April 29, 2006 GMT
Arica to Nazca

"HEY! GOD DAMN IT!" I yell as I see a guy with MY DAYPACK going out the door. I jump up from my chair and chase after him out of the restaurant. There are two of them, one going each way. Which one of these bastards took my pack? Thief No 1 escaping to my left seems empty handed but I cant be sure. Thief No 2 is heading across the street to the town plaza. He looks empty handed too. Which one do I chase? Then out of the corner of my eye I spot my pack lying on the sidewalk. Outrage and disbelief turns to relief and mild aftershock. My first day in Peru, just arrived in Tacna and this is the welcoming committee? Not impressed.

What a change from Chile. The standard of living is noticably lower. But to be fair the Peruvian Border and Customs folks were very helpful. They helped Bob and I sort out the several pieces of highly important papers and get the six stamps so we can bring our motorcycles into their country without further hassle. All in a record two hours. Hope going skiing to Whitefish Montana never gets this detailed.

We head north, then out to the coast after my adventure in Tacna. Fortunately, to balance my perspective of Peru, we meet a great guy in Ilo at days end. Wilfredo Contreras Chacon is a business and relations consultant and must be one of Perus best ambassadors. Our hotel overlooking the ocean is great, the seafood is lovely, the wine hits the spot.


Not all coast line highway looks this appealing. Back in Chile days ago, we chose a road less travelled along the coast. It offered views all right, and chewed up switchback corners, rock slides, sand drifts, loose boulders and a one-way ticket to the hereafter if we go over the edge. Turns out theres a good reason why some roads are less travelled.


Also back in Chile some days ago, Bob and visit the adobe village and tourist central pueblo of San Pedro de Atacama. Home of the Valle del Luna, pink flamingoes, salt deserts and geothermal delights. Los Andes tower into the heavens to the east. In the evening we walk San Pedros dirt roads shopping for a nice restaurant. Theyre all nice. With nice tourist prices too. I like it here in spite of all that. In the night picture below, thats not all streetlamps hanging over wood carved signs. A full moon goes with the mid-twenties temperature to help create the perfect desert evening ambiance.


As we travel the rutas of Peru, we encounter our friends, the Carreteras, or national highway police. They prove to be very approachable and helpful. In exchange for us sticking to the speed limit, they wave as we pass. And we pass lots of patrol vehicles, it seems like every 100 kms or so. And just for good measure, Peru has control/toll gates on their highways, each called a peaje. As motorcyclists, we are waved through without having to pay. All right, what a civilized country!


Some arqueologico historia is always good. We stop and check out some petroglyphs in the several hectare area known as Toro Muerto. Back between 700 and 1400 AD, who would climb out of a perfect oasis of a valley to pound away on some boulder field in 40 degree heat? Some 2200 petroglyphs were hacked out by these unknown authors, sometime after the Wari culture but before los Incas. My guess on the image below is, even then, it was just another case of true love. Hey, maybe it was the mujer who made the picture. Notice how big el hombres hands are? Maybe she thought he was all hands.


The Nazca Lines. Well, what can I say? Everyone has seen the air photos. But still, when I take an early morning flight with pilot Americo Torres Venegas in a Cessna 206 I am staggered by the immensity, genius and mystery of the lines, triangles, animals and accuracy of it all. (I also have a bit of a reaction to the US$80 fee.) Constructed on an alluvial plain, fanned by a myriad of dry river beds, the Nazca removed the covering rock and exposed the white tierra beneath. The rocks were then used to border the image. it seems impossible to understand what the Nazca culture, over several hundred years, were thinking. Lots of theories. I like the religious concept that the deities from above were the only ones to see the works, and the other theory of agricultural and astronomical calendars tied together makes sense. Where were the star alignments 1000 years ago anyway? Some of the lines go on for kilometers. Straight as arrows.


The older and more exquisite creations, like the hummingbird, catch my fancy. As later generations came along they obliterated parts of the earlier works. Pity. I can hear the ancients now, "That just like young people nowadays. No respect for their elders."


