May 16, 2006 GMT
Saturday in the Arena

"Oh shit! It's too late now!" The ground cruelly disappears beneath the KTM and Í'm bloody airborne. The landing, some several feet below, arrives instantaneously with a wallop. I strike my face on the cockpit dash, whiplash back, then do a slow motion crash into la arena (sand). My aerobatics provide much amusement to my fellow Peruvian bikers, as they watch in surprise as the extranjero pops up like orange toast then disappears much the same way.

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How was I to know racing the KTM 625 SXC up the front side of a lovely golden sand dune that the back side of the dune would be totally missing, sculpted out like a empty bowl. As I crest I can see the five pack of bright orange KTM's in the desert ahead, waiting for me. The next thing I see is the face of Mother Earth hurtling up to meet mine.

Diego Maranzana, leader of today's adventure, rides over to make sure I'm OK. After words of reassurance, his advice is sound, "Moo-ray, just follow my tracks and you'll be safe. The desierto can fool you if you don't know how to read it."

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Luckily, mostly only my pride is hurt, and besides, it's just part of the day. I manage a few more "unplanned dismounts" during my day in playing in the arena (spanish for sand). We climb cerros that, as I watch the leader, seem straight up and impossible for me to climb, even riding this 53 HP Hollowe'en coloured stump puller. And on the flat (well, relatively speaking, flat) the arena is sometimes loose like quick sand, other times it is grey and fairly firm. The 625 snakes and skids around taking all my concentration to stay upright. Upon Diego's suggestion, but against all common sense, I accelerate up to third gear and as predicted the bike becomes almost normal. Except the world is going by at a horrifying rate. Ahead I watch five orange dots blasting across the tan and gold landscape, weaving this way and that, rooster tails of sand and dust smoking up behind them. All I have to do is keep up with those wild men. And avoid the random piedras (rocks) jutting out of the sand like tiny tombstones.

Having defied gravity and mastered the top of the hill, I shut off the engine and look around. The view in all directions looks bewilderingly the same. Garúa, the cold ocean fog, hangs over the coastal desert to the west. Other than that, I haven't a clue where we are from anywhere. So I look down at the ground. Stange, it is covered in sea shells and jagged sharp rock, clustered on edge like knives in a blender. This is good news. Our tires have 14 PSI for traction in the arena; piedra like this is murder on low pressure tires if hit too hard. No time to think much about that, hit the starter button and we're off again to plummet down this tilted real estate and tackle some other hill. Why? "Because it's there!", to quote some equally deranged and antique mountain climber way back when. Boys will be boys.

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So let me explain how I got to Chilca, the setting in the desert about 60 kilometres south of Lima where all this foolishness takes place. I knew I would need a service done on Katie in South America and earlier internet research had turned up a great KTM dealer in Lima. Diego Maranzana of KTM Peru came with solid supportive comments from fellow travellers, including non-KTM riders.

And how right they are. Diego, in addition to being a high quality guy, spent some time in Ontario, Canada, and speaks fluent English. He is happy to take Katie in for a 22,000 km service. That evening, while having coffee at the fashionable Centro Comercial Larcomar with him and his very lovely girlfriend, Solange, he invites me for a Saturday ride in the desierto with him and four of his friends. There will be Gino Hoyos, Carli Forsellado, Pachin Arribas, Claudio Venegas, Diego and me. Diego generously offers to lend me a spare KTM 625 SXC, all I have to do is pay for the gas and bring my own gear. Wow! I can't think of anything I'd rather do! Diego, in addition to being a competent dealer, is one hell of a moto-crosser and as Saturday in the arena unfolds, he skillfully leads us all to ride at or above our normal comfort level. My confidence slowly rises as I manage the "impossible".

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By the time Diego drops me back at my hotel about 8:30 PM, I am trashed. My arms feel like lead and my whole body aches. My riding gear is so covered in grey polvo they stand up by themselves. But God Damn, what a day! I buy a bottle of vino blanco and order arroz con mariscos (rice with seafood) to my room. I am almost too tired to eat it when it arrives 20 minutes later. But I do and I nearly scrape the design off the plate it is so good.

I stay a week in Lima. While I am waiting for Katie to be fixed, Diego's friend and taxi driver Nestor Cáceres, another quality guy, and I tour Lima. Nestor, jovial and knowledgeable, shows me all the stuff worth seeing. Lima, founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro and some of his conquistador boys, was the chief city of the Spanish American republics until early in the 19th century.

Getting the Readers Digest version of Lima's history suits me perfectly. The morning lesson works up a bit of a appetite, which Nestor suggests calls for some ceviche. Now, I have my own little history (almost as unpopular as the Spanish Inquisition, but not as long) with uncooked fish from a trip to Northern Manitoba some years back and I am a tiny bit reluctant. But Nestor reassures me ceviche is so popular in Lima many restaurants serve nothing but. I trust him and good thing I do, for the meal is second to none. The view from the restaurant balcony overlooking the broad Pacific below is equally brilliant.

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The masters at work on Katie fix a bunch of little things. The engine oil leak turns out to be the oil pressure switch, the Scott Oiler gets working again, the rear tire is replaced and the valve clearances checked, in addition to the usual stuff, like oil and spark plug change. Skillful mechanics Vladimir Brzovic and Aberto Cadow bring Katie back to 100 percent.

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There are two kinds of travelers. Some will sacrifice everything for the destination, and some will sacrifice everything, including the destination, to enjoy the journey.

Posted by Murray Castle at May 16, 2006 10:01 PM GMT
 


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