March 01, 2006 GMT
24th Feb 2006 - San Pedro de Atacama - Iquique

464 kms

Well San Pedro has been kind to us, just what we needed. Some people find it a desolate dust blown place, but I guess they're mainly backpackers without their own transport. For us it's been a tonic. Completely different to the rest of Chile in most senses. Virtually all single story adobe mud clad buildings and a very predictable weather pattern and lots of interest around for us to venture too and return from. And it has to be said it's nice to find some tourist infrastructure by way of eateries of all types even if the prices are higher than elsewhere....if you could find it out here.

So, once more unto the breach, and onto more endless miles of carriageway with little of interest by the wayside.

We returned to Calama, stopping in route to pour a bottle of tap water on a small shrubbery besides the road in the middle of nowhere we had noticed previously due to the 'please water me' sign. I guess an old shrine, or perhaps someone’s attempt to green the dessert. It's obviously getting water anyway as it's there, and it wouldn't last without assistance.

It was funny seeing a news headline in the UK talking of the south east possibly having hose pipe bans when we were in the driest desert in the world and there was such an abundance of water they can waste it by damping the streets down or watering verges.

The road after Calama, well after Chuquicamata, was in poor state to start and then was monotonous to say the very least. Dead straight, hazy, but still hot with it, and several power lines each side, with only pylons for company, quite abstract.

After a long straight uninteresting leg we joined the Pan Am for a much longer uninteresting stage. If you could ride the bike at 100mph you could get an awful long way along this road, but at 100kph it just drags and drags and drags.

Today’s leg was through nothing, zilch, nada, nought, diddly squat for the vast majority of the ride. It was extreme boredom, especially without any intercom to at least talk between each other. It’s unbelievably boring when riding; I can't image how bad it is as pillion.

The scenery was one of old abandoned Nitrate works from say 100 years ago or so, and their existence must have been extreme to say the least, must have been a god forsaken place, and then you see the iron crosses in their hundreds in fenced cemeteries. Some British, some German, like the fallen from wars.

Half way along we entered what was supposedly a National Park, it was another Salar, but common to others it was not what you would imagine. It wasn't endless white flat salt lakes, but in actual fact a massive expanse of what looked for the entire world like a rough ploughed field back home.

Habitations are few and far between, and when you do come across one it will have little for you. Perhaps petrol, or not, perhaps a posada for meals, or not, and generally just a row of kiosks selling drinks and corner shop supplies. If you want shade, this is your chance; there is literally bugger all in the way of shade anywhere else. There were a few scrubby trees today - the park - but they were set back offering little. You don't appreciate just how much cover there is almost anywhere else in the world we've been.

The extreme boredom was the reason we didn't continue to Arica and ended up in Iquique, we were just so bored we had to stop.


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The dune outside Iquique, impressive!


Entering the city is quite surreal as you drop through the first larger more sandy desert scenery that you'd expect of a place like atacama. And once you see the coast you realise you are hundreds of metres up. The road drops down (two lane one way) cut into what looks like a huge sand dune. Far below you can see the large sprawling city at sea level with a couple of two-hundred-or-so-metre high dunes directly behind some of the buildings, very weird. The road that looks like it is going through a dune is actually cut into harder material so I guess only sand covered. Until we stopped I couldn't figure out how a road could survive being cut into what just looked like sand.


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The road cut into the side of the mountain above the city, plus dune


We had checked the book and noted one hostel with 'motorcycle parking' so aimed for that. After a while we found it, had changed name recently, and I went in to see about a room. It would be about nine quid which sounded excellent, but it went a bit downhill after that. The parking was actually out front behind the ballastrading which I wouldn't classify as completely secure, and we had to remove the tank bag panniers and rear bag that we normally leave on when secure. After we had taken the room we discovered the next door room was inhabited by the family running the place and they were up most of the night for the door and had lots of young children. In fact we soon discovered the place was more like a homeless hostel than a conventional hostel. Rare we make a poor choice, but I had done on this occasion. Luckily the smell of our socks covered the smells already in the room. Oh for a love hotel now!

It's the impression you get when you arrive that sticks in your head for a place, like first impressions of a person. Fair or unfair, and it's hard to reconcile our feeling past that. We have perhaps had experiences that have coloured our judgment on some places we have stayed.

Unfortunately we could only smell drains when walking around, and we did that thing that does happen occasionally were you walk around a foreign town desperate to find what you want and fail, and end up wasting a lot of time, getting hot and bothered, and occasionally falling out. Then, when you least expect it, you find a gem. We did with the restaurant ‘The Third Eye’ (could translate that one as it had a Buddhist sign). And where was it? Just round the corner from the hostel! We had an excellent meal and wandered back to our pit to try and get some shut eye as we wanted to leave fairly early.

There are some lovely, if forlorn, buildings in the area, dating back to the time of the nitrate barons, beautiful wooden ballastraded building with loads of character and mainly with loads of maintenance required.

Once back in the 'hostel' we had a fair racket to contend with as the kids were running up and down the corridor as it was only 12.30 or so, but we forced our selves to sleep.

As with so many of the hostels here, the rooms had been resized to create three out of one. This is done using chipboard - or plasterboard - and wall paper. It does not create anything like a soundproof construction. This was proved later on when I awoke to one of the kids next door having a nightmare, and then the very athletic and impressive moans & groans from a couple the other side, with occasional headboard banging wall noises that led a certain hilarity to the whole event. Not what you'd call a five star establishment.

As usual in morning there was no sigh of life at all at 8 and we were packed and off before we saw sight nor sound of anyone (we'd paid the night before)


Saturday 25th February 2006

Iquique - Arica

318 kms

As we had no breakfast (and little else) with our 'room' we had to find somewhere before leaving, and it was a return to the garage forecourt to get a 'real' coffee and something to eat. Sad state of affairs, but very easy.

We retraced our steps to The Pan Am, stopping briefly to see the skeleton of a works at Humberstone. You don't see much on these roads, then it's all at your destination! We didn't want to stay so rode on for Arica.

Today was a bit more mixed than previously, but as you'd expect with us being so far north the temperatures were high too. We took a side road a few kms to see the 'Giant of Atacama' and were disappointed. There are many geoglyphs along the road, large figures and symbols made by ancient peoples by moving the top layer of scree from a hillside and placing stones as an outline. The same sort of thing as the Nasca lines, but on hillsides. Sadly 'the giant' didn't life up to expectations, no way as impressive as the Cerne Giant for instance, and in fact surpassed by many other geoglyphs we saw later in the day, many unmarked.


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Geogylphs of llamas on hillside


We bumped into a bunch of bikes at the side of the road shortly after, coming from Peru, but mixed nationalities on a three week tour, organised I guess. Had a brief chat before continuing.

The scenery changed into far more (really!) arid desert like scenery as we crossed a couple of immense baked valleys with long ponderous uphills and death defying (or not!) descents. I say or not, because there was evidence of shrines by the roadside and when you stopped to look over the precipitous sloping edges there was sometimes evidence of the totally destroyed wrecks of trucks hundreds of metres further down the slopes. Quite sobering. If you went over on a bike you’d come unstuck, but at least be separate of the vehicle and probably not go too far down, but being in he cab of a truck, or a car, you'd barrel down in a horrendous set of death rolls while the vehicle tore itself apart. Quite sobering when you see a HGV coming up behind you in your mirrors. We’ve had one or two "Duel' type moments (the film where a seemingly driverless truck is hounding a car) and on the sections were they were doing roadwork’s and had a stop section seeing a huge rig coming down behind you was a bit unnerving!


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Careful of the road edge please


There were still occasional oases in the valley bottoms, but otherwise absolutely nothing at all.


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More geogylphs at side of Pan Am


Approaching Arica we came across a set of huge sculptures on the hillside and rode over for the token pictures with the bike.


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Just before Arica, the sculptures


Arriving in Arica at about 4pm we thought we'd go up a class and see if we could get in somewhere first then try to find the Tur Bus depot to pick up the tyre.

The hotel we chose had underground parking and the room even had a bath! No plug or tap though! Having booked in we went out to find the tyre and hoped to get it fitted at the same time, tomorrow being Sunday.

We had great difficulty finding the place as the parcels go to a different place to the bus station, and it was on a huge industrial area. As we were looking a jeep pulled up and a guy said in perfect English "looking for somewhere?" Turned out he was a Kiwi who had been here for 5 years running a hostel. Bev got in the Jeep and I followed to just the right place, lovely guy.

At Tur Bus the fun began. Although people regularly use the buses to transport goods, it was soon apparent they are not quite as efficient as say the post office or couriers. There were piles of cargo everywhere and no one seems to have a system for finding things. It took over half and hour before they found the inner tube and discovered the tyre was at the bus terminal a distance away. We paid our fiver to get the inner tube and were sent off to the bus station were we met a guy with the tyre waiting to close up - lucky, or unlucky compared to the fact it shouldn't have been that difficult.

Having both tyre and tube we wanted to get it fitted if we could. The guy was very helpful and suggested a place near the Carabineros (police). We went, and it was closed. What would you do? Ask a Policeman. We saw a Carabineros rider going in to the station and flagged him down. He was of course a great guy and immediately shook our hands and introduced himself. Through use of some interesting collection of words and gestures he understood our predicament and said follow me! He called his mate (they ride in twos) and we had a great ride through the streets following the pair of them and mimicking their actions when they pulled through places we shouldn't have gone.


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Moto amigos


They took us straight to an excellent establishment that proved (after our bad experiences in Osorno) that there were plenty of folk here that knew how to change motorcycle tyres, El Progresso in Arica, 1505 street name not known, are recommended. One of the riders had to return, and we were left with our initial friend. We got the tyre done in no time, and all for one pound fifty (making the Pirelli place in Osorno seem the thieves they were) We paid 2.50 as it was well worth it and our friendly policeman took us back to the centre so we didn't get lost. What a great guy! Obviously we owe Miguel in Santiago a massive thank you for organising us getting the tyre in the first place, it wasn't easy for him either so great he was such a genuine guy.


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Three wheels on my BM


It was dark just about as we followed the bike into town and then bid our farewells at some traffic lights before returning to the hotel for a clean up before tea. We used the book to find an excellent seafood restaurant around the corner and had a cracking meal to round the night off.


Sunday 26th February 2006

Arica

0 kms

We had decided to have a further day here to relax after yesterday evening being so packed.

The town has some quite nice old buildings, and for a change we were central and so close to the sights. We walked up the hill overlooking the town and admired some pretty good views and visited the military museum commemorating Chile’s defeat of Peru and taking this area of the country. The display was a bit jumped up and rather one sided and I'd guess a bit embarrassing to Peruvian visitors = after all, it was well over a hundred years ago!


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Old building Arica (Peru consulate)


That Eiffel character had been at it again, but this time we were able to see his steel church. It had been brought here from another part of Peru - for Arica was then in Peru, you'd remembered that hadn't you - and put up after a tidal wave had swept through town destroying all the other churches. It's an impressive building, especially when made of steel. It was closed, but due to some open windows and creative use of a digital camera we saw the inside which was also impressive. He got around this guy as we saw one of his bridges in Porto, Portugal, a few years ago too.


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Eiffel´s steel church



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Interior of Eiffel´s steel church


We had a wander around own and tried eating in a food chain place, schopdog (schop being draft ale) but that was a mistake. Cheap, but poor quality food compared to what you can buy in most small good places here.


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Christ the redeemer makes like an eagle


It's very warm here, in 30s during day, and 20s at night, first time we've had it hot right through for a while, like a British heat wave - only here it probably la

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 08:39 PM GMT
March 11, 2006 GMT
27th Feb 2006 - Arica - Patacamaya

418 kms

These entries are written day by day, and I rarely go back and edit a day’s entry, other than to add something I'd forgotten the reason I say this is the marked contrasts you can get between one days entry for a country and the next entry. It's a fairer reflection I guess.

We left having had one too many Pisco's last I think, not ideal for altitude....oops. Northern, northern, northern Chile redeemed itself with the main pass out from Arica to La Paz as the scenery was very impressive. Colours similar to the Agua Negra Pass, but without the range or intensity. The road has been greatly upgraded recently barring some of the initial section. There were fine candelabra cacti, very odd with clusters of a dozen or so shoots at the top of a thick trunk, and only growing in an altitude range of 2,300 to 2,800m. The altitude was soon gained as we headed towards Putre were we stopped briefly to grab something to eat and drink.

Yet again we were to come across some great people when we stopped. There appeared to be no restaurants (there are though) so we went into a little place saying hotdogs and sandwiches outside. The lady was all smiles and could see we were a bit cooled from the fact it's cold up here at 3,500m - the sun shines but the height immediately takes the heat away. We asked if there was any hot food and she said hotdogs so we said yes, then she said along the lines of you'd be better with a hot sandwich. So she promptly made us a ham and cheese roll each in the microwave, and it did the job with a couple of steaming coffees (Nescafe of course though).

She was a diamond, she made another and cut it in half and brought it over for us. She was very chatty even if our language skills were a bit lacking. She introduced her brother in law who was a math’s teacher and spoke some English. Before we left they insisted on pinning a small knitted Bolivian style badge on our jackets for luck. The total cost for the sandwiches and coffees was only £2 too. We do meet some lovely people, and it was all hugs and kisses and pictures before we left.

Leaving Putre we climbed ever higher and entered the Lauca National Park, deemed one of Chiles most picturesque and we wouldn't argue.

There were vicuna everywhere, a few of the large rabbit like gerbil things with huge whiskers that sit on rocks in a daze (bit like Dylan from the Magic Roundabout) and birds aplenty. The reason was as we had got higher we were immediately back into vegetation! Only scrub, and dwarf Lupins and the like, but a welcome return to greenery, must be out of the rain shadow then.

There were sight before Putre too of old pre-Inca forts and all the terracing and walled fields, many still in use. Amazing how productive small pieces of land here can be.

