luxurious resort with the biggest swimming  pool I have ever seen, a monstrosity that must have been nearly two or three  blocks long.

I should mention India’s traffic; it’s a boundless  free-for-all. Cars, trucks and crowded buses everywhere - and always in a hurry.  On buses, ladies sit in front – gentlemen in back. If a lady boards and there  are no seats, a man is obliged to give her his. And, hanging out the doors if  there isn’t room inside is no longer allowed. I was truly amazed by the awesome  number of little three-wheeled taxis called Tuk-Tuks. There must be millions and  millions of these two-

passenger, one-driver, glorified motorcycles zooming  around India.

Animals: There were, of course, the revered cows wandering or lying,  undisturbed, in the city streets; lots of free-

roaming dogs too– surprisingly, most seem well fed;  didn’t see many cats. I went on an elephant ride – just 15 minutes, but that was  long enough.

The day before we headed to Bangalore for our flight  to Delhi and on home, we were once again faced with our entry-exit visa dilemma.  For some reason we now needed a special document saying we could legally leave  India! So we spent a portion of that day hustling around the city of Mysore  trying to obtain last minute requirements - like three more passport photos.  Charles, wading his way through Indian bureaucracy, was a marvel – even when he  had to provide a $300 "gift" for the official who had to endure the hardship of  this extra work. Then, after all of that, we were never even asked to show this  "absolutely necessary" paper.

When I compare the people of southern India to those  of Sri Lanka it seems that they are quite similar, despite their religious  differences. Therefore, if I could only visit one of these two places, I would  lean toward to Sri Lanka because of its lush tropical beauty – the tea  plantations covering the mountainside, the little streams and rivers and so many  lovely waterfalls. But then I’d miss that fabulous, ultra-luxurious resort in  India.

  • Click to enlarge image P1000670201024x768.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image P1000681201024x768.jpg

2011 Trip Report - Allan Wicker - What I really did in Japan

05 February 2014 | 2011 Trips

What I Really Did  in Japan

by Allan Wicker , 2011

Ever since the Desert Explorers Newsletter ran a photo of  me seated with two young l women in a traditional restaurant in Fukuoka, Japan,  a couple of years ago, there has been a clamor to know just what I was doing  there. 

Well… it wasn’t really a clamor.  Actually, it was only one  telephone call, earlier today, from Neal Johns, asking me to give an account of  my activities for an article for the current Newsletter.  And, could I please do  it today?   If I didn’t, he said, he would spread all sort of scurrilous rumors  about me.   For those who don’t know Neal, this translates into “we really need  an article to help fill up the next Newsletter.”

One of my duties at Kyushu University was to advise several  graduate students on their research projects in environmental psychology.  One  student was studying a shopping street where street vendors sold fruits,  vegetables, flowers, and the like from carts that they wheeled in daily.  The  street was reserved for pedestrians during the day.   Among other things, the  student was interested in how the vendors and merchants having shops on the  street displayed their goods. 

Another student’s focus was the city’s entertainment  district, which came alive at night to provide food, drink, and a variety of  diversions for visitors to the area.  Among the other establishments are hostess  clubs and love hotels.  She and a friend gave me a tour of the area one night,  and told me a bit about what goes on there.  Hostess clubs are places where  groups of businessmen go to drink, converse with one another and with pretty  young hostesses who pamper them.    The sexual activity is pretty much limited  to conversation, I was told.  Each club has a mama-san, or chief hostess who  welcomes visitors and oversees the operation.  (I never entered such a place,  but did have my picture taken with a mama-san in front of one of them.)  Love  hotels rent luxurious rooms by the hour, and they tend to foster anonymity.  For  example, their entrances are usually obscured, and the person at the front desk  (if there is one) may be behind an opaque screen.   These places are said to  serve a variety of clients, including young couples living with their parents,  the people you’re thinking about, and groups who go there to watch sports events  on large screen TVs.   The student was investigating the network of support  services in the entertainment district. 

A student project that I visited, but did not assist on,  was the establishment of an afterschool activity center for children on a street  where small shops sold produce and everyday items.  At the center, children  could come and go as they wished, and engage in impromptu activities with one  another and with adults from the neighborhood. 

Of course I did a lot of other things in Japan, some of  which are reflected in the accompanying photo(s). 

  • Click to enlarge image IMG_0306.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image IMG_6958.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image IMG_7179_2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image IMG_8875_2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image IMG_9145.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image IMG_9154.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image IMG_9552_2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image IMG_9712.jpg

2011 Trip Report - The Stolls in South Africa

05 February 2014 | 2011 Trips

In South Africa!

By Anne Stoll , 2011

 The Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa! What a place! The other side of  the globe, culturally and physically, and yet you can get there in a day (OK, a  loooong day). We’re back, I think – though some of me is still there hiking the  hills, marveling and trying to take it all in. A land of fantastic beauty and  yet familiar somehow, like Southern California in many ways with eucalyptus and  golden dry grasses and (for us, anyway) lots of sunshine. But then you have the  blesboks and springboks and zebras grazing – and oops! Not so familiar after  all. We (eight of us) had an excellent local guide, an archaeologist with a  great personality (!) who led us to about a dozen painted rock shelters where  George and the group photographed to their hearts’ content (see photo). There  were several all-day hikes involved but despite some pre-trip anxiety,  yours-truly happily kept up with the pack. With botanist friend Gary James  along, nature was fully explored and treasured from tiny succulents to flowering  protea trees. The lodges were excellent – some with unusual architecture (see  photo). We stayed three nights in a lion sanctuary where the "music" of roaring  big cats at sunset enhanced our Happy Hour. Such a rich and beautiful place!

