Peru – Northern Sierra

Peru – whenever you hear it, you think of people in native clothes, llamas, Machu Picchu and mountains. Among my friends, it is the most popular South American destination.

People are drawn to the allure of this place and I as usual have no idea what to expect from this place, except for Machu Picchu.


Border to San Ignacio

We have grown a bit tired of the easy life on the PanAmerican Highway, so we decided to “kick it up a notch” and go a little bit further east.

And for the most part, it was a pleasant drive through the green hills and valleys of Ecuador. But on the last stretch of the road, leading to the border with Peru, the pavement disappeared.


From what we decided on the spot at that moment, this was our first river crossing. Yes, i know this is not exactly Nile, Amazon or the Ganges…but you remember your first forever…right?


I would love to tell you how scary and bad this road was, my passion for a good story is pushing me to tell you that this was an awful 3 hours and we barely got our alive. No, that comes later!


I realize that we dont take nearly enough pictures of our home. Its all churches and food. This vehicle is the true masterpiece…thanks for taking care of us buddy!


Through magic of internet… you didn’t have to suffer through the dust, bone shaking ride…you just magically got to the border. As we go further away from Central America, the border crossings get faster and faster. Maybe because not a lot of people are willing to sit through the 3 hours of this, but we were the only people at the border. And managed to get through the exit and entry procedures in less than an hour. After the border the asphalt came back and we could finally see straight and hear each other.


I’m not sure what your morning routine is…okay, scratch that… i don’t want to know what it is.

This is ours – coffee and eggs. That night we parked in a hotel parking lot and slept in the tent.

Its safe, clean and about 1/2 or 1/3 of the cheapest room price. The only problem is that you have to climb down and walk to the bathroom.


No…no, we are not in India. And the only way you can tell that, is because you are allowed to honk at the cows all you want.


Until they finally decide to respect the rules of the road and move over. We dont actually have to deal with this that often, we just take a picture every time we see them.DSC02900

I was in a solemn mood and Hyein took advantage by taking a normal picture of me, without making any faces. We drove for a few hours along the river at the bottom of a huge stone walled canyon. Since there is no place to stop for the night, we drove up a little mountain road to the top of the canyon and found a city to spend the night.

Next day, we got back into the canyon and continued our drive. At first it was the same – little river, green hills on both sides, sun and smiles. We were making good time, about 30 miles an hour.

Slowly, the scenery changed, the road started to gently climb, the hills became larger and river more rapid. Soon, we started on some serious switchbacks, gaining altitude fast.

All of a sudden we topped out, turned the corner and saw THIS!


Trust me, we would have taken a picture of where we came from, but for whatever reason it did not look nearly as spectacular. And we are going for the money shots here.


I know its hard to get a sense of scale on this image, but those little lines on the mountain are roads, zig-zagging back and forth. A truly breathtaking view…for me. Hyein said that “breathtaking” is a bit of strong word…i stand by it though, i could barely control my excitement.


I mean, just look at this!!! Do you see that river all the way at the bottom? Thats like 8000-9000 feet down.


So you are thinking: “okay, ivan, enough with the mountains, we’ve all been to Everest”. But, hold on guys, did you ever drive to Everest?

Of course not, because they haven’t made a road there yet! Well, the Peruvian’s are light-years ahead and managed to make a little one lane “road” through these gorgeous places.


Yup, thats the road on left.


Its carved from the side of the mountain, single lane and thank god that its paved.


Its not that bad, we only had a few places that were superficially scary. Where the road became so narrow and the turns so tight, that i swear at some point the middle of the car had nothing but air underneath it.


You are going so slow, 10-15 mph, that there is no serious danger.

Except fatigue. Yup, thats the real killer here.

Remember that little river I mentioned in one of the above photos?



Here it is, plus a donkey that absolutely refused to move for us. Anyone willing to take a guess on how long it took us to get down?

Any takers? Look at the photos again and give it a try…come on…just for fun.