We were really gaining a significant altitude now, and the bike was wheezing and we were too if we did too much. It's no wonder some people find altitude debilitating as the effects even when very minor are odd, I noticed today that my eyes felt like they were bulging slightly for a while. Odd. There were verdant green areas of vegetation that were like huge areas of moss and no wonder there were vicuña everywhere.

The scenery was good too with high snow capped volcanoes and lakes alive with wild birds, ducks, divers, and giant coots. Also some bloody annoying hairy mosquito things. The odd flamingo too, in fluorescent pink, brightest we've seen I think.

We had odd snow falls as we approached Chilean customs and it was cold, we had put our jacket liners back in due to the drop in temperature. We completed the Chilean side fairly easily and continued through the no mans land to the Bolivian side. Taking care to avoid the minefields - yes really!

The Bolivian side was certainly less official looking, but not at all intimidating. First was the bike import, which was easy enough, the guy got me to do the paperwork. Then off to passports and filling in the paperwork sheet you do for each person. Then to the tax man - that's all I could figure out it was, sure not insurance, but who knows, only 60p anyway, so I guess a temp road tax charge. I couldn't pay as we had no Bolivian cash. That was sorted by visiting one of the ladies outside. No Bureau de change, just local bowler hatted ladies squat down with blankets wrapped around and bags of cash. They exchanged Chilean for Bolivian, then exchanged that too Bolivians going to Chile. All quite unconventional, but obviously in order as outside the customs and they pointed me their way. Returning to pay the 10 Bolivianos we were free to go. Everyone had been great and no dodgy dealings; all taken care of in 40 minutes.


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Money changing


So we were now in Bolivia, an oft favorite venue of motorcycle travellers. The first thing that struck us was it was quite flat, as all high altitude. The border guard said the post was 4800m but I think he may have been a bit optimistic there. It was also pretty lush, green everywhere. The geology was spectacular and we straight away feel for the landscape - it was stunning.
From seeing the odd Llama to seeing dozens upon dozens at a time is quite a surprise, they really are a Bolivian thing (unless Peru matches it of course). They are wonderful beasts, and come in every colour (OK brown, black, grey, and white) and pattern imaginable. We saw Dalmatians, Friesians, and all one colours, but the favorites are those that look like they have spectacles on, quite comical.


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Llamas


We had to cover 200kms before nightfall to stand any chance of accommodation and it was late in the day so we had to move on. The most the bike would pull was 90kph generally and very occasionally 100. It's so bloody high, and with half a tank of 90 octane Bolivian juice progress was not startling

There were people everywhere like you find in India etc. you think there is no one at all, and then a figure appears. There are loads of amazing abodes; mud farmsteads and houses scattered throughout the landscape and everywhere those typical bowler-hatted, multi-skirted women going about their chores.


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First road in Bolivia, not warned of terrible condition


They have one hell of a hard life, but simple, and from the outside it looks like everything it isn't - so we won't swap!

The whole light and landscape and peoples combined to create a dazzling impression. It's like no other place we have every been. People appear to be living out here in the sticks in very much the same way they would have in Inca times. The land is so well used, and the field boundaries must be ancient. A welcome change was the absence of rubbish, which through all the other countries has littered the road edge almost everywhere, even in national parks, here there was none (La Paz will make up for that in bucket loads I'm sure) and there were often wafts of herbs and crops growing

There were odd ancient buildings too that were old burial sights, would have loved to explore a bit but we had to get that 200kms in, absolutely nothing else here. It was that nice I even thought of camping, but we had no supplies and it's bitterly cold of an evening here. Maybe another time.

We could see a sizable habitation ahead just as the sun was loosing its strength and the temperature was plummeting. To be honest, we aren't absolutely sure were we are, but think its Patenamaya. It was too small a place to have much choice, but we weren't willing to push on as in the dark it would be deadly here for sure.

There was one hotel that wasn't, but next to it was a hostel type thing with rooms in a building out back. So we have a room, for £3.50, basic, but lots of blankets to make up for lack of heating and to my surprise the shower actually is warm. We ate in the hotel and have a dubious but very large tea but will have to be far more careful here of hygiene standards and definitely be on bottled water. Well, and beer of course, that's clean. The beer here that we had tonight was black and sweet stout like, very similar to Sweetheart Stout for anyone that's tried it. Only 3% but tasty. The labels on the bottles are incredible, definitely the best to date, must take a couple of pics.

The only hope for internet was closed which was a shame as we were hoping to make contact with some friends who are in La Paz at moment and it's too big a city to just bump into each other.

So, it appears our first impressions of Bolivia are good, we'll overlook the obvious hard lives people are having in some areas and the fact there are more kids asking for things here than previous, but we expected that, we'll see how we get on. The scenery has been a surprise definitely, I hope there is more like we had today, or we'll have to return this way and have a closer look.


Tuesday 28th February 2006

Patacamaya - La Paz

104 kms

I know I've said this on more than one occasion, but, what a difference a day makes!

It was a blazing sunny day again, and in the courtyard where we stayed it was roasting, but out on the road it was a bit too cool without a jacket liner in, that damned altitude again!

We had a brief chat with our neighbour from last night, he was Chilean, and a prospector so over here looking for Silver, Gold or Copper deposits worth exploiting. There must be plenty about waiting to be exploited as there was an abundance in the past, but whether it would ever be economically viable on the scale necessary who knows.

A simple breakfast was had in the hotel before leaving, but at least it was dirt cheap.

The road to La Paz was a little less interesting than yesterdays stage, but you got occasional views of the distant Andean peaks poking out of the clouds with their heavily snow laden slopes, they must be big as we were still on a plateau of about 4000m+.

The altitude is a bugger for the bike, it really struggles, nothing that can be done without changing jetting and maybe timing, which frankly I'd rather not mess about with, but it is another thing to consider when riding. Last minute over-taking is not an option! You approach and try and maintain speed and gracefully pass and pull back in. At one point this morning a Toyota Celica came up behind us and I thought I wonder how fast he'll go past. Well, he disappeared out of my rear view mirror and also gracefully passed before pulling away ahead at a very marginal increase in speed. The occasion 4x4 motors past, but generally we are all in the same boat so not too hazardous.

The scenery was no way as good, there wasn't that really rural feel, but you always lose that the nearer you get to large habitations - even in UK. The noticeable change was there were more people, more vehicles, and the rubbish was starting to appear at the roadsides, lots of it the nearer we got to the city.

At first we were surprised as we approached La Paz. We had visions of it being set in a huge amphitheatre. What we saw was a range of snow clad mountains and a flat road with a large spread town either side. Well, of course we weren't looking at La Paz, that's why! We were looking at El Alto, apparently the fastest growing town in South America, and really the suburbs of La Paz.

We realised from a roadside stop our error as there was a large crater to the right of the view.

As we approached through El Alto it was apparent there was a festival going on. We had seen the hotel putting out bunting and had assumed it was for the festival in Oruro, it's a huge multi day fiesta based around the devil and the mines and starts this w/e. In fact - as we are so disconnected - we hadn't realised its Shrove Tuesday, we didn't know that fiesta was now. Anyway, the vehicles we saw with balloons and streamers were not heading for there, they were celebrating now! In La Paz it's a one day fiesta and we guess a holiday as there were lots of people around and a lot of shops were closed in the villages.

The traffic was not too heavy, but mainly buses and minibuses that you had to watch as they swung over without warning when a potential passenger was spotted. The other surprise was the optional use of traffic lights! Do as the locals do is how we play it, and they weren't stopping for the reds unless other traffic was coming. Stopping at the wrong time could lead to a rear end shunt. So I tried to be behind something at any lights and followed with caution their actions. There were many police about, but that made no difference at all. You have to relax into the local styles and patterns of driving, but we didn't get much lead in for this, deep end for sure.

There is a toll road into La Paz, but free for the bike. I think we were lucky with our arrival day being a holiday (we think it is, maybe every day is like this). There was certainly less traffic on the road than we expected. There is a viewpoint just after the toll booth and the view is quite amazing. La Paz really does sit in a crater for three sides and the building cling to dramatic slopes on the sides and spread out through the basin in tightly packed formation. 1.2 million people live here at 3700m altitude, it's quite a mind blowing view it has to be said.


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La Paz, big, but compact


We descended along the two lane highway with ease and no significant traffic, being near mid-day I can't believe this is a normal day. We took a while to get any sense of location for the accommodation we were looking for but basically the difference in price between the first we tried and the one we took was $40, and £4...blimey!

First impressions of the city from the bike were that it was so quiet, that it seemed all the people were indigenous, there were a lot of traditional costumes on display and it wasn’t quite what we expected.

After once again overcoming the one way blocks and finding a hotel we were able to unload the bike - took the bags etc off for first time in a while as although the bike was off the road, it wasn't in a courtyard or anything as secure as previously. The owner was very nice though and we were quite surprised to discover the room had a bathroom and hot water, and we got towels and toilet paper and a bar of decent soap for our £4 a night. It's an old colonial building, not exactly spic and span, but good enough, and not too far from centre, but far enough!

Wandering through the city from our base we got a clearer picture of the place. Dirty it certainly is, quite a bit of rubbish, and the smell of stale urine everywhere, takes your breath away as if the altitude wasn't enough! We took a fair while to try to get acclimatised to the layout and the Bolivian way of things, but basically couldn’t figure a thing out. We tried in vain to find a decent restaurant, but couldn't find one. Lots of very dubious looking establishments, but not one that you would want to risk. They are here, we just can't find them. We ended up in a fast food spot that was OK, but not ideal. Many of the places we passed just turned your stomach the smell coming out of them, and we're not fussy.

We discovered why the streets stink of urine when we noticed blokes just stopping in the street and peeing, even in busy streets. Hopefully this is because it is a fiesta and a lot of folk are having a few drinks, quite a lot a bit worse for wear, but not aggressive.

There are lots of street urchins, but to date not been too problematic. Took the wind out of out sails this morning when a few kids would give Bev the finger at the roadside as we passed. The ladies in multi skirts and bowler hats often look a little 'unwashed' and we get the impression they might actually sleep on the streets with their wares.

Apart of the fiesta, one thing people do is wet each other, with buckets, water pistols, or water bombs. They seemed to be generally respectful towards tourists and aimed for like minded souls but got one or two splashes. There were lots of noisy firecrackers too, and the odd band or so, but generally we missed what limited action there was.

So, overall, our impression of La Paz is not so favorable, but we've not been here long, and neither might we be. We don't generally go for large cities, and this is why. We’ll have a day looking at a couple of things of interest and see how we go on.

Wednesday 1st March 2006

La Paz

0 kms

Another day of trying to orientate ourselves this city takes some sussing. We managed to at least find one recommended eating spot, 100% Natural, which does great cheap breakfasts. For a quid we got a natural juice, Muesli and yoghurt and fruit and honey, Whole meal toast with butter and jam, scrabbled eggs, and coffee. Pretty good, and they seem to be pretty hygienic using bottled water and the like. Best breakfast for a long time. We still managed not to find the museum of Coca though which was apparently near by, save that for later.

It obviously was a holiday yesterday as today there is more traffic and there are a few people going around in suits and kids in school uniform. The men still relieve themselves in the street though, so can’t be blamed on drink. The funny thing is, there are actually public toilets here.

We meet a couple of lads, Martin and Alan, at the Viedma meeting way back in December and knew they were in La Paz and finally managed to make contact.

They are riding around the world on GS1150s and came up through the east of Bolivia a few weeks ago, slap bang in the rainy season. They had some truly atrocious conditions, the roads thereabouts not actually really being able to be classified as roads. In the conditions they were washed out and boggy to extreme. They had harder riding than they ever encountered in Africa, to give you some idea. Had a look at their pictures on the web and it looked real bad. They are here as Alan’s bike needs a clutch repair - currently trying to find the parts that have been shipped from England! They have found a great repair shop here though, the details somewhere on Horizons Unlimited if anyone needs them.

It was obvious it was brewing up for a storm here - at least that might take some of the stale urine smells away we hope - so we back tracked to the hotel, just in nick of time. Apparently it's quite normal for afternoon storms, we must have been lucky yesterday. Clearly the wet season hasn't quite finished with here yet. We might not stay so lucky.

La Paz is famed for being hot sunshine, cool in the shade, and cold at night. Certainly everyone local is well wrapped up most of the time. We have been wandering around in shirt, trousers and sandals and quite comfortable, but the locals obviously don't think that's enough. This shower perhaps paints the other side, we'll have our cags and the little brolley with us now I think! The rain was actually mainly pretty large hale, and accompanied by lighting and thunder.

I keep forgetting to mention what the altitude is like here. If we come up the two flights of steps to the landing our room is on we are short of breath and you need a few moments to recompose. In the morning, we had a very quite nights sleep last night which was a pleasant surprise, you get up as normal then realise there is the altitude, it's quite a surprise. Neither of us has suffered headaches or the like, but our skin in drier and you need the water.

There are more people here that approach you for money, but not so far a huge amount. Even in Chile kids would come into restaurants from table to table with outstretched hands which show the marked difference in wealth there. Here there are clearly people with more, and people with less, but the difference is not as marked I think. It's still a surprise that virtually everyone here is indigenous. The only pale faces, are the pale faces, of which there are many here, but generally always congregated in the same backpacker area.

No idea how long the rain will last but I guess it will be time to see a museum or similar, unfortunately the close 12.30 to 15.00 but at least they're open until 7.

We're meeting Martin and Alan in an English style pub tonight so that might be an experience.

If I were honest, well we, as it's how we both feel, we are really not sure we are going to enjoy some of this leg of our journey as the contrast between heavy tourism and crime and poverty is an unhealthy mix. The guidebook warns of all sorts of hazards and dangers, and many of them are in places we want to visit. In the past we have heeded warnings but tried not to let them spoil our fun, but maybe it's a general malaise we are suffering just now.

