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Unexpected Carnival in Huaraz

We noticed it the second we entered town. From what we had heard, Huaraz, Peru is a modest town high up in the magnificently tall mountains of the Cordillera Blanca complete with a center square and large Catholic church. But something was different about today. We noticed groups of teenagers mobbing through the streets with small white buckets, we weren’t exactly sure what to make of this mid-day madness. Some had brightly colored paint in them and others had water as they were dumped onto unlucky stranger’s heads. Katy and I felt safe for the moment behind the Land Cruiser's tempered glass windows. At first it wasn't clear if this was an isolated happening or what exactly was going on, but we drove on. The goal was to make it to the Plaza de Armas, the central plaza, to find a specific restaurant that served the only local craft brew we had heard of in Peru. Moments later, we turned off the main road to get out from behind a massive parade marching its way toward the city center, loud and proud. The buckets and paint were forgotten for the time as we rolled down a side street past closed businesses and storefronts.

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A teenage boy with a bucket suddenly leapt in front of the car into the crosswalk and thoroughly soaked an unfortunate woman just going about her own business. At almost the same moment, a water balloon exploded on our back windshield. We were entering a battle zone, littered with the leftovers of fire crackers, broken buckets, and upset middle aged Peruvians that had fallen victim to kids with buckets and what seemed like years of local tradition. It then dawned upon us: Carnaval! Every spring, many Latin American countries celebrate in their own way out in the streets during the days leading up to Lent.

A suitable street parking space was found in front of some government office that had an extra police officer stationed at it for the day. From there, Katy and I carefully picked our path to the restaurant. Through a local clothing market selling soft alpaca fur blankets, past police hanging in front of a bank, and along another street with a group of elderly women in their traditional tall straw hatsand colorful shawls. All the while, hoards of paint splattered Peruvian kids ran around with their weapons of choice: one gallon white buckets. The whole experience was intensified by the feeling left in your chest by firecrackers exploding overhead and in narrow streets.

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Finally, after a few wrong turns and several close calls we ducked into the restaurant. We made it with just the slightest splashes of water and no paint on us. This felt like a huge feat as we stood out to all as gringos. Even still, it wasn’t until hours later that we were free to leave unnoticed and untouched."

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Trampoline of Death

After getting gas in Mocoa, a town much larger than you would expect to find at the end of one bad road and at the beginning of an even worse road, I drove El Burro (yes I named my car "the donkey") about a mile south of town and turned right at the police checkpoint. This marked the start of Carrera 10 or 45 or "trampolín de muerto" depending on who you ask. Starting at less than 2000 feet above sea level this road climbs all the way up to 10,400 feet before brining you back down to 9000 feet along the shore of Laguna de la Concha. Katy and I didn't know much about the road besides that it was super windy and one local guy we talked to had a colorful name for it. We really only took it because it was the most direct route to the Ecuador border from one of the last places we wanted to see in Colombia.

After about 10 minutes of driving we still weren't exactly sure why it was called the trampoline of death. I mean we had an idea but we couldn't decide if it got its name from the fact that it was so rough and bumpy you felt like you were on a trampoline and there were so many blind corners and narrow sections that you might to bounce off the edge. Or because it was so lush and densely forested that if you did go off the edge your vehicle would bounce thousands of feet down the valley walls.

Anyways, this road is treacherous but indescribably beautiful.

I could describe everything to you in the detail a recent liberal arts grad is good at but for the sake of length let's just stick to pictures and video that my trusty co-pilot Katy captured.

We tailed a huge truck for the first bit of the road. Like this one:

     


 

Until I decided he was going too slow and passed him.

From there the road got narrower and the clouds moved in like this:

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While the road is dangerous and hard on your vehicle it does not require a 4x4 or even very high clearance. The most important thing is a good set of brakes and knowing your vehicle. Because there will be times when you are cautiously and responsibly driving around a blind turn and there's a huge truck doing the exact opposite. In these situations slow down and pull right until your mirror is good friends with the mossy rock wall. Even then one of you will probably have to back up so the other can get by.

It seems to be maintained by the government to some extent. There are a lot of guard rails. But a lot of them look like this:

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They worked for someone else but probably won't work for you. I'm assuming this particular one was taken out by a land slide but there are many others that are all bent out of shape and hanging out into thin air.

This guy was lucky and crashed into a ditch on the left side of the road. You can also see one of the maintenance workers in this picture and the cute little stick and caution tape barrier he put up.

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Here's a well maintained shrine to Mother Mary with lots of freshly lit candles

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All in all it was a positive experience that put my driving skills to the test and provided some amazing views. Between the waterfalls to the views of the valleys when the clouds did clear for a minute I would definitely do it again. Not gonna recommend it to anyone else though.

Here's a video that shows how trucks just pop up around a corner and later on how an even bigger truck appears out of the fog:

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Nope nope! Asked around and looked it up!!! This road is not just called the Trampoline of death or The Devils Trampoline by one colorful fella we talked to. That's actually it's name. Built in 1930 to transport troops while Colombia was at war with Peru, lots of people die here every year. (I can't speak to the accuracy of this number but I've read it in three different places) But apparently 2011 and 1989 are two of the deadliest years. 2011- around 500 people and 1989-300 people.

It seems to be a quicker and cheaper way to get from the border with Ecuador to South East Colombia. So a lot of people opt to pay one of two companies to take them along the road.