But I don’t think we’ll ever go back. People seemed friendly enough and we  had no problems, but we count ourselves fortunate in that regard. South Africa  has become very dangerous for white people and sadly, it’s sinking farther into  social chaos all the time. We were riding in a rented Toyota van, the most  desirable vehicle as this is what they use for taxis. Hijackings of vehicles by  armed gangs are very common – one occurred in broad daylight just down the road  from our lodge while we were there! Toward the end of our trip, our guide, Frans,  revealed he had personally been hijacked twice and robbed three times, some 25  of his colleagues and friends have been killed over the years, and most of his  family had already left the country. Sadly, he’s planning to join them in a year  or two. We saw many burned out and abandoned farms and each night the gates to  our lodges were locked and guarded. My initial naiveté was exposed early on in  Ladybrand, a cute little town that looks a lot like Beaver, Utah. One afternoon  I wanted to leave our hotel to explore the shops and take a few photos but Frans  quickly stopped me. "Do you see any white women on the streets?" he asked me.  "Well, no," says I. Light bulb time! "I’m sorry, it’s just not safe for you" he  continued. Sigh. The only time we mingled with locals was once in a supermarket  where we stopped for batteries. Was that sullen look on the faces of the  loitering young black men we passed really hatred? I prefer not to think so, but  I could never speak to one so it may have been.

  Ah, if only this crazy world would wake up!  Anyway, we’re home safe and sound and looking forward to sharing more with you  soon.

  • Click to enlarge image IMG_0910.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image IMG_0957.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image IMG_0960.jpg

2014 Trip Report - Return to Namibia

16 October 2014 | 2014 Trips

Return to Namibia -- South Africa

June 26 - July 3, 2014

by Anne Stoll

The return to Namibia -- this means visiting a good friend, very easy. We landed in Windhoek, rented the car, and after a few hours on Namibia’s excellent, nearly empty main highway, we checked in to our B & B in the coastal town of Swakopmund. The coast was already shrouded in its famous wet fog, cool (it’s winter there), slightly pungent and sticky. The fog is a regular visitor, a fast-moving gray blanket that brings moisture to the creatures of the nearby Namib Desert. The next day we drove into huge Namib-Naukluft National Park headed for our remote lodge, the Wüstenquell Private Nature Reserve. En route we passed through the Welwitschia Plain and marveled at these crazy, ancient plants. The one in my photo could be 1000 years old!

We stayed three nights at the Wüstenquell, relaxing and (of course) looking at archaeological sites. It is a lovely middle-of-nowhere place with several special features.

One of them is this nasty HUGE grasshopper (see photos) – they were everywhere. OK, they don’t do anything except eat (including each other) but still. A much more pleasant feature of Wüstenquell are the lovely wind-sculpted granite rocks.

The favorite sundowner place is Eagle Rocks, here  (see photo) threatening to devour George. Our host, Oliver Rüst, (see photo) showing us an ingenious ladder used long ago to collect honey from the slot above – now clearly the home of a large bird. An often-used hearth was observed nearby, along with assorted artifacts.

Next – the very unusual painted rock art at Wüstenquell.

So we left off with grasshoppers – and a gin and tonic -- on the terrace at a cool lodge in the middle of nowhere in Namibia. At this place there is a single remarkable rock art panel located in what is imaginatively called Bushman’s Cave.

The entrance to the cave is just here and inside the sole rock art panel is illuminated, by natural light, in a most theatrical manner. The shelter is cool, dark and dry with a clean, sandy floor.

These images (normal digital and DStretched) are certainly San – painted by San people sometime in the past. They are not fakes, we are convinced. However they are also very weird and not much like any other San paintings we’ve seen in Namibia or elsewhere. I believe they are more recent than the San paintings of the Erongos, but it’s just a hunch at this point. Don’t you love the cascade of little people tumbling down the wall? One atypical detail is the way some of the animals are turned face on, looking at us; there are no fewer than three of those here.

An interesting grouping here, almost everyone looking to the left, some with outstretched arms, some clapping or? One appears to be a shepherd with hat, crook and dog.

But wait there’s more. (additional materials are expected from Anne)


  • Click to enlarge image dataU4aSnIyhBFNIJ3A8fCzUmaVIwyWq6RtIfB4QKiGq_wHRm4xhEEtrMToqbTd5e8MWb62O5Mz-zXU01DYacH_Vrvx2vSX_CtdlmiNFGnQvNtKZ0c9Ctm0d_Xwdwuhy7CErDliJWJNV_JjLMhkEUjS1.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image005.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image005a.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image006.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image006a.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image007a.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image008a.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image013.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image014.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image015a.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image016.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image017a.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image018.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image021.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image022.jpg

2014 Trip Report - The Stolls in Cambodia

05 June 2014 | 2014 Trips

Part I: Making Myself Feel Better

January 21 - 26, 2104

By: Anne Stoll

I’ll start with jungle-covered ruins from Angkor Wat and environs. The trees are called Silicon Cotton trees and it’s a love-hate relationship. At first they hold the walls up, but eventually, they destroy them utterly. Nevertheless, the otherwise-powerless, “Girl-Boy” ballet-dancing, unmarried current king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni, has forbidden the removal of any trees. What to say about this edict? What is he thinking?

They certainly make good pictures.

These roots are so like living creatures – very creepy at times.  Like arrested motion or something – they grow when we’re not looking…..

Stones tumbled by trees, they tell us. Beautiful destruction.

  • Click to enlarge image image002.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image004.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image007.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image008.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image009.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image010.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image011.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image012.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image013.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image014.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image015.jpg

2015 - Member Doings Report - Australia

16 August 2015 | 2015 Trips


June 18 - July 13, 2015

by Anne & George Stoll

Dear DE friends,

This was our year for Australia. With the exchange rate of greenbacks to Australian dollars so favorable to our side, we couldn;t pass it up. So off we went to the Northern Territory or “top end” on a trip planned to see as much rock art as possible. Of course, we saw and learned a lot more, this being our first time Down Under. After flying Virgin Australia from LAX to Sydney to Darwin, our first stop was Max Davidson’s camp on Cooper Creek near Mt. Borradaile, Arnhem Land, Australia. This was such a special place and it might be off-limits in the future because all arrangements with Aboriginal people are in flux at present, especially in Arnhem Land. A long story, very political, no end in sight. Anyway, Mt. Borradaile became one of our all-time favorite places. We approach one of the sites by water, cruising up Left Hand Billabong. to a most remarkable cave.