Fine, i’ll tell you – over 3 hours. Yup, you can go from San Diego to Los Angeles and half way back in that time. If there is no traffic…but really..are we ever that lucky?

And thats only half of the trip.


Now we have to climb out of this valley. I’ll save you the pain, took another 3 hours. And remember, that its a single lane…but the traffic goes both ways. If you get unlucky, you’ll need to back up on this hellish road to a place big enough to let the other cars squeeze through. We did get unlucky a couple of times, but in relatively good places.



Just beyond that last mountain lies a valley with a beautiful little city – Celendin. Fine, you caught me, the city is nothing special. But after that brutal drive, I would have been happy to see a single house with a flat piece of land to park our car for the night.


We managed to find a place to stay for the night and catch the last rays of the sun. OMG, look how beautiful…and i promise it is not photoshopped…


I’m not sure why i’m including this photo – maybe for you to get a sense of what a little town center in the back country of Peru looks like? Either way, its here now.

Next day we got to our next stop for the night pretty early – about 3pm. We stopped at the market, picked up veggies and cooked a little feast.


Next morning, we tried to get Peruvian car insurance. Talked to two places but they couldn’t insure foreign vehicles. So they gave us directions to some other office.

We couldn’t find it ourselves and asked a police officer.


He wasn’t sure himself, but volunteered to escort us. Thank you mister police man.

We talked to the lady in the 3rd office, no luck. So we continued further south.


We drove and drove, some times on paved, some times on dirt roads all in the mountains. Soon we started to notice something strange. Look at the photo of the a village above. Notice anything strange or out of place? Anything? Yup…no people and no cars. I know its hard to see but most houses are boarded up and half of them have “for sale” signs. It felt like driving through a film set that just finished filming yesterday. Everything is still there but the people.

Crazy roads, awesome mountains and millions of colors that is what you get once you get off the PanAmerican.



This was the most interesting day in terms of actual driving…we had mountains, no pavement, switchbacks, tunnels, off roading, dust…everything except water. And thank god for that, it was hard enough as it was…adding liquid to this mix would have made it infinitely more dangerous.


We managed to get a few movies, so we had our own little movie theater in camp.

In the last 5 days we have barely hit our goal of 100 miles a day. Of course, we did drive 100-150 miles, but made minimal progress south. You might be wondering, why?

You see, we were driving towards Huascaran National Park. This is the location of Peru’s highest peaks and we had to go check it out.



I’m glad we did 🙂

That is Huascaran Sur itself, the highest peak – 6768 m (22205 ft). Pretty, right?




More views – choose your favorite.

This place is awesome, you got mountains in the east and west. The valley is high enough that it is cool and dry, with NO mosquitoes. And they even have farmer’s markets!


Look at all the ladies and their hats!


Each region of Peru has their specific style for hats.


Is that Kim Jung-Un pushing the cart? Now that i look more closely at this photo, reminds me of some old Soviet propaganda posters  – “people of different countries, unite!” and “through hard and multi-culturalism – we are all soviets!”


Managed to score these things – honestly dont even know what they are called.  But you can eat the white fluff inside, nothing special here.


Local woman/drug dealer…packing our latest addiction – pineapple tomatillos. These things have all the necessary requirements for addictive food – good taste, small, require manual labor for consumption. Basically, these are Peruvian sunflower seeds. Peel and eat.



Feels like our blog is taking a turn to some anthropological research with all these photos. Or maybe its a native fashion blog…not sure anymore.


Aaaah…there it is. Back to mountains and roads. This is towards the end of the national park. The peaks are lower, but still have snow cover and glaciers.


Took a little detour to climb into nearby hills. Checked the GPS and realized that we just drove to the top of Mt. Whitney – the highest point in continental US.

You have to hike for 2 days in California to get there and here we just kinda drove to it…feels a bit like cheating.


