Elvis Lives

Joined May 2016
  • Day695

    Condor Canyon

    April 10 in Peru

    It was a loooong day drive down to Chivay, the gateway to the Colca Canyon, at over 9 hours. This is double what we would normally do, but we were way above 4,000m for almost all of it and we didn't fancy sleeping that high and exposed if we didn't need to. Actually when we reached the wild camp spot we had in mind the snow was coming down so thick there was no way we weren't going to drive the extra hour to drop down into the town.

    We squeezed into a small hostel driveway and had our first shower for 5 days. The following morning we stocked up in the local market and headed to yet another mechanic for a new noise that bizarrely started only as we pulled into the hostel the night before. First they found that the guys who did our alignment hadn't put things back together right, and our steering arms weren't secured. Everyone thought that was the noise started but within a few blocks it was obvious it wasn't. We headed back and completely stripped out the suspension one of the front wheels and found that the spring was rubbing on the housing which was making the racket. Apparently this spring was a different size to the other one, but it's bizarre we'd managed 30,000 miles without it causing an issue. Replacement parts were all the way back in Lima, so we used a lump hammer to buy us some breathing room so hopefully that's the end of our weird noises from the front end for a while (he says unconfidently).

    That had ruined our plan of a lazy day in the sun on the canyon edge, but actually he afternoon was thick fog so we tentatively found our camp spot on the canyon rim and settled down for the night.

    In the morning we woke to sun rise over the canyon, and took our morning brews to look out for the famous condors. We spent a couple of hours just sitting there watching the massive creatures (3m+ wingspan) cruising on the thermals.

    We parked up in the main square of the next small town and were delighted to bump into our friends we'd first met on the beach in El Salvador over a year ago. The last time we'd seen them involved all day drinking and a street burger in our home town of Leon, Nicaragua and we'd been chasing them down for the last couple of months. They'd just finished hike we were about to start so we made plans to meet in Arequipa and parted ways again.

    Surprisingly it only took us a couple of hours to descend down into the canyon floor 1,200m below. This time we were travelling light we found an 'Oasis' at the bottom with a nice swimming pool which we spent the afternoon lounging around. Maya lived it here especially as she had 2 amigos to play with who had followed us all tge way down from the top! After an early night in our private dorm we then headed back up which took considerably more time - just over 3 hours, still with our little band of doggies. Exhausted we headed back to Chivay and the wonderful thermal pools for an afternoon of soaking.
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  • Day692

    Rainbow Mountain

    April 7 in Peru

    I was hoping to use the great quote 'we went with low expectations and came back disappointed' (Maggie Smith referring to America in Exotic Marigold Hotel), but we were more than pleasantly surprised by Rainbow Mountain. This all stems from reports of the bad road and crazily Photoshoped pictures plastered over the tour company windows.

    As it happened the road wasn't any worse than a normal gravel road (i.e. pretty bad) and we went up late morning so we didn't meet any of the tour buses haring down the narrow and steep-dropped road.

    We set off at lunchtime and met hordes of people coming down, but by the time we had reached the top there were only a couple of people hanging around. Despite it being at 5,200 masl we charged up in an hour and a half, so we are obviously pretty acclimatised by now, although it was really due to the hail that was coming down.

    Miraculously just as we reached the summit the sun came out and we got fantastic photos without loads of people in the foreground. We hung around until the weather turned again, and ended up being the last ones up there. An hour later we were back at Elvis, and we got down the horrible bit of road that evening to a lovely camp spot in the trees we had picked out on the way up.
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  • Day690

    Moray... Eels?

    April 5 in Peru

    After a slow morning we headed out of Cusco and into the Sacred Valley. Our 70 soles ticket (about 20 bucks) got us access to 4 sites in the north of the valley and we were determined to get our money's worth.

    First up was Pisac, a huge fortified site set on top of a hill, as they mostly are. It was a sprawling place that took us over 2 hours to explore and we could have spent twice that. From there we drove down the valley up and up the other side to the next spot, Moray where we camped for the night in their deserted car park with incredible views over grasslands and snow capped peaks beyond.

