The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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Tire Changing!Grant demystifies the black art of Tire Changing and Repair to help you STAY on the road! "Very informative and practical." See the trailer here!
Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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Like the man said, "you've gotta stay for lunch!" So I did. Uri's kind charm and Augustine's great "ceviche," (a shrimp dish "cooked" with lemon juice) hard to resist, though this does make for a rather tardy departure of 3pm! Not only that but the first thing I must do is find a welder to fix my rear rack! Completed I must go to the "mercado" and stock up...and then finally, 20 miles down the road from Uri's, look for camp!
Then I commence three days of the most boring riding ever, entertained along the way only by the left signal light antics of the Mexicans, do they mean they are turning left, or are they saying I can pass (a risky prospect if one is true!) or are they just about to embark on some undreamt of manouver and are infact using their hazard lights and are just missing between one and three bulbs?!
Receiving a free tire! Needless to say; it was a long ride to Oaxaca that had me contemplating if all my time in Mexico wasn't actually too much time....and money. But things change fast and soon new exciting glimpses of culture are popping up; a strange market, kind people, more freebies including a free tire in Oaxaca from the great peeps at Maxima Motos (mentioned in more detail in a previous post).
With the guys there having tipped my ever biased balance of good and bad (discussed in Mexico Part two) I head off with anxiety, eyes flitting left and right for signs of trouble, trouble finds me three minutes after leaving the garage, in the form of a puncture. Well, look on the bright side, the balance is levelled....or is it?
Fixing punctures in the shops light It's a little after 4pm and people come to their doorways to watch the gringo repair his bike and I sit in one shop chatting with the owner as I frantically do battle with the tire and tube anxious to get to a camp spot....and in a rush I make the novice mistake of pinching the tube with my tire lever....and then I do it again, and again and, just to confirm that yes, I am a novice, I do it again.
And just once more.
Samuel tucks into his dinner Making for a total of twelve holes and lots of tire removals and refits and pumping. Finally at 9pm I think I have it sorted and the shop owner heaves his own sigh of relief that he can now go home for the night. However, all is not finished, the balance is still tipped towards "Good," with a tire pressing gently on "Evil"....I can't seat the tire. No problem, there is a tire repair shop nearby and ride over gingerly and ask Samuel, the owner, if I can use his compressor. Samuel has spent 30 years fixing tires and by the looks of it it is taking its tole, he flits from one job to the next and I fear that the vulcanizing fluids and rubber cement have destroyed a few brain cells. A long story but at 12am I am in his van on the way to dinner, he stabs at the dash looking for a button to turn off the hazard lights, beeping his horn at all passing vehicles, and then blasts out some music and tells me we're amigos. Then, after a great dinner of giant Oaxacan tortilla whose name I've forgotten, I am slipping into my sleeping bag below his bed in his dog filled, pee stenched home of one room.
Samuel's house. "Just hit the rats off your face if they come..." he mumbles as he rolls over to sleep. I lie there with a look of grim reality etched on my face, trying to fall asleep, to the sound of his three dogs; Van Gogh, Anne Frank and Berk (the blue plastercine fella from the infamous British kids TV show "The Trap Door") going potty, wondering where the rats are....feels like a prison, and I contemplate that it's not the prison that makes you crazy but the other inmates....what with Van chewing the lower part of his left ear lobe, Anne just sitting silent in the dark and Berks booming inner voice and strange bark with a Cornish accent.....umm, maybe this joke needs more thought.
Regrdless, I got naff-all sleep.
In the morning I help Sam feed the dogs, tossing the food down on the ground as one feeds birds, alas in ones house and then walk up the street to fetch water from a dank well for a "shower." The water from the well is blacker than a gorilla's armpit and after "washing" my hands, I thank Samuel and him farewell.
Oaxacan streets, hammocks for sale I spend some time in Oaxaca, a nice place with busy plazas and clean streets and ncie templos and iglesas, as well as the archealogical site Mont Alban and with a good camp nearby I'm able to visit and leave daily to camp.
One evening on my way back to camp, I notice a small stadium set up in one village and stop to ask what's going on. I speak with a member of the band, he plays a ginormous bass brass instrument that curves over his head and goes BOMM, Bomm, BOMM, Bomm.....he tells me inbetween bomms that there is a rodeo on afterwards and after buyign a tasty bun I sit inside with a hoarde of sadistic Mexicans drinking moonshine from a upturned cut off coke bottle top, watching silly fellas get pummelled by big dopey looking cows, top stuff.
About to get pummeled....
Jilberto, a local farmer I then headed to the mountains nearby for a hike in the Pueblos Mancomunados, where I was greeted by the fabulous Zava, who bought me bread and went beyond helpful in putting
up with my "I really don't want a guide" requests. Zava gives me a walkie-talkie, just to make sure I don't get lost and with his two big hunks of bread I head off in to the rural villages, mountains and valleys and talk to locals like Jilberto, who grows potatoes and maize and likes it there as it is safe and there is no music!
Duncan awakes at camp The next day I descend back down the mountains to meet with Duncan whom I had previously met at Garry's in Mexico City. Duncan and I had planned an exploration of Chiapas and we start the day looking at our respective maps and bits and pieces we've scribbled on them, Duncan pointing out a few things from his guide book and me pointing out a few roads of zero note and zero tarmac. And with that, we head to the dirt where we meet local mezcal brewers....
Mezcal mule, grinds down the roasted piña Mezcal is an alcaholic drink produced in a similar way to tequilla, using the piña (very large bulb) of the blue agave plant. After a few sups of the nasty stuff we hit the road again and head into the cloud of the cloud forest, thick fog, damp mud and small villages the order of the day, where people come to gorp, run away, dropped jaws that sort of thing. In one sleepy village, where the only past-time seems to be watching it pass Duncan and I chat with the locals.
"What'd he say?" asks Duncan as I return to put on my helmet.
"I think he said the road's closed."
"Yeah, but the kid reckons we can do it on the bikes no problem."
"Oh, okay then."
"They always say that though, they think the bikes are magic carpets or something."
Duncan, up in the cloud drenched forest We continue on, carving a path through the thick fog, the strip of red dirt road immediately out front all one can see beyond Rudolf's red nose, to the sides the mountain drops sharply into errie misty depths giving a sense of claustrophobia....a desire to get out of it before camp.
In the next village our fears are somewhat confirmed.
"The road is closed," says a local couple who come out to see what the noise is on the street (two gringos on bikes), "but," he continues "you'll make it on the bikes. He also mentions something about "derrumbes," and "mucho" and I ask Duncan if Derrumbe is Spanish for "magic carpet," it's not, it means "landslide".
Beaten...or are we...? The road turns to thick wet mud which claws at the wheels and feet as we paddle our way through, no people or homes now, no vehicles, no tracks even, save one motorcycle tire tread which gives us hope and we call the rder "Mad Max." We cross some minor landslides and with each think "this is what the locals must have meant," but it only gets worse, and we have huge puddles and mounds of sticky red mud to navigate and dig to make a path, until eventually at the end of the daylooking for camp we reach a huge obstacle, a tall powerful waterfall that has washed away the road.
"Well, we're not getting across that!" I say, and start setting up camp right there on the road, safe in the knowledge that they'll be no other vehicles coming this way.
In the morning, contemplating our position and the thought that maybe we can just make it across the waterfall, all whilst hovering over my freshly dug toilet, I am greeted by three men; an old fella wielding a machete and his two sidekicks Smith and Wesson (odd names for Mexicans I know), who were wielding rather large shiny rifles.
"No passer!" says the old fella.
"No kidding," I say.
"There are landslides!"
"How far is the town?"
"Ooooooh, it's very far!"
"Possible on the bikes?"
He thinks for a moment, "yeah."
"No problemo then!"
And he trots off to hunt jaguars or something else he shouldn't be.
Packed up Duncan and I set to work on the rocky falls and carve and chisel away a path across, we carry our gear over and with a bit of help from each other, get both bikes across.
"Let's just hope THAT was what the locals were talking about!" I say.
Duncan navigating one of many "derrumbes." We follow the huge channels cut by the torrent of water down the track, around the corner to another derrumbe. Get off the bikes, inspect it on foot, make renovations where necessary, walk back, ride it, walk back, help Duncan by pushing him and holding him as he has me and Rudolf.
Ride another 200m, repeat. I ride along terrified what the next corner might bring, will we have to turn back....surely not, all those derrumbes we've crossed, all that mud and fog....but again we find a way through and again. And so on, until eventually at 12pm, having covered a glorious
1 mile ,
The booby prze, a marmalade tortilla. we reach an impassable derrumbe, a huge landslide with a gaping void of infinite depth barring the way to the other side and with the village within earshot, we must give up, and return. Not before a ruddy good marmalade tortilla. "The booby prize." I say to Duncan, "The Marmalade of Defeat," just in case he wasn't feeling downbeat enough.
Then we have to ride all the way back.
We decide to then head to Puerto -escondido, where Duncan's brother and sister are staying for a short while, taking a beautiful route through the agave field strewn mountains, getting interrogatted in one village by an angry mob of drunken men and their village President on a Sunday afternoon - making a sharp exit.
Nick and Rudolf, dominate the dirt....
From Puerto Escondido we head east along the coast, where I'm a little ill and we camp out on the beach for a few days to recoop. I spend my time fighting a losing battle to get shade whilst Duncan whittles his time away walking the 5miles of empty beach looking for egg laying turtles, finding only dead ones and nests emptied of their eggs by local poachers. Though we did see one live baby turtle scampering into the heavy surf at Puerto Escondido, a magical sight I must say!
One of many lovely people we met along the way From here, visiting markets and fishing villages, great people, great photo opportunities and crazy towns make for interesting days before we reach the coffee plantations of Chiapas where we meet even more fantastic people, all happy to pose for pictures, laughing and joking as they work, a happy place to be it seems.
Get my coffee! Punk!
With Duncans drive chain starting to fall to bits it was time to call an end to our time together, he heads back to Oaxaca and I will head into Guatemala in aday or two.....once I've updated this pesky website!
But otherwise you can read it here, sans pics...sorry peeps....
I´m at home, in the living room sitting small and square on the couch, tucked over onto one side, wondering why it is I am here....at home....
The journey, it seems is over.
My mother is here. She is cleaning and I watch her, though she pays me little attention and as such I feel like a fly on the wall, well the couch, watching, unnoticed, transported, not really here....surely not...But I am. Two and a half years, and the journey is over.
There´s a strange hum, like electric pylons excited by the rain, except oddly; silent. There, but not there. The room feels odd too; empty, grey and cold; desaturated in every way. A sick feeling fills my stomach. I can´t believe it, that I´m back and can´t remember even, why I am. I look my body over, my legs seem fine, my head and arms too....so why am I here?
Who knows, (Lord maybe and the sneaky twit isn't telling me), for whatever reason I am home, at the beginning, where it all started, back at zero, everything the same, with me left still wanting.....but what to want now? (a bed, hot shower, Sunday lunch...)
"But I didn´t get to see South America or Central Asia!" (ahh, yeah all the bits I missed) I blurt loudly, angry now and I click my flingers as I point to her as if drawing out the exclamation for my remark. I stand up and make my way upstairs, stamping my way up the steps just like when I was a child, the same and nothing more.
The Chicken buses
I hear a cuckoo, he lives in the tall yellow conifer tree outside my bedroom window, I can make out other birds too that sing happily, tapping out their strange Morse code to one another. There are dogs barking incessantly as the first of the smoke pouring morning buses makes it's way to town; atop of which lie men, perched precariously atop mounds of loose luggage on the roof. There is a march band playing in the streets and somewhere the gas van roams reminding customers by playing its tune "Here we go round the mulberry bush" on a device that sounds like a child’s plastic record player to attract customers...and if you don't hear it you can smell it. Far off a woman announces the news from a loud speaker strapped atop a cars roof, sounds like propaganda. A dog barks, the church bells peel and a string of firecrackers go off celebrating the birth of a new born baby (commiserations). The sound of a much smaller bell grows nearer; an ice cream trolley; the bell strapped to it's vendor’s trousers by his boss like a time bomb to ensure he never stops moving (sell, sell, sell!!). I hear the sound of nylon flapping in the breeze and feel the warmth of the first beams of the rising sun, I feel and smell like a tomato in a greenhouse. I scratch the cocktail of ant, mosquito and spider bites over my hands, arms and legs uncontrollably and with subconscious pleasure. The fuzzy image brightens into focus and I realise with a huge relief that I am in fact, not at home and it was, of course just a dream. Paradoxically I also think; I'm still in Antigua.
Camp,with volcan Fuego erupting
I'm still in Antigua, the small Colonial City, surrounded by wooded hills and active volcanoes, punctuated along its seven streets by the crumbling remains of the long-gone Spanish rein reminding one that this was once the capital, now defunct - moved to its present day location 45km away; Guatemala City, after another earthquake flattened the place just when they were cutting the cake to celebrate completing the rebuild.
