Monday, January 31, 2011

Due South

Angela writes:
I think while in Argentina Daryll and I are experiencing our “15 minutes of fame”.  Here we are treated like celebrities. So many people kindly want to talk to us, wave to us and take our photo.  We are in mid-summer here in Argentina and we’ve been meeting many people touring their own country while on vacation. People are very outdoorsy and camping is widely available. Everywhere we go we have segments of the following conversation, all in Spanish of course!
Where are you from? (They guess that Daryll is from Brazil and I am from Germany) How long did it take?
Where are you going? How long will it take?
What is the make of your bikes? Are they the same? How much gas in your tanks? How much did it cost?
Are you married? Do you have babies?

During our more lengthy conversations, usually with those who speak English to our delight, we’ve discovered that so many Argentineans have recent European backgrounds, very similar to Canada.  So many people have told us that their grandparents are from Belgium, Poland, Germany, Spain ect.  You can witness this in people features as well as many are fair haired and blued eyed. Here in Argentina, a custom we’ve come across on the road is that before a long journey you are suppose to place a plastic bottle full of water at a little shrine outside of town to ensure safety during the trip.  Since we have a lot of ground to cover, we decided to place our own bottle so as not take any chances for the coming days.  Another thing we’ve recognized about Argentineans is their love for a long, leisure, enormous BBQ called Asado.  At all the campgrounds we’ve been to all of the sites have their own Asado “altar” – basically a cement oven, 5 feet off the ground with an iron grill.


Using wood or sometimes charcoal they will spend two hours tending cooking meat and toasting bread over the open flame. They will cook steak, chicken, sausage, ribs, and pork  and sometimes a combination of all for one meal.  It is very hot during the middle of the day to have these BBQs so often they don’t start  their fires until 9 or 10 pm. Being around all these lovely smelling cook-outs prompted Daryll and I to go to an all you can eat buffet while in the city of Mendoza to see what all the fuss was about.   Now of course with an all you can eat buffet you have to strategize how you are going to attack it. We decided not to eat all day and since the restaurant didn’t actually open until 8:30 pm it was a challenge.  It was well worth the wait though as the food was very good. My first stop was the asado meat counter for a steaming piece of steak.  It was cooked to perfection and melted in my mouth.  I did try a few other things for dinner – the chicken was divine – and for dessert I indulged in another local delicacy – dulce de leche.  It’s a thick, milk based caramel-like creamy topping that looks like butterscotch pudding. I had dulce de leche flavored ice cream and crème Brule with a scoop of dulce de leche on top. Yummy!  And last but not least since vineyards are plentiful and wine is cheaper than water at $1/liter, no meal is complete without a healthy dose of white or red.

After leaving Mendoza we decided to take a side trip west towards the Chilean border to see Mount Aconcagua (elevation 22,841 feet / 6,962 meters) the highest peak in the America's.  It was a beautiful site to see the white snow-covered mountain in the middle of the dry, brown mountain range. Our plan was to camp in the National Park surrounding it as our guidebook indicated it was possible, but upon our arrival we were informed that camping at that park was cancelled last year.  No worries, the wind was pretty fierce at the site anyway. It was still mid-day so we rode to find a campsite elsewhere. 


Our next camping destination was Canyon de Atuel which we had chosen because Daryll’s GPS indicated some campsites in the vicinity. After talking to people and upon arrival we then realized the area was a local adventure hotspot with whitewater rafting, rock climbing, river kayaking, tubing, and general river fun. We found a free municipal campsite, most of the cities and towns have them but usually you pay a couple dollars to stay, and frolicked in the river. 


The next day on our way to Barrancas  we met a motorcycling Argentinean couple Jorge and Paula also on their way to Ushuaia. They introduced us to another local favorite – mate – which we see everyone drinking out of fancy cups.  We tasted the bitter tea and decided it must be an acquired taste but for now we liked the pot cups and fancy silver metal straws the best. We ended up riding with Jorge and Paula on and off throughout the day but after losing his license plate on some bumpy dirt roads and losing power in his engine, Jorge decided to stop somewhere to have a mechanic look at this bike.  I suspect we will meet them again along the way.