    When you sleep in remote and high altitude places like this you tend to go to bed early and get up with the sun rise. Moray didn't take long to walk around but the strange sunken terraces was unlike anything we'd seen before and reminded me of roman gladiator arenas. It wasn't far to Maras, a salt farm with a hodge-podge of saline pools stretching down the valley side.

    It was then on to Chinchero our 3rd stop of the day and it wasn't even lunch time yet! This site was huge with a massive amount of large terraces. Sitting atop of all this great Incan stonework was a Catholic church that looked very out of place.

    Next, and last, up was Ollaytaytambo This site was different again, set in a tight bit of the valley with high terraces constrained by stone walls. Atop of this was the Sun Temple, constructed with some massive blocks of stone that must have weighed many, many tonnes and had been transported from over 7 kms away. Unfortunately the Spaniards had turned up before this place had been finished so they hastily tried to fortify it, but throwing stones, spears and fighting with staffs wasn't any competition to the Spanish muskets.

    It was a really great few days jammed with so many impressive and varied sights, particularly enjoyable considering we nearly skipped it to continue heading south.
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  • Day688

    Cusco

    April 3 in Peru

    It was a short hop into Cusco, the regional base for Machu Picchu and the rest of the sacred valley. This is a super touristy town, but we've grown fond of those the longer we are in the road. Unfortunately there isn't great camping options here so we ended up on the edge of town, and getting there was possibly the worst road of the whole trip, and that is saying something! The appear to have dug up the road for repairs years ago and forgotten what they were doing, so it was a free-for-all to avoid the huge holes and the buses and other traffic doing the same thing.

    The first day was a chore day. Elvis needed an oil change and alignment, which should harvest taken an hour or two but I was right to plan for it to consume the whole day. Jo got to explore the town, and the next day I made her tour guide as we admired the stupendous Incan stone work, including the famous 12 sided stone. The really important buildings have these huge blocks of stone that are beautifully worked so they mesh together without the need for mortar, and gently bulge to add to the effect. We overdosed on artisanal shops and bought way more than we should have!

    The following day was another chore day as we'd run out of propane. We called first thing in the morning and arranged to meet the gas lorry 'in an hour'. By the time the Liverpool vs City Champions League game came on I was hoping he wouldn't show up for a while, and it was about 4pm before he eventually showed up. This is typical central/south america and we've pretty well got used to it by now.

    We had a really nice evening hanging out with an Israeli family travelling in a huge lorry with 4 lovely kids, and a crazy Italian couple living out of their car. Overlanders come in all shapes and sizes.
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  • Day683

    Choquequirao

    March 29 in Peru

    We did the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu the last time we were here, and knew we weren't going to do it again so instead we decided to hike to the 'new' Machu Picchu, or Choquequirao as its known. This was just a small matter of descending 1,500m to the valley floor and then climbing 1,500m up the other side, and then the same back again!

    We set off with high hopes and heavy backpacks, and soon realised this was going to be tougher than expected. The trail was really rough and loose rock, and there was little let up in the steep gradient. After a long 3 hours we reached the 'beach', but we carried on over the bridge so we didn't have the whole climb tge next day. The next 2 hours were really tough with no shade from the intense sun or the insessant sand flies. We were more than happy to stop at the first camp site, and enjoyed a refreshing shower and basked in the afternoon sun.

    It rained overnight, and my 25 year old tent has seen better days but we just about stayed dry. This did delay our start a little but after another couple of hours we reached the village of Marampata, which was about the same height as we started. We set up our tent and after a quick lunch carried on up the hill to visit the lost city. Another 90 minutes later we finally reached the ceremonial plaza, and I could do little more than collapse in a heap!

    After a bit of a rest I'd regained my strength and we explored the rest of the site and incredibly we were tge only people there! The highlight was the amazing llama terraces, with their 24 llamas embedded in the terrace walls on the most incredibly steep valley wall. It was so steep it was difficult to walk on the the trail down to them, so it was an incredible feat of engineering. I wish we had a little more time but we needed to get back for our cold shower before the sun set, so back we trudged to the village after a very long day in the saddle.

    Unsurprisingly going down was a lot easier! Our legs we tired but our packs were much lighter so we dropped back down to the beach and headed another hour or so up the other side to another nice camping area. In the morning we demolished the last few hours of climbing and were soon on our way in Elvis back up the bumpy road.