Happy summer from Anne & George

Comments on the photos:  River bank habitat for sand monitors and rock wallabies  -  also there’s a tiny “freshie” crocodile in the lower right of this photo. Freshies are not hazardous to humans, even when quite large. But “Saltie” crocodiles, which can survive nicely in even brackish water, are expanding their territory inland and have become quite a problem. Another nasty invasive creature is the cane toad - I almost stepped on one. Yuck. Their skin is toxic and many birds have died from trying to eat them but those clever magpies have figured out that if you flip them over, you can peck open their bellies and eat them safely that way. Score one for the magpies!

 So we’re hiking over to the cave and on the way we see these odd pointy “rocks” - they are actually “magnetic” termite mounds. The termites orient their mounds north-south to minimize internal temperature. Clever buggers. 

An amazing space inside, with holes in the roof that let light in. The floor is sandy because water flows through during The Wet.

There are human remains tucked into niches in the walls, but we are asked not to photograph these. It’s the ceiling that blows us away. Here is just one tiny portion of it. The big oval thing with the pointy part is said to be a sting ray. The strange creature pointing left and down is a fish, with its spine shown in “x-ray” style. There are several other fishes, a bird, a white person and several snakes shown as well. Layers and layers of paint, very intricate, hard to understand. Here’s a sample image - a fish in the x-ray style. Except that of course it isn’t simple at all - at least four layers underneath thanks to a program called DStretch. After we left Mt. Borradaile, we picked up transport suited for the Outback. Thought you might enjoy. 

  • Click to enlarge image image001 Austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image002 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image003 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image004 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image005 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image006 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image007 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image008 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image009 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image010 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image011 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image012 austr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image image013 austr.jpg

2015 - Member Doings Report - Zimbabwe

13 August 2015 | 2015 Trips


April 24 - May 6, 2015


by Anne & George Stoll

This was our third trip in as many years to this amazing country. In a short ten days we saw and learned so much, and although the long hours on an airplane seem to get harder with each trip, we came home invigorated and excited by what we discovered – so much so that I quickly became involved in an international effort to get the Zimbabweans some help with protection of their archaeological sites. This help is urgently needed – the country has been ravaged by the years of fighting and political upheaval. Though it’s calm there currently, their archaeological sites have been sadly neglected and some rock art sites have been damaged and vandalized. Trying to help with this has meant lots of email and assorted consultations – and while we still want to be supportive, I’m now trying to back away from writing proposals and the like in order to focus on what we saw and more upcoming travel. So before I forget how wonderful Zimbabwe was, let me share just a bit of it with you. We were accompanied by our two Shona friends and guides, brothers Willard and Farai Nyambiya (pictured with George below). We traveled east from Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, into the countryside and for days never saw a white face. People everywhere were friendly and polite and many speak English which is taught in school from an early age. The U.S. dollar is the official currency in Zimbabwe, and our crisp greenbacks were much appreciated. In the countryside, food is quite cheap and fresh and as this was harvest season, people with extra to sell sat along the highway with heaping bowls and buckets of fruits and veggies for sale. We stayed in two decent motels with good plumbing for $60 a night each and were happy for the rooms, as we needed electricity to recharge camera batteries. The whole country lost power for a day while we were there. It apparently happens a lot. These people (below) are harvesting peanuts – pulling them off the green plant and letting them dry in the sun. The round house in the back is the kitchen (above) with interior walls plastered with dung, water in buckets and highly polished floor. The cooking hearth was in the floor just out of sight. People used to grow a lot of tobacco but the old brick drying barns are not much used now. We drank a lot of mahewu – hard to describe the taste but it’s delicious and very nutritious. It’s a thick liquid made from slightly fermented “mealie pap” (corn meal) and was often our lunch while on the road.

  • Click to enlarge image zimb 1.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 11.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 12.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 13.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 15.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 19.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 20.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 3.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 5.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 6.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 7.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image zimb 8.jpg

2015 - Return to Namibia, part 3

14 May 2015 | 2015 Trips

Return to Namibia Part 3

 By: Anne Stoll (Part 1 and 2 were in the September 2014 DE Newsletter)


Dear Ones,

Still pondering what we had seen, we bid Olli and the Wüstenquell farewell, packed up the rented Nissan X-Trail, and moved on to our next lodge, the Rostock Ritz (all lodges booked online, by the way). Except for a few short stretches of sand, dirt roads in the Khomas Hochlands west of Windhoek are easy and almost empty. Only an occasional pickup truck appeared, coming from a ranch or from one of the three big uranium mines in Namib-Naukluft Park (the Rossing Mine is the big employer at present). Namibia is amazingly rich in mineral resources, as several big Asian countries know very well indeed. We headed southwest through Kuiseb and Gaub canyons to reach Kückis Rostock Ritz Desert Lodge, another surprising, delightful place with rock art. Our room is No. 2 on the right.

Among other passions, Kücki has a suricate (meerkat) rescue program and has built an ingenious pen with tunnels for them at the lodge. Here are three rescued meerkats under the quiver tree at feeding time. Alas, the only male in the group recently escaped and headed for parts unknown, accompanied by two females. That leaves the clan back at the lodge hoping for more rescues if they are to build a breeding colony for later release. Seems people get baby meerkats as pets, then discover their unattractive qualities when the little darlings reach puberty – sound familiar? Here's the lobby at the Rostock Ritz with Kückis blind dog. Had fun watching the Netherlands beat Mexico in the World Cup in the lounge here. The dog was unimpressed.

We took the easy hiking trail laid out behind the lodge. Saw the all-time biggest scorpion ever – a meerkat delicacy! Next, on to the Oase rock art site.


Return to Namibia Part 4

By: Anne Stoll

Kücki, our host at the Rostock Ritz, among other numerous talents, does one heck of a sundowner. But first the three of us headed out into rough red rock (rost stock) country in his ancient Land Rover to see the Oase rock art site. DStretch did well here. We were able to show Kücki something hed never seen before, the pink rhino behind the orange kudu cow. Some really odd ones at this site. Black male kudu and muscle man.

This figure is a therianthrope – part human, part animal. Note the feet and tiny toes and the costume details, such as the thick belt. Maybe a feline head or?