I scratch at my bites some more and with increased vigour, though perhaps I didn't stop and somewhere outside a dog sniffs at my tent and I wonder why I'm singing "Here we go round the mulberry bush." Then my mind continues to swirls with thoughts of what could be causing the most recent problem or development in the great mystery that is; Rudolf, for he is having great problems.
A puncture...at 4am
I've been in Guatemala for over one month, but have travelled for only one week, though it was a fantastic week, and after a lengthy stay in Mexico the change was welcome. The border was a street hardly visible through the chaotic bedlam of shops, stalls, tuk-tuks, gasoline vendors (Mexican fuel much cheaper) and people flowing whimsically from one country to the other with wares, but a simple and cheap enough crossing (about $8).
A town is circled on my map, I can't remember when or why I circled it, but I head there anyway, along a great, smooth, gravel road, through the coffee fields of the north, beautiful people, in traditional colourful dress; flowered print, bandanners, gold teeth and a planetarium of gold spheres around their necks give the look of pirates! Each person balances vases of water atop there bobbing heads, or mounds of coffee or firewood in sacks strapped taught around their foreheads; men, women and children - with mini-sacks - alike, working together as a family.
Local lasses fill my water bottle
I stop beside two women chatting and ask if I can take their picture, "Why?" they ask perplexed, but their Spanish is worse than mine it seems, Akateko being the local dialect and after a minute or two and the gathering of more people I leave with my tail between my legs, and sadly no photo! The people, the lives and the landscape, and the road are fantastic, peaceful and serene, from mist covered green forest to sunburnt brown valleys and azure rivers of icy fresh water to swim and wash in, a more wild side than I'd seen in Mexico and one I'd missed since Africa (though still someway off that, but still brought back old memories!...secret hidden tea shops behind bellowing door curtains for one!).
Bad weather, a damp and dreary street
Unfortunately the weather turns nasty and when I reach the damp and fog drenched town I'd circled on my map I'm left still wondering what the heck I circled it for...the ride at least was good!
But now the dreary weather eggs me along and now, unable to photograph locals and unable to enjoy a good exploratory wander of the streets - being drenched and all - I flee to warmer climes, dropping steeply down from the mountain villages to the big smoke in the warmer valley which leaves me with feelings of mixed relief and anxiety that I've missed out on some of the delights there as I look back up to the mountains from camp.
A lovely bubbly market lass
But it needn't matter, I have the bustling bedlam that is the street market that encroaches in on the cobbled streets of Huehuetenango, to view and to roam, and to learn the nuances of the local Spanish slang. I spend a tiny fortune visiting many stalls, buying fruit and sampling food snacks in a bid to warm people's icy opinion of the camera lens with my Spanish charm(!), to try and get a photo or two....and though I meet happy smiling people, all I come away with is a fat belly and a top-box laden with broccoli....and a lighter wallet!
A short stretch on Highway one confirms that it's not really for me, too fast and a feeling of a certain distance between one and his surroundings and I make the first detour I can, along a dirt track to a dead end; road closed, but here I stop and meet with a family of basket weavers who, contrary to previous experience, allow free use of the camera, and they warm my heart if I don't warm theirs!
Camp over Huehuatenango, treated to a free concert and fireworks
I make my way to Xela, to visit and hike Volcan Santa Maria, which overlooks another and still active volcano. Xela seems to sprawl away on a busy road, a truckers route perhaps, lined with tire repairs and hotels by the hour and finding camp is tricky and sees me lose Rudolf in a cavernous concrete ditch in the pitch black of night, though when I do find camp I am treated to a free concert and firework display from the centre of town, the streets oozing with colour and character.
The volcano is only visible for a short window of time, meaning an early start. I fill myself with coffee at camp at 3:30am and can't believe my luck when I get ANOTHER puncture on my way to the trailhead....at 4am in the city, hardly ideal. When I finally reach the trail I race up it at full steam, puffing and panting at 4000m, managing to shave a half hour from the recommended time and sit in the cool high altitude air waiting for an eruption....and the cloud to clear....luckily it clears just as it explodes, though only barely....
Volcano watch...waiting for the cloud to clear
Beautiful dress of the Tzutzunil,Atitlan
Lake Atitlan and Antigua are only a relatively short ride away and hardly worth missing. The weather turns sour once again, but down at the lake it is fairing better and I trundle down a farm track to the lake edge and meet a friendly fellow who allows me to camp lake side. I visit the towns next morning after having coffee with the friendly farmer, but find them to have been overwhelmed by tourists who seem to have had a negative effect on the local populous it seems to me - I chat for awhile with a local market man (his wife doing all the work) and he tells me my name means Akalash in his language, Tzutzunil, though I check my dictionary I never work out what it means...but it brings a smile to his face.
But after buying more fruit and veg and a chocolate rice pudding in the market (still no photo) I'm keen to leave them to their lives, and retreat up to the upper throes of the jungle where the sound of macaws and toucans reign (actually I don't know what birds were there, sounded good though) and in the morning I start making my way to Antigua, on the way meeting Frank and Simone who I first met in Mexico city.
Lunch with Frank & Simone
It started simple enough; no charging from the bike's electrical system. I returned to Antigua - after an initial three days stop - to a free campsite I'd just left to carry out repairs. In carrying out the repair I stripped the spark plug thread (novice) and had to send the engine head to a machine shop,
A stripped spark plug head meant a lengthy wait...
Then on rebuilding the engine with the newly repaired head, an exhaust valve was bent on start-up, one assumes hitting the piston head...how...it was discovered that the timing chain had jumped a full ninety degrees...but why?
The bent exhaust valve
Rudolf undergoes heart surgery
The bike is moved in to a dusty outbuilding at the campsite, I give the room a much needed clean and make some simple repairs to the lights whilst waiting for parts for Rudolf, parts I must wait for longer and longer, "return at 2pm, return at 4pm, return at 5pm, return in the morning...." and finally I vouch to never return to the Yamaha dealer in Antigua, the worst I've ever dealt with.
A lot of people; fellow motorcyclists, RV'ers, campers, policemen and even the police chief, as well as the ever helpful Julio, Andres and Ian, help in diagnosing the problem and the diagnosis is that essentially we are all a bit stumped, how does a timing sprocket jump ninety degrees, without jumping....
Late one evening, sat basking in the blue-white glow of a PC monitor in the police station office, perusing engine diagrams with very helpful Andres, who's come especially to help,
"This is bad news," says Andres.
"Umm," I say, realising that my stay in Antigua might be longer still (ohh, great).
The ever helpful Andres
Next to us, Officer Elisa - who kindly let us in to the office - picks another song from youtube to pass the night shift, a modern day cheesy version of George Harrison with a smooth and well-combed basin of nut-brown hair, on his head and above his mouth, adorns her monitor and the PC speakers and I ask if she thinks he's handsome: "He's not," she tells me, "but this guy is!" and she quickly clicks a bookmarked favourite revealing an even more - if possible - cheesy fellow, who looks just the same but with added benefit of a sombrero to hide his well manicured barnett, does nothing for the fluffy 'tash.
With a few ideas, Andres and I go to test our theories and I promise Elisa a coffee sometime and soon Andres and I confirm beyond all doubt that the problem is a broken sprocket on the crankshaft, meaning for a full engine rebuild, a new crankshaft. Several options come to mind;
1) Eat cake,
2) Drink tea,
4) Get on a plane to Colombia and buy Rudolf Jr.
5) Get a new engine,
6) Fix Rudolf.
After dabbling with options one and two, I wake up after completing option 3 and decide that option six is the only option for me, but only after a completing a new option, option 7: drink coffee. Phew....and To celebrate I have a number two and then drink some tea, probably with a "cubilete," a yummy cake, three of which can be bought for the princely sum of 1Quetzal (8p), and probably in the company of the fabulous Ingulf, a German rider on his way home, or, after his departure back to Germany, fellow Brit; Ian (whom I met originally in Mexico).
With Ian's help the engine is taken to pieces, one piece at a time, day by day, as we spend half a day here finding a tool, or half a day there making one, designing one, trying to get someone to make one, or breaking a part, shearing a bolt, scratching our heads, reading the manual and drinking more tea and eating mounds of cubiletes.
Thank God for Ian
Finally, the crankcase is split, the crankshaft now visible and exposed and now the problem I realise wasn't the crankshaft (good work speedy) at all and I must rebuild the engine, seemingly for no reason other than bad luck and a few dozen dumb idiots with silly ideas....me included. The moral - and one I struggle it seems to learn - is that it's always, always, always, always the simplest answer....and usually your fault, in this case; the camchain had come off it's sprocket and jammed behind the flywheel, meaning it would still turn the camshaft, but would slip occasionally (though to be fair, in my defense, I'd already contemplated this possibility).
The waiting game continues
So, again I face the recurring problem; the need for parts...and back to the Yamaha dealer in Antigua who tell me that only two of the dozen parts are available...seems odd. As I hate these guys and have broken my promise to myself never to return to this store, I write to another store in Guatemala who are not only much more helpful (in that they are actually of help) but they also tell me that I can have the parts for free, provided I do an interview...a fair price I reckon....he'll even ride out himself with the parts....but now I must wait just a little bit more....and go crazy.....in Antigua, but the road beckons, I can sense it.....
After over 5 weeks of obtaining parts, tools, and breaking said parts, tools, as well as obtaining faulty parts and sending the engine off to the machine shop several times.....find out if Rudolf the Wonderous YBR will ever wander again....in my latest video....made because I have a lot of time on my hands....
"The Moment of Truth, Take Four" was complete and hot off the...umm, developing table, but it didn't take long for another problem to crop up and "Take Five" was soon created, leaving me feeling like an overused actor, in a worn out ongoing story line...like in the endless "Saw" movie series; I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII.In fact, I wonder if - like the movies - this was my own slow torture, to rid me of my selfish bad ways, taking, taking, taking, never giving, riding around the world, take, take, take, and now to cure me of my demon I must perhaps give up something dear to me....Rudolf?
The story of Take Five was like all the others, this time Rudolf was bleeding to death....through an engine bolt which had stripped itself clean of the engine, meaning for a long, slow and anxious ride back to the big bad "Guat-ay"(Guatemala City) and henceforth; a face, leg and foot covered in piping hot engine oil which was leaving the bolt hole quicker than I could pour it into the oil cap and I anticipated Rudolf's final death rattle.
Still, the good folks at Yamaha Canella in the city were on hand and soon enough the bolt hole was plugged and re-tapped and I felt that, finally, all was well....I'd learned my lesson Mr.Saw.
After a few trial rides along with my trusty mechanical cohort Ian on his BMW 650GS, there was still one more problem to solve; a leaking battery easily solved, and though I finally felt that I was ready to leave, I was hardly brimming with confidence in Rudolf.
The next morning, two months almost to the day after arriving in Antigua, I opened the door of our cabin at Lorenzo's Valhalla Macadamia farm and looked at Rudolf, sitting there waiting to go, wondering how much further he could go and thinking of all the places we've been, the times I look across to him sitting there whilst I eat lunch and just laugh to myself at the whole thing.I pack quickly, couldn't wait to move again, to fire up the bike, slip into the tiny space on the saddle, clunk into first gear and move off, to feel the fresh wind in my face, wind my way down the road unshackled from my thoughts....and to get the heck out of Antigua!
But I couldn't, because I couldn't find the flippin' road.
I asked again and again, for there were no signposts and I could tell by the peoples quizzical faces and the way they rotated my map or put their fingers to places nearer Panama than my destination that no one knew of the road I wanted.So, I decided there was nothing for it but to follow my instincts, but even these were telling me in muffled tones that "You need GPS!" and so I ignored them too and followed my nose instead, damned instincts, and....eventually, found it beyond the hectic humdrum of the busy and bustling smokey town of Chimeltenango.
This lead me finally on to the dirt road to Joyabaj andthe locks to the shackles released, the chains floated off and I - literally - took a huge deep gulp of fresh air, the sweetness of which I can only seem to find whilst aboard Rudolf.
I was heading towards the Ixil Triangle, made up of the three mountain villages; Nebaj, Cotzal and Chajul, an area caught amidst the lengthy civil war that officially ended in only 1996.These villages have been largely undisturbed by modern outside influences and anyway I always like a ride in the mountains.
But with my lengthy time off the bike it takes me a little while to find my feet (not hard:they stink!); to pluck up courage to speak with locals, to ask for a photo, to be declined a photo again and again and still keep asking or to try new foods like chuchitos (a bit like a big brick of maize with meat and sauce inside), or the abundant odd fruits like jocuotes (big stone, plum like), granadia (fruit frogspawn), or dragon fruit (an organic dragon's egg filled with bright pink flesh!).But I quickly meet nice people in nice places and soon find a good camp spot on my way to Nebaj and, despite still being anxious over Rudolf, am soon back in my stride and content once more.