Although we will live La Paz and as often stated we prefer the sticks, many of the 'big' things to see are in dubious areas and it does take the edge off it. I guess we will judge it as and when, there would be no point in not going to these places. The sad fact is we both, at this precise moment, wish we weren't here, and don't really fancy going to the places we intended. With hindsight, we should have come this way round first, better weather, and the culture shock would be wearing off, rather than on.

Well we found an interesting museum to while away the time, the Coca Museum. It is based on the background and use of both Coca leaf, and the slightly different derivative, Cocaine. The museum is was jointly set up by government department’s rehabilitation centres and other interested parties. It generally sets out I would say to show that Coca leaves are something not to be confused with the more additive and stronger relation and in fact makes a strong case for Coca leaves and their uses. This is understandable as the leaves have an ancient history and the stronger product is in fact quite new. There were lots of interesting facts, a few of which I can remember. Coca Cola originally did have cocaine in it, but I thought the modern day product bore no Coca relation - wrong, Coca Cola still incorporates Coca leaves as part of the flavour. Sigmund Freud was the first person to take cocaine as a drug. Bolivia is not a member of the Cocaine Club - the League of Nations who is allowed to produce cocaine for medical and other uses. It was all rather fascinating, and a small but very well considered display. We had a booklet with English translations for the whole display which helps enormously. On completion we were given a coca leaf cookie to try. Quite herby and not unpleasant, but not enough to ward off the effects of altitude I doubt. I would actually like to try some of the Coca leaf in tea or chewing form, but the opportunity has never really arisen, and besides which we don't really suffer too many side effects of altitude.

We managed to meet Martin and Alan in the 'English Pub' later, true, it was just about all English in there, quite small, and beer in pints (including Guinness and Boddingtons)

As we arrived first we ordered a local 'Bock' unaware that it was 7% - not ideal for altitude. We only found this out when the guys arrived. We had a good evening chatting away about our various travels and challenges and heard about their adventures here as they have had to stay a while as Alan is having work done on his bike. They had taken part in the downhill mountain bike ride that is now world famous as it takes the route of the 'Road of Death' - once considered the most dangerous road in the world. Now it's a major attraction as you are taken by bus to the top at about 4800m and then you descend to 1100m - it's all down hill except for 16kms. The road is so feared as there is one particular section that has drop offs of 900 odd metres - no barrier, slippery unsurfaced road and very narrow. The other thing is, due to the narrowness and severity, you descend on the left (not right as here normally) the reason being you must give way to uphill traffic, which is buses and the like that don't have room to maneuver. It was one route we wanted to ride on the bike, but have decided to err on the side of safety and not bother. Call us wusses if you want, but that's the way it's staying. Martin had also scaled a 6000m peak which sounded very tempting to me indeed, but really it's not the season for it, and our insurance doesn't cover it. Both options are relatively cheap, no, they are cheap, and that's the real benefit on La Paz, access to these kinds of deals.

We soon discovered whether La Paz was safe at night or not as when we went to meet them it was fully dark, but the streets were busy and there was no feeling of danger whatsoever. When we left, near midnight (after a pub curry which was pretty good actually) the streets were pretty empty, just a few folk around, and a few worse for wear folk too. There was no feeling of concern and in fact it felt safer than many a UK street at that time of night.

Couple of things we have noticed further during our stay, there are far fewer dogs here than anywhere else we've been (no jokes about them being eaten please). The litter and piles of rubbish do seem to often disappear between nightfall and morning. And the traditional ladies who sit on the streets selling wears that look like they bed down there for the night, don't - don't know were they go, but they're not there at night. On that subject, there are supermarkets here - if you can find them - but otherwise everything is sold on the street generally by these ladies, and I mean everything. There are a few stalls selling DVDs - you can choose one as they have TV’s plugging into the numerous sockets hanging off the streetlights. We also discovered the style of skirt, or the jaunty angle of the bowler hats tell you whether the women are married or not.


Thursday 2nd March 2006

La Paz

0 kms

I don't know how we can explain our general malaise here, there are so many tour options etc and the like, but we don't really do tours, we make our own which is perhaps the issue. As I've said many times we don't like big cities either, which would explain a lot, and we have perhaps suffered quite a bit of culture shock here. As we are here longer it's more usual what we see, but we still aren't happy here and so I think we must leave. We can see how we feel it we go to say the Yungas which is only 70 or so kms away, and see if we find something else for us to appreciate, or whether we really want to just see the famous tourist sights closer to us here like Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu and then bugger off back to NW Argentina as quick as we reasonably can.


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Your average Bolivia crowd


I think it's often the case that when you're travelling your perspectives change. Depending on a lot of factors you can really change emotionally regarding were you are travelling. That's perhaps why our feelings are so up and down here, probably a similar thing as to when we were travelling through N Chile - there we were bored, here it's something else.....it's a strange old game. Travelling on your own must be a lot more difficult, at least there are two of us.

Today we could have blamed it on our slightly thick heads! I was a bit misty, and Bev was more foggy. Drinking at altitude (as we know....but do we learn?) is not a great idea.

Our traditional breakfast helped things and a wander around the stalls helped clear the mist. The stuff on sale is generally what you expect, no end of very good value Alpaca goods and weavings and the like, but they're not really to our taste, although Bev is looking for a nice sweater with a pixie hood, maybe they're Peruvian. The other things on offer are from the sublime to the ridiculous. There is fruit and nuts and various types of potatoes (been very disappointed with not finding loads of tatties on the menu, chips yes, but other spuds no) fossils and figurines and Llama foetuses.

Yes, you read that right! They dry the Llama foetus and I think they're for good luck. There are also dried frogs, Armadillos and birds and other things - quite what for we don't know. Sure no one back home would appreciate one as a gift!


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The brown things middle top are llama fetuses - sacrifice for luck/P>

We started our preliminary emailing to arrange return shipping for the bike today too, which is marked step in the trip, and not one you really want to think about, but must be done, and in time.

We had a wander up to Calle Jaen this aftie which has some great old Colonial buildings with wonderful courtyards and houses 4 museums you can enter on a joint ticket, all of 60p. They varied in interest, but the highlights of the collections were the various Fiesta costumes which are down right bizarre, and the Inca gold work.


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Police Harleys?...look closer, Chinese 250s!


This afternoons storm was much shorted lived than yesterdays - but much longer than the none existent one we had on arrival so we dodged most of the weather.


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Presidential palace guards


We were in the area of the Congress Building and Presidential Palace and it was looking like there was to be some action up there as there were a lot of police, including riot police and SWAT teams. The riot police had a nice touch, their shields had protective blue film still on...helps stop them getting scratched during action! There were some with tear gas and pump action shotguns, sub-machine guns, and some dressed like Ninja turtles with the body armour.


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Riot police with protective blue film on shields - wouldn´t want to scratch em would you?


You are a bit hesitant in taking photo’s at such times, but it has to be done. I haven't carried my digi SLR around the streets - though in reality I'm sure it wouldn't be an issue and it's my loss, so all the pics are courtesy of Bevs compact which is more discreet.


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Ninja biker riot police


Whatever the presumed possibility of trouble was 'nothing happened' as far as we could see. It might have been interesting to have witnessed some sudden Latino outpouring of emotions, but I think we'd prefer not to be tear gassed today thank you!

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 02:19 PM GMT
2nd Mar 2006 - La Paz - Coroico

100 kms

The optional Carettera del Muerte

We decided to split La Paz and head out into the country for the weekend before moving onwards to Lake Titicaca.

The skies were grey and there was moisture in the air, looked like we'd be ridding in the wet for the first time since I don't know when, seriously, it's been an age since we've had rain in any amount never mind heavy. We'd guessed the thunder storm we had so narrowly missed last night on the way back from dinner would have cleared the air, nope! Mentioning food I have to say last nights meal at Angelo Colonial was a belter. First time for months we've been served food with proper cooked vegetables and served in a manner you’d expect at a posh restaurant back home- never expected to get that anywhere here. Candle lit in a great atmospheric setting with locals as well as tourists eating. Really excellent food and at prices so easily afforded. We knew there was a storm brewing and got back to base with literally minutes to spare before the storm broke in serious manner. Anyway, today!...

We had one other fellow guest on our floor last night (not literally our floor of course) but other than that we've had the place generally to ourselves. At £4 for the room a night it was pretty marvelous. As usual the room was never cleaned so bedding the same the whole stay, but the biggest surprise was that it was so quiet. Best nights kip I've had (annoyingly light sleeper) for an age. So silent for a near central location, helped I'm sure by the lack of guests. The owner was a nice guy to and gave us a recommendation for Titicaca.

By the time we left it wasn't raining and in fact looked fine, but very grey. As it was cold in the grey we had all our liners in and it was quite comfortable riding out of town towards the Yungas. Well, we would have been riding towards the Yungas if I had of studied the city map rather than the country map. We left the centre fairly easily and wheezed up the toll road (bikes free) out of town. Trying to find the way we had all sorts of fun wrestling with the taxi minibuses and larger buses, you can't give an inch, and neither do they! It's a battle out there and no corner can be given. Luckily it’s all at slow speed and so not to dangerous.

We passed a big parade; schools in the main but in many varied uniforms and outfits, what it was all about we have no idea. A short while after I realised we were on the right road, but the wrong side of La Paz for our destination! That’s when we realised we should have gone right from centre rather than left and up and out. We now know the way to Titicaca though!

So we had to return, luckily La Paz is not too bad a city and not madly congested so we'd only lost an hour. It was rather busy though as I asked a policeman the way, blocking the traffic with no ill effect. It was obvious we needed to u turn, but due to the stationary nature of the road I could only see us doing it as soon as possible, and directly in front of lots of police were it was clearly indicated you couldn't, oh well.

I turned and two police men looked, one sternly, I gave an exaggerated look of sorry and he frowned and then smiled and waived us on. So what's all this idea that we have that we'll be ripped off by the police over her then?


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Congress building and flag


Re-entering La Paz it was fairly effortless to use the city map to get to the right place. We wound up and up and up until the suburbs started to thin, and the bike wheezed again and we new we were about 4000m+.

There was a control point which was no issue then a toll booth where we had to pay (0.55 Bol, less than 4p). A funny thing happened, a face popped up and wished us good day and stretched an arm out to shake hands - he's been on the toll at Patatacama and recognised us. Wished us well and waived us off. Lovely people!

As we left La Paz this morning we had that schizophrenic feeling we have had since we arrived, where this time we were sad to be leaving the city, having partially come to accept it's ways and slowly grown to like it - there's no pleasing us is there. Maybe we can blame the altitude?

Anyway, leaving the suburbs we were now climbing high into the surrounding hills and then mountains. For all the world it was like a big scale version of a Lake District pass, very similar if not much larger. There were even a few guys mining slate from an exposed section next to the road, very manually. Honister pass?

La Cumbre sits at 4725m and our three days at 3700 in La Paz had helped, but the bike didn't feel any different, for it was still a struggle. Still, we were still faster than the buses and trucks so fine.

At the top the view was restricted heavily by cloud, but the mountains that stuck jaggedly through were enormous and impressive with fresh snow gilding.

We pulled up by the Christ monument and there was a local family in their truck and we had the usual basic conversation and they were in awe of our travels, and the fact the bike was 1000cc. A lady - I assume part of the family - was carrying out a ritual on the ground that we assumed was for some form of luck on the road and we both hoped that wouldn't be necessary for us!

I'd struggled when reading the guide book to figure out whether we could get to Coroico without using the infamous 'road of death' and thought we could but still wasn't sure. The Hotel owner said we could and to take directions at controls, and Martin and Alan said we should be able to too. We had you will remember decided it was too dodgy for us two up and fully loaded.

The descent from the top of La Cumbre is on very good (well, few potholes) tarmac and is impressive with the mountain architecture that surrounds it, jagged peaks and hanging snow fields with the distant green valley floor well below. Cloud was wafting all around to add to the general ambience.

A further check, where our passports were checked but nothing else and we were motioned past the other vehicles with the cautionary warning of 'slow'.

I forgot to check the route, but guessed it would be signed, or obvious once we got further down, which was the good and bad road. As it was we needed have worried. A few kilometres on we met Oscar.

Oscar is a Bolivian biker on a NR250 Honda and had pulled in besides us to make sure we were OK. He spoke perfect English and was obviously a lovely guy. I explained about our concerns and that we wanted to take the 'new' (unfinished) road to Coroico.


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Our friend Oscar on the La Cumbre pass - All following 'The road of Death'


He said we could, but he'd recommend the old road for descent as it was much nicer! Well, we guessed with a local guide we should at least have someone to report us missing and so went along.

It's quite obvious where the new road starts, but less obvious that at the same point the old road cuts off; I don't remember any signs at all.

The initial descent is on broad fairly well surfaced wide road (totally unsurfaced by the way, and apparently built by POWs 60 years ago). It soon starts to narrow though, and starts to follow its true path on the hillside precariously.

As the cloud zone is at about the same level as the road for a long length of the initial descent there is actually little in the way of dramatic views, and we got it in fairly good weather according to Oscar, often it can be denser.

There were one or two points where the drop off the side was very sharp, almost vertical, and there was very definitely no sign of a bottom, the drop offs are very serious indeed. (a couple were literally vertical for hundreds of metres with no barrier) The road itself is no worse than many we've been on, just the narrowness, and twistyness with regular blind bends, and fact its two way that makes it dangerous

To make things safer the descending traffic drives on the 'wrong' side, i.e. the outside edge, the left like driving at home, so ascending vehicles can continue whilst you perch on the edge to let them past...nice !


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Typical truck, typical width, don’t typically want to meet!


To be quite honest there are some hairy points on the route, but it isn't the worst ride we've undertaken, the problem is you would get no second chance at all in some places for an error.


