April 30, 2006 GMT
(3) Peru: The Highlands

The desert had spoiled me. With ambients reaching into the low 30s C on a regular basis life was easy.

Riding had been hot at times, my riding gear keeping me in the moist zone. Water consumption was high in the 3 liter plus per day range. I looked forward to the mountains with trepadation, knowing they could be cold and wet.

The road from Nazca to Abancay was paved. Maybe it had been for years, but it was a road untraveled. The foothills passed quickly and soon I was in the montane zone. Sand gave way to grass, cactus persisted but reluctantly. A few trees were evident. Cultivated mountain sides became common place. Too steep for machinery they were hand tilled. Actually most of highland Peru operated that way. Tilling, sowing, reaping and threshing were still all manual operations.

The road wended it's way upwards...ever upwards...2,000 ft, 3,000, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8000, 9, 10, 11, 12 and finally 13,000 feet. My first low, high mountain pass peaked out at 13,600 feet. I was in the land of the Višuna. Groups of višuna abounded...my first encounter with this protected species.


The višuna had been protected throughout the Inca civilizaton and then brought to the edge of extinction by the Spanish. During Inca times the ultra-fine fleece from its breast was used for the finest of textiles to be worn only by the Inca himself. Višuna were not killed by the Inca. They were captured, their fleece removed and then released, to be harvested again. Any commoner caught killing a višuna suffered the same fate...the death sentence...no ifs, ands or buts. This was Imperial property.

Suddenly I was surrounded with greenery. So used to shades of brown, grey, white and black my eyes soaked up this forgotten wonder. Wildflowers abounded. I was astounded at the opulence. The land was covered in color... reds, greens, yellows, whites and purples. The wet season had lingered this year. It had merged into the dry season prolonging the wet and shortening the dry. Nature had responded in kind. The precipitation bonus had energized the flowers to bloom one more time. I had not expected this. It was truly a visual bonus.

I criss-crossed my tires, touching center only when I rolled from left to right. The edges moaned in protest. The rubber polished roads proved to be slick, providing only marginal gripping power. Round and round I twirled, left and right, in and out, 90, 180, 270 degree turns...more than a thousand. My arms ached from throwing the bike left and right. Debris sometimes littered the road adding an extra level of caution. Upwards, upwards, ever upwards I climbed. At 13,600 ft there was a brief pause and then a descent into steep valley. Down and down I whirled, my arms still aching...and then my first rain. It started gently allowing me time to dress up. Then it steadied and finally became a downpour.

The temperature dropped from the 20sC to the low teens. The land was lush and verdant. Onwards I pushed, climbing out of the valley and through another pass at 13,800 ft. A pause for lunch fortified the body. There was still a long ways to go...an unknown zone. The road had not straightened all day...2nd and 3rd gear were the norm, 4th and 5th the exception. Going was slow and there was no hope of a respite. My desination was only 250 kms away, but in reality it was 5 hours of hard riding.

I climbed into the last pass...the formidable pass...a pass of unkown elevation, duration and danger. The corners were tighter, the fog frequent, the temperature dropping steadily, the sun settling lower on the horizon, the verdant zone now well behind me. At 15,300 feet I reached the apex...but there I stayed...caught like a deer in the headlights. 8C and falling. I stopped to suit up.

Then the rains came. Slow for only a moment and then a veritable downpour. Purple and blue stabs of light jagged to the ground. The impending thunderous crash that followed surely woke the dead. It sent shivers down my spine. I looked around me. Truely, I was the tallest object on this vast, lifeless plain...the plain of doom. I could not stay here. I had to keep moving. There was no shelter. No place of refuge. No place to hide.

The rain froze into hail pellets and soon the road was covered in hail, several inches deep. I slowed to first gear, my feet ready to shoot out like outriggers should I move into a skid. Braverly overcame fear and I shifted into second and then third...then back to second. The intensity of the hail increased, the sun was obscured by the heavy cloud mass. Lightning stabbed towards me...the temperature dropped to 0C.

The Altiplano.JPG

Then the road dropped off of the plateau...only a thousand feet or so, but enough to move back into the rain zone. I shifted up. The road sign indicated 150 kms to Abancay. The clock approached 5 PM. Sunset was just after 6 PM. There was no way I could make it now. If I arrived at all I would arrive after dark. These mountain roads require concentration in the daytime never mind at night. I pushed onwards.

I passed through a few hovel towns, fit only for those who have spent their lives in this harsh, unforgiving environment. I could not intrude. A rise in the road brought me back into the hail zone. It was either heavy rain or hail. Not much to choose from...the sky grew darker. I was warm and dry but hypothermia moves in slowly and catches you off guard. The rain still poured. I could not stop and strip down to add another layer here. I had to take my chances.