Just a few kilometers out of the city of Nazca are the burial grounds of the Nazca people. The aridity of the climate has preserved the mummified remains. The government of Peru, in an attempt to stop graverobbers from spreading skulls and bones across the landscape, created a very compelling outdoor museum. However, in a tiny on-site building, in a glass display case, is the man below that impacted my senses the strongest.


After Nazca, we ride north and east into the heart of the Andes. The picture below shows Katie and msc before the adventure of the day really started. I thought Id include it just so you know this is being written by yours truly and not some highly talented biographer, as some of you might be wondering.


After this picture was taken, Bob and I ride the switchbacks higher and higher until we get to over 13, 000 feet. We stop for lunch in the mountain village of Puquio. This is Peru with the traditional multicolored dress, women with hats and colored blankets as backpacks, terraced mountain sides, ages old stone fences, goats, sheep and llamas. Pan flutes, adobe homes eight feet high. Monster size mountains.

After lunch right by where the photo below is taken, Bob goes on ahead to look at a church constructed in 1734. When I get there minutes later he is gone. Lots of questions I ask, including to a helpful police officer. Seems Bob has riden out of town and is headed over the pass to Abancay, our next stop. That seems incredible to believe but when I get out of town and stop to ask the Carreteras parked there, they confirm a motorcylist has just gone by 10 minutes ago. I follow. I stop oncoming traffic, ask pedestrians, llamas, goats and vicunas. They all say the same thing. A moto is just 10 or 15 minutes ahead of you.


It turns out thats not the only thing in front of me. As I continue to climb into the heavens, they come down to meet me. First cloud build-up, then lightning. Damn! Im at 14, 800 feet and still rollercoasting along on top of this barren land. Then its rain. Then hail. The pista Im riding on turns white and gathers a couple of centimeters of freezing slush. Katie is not happy breathing above 13,500 feet and I have to keep the revs up or shell stall. The temperature drops to 2 C. Its sunset soon. I lose my sunglasses when my wet gloves fumble them off my face. My face shield fogs with my breath and I have to open the visor to see. That lets in the cold and wet. This high plateau goes on for an eternity.

Its getting dark when Katie and I finally start down off the top. But the funs not over yet. With the surpentine road the downhill switchbacks combine with cambered pavement. Now if I slip on this standing and running water, sleet and ice Ill be over the edge and therell be nothing to find at the bottom, whereever the hell that is down there in the dark.

I manage to get in behind a semi. Hes in double-dumptruck low and Im in neutral because I need to keep the rpm up to 4000 or Katie will stall. And I need the headlight badly in the gathering dark. Plus Ive got the electric grips on high to keep my hands from freezing. Im on both brakes but as little as possible. No time for a skating party to break out now. I follow the trucks tracks. That helps a little. I watch the altimeter on the GPS and the thermometer on the cockpit dash. I need lower altitude quickly and warmer temperatures. Where Bob is right now I have no idea and dont care: its now just a matter of keeping my ass in one piece.

At 7:30 Im back down to 12,000 feet and still losing altitude. Its 4 C now. It feels bloody tropical. The rain quits. I think Im in a canyon but cant tell for sure because its darker than Tobbys ass. Tomorrow Ill find out Ive been driving in a canyon alright and beside a river bigger than the Bow. But right now I am so happy to have lived through that last couple of hours. Too soon to get too happy. Now the road likes to surprise me with its cows, horses, goats, people, cars with no lights, rock slides in my lane, bridges at right angles and rivers of water running across the road when I least expect it. I thump into small villages over unmarked speed bumps built by the locals with dirt and stones.

By the time I get to Chalhuanco, the first pueblo with a hotel, Im pretty well done. Mostly, thanks to my gortex riding gear, Im dry. My hands are soaked but workable. Im hungry, chilled and exhausted from the concentration of keeping Katie and I in one piece. The dimly lit town, with its swarms of folks plying main street seems like home to me. Tomorrow, Ill start looking for Bob again. Right now a hot shower and supper? That sounds like me.

Posted by Murray Castle at April 29, 2006 01:06 AM GMT

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