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No second chances at edge (not worst drop off)


In places it is very slimy and wet, and in others it is a bit chossy and loose, but generally - and I say generally - those points aren't at the narrowest points.

Were it does become an issue is if you're not watching the road, I'm not joking, this is not a place to admire the view unless stationary.

There are vehicles going down, which you can either overtake, or they let you past, and there most certainly are vehicles coming up, you remember on the inside where we'd like to be! The vehicles range from cars (rare) to minibuses (common) to trucks and even proper coach buses! And you will occasionally meet one where you least want to.


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Coach on road - tight!


We came round one bend to find a large minibus coming up and had nowhere to go. He stopped, we stopped, and he reversed a few feet so we could squeeze by. It's one thing squeezing through a tight space with the panniers, but entirely different when it's a bus one side, and thin air the other, most interesting experience.

In the middle section there are some cuts that have overhanging vegetation where it seems very narrow and three-quarter tunnel like. There are also many waterfalls that stream over the edge, with the bike you can generally go on the inside and avoid them, but there is one particular one, quite a long drop, that we had to go through as it was were the 'road' was best. Absolutely bloody soaking !


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Waterfalls onto, and over road


As you descend you also get a total temperature change as you are heading more to temperate rainforest type temps and vegetation. Comes as a surprise to see huge ferns reappearing so soon after snow, and then so many insects as you slowly start to get hot, some magnificent butterflies like the Blue Morphos that we saw up at Iguazu falls.

We stopped a couple of times at good viewing spots, but generally there just isn't the room to stop and admire the generally pretty scary drops. There was a monument in Hebrew that was from where some Israelis had asked the bus driver to reverse to go under a waterfall again, but they went off the road instead!

Further down were a few river crossings and then into dusty conditions just to plaster the bike and ourselves totally. The last 12kms to the town are the only uphill and on a cobbled road that was interesting enough in itself.

Finally reaching Coroico we were well warm, and Oscar met his girlfriend Elizabeth who had come on the bus. They insisted we have lunch with them which we did and then as they were staying the night we all booked into the same place, Gloria, which sits in a prime location with panoramic views almost beyond belief. This town clings to the hillside and the approach to the hotel (there is a safer one) was down a ridiculously steep cobbled track that Bev insisted on getting off for. It was more concerning than the road here.

In all honestly, the road was not as dangerous as we expected at all. Provided you pay full attention, are careful with positioning and oncoming vehicles, it's not too hazardous for a motorcycle at all, far more likely to fall over, than fall off. It is not a route for fear of heights, but really the danger - and where it gets it's infamy from - is for 4 or more wheel vehicles. I'm not sure I'd want to take a coach to here! But a bike, no problem.

Still sounds good to say you've ridden it though eh?!


Friday 3rd March 2006

Coroico

25 kms

Well the views off the balcony were something else again this morning with the cloud boiling up from the distant valley floor and creating initially a temperature inversion before they rose higher and we were ourselves in the same cloud.


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View from hotel balcony


Breakfast was excellent and served in their panoramic room which was certainly a true description. The wall of cloud would occasionally part like theatre curtains to allow glimpses of the vast green mountainscape beyond.

Oscar and Elizabeth as true hosts had a guess altered their plans to accommodate us and suggested we should take the bikes on a run to the river (far below) to bathe there, sounded good.

We were able to ride out without our lids and in light clothing as the roads are but tracks and the gear wouldn't protect so much, and if you went over the edge it would make not a jot of difference!

We rode out through the town and up some tracks, or backstreets as there were hostels etc up there, to a view point that gave great perspective to the village and the hotel we were staying in.

Then it was out of town a way and a seven kilometre descent for the river. This road was narrower than the previous days, and was certainly as twisty, the drop offs were not as severe, but what’s the difference between 150m and 900m if you go over the edge....exactly, not much chance with either!

The blessing of course was the lack of traffic. A jeep had been down and up, but that was it apart from the odd pedestrian, even those rare.

The road (hell it wasn't really a road, a track) was generally pretty good, just odd slimy bits and the worst the steep bits with newly added hardly compacted rock, few bottom twitching moments, and as we were lidless, I could hear Bev's breaths shortening. At least I had something to hold onto, Bev was trying to take pictures and the combined effect must have been a little disconcerting at times I'm sure.

It's still a surprise after the barren expanse of N Chile to be once again amongst so much vegetation, especially, as lush as now. All those familiar exotics from back home just rambling through the verge, banana plants growing wild and butterflies that could be confused for birds floating past.

It was damn warm too, even without all our clobber on.

Arriving at the end of the track (Vagante river pools) we had the place to ourselves barring a local guy who was barrowing slate he had hewed himself up and down the narrowest of tricky paths. Even here after all that descent we were still 1200m above sea.

There was a dramatic gorge where the river tore through and further up the area for swimming (or more lounging I guess). Unfortunately the river had previously been dammed a little to create a pool, but recent storms (linking back to the one we saw the results of on Atacama perhaps) had washed it away and there was no safe bathing place left.

As it is almost tropical here; there were an abundance of 'biting things' which is unwelcome. mosquito's (not malarial thank goodness) and little things that look like fruit flies but have a mouth bigger than there head you'd guess from the pain of their bite. The relative variety of wildlife can only be accompanied by a wealth of big bugs too. Last night the lights outside attracted everything from stick insects to huge moths and other bugs that defy description.

We had to return without our bathing, and obviously back up the entire track again. Always seems easier on the up, even though there was some light rain to contend with.

Back in town we went for lunch and once again got stuffed for a remarkably good price.

A return to the hotel for Elizabeth and Oscar to prepare to leave, she again by coach, and he by bike, watching him gear up we weren't too envious as the heat made it an unpleasant task. We will meet again at his in La Paz tomorrow and stay there and go out for the day. What can you say, a very lovely couple and it has already been great to spend some time together, and we will welcome the opportunity for more. Nothing beats local knowledge when it comes to seeing a place. There is no way we'd have found the track to the river without them, and I'm sure the same will be true of La Paz and surroundings.

Wandering around the town taking photos we were trying to get stickers - very hard everywhere post Argentina. Someone suggested we try tourist office and the guy there couldn't have been more helpful. We chatted (no really) about nature and the area as he had some enormous moths and beetles on the wall and through our interest loaded a CD with pics of the area and for 60p we bought a booklet covering the area. We discovered the national flower and an answer to a query we had in La Paz that was also answered in the Coca museum, the question? Why are there so many afro Caribbean looking people here?


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Allies....me no think so, explain that one? Not best symbol for a coach on the road of death


In La Paz I had at first thought they were US tourists, but here there is no mistaking the fact they are local as many of the women wear the scarves and skirts and bowler hats of the locals.

In fact we are very near the area responsible for this phenomenon. Negro slaves were brought from Africa to work in the Coca fields and so have been here and are now incorporated in the local society. We tried asking a couple of the ladies in town but they didn't want their pictures taken. I would always rather ask than just snap. Shame as it is so interesting, the same thing here as in Britain with the Caribbean population becoming (as it should be) part of the national identity. There are a few villages around here were there are large populations of Caribbean stock, but for all the world being Bolivian of course.


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Coroico we saw about 7 Jawas - in UK, haven’t seen one for years (good reason!)


This would be another great place to return to and do some treks with a guide (probably best for security by all accounts too). On the way back to the hotel we met the man from the Tourist info who recognised us and immediately pulled out a bag with a huge insect in it. Brightly coloured and about 4" long but with long legs, antennae and some wicked looking mandibles - you would not want a nip off this thing. I guess it was to be gassed and added to the collection on wall, but amazing to see all the same, and nice that he took the time to show us.


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Not a bed bug luckily, would sit in your hand, but for those mandibles


Posted by Simon McCarthy at 02:21 PM GMT
5th Mar 2006 - Coroico, La Paz, Tiwanaku.

90 kms by bike, 120 kms by car

We had made plans to meet Oscar and Elizabeth in La Paz today and stay there with them so had to be up bright and early to get back up the fabled road.

We’d arranged to have breakfast early, 7.30; they start normally at 8, in order to get away briskly. Breakfast wasn't quite sharpish enough so we never got to leave 'til 8.30.

Got caught by one of those little things you can so easily not realise on the bill too. Our breakfast was included in the room, but when they asked if we wanted eggs, and how cooked, that wasn't included, and was an extra. Bit sneaky in my book, but put it down to experience (at 50p odd extra eh!).

The great advantage of being up and out early was that the road was quite clear, not in a traffic sense, but a weather one. We were going to get the views over the edge today!

There was still traffic moving up the road, but not too much. The first half is lower down and very dusty, barring three stream crossings that is! It was certainly nicer going up as we were on the inside of the hill, i.e. left, and that felt a lot less virtiguous than the 'correct' side.

Then we came upon a rock fall!

This was still where the road was quite spacious, but the drop off was still 70 or 80 degrees and we weren't for going any nearer the edge than necessary thank you! It wouldn't have been an issue excepting that obviously the rock fall was on the inside edge, and many of the rocks were of a substantial size and scattered across the remaining width without there being bike width gaps. Hmmm...what to do ! There seemed no option but to clear a path through. Only problem was the rocks in way were a goodly size, and not nice round boulders either. That was enough of an issue, but, there was also the fact that the rockslide was not dormant, there were still various size boulders and mud and stones toppling down to add to the already dangerous piles.

Well, there was no real way around it, the rocks would have to be cleared, and there was only one man available!

With Bev keeping a weather eye on the slope I had to get into the danger zone and start trying to shift a couple of knee high rocks off the road. Only one place for them (apologies down below) and so I struggled to roll the none-rounded rocks away before their mates decided to join in and have a pop at me. It didn't take long, wasn't easy, but just had to be done. Occasional slides of smaller stones occurred, but none more significant while I was there luckily. One large one had joined the others just before I started which was warning enough as far as I was concerned.

Anyway, job done I straddled the bike and rode through as briskly as I dared incase of a further slide. I was as concerned at hitting the rocks still there as anything as they wouldn't have given an inch...but my legs or the cylinders or panniers certainly would have!

So that excitement over, we were once again on our way. The weather was superb with virtually no mist or low cloud so the views of the road were brilliant. The section where the main waterfalls either run onto the road, or past it due to the overhang were much better photographed than on our descent. On the descent the camera had kept misting up due to the difference in temperature from 4700m to lower jungle like conditions so it was nice to get some good shots. I guess the local’s call this section the 'car wash' or similar as one particular waterfall is bang on the line of travel. On the way down we had gone straight through it, but this time managed to get around the worst of it.

Just after this section is one of the most famously photographed sections were the road cuts through a turn and is three quarters cut into the hillside with vegetation hanging down. Obviously what you want at that moment is a bloody big old orange truck to come round the corner, and luckily one obliged.

As we were paused a stunningly beautiful humming bird came close by feeding off the flowers of a bush. It was green, purple and gold metallic and quite the best one we've seen to date. There were many parrots around too and some blue birds with yellow breast and black heads.

We continued upwards stopping only to admire (yes really) the horrendous drop offs and wider views. The other advantage of leaving early meant we beat the rush on the road...yes, there is one! Unconventional, but widely known. The mountain bike companies that offer to take folks to the top so they can virtually freewheel all the way down (shame about the 12kms steep uphill they get right at the end to get a pool and a beer, I feel so sorry for them, not!) As we neared the top there were groups coming down, generally very well managed by the outriders with them. There were folk who looked to be having the time of their lives, and folk who plainly weren't enjoying it at all, takes all sorts!

There was other traffic on the road, but it is generally light, and mainly locals who know both the roads, and the risks, so aren't stupid.

I slightly regret having not come one way on the new road (not that it's finished yet) just to see the engineering involved as it's been a fairly mammoth task with huge cuttings and tunnels. Must be quite a job.

La Cumbre was breathless as ever, but very clear and picturesque and we were soon descending once again into the big city itself. There was more traffic than I'd have expected for a Sunday so we were late ringing Oscar but still it had only taken 3 hrs to get across.

Oscar came to meet us, but first we were greeted by one of his biking friends Gonzalez on I think an older Honda XL250. We rode behind them to Oscar's place, which was right down the back of La Paz in a nice quiet spot. Met up again with Elizabeth, and Oscar's daughter Andrea (hope the spelling is right).

Having sorted out some of our gear and changed we were ready for the off as we were going by car to see the pre-Columbian (that's the society that is well pre-Inca, and similar to our bronze Age I think) site of Tiwanaku. (Tihuanaco)

Gonzalez had to go elsewhere so the 5 of us got into Oscar's 4x4 and set out. Oscar knows La Paz very well, and we were soon taking a variety of back roads out of town. La Paz as mentioned sits in a huge crater and a few of the roads are ridiculously steep, especially when cobbled, or unsurfaced.

The site is about 70-odd kms west of the city and as we drove across we encountered the sort of weather we wouldn't want on the bike. Very heavy squalls that lead into hail showers that reduced visibility immensely.

Fortunately when we arrived it was beginning to ease and we had a great chicken picnic before going into the museum and site. There is the usual Gringo price which bears no relation to the local price, ours being 80 or over £5 each, lot of money for a country like Bolivia, at least locals pay only 20% of that price though.

I won't give a history lesson on the place, but I was quite surprised I'd not heard of it before as it is a very major archeological site, though admittedly not as great as it could be. There was a whole community living around the site and there were many temples with huge monolithic carved portals and doorways and statues relating variously to the sun and moon etc.


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Tiwanaku statue


Some of the carving is very elaborate, and most of these pieces are now undercover in the museum though one or two are still in situ outside. The level of craftsmanship is amazing, even just on the blocks and drainage channels.


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Temple (of the sun?)


As we left the sight we drove towards the village were obviously something was going on. It turned out to be the end of a carnival or fiesta. Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of a whole town in party mode and the amazing sounds of the slightly out of tune brass bands and the amazingly decorative outfits of the dancers.


