Making our way off of Route 28b
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Driving Route 28b Peru: From the Mountain to the Sea

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An Adventure From Machu Picchu to Lima

Our car was stranded near Machu Picchu as protests and road blockades closing access to Santa Teresa ran into their second week. After 12 days in Cusco, we were ready to get moving again and were growing more and more impatient.

Finally, we received the news we had been waiting for. It was time to make the trip back to Santa Teresa to rescue our car and head for Lima and the coast.

Getting to Santa María

Thursday the 4th of October we rose at six, bags already packed and we booked an Uber to take us across town to Calle Inca where the colectivos (minivans or cars offering share rides) bound for Santa María were waiting. From Santa María we could take a taxi to Santa Theresa and from there a third bus or taxi to the Hydroelectrica where our little van Pablo had been held captive by the protestors who had blocked all roads out of Santa María for the last two weeks. We had read the colectivo to Santa María would cost around 25 soles or $7.5USD per person. Our Uber driver confirmed this information on the way and said he knew of a colectivo he could take us straight to. He pulled up to the little garage and the lady bellowed in the window “SANTA MARÍA! SANTA MARÍA!”

“Cuantas?” Kelli enquired.

“Cuarenta”, the woman replied,

“Cuarenta soles? forty soles for both? Cuarenta soles para dos?” Kelli clarified as best as possible that she was offering the ride at 20 soles per person.

“Sí, Sí” the lady opened up the door ushering us both out and paying the cab driver his commission.

We clambered into the car, excited we had found a ride so easily and 10 soles cheaper than we had expected. It would be another 40 minutes before they found the remaining two passengers to fill the little sedan but eventually, we set off. I nodded off almost immediately not waking up until we were outside Cusco and began to ascend into the mountainous region of Hatun Luychu before we would descend into the Sacred Valley toward Machu Picchu.

A little rain and a lot of fog in the mountains didn’t deter the driver from making hairpin turns at breakneck speed and overtaking trucks and other passenger vehicles around blind corners, smashing down the horn as he did so. It wasn’t long before Kelli had turned green. On the upside, we reached Santa María faster than anticipated in about four hours. We thanked our driver, grabbed our bags out of the boot, and Kelli handed over 50 soles, and stuck her hand out for change.

“No! Ochenta para dos!” the driver said, indicating he wanted double the 40 soles we thought we had agreed to. We started to argue and he moved to grab Kelli’s bag back before I snatched it out of his grasp. He started to argue again and I tried to explain to him just how the conversation with his associate happened in Cusco. The driver must have decided Kelli was the softer target as he waved me away and turned to appeal to her for the extra money. I was more than happy to take the bags, step back, and let him make his mistake.

He argued with Kelli for about 10 minutes before realizing getting the money out of her would-be harder than getting blood from a stone. Whether there had been a breakdown in communication or he was just having a crack at taking advantage of the gringos was unclear but we had been as straightforward as we could in Cusco. Had anyone informed us they wanted 80 Soles we would not have accepted the ride. In the end, he gave up throwing his hands up and storming back to the car.

We crossed the street to find another colectivo to take us along the narrow dirt road that snakes around a sheer canyon toward Santa Theresa. An hour or so later, after transferring into a third car in Santa Theresa, we finally arrived at the Hydroelectrica and walked across the bridge to the car park where I had left Pablo. We were excited to be reunited with our little van after so long. 

Car Troubles

The owner of the car park greeted us looking wary and checked to see if we were the owner of the van. He waved us overlooking concerned. He pointed out our front and rear right side tires which were completely flat, both of them. This was as perplexing as it was frustrating. Our initial thought was that maybe the owner had punctured the tires and was going to try to extort us somehow. He ran off to get us a bicycle pump. We worked to put the spare tire on and pump up the back tire up in hopes we could make it the thirty minutes back to Santa Theresa before it deflated again. The car park owner helped us as much as he could and eventually it dawned on me what had happened. Eleven days ago when I had initially tried to drive the car out of Santa María I had encountered a crowd of angry protesters, jeering, yelling, banging on the car and making it clear that I was not going anywhere. It must have been this encounter that one of them had managed to put a number of tiny punctures in each tyre and the tyres had deflated over the course of the last two weeks. Eventually, we had the car in a semi drivable state and set off on the return leg to Santa Theresa.

Man changing tire
The punctured tires turned out to be just the beginning of our problems

We rolled into the little town with our back wheel looking very sad. We tracked down the local mechanic, who after a brief inspection said he could fix the the five puncture marks he found. I was certain I’d seen at least three marks on each tyre and had him test again but he was adamant he could only find two on the front and three on the back. Wearily we agreed to pay him 30 soles or about $10 USD for the job and went to track down first and foremost a beer we felt we truly deserved and as an afterthought some groceries. We returned forty minutes later, the wheels seemed good to go and we jumped back in laughing that finally this trying day was done, counting our chickens as we so love to do.

We started off again, once more braving the sketchy cliff roads between Santa Theresa and Santa María. About five minutes out from Santa Maria Kelli leaned her head out of the window to check the weird sound our front wheels were making. Sure enough the front tyre had deflated again. Nothing to do but laugh and get on with it at this point, we jumped out and put the spare back on.