As we ride southbound towns are becoming few and far between so while in them we have to make sure we fill up on water, food, wine and especially gas. In Chow Malal we decided to fuel up as the next gas station was another 300km away.  I’m sure we could have made it but we would rather be cautious than have to limp into the next town to maybe discover a fuel shortage. In Chow Malal there was only one gas station and they were just filling up their underground tanks. The attendants informed us that it would be an hour before they would be ready to give us gas. We tried to wait right beside the pumps but were told that they need the room to maneuver the big tanker around the station. They asked us to wait across the street and we made them commit to serving us first once the pumps were back open. We weren’t too concerned about the hour wait but we didn’t want to “lose our spot in line” once other people started to come and lineup too. During the hour wait Daryll talked and joked with the gas attendants and thankfully they remembered us when the pumps opened again and we were ushered up to the pump and were ready to go within minutes which was great as another 20 cars had lined up in the meantime!

After 300 km of some more straight road riding through beautiful mountain scenery we arrived in Zapala. While riding around town looking for a grocery store, we noticed another foreign motorcycle rider weaving around town who then pulled up next to us at a traffic light. Here we were introduced to Francis, from France who had ridden from Paris, across Mongolia, Russia, Korea, Japan, Australia and Southern Argentina.  He was now making his way up to Canada. Upon meeting us Francis decided to call it a day, although normally he would ride many more kilometers, and decided to budget camp with us.  While looking for our site among some paths of puddles, sand and mud I dropped my bike in a mud puddle while making a sharp right turn.  The fall was really insignificant but I wanted to mention it as it was my first dump on the trip.  My instincts kicked in to turn off the engine and turn off the battery but I forgot to grab the camera!  There was no damage to me or the bike just a bit to my pride as when I tried to lift the bike, even after turning the handlebars so my tire was pointing to the sky, I could not lift it upright, only enough to keep the gas from leaking out of the tank. I figured in this circumstance my adrenaline would kick in to give me super strength to lift it, but this was not the case and Francis came around the corner to my rescue to help me lift upright. Thanks Francis!  Once we found a campsite we met two more friends Nicolas and Inaki from Argentina who were cycling from the Atlantic east coast of Argentina to the Pacific west coast of Chile.  They had been on the rode for 18 days, riding about 70 km per day, and had approximately 10 days left of their trip.  Boy did they have will power and we were very impressed with their efforts and the description of their joy after summiting their first of many mountains.  After their long riding day they still had the stamina to ride back into the town and grocery shop for dinner and at 10 pm at night began making an asado BBQ to cook their sausages.  They gave us tips to slow cook using wood and Daryll and I took notes as we aspired to one night grill our own – if we can wait that long for dinner!  It was a great night for the five of us and a lovely chance encounter of “ships passing in the night” since we were heading due south, Francis due north and the boys due west.


After a quick night of municipal camping in beautiful San Martin de Los Andes where the most exciting thing we did was watch a movie in our tent on the laptop, we arrived in Bariloche via the “mostly dirt and gravel” Seven Lakes road.  The scenery on the Seven Lakes road was beautiful and worth the extra effort but would have been much more impressive without the fog and rain we encountered.

We are now camping near Bariloche in small hippie town Los Cohiues, beside a babbling brook with the cleanest, clearest water I have ever seen.  I don’t think I’ll be venturing into the river as the temperature today is probably about 10 – 18 degrees Celsius with a chilly wind blowing.  The hot showers at the campground are definitely appreciated.  We are going to rest here for a couple more days, explore a bit and Daryll is doing an oil change on both bikes right now as I type.  But the most thrilling activity we’ve begun here is cooking our own asado (BBQ) of steak and sausages!  After many days of canned tuna and packaged soups, freshly grilled meat is the best! Huge thanks to Nicolas and Inaki for teaching us the Argentinean way of having an asado.  Last night we started a big wood fire on the left side of the concrete/brick fireplace and when we created coals hot enough we moved it over to the right side of the fireplace, under the grill, where our freshly butchered meat sizzled to perfection.  Then as we were taught, we toasted some buns of freshly baked bread and grilled some potatoes.  Our feast was so good we are going to repeat this again tonight and tomorrow!  Yum, yum can’t wait and oh, we are properly washing it down with some fine boxed wine:)

New photos added to the Argentina photo album.
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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Dwarf Road

Daryll writes:

So after being hyped up about the possibility of crossing into Argentina sooner than later, we headed for the Paso de Jama pass that leaves the Atacama Desert in Chile and climbs to 4800m / 15,748ft and crosses into Argentina.  The funny thing was that the Chilean Migracion and Customs were in San Pedro de Atacama and the Argentina Migracion and Customs wasn’t for another 160km.  We were literally in no-man’s land.  At the Chilean exit, we met 2 Brazilian riders that were doing a trip around Argentina and Chile.  They were travelling a lot faster than us and passed us after the border.