    Hot showers were desperately needed and we found the most incredible place to camp at a school for disabled kids run by a Belgium lady. The funds from camping help support this great place, and we had a fantastic place to recouperate with the most jaw dropping views of glacier covered mountains. I figure we deserved a few days of R&R, and treating ourselves to the super tasty bakery café in town.
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  • Day679

    Today's Special is Cuy

    March 25 in Peru

    We ended up in Nazca around lunchtime and we didn't fancy more driving so we found a garage to install our new ball joints. The only way to get the old ones out was with a massive lump hammer, and then the new ones were half a milametre too big. Normally this would mean a big hassle, but here we drove to the nearest torno who shaved them down for us and an hour later they fitted like a glove. Unfortunately our test drive didn't go so well with Elvis handling like he'd had one too many of his special pills. After about another half a dozen attempts to get the alignment right we called it a night, and spent yet another night in the mechanics yard. To be honest this is not as bad as it sounds - it's always very secure, away from street noise, has bathrooms and sometimes showers, plus it's free! A new day brought a different perspective and within an hour Elvis was back to his old personality and we were back on the road.

    We had a loooong way to go to get to Cusco, the next big destination, so we spent the rest of the day driving. We climbed from near sea level to over 4,000m and then cruised through the amazing high altitude landscape. We spent the night on the edge of a small town, and had to get the duvet (plus blankets) out for the first time in a few weeks.

    The following day we drove another 4 hours, losing over half our altitude, and found a beautiful place to stop with a large swimming pool. We were planning on organising ourselves and doing some shopping, but the weather was so gorgeous we couldn't do anything else other than laze around the pool.

    The next day was a bit drizzly so we definitely made the right decision. We headed into town we grabbed some lunch. I'd been hankering after cuy (guinea pig) but again I was disappointed - it tastes a little bit like chicken and has hardly any meat - this one even came with head and claws with made it even less appealing. We then stocked up for our impending massive hike...
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  • Day675

    Slide Away

    March 21 in Peru

    From Lima we continued down the Pan-American to Ica, and then detoured off slightly to the amazing Huacachina which is, a real life proper Oasis nestled in the desert.

    We were here 13 years ago with my brother Ed, who joined our world tour for a few weeks. I have fantastic memories of this place: sandboarding, dune buggying, a parrot pecking Ed's ear, a lovely hostel pool, and the removal of my braids after 2 months and the resulting microphone head - fun times!

    Things hadn't changed a lot since then (at least not on the hair front!) - not much room for expansion with the dunes constantly encroaching - although things were definitely a little plusher, and our hostel had been significantly upgraded. This time around we made do with a sandy parking lot, but within an hour we were loaded on a buggy and razzing up and down some crazy slopes at break neck (literally) speeds. We stopped for sand boarding, which was a lot more forgiving than the lava boarding tours we used to run in Nicaragua. Last time we recommended to stand, and Jo got told off for lying down and going at crazy speeds. This time it was belly only, but yet again Jo managed to out-board pretty well everyone (and has the scar to prove it!) . (Definitely) Maybe they should add it to the Olympics!

    We rarely do tours this time around but this was so much fun. I'm sure it hasn't really changed from last time, but I think we'd forgotten how good it was and it was long before smartphones & Go-Pros existed - how did anyone remember things in the past?!

    We blagged ourselves a shower by bribing the security guard at some posh swimming pool place, and then nailed a street burger cooked by a fascinating chap who spent 20 years working in kitchens in Italy. Needless to say it was a good burger.

    The following morning we headed out early and drove the few hours to Nazca, where they have the amazing shapes etched into the desert. Last time around we did the whole caboodle with the little plane, so this time we were happy just climbing a tower by the roadside and seeing a couple of the pictures. If you don't know about this place, Google it - no-one really knows why they drew hundreds of these pictographs (whales, monkeys, even supposedly an alien) as well as geometrical shapes in the desert floor by just repeated tracing of the same route, but it's a pretty awesome legacy they left behind.
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  • Day669

    The Waiting Game

    March 15 in Peru

    Driving through a capital city is never fun, but Lima wasn't as bad as most. There's a lot of money knocking around here and my tactic of pulling out in front of expensive cars worked a treat.