It was now after five and the sun was setting on what had been a very long day but we wanted to put some kilometers between us and Santa María which had turned out to be a bit of a curse for us so far. Just up the road we passed through the town of Quillabamba and tried again to have our front tire fixed. A busy garage surrounded by vans and tuk-tuks, with five or so staff scurrying around doing nothing but prying off tires and rolling them to and from the shop seemed like a safe bet. Thirty minutes and 16 soles later we were assured that the last four punctures in the front tire had been found and repaired and we set forth again.

Route 28 B Peru

We were heading for the coast of Peru, keen to get down out of the high altitude for awhile. We had two options to head back to Cusco and drive from there through to Lima or cut directly through the jungle along route 28b. A quick check of google maps indicated that we would shave three or four hours off the nineteen hour trip if we headed straight through the interior without circling back through the Urubamba Valley to reach Cusco first. What google did not comment on was the condition of the road. That evening we drove for another few hours along a road that continued to dwindle in quality and width, until we were shaking along a very dilapidated one lane road, albeit still on asphalt. Tuk-tuks and trucks whipped by us in both directions as I continued trundling along at 20km an hour, squinting into the pitch black. Eventually we found somewhere to pull off, just off the shoulder of the road and camp for the evening. After a quick cheese toasty we crawled into the van and passed out.

Driving along Ruta 28b in the Peruvian jungle
Route 28b Peru…Every driver’s nightmare, but stunningly beautiful.

The following day we were woken by the sound of motorbikes and trucks hurtling past our makeshift campsite. After a bowl of cereal we began again, and the reality of the journey we had embarked on set in. We were to wind through mountains and valleys, jungles and scrub, waterfalls and cliffs. At times the asphalt would end abruptly for tens of kilometers at a time leaving poor Pablo to bump along at 20 or 30 kilometers an hour shaking the everliving snot out of our poor little van and everything inside.

The scenery was stunning but the distance and the speed at which we could traverse it were daunting. We plunged on through the high jungle and eventually climbed out of it onto an unnamed peak high in the clouds, before finally descending into another valley to reach Kimbiri a small mountain town, larger than most of the little villages we had seen in the previous two days.

Kelli reassured me that Kimbiri was a large enough town that it all but guaranteed an adequate tarmac road and we would be able to continue in the relative comfort we were used to. The town was a mud pit. Rain, heavy traffic, and roadworks (by the looks of it installing a dual carriage highway that would have been super handy had it been completed), had turned the remaining accessible roads into soup. We picked our way carefully through the town and made it out the other side.

The wild jungle of Peru on Ruta 28b
Stopping to contemplate the decision of how we landed on Route 28b Peru.

On the other side of the town, a steep ascent to exit the valley was waiting. Unfortunately, Kelli’s optimism did not come to fruition and rather than the promised asphalt we were treated to more thick mud and a widened road to slip about on. Cars and semitrailers fanned out across the road, spinning wheels slowly toward the top. Turning was near impossible as the van slid this way and that and we tried to avoid the cars sliding down in the opposite direction as well as the lunatics that had decided this was the best time to overtake.

After a tense half-hour, we hit gravel again and were able to accelerate back up to thirty kilometers an hour. Just up the way we hit smooth tarmac again and let out a whoop.

Driving in Peru along Ruta 28b
On the asphalt again after surviving Route 28b Peru

We stopped around dusk, pulling off the road where we could. We quickly scrambled some eggs and crawled into bed to escape the bugs, it had been another trying day but we were reasonably confident that things could only improve from here as we began our descent down the Andes toward the sea the following day.

 The next day thankfully we caught a break as we enjoyed some of Peru’s finest asphalt snaking down the Andes, glorious views of snow capped peaks and mountain villages greeted us round every bend and we were elated to be able to start closing some of the distance between us and Lima. Finally around lunch time we reached the end of the infamous 28b in the town of Ayacucho.

We stopped for roast pork sandwiches off a street vendor and grabbed some supplies before setting off into the table lands. Again the view as we descended from almost 5,000 metres was nothing short of spectacular and we happily snapped photos and recounted our own horror stories from the previous three days to one another.

That night we stopped at the Runayoc ruins in Huaytará where we found an incredible campsite above the ruins, completely devoid of anyone besides a couple of local stray dogs. As the sun set into the valley in front of us, we basked in the glow of our adventure and looked forward to the dream of the Peruvian coast the following day.

Our camp above the Runayoc ruins in Huaytará
Our camp above the Runayoc ruins in Huaytará

The Nuts and Bolts

  • Colectivos are vans or cars that wait to be filled with paying passengers before setting off for there destination. They offer a really cheap way to get around Peru, always make sure you have agreed on a price upfront and if like us, you have a bit of a language barrier, write down the total amount you are prepared to pay!
  • Don’t forget a spare tire. The roads are not the best in Peru, so even if you don’t come across angry protesters you might still end up with a flat (or two). In the future, we will carry a repair kit for patching the tires ourselves if we are ever in a bind. We might also get an emergency tire pump!
  • Route 28b is an adventure. If you’re looking to get from Machu Picchu to the coast hassle-free, head back to Cusco. If you’re up for a rumble in the jungle, onward!
  • Once you complete route 28b you will be almost as excited about the paved road as you will be about the incredible views as you traverse the tablelands and descend the Andes toward the sea.
  • If you find yourself in Huaytará check out the Runayoc ruins, one of the prettiest campsites we’ve seen.

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