On the way up the pass, the temperature changed drastically and we had to stop to put on a few more layers and plug in our heated jackets.  The landscape was incredible along the way as we rode towards a dormant volcano, a few Laguna's stocked with their own resident flamingos and vicuna’s.  I just wonder how anything can survive at this altitude.  We had stopped to take a few pic’s of the flamingos and I had to walk down an embankment to get a better shot and was totally out of breath and breathing heavily by the time I got back to the bike.  I hadn’t even gone 20 steps.  At this stop, one of the Brazilian riders that we had met earlier had left their notebook – apparently it had all his notes about his travels for a future book.  Another tourist had found it and gave it to us, thinking that we would run into them again.  As they were already ahead of us, I didn’t think that we would catch up to them again but as we got to the Argentinean border, they were frantically asking all the passers-by if anyone had found their book and as Angela passed the notebook to the one rider, we could see the joy and relief in their faces and they hugged both of us, before posing for the customary photo opp.

As we continued into Argentina and descended the valley, the weather warmed up to warrant another stop to take off all those layers added on a few hours ago.  One of the highlights that our Argentinean friends had told us about was a salt flats that we would pass through.  So this warranted a stop for a few pics and a walk onto the flats.

Thus far with just over a week in Argentina, Argentina has delivered some of the best roads we have ridden on and one of the worst.  More on that later.  Our destination for our first night in Argentina was Purmamarca, a small town located in the middle of no where and surrounded by mountains with an array of colors that will have any Geologist in heaven.  The road that led to this small town came down a mountain pass with over 25 switchbacks.  The one thing that our Argentinean friends didn’t warn us about was that Argentineans take their siesta very seriously and rightly so as it is in the high 30’s during the day.  As we arrived in Purmamarca, it was deserted and looked more like a ghost town.  Everything was closed and there was hardly anybody on the streets.  Normal trading hours are from 8am-1pm and then again from 5pm-9pm and the good restaurants don’t open till 9pm and some as late as 10pm.  It was about 6pm, we had set up our tent and after a long riding day, a border crossing, we were starving and trying to find a place to eat was yet another challenge.  We managed to find something that had Empenadas and beer as the daily special which we settled on and then watched the sun go down behind the gorgeous mountains.  The sun doesn’t go down till around 8:30pm and it is hot well into the night.

On the way out of Purmamarca, we had to backtrack about 25km’s to find a gas station to fill up to get us to our next campsite for the night.  Camping in Argentina seems to be well organized and there are several campgrounds to choose from, either private or normally every town will have a municipal campground.  The one thing that has struck me is that Argentineans love to backpack, hitch-hike and camp around their lovely country.  There are backpackers everywhere and they are not always foreigners.  Our next destination was going to be a municipal campground in Salta and true to form, the road was another that was designed for bikers in mind as it snaked alongside a lush green mountain and later descended into an urban environment.  The only problem with this road was that both opposing lanes were the width of maybe a single country lane.  Not that much space to carve those corners.  It reminded us of Chuckanuat Dr. in Washington but throw in some cows, and take away all the guard-rails.