  • Click to enlarge image Namib1.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib10.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib11.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib12.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib14.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib3.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib4.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib5.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib6.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib7.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib8.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image Namib9.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image namib13.jpg

Desert Explorers in the Gobi Desert

19 January 2017 | 2016 Trips

Desert Explorers in the Gobi Desert

by Nancy Maclean

This year, Desert Explorers returned to the Gobi Desert, as Ron Ross and I travelled there with Overseas Adventure Travel to add one more Desert visit to our “bucket list.”

As we flew from Mongolia’s capital, Ulaan Baataar to Dalanzadgad (DZ) in the Gobi Desert in our little Hunnu Air propjet, the landscape looked like we were flying over the Arizona or Nevada desert. It is a desolate area with no roads and no signs of civilized life for a long time; it gives you a feeling of just how big this desert area is. As we got closer to our destination, I began to see pockets of water…what looks like muddy lakes. And as we start the descent, we see some greenery in the valleys, potentially some creeks or ground water for plants to survive on.

We collect our luggage and exit the tiny airport where our nice four-wheel-drive vans are waiting for our group. We are all excited to see what kind of adventure awaits us here. Down on the ground, the place looks like the foothills of Wheeler peak in Nevada: fairly high mountains with broad flat valleys. DZ is a town of 15,000 inhabitants with traditional ger tent districts. Many families have a small brick home and a traditional ger tent right next to it.                   

Shortly, we are out of town and turn off on a bouncy two-track dirt road. In our thoughts are 40 miles of this to our camp!!! Soon we stop at a guest ger camp for lunch. It is a nice lodge with beautifully carved bar and crystal chandelier and sconces on the walls.

After lunch, we are back on the road to our camp. We are driving down this broad grassy valley, butted by mountains in the distance. This is very flat country with minimal streams or rocks to disturb the roads. As a result, there are multiple parallel tracks that constantly crisscross leading to individual gers or ger camps. When the washboard in one track gets really bad, the driver just takes off cross country to locate a smoother track to follow. If he finds a better track, he takes it, if not, he just makes a new track. Interestingly, there are no road or directional signs of any kind, and we wonder how the drivers know where to go.

This flat country lacks any significant streams, so it is punctuated by watering holes several miles apart that were installed by the Russians years ago when Mongolia was a Soviet satellite state. The valleys are now grazed by many different household animals: horses, goats, sheep, and camels. Along the way, we see individual family gers with herds of horses, camels and sheep. It must be a tough life out here in such desolation. There is nothing close by. Finally, we arrive to our ger camp. A nice big lodge with deck all around it and with our individual gers lined up in neat rows.    

Every afternoon we have a happy hour on the deck, observing the wide flat plain around us as far as the eye can see. And in the distance, family gers with herds of animals all around. At one point, a herd of goats grazed through camp, and a lady with a little girl came to chase the goats away. She then jumped on her motorcycle, which was parked in the grass nearby, and continued herding the goats home. In the distance, we could see horses at the trough drinking water, and when finished, they too wandered home.

While we were all enjoying our happy hours, our excellent drivers, owner operators, were working on their vans, cleaning them, inspecting them, and tightening the screws and connections that might have gotten loose driving these seriously wash-boarded roads.

Next morning, as we walked out of the lodge, we enjoyed the crisp fresh air, clear blue skies, and the yellow-green desert sprawled all around us as far as the eye can see. Only herds of goats, sheep and horses quietly grazed around us. We are looking forward to a hike in the mountains of the Gobi Desert.

As we drive through the desert, we see a herd of two humped camels grazing, and we get out of our vans to take pictures and walk toward them. They see us and make a circle around their babies to protect them. Their humps are strait up, which means they have been feeding and drinking well. They are as curious about us as we are about them.

There are multiple parallel roads so our vans are all driving three and four abreast so nobody has to eat dust. However, they are barreling down the road at 40 mph, across the bumps and ruts without slowing down and I am hanging on for dear life.

We finally make it to the trailhead, for a beautiful hike into Yolyn Am (Mongolian for Vulture Valley). It is a deep and narrow gorge in the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains and contains a variety of colorful wildflowers scattered along the streambed and tiny pikas running all around. We hiked about 3.5 miles with a multitude of stream crossings and even one waterfall to scramble down.

The next morning, I woke up at 4 a.m., and decided to peek outside to look at the stars. There were more stars in the sky than I have ever seen, and the Milky Way was so bright it felt like I to could almost touch it. This is the first time that I saw the stars on this trip, as the days are so long here that when we go to sleep around 10 p.m., the sun is still up in the sky.

The next day, we are off to visit a camel herding family, and in the afternoon, will visit the area known as Flaming Cliffs. As we drive through the desert by the solitary family gers, we notice that they all have solar panels and satellite dishes, and usually a car, a truck and a couple of motorcycles.

When we arrive at the camel herd.ing family’s ger, they invite us in, and offer us camel milk cheese (which tastes like our cottage cheese) and fer.mented camels milk (which tastes like our plain yogurt). The lady of the house gave us a hands-on lesson on making felt from the sheep’s wool, which they use for covering their gers, as well as for blankets, clothing, pot holders, etc.

For our next activity, our hosts help us get on the camels for a ride through the sand dunes. The camels kneel down on the ground so we can easily climb on, and they have a nice saddle that fits in between their two humps. I am instructed to lean on the back hump while the camel is getting up. Next, a young boy maybe 9 years old is leading my camel to wait in line until everybody is ready to start riding toward the sand dunes. These are red sand dunes, sort of like our Coral Dunes in Arizona. My camel was well behaved, and very comfortable riding, much more comfortable than the one humper we rode in Rajastan, India. Today’s was a nice ride through the desert, and every so often my camel would stop to graze on the greenery along the way. As I was riding, I thought to myself, it is hard to believe that I am here in the Gobi desert riding a two humped camel, something I would have never dreamt of doing in my younger days.

Next on the agenda was a hike in the area called the Flaming Cliffs, a wonderful area of red rock outcroppings lifting vertically from the valley of red sand. In many ways, it reminded me of Monument Valley, but it was different.      