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Sometimes things just workout

Late November 2016 in Nicaragua

On Sunday morning I woke up with out an official plan. I originally intended to get to Ometepe, the volcanic island in lake Nicaragua created by Volcanos Conception and Maderas, but was content to play it by ear and see if a ferry was available to take me and the Cruiser on a Sunday afternoon. After a relaxed morning, making coffee and eggs next to lake Apoyo, I drove down to Rivas/ San Jose to see if I could get on the boat. Aapon arriving it was promptly made clear that there was no space until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. In addition the company that runs the car ferry didn't even have its ticket station open and therefore it was impossible to reserve a spot for the following day. There was a phone number but I lacked both a in country telephone and the Spanish language skills.

Just as it started to seem completely impossible to make it to Ometepe, as originally planned a tour operator named Hector can up to me and Max told us he overheard us and had a solution. Hector said "I over hear you talking. I think I can help you, and you can help me."

He continued to explain that he had purchased tickets in advance for a German couple that had told him they intended to catch the ferry at 2:30 pm. As it turned out they didn't pick up the tickets at 10:30 am like they originally agreed. Nor did they show at 11:30 am or 12:30 pm as they promised in subsequent phone calls.

Hector, a middle aged man with graying hair, told us he just wanted to get home to his wife. A gorgeous woman less than half his age, who he proudly showed us many pictures of them together. We wanted to get tickets to the island and he wanted to make back his loss and get home to his wife. It was perfect.

The ferry didn't leave until 2:30 but it was only 12:45 when Hector sold us the tickets. This left us with some time to kill, but yet again Hector had us covered. He invited us into his friends restaurant right next to the ticket office to escape the blood sucking mosquitos that literally formed a cloud around the building. No joke these bugs were so prevalent you could kill a dozen just swinging your arm through the air around your head. To celebrate the start of Hectors weekend Max and I cracked a beer with him at the bar. We got to talking and it turned out Hector, like Max, was an avid Scuba diver and spear fisherman.

In the matter of 2 hours the three of us quickly went from complete strangers, to business acquaintances, to friends sharing a (so much for rushing home to the wife). We polished off a few more cans and lunch before Max and I had to catch the ferry.

 View from behind the wheel house

View from behind the wheel house

Now I'm sitting on the top deck of the ferry watching Ometepe get closer and closer. It is shaped a lot like my home the island of Maui and was formed in a similar way. While the view is reminiscent of home the boat crew is not. Since I sat down here, about 10 min into a 60 min trip, I have watched these 4 guys in the wheel house finish 20 beers. I can swim so I'm not too worried, and if you are reading this, the ferry made it into the harbor and I found wifi to share this with you.

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Saving a Mexican named Pablo

Saving a Mexican named Pablo

 

About a week into Baja the VW van guys and I were looking for "The Wall." A surf and accompanying beach camp spot they had found in a book. We made our way down the narrow, pot holed, and uneven Baja Highway 1 for about 5 hours that day when we turned off to find "The Wall." After driving down an auxiliary highway and through a small town the VW van guys lead me onto a wide sand beach. It was wind swept with the small pebbles that inhabited the beach, visible after the wind blew across its surface for hours on end.

 

The vans guys promptly got Stuck.

 

Their 30 year heavy vehicle with road tires was SOL just a few meters onto the first beach.

 

Getting stuck of course lead me to to rescuing them from the sand, but thats not really the store you expected to read is it? So we will just leave it at I pulled them out of the sand and we left the van in a good place.

 

While pulling the Van guys out of the sand we spotted a man on the far end of the beach waving a white T-Shirt and then more desperately flashing a mirror in the sun. In the moment I didn't pay much thought to the signals because I was trying to get a 5,000 pound van out of the sand. After getting them out and regrouping we realized that this fella might need some help. So the van guys hopped in and we took off across the beach to find this man in distress.

 

Once we made it across the beach (really not that far, maybe a 5 min walk or 2 min drive) we found a rather fat Mexican man with the torn white t-shirt he had been waiving sitting on the hood of his Dodge truck. His While I positioned the Landcruiser to pull him out of the sand trap he was in, the Van guys chatted him up and learned his name was Pablo. He told us about how he had been stuck for 8 hours and no one had been by to help him.

 

It's no surprise that no  one had driven by to help him because he was on a seldom traveled road to an uninhabited place. What was a surprise though is that Pablo had decided to hang out in the sun with the truck and without water for 8 hours instead of making the 30 min walk back into town to ask for help.

 

Pablo was really a nice guy. But his truck was a little less than nice, let alone capable of making it through the soft sand that makes the up local beaches. I determined it would be best to winch him out of the hole he had dug himself. This required securing the winch line to the front of Pablo's truck. Once I dug out enough sand to see the underside of his truck I realized there were no tow hooks or official anchor points. Instead what I had was a front axel drenched in a the aftermath of a severe oil leak. I do t think the engine had an ounce of oil left in it, but hey I wasn't there to be his mechanic, he just wanted to be on his way.

 

At his prompting I snaked the winch cable through the front axel of Pablos truck and got him out of the sand and onto more stable ground. Extremely grateful he offered us his pork rinds but asked of a few bottle of water in return.

 

The Mexican named Pablo quickly went on his way and didn't bother much more than a "Muchos gracias" and the token gift of pork rinds. He didn't even seem to know where "The Wall" was.

 

The rest of the evening turned out to be full of its own adventure and new friends but that's a different story.

 

Tonight's dinner (11/14/2016):

Max and I made our way out of the 3 Monkeys Hostel in Antigua and headed for the back room of a convenience store across from the yellow church (that's literally all the direction we were given, luckily the town is only about 12x12 blocks). We found the yellow church and then the store. We were recommended a local dish called Pepian so we got that. Pepian ended up being a reddish broth with a chunk of chicken and some rice in it. Add some tortillas on the side and a bottle of Guatemalas Gallo beer and you've got a damn good meal.

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