Nebaj is reached and quickly passed, unspectacular and disappointing, leaving me wondering what all the fuss is about in the guide books and reports, until that is I reach San Gaspar Chajul; a ramshackle village of wooden huts set about the mountains besides dusty rutted streets, where women wash laundry or weave sat in the shade of their house porches, children with knotted hair play penny pitch - with bottle tops - in the streets, and the men make their way to their fields perched precariously somewhere in "them there hills."
I walk for an age along the rough streets, despite sweating buckets on the steep slopes in my riding gear, looking around in awe, looking for photos or mainly just being laughed at!I'm far from being the first gringo to have visited this popular spot, but perhaps the first to have walked to the very edge of town and here in particular the children gorp, run away screaming, start to cry or practice saying hello in Spanish (the first language being Ixil).Women try to sell me cloth skirts and, whilst being exceptionally made I exclaim that "I'm not a girl!" and they laugh all the more.Others make fun of my hair, my boots and quickly I learn the word for gringo in Ixil and start to catch people, turning to point them with a joking scorn!Despite being very kind people, they decline every photo I ask for.So with no photos and as sticky a snail's armpit in my sweaty motorcycle suit, I hit the road.
But apparently the road doesn't exist and the interrogations, like in Chimeltenangobefore, continue.Pointed this way, then that way, then back the way I came, then back again and so on, they tell me it's very far, doesn't exist, is very bad, or that I must go back to the main road, making me understand why they haven't had any outside influence!
"But it must exist, it's on the map!" I say to the lady shop owner and group of men, who all eye each other before shaking their heads and saying, as if in conspiracy;
"Ohh, no, no."
So I just ignore their directions to turn back too, and keep going.They must have thought me stupid going seemingly in the wrong direction.But, as I go, another junction, another dirt road and down each one; a dead end, another village, another instruction to return, or perhaps just riding a loop back to a vertex of the Ixil triangle....a land based twin of the Bemuda Triangle perhaps?A waterfall marks another dead end, but a spectacular one and I sit there to eat lunch, watching a Mayan woman launder on the rocks amidst the frothing waters, her son perched on the banks waiting patiently, wondering if I should just give this one up.
But rested and fully fed the negative thoughts quickly dissolves and I find the road eventually, the start of which is marked by a group of armed guards who obtain for me permission to go to Ushpantan. The guard gives me very specific instructions, complicated directions and tells me NO PHOTOS and I push on, only to get lost 50m after the gate trying to remember his instructions amongst the web of dirt roads.Another guard with a whopping big rifle points the way and I follow the crystal blue river through the valley village....and get lost again.Another chap points he way; to a small col in the mountains trying to pierce the atmosphere about three billion metres higher, "that's the way to Ushpantan, not this way," he says, gesturing with pouted lips and a backwards tilt of the head, the Gautemalan way of pointing, (from now on I'll call this a "Gwout") and I turn about to find the track (lost many time again) and Rudolf and I just barely manage to surmount the peak such was its steepness, leaving Rudolf red hot!
It was worth it though, a great stretch and I drop into Ushpantan I stock up and, with the rainy season in full flow, nip out of town quickly to try and find camp before the regular evening downpour.However, it's a highly populated stretch of road which gives no hope of finding camp; farms, steep cliffs, a river and mountains all barring the way until in the final desperate minutes before the deluge I find a steep rocky track which gives some hope but that takes me, despairingly, to a farmer's front door.Carlos, the farmer, clearly without the pressures of time, or much else it seems, sits on his stoop sorting through some black beans surrounded by chickens, and I ask him anxiously if I camp on his driveway, before the rain.
"Yeah, just go there..." he says Gwouting to point the way.I put my tent up as he continues shelling beans and his tough, quiet wife leans on the stable door to the house, watching me as if I were stark raving mad, though even I had to wonder when it started pouring down ferociously with rain and I was left dodging lightning forks.
In the rising mists the following morning I get a little time to actually talk with my host, Carlos, between downpours at least.He's a man of little intrigue and few words, leaving me to do the talking.I ask him every question I can conjure up in my limited Spanish including "what's inside your house?Does it always rain so much here? and do you like fish?"But soon the rain is falling again and Carlos slowly walks back to carry on with his beans and tell his wife how boring I am whilst I pack up in the rain.They continue to watch from the porch and I go to thank them before tip-toeing down the rough track aboard Rudolf in the rain back to the main road towards Coban.
This stretch, to Coban, is notorious for being closed due to the heavy rains and landslides.Here, children walk from their homes up the road to known spots to move rocks and clear the way after the night's rain in the hope of receiving a small monetary tip from drivers, though more often than not on this quiet stretch I find them playing when I round the corners, and the sound of my engine galvanises them into action!
The rain stops momentarily, just enough time to get a puncture....and then it starts again.
I hate punctures.Number 53 was no different.
People come to watch me repair it and tell me the road is closed ahead.I contemplate my rather crappy spot, a puncture in the mud and rain, and remember my last puncture, at 4am in Xela and wonder if Mr.Saw thinks I still haven't quite learned my lesson? Puncture fixed (take that Mr.Saw!), I can't figure out why the road was closed, a huge landslide that occurred two years ago still remains, impressive too, and the "temporary" route around was choc-full of trucks, engines off, not moving, and I couldn't make it past.I had two options, sit and wait and hope something might happen, or turn around and find a way around.I simplified this to:
do nothing, or
So, I turned around without much thought, asked a truckie to use his compressor to seat my stubborn tire - failing - and then stopped in a garage to try again, finally successful.And then stop at a little shack to eat a snack watching young girls walking through the rain with bowls of maize kernels atop there heads ready to be ground in to flour for tortillas.
It was only much later, after a late lunch in a rainless spot, when I looked at the map and considered how far I now had to go to get to Coban....it was a long way and I wondered if I had perhaps been a bit hasty in making my decision.I tried to convince myself for the rest of the day, whilst I rode, that I hadn't been too hasty.But at camp that night, I quickly concluded the complete opposite that I was indeed a hasty twit.This starts a whole train of thoughts including even if this whole trip isn't a complete waste of time - I get this occasionally, and only point it out in the interests of being honest, it's not all roses - tired of being wet, having to look for hours for mediocre camp spots, punctures, worrying about the bike breaking again, and kind of actually wanting to be mindless in an office or in front of the TV seems like a great prospect!!
Alas, it didn't last, it never does, with a bit of sleep and as all was not lost, as I had noticed a dirt track on the map, heading out east to Rabinal, meaning at least I didn't have to go all the way back to near Antigua as I'd first thought and all my negative thoughts were dispelled!It was a nice stretch of steep dirt road too that required more asking for directions, and more Gwouting from the locals, great lunch spots by rivers, friendly visitors and even a panaderia in the mountains that sold cubiletes!In Cubulco, a small town on my way to Rabinal I notice the rather slick looking cowboys, carrying machetes in decorated scabbards looped on to a thick belt around their Lee Jeans over cowboy boots, and fitted shirts with tassles or subtly decorated shoulders shaded by a big cream white sombrero, and a very good Zapata Moustache.Though they too declined photos!
That night looking for camp I find my way up a track behind a small mountain which catches me out when it turns into a narrow single track path cut into the mountain side.It's very, very steep, to either side, but certainly more so going down.As I almost complete a turning maneuver with deft control of the clutch and breaks, the ground gives way....sending me careering backwards; handlebars over head, front wheel rising up into the air, looking at the blue sky.
I contemplate falling 300m.
I have a conversation with Rudolf, thanks for the good times, sorry for being so hard on you, it was fun while it lasted, it had to end sometime, that sort of thing until, luckily a sturdy bush halted my fall and my ribs halt Rudy.I untangle my bruised, burnt and knotted legs quickly free of the bike and start thinking about how to get Rudolf upright....a quick spot of trigonometry tells me that it will be difficult proposition on such a steep face.I whip the bags off double quick, petrol dripping out in a steady flow onto the sunburnt dry shrubs and a few hernias later I have Rudy on two wheels and I'm starting to feel like that snail's armpit again.Rudolf reminds me that not everything is fun, payback...or that tricky devil Mr.Saw again.
Then I just stand there holding him upright, catching my breath, contemplating that I talk to my motorcycle and wondering what next to do. How the flippin' heck will I make it back on to the track? I slip again in my first attempt, what with the weight on the steep slope and loose dirt and begin my slow tumbling descent to the bottom again, and then putting hernias on my hernias to drag it out of another bush and pick it up again.But now, further down the slope, the easiest thing to do - still tricky and also rather dicey - is ride downhill to a small plateau and hope I can maintain enough speed to keep it in the 10bhp "powerband" and gun it back up to the track, and luckily, with a bit of buckaroo action, I manage it!Thoughts of finding camp are replaced with thoughts of a cold coke so I back-track a long way to a tienda (village shop) to grab one, and drink it in the shade still dripping with sweat, watched by giggling girls, a well spent 24pence.
Finally at camp I discover that another one of the engine bolts is loose, is it stripped? I don't know, but riding on the next day towards Coban lunching in a chayote (vegetable pear) field, I see that the bolt is loose again and I know that it is stripped, meaning a return trip to the city, that like a lot of travelers, I'd planed to avoid.
The great folk at Yamaha Canella decide to repair all remaining three threads, just in case.Then they notice the electrics are shot too and start fixing that....and they are still fixing it now, weeks later, having sent the stator off to be rewired five times or more!Luckily Julio and his wife Luisa, who'd been so helpful in the early days of problems, were on hand again and kind enough to let stay with them. But, with the days turning to weeks and with my visa running out (for not only Guatemala, but the CA4 (Guate, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua)), means I've spent three months here and only travelled about 10 days.I decide with much consideration of all the facts, and many days going back and forth on the idea, to buy a new bike.
With so much time lost, Julio points out that making it to Ushuaia for the summer season will be a bit of a rush and maybe I should find some work or volunteer.Then, as luck would have it one of Luisa's employees walks out of her teaching position, and poses an interesting opportunity for me not to be missed, as well I can help Luisa at the same time too.So, now I am teaching here until August, staying with the VERY generous Andres who's letting me stay free of charge!Then I'll fly home for a few months of work there, see the family and meet my niece for the first time...and try and recoup some money before returning to Gautemala to continue, giving me plenty of time to go slowly to Ushuaia.
BUT.....I still had one important decision to make, which bike to buy?My budget was hardly grand, I was done with YBR's and wanted something different, and I finally settled on a Honda XR 125, which I've just taken delivery of!To say I am happy to have some wheels again is an understatement!
It's a good job I didn't make any plans.
Special thanks to Julio, Luisa, Andres, Ian and all those at Yamaha Canella!
So Rodolfo's life with you has come to an end. What will you call the new bike? Will it be a girl or do you like riding a guy all day?
We will be in England for 2 weeks in September so might see you there.
You're in England! That's great! Well, I think so! Where are you going be...perhaps I can borrow a bike from someone and we can dominate the roads of Wales?
Yup, Rudolfo is dead, well, at least for now. Hopefully I can sell him here and give him a new home, a more stable permanent one! Alas, the new XR is pretty sweet...I was finding it hard to let go of Rudy, but in the end, with it breaking again and again the decision seemed a bit easier!
Days ride photos whilst working in Guatemala City.
Some mayan ruins near the city, called Mixco Viejo. Nice and quiet I was the only visitor
And here they are again, whilst I get pestered by a wee kid for bread, a quetzal and he asks if I'm on my own, with conspiracy to "muerte"....perhaps.
And again...the boy now gone, watching me from up yonder.
Eddie Liz-ard. Funny if you're British...and have a low threshold for laughing.
Chinga! A very bad word in spanish....being repeated by both father and son alike whilst trying to get the oxen to lug the heavy load of rocks.
Having spent too long looking for hot things at volcan pacaya I get caught in the afternoon rain, it took only ten minutes for the road to become flooded.
Can you see Nick and Bike "No.2"...on the shortbut delightful stretch of dirt road between Santa Maria Jesus and Palin, near Antigua, on my way to Volcan Pacaya.
Standing on the ring of fire....Viewed from Volcan Pacaya; Volcan Agua looms in the clouds and in the background Volcan Fuego erupts.
Volcan Pacaya and perhaps an old visitors centre, now closed and graffited up.
...and the path where many a panting gringo has stepped to toast marshmallows on the hot rocks.
At Volcan Pacaya, I went off a-wandering looking for lava and hot spots....the closest I got was this where steam seeps out, rocks are hot to touch, and the air is thick with hot earthy smells...the volcano has been dormant for a little while now....
Reaching the caldera lake for a spot of lunch, a little bit of rain...and a lot of mosquitoes.
Volcan Ipala's caldera lake, magnificent.