    New tyres were high on our list, as we'd been waiting for cheaper Peru then we delayed until we'd got past all the dirt roads, so we went straight to tyre street. After a couple of hours we managed to get some new rubber for Elvis. We drove to Miraflores, which is one of the wealthiest districts and the sort of place we normally avoid, but there was a hostel there which provided the only non-parking lot option in the city and bizarrely it wasn't much different in price. It was a really nice place, with space for 4 rigs and it was full after we arrived.

    Despite not having a flat for 30,000 miles we had one the next morning, so it was back through the traffic to get it sorted. They ended up changing the tyre for a new one, and then the valve after that. Nothing is ever easy on the road! But it was all done in good humor and no extra charges.

    The following day I headed to a nearby street full or car part stores looking for replacements for our noisy ball joints that had given up the ghost after all the rough roads. I came close (but no cigar), although they did recommend another area full of part stores that would 'definitely' have it. The next day, after 3 hours and more than 40 stores I gave up and ordered them from the states. They promised 6 business days, but we know that doesn't mean much when you are relying on foreign postal services.

    We spent the next week enjoying being in a modern, clean and safe city. We found the nearby 'strip' and enjoyed watching the football, rugby (although obviously this actually wasn't very enjoyable) and eating proper fish & chips (twice). Unfortunately the all-you-can-eat curry house was a bit disappointing, but I still got my money's worth (I didn't eat again for nearly 24 hours!).

    The coast was gorgeous, with parks lining the cliff edges, and we made more use of the bikes than we'd ever done before. Maya got a lot of funny looks when she got tired of running alongside and we put her in the basket on the back of my bike. There was a dog park 3 minutes walk away, and she loved haring around with new friends. One day we were there and there was a huge dog fight (planes, not dogs!) in the bay, with ultra modern jets booming past only a few hundred feet away and dropping decoy flares against imaginary misses. I've never seen, or heard, anything quite like it.

    Beyond just general exploring we didn't do an awful lot, but we did visit Museo del Larco, which was an incredible collection of pottery from all the pre-hispanic cultures in Peru and beyond. It was really well arranged and helped you place all the different cultures, geographies and chronology. I find it particularly interesting when you realise a lot of it is pre-Roman. The explicit pottery section was particularly eye opening! Jo also visited the Mario Testino gallery, a famous Peruvian photographer most known for his portraits of Diana, her last official photographs.

    The one thing that made the biggest difference to our stay was the INCREDIBLE supermarkets. We could get a mirad of different types of fresh breads, European cheeses, pate and all sorts of good stuff. Granted it wasn't cheap, but after so long on the road you willingly pay decent coin for treats like this. On the last day we hunted down the famous beef heart skewers, that I thought were delicious but Jo needed some convincing!

    We got a bit excited when we knew our parts had made it to Lima, but we didn't expect customs to take 5 days to clear them, but eventually (after 2 weeks) we got our hands on them and high-tailed it out of the city.
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  • Day660

    Snowed In - At 4,800m!

    March 6 in Peru

    We were on our way up to the Pastoruri Glacier when we spotted another Dodge van, which is super rare (think the last one we saw was in Mexico) at the side of the dirt road. A French couple had a flat and their jack didn't give sufficient lift, but fortunately ours did and an hour later we convoyed up to the Glacier parking lot. Good deed done for the day, and hopefully karma in the bank.

    A few years back it would have been a short walk up to the glacier, but it's retreating around 15m every year so it took us about 45 minutes to get from the 1983 point to the 2018 one. Although we've seen a few glaciers over the past week in the stunning Cordillera Blanca range, we haven't been able to walk up to one so this was an awesome experience. Particularly as our delay meant all the tour buses had left and we had the place to ourselves, and we could skip the rope and actually creep inside some of the ice crevasses.

    The delay also meant a bit of cloud came in and we didn't get the stunning views up the glacier we were hoping for, so we decided to camp the night at 4,800m - a new record for us, but we were reasonably well acclimatised. Incidentally it was also a new record high for Elvis, but it was actually a relatively easy drive up.

    As we started to set off back down to camp a bit of light hail started, but we thought nothing of it as its been similar at every high point this week. What we didn't expect was when we went to cook at 6ish was that it had turned to snow and Elvis had an inch or two covering. We definitely weren't leaving now!