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We were I guess a little apprehensive about wading in taking photos and the like, there not being any western faces there that we could see. We needn't have worried of course, the natives were friendly. Being in the company of Oscar, Elizabeth and Andrea certainly helped too as Oscar grabbed Bev and waded into the square of dancers !


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Bev and Oscar dancing


The outfits these guys, and I say guys as they in the main wear the really fancy suits, have are something else, they're beyond fancy. Strange things go on as they seem to get into the character. Many are feline, tigers and cats and the like, and they actually speak in high-pitched exaggerated voices, very odd. The women’s outfits are also beautiful, but the men are the peacocks for sure. Photos are the only way to do the dancers justice.


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If I thought I was getting away with it I was wrong, as the dancers left the square and started the procession around the outside I was grabbed by Elizabeth and forced to use my best two left feet to their worse ability. Everything was good-natured, and you would routinely be grabbed by men or women and dragged off to make a fool of yourself in the dance procession. Fair exchange for some great pictures and memories of something quite special.


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Oscar was kind enough to offer us his spare room and we took up the kind offer so we could see more of the city we've now grown to see in a different light and are certainly enjoying - maybe we’re getting used to the altitude!


Monday 6th March 2006

La Paz and around

40 kms by car

Got a good nights kip and had breakfast with Elizabeth. Oscar returned a bit later and we all went out for a drive south of the city out towards the Valle de Luna. The landscape is impressive enough hereabout without going to the actual valley. It is dry and the surrounding ground is steep and generally pinnacles of mudstone weathered into sharks fins and points to create quite an abstract backdrop.

Out of town are newly developing areas of quite impressive sized houses built on plots in various grand styles. Obviously were the new rich are building to be just outside the city itself, but very close for commuting. It's much warmer down there than in the city.

We returned and made our own plans for the afternoon as Oscar and Elizabeth had other business. We walked back up to the area of Calla 21 which is the more affluent neighborhood in search of some small shopping items and to get yet more CDs burnt and to Internet. The card reader we have has a problem lead and is not working now, so the only way we can get photos back home is by burning CDs and then passing on the pics by using the CDs in internet cafes. A pain, but with a CD costing a quid it's not to much of an inconvenience money wise, just time delay wise.

It was a long uphill trudge to get there, but we found all the facilities we wanted - barring a new card reader - and also treated ourselves to a fairly spectacular ice-cream each, Bev's a Rusa with a startling 48 cherries, ice cream and cream and Vodka, and mine Irish with a stack of ice cream Dulce con Leche and Whisky. A very nice treat when the items were actually bigger and better than the impressive pics on the menu, marvelous, and only £1.50.

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 02:25 PM GMT
March 15, 2006 GMT
7th Mar 2006 - La Paz - Cocacabana (Lake Titicaca)

195 kms

Had the place to ourselves on waking as Oscar and Elizabeth were out but they came back to join us for the ride towards Titicaca. We set out together on some of Oscar's direct routes straight up the sides of the bowl that encompass La Paz. These involved some fair old inclines and the bike was certainly struggling for breath with most of it being first and second gear. Certainly steeper than Sutton Bank and more like long stretches of Rosedale Chimney, fair old struggle two up fully loaded, lots of blipping of throttle required.

Back on the plateau and into the vast sprawl of El Alto it was good to have the local knowledge for a few shortcuts avoiding the bottlenecks. We recognized much of the journey from our ill fated attempts the other day when we got the right road, but wrong side of La Paz.

As we left El Alto we were treated to the full run of the high Andes on our right with some fantastic looking pointy peaks and other mammoth summits. All very tempting, and quite achievable from La Paz with the near 4000m head start.

We had to eventually pull in to take some photos and while we were there the unmistakable sight of a GS1150 loomed past, instantly recognisable as Martin and Claudia. We knew they were heading to Copacabana, but didn't know when. A chance meeting so we all greeting each other and introduced Oscar and Elizabeth.

Decided to all head for lunch together, and Martin and Claudia would ride with us to Copacabana and we'd stop together. Oscar and Elizabeth were unable to get away and join us there so were only going as far as the ferry.

There are two ways to get to Copacabana as it is on a peninsular that has its base in Peru. You can go through Peru, or get a ferry from the other side which is Bolivia. Obviously we wanted to arrive from the Bolivian side as we didn't want to do all the paperwork twice (once in, once out).

The scenery changed as we got nearer the lake and we climbed a little again into scenery not unlike that of Scotland (there’s a lot of it about !)


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Adobe houses before the Lake


The first views of the lake were a surprise as it wasn't really what we expected, whatever that was. It was deep blue and the surrounding landscape was fairly flat at first.

Then there were some nice rolling hills and all the signs that there was much more abundant water here, more small fields and more people.


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Abundant farming by shore of Lake Titicaca


We pulled into a restaurant that Oscar knew and set about a very good meal of trout in various guises, all of which excellent and good portions. First place where the meals were priced in dollars. Gave everyone a chance to talk and get to know each other, or catch up again.

We left the lunch spot and it was only a little way to (San Pedra de) Tiquina for the crossing. The first sight of the 'ferries' was a little interesting. Basically barges with small outboard motors. Not narrow boat barges, but big flat rectangular low lying barges more akin to the sorts used on European rivers. There were coaches being ferried across at dubious looking angles and it all looked a bit hairy.

Oscar and Elizabeth had to say their goodbyes at this point and we and they were sorry to be parting. We hadn't been together too long but we had enjoyed good company in that short period.

We had to wait for some more traffic before we could cross, but then another competitor stole our business and said we could go now so we went round the corner to another loading point (to the disappointment of the guy waiting to take us - but that's commerce for you.)

As mentioned the barges are rather rustic, basically two wheel tracks of planks above cross braces and little else. Martin and I had to ride up ramps onto the barge and stop on the wheel tracks. Our bike wouldn't go onto its centre stand on the uneven planks so I sat astride it for the crossing. Never an enjoyable procedure. The barges are pushed away with poles, like punting, before the outboard could be started and we turned and set off with me of course backwards. They are roll on, roll on, i.e., you don't ride off the other end. That meant reversing off, or somehow turning. Fortunately the crossing was calm and at the other end some spare planks were utilized to allow me to precariously turn the bike around, and precariously it was too.

Safely back on dry land, having paid the princely sum of 10 Bolivian for the bike and 1 each for us, so under a quid; we only had to ride 38kms to our destination.

As we were crossing we could see out to the open lake which is vast, far more like the sea, now as we climbed up into the hills we were treated to more of that excellent view. The land has been heavily tilled in the past to create myriad small fields on the hillsides, or narrow terraces were the sides were to steep. Many of these fields were still in use with barley, potatoes and other crops growing.

The scenery was quite stunning and it wasn't long before we were upon Copacabana. It's only a small place, and sits at about 3800m on the shore of the lake. There are many hostels and hotels to choose from, and as we're out of season now we could afford to be picky and bargain. As Claudia is local we sent her to check. The first place we tried we decide to stay as just over £10 a room. Lovely lake views, private bathrooms with hot water and breakfast, no point saving a couple of quid and going down-market. Quite palatial, and only the four of us in it as far as we could see. It's the same place that the owner of our hotel in La Paz had recommended. To be honest, it still surprises us that we can find places like this to stay, and afford it, in the UK they would be well beyond our price range, and it's nice to have a bit of the highlife.

It had been damn warm riding across the last 38kms and it was quite surprising as it has a reputation for being cool here, and cold on a night.

We sorted ourselves out and went for a beer and ice cream unfortunately time was against us, well, slow service was more the problem, so the ice creams came out just as the sun set and it got damn chilly. We had chufly's instead of beer, that being the name for a Sungani mixer.

Back to rooms for warmer clothes before out for dinner. The sun set about 7pm and boy did it sink quickly ! Warmer clothes on, it was into the very sedate streets to find food. It probably gets busy in holiday season, but now is very quite. Found a very reasonable place to eat and on the way back admired yet another wonderful stellar display as the sky is so clear up here.


Wednesday 8th March 2006

Cocacabana (Lake Titicaca)

0 kms

Copacabana is a small place with little to do, but an ideal opportunity to take it easy once again. We have to pinch ourselves sometimes when we think we are actually in these places. Titicaca is not anything like we expected I think, but no loss anyway. There are many mystical associations with the lake and the birth of mankind, and many people still hold the lake in high esteem. So though it could be like a beach resort, it's not really that sort of thing. You can ride on the lake, but that's about it really. There are islands of the sun and moon, but they are quite a way away and take a long time to get too. We didn't fancy an all day trip as start too early in morning. The guidebooks all say half day trips are not worth doing, but we decided to take one anyway (they were right!)

The boats here are so slow as to take 4 hours for a round journey leaving only one hour on the island, in that time you have to shimmy up the 'Inca' steps and try to find something interesting before you have to return to the boat.

All four of us took the trip, but really it was, as the books said, a waste of time. Relaxing waste of time though! Not sure all this mystical historical stuff is us anyway. Certainly appeals to many though as the town has a large resident population of what can only be called hippies. Means there are some cool hangouts though and we had a great 'sundowner' in one of them. Actually a Brazilian spirit mixed with lots of limes and sugar and ice, and fair powerful!

After an excellent meal at another spot, the local fish Pejerrey in an excellent sauce we returned to our bar of choice for some more of the same. It went all very like the Fast Show’s "Jazz Club...nice" as a jamming session was going on and with the interior seating consisting of scatter cushions on the floor it soon lead to us having just one drink too many for the altitude but having an excellent evening. Great to share some time with Martin and Claudia and catch up.

Returning to out Italianate mansion hotel we discovered the gates were locked and there was no-one around. It was only just gone 12 which wasn't unreasonable, but the night porter had buggered off along with everyone else. I think we were the only people in the whole place, but even so, at a 3 star hotel you expect someone to be on duty at 12 o'clock. Nought for it, Martin leapt over the wall and let us in. Then how to get our keys? Luckily the office doors wedged open and we were able to extract them. Note the best advert for security, and during the whole procedure no one appeared to ask what we were up to. Oh well, an interesting end to the day!


Thursday 9th March 2006

Cocacabana - Puno, Peru (Lake Titicaca)

194 kms

A very lazy start to the day as only a short distance - but another country and therefore two border formalities to contend with.

Said our goodbyes to Martin and Claudia, it's not impossible we'll see Martin & Alan yet if his clutch does get fixed. Alan’s been grounded in La Paz for two weeks waiting for Fed Ex to deliver the parts he was promised in two days.

It had looked a bit black before we left, but it came to nothing and we were fine. It's quite cool though, probably a combination of the large expanse of water, and the altitude. After the small matter of just two flights of steps I can honestly say I know how I'll feel aged 70 or 80 !

It was a very brief ride to the border, all of 8 kms. I was expecting quite a bit of grief here, but then I had at many borders before. There was no problem with oiks hassling us, or even 'friends' offering to help. I expect this at some point, but yet to encounter it. The Bolivian formalities were in effect little more than that. The Aduana explained he was keeping my temporary import, but of course I knew this, but nice of him to explain. The passports were stamped out and we were free to go within 15 minutes. I never mentioned previously, but as we entered Copacabana we had to register, and pay a vehicle entrance fee (legit as a proper receipt given, and Claudia had queried it - I guess due to nearness of Peru) and the guy there was hopeless beyond belief. At times between Argentina and Chile the personnel were quite useless, but this poor guy took the biscuit. He couldn't spell 'BMW' even with Claudia’s help (she's Bolivian remember) and he never grasped the fact four people were on two bikes, put us all on ours! Still, he was completely harmless and quite the way I like my officials!

Today was our 'day of bikes'. More motorcycles than we've seen in months, and all at this border! First were a Canadian couple, Father and Daughter which made a nice change. Jan and his daughter were coming into Bolivia and mentioned the 'departure fee' he had been unable to avoid leaving Peru, that didn't sound too great for us. His daughter had only recently passed her test, and here they were both going down to Ushuaia on Kawasaki KLR650s, great!

We exchanged our Bolivian cash for Peruvian Sols in the usual manner with a traditional lady and her calculator and bundles of notes. Yet again we weren't ripped off either.

We spent some time chatting, to the point the guy on the barrier forgot we had done all the formalities to leave, but we were soon off.

We approached the Peruvian side with some trepidation as we've heard one or two tales, to say the least, of corruption, and there are many general warnings for the country as a whole from a security and safety perspective. You can't always be sure of these warnings, we often ignore them as off the beaten track they don't apply. The problem is, we are well and truly on the Gringo Trail now. We won't have time for the little places we normally frequent as it will be Puno, Cuzco, Nazca and return. The same route all the back-packers and tour groups will be taking.

We can't complain as we are about to do the same things tourists in Britain for a week would be doing, Stratford, London, Cambridge, York and home. Sadly we don't have the time to do this our way.

As we approached Peru’s border we met three more bikers! All Peruvian, and to be honest though they gave us a great welcome and insisted on lots of hand shaking and photographs I had hardly any idea what they were saying to us, so much for 5 months of language practice eh!

Anyway, the first office was passports and that went reasonably well, he actually wanted to see Bev, second time in all the borders we have crossed, and remarkably his none existent English appeared at the same time she did !

Next was the temporary import, the more difficult part, and the one open to more abuse I’d say. As with entering Bolivia though I was greeted with a warm welcome and a smiling face. Being a cynic I am always wary of this, but as previously, the welcome was as genuine as it seemed.

The procedure was simple and it's getting second nature now. All the paperwork was formalised without problem and we were free to go!

Until! The next barrier that I thought we'd sail through at same time was blocked by another local policeman who asked me to come in for more paperwork. This seemed a bit odd to me and an obvious attempt for extortion. In fact I don't think I was far short of the mark as he filled our details in on a scrap of unofficial paper, though it did contain the other biker’s details too.

