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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 11:36:51

Rolls Alaska to Argentina & back: 17 Paracas Peru to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

*Miles for the day: 145 (233 km) Miles to date: 9,521 (15,323 km)*

Friday, March 18, 2011

Last night Marilynn went for a walk and booked us on a boat trip to the Ballestras Islands for 8 AM. This is one area of tourism that is still doing well - six boats with about 30 people each were loaded. We managed to get a seat at the back, which proved ideal for Marilynn's photography.

Our first stop was at an island where pelicans are breeding - the boat was close enough for even cell phone cameras to take good photos. Next were the Ballestras proper. There are three major islands covered with hundreds of thousands of birds. One cormorant rookery alone has over 200,000 birds. We were downwind from the islands and could smell them before we could see them!

There were large groups of Humboldt penguins, a species we had not seen before, and beaches full of sea lions with pups only a couple of weeks old. The islands are riddled with huge sea caves, many going right through to the other side. The number of birds crowded onto every rock outcropping was amazing - in all our travels we have seen few sights to equal it.

The Ballestras consist of three main islands totalling 7,197 ha (17,777 acres) and about 18 small islets. Guano has been a major product of the islands for many years - in 1890 guano sales to England and France yielded enough to pay off the entire Peruvian national debt. Today guano harvests are permitted every 7 years.

Once on the road we needed gas, but didn't see a gas station, so I stopped in a tiny village and was informed the only gas in the area was 6 km back at a humble place that took only cash. There was no option!

Our first stop of the day was in the City of Ica, where at a modern supermarket complex we changed money then took one of the hundreds of \tuk tuk type motorcycle tricycles to a bank where we could make a deposit to the Bracamonte Hotel for sending my vest. Back at the market we purchased necessities and had a good, inexpensive lunch.

It was a long drive in stifling heat to get to Nazca across barren desert, broken only by the odd oasis town. In Nazca we drove to the airport to book a flight for the morning to see the famous Nazca Lines. The people at the flight centre recommended a nice small hotel where we had good wireless internet, a pool and comfortable room. I spent the night getting some work done on both computer and car. I removed all the hub caps, as they have been rotating with the movement of the car and cutting the valve stems. I've tried a number of things to prevent the problem, but so far without success.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

*Miles for the day: 230(370 km) Miles to date: 9,751 (15,693 km)*

Our flight was scheduled for 8 AM, but checking out was a drama, as they claimed their credit card machine for MasterCard was not working. A considerable argument ensued that ended with us paying cash, but at a 15% discount.

At the airport the cost was $100 each in cash, no credit cards accepted, plus another $10 each airport tax. We finally left at 9 AM, passing through one of the most intensive security checks I've experienced. I'm not sure why they thought we would hijack a 5 passenger Cessna 207 - we couldn't even take a bottle of water along. Looking at the huge drawings was interesting, but the plane didn't go higher than 700 feet above the ground during the half hour flight, so it was impossible to see the layout of the Nazca Lines. Not really worth it.

Before heading out into the desert we topped off with gas, and they actually took a credit card. Temperatures had not yet climbed into 40s C (100s F), and the drive across the desert was on fairly straight good roads, so we made good time to the coast where the cold Humboldt Current brought the temperature away down.

Signs warned of blowing sand, and we were soon into our first sandstorm. Even with the windows rolled up sand got in, but it wasn't long before we were out of it again. We then faced about 25 km (16 mi) of really bad road, the first we've had in Peru. Our speed could not exceed 25 kph (16 mph) without shaking the car apart. Once through that we were climbing over high points of land between bays along the coast, so it was up one set of switchbacks and down another. The going was very slow but the scenery was spectacular with the road carved into the side of cliffs or dunes that dropped vertically into the sea.

The driving part of the day ended in Camana, a seaport town. We stayed at Hotel Turistica, which while not great was about the best available. The city has a two block pedestrian street which we walked, then went to a recommended restaurant for dinner. It turned out to be a tour bus place, but the four table room in front had only the owner, a bus driver and a guide, so we had drinks while talking to them. The bus people were in separate rooms in the back. We weren't overly keen on the menu, but the owner said to come back in the morning at 8:30 and he'd take us up in his dune buggy.