    We weren't that nervous, although we had skipped the supermarket earlier today thinking we would be back in civilisation by the morning, we still have enough supplies in the van to easily last a week. Elvis is also super well insulated and we have a gas heater if things really got rough. Still it was a little disconcerting to think we might be stuck up here for a while! By the time we went to bed we had a good 4 or 5 inches of the white stuff, and it was still coming down pretty hard :|

    After a reasonable night's sleep (surprising considering the altitude and the worry) we were pretty relieved to see it wasn't too thick and we had no real concerns about getting down, particularly as a local beat-up car had just arrived. We thought we might as well nip back up to the glacier and hope for some blue sky photos. That didn't quite happen but I was glad we went back as how often do you get to muck around on a glacier face?! At that point it started a bit more light snow so we thought we shouldn't tempt fate, and headed back to Elvis sharpish.

    The drive down was fine and within a couple of hours we were back on the asphalt. Despite heading down towards Lima on the coast, we ended up climbing up through a 4,000m+ pass in horrible rainy weather, so it's probably just as well we got out of the snow zone. We couldn't make it all the way in one day, and there had been a few worrying reports about robberies on the coast north of the capital, so we stopped at a restaurant on the way down for the night. Despite advertising all sorts of tasty sounding local delicacies they only had chicken with rice or rice with chicken, so Jo rustled up something much nicer out of our supplies. This is the realistic and often unglamorous side to overlanding, but after an epic week in the mountains you can't complain too much.
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  • Day657

    Laguna 69

    March 3 in Peru

    The national park fees have shot up from 10 Soles (about 3 bucks) to 3 times that at the beginning of the year. That in itself isn't so bad, but when they want $20 to camp on top of that it's pretty exorbitant in this part of the world, particularly when you don't get a lot for it. To avoid this we spent the night at a bar built out of container just outside the park entrance (don't ask how much we spent on the excellent artisanal beer!), and at 5:30am I got up and drove into the park whilst Jo was still in bed. The road was pretty bad so I don't think she had much of a lie in!

    We did want an early morning start as we knew this place got pretty popular. We were a little worried about leaving the van in such a deserted spot, as we had been warned about robberies and Peru is definitely less safe than Ecuador, but we set out just after the sun had come it.

    The first hour or so wound along the gorgeous valley floor with it's meandering river, then we started to climb the steep switch backs before hitting another small flat valley area, and then up again. The reward was pretty stunning with turquoise glacial lake surrounded by incredibly steep cliffs, topped off with craggy glaciers. The only other people there was a brave camper (amazing spot) and a local family, and after the best part of an hour admiring the view and demolishing an early lunch we set off back. We then went through a hour of busy foot traffic as obviously the tour buses had arrived, before it just as quickly disappeared and we could enjoy the last few hours without a soul.

    It was a great walk, but I definitely think the previous one beat it hands down and it's great to go where the tour buses don't. It was still pretty early so we decided to head on down, picking up an interesting Hungarian hitchhiker who had spent the past 4 years in South America and gave us lots of great tips. We went to the famous thermal pools but got there at he worst time (4pm on a Saturday) and it was heaving, so we went back to a nice little camp site on the river we spotted on the way up and walked to a nearby but smaller thermal place. It was definitely a good decision as there was no hour wait for the sauna cave, which was definitely well earnt after all this hard high altitude hiking. That followed by a cold beer did wonders for the tiredness!

    The following day we headed into Huaraz, the big local city. We had an amazing lunch at the brewery from the beer container, and explored the non-touristy city a bit. We spent a hour trying, and failing, to find somewhere decent to camp and ended up in a hotel car park on the edge of town, but it ended up being a fairly reasonable spot. That evening we watched the local footy team take on Lima in what was a very entertaining and open game - our leagues could definitely learn a thing or two from this style of attacking play. The view of the mountains surrounding the stadium was pretty awesome, it was just a shame we were soaked after a horrendous 10 minute downpour as we we getting into the ground.
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  • Day652

    Paramount Pictures Presents

    February 26 in Peru

    After a couple of hours up a dirt road we paid our 5 Soles (under 2 bucks) national park entry fee, let our tires down, and started to climb steeply through switchback after switchback up an amazingly U shaped valley. This was another occasion when we couldn't believe they'd built a road through this terrain as the huge bare rock walls of the valley towered many hundreds of metres on either side.