Anyway, the guy fairly labored the detail filling and I just knew at some point money would come into it and so was ready and waiting with my 'I'm thick and foreign' routine. It does work quite well generally.

Finally after much matey chat, where I slowly became more think and unable to comprehend he moved to the 'I collect foreign money' routine. By this stage I was a near vegetable and so it wasn't long before he lost interest and wished us good vacation. Close call that one I think. The final challenge will be leaving Peru, that's were they have you by the short and curlies, watch this space!

So, that was it, we were in Peru. It's always nice leaving the border with the bike as folk are going through the customs from buses. You can see the Europeans look so surprised at the GB plate.

As ever, the few kms of distance lead to a huge change in housing and general demeanor. Peru looked somehow poorer, even though things cost more than Bolivia. If anything Peru looks less complete than anywhere else we've been, and I can assure you there have been plenty of poor looking buildings and the like on this trip so far. Still, it was nice to return to a place were people smiled and waved again as we passed. At one point a team of road workers flagged us down simply to ask where we were from and then shake our hands and wish us the best!

Talking of which, a large portion of the road was made up of poorly laid tarmac patches leading to far from the best riding conditions, bloody awful in fact - first once for an age.

We made an easy journey to Puno which was to be our stopover. It's quite a large place, and not particularly pleasant as you approach it. Points of interest were the number of smaller motorcycles around and the tricycle rickshaws, of which there were many.

On stopping to enquire of the book where was worth trying for accommodation we were approached, as we will be frequently now I guess, buy a 'helper'. Now don't mind sometimes having someone assist you getting a hotel, but sometimes 's a pain, we'd rather do it ourselves. Anyway this guy explained how the places we were interested in were expensive - surprise - and he knew somewhere better. Anyway, after a while we were free to do our own thing again.

Another point of interest some became clear. In Peru they not only have traffic lights, but also policemen and women directing the traffic from hidden boxes. I say hidden as we never saw the first one, but they certainly saw us!

We had turned illegally, having not spotted the hidden hand waiving policemen on the other side of the corner and his whistle blowing colleague collared us. I guessed what was wrong, but as the guy seemed to be hell bent on booking us I thought it was time for the stupid foreigner turn again. Using this with a slow repetitive apology seemed to work and he gave up and handed us to his senior, to whom I played the most terribly sorry I'm stupid' card which again luckily cleared us and we were free to go, even getting some directions thrown in free! Some people would say I could play the stupid card easily, but believe you me it's a tricky one !

We found the hotel of choice, but it was way too costly at $45 a night. Bloody sick of prices quoted in dollars already. How can it be a richer country if it doesn't even quote its own bloody currency?

Some negotiation later we were down to $25 which although better is more than we'd like to pay, don't mind roughing it a bit generally, but as the security has got more of an issue, we'll accept more cost. Safe parking is the biggest issue, along with general room security.

The bike would live in the back of the lobby so that was a deal done, only had to get the bloody thing in. A high kerb, a tall threshold, a polished floor and some magic carpets and we were in, just some sofas to move and a few plant pots to carefully avoid. The bike was in better comfort than we have been previously!

Tea gave us the opportunity for Coy (Guinea Pig), but Bev opted for the local trout and I had my first bit of Alpaca. No, not the wool, the meat, very nice too. Like Kangaroo and ostrich it has little cholesterol.

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 05:42 PM GMT
10th Mar 2006 - Puno, Peru (Lake Titicaca), boat trip to Islas floatantes de los Uros

0 kms by m/c,

We had chosen Puno as a stopover as it is close to the traditional Titicaca sights. The floating reed islands of fame. Several firms offer tours, but one in our hotel was the same details and price as another good one so we booked here. We had breakfast - bloody poor again, even in a 3 star place, and then got picked up for the boat.

There had been a huge storm last night and the remains of the hail were all about and the surrounding hillsides were a little white. Not a great start, and a promise of continuation. Another annoyance was the fact as we waited on the boat a guitar and pan pipe guy came to serenade us. Really bleeps me off this milking a waiting crowd. Anyway I'm hardened enough not to pay, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. It's that trapped feeling I think.


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A grey start to the boat ride to the floating islands


We set off for the islands and in all honesty it was quite apparent early on that what we were visiting were little more than islands set up for tourists.

Having said that it was still interesting in the same way a living museum is. You know the folk at Beamish Museum (in Northern England) go home on a night, but they still give a good show during the day. I'm not saying the people here go home away from the islands and change and you might see in a bar later, just not entirely real.


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Tight bound reeds, the basis of many things


Whatever the reality, we still saw how the islands work and how the people live and it was quite interesting. The water was about 18m deep, the reed island about 2. The construction is simple but effective and lasts about 25 years but maintenance is every 8 months.

There was evidence of blue plastic sheeting and corrugated tin under reed roofs and lets face it, who could blame them.

Along with the information is the 'opportunity' to buy local goods. We can't be too harsh as this really is a way these people survive now, it is their life.

We also had the chance for a ride in a 'real reed boat' and although again a tourist thing, we did it anyway as when else would you get he chance to sail on Titicaca on a reed boat ? We weren't expecting an invite from Thor Hyadal so paid our money and went! And it was fine though obviously a bit crap.


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Traditional boat


The weather had been a bit unkind to start, but let off the rain by later and even slightly warmed by the time we left.

If I was honest, I'd say it was a let down, and not something really worth making a point of doing. But, at the same time it's the nearest you';; get to seeing the lifestyle so I guess you can't knock it too much. There must be better ways of seeing the more genuine thing though, but perhaps that might not be so nice either, maybe the sanitised version is easier accepted.


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Traditional (tourist) boats and reeds


We were back by lunch and decided to have a wander around the 'local' scene. There are stacks of tourists here, and the thoroughfares of the main streets are busy with them, move a few blocks away, as anywhere, and they disappear.

We're always a little cautious of the possibility of robbery or theft in these 'markets' but if you go empty handed there is little or nothing to fear. The draw back is there are no pictures to relate the images we see, except in our heads of course which is the main thing.

The market covered all spectrums from vegetables to meat and fish to clothes and all types of strange things. The veg looked great, particularly the several types of spuds on display. The meat, not surprisingly, looked less appetising - Chick feet in garlic anyone? Maybe a dried sheep’s head? The fish showed the limited choice for such a huge expanse of water. Trout isn't here, that's bred for the tourists (and nice it is too), but only four types of fish for sale. Some little pudgy tench like fish, small semitransparent sardine like things, a Mackerel like thing, and then the very excellent Pejerry. Even they look pretty small and disappointing, but fortunately taste excellent. None of the fish is of any size though, strange in such a huge lake. (I'm sure you all know it’s the highest navigable lake in the world?)

A couple hours of interminable internet to pass on these wonderful details and catch up on news from home and the afternoon was complete. Just time for a nibble for tea and bed with the huge question mark over us of what the weather will bring. Undoubtedly we are in a colder area now, bloody chilly of an evening, and although out of the wet season mainly for Bolivia, it seems like it gets pretty wet in Peru often at this time of year. We'll see in the morning.


Saturday 11th March 2006

Puno to Cuzco

398 kms

Well I guess we got lucky again as the weather was fine, grey, threat of rain, but fine. Negotiating the glass door, sofas and sliding carpets with the bike was fun but easy enough, just imagine asking to have your bike put in the lobby of a hotel in the UK!

I guess a few folk wonder how I cam manage to get so much information typed and mailed on a regular basis? Well it's all down to carrying my very handy Palm Tungsten T3 PDA (like a miniature computer basically} and a small folding keyboard. The two together pack up as small and light as a paper notebook. The battery allows for a few hours typing, and it is either recharged by plugging through 12v to the bike, or from a USB at the internet cafe. Internet is absolutely everywhere. We only found two villages without it on the whole trip I think, astounding. And it’s like that throughout most of the world now, developed or undeveloped. As for the quantity of words, well, you'll just have to believe me when I say we sit and I type of an evening in our room with a beer and this is just scratching the surface. There are so many things that happen, that don’t make it into mails that sit as memories for us, no really!

We were saying goodbye to the bright dark blue waters of Titicaca today and returning to the hills - but ironically dropping a few 10's of metres by end of day. Leaving Puno my quest was to find some half reasonable octane fuel. Although fuel costs more here it is harder getting above 84, there is 90 but you have to search. The road out was a mix of OK and long sections made up of hand laid patches that jarred for kms.

The next major town, I forget the name, is a hell hole, really is, and recognised as such. As ever there are no signs indicating which way anywhere is, and roadwork’s had streets dug up to add to the confusion. I am slowly getting the hang of the naming of the streets and can sometimes gauge the way to the centre and try and figure out from there.

It’s a peculiarity of South American countries that virtually every town has the same street names - varied in each country. They are based on battles, heroes, important days etc. The main ones run to the Plaza de Armas or similar - their town square and after a while you can get the idea. If it was the UK they would be I guess, Trafalgar, Agincourt, Montgomery. And various dates I can't think of. Imagine every town in the UK having those streets and some variants, weird eh? I know we have plenty of say Long Streets, but not quite the same.

Anyway, this place is grim town and the sooner we were out the better. At least if you ask people they are helpful and direct you the right way, and so we eventually got out.

Another surprise in Peru is the railway lines are used, well to Cuzco anyway. In many SA counties the lines are left in place but long since derelict, today we came across trains three times, a record. I guess the route Puno Cuzco is one of those 'great railway journeys' and hence the reason. We came upon an unmanned crossing later in day were the train was passing and we stopped and gave the train drivers a return wave and even had a minor horn blowing contest. Our replacement horn may be louder than a car, but was no match for the train, good fun though. Mainly western faces in the rather attractive looking carriages.

Our route took us from the lands adjacent to Titicaca into rolling hills that gradually gave way to higher occasionally snowcapped peaks. It looked like Mongolia or somewhere and the adobe house changed with the landscape. Larger than those in Bolivia, but still based around a small courtyard and thatched roofs, very African.


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Thatched farm further along route



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And another


The road climbed to about 4300m before falling away the other side towards Cuzco and the Sacred Valley and a complete change of vegetation.


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The road from Puno to Cuzco, near high point


Even high, high, on the hillsides were fields or terraces and everywhere was heavily productive with lush verdant greenery abounding. The houses also changed from thatched simple dwellings to more hacienda styled houses and farms. Now looking far more characteristic of Spanish colonial architecture.

The sudden change was quite a surprise. I guess it comes from the long historical connections to Inca society and earlier were the whole society was based on production and ensuring supply = demand.

We came across a wonderful historic sight shortly before Cuzco itself (there are many and we wanted to get there so didn't stop to investigate all the options) an Inca gateway and wall. Very impressive and grand and worth a wander around.


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Inca wall and gateway Nr Cuzco


We had narrowly missed being soaked earlier, one of those happy occasions were we donned the full waterproofs to the sound of thunder, but then had to take them all off 20kms later as it warmed, and it was following us so we were off.

Just before Cuzco itself. At a village police check point a policeman stood out and motioned that we pull in. Bugger, going to do me for speeding I thought. But no, a brief discussion on where we were from and then to his business. He asked if we had an English pen? We did, but only biro, but that was what he was after. Producing one and passing it to him he was obviously going to keep it and wished us all the best and waved is on our way. Cheeky beggar!

Arriving in Cuzco it was obvious the place is based on heavy antiquity and a nice looking place. Sadly virtually our first vision was the dirtiest tramp / dropout I think we have ever seen, stooped , grimacing with his hands in his open flies while watching some young children on the opposite pavement, not the best introduction!

It got much better soon after when we stopped with the blackening skies closing in all around, when we were approached by Jeff. Are you English he asked? Have you met Chris and Liz yet? No but we're here to. We had received a mail from them saying they were here and would we like to meet for a beer or two. Last saw them in Ushuaia. How spooky eh, more spooky as Jeff runs 'Norton Rats Tavern' here in town. A regular biker’s bar and overland travellers hook up point that is hard to surpass. Happy chance meeting. He recommended a hostel around the corner that had safe parking and couldn't have been more central, and was only round the corner from the bar too!

Remarkably it was where Chris and Liz's bike was, though they weren't. Chris's Mum was over visiting so they'd gone to a better place to be with her. They were due at the tavern though so we knew we could go there.

We had only enough time to unload before the heavens opened, so very lucky. Casa Grande is relatively basic, but it a great old building, brilliant location, and friendly staff, what more could you want. Friends and a bar? Sorted!

We went to the Tavern and had a burger and a few beers and then Jeff appeared and we sat and had some great discussions on biking and travel and had many things and places in common. On the walls were some pictures from Kent Custom Bike Show in 1985 that almost exactly match one I’d taken. A motorcycling home from home.

Chris and Liz walking in a little later and we all sat together and got stuck into some heavy bike talk and drinking. Several Piscola's and sours later it was 2.30 in the morning and we all had to split.

Great night, great people, and a bloody great place, Norton Rats Tavern should not be missed.
It´s here http://www.cuscoonline.com/nortonrats/

We are lucky now as we can gain from Chris and Liz's experience here to find the things we want and need.

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 05:43 PM GMT
March 17, 2006 GMT
12th Mar 2006 - Cusco

0 kms

Well to be honest writing this few days down the line I can hardly remember the details, but…

Started the day late and with slightly foggy heads due to that 2.30 am finish in Norton Rats last night. Great at time, but next day seems a less good idea. Of course wouldn't swap it as we all had a great time swapping tales, and Jeff as Mien host could hardly be bettered!

Generally a rest day then! Decided to organise a trip to Machupicchu through an agency as details weren't entirely clear in the 'Handbook' (a rare example) as to how to go about it ourselves, and we didn't really talk to Jeff about it either. So we tried a few and got the general idea before deciding on one that we thought better than the others.