Streets near Guatemala city, maybe Chichimecas....
On the road to Volcan Ipala, lovely stretch, despite being on my lesser favourite, asphalt.
...but soon on dirt...to San Luis Jiltopeque again, a Sunday football game underway on the old mine below...
On the beautiful trail up to Volcan Ipala....
...still on the dirt road....
Then a really great stretch of dirt to San Luis Jilotepeque (Hee-low-tuh-peck-ay)
Stuffed full of cheese, beans and bread...I still managed to find space for a "coco frio" a big drink of coconut milk and then a belly full of coco flesh.
And here the chap cuts open the coconut and scoops out the inside for me to stuff my already full of coconut milk belly.
After several passes of curiosity, the boy comes over to my corner of shade outside the "tienda."
"Where are you from?" he asks shyly.
"England." I reply, taking a thirst quenching sip from my cola.
"Is that far?"
"Ohhh, yes! Very far!" I tell him.
"Is it close to Germany?" he asks.
"Mmmm, more or less, yeah."
"How long does it take with your motorcycle?" he says leaning closer now on his bicycle.
"Ohh, you can't go by motorcycle."
"What about a bus?"
"Nooo, there's no road!"
"No. There's a big ocean, so you need a plane! It's about 6000km or so."
"Yeah, it's about 16 hours...." I say to him, but he looks confused and add, "or maybe a month on a boat!"
"Farther than the city?" he asks after a moment.
"Oh yes! Much further!"
"Further than USA?"
"Oh yes," I say staring at my empty coke bottle contemplating, "Yup....." It is very far, and seems impossibly so now, when only days ago I was there saying goodbye to my family....
That fleeting moment, a goodbye. Apprehended, but unplanned. Not a moment for lingering, a moment when all the unspoken could be said, but for that the moment slips away and then you slip away, turning your back, time stopping whilst you move away, leaving a painful wake, that catches up with you sooner or later, for me at the baggage check.
So, I was alone again, fending for myself again, a peculiar and forgotten feeling after so long, but it doesn't last for soon I am with Andrés, at his home in Guatemala City, my home from home it seems. Here we fettle with bikes, me on the new unnamed one, and he on Rudolf which he has working again....for how long who can say, but he seems very pleased with his gift, the least I can give for all he has done for me. All Saints Day comes and a visit to Sumpango is in order to see the "barilletas gigantes" (giant kites), a grand day out and mightily impressive, where locals fly these giant kites in the hope of their dead loved ones being closer to the gods, to rid the lands of evil spirits and suchlike, and a hundred small and large kites decorate the sky, on what must be the longest pieces of string ever...some of them seem to disappear in to the stratosphere!
Andres and I return and spend days visiting welders and shops for spares, working on the bikes from early until late and soon the Unnamed One (the Honda bike) is ready - apart from a name - and I suppose I should be ready too, though I am far from feeling so. I think again of my early days leaving England; how come this doesn't get any easier, I should be an old hand by now, at goodbyes and stepping off into the unknown. But the unknown again terrifies me and I find myself trying to plan for every eventuality....with scenario after deathly scenario running through my mind.
The luggage leaves little room on the saddle; my first time on the loaded Honda and the first day is uncomfortable, though passing through roads I have seen before, several times when travelling back and to, to the city, when Rudolf was faltering and needed help. Now I head to Joyabaj, a camp spot I have stayed at too, several times.
I hate the loneliness, but I know now that it's a passing phase, it will fade and eventually I will be better for it. Wondering if we are not actually meant to be alone, solitary nomads, with only inherent weakness keeping us together, the fear of the unknown. Or is it only my own weakness and failings that push me away. The noise at camp is unbearable, how do I sleep amongst this! Buses and animals, music, the wind in the trees, or the falling pine cones giving me a jolt!
When I reach my old farthest point, where I last left off, my target is a small "aldea" (village), named Lancetillo, north west of Coban. Not much seems to be know about the road, even if it exists and my odd fixation with came about through not wanting to turn back from the more popular aldeas in the Ixil triangle (see last blog) - the norm being an out-and-back route. I heard that the road is "very bad," but when I get there and ask around it seems that actually it doesn't exist at all, only walking trails from Lancetillo. There is, however, another way and so I take this thinking that if I make it to Lancetillo this way, perhaps ther I can retrace my steps on this supposedly non-existent route. Or otherwise try to reach Coban directly. But again, when I ask on this route it seems there is only a road to Lancetillo, one must return back the same way.
I push on regardless, maybe they are wrong, or maybe this is just a waste of time, after all, there is nothing there and I only want to reach it for, well, for what? And I ride along wondering if this is a bit of a pointless road to take in mud and fog, only for me to have to return, no better off, at square one, the same person as before, only with time having passed.
I find a good camp at a waterfall, where I can contemplate my thoughts and decide over a good sleep, but in the morning, packed up and ready to go, I still can't decide until I find myself at the point at which I MUST decide; left, downhill and ride through the river to Lancetillo, or right uphill back to asphalt and maybe even sunshine. I don't decide, fate does that for me, or was it the Gods, or just gravity....whatever, I'm coasting down to the river, where taking a photo of the little crossing, my foot slips and I slam palm and camera first in to the gravel, breaking my new - and fifth - camera on day two. Mierd.
It's the darn balance again!! (karma - see previous blogs!). Perhaps I didn't deserve the camera - a fantastic gift from my dad - or the time at home even and I have an outstanding debt. Or maybe now I'm in credit, and can expect good things....yes, that's it!
But then it starts to rain and I must wade through trenches of slippy mud and a fug of fog, still wondering if this is a bit pointless.
"Yeah, Lancetillo's great," a man tells me roadside when I ask him, "lots of bars, food stalls, a hotel....and loads of women!" he continues. But he also tells me there are no other roads, I must come back this way. This does wonders to raise my optimism, though the rain seems to be trying it's equal best to cool my desires to reach Lancetillo and eventually I pull over to turn around. As I do so, a quad bike comes tearing through the fog behind me, passing by and stopping eventually half a kilometer further, before beginning to slowly reverse back along the cliff edge road.
Leon pulls alongside, dressed in a bright yellow mac with a hood that hides most of his face, save a pair of dark sunglasses, a black bin bag protects his legs from the rain.
"Where are you going?" he asks.
"Not sure. Lancetillo I think."
"I was thinking that myself..." I say, twisting up my face.
"No, just a tourist."
"I don't know about that!"
"I don't know, I wanted to go to Coban, or maybe to Putul. But, I'm not sure if there are any roads."
"No, this is not possible, only walking trails."
"Then I think I'll go back then." I say, until he slips in,
"But there is a road to Laguna Lachua." And instantly everything changes. I was going to visit there anyway, but it's far north, far from here and I wonder if I can make it even on my fuel. Excited Leon phones his friend in Lancetillo and from the one ended conversation I hear, it is obvious tha tthe road is either hardly in existence, very hard and possibly dangerous, or maybe all three.
"But he is an adventurer with a big dual sport bike, he is very _______." Leon says down the phone, I'd like to correct him on all counts, even the one I didn't understand, but the conversation is animated t osay the least and shows no signs of abating, until suddenly Leon says, "Yup, there is a road, what are you waiting for, let's go!"
Is this fate, the work of the balance, or even, I wonder if there could be a god...in which time Leon has disappeared leaving only the booming resonance of his exhaust note behind, and I must catch him up.
I manage to do so only on a steep rocky section, where it seems, he is having trouble engaging any gear on his quad and I tootle past, asking if he is okay....
"Buen adventura, no?" he says, stamping on the shifter still trying to find a gear.
And it is, I suppose. Yes! he's dead right! And, trying to chase Leon, into the unknown, trusting only others, this is why I take stupid pointless roads! This is why I do it....people always ask, why? And this is why! And I smile a huge grin as Leon connects with first gear and disappears again far off in to the distance and I watch the yellow blob screech around the corner of the mountain on two wheels not to be seen again until I meet him at Juan's house in Lancetillo.
"So this is the idiot!" I assume they are saying when I arrive (actually I don't think that!) and they go on to tell me in detail the route ahead, which villages to go to, to ask for, which fincas, then a bridge and then La Playa. They mention one hour, plus three hours. I wonder if this is one hour is easy, then it's really tough or the other way about, and if this isn't the old "it takes 4 days in a car, but on THAT bike you can do it in ten minutes."
Lancetillo itself is a quagmire of mud and puddles, where people walk about barefoot and ankle deep in the stuff, ignoring the many planks of wood that have long ago sunk in to the ooze.
Beyond Lancetillo the road turns steep, and rocky; loose rocks, that along with the lack of power of the 125cc bike make progress almost impossible, trying to keep the speed up, to keep in the "power" band, tight hairpins must be hit at maximum speed, to ensure I keep in the band, and the large rocks buck the bike left and right and send the front wheel into a weightless wheelie, and eventually, one rock too many, I end up flat out in the ditch. The bike creaks and cracks, the sound of heat dissipating out through it's every square millimeter, and I must drag it down the hill to have any chance of picking it up, from where it wants only to slip down the precipice, and take me with it.
I manage to get it upright, and then must go back downhill, a hill start is impossible, to gain speed and try again. On attempt three, with deft use of the clutch and flailing legs paddling upwards, I make it to the summit....just. A little bit knackered, breathing a sigh of relief....and wondering "what next?"
What goes up, must come down and I'm faced with a decision, to go down the mountain, which could be worse; steeper, washed away, muddy, a landslide, impossible perhaps, and what about the bridge,m after the rainy season? Perhaps I should turn back, I could be riding into a trap.
But those little scallywags the gods, or fate, the balance or that little bugger gravity have other ideas, and somewhat reluctantly my left foot pushes me off and the mountain sucks me down towards the darkness of the unknown, downhill towards, I pray, a bridge of hope.
As the path slips beneath the wheels I scout the trail, muddy, steep, rocky with fallen trees, "I can't make it up here...."
"The bridge is that way," says a man sitting amongst the grass at the bottom, taking a rest from lugging wood down the hill in the harsh glare of heat, "but you can't pass," he adds, "the bridge is out."
I was afraid of this, and am left with only one other option, to go back....if I can indeed go back. And I can, though only by running, scrabbling, tripping, falling, and all the while pushing the bike ever upwards, and eventually back to relative safety my body again starts to contemplate things other than survival; namely food and water and rest.
When I pass back through Lancetillo I see Leon's friend Juan, who asks what happened. Onlyfor him to then explain that it was passable, with a rope or something that I don't fully understand (though I wonder if he is right) and I curse myself for not at least having gone to see the bridge and this thought plays on my mind all the way back to last nights camp.
Alas, there is plenty more on my horizons in Guatemala and next I head to Semuc Champey, passing through the delightful lakeside town of Santa Cristobal Verapaz; the essence of "tranquilo" and then Coban....which though in the guidebooks is an area not to be missed, seems to lack any personal appeal and should in fact be wholeheartedly missed.
Champey is reached through the slightly rough rough road through to Lanquin and beyond, down into the hot valley floor of the river Cahabón. I think about camping at the park when I arrive in the evening, but decide against it on account of it a) being 50Q ($6) and b) being crap.
Riding back towards Lanquin I wonder about my options - or lack of - when I see a man working in the cooler evening air in amongst his maize field and stop to chat. I approach him and ask about the possibility of camping at his place, soon surrounded by the entire family who have limited Spanish. But it seems, there's no problem and I start setting up my tent next to their house. The tent is a thing of amazement for them, and we are soon chatting as darkness falls and the mosquitoes rise.
"Do you want some tortillas?" the children ask as I cook my dinner.
"No, thanks, I have some already, and vegetables, carrot, beetroot, broccolli, onion and some biscuits, I always have biscuits!"
"So.... are you coming then? Vamos!" It seems they don't understand a word of what I've just said, so I decide to just go with them, led to the table, told to wash my hands....where....just there...what here, in the middle of the room, yes....okay.....and the boy tips some water on my hands. "Is that okay?" he asks, I don't know, they were kind of okay before I think to myself....
I sit down at the table with Manuel, the father, and somewhere in the candlelit darkness sit his wife and seven kids in a room that is the house, no bigger than a living room, along with three beds, a fire cooker and a years supply of maize. A bowl is brought forward to me, containing an egg and some soup, then chilli and salt and of course, tortillas!
"How do I eat it?" I ask sheepishly.
"Just put the egg in the tortilla." says Manuel. So I do as bid and put the whole hard boiled egg in the tortilla....and look at it, that stupid thing the egg, sitting there forlornly in the middle of a large tortilla, thinking to myself that this doesn't seem right, it looks a bit silly, the whole egg sitting in the middle of the tortilla, so I wait to see what the other do...how do you eat the soup....without a spoon....the kids come and stick their fingers in the chilli, then the salt, and mash a bit of egg in....and I follow suit. feeling kind of bad that I'm taking their food. I chat with Manuel as we eat, and soon coffee is bought over....the coffee granules floating about the cup.