The road turned to the north and I spotted a patch of blue sky on the horizon. My spirits picked up. I knew then I could get out of this storm. I looked at my GPS. My route took me north. I was pointing towards a dry zone, but how far away was it?

At sunset I crossed the line. Like a mark in the sand, I crossed from the wet zone to the dry zone. I dropped off of the altiplano into a deep river valley. Soon I saw people out walking...enjoying the evening. The temperature rose to 14C. The altimeter showed a loss of 6,500 feet, down to 8,000. I had ridden out of the storm. Night moved in quickly. I was still 100 kms from Abancay with no desire to ride the canyon in the night.

I looked for a place to bed down and there it was. An old adobe ruin to block prying eyes, a river to lull me to sleep. As I dismounted an involuntary shudder wracked my body. My teeth rattled and my body shook. The first signs of a deep chill. I had beat it, but just barely. After a few minutes the chill had been purged. I unpacked and set up camp before the blackness of night descended upon me. Surrounded by mountains, a brilliant sky and a warm, dry evening I crawled into an even warmer sleeping bag and struggled to find sleep. I couldn't for many hours.

Posted by Robert Bielesch at April 30, 2006 01:53 AM GMT
Sorry, due to heavy form spamming, Comments are OFF.

NEW! HU 2015 Motorcycle Adventure Travel Calendar is now available! Get your copy now for some terrific travel inspiration!

HUGE, 11.5 x 16.5 inches, beautifully printed in Germany on top quality stock! Photos are the winning images from over 600 entries in the 9th Annual HU Photo Contest!

Horizons Unlimited 2015 Motorcycle Adventure Travel Calendar.

"The calendar is magnificent!"

"I just wanted to say how much I'm loving the new, larger calendar!"

We share the profit with the winning photographers. YOU could be in the HU Calendar too - enter here!

HU DVD Autumn Special!

Take 40% off Road Heroes Part 1 until October 31 only!

Road Heroes features tales of adventure, joy and sheer terror by veteran travellers Peter and Kay Forwood (193 countries two-up on a Harley); Dr. Greg Frazier (5 times RTW); Tiffany Coates (RTW solo female); and Rene Cormier (University of Gravel Roads).

The first in an exciting new series, Road Heroes features tales of adventure, joy and sheer terror by veteran travellers."Inspiring and hilarious!"

"I loved watching this DVD!"

"Lots of amazing stories and even more amazing photographs, it's great fun and very inspirational."

"Wonderful entertainment!"

Check it out at the HU Store! Remember to use Coupon Code 'HEROES' on your order when you checkout.

Renedian Adventures

Renedian Adventures

What others say about HU...

"I just wanted to say thanks for doing this and sharing so much with the rest of us." Dave, USA

"Your website is a mecca of valuable information and the DVD series is informative, entertaining, and inspiring! The new look of the website is very impressive, updated and catchy. Thank you so very much!" Jennifer, Canada

"...Great site. Keep up the good work." Murray and Carmen, Australia

"We just finished a 7 month 22,000+ mile scouting trip from Alaska to the bottom of Chile and I can't tell you how many times we referred to your site for help. From how to adjust your valves, to where to stay in the back country of Peru. Horizons Unlimited was a key player in our success. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world are in debt to your services." Alaska Riders

contest pic

10th Annual HU Travellers Photo Contest is on now! This is an opportunity for YOU to show us your best photos and win prizes!

NEW! HU 2014 Adventure Travel T-shirts! are now available in several colors! Be the first kid on your block to have them! New lower prices on synths!

HU 2014 T-shirts now in!

Check out the new Gildan Performance cotton-feel t-shirt - 100% poly, feels like soft cotton!

What turns you on to motorcycle travel?

Global Rescue, WORLDwide evacuation services for EVERYONE

Global Rescue is the premier provider of medical, security and evacuation services worldwide and is the only company that will come to you, wherever you are, and evacuate you to your home hospital of choice. Additionally, Global Rescue places no restrictions on country of citizenship - all nationalities are eligible to sign-up!

New to Horizons Unlimited?

New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80 G/S motorcycle.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events (22 this year!); we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, the HUBB or to receive the e-zine. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.

Books & DVDs


All the best travel books and videos listed and often reviewed on HU's famous Books page. Check it out and get great travel books from all over the world.

Motorcycle Express for shipping and insurance!

Motorcycle Express

MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!

Story and photos copyright ©

Sorry, you need a Javascript enabled browser to get the email address and dates. You can contact Horizons Unlimited at the link below. Please be sure to tell us WHICH blog writer you wish to contact.

All Rights Reserved.

Contact the author:

Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.

Hosted by: Horizons Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website!
You can have your story here too - click for details!