Basically you get a package consisting of a taxi to the train station, options on train, either backpackers or Vista Rome (we'll ignore the Hiram Bingham luxury service at US$476 p/p), pickup at station in Ague Client, overnight in Hostel, transfer to bus at daybreak and bus to site, 2.5 hr tour with guide, rest of day - till 16.30 to ourselves then return journey via bus, train, taxi to hotel by 20.00.

The price for an organized tour is obviously more than independent, but we just wanted it sorted so would pay. In effect it was US$360 for both of us, or £104 each, obviously more than doing it yourself. But we just wanted to get it done easily so went with that, and let's face it, not bad to visit somewhere we've dreamed about since childhood.

Booked it to leave next morning.....well same night as far as we were concerned seeing as we'd be up next two mornings at 5am...great after the 2.30am finish this morning !

And so to bed.


Monday 13th March 2006

Cusco - Machupicchu

0 kms by bike - train

5am is a good forsaken time of the day anywhere, but 5 minutes after getting up that's over with and the day has begun.

The taxi arrived, there were a few people sleeping in street outside (only a few) and plenty of folk setting up for the day. There were sights you don't generally see, people sorting through rubbish...later it would be gone. In one case a kid in school uniform, long day ahead for them, hard life.

The train station was a buzz, but we were on time and got a great service like BR first class, smartly dressed attendants and good allocated seats. We'd plumbed for the vista Rome service as little better from viewing perspective, otherwise not sure of difference from 'backpackers' train.

Biggest surprise to us was the fact you effectively descend all way from Cusco to Machupicchu....it's lower than here even at the site! Thinking about it, it makes sense as I guess you wouldn't get such good living or crops at 3300m in comparison to 2,380m

Having said all that you have to leave Cusco first and that means a climb out of city. Never been on a train that ascended the way this one did, and sure some technical name for the methodology, but I don't know it so description alone.

Like a road climbing in hairpins saves space, so to does having a number of climbing gradients and points. the train goes straight at I guess it's maximum gradient, then comes to the end, the guard switches points, and backs an equal steep section, before the same again forwards. Hence by the backwards and forward motion you quickly gain height without a massive land take, clever!

Was nice to discover a simple breakfast was included and the attendants served the same way hostesses on a plane would.

So after the climb through some rubbish strewn less salubriously neighbourhoods (with great views of the city) we were on the virtually constant downhill to the station called Ague Caliente, but wanting to be called Machupicchu.

The journey is slow but very picturesque, only about 69kms but 3.5 odd hour’s time wise.

By half way along the scenery has swapped from pastoral to immense steep sided mountains closing in on the line. An easily protected route (unless you're a peaceful culture like the Inca's, who I always confused with Aztecs until now). Even with the roof lights you couldn't always see the tops of the mountains, some even overhanging faces. How the thousands of Bromeliads hang to these faces I don't know, but they do.

Now we were lower and into a more temperate jungle region, all around the vegetation lushly sprouting forth.

You pass several spectacularly ancient sights on the way, some I guess pre-Inca and defensive in nature as very fort-like, the journey is definitely more than the sum of the parts and worth enjoying in it's own right, definitely in the class of 'Great Railway Journeys of the World' even though short (distance not time).


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The village of Agua Caliente nestles between majestic peaks


By our destination we were truly surrounded by the most amazing of steep sided vegetated peaks. The view you see behind Machupicchu is those same peaks, from below they are equally impressive as you crane your neck from the shadow lands below them.

Disembarking we were collected and taken to our basic but fine hostel for the night. The town is small, and we were on the edge, but if was fit for purpose and fine. As we had arrived at 10am we obviously had quite a bit of the day spare. The local tourist info gave us some options and we decide to go for the walk to a waterfall and the museum of the Machupicchu site.

The walk down to the waterfall involves starting from the old railway station were you cross the river to Machupicchu and walking a couple of kms down the line. We didn't realise this section was 'live' so were surprised at the hoots and smoke of a train bearing don on us! Fun anyway though very muggy down here as temperate jungle and temps of around 25 degs. When we reached were the falls entry was, a small 'jardine' or garden apparently, we had to pay 5 Sols each. A little overpriced as it wasn't that spectacular, but the walk had been interesting at least. Saw some nice plants and a few pretty birds.


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The wander down the train line, not out of use after all!


Returning to the road we visited the Machupicchu museum and orchid garden. The museum was 20 Sols each (just over a quid) and quite enjoyable. We got far more background than we previously had, and it would make a great introduction to the site. Due to it being located at the bottom of the hill up to Machupicchu site it is very rarely visited by folk. Shame as it's very informative and a good modern but small museum. Certainly glad we visited it first. The Orchid garden would be at its best in a month or so, but even now there were some wonderful plants and exquisite smells. Also a few large butterflies and humming birds. We saw a large cat sized rodent on way back to road too.

Returned and ate - not too surprisingly lots of tourist facilities in town as this is were the train ends, and the bus to Machupicchu starts.

We'd opted for two days in order to get a full visit of the site. If you do it in one day this way you arrive about 10am at sight, have 2.5hrs guided tour and only an hour or so before you have to return, not enough time.

And so to bed for yet another 5am start.


Tuesday 14th March 2006

Machupicchu - Cusco

0 kms by bike - train

A 5am knock on the door, and a breakfast (quite good) at 5.30. Our personal assistant arrived and took us to the bus at 6am and travelled up with us to ensure we got there OK and knew the score.

We had nearly half an hour to ourselves before the guide so wandered it to see our first spectacular - and it is - sight of Machupicchu. Undoubtedly it is a special moment when you first see it, and all the more so for the lack of visitors wandering around at that time.


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First sight of Machupicchu in swirling cloud


The pictures do more justice, so limited words on this one.


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The guide was very knowledgeable and excellent covering not only the history, but also the mythology, and a few close to the bone home truths on the site and the money raised etc. He was a great bloke and we could have spent all day in his company. Two of the lads there who were as interested as us christened our guide 'the Inca thinker' and it was very appropriate as he had a very good alternative view of life, in the right way, not some semi-hippy ideology.


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This next comment is going to sound arrogant in the extreme, but it's a personal view (of us both). We'd say 60% of the folk visiting the site shouldn't be there as they have little interest other than saying they've been there. And more controversially, 95% of Americans shouldn't be there either.


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Our group consisted of a mixture of nationalities, but the ignorance and manners of more than half of them were a real nuisance to us. No concern for talking over the guide or interrupting our attempts to make the most of the guide’s knowledge. Very irritating. But we, as a nation, have occasional to be branded similarly when we visit other countries for the pleasures of beach holidays or even football I guess. The people you see and meet are representative, but not necessarily a true reflection of the society they come from.......we all hope!

The light rain continued on and off for most of tour but wasn't enough to spoil anything, and only added to the surrounding views as the clouds engulfed the site occasional adding extra mystique.

The history you can find out for yourselves, but the oft mentioned masonry skills and staggering vertical nature of the sight can be glimpses in pictures or better experienced first hand.

We had a few hours to ourselves after the guide and spent those wandering around the sights various aspects. The temple of the Moon path was closed which was both a disappointment and benefit. It has the most stunning of views, but takes a perilous path to the top of the overlooking peak. Due to a landslip it was closed and we had no option of the climb anyway.


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Inca terracing, some structural, some for growing crops


Many words can be spent describing your feelings and the immense beauty of the place, but we'll let the pictures talk.


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A view of the site from higher


A couple of observations though. Many of the buildings reminded us of Scottish (not again) ruins of castles - see if you can see that in the high pitched roofs? The site is lower than we though altitude wise. It's far more interesting from the perspective of the sites like to surrounding areas and Inca beliefs and lifestyles. Biggest surprise is the lack of real investigation, most of the finds in museum were from late nineties to 2004 - quite unbelievable considering around 1500 at £13 a time viewed the sight today, and that's 'off peak'.


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A Scottish castle ruin - go on squint a bit! (similar period too)


We returned to the bus as by mid afternoon it was thoroughly chucking down and we'd seen the bits we were able too. Time for lunch in town before the return train. The sights were as spectacular in reverse, the number of other things you see being surprising. (Not so for the number of tourist...mainly one nationality...who spent the journey watching DVDs on their personal players or with heads stuck in novels....why come ?)


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Marvel at that stonework, size, quality and fit, exceptional


A strange thing occurred on the trip back. The background music heightened with some Peruvian music and suddenly to our side appeared a spectre in traditional dress and those particular knitted face balaclavas, quite startling when you're sat there looking forward and this face appears to one side of you. A dance up and down the carriage was an introduction to the steward and stewardess doing a fashion parade in various pricey alpaca fashion items...all for sale of course. Don’t think you'd get either of those on BR.......yet !


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Imagine that in your face on BR?


Back just after dark we had the only let down of the package, no one made themselves known for the transfer back to the hotel, so we took a taxi. Safe and cheap, but disappointing.

Martin and Alan's bikes are here in the courtyard along with ours and Chris and Liz’s, so quite a collection, and all UK reg !


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Casa Grande and Brit biker collection, nice central spot


A few beers with Jeff in Norton Rats and off to bed feeling somewhat tired, but exhilarated by the day.


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Norton Rats Tavern. We occasionally go there!


Wednesday 15th March 2006

Cusco

0 kms

Cusco is a beautiful city, all Spanish style colonial buildings on top of Inca foundations ruins roofed in clay pan tiles giving it a different feel to previous towns and cities. A bit of a wander and some museums today before meeting Alan and Martin in 'you know where' for a 'couple' of jars. There is the possibility of a ride out with Jeff to the sights of the Sacred Valley tomorrow.


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Typical colonial detailing



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Cusco skyline (that's the Inca colours on flag)



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The Inca foundations the conquistadors built on - again, absolutely stunning stonework (work related! I'm so dedicated I think of work most days.. have to every day soon.)


We had another bit of blind panic about our time till return again this morning, but looking at the map we have to give ourselves the opportunity of at least this possibility of a local tour to see what we are missing, and still get to Nasca for the tourist bit there before our final real return to BA.

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 08:17 PM GMT
March 19, 2006 GMT
16th Mar 2006 - Cuzco Sacred Valley

140 kms

A day of many excitements, of which only half can be told at present......for legal reasons, we kid you not! But more on that one tomorrow.

Jeff had offered to take us out for a spin round his locale with his bike and we and Martin and Alan liked the sound of that. Chris and Liz are currently taking Chris's Mum round the sights with their in depth local knowledge so couldn't join us.

We met up about mid day and Jeff was ready with his virtually immaculate Norton Commando. For once we were we not the oldest in the group, and neither was our bike !


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Jeff´s immaculate Norton Commando, jeff, Fritz, Martin, Alan


It was great to be on the road again after our little sojourn and being out with three other 'big' bikes is always a pleasure as you cause a stir wherever you ride. There are some larger bikes here, but the vast majority are small, 250s and the like. The combination of the roar of Jeff's Norton and the blatting of our old classic drawing turns and looks of awe everywhere the 5 of us went. No two ways about it, you get a buzz from riding like this at home, never mind through Cusco and rural Peru.

After taking the 'local' way out of town and calling at several petrol stations to get 90 octane (not a foregone conclusion they'll have some even here) we eventually filled up. I hadn't even noticed previously, but the pumps are in gallons. Sadly hopeless on quoting price too as we just put it in, and that's that. It's more than Bolivia, but cheaper than other countries been in, but then it's crap octane so should be!

The roads out along the valley were all tarmac (barring the 'optional short cut' detailed below) and generally in good condition apart from odd sections with pot holes to steer around. In fact the roads were damn good with some great sweeping curves and verdant countryside all around. The high snow peaks were generally obscured by cloud, but the dark clouds looked possibly threatening rather definitely.


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The ride out through valley


Jeff first took us to one of the less often (but hardly secret or hidden as a world heritage sight) visited places here, the salt pans (ponds) nr Urubamba I think.


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The salt pans, in use since early Inca times


A few kms down a dusty track, and with the bikes we were able to go all the way down where coaches etc couldn't, you reach a crest and looking over the edge you are greeted by the sight of literally hundreds of terraced ponds that collect and dry salt. The place dates back past Inca times and has been in continual use since.

A warm salty stream feeds in at the top end and channels direct the water to a variety of pools dependant on requirement. As the pools are 'disconnected' the water evaporates and the salt sun-dries and bakes into a cake which is then removed and sold.

It was a medieval scene and though we had about a quid entrance fee there was only one other locally hired 250 and a couple walking the whole time we were there. Jeff took us right down and showed us the pools and the irrigation channels. Fascinating stuff, the main memory is that of looking down on the site from above. Awe inspiring.

There were a few donkeys leading out of the downhill sight and Jeff said that route would make an interesting 'short cut' for us. It was narrow, but we could get the bikes through, the only 'difficulty' being a hairpin, or maybe two, were we might have to drag the bikes round to be able to negotiate the next section. He'd been there before so we all agreed it sounded interesting and 'a bit of fun'


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Jeff leads the way on the 'broad' path


Setting off the track soon became a path, and almost straight away we came to a narrowing were there was just about three times as much tyre width as we needed and just enough bike width......the right hand side being very steep drop off...but less than 100m!


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Martin still on the 'easy' section


We got past there and things improved.....for 50m....then the first (of about 6) hairpins loomed.

Now the two GS1150's, and our bike, are quite heavy (we still had half our luggage) and have high clearance, were as Jeff's Norton is light small and nimble with low clearance.

The reason I mention this is to demonstrate the advantages of smaller lighter bike on these 'adventure travels'. It's been repeatedly acknowledged that the bigger bikes advantages are ONLY on high mileage road days, otherwise the alternative wins EVERY time.

Jeff had warned of the 'couple' or hairpins on the descent and he wasn't wrong when he said we'd probably have to 'haul' the bikes around them.