While Whitney is all bare, at this longitude there is still grass and vegetation. Enough for sheep and cows.


Hatun Machay – a climbing spot with over a hundred routes.


We decided to check it out up close. Parked our car and started walking. Only then we felt the altitude. Instantly out of breath, little headache…





Put on our new hats and had a little fun with the camera.


In the middle of these rocks we found some stone dwellings. They are not even homes…just stone walls and straw roofs. I thought they were abandoned until a lady came out and greeted us. We later found out that she has lived her whole life at this place. She looked to be 60-70 years old. Damn, that a tough life.





Im not sure of the quality of the route. Look at a few rocks and they all seem old. It feels like a lot of them would easily break under stress. But what do i know…



Found some cows and tried to feed them some grass. I guess you can see that this is NOT my first rodeo.


The gods refused Hyein’s offering and hastily retreated.


We planned to stay at this place for the night. But honestly the quick elevation gain was a bit too much. My head was splitting, so we drove a bit more to a lower altitude.


Aaah…these are the crack cocaine of the tomatillo world – pineapple tomatillos.


And our newly discovered fruit – Cherimoya. Of course, we have seen it before even in California. But we finally tried and loved it. And best of all you get 6 giant cherimoyas for $4…mom, dont be jealous.



Finally, out of the mountains – heading to Lima. Endless dunes, did we take a wrong turn for the middle east somewhere??


7 Comment

  1. Шубенцова Ирина Борисовна says:

    Ванечка ! Ты мне прислал шутливую записку из города Лимы , я тебе послала такой же шутливый ответ , а когда пришла домой , включила компьютер и прочла твой последний отчет о том , как вы добирались до гор. Лимы , мне стало не до шуток.Конечно , все пересилил страх за вас , когда я читала , как вы ехали по этим жутким серпантинам в одну полосу , но одновременно и гордость за вас , таких смелых и отчаянных ( далеко не каждый решится на такое путешествие .) За три месяца вы увидели столько нового , сколько многие не увидят за всю жизнь.И Хейн такая маленькая и хрупкая и такая отчаянная , и ты такой умелый водитель ! Конечно фотографии ваши очень красивы ! Горы , закаты бесподобны ! Я думаю , это большое счастье путешествовать вдвоем с любимым человеком . Только очень прошу БУДБТЕ ОСТОРОЖНЫ ! Ваня ! Большое тебе спасибо , что ты пишешь мне о вашем пути следования Целую вас и жду следующих сообщений .

  2. Sylvia says:

    Heyyyyyyy Heyin and Ivan,

    Hope you are having a great time during your world travels! (Of course I guess you don’t even remember SD is the place you came from lol)
    I absolutely love your pics! The Centro and South American countries are way more colorful than I thought.. How do you communicate with them? Are they as expressive and passionate as Connie? Look forward to hearing about your interactions with local people 🙂

    Buen viaje¡ Buena suerte¡

    Sylvia Chen

    1. says:

      Hey Sylvia, when we started we barely spoke spanish. Basically, just knew how to ask for the bathroom location.
      Now its getting a bit easier, we have even looked up how to conjugate verbs…i know its a big deal!
      Understanding is all contextual, so not so bad. Now, explaining something is much harder, but we get by with hand waiving and smiles 🙂

  3. Muzicio says:

    Not all digital nomads play with such skill. The South African news media carried a story on two advertising professionals who set out to work internationally; a follow-up story six months later found them broke and cleaning public toilets in Greece.

    1. says:

      Are you a bot?

  4. Hola Iván y Hye-in, un saludo desde California, Kelly y Yo estamos muy contentos y admirados con sus grandes aventuras, los lugares que han visitado son maravillosos y las fotos increibles. Les deseamos muchos exitos en el resto de su viaje.
    Un grande abrazo
    Edwin and Kelly

    1. says:

      Hi Edwin and Kelly, you guys finally made it to California! How do you like it?
      We are almost to the end of South America.

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