It’s summer holidays here, so families are out camping and the campsite was busy and our neighbors were as curious as 5 yr olds and wouldn’t  leave me alone to set-up the tent.  From Salta, the scenery changed again from the lush green vegetation of the previous day to the most incredible rock formations that we’ve seen as we rode towards Cafayete.  It wasn’t a long day and we arrived in Cafayete by noon and as usual, everything was closed so decided to stop at a gas station that sold food and supposedly offered wifi.  After ordering, we found out that the wifi didn’t work, but the lomo (steak) sandwich that we had was so good.  Before leaving, I ended up having a argument with the guy behind the cash for the lack of internet and the fact that our lunch worked out more expensive than was advertised.  As we were planning on camping for the rest of the week and weren’t going to have internet access, Ang found an internet cafe to email home while I watched over the bikes, all still parked at the gas station.  While there, I noticed several cars stopping to fill up without any problems.  When Ang returned, we decided to fill up as we were at the station.  As we rode the bikes close to the pump, the attendant starting saying no and that we should go elsewhere and there wasn’t any gas here.  What the hell!  So I went off at him, in English or course and he didn’t understand a word of my rant.  My guess was that the guy inside told him not to sell us gas.  Ang was nicer to him than I was and he explained that there wasn’t any gas and we should return tomorrow.  We did return the next morning, found a different attendant and filled up.  I kept my mouth shut the whole time.

At the campsite in Cafayete, we camped next to two families and where I met Martin, a young 10 year old that spent the entire evening sitting at our campsite asking me a million and one questions about our trip.  Every so often he would go off back to his tent and bring candy or cookies back to us.  He wanted to learn a few English words and I had a good opportunity to practice my Spanish as well.  It was getting late and I had said that we are leaving early tomorrow morning, so I had to go to bed.  It was about 10pm – that is late for me and he said that he would get up early to say goodbye the next morning. During the evening, I had given him one of our stickers, I guess he felt that he needed to return the favor and give me something and he pulled out a toy soldier from his pocket and offered it to me – it is times like these that really make this trip.  I declined his toy soldier as I really couldn’t take his toy.  As promised, Martin was up just before we could leave, and I noticed that his mom brushed his hair before he came over with his dad for some photos.

We were headed for Catamarca and during the morning stopped off at a few wineries for some photos of Argentineans famous vineyards and the rain clouds that loomed ahead.  As we continued, it started to rain, and we could see in the distance that we were headed towards the eye of the storm, so decided to stop at a gas station for a break and hope that the storm will pass before we got back on the road.  We must have waited an hour and thought that the storm had moved along.  To our dismay, as we started back up, we headed up another mountain pass and we started to ride right into the rain.  It was too bad to start, but then the wind picked up and it was the worst wind we have driven in.  It was a biting cold wind and neither of us wanted to stop to add on more layers as we didn’t think we could hold up the bikes if we had stopped as the wind was so strong.  The road had some potholes, which was bearable, but as we would pass a mountain, and it would shield us from the wind for a moment, the instant we came out of it’s shelter, we were blasted again.  I’m sure that this was just preparation of what’s too come in Patagonia.  I held my handle bars with a death grip for the next 100km’s.  From the rain, to the wind, then came the fog and when we thought that it couldn’t get any worse, parts of the pass were under construction and there were dirt sections that turned in a slippery nightmare for me.  I’m still running the original tire that I had left Canada with, so there isn’t much traction on dirt and as we came down a hill, the back-end would slip and slide all over the place.  An hour and a half later, we descended into the most peaceful little community (Tafi de Valle) and then on to our campsite.  Most of the camping we have been doing thus far have been in full service sites with a bbq, pool and hot showers, all for about $5.  Well worth it for our budget.

The next major stop for us was Mendoza were we needed to catch up on blog, emails, change my rear tire and have a few good meals and sleep in some comfort for a change.  Mendoza is a nice town, big city with small town feel.  it was destroyed in an earthquake and when the city was rebuilt, it was designed with wide side-walks and streets that are lined with trees.  Definitely worth a visit.

New photos of Chile and Argentina added to the respective photo albums.  I had mixed some of the photos and have now resorted them into their correct locations.

We plan on camping for the next week as we make our way to Bariloche so will be out of contact till next weekend.
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Desert’s Been a Friend to Me

Angela writes:

Since entering Peru we’ve mostly been living in a desert climate. Hot sun, sand dunes and scarce vegetation is mostly what we’ve been encountering on our daily rides. It’s  nice when the scenery changes and we are riding along the Pacific Ocean.  The wind on the coast however seems to pick up which causes us to ride at an angle. At times we’ve actually seen little dust tornadoes on the horizon and a few times these swirling dust visions have crossed the highway in front of us but I’ve never ridden through one as I really do not want to know how this would mess up my steering. Often during our riding we are passed by huge tourist buses, sometimes even double-decker ones, looking like “ships of the desert”. These tour buses are forever passing us - even on up hill highway.  Years ago when we came to Peru we took an overnight bus from Lima to Arequipa a distance of 1020 km and it lasted about 14 hours.  This time while we’ve been riding between these 2 cities we did  the distance in 3 days.  These buses are travelling super fast!