"I think you need a coffee filter," I say, hoping my bad Spanish doesn't come across as rude, but luckily he doesn't understand. "Give me a moment...." I say darting out the door.
In my tent I grab a coffee filter I don't use and after some hesitation - for I love them so - I grab my biscuits, and go back to give them to Manuel. The coffee filter is well received but the biscuits are disliked by all, except the mother who seems content to eat anything! Darn it! Perhaps I should have kept them!!
In the morning I take a poo in the middle of the woods - at the actual toilet I should say - in full view of the road, the house and the shop, and the family. I wonder if they are playing a big trick on me, but it seems not. Then it's on to Semuc champey.
The tranquil aqua pools of Semuc Champey actually sit atop of the natural bridge that is created by the torrent of the river Cahabón, so whilst I swim peacefully amongst the fish in the pools, somewhere below me the river is raging foaming white and angry and pops out someway down to continue as the wide and deep rio.
From here I ride up to Laguna Lachua, getting another dreaded puncture along the way, a six inch nail which rips the rim tape too, a new experience for me coming from alloy wheels which don't use these anda trip back to Coban is necessary to replace my sellotaped repair. Still the balance has it that good things must come in return and soon I find myself sleeping at a large finca (rich guys farm) where the men are hard at work drying the beautifully yummy cardamon seeds.
Lachua is reached along an easy but arduous stoney road, but it's worth every effort for the lake that greets me on the far end of a the walk through the jungle is perfect, a million miles from the rest of Guatemala, peaceful, tranquil and alive with animal and plant life, monkeys, jaguars, huge fish diving in the waters and electric blue butterflies the size of my hand. I don't see any jaguars unfortunately, but other than the monkeys I see I feel at least that I am the only one in the park, for I see no one the entire time. Reluctantly I drag myself away from the lake, looking back all the while, walking back through the mosquito infested jungle to the bike and another camp at another house.
Here at camp, Augusto, the man of the house invites me to eat an orange with him, they laugh a I peel the orange by hand - for they use knives and when I go to set up camp I am surrounded by their three staring kids, amazed at my tent, my blow up bed and my stove and carrots....apparently they'd never tried them until I offered them some, with a tortilla for good measure!
I ride into the deeper jungle of the north then, into the region of Peten and instantly feel a change in the people, who seem at least from the outside not as warm as the rest of Guatemala as I have found and I camp alone in one of many a maize field that seem to have taken over the jungle. I am in awestruck by how much jungle has been razed to make room for "tortilla fields".
The reason for anyone's trip to Peten is usually always to visit Tikal, the site of some of the best regarded ancient Mayan pyramids. I was keen to avoid it, at $20 it seemed a rip off, until that is I visited the free El Ceibl (which was pretty dire) and spoke to the staff who had worked all over the archaeological sites in Peten, and told the prices of some others I had planned to see, all over $100. This made Tikal look a bargain, so I went there!
I'd seen pictures everywhere, on tourist posters and on the side of Bimbo snack trucks and was actually a little under-awed despite having the place largely to myself at 6am, though still an enjoyable visit nonetheless. I expected this actually, as I had considered that nothing had gone wrong on my way there and so the balance was simply, for the time being; on an even keel....!!! ....until after my visit and I got another puncture!! This time a watch strap pin! Hay caramba!
"Do you mind if I put my tent right by the lake?" I asked the staff member at the free campsite of Yaxja's archaeological site after having enjoyed the perfect sunset from atop one of the pyramids.
"If you want, but there are 'crocodrilos'!" he told me. I told him I had no meat for them to want to even bother me and he said it was fine, and it sure was! A great spot...though the beady orange eyes of the crocodrilos at night were kind of eerie...as were the howler monkeys!
Then it was simply a case of heading back to the city on my way south again, to write this pesky blog(!) and catch up with friends there, stopping at Laguna Flores, the unimpressive Rio Dulce and the much more enjoyable road from El Estor through the valley back towards Coban - top stuff - stopping along the way to get hit by what looked like a giant high velocity black bee at 40mph, then stuck in some lovely deep wet mud and then - with the balance tipped in my favour - at a fantastic house with the loveliest family in Guatemala surely..... and then the city, though feeling sick after a special treat; a meal out!
From the city it's to Honduras, finally I will get to truly carry on my trip, with the Unnamed One, south.
"You cut like a girl, Rrrrrambeta!"
I roll my eyes and continue swinging the machete....like a little girl.
"RRRRRRRRambeta!" he taunts again with a smile.
"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, shouldn't it be Ramba?" I point out, hoping to inflict some damage, "RambO being the masculine...Or maybe even Rambita, for Little Girly Rambo?"
"I suppose," he says waving my comments away like another pestilent mosquito. "But...I like Rrrrambeta."
This was Charlie. Remonstrating against my efforts with the machete to cut through another stubborn bush on our return from a fruitless quest in search of Inca ruins. Charlie was all squares; square legs, square torso, square shoulders, square head, like a Lego man. I swing again, swearing the blade was blunt whilst also wondering if perhaps Charlie's Indiana Jones-like hat concealed a little yellow lump, reminding me that earlier he was calling me 'Indiana Jones Jr. the Third', for some other derogatory purpose no doubt, though what it was I'm not sure I know.
"Anyway, " I say stopping for a breather, "it wasn't me who landed us in the very midst of the one place we began by saying we should avoid at absolutely all costs. Remember? You called it the, uhhh....the...what did you call it again?"
"The **** Fest."
"Indeed. The **** Fest. And yet, here I am cutting our way through it."
"Be quiet Rambeta." he says turning to sun his face.
I do as bid, and swing and swing. The two dogs, Attenborough and Shackleton sit besides Charlie conversely patient and nonplussed, though likewise sunning their faces. Eventually we four escape 'The Fest', though my trousers now resemble a pair of colourless maypoles. Back at the car then and we drive back to Charlie's tourist lodge which sits on the very edge of Peru's Sierra Nevada, a prime location nestled between Peru's highest peak Huascaran and arguably it's most beautiful, Huandoy; a pointed slate of rippled cream, missing only a cherry.
Shackleton and Nick
(with a wet leg after 'the Shack' pulled me in the river!)
The next day I walked the trail to Huandoy's glacier and was sitting there trying to muster the saliva to consume some of Peru's balsa-bread, when a group of Indian males pop over the top of the glacier looking like they'd well and truly lost their corn crop. They bound down in their wellies and inform me that the ice has just avalanched and one of their friend's, as well as a few donkeys, are buried in the ice. The man stares, waiting it seems for me to provide some grains of wisdom, whilst the others dab something from small nail-varnish sized wooden vials into their cheeks, revealing brown stumps of teeth.
However, I have but breadcrumbs, and seeing this, the group begin to disperse, climbing back up the glacier to continue their search in their leathery felt hats and thick woollen sweaters full of holes. One turns back to me as he goes and asks,
"Do you have one of them cameras?"
"You know....lets you look inside the ice."
I think for a moment before realising...."Ohhhh, a thermal camera! No, sorry. Just my bread and bananas."
"Oh." He says looking downcast.
When I walk up around the glacier I find the search abandoned, the group sitting on the banks chewing stalks of grass. Beyond them the mountain rescue team have arrived and are likewise sitting amongst the boulders eating sandwiches and a youth who was crying without restraint a moment ago, is now happily tapping his foot along to the music, a video to which is being filmed on top of the ice.....and, on top of the still cooling bodies....
"Hey gringo, you want to dance?"
"You call that dancing?"
"DAN-CING." she says in English, assuming I didn't understand or to prove her prowess in front of others.
"Urgh, No, thanks." I say, I can't dance, I never know what to do with my face, my facial repertoire consisting mainly of mocking and derogatory expressions.
Whilst I experiment with my facial muscles, I notice the singer's have tensed and taken on a glacial chill - I'll have to learn that one - and she projects this iciness adeptly through rapid speech. I'm not to sure what she says, but the certainty is that it was bad. Everyone, but me of course, is laughing now. I give a thin smile, shoulder my bag, and leave.
From Charlie's the road sweeps downhill, through sweet smelling eucalyptus and a fairly sour smelling pack of dogs with crazy glassy eyes and an appetite for things that move, down and down to the town of Yungay.
Before I can continue south I have to pop into my favourite little restaurant, run by a sad looking widow, who today looks particularly despondent; the hired help hasn't arrived and her son I see, is sitting incapacitated with a broken foot which he rests upon a chair.
It took several visits to the restaurant before the suspicion faded or even a word was spoken to me. Not so now, smiles all round and invited to sit with the son next to the table-sized plasma television showing a psychedelic Latino cartoon, upon which all eyes are fixed, despite the clientele being mostly fifty years older than the target audience.
We chat for a while, in which time the invalided son discovers that English people speak English and so he goes on a well-meant channel hopping spree in search of English programs, or the Olympics. All eyes move simultaneously to me, narrowing as they do so making me sweat more than my hot soup. Luckily no English TV is found and peace resumes when the crazy coloured Latino blob returns shouting on the screen. But no sooner and all eyes are on the move again, mine included, this time to a pretty girl walking by, parting the crowd, her long ink-dark hair flowing behind in her wake, leaving behind an invisible but almost tangible something. She catches us looking and smiles towards us....before slicing her finger sharply across her throat.
Screaming. I'm finding it hard to see. My spectacles jump on the bridge of my nose make the road too bounce like a jumping film-strip.
A rut. Must be more than 35kmh. A rock. In first gear. Oop, Jesus. A curdling scream. Can't keep this up. BRRRRRAAArrrrrrmmnnnn agrees Rodney, with a descending engine note....like a chainsaw dropped into water. NO! COME ON! COME ON! NO! NO! NO! No chance mate. My head drops with the rev counter. I could curse the machine, but it's pointless and I just give my most inexorable Blackadder face, Rodney will feel much worse I'm sure.
I slip from the saddle and start pushing.
I reach my destination eventually, Laguna Llaca and at the end of the rough trail I find, unsurprisingly, a taxi and a minibus, as well as a lone park guard. The guard stares up to the snowy peaks wistfully, a thick silvery stubble on his small round face as if he's been staring up for several days, and amongst the stubble too a feint but happy smile. He likes it here. There is an air of calm about him and, as if he were expecting me, turns his smile to me and says, "You want to camp?"
"Urgh....Yeah, if I can."
"You can camp here on the grass if you like." he says sweeping his hand across it before returning it with the other behind his back.
He's far from being a wizard, his woollen hat not quite in keeping for that. But he looks....he looks like....well, how does he look? If I stuck a light-sabre in his hand I dare say he'd look quite a lot like that little Yoda fella in a woolly hat....just not green.
Alas. I suppose if I read more mythic tales I'd be able to conjure up some magical comparison, but as I think they're full of well, myth (LIES I TELL YOU!) I'll have to stick to my (photon) guns and go with the green fella.
"Umm," I say pondering, weighing up the grounds, thinking I've got a good face for this one. I'm not thrilled about the view, the car park, the refuge and the outhouse, especially having made such an effort to arrive, optimistically I had my hopes set on actually seeing the lake. I tell him as much, but he informs me that it's not permitted to camp at the lake. However, after a friendly chat, and a devilishly tricky light-sabre battle, he tells me that "okay, you can camp at the lake"....now just to lug all my gear up and over the tidal defences. I trot off, duffel in one hand, tent, water, stove and food in the other, on my way grabbing a gift of toasted maize kernels from someone else I'd been chatting to, then dash up the steep loose dirt before being reminded quite forcefully, that no, one doesn't dash at 4500m. Well at least I don't. Crawling over the lip of the bank, legs kicking in the dirt, dribbling a bit, dragging and pushing the now dusty bags I heave myself up to look around, finding before me my favourite spot in all the Andes. What a place! A formidable lake, which runs straight to the very edge of the thick blue glacier leading up to the huge razor sharp ridge of rippled snow and the pointed peak, Ranrapalca, at 6162m. I get a few quick pictures of the tent as the sun sets but, with a paralysingly cold wind blowing cunningly straight up my shirt and out through my sleeves, taking all my warmth with it. I am forced to jump into the tent, and then the sleeping bag, where the wind tries it's best to jump in too.
Spot the tent
Settled in, all clothes on, woolly hat tied tight around my ears and my hands wrapped around my steaming tea, I let out a sigh of relaxation, alone at last....Then, outside, something. A whistle. People, and the whistle tells me they want my attention.