On the way back to our camp, we passed by a Naadam festival, sort of like a local county fair where the locals set up tents catering food and the ubiquitous fermented mare’s milk (FMM), and conduct competitions in the three national sports: archery, horsemanship, and wrestling. It was really fun to watch the locals, dressed in brightly colored outfits, socializing and passing around large bowls of FMM to share. Since it was late afternoon when we got there, they were awarding prizes for the horsemanship, a fat sheep and a felt ger cover, which contestants were very happy to receive. However, we were able to witness the finals of their Mongolian wrestling match. This was between the standing winner who looked like an old pro and a young ambitious local; both were scantily dressed in red bikini bottoms and long sleeved crop tops. As the festival ended, the locals packed their gear and prize winnings into their trucks and we headed back to our ger camp for the happy hour, dinner and packing for our early morning departure. The neon red, pink and gold colors of the sunset sky with horses grazing in the horizon was a perfect ending to our magical adventure in the Gobi Desert.

The next morning we boarded our comfortable vans in complete darkness and wondered how the drivers would find their way to the airport without a GPS. Along the way, we were rewarded with an extraordinary desert sunrise as we said good bye to this exotic part of the world.

                        ~ Nancy Maclean

  • Click to enlarge image brick.png
  • Click to enlarge image camel.png
  • Click to enlarge image driver.png
  • Click to enlarge image flaming.png
  • Click to enlarge image hike.png
  • Click to enlarge image house.png
  • Click to enlarge image van.png
  • Click to enlarge image yert.png
  • Click to enlarge image yerts.png

Member Doings - Baja Bucket List

03 August 2014 | 2014 Trips

Baja Bucket List

by Neal Johns

Friend and follow Desert Explorer Jay (Taco Feliz on the Baja Nomad board) offered to lead a laid back trip to Baja with the main goal being a mile hike over a pristine section of the El Camino Real (a centuries old mule/foot trail connecting the Missions) about 370 miles below the border. Since I had wanted to do this hike for some time, I jumped at the offer. Our crew consisted of three vehicles (two Tacoma’s and a Tundra) and six people (Jay and his friend, Stan, Marian and me, and Ivan and Janet – new Desert Explorer members from Colorado).

     We all crossed the border separately and met at Papa Fernandez’s camp on Gonzaga Bay on the east coast of Baja. The weather was perfect the whole eight day trip. The next day we headed south and took the old, pre-pavement road to the abandoned mining town of Desengańo and turned north to visit the famous Tinaja (natural waterhole) Yubay on the El Camino Real. Well, at least I did; our Fearful Leader Jay and Ivan (who claimed this was his favorite road) missed the turn. Current wife Marian, soon to be replaced if she does not change her ways, said over the radio “Why can Neal remember every rock and turn in Baja but can’t find his way to the grocery store at home?” Despite a several year drought in Baja, there was water in the Tinaja and a large bird flew away as we approached. Back in the day, I told people it was a short, 20 minute walk to the Tinaja, but now I am ashamed to mention the time it takes me to stumble and weave over the rock-filled dry streambed. Nevertheless, it is always a pleasant hike. Ivan and I were the only ones that completed the walk – which included visiting nearby rock art and bedrock metate grinding sites. We were gone for quite a while and the waiting wimps were getting nervous about us being in trouble.

     The next day we continued south to Bahia de Los Angeles where, after applying Rule One in Baja (gassing up any chance you get), we took a bad road north along the coast to La Gringa (named thus because a deceased American lady’s body was found there decades ago according to local folklore). Our Fearful Leader, Jay, was not impressed with the camping spot there so we went back to camp at a more civilized palapa at Daggett’s Camp on a nice sand beach, named after an early explorer and miner of the area.

     Dawn broke and we headed south toward Tinaja Santa Maria, stopping to visit the only remaining building in Los Flores, the jail. Los Flores is the abandoned village at the bottom of the abandoned San Juan Mine tramway. We later visited the abandoned rancho of Los Paradones and the occupied rancho of La Bocana after turning off the main road. La Bocana is misnamed on the Baja Almanac maps as San Pedro. We fed lunch to the vaquero at La Bocana while Jay translated his stories. His father had ranched there before him and his brother lived in the house we passed on the way down the valley. Continuing onward a few miles, we headed south down several interconnecting sand washes to where the El Camino Real went north over a 150 foot saddle near Tinaja Santa Maria and camped.

At 5:30 a.m. the next morning, Marian, Ivan, Janet and I started north on the El Camino Real hike. It had previously been located on Google Earth and it was amazing to see the 150+ pound stones that were moved to one side to make the trail. Cattle and an occasional vaquero are the only users now. The 150 foot ascent was easy while we were fresh but we had decided to retrace our steps back to the vehicles and the return ascent was 300 feet. Guess who was the last straggler back up the hill? The shame, the shame, even my ancient wife beat me up the hill.

     After a Mountain Dew, we headed south for a pictograph cave a few tens of miles south, stopping at San Francisquito Bay for a too expensive lunch. The place was run down and we were the only gringos there. Proceeding to the site of the pictograph cave, we arrived just in time to camp. The next morning we hiked up to the cave and were treated to several paintings of Grand Mural Style art. Then onward to Mission Santa Gertrudes where we watched two horses browsing on short, sparse, grass on the edge of verdant pools. A hungry cat attached itself to our group and got fed for its troubles. Purr, purr.

     After checking out the Mission, we got lost in El Arco, regrouped and went to Guererro Negro for dinner at old faithful Malarrimo Motel where we camped and showered. In Guererro Negro we went to several auto parts stores looking for metric bolts to repair Ivan’s sway bar bracket which had parted company with the frame on one side. Finally, we were directed to the Caterpillar store where the bolts were supplied by helpful employees. Bring your own metric bolts to Baja.

     On the way to Mission San Borja we took the southeast route from Rosarito which was passable by cars but rather bumpy. Old acquaintance, Jose, and I had a limited conversation (due to my 200 words of Spanish) while most of the crew was given a long tour of the Mission by his wife and son. Most of his kids have flown the coop and live in town.

     The next stop was the well-known pictograph site at Montevideo. Marian lost her head and took 70 pictures! After that, we camped by the cliffs and were entertained by bird songs.

After driving out the north road, we back-tracked to Bahia de Los Angeles and gassed up before heading north toward home. Ivan left us to return on Hwy. 5 via Mission Calamajue.