From Arequipa we travelled to our last destination in Peru before crossing into Chile – a small city called Moquegua.  Since we heard that travel in Chile was much more expensive, we decided to economize and stay at a basic hotel without wifi which ended up costing us the equivalent of $12 CND. For dinner we had a meal of rice, chicken, salad, a drink and soup for $ 2.25 – for both of us. With full tanks of gas our last night in Peru made us and our budget very happy.  To top off a perfect night at our hotel we met a British motorcycling couple, Kev & Lorrain ( who had just come from southern South America and Africa. We sat on the roof top of our hotel sharing beer, stories and gazed at the glowing starry sky. Thanks guys for your great tips for the rest of our journey.

After a non-eventful border crossing into Chile which lasted the average 2 hours, (I am surprised that it didn’t take longer as Chile is obsessed about people bringing fruit/veg, meat, honey and dairy products into their country) we were on our way to Arica where we had Big Mac combos for dinner. Only our second stop at McDonald’s on our journey so far (our first was in Xela, Guatemala).  Anyway the burger and fries tasted exactly like they were supposed to, only the service sucked.  With this border crossing we encountered a 2 hour time change so we are now on Nova Scotia time, 2 hours ahead of Ontario and 5 hours ahead of BC.

 In Arica we found out that we had missed seeing the 2011 Dakar rally by like 4 days so we started to spend our riding days scouting for crazy tire tracks in the desert.  The resources in this desert area are extremely limited and gas stations are few and far between. Things are very expensive – gas has been $1.50/litre and we bought a 3 L jug of water for the equivalent of $4 CND. Considering that we rode though what claims to be the driest town on earth (Quillagua) I suspect the prices are warranted.  Even in the hostels we’ve been staying at have had notices in the bathroom reminding us about water consumption “Please conserve water. Remember we are surrounded by the driest desert on earth”.  The next city we stayed in was Iquique which was dramatically situated at the bottom of a desert cliff, shadowed by a sand dune the size of a 50 story building, along the coast of the turquoise Pacific.


We’re lucky the roads have been good and have been able to travel at 100km/hr which allowed us to have our longest riding day so far of 500 km.  This has brought us to San Pedro de Atacama on the outskirts of the Atacama desert. We are surrounded by salt flats, lagunas and Moon-like terrained valleys. We went for a leisure ride around the outskirts of town and the scenery was amazing. It was like being in a Salvador Dali painting where the volcanoes were a warm brown, the sky was a brilliant blue, the clouds were as white as I have ever seen, the sparse vegetation was one of 10 shades of green, orange and yellow. I think there was even a smiling sun!  This little outing however has made me realize how much I detest riding in sand!  Sand is NOT my friend!   In my mind I know the trick to sand riding is to go fast and keep weight on my back tire so that my front tire just skips over the sand but doing this in reality when I’m fish-tailing in the sand, trying to balance my 300 lb bike and not being able to have my toes touch the ground, makes this theory difficult to practice.  I’m sure though that I will have plenty of opportunities to practice coming up in South America and Africa. (I’ll keep you updated on my progress.)

While we were in San Pedro de Atacama we decided to camp in the town.  This is where we met 2 wonderful guys from Buenos Aires (Fredrico & Marino) who are doing a motorcycle adventure around Chile and Argentina. They fed us some great propaganda about their home country so we have now decided to cross into Argentina for awhile.  Within the next day or two we will also pass into the Tropic of Capricorn.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Nazca Lines

Daryll writes:

One of the highlights of Peru which we missed the first time round was the Nazca Lines.  We opted out of doing the flight, but decided to stop at the platform along the PanAm Hwy.  I am sure that taking a flight over the Nazca lines is the way to see them, however going up in a small aircraft and with it flying at weird angles and making sharp turns wasn't appealing to us so we paid our 2 soles and climbed the platform to view the few formations that were close by instead.

The lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert and were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.  The plateau that the lines are on stretches over 80 kilometers.  Researchers believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD and consist of individual figures that range in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks or orcas, llamas, and lizards.  Of course, many of these we did not get to see, but got the gist of it.

The lines are shallow designs and were made in the ground by removing the ubiquitous reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish ground beneath. The largest figures are over 200 meters across. Due to the dry, windless and stable climate of the plateau and its isolation, for the most part the lines have been preserved.

Once we were done viewing the lines, we headed for our camp spot for the evening.  Down a dirt road in a little cove with it’s own Inka Ruins.  The camping was part of a resort, so we got a few stares as we pulled up on our dirty bikes and eyed a good camping spot.  We were the only campers for the evening and set up tent on a little ridge overlooking the ocean.  The sunset was breathtaking as we took in the view and relaxed for the evening and going to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach.

Puerto Inka

As we continued along the coast, the wind picked up and would blast us with sand.  There were times when the bikes were pointed at a 15° angle so that we could ride in a straight line.  On the long straight stretches, we would try to pass a semi-truck and as soon as we got out from the left lane (passing) back into the right lane, we were blasted again and took some concentration and focus to stay upright.  I'm sure this is all preparation of what's to come on the notorious Ruta 40 in Argentina.  On some twisties along the coast, a truck had lost it and went into a dune to the right.  Lucky for him, the as the truck hit the sand, it sunk and stopped completely or else he would have gone over the cliff.

We headed on to Arequipa where we were going to stop for 2 days to catch up on internet stuff and plan our next course of action.

Arequipa Square

 New photos of Peru added to the photo album.
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From the Andes to the Coast

Daryll writes:

We ended up spending a few extra nights in Huaraz as I needed to do an oil change and both Angela and I needed the comfort of having a toilet in our room.  Our next destination was to be Lima.  On our trip to Peru 5 years ago, we spent a few nights in Lima, so were just using it as a stop over point before we continued down the coast. 

I think we were at about 3200m / 10,170ft but as we climbed the pass out of Huaraz we reached an altitude of 4100m / 13,451ft, the highest we’ve been so far and were rewarded with spectacular views of the Ancash Mountain Range.  The region is crossed by two mountain ranges: on the western side, the Cordillera Negra (the Black Mountain Range), which has peaks without glaciers, and on the eastern side, it's the Cordillera Blanca (the White Mountain Range), which has many peaks covered with snow and ice.  Between these two mountain ranges, the Santa River flows to form the Cañon del Pato from where we had just come.

Ancash Range
As we started to descend, the road turned into any bikers dream ride.  We twisted and snaked our way down the pass from 4100m down to 1600m.  It was an unbelievable ride that took most of the morning but the views and landscape was exhilarating.  As we descended into the valley, we had to stop a few times to take off a layer or two as it started to warm up closer to the bottom.

Altitude - 4100m

Ancash Region from One World 2 Explore on Vimeo.

There is something about Peruvian dogs; they are the worst we have encountered so far.  As we ride by small villagers,the dogs start to attack us and run after the bikes.  It’s fine for Angela as she leads, so they tend to go after her, realize they can’t catch her and then stop in the middle of the road waiting for the next victim to pass by.  I really don’t care for them too much and just increase my speed, rev the engine and bolt through.  Once we got down to the coast, we continued into Lima and rode into afternoon Lima traffic.  There are no rules in Latin America and Peruvian drivers are by far the worst as well.  They drive with God on their side.  They will pass on blind corners only to stop a few minutes later and then have to pass us again.

After Lima, we headed to Huachina, a small oasis town surrounded by gigantic sand dunes.  On the way, we met Ian and Tony riding two-up on an 1150GS and planned to meet once we got to the town.  They are also riding south, but taking a bit more time than us.  After settling into the hotel, Angela found a new friend, apparently there were 6 of these guys at the hotel, but we only saw 2 of them.

The big draw for backpackers is the sand boarding down the dunes and the dune buggy’s that you can take onto the dunes.  We had enough of riding for the day, so just wandered around the lagoon and met up with our new friends for an evening beer.

New photos added to the Peru photo album.
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