I wonder if I can just wait in my tent, maybe they'll get tired and leave. Or freeze to death. But I know they're just intrigued, and I don't want piles of frozen corpses in my sunrise photos, and I mustn't be nasty and so I start unzipping myself from my feathery sarcophagus. Outside, two men, carved from wood and dressed in fatigues; Peruvian Commandos. Their handshakes are like a couple of nutcrackers and I tuck my cold cracked hands in my armpits and step from foot to foot as we chat, though these two tree trunks stand rigid, little effected by the cold despite their measly fatigues. They tell me that as well as not getting cold they don't get paid either, just free room and board, but one can understand the perks...and the peaks. They tell me that they just came over "that" pointing to the lethal blade of ice that bridges the two formidable peaks at the far end of the lake, surely over 5600m, 59 Commandos, with 30kg packs, and the Captain is 50 years old. Jungle though, they maintain, is far worse. I bid them good night, open the icy tent flap and get into my now chilly sleeping bag.
By morning the tent is thick with ice and the sleeping bag damp with cold breath. Once the sun is up I head off around the lake towards the morning's target; the glacier. Approaching it through boulders, pools and chunks of melting ice I can make out the glacier's jagged translucent blue flakes, curved humps and hollows, arches, tunnels, caves and overhangs. But when I arrive at it's edge, it's not the sight so much as the cacophony; dripping water, hissing sand, dropping dust, tumbling boulders and beneath it all the generator-like hum of a huge thrust of water, flowing somewhere below. The roof of the glacier is hidden below a layer of dirt and mountain debris like moon dust. Rocks teeter high up on the brink of the glacier or jut out of the ice face in rows like jaw lines of teeth.
I sit there for an age, next to a huge overhang of ice, watching the mountain move and wondering what might happen if that overhang should fall into the lake....I move to higher ground to a solitary mound of fine sand in the midst of the boulders and from my new vantage point I notice a large hole, which, under closer inspection, I see is an ice cave. Still, it could fall any minute, a horrid death, premature I feel, alone for certain. No, a beastly demise. I return to my hump. I watch the opening, enticing me to enter, watching the ice drip and drip, as my mind it ticks and ticks. I go back to the cave. As I get near a large pile of debris, rock and sand falls with a nasty clatter. Mmm, perhaps not. Back to the hump. But then I decide I can't be a coward, if I'm really quick, once inside I will be safe.....from rocks at least. I dash in before I have chance to change my mind and find myself standing on a layer of the finest sparkling white sand, beneath a low ceiling of bright bubbly blue waves of ice. I give it a punch, solid as rock, a fact confirmed in that glacial ice is actually a metamorphic rock.
I walk to the end of the blue tube and look back over the lake, back to my hump and stand in wonderment! What a treat. What more can one person want. What else is there. A solitary man, in a tube of ice. But before the tube was no longer a tube I nipped out, back to my hump.
I crane my neck back. My throat burns like searing bacon. Up above a pair of black dots separated by one red dot. Each time I look to them, they are no more ahead of me but make the summit seem so much farther, they hardly seem to be moving. But I suppose that means that likewise, I'm not moving either. But my God, it's steep, and loose. All I see is the black and white of dust and stones, like trying to climb bird-shit on a window pane. The heavy pack pulls me backwards, and its straps cut into my shoulder like shiny-sharp cheese-graters. I swing my head round and down, more coloured dots below, they're not catching me at least....is anyone moving? A chunk of the Siula glacier tumbles down the face turning to dust before hitting the creamy lake below, my camp spot from last night. And I smile, what a spot it was. I twist my head back to the trail, which splits in two here, but my head is heavy like water. Or vinegar. Pickled. I just can't decide which to take, though they rejoin each other in several meters. I just look from one to the other. Spot the difference. Seems awfully complicated. Then I hear something. Blast and darn it! The girl has caught me up, and now the summit is even farther. She looks up to me in anguish, a face not unlike Joe Simpson's on the cover of "This game of Ghosts." Funny, he's the reason I'm here.
I shake my head in mock mirroring anguish and laugh. "Steep, no?" I ask.
I've picked up this silly habit. In Spanish 'no' is said like a verbal question mark, one can put it on the end of just about any sentence, and one can even say "Si, no?" See?
She let's out another groan, looking down at her feet like they were some Chinese appliances, so oddly disappointing.
"You know," she says as we move off, "we have a name in my country for people like you?"
"Oh yeah. It's not the same as in my country is it?"
"I don't think so....We say," she pauses, forced to take gulp of air, "We say that you're stronger than vinegar."
Another fork in the trail it seems, does she mean I have an acid personality or that my strength is about 6 on the ph.scale? I can't figure it with my pickled egg head, vinegar on the brain, so I just ask, "What's it mean?"
"I don't know. It's just what we say." So, I'm stronger than vinegar.
Looking back on a fine camp, besides the second lake.
We reach the top together, though we've left the best mountains behind and the view over is actually a little disappointing. It's one of the few points about Huayhuash, the main range is small and as well the main trail far from them, often out of view. It necessitates therefore that one walks the lesser, more difficult trails, like this one, though the rewards are great.
Sat on the top, a half dozen other walkers, the red and black dots finally reached. As well, two children, locals selling cola from a plastic paint bucket. They'd passed by my tent in the morning, despite the trail being a few hundred yards away.
"You want a coke?" asks the boy.
"No thanks." I reply, finally removing my pack, damp with sweat. "I saw you this morning, no?"
"Here then," I hand them a pack of biscuits, "you must be hungry."
"That bag is very heavy!" he says.
"It is today! I thought it would be lighter after four days and I would be stronger, but it seems to weigh more and I'm weaker! How are the biscuits, good, no?"
"Mmmm." they both say with happy grins.
"What are your names?"
"Fausto." says he.
Someone else asks how old they are, Fausto is ten and his sister is only five.
I don't really feel hungry, though I must be and force down a bag of peanuts whilst chatting to the others, telling them of the fine spots they have to come, as they're heading north. After a while, I heave up my pack onto tender shoulders and start downhill, Fausto and Margarita decide to join me, and this in itself is one of the other benefits of trekking in Huayhuash, the locals. Whilst Huascaran is a National Park, Huayhuash is a community owned park. The downside is that the "communities" all require you to pay, and it gets expensive, to the point that almost everyone you meet asks if you've paid, "What, again!" and I was a bit tired of "communities" of two huts asking me pay for a camp spot next to a lake surrounded with turds and toilet paper. They'll tell you the money is for security. Which of course means you are paying the thieves.
Fuasto and Margarita selling colas at the top..
Luckily Fausto and Margarita didn't want paying, or maybe they were just after more chocolate biscuits, but I don't think so. In the valley I meet their mother, a lovely lady in a floppy felt hat fetching cow pats for the stove. She seems impressed I deduced what they were for, though she wasn't impressed with her son and she gives Fausto a good clack for not selling the last coke to a group now on the summit. "Israelis." he says pulling a face out of my library, adding, "they're really dirty!"
The two children invite me to camp at their house, but with mum saying little to that effect and me being absolutely dog tired, I continue on down the valley to the lake, though Fausto and Margarita cling desperately on!
"Do you sell coke everyday?" I ask Fausto.
"No, only on the weekend."
"So what do you do with the money you make?"
"We buy more coke!" he says as if it were obvious.
"Oh, right, of course. Well, what do you do the rest of the week?"
"We have school."
I can tell you it is in the same place as my motorbike, which I will not reach until tomorrow afternoon!
As we go we spot some huge white beast farther down in the valley, in the fraction of a second before it spotted us, I thought we'd stumbled upon a very lost polar bear, then spotting us, it turned it's huge white rump and scarpered in polar bear like fashion. Fausto maintained it was a fox - some effing fox - that likes ripping tents open in the night in search of chocolate biscuits. I told him that it wasn't very funny. He said it wasn't very funny either.
A Polar Bear in the Andes
Fausto's back at the tent in the morning and we have a nice chat. I wonder if I'll go back one day, when I'm older, and find Fausto in the same hut, walking up the mountain to sell cokes....he'll have his work cut out with his current work scheme, he'd have millions of cokes by then......one day perhaps.
I continued to meet people that day in Huayhuash on my return to the motorcycle, and didn't walk alone for any of it. First Fausto, then a man whose name or photo I didn't get and all I remember are his horse's pointed feet for they were without shoes. Then, Rosa and Jorsten. She too was out collecting dried cow pats, and her red cheeked nephew was helping, he wanted to one day be a pilot, he looked a bit 'Biggles' in his woolly hat. Then two girls who asked me why my feet were soaking wet,
"Because I crossed the river there." I say exhausted,
"We normally take our shoes off, otherwise it's very cold." they say with infinite wisdom. But I was too tired and now wondered if I'd regret this laziness later on the bike. The two girls go on to ask with lovely intrigue the names of all my family members, then all their ages,
"My great grandmother was 100 years old!" I tell them.
"My auntie is the oldest in the village." she confers with her sister, "She's 48 I think."
Then it's the sheep herder who asks what happens if a black person and a white person has children.
"Pint of guniess!"
"Oh...half and half. You know, black legs, white body. That sort of thing"
He seems a bit confused, it's just not funny, "Not really," I say, "you just hope he has a black penis....."
I see my first grey cloud in Peru, a large solitary one, beneath which reside the bleak mining towns on the road that runs to Junin. Here, in the market, murdered meats hang bleeding, the blood runs in the grooves between the tiles mixing with water which drips from the suffocated fish and plucked chickens glare with Monet screams. Herbs wither, bread dries, vegetables and fruit soften into palpable rot and amongst it all the vendors who sit gloomily surrounded by or beached on their produce, their self-made prison, counting down days perhaps, until they can escape, to wither and die. Between it all a small space for feet, where piss and roam the dogs. Flies are the pigs in proverbial and real, shit.
Bit of snout anybody?
It's not all bad of course! Here in particular I'm lucky to see the indigenous mountain dwellers day-tripping to the low lands to sell and to buy. The women wear the usual firm felt hats, but decorated with rather ludicrous amounts of tinsel, of all colours though non that match the rest of their attire, turquoise leggings, yellow cardigans and pleated 'crepe paper' skirts. Somehow, as ever, they pull it off and look fantastic! It's a friendly place too, and encouraging calls of 'gringo' come from all sides offering sugar cane juice, chicharron (pork rinds), or jellies with custard, or otherwise tugged by the elbow to inspect a cloth laid out on the floor neatly arranged upon which are broccoli, peppers and oranges, and so nice is she that it's hard to resist buying a little something.
Easy on the tinsel love.
Camp is beautiful, the men and women - wrapped up against the cold, skin puffy, smooth and red like wax - return late with a their fattened herds of sheep and lamas. They're back again early the next morning after the bitterly cold night and I'm glad to find the road heading downhill, beyond the high barren pampas, down through wild valleys of black mountains and blue lakes and, warmer now, the women sit in the sun spinning and weaving wool. Farther down, the valley is neatly cordoned by stone walls, probably home to one of Peru's 2000 potato varieties. A lovely solitary route leads to a HEP plant, beyond which the weaving black valley changes to the warmer pastel shades of a deep desert canyon. Roads fork off left and right and I can only hope that I’m on the right path to my destination, as recommended to me by a friendly local Peruano; the coffee district of Villa Rica. But the confirmation signs are soon there, neat wooden frames supporting plump green avocados, which they call “palta” in Peru, and later the neat rows of musty sweet smelling coffee. It wasn’t Villa Rica I had reached though, it was Oxopampa.
Oxopampa, my favourite town in Peru
The first thing that I notice about Oxopampa is that it is clean. The street is spotless and wide and lined with neatly trimmed and thick, rich, green grass. A woman is sweeping this grass. No tooting horns at the traffic lights. On every corner a pair of rubbish bins, one of which for recyclables. Houses have grass gardens which are otherwise unseen in much of Latin America and the clapboard houses and shops look like old-time America, especially with their Peruvian banners fluttering on the porches. The main square has a church of stained wood that looks like a barn. Shops accept Visa.
Fitting a new tire in Oxopampa's clean street
Despite trying in all the cities and bigger towns I’ve visited for spare-parts, I am certain that this is the place that I will find them. And I do. New wheel and steering bearings, a new front tire, oil change (I also greased the side-stand Adam) and no trip to a parts shop is complete without another box of….tire patches!
Chatting with the locals it seems they all have two things in common; they are happy and they are riding old Honda 250cc Bajas. “The new Hondas," they tell me, "are crap. Made in China.” Quite right, and the old 250s still hold their price costing only a little less than a brand new, made in China Honda 250. Another guy does have a Chinese branded bike, which is currently having new piston rings installed, "it's the law!" he says, with reference to Chinese reliability.
A popular route for weekenders from Lima is to a village near Oxopampa, Pozuzo. Limons, as I call them, are possibly weekending from further afield, Mars perhaps. They arrive in exploratory probing clans in two, three or four 4x4s. Debouching en masse, photographing every angle, posing with smiles copied from the latest billboard, before grabbing bottles of Inka Cola, armfuls of ice-cream, and bags of toasted maize kernals to fuel the sitting and smiling, or the boredom, and then – still ignoring me, waiting patiently - jumping back in the convoy and flooring the accelerator pedal. I must follow behind in a thick cloud of dust. At a viewpoint I get to talk to them, they ask some funny questions between mouthfuls of food, “Shoh…” chew, chew, “what boike are uh roidin?”