The next stop was a Chinese restaurant that didn't look great, so we ended up eating at a restaurant along the pedestrian street that wasn't too bad.

Back at the hotel I phone mechanic Ron White on Skype to ask about the starter problem. He suggested jumping across the starter solenoid contacts to see if that would work - I tried it, it did, so I now know how to get the car going even if it won't start on its own. I also got an email back from John Pierson suggesting a dollop of weld on the inside of each of the hubcaps might prevent them from rotating.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

*Miles for the day: 534 (856 km) Miles to date: 10,283 (16,549 km)*

Were going accept the offer of the restaurant owner to go on the dune buggy trip and then have the starter and hub caps fixed, but scrapped the idea when we found out it was Sunday and everything was closed. The scenery today was spectacular; deep canyons carved by rivers with switchbacks down one side, a bright green valley at the bottom, more switchbacks up the other side and then out into ever changing desert with no sign of life. The variation in the desert was amazing, from dried salt lakes to vividly coloured hills, sand dunes, or boulder strewn flats going to the horizon. Sometimes we were driving up dried river beds, or along the side of dunes or on straight stretches where the road disappeared over the horizon in a straight line. Signs and on coming vehicles reflected in the shimmering mirages that vanished as we approached them.

We drove along the broad main boulevard where tall trees shaded benches in the center in the City of Tacna, then decided to press on across the border to Chile, only 22 miles (35 km) away. Here we battled through the exit from Peru and into Chile where an English speaking customs agent took us under his wing and shepherded us through the process in very short order.

We left Peru with very fond memories of the Peruvian people, and of traffic police who go out of their way to help travellers. They were polite without exception, usually shaking hands before asking for documents. When we asked for directions people went out of their way to help. The only exception was the officials at the exit to Chile, who were rude, unhelpful and unfriendly. We got through the process with the help of other travellers, who helped us find and fill out forms, directed us to the correct counters and generally made sure we were looked after - officials wouldn't even answer questions! It was a sad last impression.

Once in Chile we drove around the port city of Arica then checked into the El Paso hotel. It was a long day.

Monday, March 21, 2011

*Miles for the day: 406 (653 km) Miles to date: 10,689 (17,202 km)*

Our early start paralleled the coast before climbing into the interior for more amazing desert scenery. In Chile switchbacks were not used into descend the deep gorges, but rather the road descended gradually along the valley wall, then along the bottom and eventually up the other side. The only slow down was on 55 km (34 mi) of incredibly bad road, otherwise the highway was good. Our route paralleled the coast about 50 km (31 mi) inland, but the closeness of the cold sea kept temperatures reasonable.

There were a couple of stretches with over 200 km (125 miles) between gas stations, so we were glad of our policy of filling up each time we passed one. One town, Pozo Alimante, was the only source of fuels in a stretch of about 450 km (280 miles). Although it was situated in a relatively small oasis, it was the main supply town for the many mining operations within a large radius, and was beautifully kept. They even had flowered lattices covering the sidewalks on the main street so people could be in the shade while shopping.

Eventually we turned east, heading deeper into the Atacama desert until after over an hour of driving and a climb over a pass at 3,005 meters (9,856 ft) we came to Calama, the major city in the area. We drove into town to pick up essentials at a supermarket, got lost finding our way out of town, but completed the final 93 km (53 mi) into San Pedro de Atacama. This required the old Rolls to climb over another pass at 3,450 meters (11,336 ft) through desert hills. The scenery approaching this touristy oasis town was amazing as we descended through rock towers overlooking a brilliant white salt lake in desert stretching to the snow capped Andes Mountains.

The town is comprised of a jumble of mostly mud brick buildings fronting onto narrow, rough dirt streets. We drove into the maze, stopping to ask about a hotel I'd found on the internet. The hotel we were in front of was recommended, so after having a look we checked in. Our small cottage has a porch and a rustic, but comfortable finish. We aren't likely to use the two freezing swimming pools, something I remember from a four day visit here with friends from England a few years ago, but they have a nice bar and restaurant. After complimentary drinks and a good meal bed was the main item on the agenda!

Tomorrow we'll spend the day getting cloths washed, some work done on the computer and the car looked after. Then we will attempt the high pass over the Andes into Argentina..