Warrior Princess in the Callejón de Huaylas

M y boyfriend, Josh, and I arrived in Ancash in January of this year to hang out until the dry season came and we could begin climbing in the Cordillera Blanca. We are both climbers and skiers from the U.S. I just graduated from university and Josh quit his corporate job so we could spend the next couple of years following the climbing seasons across South America.

We had been on the hunt for an adventure vehicle since we began our South American travels in Ecuador in November. We believed that a car could help us attain the lifestyle we were seeking by helping us reach remote climbing locations. It would also give us the flexibility and independence to enjoy and make the most of each place without being reliant on coordinating expensive, private transportation.

Considering that we are trying to avoid all major cities and tourist traps, our own vehicle just made perfect sense. We also made the argument that it would be cheaper in the long run considering the extremely slow pace at which we are planning on moving. Additionally, with all of the technical gear we literally carried across Ecuador, an adventure vehicle would be more practical too.

Luckily for us, our search came to a successful end when we laid our eyes on Xena, Warrior Princess. It was love at first sight but that does not mean that our relationship together has been an easy one.

We first met Xena in mid-February while we were volunteering at the Llanganuco Mountain Lodge at the national park entrance to Lake 69 and the Llanganuco Lakes. A French couple was discovered by the lodge’s owner, Charlie, camping at nearby Lake Keushu out of a vehicle with US plates. He struck up a conversation with the pair and they drove Xena to the lodge to set up the blind date. Their trip was coming to an end and four days later, they were on a night bus to Lima and Xena, Warrior Princess was ours.

She came pre-outfitted for living, with a bed, a cooler, a 20L water tank, cooking equipment, and other odds and ends. While living at the lodge, we built a custom shelving unit and put nice curtains encircling the rear. The general layout of Xena has the two front seats and the bed that dominates the entire rear of the vehicle with just enough room to have the cooler behind the driver´s seat followed by the water tank (both accessible from the rear door). The shelving unit takes up the remaining wedge of space between the foot of the bed and the side window. We store all of our climbing and camping gear under the bed. Needless to say, it is tight living quarters and had forced us to work on our flexibility.

Xena had a bit of a track record before she came into our lives. After leaving behind her career as a rental car in California, she was driven south through all of Central America and to Lima by an Israeli.

The next man in her life was a French windsurfer. They didn’t last too long together; only until Santiago, Chile. The couple we bought her from drove her down to Patagonia and eventually left her with us.

Wear and tear from her previous life became apparent pretty quickly on the few short trips we had together. Her horn would sometimes stick or start blaring unpredictably, like the time she was parked outside of some hot springs when we were inside bathing without her. That required some apologies to the neighbors.
Soon after, her alternator gave out. It took eight instances of dying in inconvenient locations before we were able to address that issue. Through all of this, we could still see the beauty and strength she possessed.

When we decided to leave the Llanganuco Mountain Lodge, we moved into her full time. Our first stop was a soak and some climbing at Chancos. They next day we were on the road moving to Huaraz. A couple of kilometres before town, more trouble! The traction control spontaneously turns on which sporadically would brake the wheels while driving. We also lost power to the engine; I put the pedal to the metal and we were able to maintain about 10 to 15 km per hour. Josh and I responded with encouragement by cheering on Xena. We sang to her and rubbed her dashboard all the way to the mechanics were she spent the next week getting pampered.

After a couple months together, I believe the honeymoon period has worn off. Huaraz is not the easiest place to live out of a car. We wake up regularly to the constant melody of taxis honking their horns, drunk people wandering the streets on the weekend, territorial dogs, the random rooster or pig, and processions during Semana Santa at 2 a.m. Public bathrooms are few and far between making early morning tinkles challenging, especially as a female. (I try sometime to squat between the front and rear opened doors but splash-back is an unfortunate reality.) And when we have a bout of food sickness, we need to get creative.

While every family is a little dysfunctional, deep down, it is based on love. We have begun to adjust to the Huaraz-based car life. We now know the hostels that will let us in to shower. We also have found our spots where we are comfortable opening up Xena and setting up our kitchen on the sidewalk; the local kids all know us at this point. There are some secret spots to park late at night where we can pick up Wi-Fi (don’t worry, we make sure to give them business during the day). The police have been wonderful; I think they are used to foreigners sleeping in the vehicles. They have never come knocking on the car and they have been extremely helpful when Xena has died or when we needed some specific documents from them.

Overall, we are still extremely happy living in Xena. She takes us on the coolest multi day trips parked out at climbing crags and great hiking spots. The opportunities and experiences she provides us are unparalleled. Check out any Instagram account about ‘vanlyfe’ and you can get the idea. But those images do not reflect the true reality of living out of a vehicle. It’s a beautiful, ever-changing mix of highs and lows that has taught Josh and me about ourselves and our relationship. I love Xena, Warrior Princess for all the unforgettable moments she has provided us. We may not be a trio for the rest of our lives, but we are all in this together. We are family.

Story by Charlotte Mcconaghy, travel and climbing fanatic from the U.S.A.

One Response to “Warrior Princess in the Callejón de Huaylas” Subscribe

  1. David Allen July 11, 2017 at 09:48 #

    Nice story Charlotte.It reminds me of our trips to “the Continenet” (Europe) when we lived a year in England in 1953-54. Especially the car horn tooting at unplanned moments….like everytime we stepped on the brake in an Italian village on Sunday morning with signs all over saying no horns on Sunday morning. Did I mention it was a 1938 Jaguar passenger car. not exactly the luxury model we made it out to be to our American classmates when we returned home. Keepon enjoying!!! David

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