    Elvis might be carrying a little extra weight around his hips but one thing is does have is a lot of grunt, thanks to a V8 5.2 litre engine. He's also pretty agile as he's only the size of a regular pick up truck so we didn't have much trouble getting up but the road was a little rough which meant we stayed around 10/15mph. He really is a perfect travelling companion, particularly in this sort of environment.

    We soon arrived at the lake at the top and our jaws dropped! Before us was a stupendous glacial lake with the most incredible turquoise colour. To top it off it was surrounded by seven 6,000+ snow & glacier covered peaks. In all our travels I don't think I've ever seen such an incredible vista. To help you picture it, at the end of the lake is a magnificent peak that is used in the Paramount Pictures logo. Unsurprisingly for this time of the year we didn't get a clear view of all the peaks at the same time, but that kind of added to mysteriousness of it all. The usual disclaimer that the photos really don't do it justice.

    The next day we walked the length of the lake, then up a glacial moraine ridge alongside a second smaller lake to a huge waterfall crashing several hundred metres down a huge rock face. We'd heard there was a third lake hidden at the top so we bravely plowed up the 1 in 3 slope around the rock wall. It took us a least an hour to scale the few hundred vertical metres, and we found ourselves at an amazing viewpoint above this third lake. There was a huge glacier terminating directly into the lake, and there were a bunch of mini icebergs bobbing around. It was an incredible sight.

    After 3 and a half hours hiking I think we topped out at around 4,800 and we were definitely feeling the altitude after being at the coast a few days before. Then it started snowing lightly so we thought we'd better start heading down. Fortunately the path was pretty good so the return route was reasonably easy, but we were both dead on our feet for the last hour or so. Unfortunately there was only a mountain stream fed shower on offer, and you can imagine how cold that was!

    The following morning, a little stiff from our efforts, we enjoyed the beautiful view from our van doors before scaling a little mirador. We then crawled slowly down the same road and back to Camping Guadeloupe for a hot shower and some more R&R.
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  • Day650

    Horn OK Please

    February 24 in Peru

    After a week of beach and desert we left the coast and started climbing up to the Cordillera Blanca, which made me very happy - I've definitely decided I'm a mountain man.

    After all the recent troubles with steering/suspension we decided to skip the dubious shortcut, which was on a rough dirt road and we thought probably wouldn't save us much time. Zipping up the other side of the river I think it was definitely the right call, and after a couple of hours the valley tightened and things got a bit more interesting.

    First the road got a little narrower, then the drops got a lot bigger. Fortunately the road surface was still pretty decent, although there were a couple of spots where it had partially collapsed into ravine or where a rock slide had made it a bit dicey.

    Then we hit our first tunnel! No problem - I could see the other end and we zoomed on through. The next few tunnels were the same sort of deal, then we saw a sign saying we needed to sound our 'claxon'. Even with our limited Spanish we got the message, so after a quick honk we entered the dark tunnel. This continued with the tunnels getting longer and more windy resulting in the horn echoing down the tunnel and canyon walls as we worked our way upwards. Fortunately the downhill traffic was pretty light and only once did we meet someone in a tunnel - he'd only just entered and obviously heard my incessant honking so could easily reverse.

    It really is unbelievable that they had built a road up this crazy canyon, but after 40 odd tunnels we came across a little hydroelectric plant which obviously justified the mad road, but still it beggars belief.

    Once out the other side we were greeted by magnificent pure white crags poking out from behind the hills. It was surprisingly to see as we were only about 3,000m and all the snow we'd seen previously was a good 2,000m higher.

    We cruised on to Camping Guadeloupe, an amazing little camp site nestled up against a steep, steep hillside. Electric, wifi and hot showers in a gorgeous setting - this is what overlanding is all about!

    Since we got into Peru the mains electricity has jumped up to 220v for the first time, much to Elvis's disgust. We brought a cheap transformer a few days previously but unfortunately it only lasted a couple of hours before exploding in a cloud of white dust.

    We spent a few tranquil days chilling at the camp site, doing some of those jobs that I'd been putting off. Elvis even had his first proper wash for over a year.
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