We are headed for Bolivia along a road that alternately follows the shores of Lake Titicaca and then heads up the hills into the altiplano. As we pass yet another herd of sheep, one of them begins to run along in the ditch beside us. He then proceeds to leap into the air and perform a dramatic somersault. No, I am not making this up. We couldn’t believe our eyes. A somersaulting sheep? Is there a circus nearby? We contemplate pulling our Ural off of the road as both operator and passenger are staring at each other in awe, laughing uncontrollably, and losing focus on the road ahead as we try to make sense of what has just happened. It takes us awhile to recall that some of the livestock that we had previously encountered along the road had one leg tied to A stake by a long rope because they had a tendency to roam into traffic. We figure this must be one of those rogue sheep who literally reached the end of his rope as he ran along beside us. It must have been a pretty unpleasant experience for him, but I must admit that he has given us one of the best laughs ever.
Further along, in Zapata, we spot a church with a rickety, toppling steeple that looks worthy of exploration. After making our way into the village, we discover that the church we had seen isn’t actually all that interesting, but we happen across the ruins of another church that are truly fascinating. The decaying architecture looks part Inca and part colonial – unlike anything else we have seen. Much of the building is still intact but it looks like it has been closed down for a very long time and the grounds are now home to yet another herd of sheep. We spend over an hour wandering around the grounds, wishing that we could see more of the interior than what we can make out through a tiny hole in one of the doors. Once again, here we are at a fabulous site that is not mentioned in any guidebook.
As we leave Peru, I am reminiscing on the marvels of archaeology we have encountered here. Ruins from the Incas and even more ancient cultures have fired my imagination. Although Cusco and Machu Picchu are immensely interesting sites, many temples and burial sites are still being excavated here, and ruins are almost continually discovered in remote jungle regions. Peru still has the rare feeling of a country in the 21st century that hasn’t been exhaustively explored. I am in awe of the fascinating sites that we discovered right along the roads and paths that we traveled. This is a fascinating place and reminds me once again of how many interesting things there are to discover when we don’t strictly follow a book.
In fact, most of greatest experiences of all of our travels have had absolutely nothing to do with what is mentioned in The Lonely Planet, Eye Witness, or various other assorted books that we use to plan our routes. For us, travel is about discovery. It’s more difficult to encounter interesting and unique people, places, food and experiences when following a guidebook word-for-word, step-by-step. We have our own wheels and suddenly the world has opened up to more possibilities. We are free to explore sites not mentioned in any guidebook because they are far too difficult for the typical traveler to reach by plane, bus, or train. We’ve had opportunities to experience a more authentic side of each country by getting off the beaten track and away from the more common tourist destinations: to interact with the people, to witness the history, to experiment with the language and dialects, to taste the foods, to live part of the daily life. We’ve had a true cultural exchange.
Getting off of the more common routes has also allowed us to spread our money around, supporting a range of small, locally owned businesses in tiny villages that rarely, if ever, see travelers.
There is plenty more to see, do, and discover here in Peru. We look forward to returning, but for now it’s on to Bolivia.