     We took a not-so-short detour to the petroglyph site at Las Pintas south of El Rosario and found the farm on the way abandoned, probably due to the drought since it was dry land farming. The spring above Las Pintas rocks was barely wet and no water was at the bottom. What there were at the bottom were huge boulders embedded with of thousands of fossil shells. There was a small spring where you enter the small valley and a pipe led to a pila (above ground cistern) on the far side of the valley. No crops were growing. No tire tracks were evident. Baja tourism is way down due to the drug violence in mainland Mexico although Baja is very rarely affected. It is a great spot to camp – and we did.

     Next, on the way north on Hwy.1, we had lunch at one of the best restaurants in Baja, Restaurant Mision Isabel. It has both locals and gringos eating there, always a good sign. Wanting to be near the border for a Tuesday crossing at Tecate, we camped near Santo Tomas at a campground that Jay had found on the internet and Google Earth. When we got there it turned out to have been dead for several years but was a beautiful place with empty buildings, a dry little creek and many trees. And it was free! However – at dusk, when it was too late to move, an apparently somewhat inebriated gentleman showed up in a beat-up truck and said $24 dollars please for camping on my land. Sigh. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

     In the morning, we took Hwy. 3 from Ensenada to Tecate and had brunch at another favorite eatery: Mustafa’s. After several years’ absence, Mustafa’s hot daughter was back helping dad. I hardly noticed her – and I have the bruises to prove it, just ask Marian. Soon Tecate appeared and we got in line for the border crossing. It took about 50 minutes which is somewhat more than average. Jay was sent to Secondary for further inspection and we have not seen him since. Oh well, easy come, easy go. We are home in Lytle Creek! Another great trip was completed with no major problems of any kind


Neal and Jay's Excellent Adventure

(Jay Lawrence’s version of the trip)Late Spring 2014 Baja Loop So Neal says to me “Gee, I’d really like to hike this one piece of the Camino Real sometime, it’s only a mile or two. “Only 100’ altitude gain” he said, without a lot of spin. Further conversation revealed the piece he was talking about was right near Tinaja Santa Maria, south and west from Bahia de Los Angeles. Also the site of an earlier exploration we had done with John Marnell, Allan Romspert, his buddy Tim, and Neal’s current wife Marian in 2009 or so. On that expedition, we found the tinaja we were looking for only after spending hours one day bushwhacking up the wrong arroyo until the supporting cast mutinied in favor of cold beers and dinner. Not wanting to risk a repeat performance, we traded Google Earth images and .kml files until we agreed on exactly where we were heading. This is a VERY good idea when traveling with Neal. He has some scrambled priorities, not the least of which is that he would rather sleep in a burro wallow than stay anywhere near water.This spot was also near a place I had passed too many times without exploring, the wall paintings on the side of Mesa el Carmen near El Arco. OK, we’re on, this time for sure! Neal roped new friends Ivan and Janet from Colorado in on the deal and we made plans to meet near Gonzaga Bay at Rancho Grande. I conned my friend and Baja traveling buddy Stan into coming along and the plan was put into motion. From experience, he has become quite wary when the words “Neal” and “trip” are used in the same sentence. My faithful dog Escuincle (Squink for short) completed the entourage.

We did meet at Rancho Grande, there was no gas at the Pemex or the store so we tallied up our mile ranges, fuel supplies and headed out. First stop was to say hi to Coco and drop off some cat kibble. He was doing well and we swapped stories for a while and eventually said our goodbyes. On toward Mex 1 with a short stop for Ivan to diagnose and repair a broken idler arm. OK, something broke. Now it was a real Baja trip.

After a brief bit of pavement, Ivan expressed an interest in the El Desengaño cutoff on the way to LA Bay. Neal piped up with “well, if you’re going to go there, we should also swing by Tinaja Yubay, it’s right nearby!” So we did take the cutoff. To say it is now pretty whooped out would be a generous description. Only foundations and a claim marker remain at El Desengaño now. The old cabin and shaft ladders are long gone so it’s easy to go right by, which we did. Took the Yubay cutoff and made our way to the arroyo. I had been there years before (like 25?) and didn’t recognize our trailhead. The “twenty minute walk” turned into an hour plus of boulder hopping. Neal and Ivan made it to the tinaja, the rest of us wimps bailed at various stages. Another hour passed and almost another without seeing Neal and Ivan. We hiked to the first saddle on the trail and lo and behold, here came our two stragglers. Finally. They had found the tinaja and had kept up the hike to the pictograph site nearby. Neal got an earful from Marian about making her (us) worry. Again. I told him we would ratchet strap his mouldering carcass to the hood if we had to drag home after he took a header into a boulder pile. It’s good to have friends.

We retraced our cutoff trail to Desengaño, took a brief look around and headed off to LA Bay and a great dinner on the water with adult beverages. Thinking we might camp at La Gringa, we took a run down that crummy piece of washboard and found it wanting. Clearly the only good place to camp had been fenced off and developed. A quick run back toward town put us at Daggett’s for a fine overnight site with palapas and warm showers. Civilized.

Hit the Pemex, hit the market, hit the auto parts store and headed south toward Las Flores where we stopped for a couple of minutes for photos then moved on. Taking a turn to the south about a dozen miles below Las Flores we headed off the beaten path, making a stop at Rancho Las Paredones with its big rock wall corral. The cabin was gone, the Karmann Ghia wreck was gone. Very abandoned. Another ten miles south and we stopped at Rancho La Bocana. The rancher was home so we offered him some lunch and we had a fine meal together under the only tree nearby. He told us a bit about the area and that his family had been raising cattle in this area since his father was a boy. We talked about Tinaja Santa Maria and the trail we wanted to explore. He wished us well and we headed on toward our trailhead, hoping to hit the correct arroyo this time.