“You mean the one I’m sitting on?”
I look up and notice that from the pickup someone is filming me. He asks me to give him a peace sign. I think about giving him the finger. Luckily though, with them buying more snacks, and taking photos of themselves holding snacks, I’m able to sneak off before them and have a cloud free ride….and what a ride! Through the Yanachaga canyon, passing some spectacular waterfalls on the way, that carve out through sandstone and pass right by my shoulder…
On my way to Pozuzo...! :-O
The trail is smooth and fast all the way to the village of Prussia, where I pass signs for Schmidt Alberge, and Herr Schlaksig, and Frau Bruste and soon arrive in Pozuzo (How's your German dad?). Born in 1859 when a group of 300 Tyrolese and Germans finally arrived after a two year slog from home, Pozuzo is the only German Tyrolese settlement in the world, and a lucky find for me as I only came to watch some Independence day moto-x having seen a poster in Oxopama. I have so much fun looking at the architecture, houses with tiles, kitchens with cupboards! toilets with seats, and the menus with wienerschnitzel, that I end up skipping the moto-x. I was hoping to blend in here, and was even asked if I was German by Limons, but the general theme continued and most people smirked at me and I was still far outnumbered by mixtos. Then I started to notice the bad side of things, stray dogs humping and the nice, previously German homes now falling into disrepair under their new owners, peeling paint and piling up junk. So, before I see too much more I head out hoping to maintain my positive view of Pozuzo, and it was a magic little palce, and anyway, I was all too happy to head back, towards my favourite town in Peru, Oxopampa.
Hans Kohels house
I nip through Villa Rica, with a short stop to buy up some of their fine organic coffee on my way to Satipo, which lies out towards the jungle. From here I would head back inland up on what looks to be a fine day's ride, judging by the map at least, which shows the trail rising up from Satipo, only several hundred meters above sea level to above 4500m, and back down again to come out at Concepcion, near the city of Huancayo.
A barrier across the trail and a woman runs over, just to sell me oranges, followed by two men holding antique rifles, they look more like man-sized wooden toy stencils.
“Why the guns?” I ask, buying some oranges.
“Ah, sometimes there are robbers, bad men.”
“Oh, those guys…is it safe to camp?”
“Oh yeah, perfectly safe here.”
“Just be careful of tigers!”
“OK, I’ll make sure to leave an orange outside the tent!”
"So he'll eat the orange! And not my stash of biscuits!"
I find camp overlooking the village of Mariposa at an old mine, and new rubbish dump….and the local recreational and procreational spot for the village youth who turn up on their motos at night….so sadly little chance of tigers.
The Lost World
From the lower reaches here, lush green and as well the burning brown of smouldering forests making way for crops of yams, and as I progress up the fabulous valley, gaining altitude all the while, the green changes to silvery green and then thickens out to jungle green where every tree and plant seems unique with not an inch to spare between them and I feel like I’m in Conan Doyle’s Lost World with this thick forest rising up steeply to high ridges. I imagine some tribe hidden upon these ridges, watching this solitary red dot progress up the valley, before imaging myself looking down on myself from way up there, where perhaps feet have never been. Twisting up and up along the trail, eventually the trees stop, abruptly like leaving tunnel. Then bare black and white mountains amongst cold damp air where grows asparagus in season, fat feathery heads being chopped from thin stalks and stuffed into sacks by the whole family, filling the road with a green waste of leaves and stalks. I’m freezing cold when I make it down to Concepcion and stock up and head out after a long chat with the friendly shop owner, and having spotted a tall crucifix on my descent decide to ride back a little and try to reach it. With a few dead ends and a bit of pushing up the final meters I make it! Another great spot, overlooking the town and its cloister.
Huancayo, the city near Concepcion, was one long strip of shity (opposed to city) and I passed through quickly continuing on towards Huancavelica and, save an interesting bridge which led to a small lively market where I watched a witch doctor taking pulses and dispensing green potions from Pepsi bottles, the road was dull, and Huancavelica too. Beyond Huancavelica though the dirt trail breathes life to myself and to the mountains, which glow iridescent; blood, blood red and deep, deep fiery orange in the setting sun. I glimpse a mountain that, from the road at least, somewhat resembles Arizona, USA's "The Wave". I try to reach it for camp, passing a returning herd of lamas laden with sacks of potatoes -and pink ribbons - the herders are invisible beneath thick wrapped layers of clothing, but I can't seem to find a way to the Wave, and before it's too late I set up at a small lake, certainly no hardship, a great spot.
Here, even my pen sounds loud scraping on the paper, but not as loud and terrifying as the sound of ducks landing on the lake! I tried to remember if I'd ever really heard this sound before, that of wings cutting and beating the air - not the sound of beating wings - a spectral ghostly noise that tore me from drifting into sleep with a jolt. When I do fall asleep it is fitful and full of disturbed thoughts, though simple every day thoughts, bananas, brake pads, her, water, fuel, tomorrow, words and sentences from the pages before bed or ones I seem to be writing that drone on and on in nonsensical monologues. Roll over, groan, check time, 1am, roll over, where's your hat, check time, 2:42am, roll over, the hat is hurting my ears, what's the time? 3:02am. When will morning finally come? Then it comes, too soon. And the ducks are gone. Tired and heavy, like I'm being squashed, and cold, but warmed at least by the thought that tonight I'll be in Paracas at the coast, though I wonder what I'll find, I have only brief cuttings of a conversation I'd had with a local who recommended I go there, "...should go.....Paracas....compass....Pisco.....south."
I turn my back on the lake, at least for a lifetime and continue on my road, passing through the land of colours that I've never before seen, and I try to describe them to the inside of the helmet, but I can't do it. The lakes are easier, blue. Deep, deep lazerite blue and I pass many of them, finally losing some height on a road that is much longer than I'd anticipated. With thirty kilometres to go I see them the formidable, vanquishers in the mist. Old enemies. That terrifying beauty. Dunes. I hadn't expected dunes. I hadn't really expected anything. It's late and I rush to get petrol, food and directions and continue towards the dunes, coming ever near like approaching ships. I turn ninety degrees and pull off the main road towards the pack of dunes, darkness. It's black sand here, firm enough but finding a way to the dunes is impossible; natural groves of palms, areas of bushes and shrubs, soft sand, and acres of bones, thousands of bones like hip bones. But not bones at all, mineral deposits that crumble like clumps of sugar, though still impossible to ride on.
The sun is gone now and the dunes seem no nearer, sinking back into darkness. One dead-end after another. I've twisted in so many circles, around obstacles this way and that, that I fear I won't even be able to return to the road again, wherever it is. The wind comes ferociously at me, straight off the dunes with handfuls of sand and I wonder if these are grains of wisdom or even a warning. I set up camp amongst the palms out of the wind to think things over. But even here I'm not safe, sand piling up against the wind-battered tent like doubt, until it is an insurmountable dune, and I am buried. Can I make it up the dunes? Those massive monsters, so stark and lifeless they seem to represent death. And, if I can make it up and beyond, what about the next one and the next one? Or if I cannot return? Or I breakdown? Alone. Weak. Vulnerable. This would be easy with two. The wind would retreat. But alone it doesn't, and it brings with it a bleak coldness, though this has the effect of waking me from my stupor and I write my diary.
Aug. 2nd, Day 1431. NEAR The Dunes, Paracas.
Surprisingly cold. Increasing vulnerability. Things take on their true importance; the bike becomes my most needed friend, if it fails you; you're stuffed. Your stove, your fuel, your food and water, tent and sleeping bag etc, so important without these where would you be? Don't forget one, be careful with them. I think, 'if only I could ask my parents, "can I do this?" if they said yes, I will believe them wholeheartedly and carry on, and "no" likewise but back to the main road.' I must cont. To prove my worth. To turn back would only show my true weakness. I fear I will wake in the morning to find the whole world vanished, washed away by the wind, which takes all sound with it, leaving me far away from those I cannot hear.
Can't reach those dunes....
In the morning it is almost true; the wind seems to have taken all colour away, a strange stillness and hanging mist. There is just me, no movement and the only sound is that of sand crunching under my feet, another world, or may as well be. With the poor weather I sit reading, waiting to see if things will clear, but they don't so I head to nearby Pisco with plans to return later, camp and try again.
I buy lunch, fingers tapping and legs bouncing with nervous energy, eyes flick left and right following the thoughts flying around my brain. Many days of this and I'll be exhausted.
I ride back passing the odoriferous fisheries and the dirty tiny beach houses along to the coastal side of the Paracas national park, to try from this side, through the park entrance, to look for camp. There's a well used trail, over the sandy ground to some of the tourist spots around the entrance and I take that, the wind is picking up again but with the benefit of sweeping away the hanging mist. There are no palm trees here, no bushes, no bones...but brilliant coastal trails that lead to the deep sea cliffs dropping into the foaming blue sea! The views! The sea! These cliffs of jagged chalk! SPACE and dunes all around! More, the dunes are firm and ridable!
Following the coastal trail....
I reach "The Cathedral" that in the past was a huge natural stone arch at sea, but has since fallen but it's bay is still a fine and breathtaking spot. Whilst the few other visitors are turning about to return to the entrance, I continue on south, the trail a little fainter, hugging the cliffs and bays and so beautiful it is that I'm reluctant to head off alone and I ride free. But soon, the desire becomes too great and I nervously cut inland away from the security of the trail on to untouched sands towards a high col in the distance.
...breaking free, following the compass.
A strange feeling, like I've left the bike and all it's luggage behind and it's just me flying along the sands freely. The sand flies beneath me though the target seems to get little nearer, like the Hitchcock zoom effect....
This is all until I hit the dreaded "wedgies!" - something that over the coming ride I'd become all too familiar with - and I am sharply reminded that I am after-all still aboard Rodney. Formed by the strong afternoon winds that whip along the surface, these wedges of sand form in the wide valley floors and are impossible to steer through or skip over and often meant a big detour, or a sore bum....
A "Wedgie!" Just replace the underwear with a motorbike
The sand is firm otherwise and great to ride on, though it softens towards the top of the dunes and at times feeble Rodney struggles to make it to the top, but make it he does. Then, from this new lookout, a whole new vista and one to savour before I check of the compass and pick out a distant point, far, far away on the horizon, before dropping off the dune. At times these were frighteningly steep, too steep and too soft to ride across and down and I fight with brakes, left foot off the peg and digging into the sand to try and slow the bike and stop the rear-end from jack-knifing me off the bike until, at some terrifying speed I reach the salt pan bottom, or more likely, more Wedgies! But one can skirt these, and fly along flat plains through the most incredible landscape. This. Is brilliant.
Inevitably I find another track, a moto or car trail as the landscape forces us one way or the other around gullies, down steps, rock fields, cliffs, humps and burrows until I reach another high point and look down. I squint down the steep slope, through the now horrific wind shooting waves of sand zig-zagging
along the ground up towards me and sent
mercilessly away, to a trail that bisects my own path. I decide that in case the weather becomes impossibly nasty that it is probably wise to camp near this trail, giving me an easy escape route. But finding a camp spot in this wind is goign to be tricky. I walk miles in circles looking behind every conceivable leeward side only to find wind, it's just everywhere! In the end, after a desperate search I give up and start putting up the tent on a patch that, despite being in the wide-open, seems to somehow have less wind. But, when I go to drive the first peg into the ground I get only a centimetre or so before the peg stops, I try the next, and the next, all the same. I rub away the top layer of sand and sea shells to find a solid white....It's the bones! Like the minerals from last night, only a solid floor! An ancient seabed! NO! I let out a low sob as the tent rolls away into the desert like tumbleweed with the wind and I slump on my knees. Stronger than vinegar, but beaten by salt.
Afternoon winds tearing through....
Most likely I sat a moment and ate some biscuits and then came up with the idea to use my old trick of a cunning pile of rocks and using the bike as a wind break and giant peg. Well frott me, it worked. I get in the tent, and drop dead. When I wake up, seconds or hours later, the moon is rising up over the mountains and all the wind has vanished...I put the tea on and start the diary...
Not lonely but very alone. Absolute silence. Even the wind has gone.
Patent Pending, the Jones Peg
The sand whispers over the ground like an Arabian dream, piling up in soft waves of rippled gold. I watch it from the tent porch in the morning and notice a plastic bag stuck in an eddy floating high above without moving at all. I spot something far off, a couple of vehicles, or is it an animal train, I can't make it out...I grab the camera and on full telescope I am able to learn that it is in fact, just two boulders. I remember staring in to the darkness of Atbara, flame torches moving in the distant dark, and then all of a sudden, heart racing, panic rising, upon me!....or not there at all. Gone. Like the camel mounted boy who guided me through the dunes, past the adventurer's jeep, buried up to it's windows in the soft sand...there, encouraging, there, willing me on, and then, just gone. I never know if he was ever there or not.
