After the chaos that was the city of Trujillo, Ellen and I decided to take to the back roads of the Andean Sierra. A variety of people warned us that hitchhiking is impossible here, but it didn’t take us long to get a free lift once we were outside of city limits. Within a couple of hours, we had left the desert wasteland surrounding Trujillo behind us and were high in the mountains. Our driver dropped us off in a quiet mountain town and told us to turn left at the crossroads. Instead, we decided we liked the look of the place and didn’t fancy waiting for a ride through the construction zone on the way out of town. It didn’t take us long to find a family willing to have us camp in their back yard.

We shared our campsite with these adorable donkeys

We shared our campsite with these adorable donkeys

Paula, our host, was ridiculously kind to us. We arrived at four and I promptly fell asleep in my tent. At 7pm, it was cold and rainy out, and Paula came over to our campsite to invite us in for hot soup. Their home was spacious and the kitchen was warm and hospitable. Paula served us cups of hot water followed by a vegetable soup. She sent us off to bed again with thick wool blankets to keep us warm. I slept better than I had in weeks. In the morning, she served us another helping of soup for breakfast and wished us well on our journey.

Our second day of mountain travel was just as good. We got a ride to a mining town, Shorey, where over a cup of hot coffee we learned that the road north we were planning to travel on was closed and wouldn’t reopen for some time. We had picked our destination, Huamachuco, from a map, having no idea of the lay of the land or conditions of the road. Unconcerned with this obstacle to our plans, we paid for a ride south to a town called Santiago de Chuco instead, where the temperature was slightly warmer (12 degrees instead of 5) and the views were incredible.

Some of the afternoon's visitors to our campsite

Some of the afternoon’s visitors to our campsite

Our attempts to find a place to camp were less immediately successful – people kept pointing and saying “that way” – but paid off big-time. We eventually found a grassy meadow where (unbeknownst to us at the time) the local children take their families’ sheep and donkeys to graze. We set up our tents and were soon surrounded by a dozen kids asking us to teach them card games. A gorgeous view of the valley and a bottle of merlot that Ellen was able to open with her pocket knife added to the pleasant atmosphere. At the end of the day, Ellen and I decided to watch a movie on my laptop before bed, which we did with several kids’ noses pressed against the screen door of my tent.

Opening wine without a bottle opener - Success!

Opening wine without a bottle opener – Success!

In the morning, Ellen went into town to buy breakfast and find out about traffic south. The roads were almost deserted, so we paid for our spaces in a van heading to the next town over, which was locally famous for hot springs. We stopped and paid a dollar each for our first private hot bath since we left Canada. Leaving town was a bit more difficult, as no cars seemed to be driving after lunchtime, whether we offered to pay them or not. We sat down at a little bar for a noontime beer while we decided what to do, and a local girl offered us her aunt’s yard to camp in.

Little did we know when we accepted her suggestion that Auntie’s house was an hour’s hike up a mountain in the rain. We trudged up the hills with our heavy packs and half-slid down the muddy trail down again. We’re lucky we took her up on the offer, though, because we ended up in another amazing valley. Tia Sabina, our hostess, turned out to have a raised covered platform with a splendid view, right across from a natural hot spring with seperate pools for drinking water and bathing. The springs were sourrounded by earthen walls for privacy, so Ellen and I closed the door and soaked our aching muscles after our unexpected hike. With our tents kept dry by the grass-covered roof of our sleeping platform, and our makeshift hot water bottles filled from the hot springs, Ellen and I were warm and comfortable in the brisk mountain air. We may not be going very far each day, but we’re certainly living it up in the Andean Highlands.

The perfect campsite, right by the hot springs!

The perfect campsite, right by the hot springs!