We did. The first mile was a piece of cake, firm sand, wide spaces between the cactus and few surprises. Thank you GPS and Google Earth. The going slowed as the plants and terrain cooperated less and less. I had put my friend Stan at the wheel and he asked me “Are you sure you want to do this?” more than once. I assured him I did and we carried on with Neal and Marian in the lead in their Tacoma followed by Ivan and Janet in their Tacoma and us bringing up the rear in my Tundra. We had a sizeable bit of new desert pinstriping but we did make it to our trailhead at which point it was time for the customary ‘safe arrival’ beer. Neal scouted out the Camino Real trailhead and it turned out to actually be about 25 feet from the drivers door of my truck.Ever eager, Neal convinced Marian, Ivan and Janet to hit the trail at 5:30am! Stan and I declined, quietly agreeing that if we had wanted to get up before dawn to hike we would have joined the army. The hikers took off the next morning, time passed and about the time we expected to see them back I hiked up to where the trail went over the ridge to see if there were any survivors. Janet turned up first, then Marian and finally the stragglers, Ivan and Neal, looking more than slightly worn. Turns out the route they originally wanted to take back to camp was too overgrown and they came back up the way they walked down. The “100 foot altitude gain” spoken about had increased in a mighty way somehow.

Once everybody had a breather we made our way back down the arroyo, joined the east-west trail back toward San Francisquito and headed there for lunch. The once unpopulated hurricane hole known by every boater that was ever in that area has been turned into an official looking marina with cyclone fence and guard gate. The old place at the foot of the runway now has more buildings everywhere, a couple newish dirt roads and crazy prices for lunch. A couple of us opted to eat out of our coolers and the rich folk had fish tacos for $12 per person. Too rich for my frugal blood. A peanutbutter sandwich and a Negro Modelo would do me just fine. Squink Dog enjoyed a good shoreline romp.

Onward to Mesa el Carmen. Easy drive, we arrived in time for coctail hour, and with enough sunlight to make an educated guess at our trail for the next day. Ivan had spotted the correct route and we put the plan into action in the morning. The hike up to the shallow cave turned out to be easy, and what a reward. The wall paintings (pictographs) were outstanding, in the Grand Mural style of the paintings in the canyons below San Fernando de la Sierra. Many photos were taken and there was some exploration of nearby shelter caves. A very, very worthwhile hike.

We headed toward El Arco with a brief stop at Pozo Aleman (abandoned) to take a look around. In its day it must have been quite a place. Looks a bit rough these days except for the cemetery which is well tended.

On toward Rancho Miraflores and Mision Santa Gertrudis. For Neal and Marian this was a return engagement but for the rest of us it was a spot we had managed to miss over the years. The mission site is a beautiful spot with a small spring and a couple of ranch buildings. The caretaker opened up the restored mission for us and gave us a bit of the history. We were glad to have taken the time to get there and took a lunch break in the shade.

Ready for a hot meal, the entourage headed for Guerrero Negro, but not before getting briefly lost in the maze of roads at El Arco. Some day I’ll be able to find the road I want on the first try but it hasn’t happened yet. Dinner at the Malarrimo restaurant and hot showers in the morning.OK, northbound now. North to Ejido Nuevo Rosarito then northeast to Mision San Borja. The compound is looking good and Jose and family are prospering. Son Genaro and his mom graciously escorted us all over the mission and the grounds. Most of us had been there over the years but there are always things to see and new questions to ask. Genaro has become a very knowledgeable archeologist, splitting time in his Mexicali office teaching and exploring the Baja penninsula. A really good guy with a wealth of information and an exceptional spirit. You could sense how proud of him his parents were even though they didn’t say so out loud.

We visited until the mid-afternoon and said our goodbyes, heading out on the north road to overnight at Montevideo. The evening was beautiful with a fine campfire. Sunrise arrived with some high fog to the north, giving everything a completely new look. We explored, took photos and eventually headed back to LA Bay for a bit of Pemex.

We visited until the mid-afternoon and said our goodbyes, heading out on the north road to overnight at Montevideo. The evening was beautiful with a fine campfire. Sunrise arrived with some high fog to the north, giving everything a completely new look. We explored, took photos and eventually headed back to LA Bay for a bit of Pemex.

Wanting to stop for the day within easy striking distance of the border, at Santo Tomas we turned toward La Bocana and looked for the old campground David K had mentioned at some point. We found it, abandoned, and pulled up some camp chairs and enjoyed the evening. Just about dark a thrashed pickup with two very inebriated men in it pulled up and the driver explained that this was his property and we needed to pay him $20 to stay there overnight. I did, and somehow when Neal talked to him it turned into $24. Oh well. We thanked him for his hospitality and he and friend made their way back where ever they called home. No idea if either one of them was actually the land owner but the situation did not look good for additional questions and answers. Dog agreed.

Back to the border zone. Lunch at Mustafa’s in Valle de Guadelupe, head to the border, wait in line, spend some time in secondary. The usual. The agent in secondary was super pleasant and without any hint of attitude, which we really appreciated. A great trip was had by all. Good people, met new friends, visited with old ones, ate good food, few things broke, saw some new places, only got a little lost. An excellent Baja run. Just makes me want to get back again quickly.Jay

  • Click to enlarge image Pictos Yubay.jpg


Trip Reports - 2000 - Mongolia

22 January 2014 | 2000 Trips

Mongolia - Camels, Yaks, Takhis, and Gers

Trip report by Neal and Marian Johns

 Where do you find all these things? In Mongolia, of course; everyone knows that. So what is a Lytle Creek couple doing at the end of the earth? Read on.

It started when one of our Desert Explorers ladies named Reda said “You can go with us to the Gobi Desert if you think you can handle the trip at your age”. A challenge! There is no way I wanted to spend the money to travel to the end of the earth, but my manhood was at stake, so I said, “Sure, if Marian thinks she can handle it at her age”. Unfortunately, Marian was eager to go, so off we went. “We” included Joe Daly, Paul Ferry, John Page, Steve Bein, Larry Reese, Marian Johns, Neal Johns and our hardnosed DI, Reda Anderson. The custom trip was set up by Reda working with Boojum Expeditions, which I can’t say enough good things about. While I didn’t work with the US staff as Reda did, the guides and Bobo, the Ulaan Baatar office manager, were first class.