The weather is colourless and foreboding, like yesterday. Cloud but no cloud. Soft but hard. Swirls of wool and marble. Over breakfast I decide which way I'll go, beyond the Saturn-scape of yellow, cream and black, a maze of mushrooms, gulleys, arms and fingers knitting into deeper valleys. I warm the engine, look over the camp spot for any 'forgottens', click first and just ride away. The freedom is both delightful and tiring in the anxiety it brings. At every rise I reach the anxiety is rejuvenated by the huge expanses ahead of me, distances that I must cover, to the road that cuts back inland, the road I keep expecting to see, at the next rise, at the next rise, but it never comes. These distances hold hidden traps, large drops, and steps, secret fields of wedgies and rocks. But then, after passing one huge expanse after another, confidence grows replacing the anxiety with vast amounts of delight. I'm doing this! I can, do this. The pronoun is important! A dangerous one though. One. If one breaks down.....
Luckily I didn't....or the bike and I reach the road, though I nearly missed it and via this, heading back inland reach the long range of golden soft sand dunes and a more beautiful sight one will never see, those golden soft velveteen ripples, running off in the distance all the way to the town of Ica. Arriving in Ica was a sad moment, litter and tires cover the sand, squallid shacks and horrid huts, signs that read, "For Sale, 100 heactares (of sand).", "Private Property." and mines dotting the sand. So much sadness. I ride to the oasis of Huacachina, which likewise is squalor, somehow being turned into a tourist village where the streets are filled with V8 dune buses, ugly buildings, ugly people. "'The horror, the horror!' he cried in a whisper, at some image, at some vision, he cried out twice, a cry no more than a breath."
An unbeleiveable day, says the diary, but Ica has filled my joy with a city of junk.
The oasis at Ica
On the way back to Pisco, the long dying drone of the engine running out of fuuuueeeellllll, managing only 8km on the reserve tank...though luckily coming to a stop outside a fuel station. From here I backtrack further, inland beyond the high blue lakes and colourful mountains, towards Ayacucho and a small village called Quinua. Quinua it is clear is famous for its crafts, particularly the very Tim Burton-esque churches which the villagers place on their roofs to ward off evil spirits. I was ferociously ill here and spent a few hours in the hospital and a few days in a hotel here, and in Ayacucho, recovering.
Quinua's Evil Defences
It used to be that trying to sleep in the tent was difficult, the fears at times, but more the noises and the proximity to them. A puma outside my tent, when I first wake, I think - still deep in the tunnel of sleep - how can I describe this in words? And oddly, not what is it? And I must have been writing my blog in my sleep and continue to think in cliché book form, An animal outside the tent, it sounds like white-noise backwards, no, no....that's not it....Sounds big though, A big animal outside my tent, like....oh crap I had a simile a second go....what does it sound like....umm, I TELL ya what it sounds like Jones me old boy, sounds just like those toys at Teohuatican that you blew into to sound like a Jagu...It's a JAGUAR! Noooo, can't be....foolish thought.
But then I hear its footfall as it turns, Jeepers! It DOES sound big...and that fella mentioned pumas earlier just today...What are you doing....get out of the tent....!
Ayacucho's main street
But I was too slow, it was gone. I look around for footprints, nothing. But then I went straight to sleep, without a thought and now it seems I can't sleep in hotels. The noise! My God! The melee of dog, taxis tooting at cars that can't go anywhere hemmed in by the badly running buses which, when they can move, roar up narrow streets in clouds of black, people shouting, traffic police whistling at everyone who can't move to get a move on, music blaring, cockerels crowing, toilets flushing, rats scurrying....How does anyone sleep?! Ayacucho was raelly nice, but get me to my tent!
The man tells me I can pass to Abancay. Another voice calls out from down in the ditch, where once was a road,
"Sell me your bike!" he says popping his head up like a gopher.
"Yeah, all right, how much?" I reply, but it seems he's all talk and his head vanishes.
"So I can make it passed then?!"
"To Abancay?" I say, meaning I'm not just popping to the shops.....
Spot of roadworks....
In Abancay, safely reached, a festival of some sort, though I seem to have missed the men dressed like gorillas whipping each other. A woman sticks a pin on my chest, Blackadder comes forth again as she asks for one "solito". The money in Peru is the 'Sol', so a 'solito' (or dollito) is like saying one "small" dollar, as if asking for 50c but she wants it in dollar bills. I look at what my dollito has bought me, a blurry laminated stamp of Dolores. Not very good. Come on, let's get to Cusco.
Cusco is of course home to the world famous Machu Picchu but it's an expensive place, and a busy place too. So, after much consideration I decide I am not willing to pay the large fee, small dollars or otherwise. By chance though, I arrive at a trail-head to some other Inca ruins, Choquequirao. Not many people visit this Inca site, certainly the trail head was deserted, probably as no one can work out how to pronounce its name to a taxi or bus driver. A local girl at the trail head tells me it's a three hour walk, sounds perfect and it's also much cheaper. But then, packed up and setting off a friendly man tells me it's actually three hours to La Playa, from here it's another 4-5 hours to the ruins....and then back. I realise this is going to be one tall order.
When I encounter haggard hikers returning up the trail to the village, like troops from war, I learn that they have taken three days. I pass several as I run down, chatting with each one and filling me with doubts. It's not until I reach Timor, a bearded Turkish man with legs speckled with a mosaic of bites and his shirt wrapped up on his head, that I realise it is hopeless. Timor spits out the ball of coca leaves from inside his lip and points out the onward trail across the valley, zig-zagging up a desperately steep mountain. This means that the trail drops, from my start point near Huanipaca two vertical kilometres to La Playa, the beach at the river in the valley. People then usually camp here, to be ready to make the huge effort up to the site itself, at 3,000m! A total climb of 5,000m! I knew that it was seven kilometres in length down to La Playa, so can assume that in total it is perhaps a 30km trail, to go and return, meaning an average gradient of 1-in-6! So I decided to join Timor on his ascent back to Huanipaca. Timor had cut grapes in France, cut marijuana in USA and busking just about every other country on his way to Peru. A true hippy, he was travelling with five others in a combi-van whom he met with at a Rainbow Family convention. After a while though and I leave Timor behind, eating salt and some herb root mixed with water, and then meet one of his friends, a Brazilian girl with bouncing black ringlets of hair. Well, they weren't bouncing now, as she's sat in the dust, legs straight out in front, chin on chest. She smells of hippy, like dirty hair and old underpants.
"How much further?" she asks hoarsley.
"Urgh...I think I just passed the 4km marker."
"Ummm....indeed....sorry about that....do you want some bread?"
She snatches the bread as if possessed by some Satanic hunger and then, of all things, we start talking about biscuits and she tells me her favourite are Casino. I reach into my bag and pull out a pack of Casino and toss them to her. She cradles them in her hands, looking at them without comprehension, as if I've just handed over some long-lost heirloom, as if she might just cry.
"See ya!" I say with a big grin and in Portuguese she replies "Until later!" her eyes now returned to the biscuits in her lap.
This must be one tough hike and surely harder than my Huayhuash trek. This trek enjoys the thicker air of lower altitudes, but it also enjoys all-day, blisteringly hot, intense sun. I was getting through my water rapidly, and with no streams in the trail, even I was meditating on the red and white cola label and I was even a little worried for the tiny girl and Timor with their large packs so far to go late in afternoon heat.
"You want some sopita?"
"NO JUST GET ME COKE!" I say desperate.
He squeezes between a group of men eating the soup huddled on and between sacks of rice, sugar and oats, crates of Cusqueña , to pull out a bottle of coke. I slip past the woman filling the doorway and spread out like a rag-doll, and also eating the soup to sit on a mud wall in the street and savour my coke. The village is populated by the dirtiest people and I watch them pass by - seemingly with no purpose. Shirts and jogging trousers sullied and soiled as much as the thin sandals with wide straps that are filled by fat squares of cracked and muddy meaty feet. One man, walks up the street in zig-zags and stops in front of me. Given a moment he turns to look at me, he let's his face do the talking, "oh, I say chaps, it's a...burp...it's a bloody gringo..." His thought train is derailed by the surging alcohol and he looks back up the road, trying to remember where he was going...or where he is. The old woman in the shop is now groaning like this man's internal voice, though she merely wants to get to her feet.
The man turns back to me again, and raises his eyebrows in surprise..."Well, bugger me, it's hummmmpff it's a gringo!....Don't I know you, sure I've seen your bloody mug somewhere..."
By now the woman has made it to her feet and, bent double, is feeling out for the door frame. The groaning continues.
The man prevaricates whilst the woman expostulates and I just contemplate how perhaps to help things along. But, no sooner and the man seems to wake from his reverie and continue his zig-zagging up the road between the houses like a ball on a tilting table. The woman too is making good progress, around the corner between the shop and the low mud brick wall...what's she doing?....she shuffles down the wall as if participating in a shallow spot of rock climbing, demonstrating adept usage of the chimney technique....
Then she takes a poo.
I chat with Aliessi, as the woman hikes her skirt back up and slowly groans her way back to the shop floor. Aliessi is a lovely man, his face says so, though his Spanish is fast and hard to follow, something about a Japanese garden, valley, gringos, and the fact that he is about to start his 7km walk home. I'm then tugged by the arm and led to a party, the Presidents wife is 48 today. I'm given a drink of 'chicha', poured in this case from a petrol can. Chicha is a drink made with maize and fermented, and it tastes a bit like one might expect; like runny cream of wheat and petrol. I try to refuse a second helping of the lovely stuff, but as the world over they insist and the communal cup is thrust at me, brimming with combustible porridge. After about ten minutes I get worried that maybe someone else might want the cup, so I take a swig. Now they told me that this chicha also included sugar, but there's something else, something, something a bit...a bit bilious. You were expecting a great punch-line there weren't you?
Time then, of all things, for dinner and it seems I'm invited, though I can think of little else than discourging my stomach's contents. All sit around the room, sullenly, eating, as if this were the last supper, or maybe the one just after.
"This is a good experience for a gringo,no?" says the birthday girl's son.
"Indeed, it is an experience." Another of her sons sits the other side of me, his plate untouched, seeming a little worse for wear from the night before, the birthday-eve being the big celebration.
"Want to dance?" asks an old lady, all my favourite things, but an opportunity to work on some new faces. And, perhaps they work, for more people join in, and we have a merry time pulling faces and moving feet. The president even joins in, telling me that they are building a cable-car to the ruins, "We can't wait!" he says, "in twelve months they'll be loads of gringos here!"
"Yup! And in about 18months you'll hate tourists!" I say with a smile.
"Oh, no! We can't wait, $25 a ticket...loadsa money!"
Indeed. Loadsa wonga! I have a feeling he'd fit in in Birmingham!
With talk of singing, I get a quick sprinkling of good-luck confetti on my head and escape fast, to find camp, where I contemplate their kindness and generosity. I think they will make a lot of money and, if they can keep up the hospitality they and the tourists will be winners for certain.
Nick with good luck confetti head, more chicha, my dancing partner and the president.
The first thing that strikes me about Cusco is that there are no moto taxis! No homeless dogs either! Banned and shot by the tourist police perhaps and replaced instead by Toyota estate Taxis and gringos! I sit on the steps outside the grand Santa Domingo cathedral in the beautiful main square watching them, the taxis and the gringos coming and going along the broad cobbled avenues. "These are gringos!" I think to myself. Silly shorts and silly shoes, shoes made for running though the wearers look only likely of running out of money as they dish it out in front of me to children for photographs. And I thought it was an Indian myth. I wonder too, if the tourist police didn't get things wrong. I want to scream. A man next to me hands out a Peruvian day's wage to two kids, I'd happily garrot this fellow without trial, with his fancy camera strap. And then steal his camera...
I wonder if Gringos and Limons aren't much different, they look at every stone as if it was called Rosetta, or edible, or do I not look hard enough? But then I'm a gringo too. No unnatainable truths here though, just stones. Though one must admit that Inca stonework really is a thing to marvel at. They really knew their craft and their giant, smooth blocks remain hermetically fixed in place where others have fallen. Standing the test of time, of earthquakes, of rain, of photos...and, of urine. Nowhere though is the smell stronger than in my hotel room, and stronger still at night when the rat comes out and scratches around beneath the floor boards. But despite the smell I liked my hotel, it was otherwise peaceful and my host was lovely and I liked Cusco too.
"You're a bad man!" says the woman, back in the square.
"Sorry. I just won't pay for photos." I reply, surely I could have roused some sharper remark, but as she walks away I wonder if she's right.
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