The biggest challenge for me was finding the LA airport, as I haven’t flown since I retired ten years ago. We managed to make it in time to fly to Seoul, Korea on Korean Air Lines (the one the Russians like to shoot down), and then onward to the capitol of Mongolia, Ulaan Baatar via MIAT Mongolian Air Lines. The airplanes barely made it off the ground because of the weight of photography equipment carried by Steve and Larry. The plane also listed to the side Joe was sitting on. He is one big man (and the only one I was afraid to mess with even if he did seem rather nice). We were met by our two indispensable English-speaking guides, Gongor and Anya. Gongor was the boss and Ms Anya did the work. Ha! Not one for homework, it was a surprise for me to see cars running up and down the streets instead of wild horsemen. The women are not fat peasants either; they are attractive, slickly dressed ladies who would fit in anywhere. Too bad I didn’t leave Marian home. A few of the men wore the native costume of a long overcoat tied at the waist with a bright orange sash, but most wore Western dress. The Mongolians converted from Communism several years ago when the USSR collapsed and privatized the economy. In many ways it is typical of a third world country, but there is little sign of abject poverty. The people are, without exception, very friendly toward foreigners. The language was derived from Turkish so my few words of Spanish were no help at all. Russian Cyrillic replaced Mongolian script when the communists took over back in the 1920s, but many signs are in English. Ulaan Baatar contains 25% of the country’s total population of 2,600,000. They have eclectic tastes in food as we went to a different ethnic restaurant every night.

After a couple of sightseeing days in the capitol, we took a Russian-made turboprop which landed on a dirt runway in the middle of a vast level plain next to a ger tourist camp in the Gobi desert. The gers we stayed in were the round tent-like structures desert nomads live in. When the Russians were in favor, they were called yurts, the Russian word for a ger. Now that the Russians are gone, ger is back in. They are constructed by putting felt made of sheep wool and a canvas cover over a wooden framework that can be dismantled in a day and moved wherever the camel/horse/yak/goat/sheep grazing is better. The Gobi is a high-elevation grasslands where the winter temperatures reach 30 below zero.

The next day, we took a drive/hike through Eagle Canyon where some large sparrows were observed. The recesses of the canyon were supposed to have permanent ice in them due to the high elevation and concomitant cold temperature, but the rains had melted it. Marian and Reda managed to get on top of a horse belonging to one of the locals that came to gawk at the tourists and were led around the valley for a while. We also drove to where the sand dunes sprawled over the plains for 100 miles (but only a few miles wide). On the way, we had lunch where dinosaur bones had been found and Marian got to drive a Russian jeep just as the guide decided to take a “short cut” to get to a road over “that way”. There was no road going over “that way”, but we went thataway anyway for about ten miles before finding the road. When found, like nearly all the roads in the country, it was a two track ungraded dirt path. The country is too poor to have a good infrastructure yet. Steve also drove one of the jeeps for a while but had to quit because he could not keep up with Marian. Paul, who came all the way from Point Roberts, WA via Canada, did not get to regale us with his usual learned travelogue over the CB because the jeeps had none.

The Flaming Cliffs (eroded reddish formations) were visited, and a camel herdsman and his wife were visited in their ger. Marian and half the others went for a camel ride safely ensconced between the two humps. If I had wanted to ride a camel, I would have gone to the petting zoo.

Some years ago my abs had turned to flabs, and what with a stomach ache (the Gobi Gallops) and the pounding of the iron-hard jeep ride combined with the local drivers keeping the pedal to the metal, the combination made skipping the next three days seem like a great idea. I caught up with my reading in a hotel while the rest of the people experienced real life in the far western part of the country. They camped out in gringo tents using sleeping bags and mattresses brought from home for this specific part of the trip. The snow-capped 13,000 ft. peaks in this region were spectacular. Western Mongolia seemed more arid and desolate than the Gobi. The high point was a visit to an eagle hunter’s camp where small game is hunted using trained Golden Eagles - no little falcons for these guys. The eagle man let Larry put the glove on and hold the big bird. While the overgrown sparrow was getting settled, he managed to miss the glove and put a talon an inch into Larry’s arm. It didn’t seem to hurt the eagle a bit.

Back at Ulaan Baatar, we went to a nearby national park where true wild horses (Przewalski’s horse, “ takhi” in the Mongolian language) are being bred and released into the wild after nearly becoming extinct. They are the forerunners of the modern horse. At one point the only living horses were in a few Western zoos. There are now approximately 160 living in their natural Mongolian habitat. Gongor, whose father was the Park Director, arranged for a great welcome and tour.

On our last day, we went to another national park for a picnic on the banks of the lovely Tuul River flowing through an idyllic valley abundant with shade trees turning red and gold fall colors. It was one of the prettiest spots seen on the entire trip and a fitting end to a great adventure. Thanks, Reda for all your hard work that made a good trip possible.

The photos

Here are a bunch of photos by John Page, from the September, 2000, trip to Mongolia taken by Joe Daly, Larry Reese, Paul Ferry, John Page, Neal and Marian Johns, Steve Bein, and orchestrated by Reda Anderson.

Our apologies for misspelled names of people and places

  • Click to enlarge image 11 108_Tank2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 12 109_AnyaGongorLarryNeal.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 13 110_AN24.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 14 114_GerCamp.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 15 113_GerwithPlane.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 16 111_InsideGer.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 17 115_HappyHr.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 18 117_GateYolValley.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 18 a 121_YolHorsemen.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 19 118_Yaks.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 1MongoliaMap.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 2 MongoliaStats.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 20 119_YolValley.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 21 133_GongorBigDune.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 23 134_LunchBoxLineup.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 24 135_Neal.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 25 136_Looking4Eggs.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 26 137_TreadHeavily.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 27 201_Shelter.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 28 138_Shelter2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 29 202_SingingDunesFar.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 3 Neg_PeaceBridgeHotel.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 30 203_GerCamp2.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 32 204_OurTimes.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 33 209_SingingDunesOasis.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 34 213_PayingParkRanger.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 35 214_FlamingCliffs.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 36 215_Looking4Fossils.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 37 216_ChurningMilk.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 37 219_GrabHump.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 38 221_CamelBrigade.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 39 225_BuddhaTemple_small.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 4 Neg_RedaUB.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 40 229_OlgiiBaggageCarousel.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 5 102_MonmentID.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 6 103_monment.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 7 104_Temple.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 8 105_snowleopardger.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 9 107_Tankmonmnt.jpg

© 2008 - Desert Explorers | Questions or comments? Contact Desert Explorers Webchick
Design by Crazy Suzy