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Martin, Alan, Fritz before the tricky bits


It was hard enough riding down a very heavily rock encrusted steep narrow path, but the bends were engineered for foot or donkey and could not be negotiated by a motorcycle without several backwards forwards manoeuvres to gradually take the bike from one direction to another. In fact, for our bikes, it was impossible single handily. You needed extra assistance. As there not enough people to do the job Bev was helping me on the first one then Martin and Alan as they passed them. It was extremely arduous hard word and within seconds our jackets and helmets were running with sweat.

The difficulty was you had to get off and haul the bike back and forward in gear using the clutch as you didn't want the bike rolling forward and over the precipice. The extra ground clearance of our bikes made it even more difficult and very precarious, there were many times that each of felt they'd tip over, but none did.

It wasn't a route we had to take, but what's adventure if it isn't something you can foresee, no regrets for taking the route, and even though it was intense and bloody hard work it's always better looking back. There was absolutely no way on earth you could turn around and return and at least we knew it would get better after getting past these hardships. Any none off road riding folk I guess wouldn't understand why we do these crazy things, but it's what we seek!

By the time I was down I was just about a physical wreck, so hot and exhausted. I collapsed to the ground on my knees and just fought for breath and recovery. Mad...but fun.

All down, we continued over a rickety bridge and through some tight lanes back to the highway.

We rode down to Pisac for our lunch stop. There are impressive ruins here though we didn't have time to visit, and not so easy in the bike gear. There was a great little eatery, Ulrica's that stuffed us for little cost but great food and atmosphere.

Always great turning up at these tourist hot spots on the bikes as so many people (tourists) are amazed to see the English plates (and the Norton of course)

Leaving town we were to encounter the sort of thing you dread on a trip like this.........

A guy and his mate in a car had been blocking us in where we were. But chatting to Martin, and they left the square just ahead of us.

Jeff set off and passed them and we followed them out of town. As we got further out onto more open roads the car was going at a rate were we couldn't really overtake as the altitude doesn't allow for blistering acceleration we simply followed knowing at some point it would get twisty and we'd have the opportunity to pass. Then it all went weird..........

The car started to move more the left and even straddled the centre line even when a bus was oncoming. Blimey, this guy’s a bit of a nutter I thought, but never really considered it more. Then he was cutting the left hand bends on wrong side of road. Again, didn't think too much of it as drivers aren't generally very great here.

Then as we came to some sections were we could perhaps overtake he was completely on the wrong side of the road. I then began to think that this guy (and his passenger) were perhaps a little more than averagely stupid drivers.

What clinched it was when we did go to overtake and he swung hard left in a clear blocking move. This was looking dodgy I thought, only way to pass was to do somewhere we could safely on the bike, but he couldn't, and at that point he also swung onto the wrong side of the road and blocked us. We hung back and I motioned to martin and Alan behind us that this guy was clearly loco, Alan had witnessed the whole side swipe incident anyway.

After a further passing attempt that had the same consequences I just blared the horn on and followed him the next corner he drove on the wrong side again and nearly ran head on into an ambulance.

This was getting beyond a joke now and was obviously becoming dangerous so I had to just keep following the car. Martin and Alan with their fuel injection which has little problem at altitude managed to overtake by one going either side.

I was still unwilling to overtake as we were two up and I wouldn't put more than myself in danger.

At that stage I would have been happy to pull over and hopefully let these idiots continue ahead and hopefully disappear. Jeff had stopped for us to catch up and we all indicated that the car was crackers.

Martin and Alan were gesturing for him to pull over and slowing him in the hope we could nip past but them the passenger opened the window as we were accelerating up to pass and waved an empty litre bottle of beer out the window in a mace style with the threat to throw it.

If he had of stopped before that point I would have been happy to grad his keys and chuck them over the road edge to severely lengthy his journey onwards, but now we were in a whole new ball game. Things had got a lot worse.

The guy was still swerving around the road, we weren't going to overtake, but the other three bikes were in front and Martin and Alan had been witnessing first hand his antics and were not pleased at all.

They, like we, and Jeff, wanted them to pull over and discussions were not the first things on our mind. This guy had clearly been playing around, and his games had turned very dangerous. It's hard to explain how vulnerable you are on a bike in these situations.

Jeff had the local knowledge to race ahead to a couple of points were he knew police would be parked up, and his hunch was correct. He's desperately got them to realise what was happening and as they came round the corner one of the policemen was in the road indicating them to stop, they hared past with the passenger still waiving a bottle out the window.

Now at least the police were involved and we pulled over to let them take up the chase. A couple of kilometres on the car was pulled in at a lay-by overlooking the city were various locals were also stopped. The guys were out of the car as the police car screeched in and we all pulled up almost immediately.

Now however some people might think, I actually have a very long fuse when it comes to anger, and violence is not something I'm ever prone too without being pushed a very long way.

The only time I would let go would be when family are involved. As this guy had had not only attempted to kill me, but also Bev I was not in the mood for reflection. Neither as Alan or Jeff after our ordeal. I strode up to the passenger and ranted at him about how he's attempted to kill us and swung out with as hard a kick as I could muster oblivious to the police presence. I then immediately strode over in a red mist to the car where the driver was and ranted the same at him as the policemen stepped back and planted him too, before Bev pulled me back. I was absolutely livid. Alan and Jeff had basically done the same too and the two of them were looking pretty startled and a crowd had gathered and were on our side as I guess it was pretty obvious we were not just laying into these guy for nothing.

The police in all this time had effectively steeped back and let us have our brief bit of justice as of course they had not exactly been respected by these two either. We definitely got the feeling that they were far from concerned about us giving them a restrained beating before they took over.

Obviously Jeff’s fluent Spanish was extremely helpful and they were then effectively arrested. We had to follow the police to the station in town to see what would happen as we were not in the slightest bit happy, and both the driver and passenger absolutely reeked of beer.

To cut a very long story down to the bare minimum it was obvious the police wanted to nail these guys too, and they were taken in for statements. Amazingly the passenger now had blood all over his face, that we knew hadn't been inflicted by any of us and we could see perhaps the threat of assault being brought against us. The wound had either been self inflicted as a measure of guilt transferral, or perhaps the policeman that had been ignored.

Anyway, we didn't like the look of it. Jeff called on his local contacts and got a Lawyer who teaches law to drop what he was doing and attend as Jeff was determined the matter should not just be dropped. The four of us were all planning leaving in the morning and feared this might likely delay departure.

We weren't approached for statements at first, they were happy from what the police witnesses of the driving had seen that that was evidence enough. Still we had to wait around a couple of hours before the authorities had to pass it over to the "tourist police' as foreigners were involved. As it turned out the tourist Police were on holiday and it was decided we all had to go to the downtown police station for statements etc.

We were concerned about the fact we had wreaked a little of our own justice on the two of them, and the snippets we heard back sounded like there was the possibility of assault charges against us.

We had to all trail down to the other station, at least getting the chance to park the bikes at the hostel and change. It all got very disorganised and the previous statements of the defendants were apparently not correct and had to be redone, we were concerned that perhaps things may get re-written, and in fact that money might be exchanging hands. Not good.

As it was, Jeff managed to get a statement for all of us based on our agreed experiences which was easy and the whole was due to be put before a JP there and then. Bev had videoed some of the antics so at least we had that.

The two idiots were somehow still looking a bit smug with the driver being a particularly smarmy person and it was extremely difficult to be in the same small space as them

The JP listened to all the evidence, it was clear that they were definitely drunk, and Jeff's lawyer was putting the case for them basically endangering our lives and potentially attempted manslaughter.

Their argument was based on the 'assault' and that there were eight bikes driving aggressively (seeing double then). We thought it would be a forgone conclusion with the police evidence, but they weren't present now bizarrely.

It was just gone 11pm and the JP should have finished. Basically it came to the point of we'll have to continue this tomorrow, between 15.30 and 23.00.

Exactly what we didn't want to happen, we'd have to stay another day, and the possibility of their incredibly dangerous driving being countered by an assault charge. It was all looking farcical…

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 02:10 PM GMT
March 25, 2006 GMT
17th Mar 2006 - Cusco

It's been a while since update. For a few reasons, not that we're in jail I'm pleased to say (sorry you will be seeing us again). We had a stop with no internet followed by two days of mileage crunching and your author is suffering a severe attack of stomach upset. All combined leading to no updates.....and after such a cliff hanger ending to last mail eh.....what a tease!

0 kms

Well I'll out you out of your misery re : that cliff hanger ending to the last entry.

We had to be back at court at 3.30 to see the judge again and resolve the assault charge placed against us all (the eight of us you'll remember!)

Jeff was suited, but the rest of us had only what we had. We were only sat in front of the JP in a room, not a proper court or anything. Our drunk driver and passenger looked considerable less jolly and smug today without the benefit of alcohol and fortunately had seen the error of their ways. Couldn't imagine they wouldn't to be honest.

They were dropping all charges and were apologetic for their behaviour. The case notes acknowledged that they had endangered our lives and that they had been stupid. With that we were all happy, only Jeff could have taken anything further as we all needed to leave.

The driver would be done for being drunk, but not sure what sort of penalty that carries here, I guess a slapped wrist and a fine, but nothing more. It was surprising to here he was a restaurant owner, and the passenger was a sculpture ! Both were in their twenties which staggered all of us as we thought late thirties.

The whole business had been a strange one, but not one I regret. It's all part of the adventure and I don't think any less of Peru or its people based on this incident.

It was quite interesting seeing how the police and legal system works in a minor way and how it didn't all go pear shaped like you'd perhaps think. Before we came to South America I probably guess we'd have all ended in jail overnight before any attempt at resolving the case even started, innocent or guilty.

I have no idea if the culprits used any back handers or not to extricate themselves, but we were all happy just to be on our way, and of course still alive after their ridiculous antics.

A brief celebratory drink was enjoyed at the outcome. An interesting experience, but not one we wish to repeat. Our names and a fingerprint are now filed away, but not electronically and I'd challenge anyone to find those bits of paper after a year from now.

We're innocent and free ! (But so are the guilty but they may have some aches and pains which they at least deserve)

Its one month til our return flight to the UK, and the adventure keeps coming!


Saturday 18th March 2006

Cusco - Puquio

528 kms

As our planned early night was not as early as anticipated ,well what do you expect when you're judged not guilty, we were not off until around 9.30

Today was likely to be a long day as the route to Nasca must be nigh on impossible in one hit due to the nature of the road. Everyone we had spoken to has had to split the journey. The roads we were told are twisty beyond belief combined with two high passes over 4000m and the weather is unpredictable.

To add to that difficulty there are few places to stop along the way. We had picked up a recommendation for an average place, the Plaza hotel in the halfway town of Chalhaunca. Jeff had recommended the town we are staying in as being better, provided you have the time to get there. In fact just this morning a Japanese biker was saying he'd taken three days from Nasca to Cusco, so it is quite a journey by all accounts.

Anyway we left with good weather and were lucky that Jeff’s ride the other day took us past the junction we needed so it was a simple task to ride out of Cusco and be on our way. We were even able to top up with 90 octane at the same petrol station too.

Leaving the area we passed through scenery very reminiscent of alpine scenery in Europe. The initial stretches were fairly straight and easy to cover ground. It was nice to see kids at the side of the road waving to us once again.

Then the road started to climb and the curves began, at first fine, but by the time we were descending towards Abancay they had become quite tortuous and called for much respect. Some tightened suddenly, others were fine sweepers. Quite apart from the curves there were many hidden obstacles. It seems the locals drive the cows, donkeys and sheep up the verge, but don't mind if they're in middle of road either. Dogs once again became a nuisance but one was stupid enough to get very close and my boot made a satisfying contact so perhaps he won't be doing that again, lesson learned I hope. It was a blessing that there was little traffic on the road, in fact negligible. Don't know if Saturday makes a difference, but a few trucks and buses and hardly any cars. In fact so lightly trafficked to make you wonder why the built it recently.


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The very twisty road between Cusco - Puquio


Normally a twisty road would be a blessing on a bike, but this one twists and turns for so long it almost becomes a bind. My head was almost dizzy a couple of times. The concentration is heightened on twisty roads like these and considering the length of time we were riding this section it must be tiring on the mind. Imagine the twistiest alpine road, then imagine riding it for say 4 hours, quite something.

Entering Abancay was as normal, you sail in on a good road, end up in awful potholed local streets and have no idea how to get out again. It's a mystery why they don't use road signs over here, always the same. Best thing is stop and ask, which we do, and then you find the way. This place was quite a big town but seemed pretty isolated, and certainly not somewhere I'd expect to spend any time, a right dump really.

After yet more winding roads we were in a valley floor that we followed for some way that was in very good condition generally allowing for good progress. The only problems were occasional landslips that narrowed the road unexpectedly (no signs you see) or storm drains that crossed the road with various amounts of debris.

One particular was a bit nasty as it was round a blind bend and running with water and piles of gravel and sand and stones blocking the way. A sudden haul of the brakes brought into effect the anti lock mechanism.....oh no....that was me....and we were lucky with that one. A very unpleasant surprise which lead to more caution thereafter. I've heard of a few folk coming to grief on this road and it's easy to see why, its demands respect.

Now we were getting into buggersallville, very remote with just small isolated communities. The kids were great, running and jumping and waving. I guess they get quite a few bikes through here, and enjoy the welcome.

The weather had looked like breaking, but it just rained a little then stopped so we continued. We reached Chalhuanca just before three. We had the option to stay here, or continue. As it was 217kms to the next possible stop we weighed up the time and the weather and decided to get the next bit done too. If we'd stayed and the weather changed tomorrow we'd have a longer day in poor conditions. Due to the vagaries of the different time zones in different countries we seem to have lost hours as here it gets dark at just 6pm which is ludicrous !

The next section would take us up to 4300m and across a high plateau before descending to our destination.

The climb up was quite labored but well engineered and we were soon up around 4000m. The scenery was a bit weird as it was like a combination of Rannoch Moor and the high dales, but on steroids. There was a lot of it too, ran for tens of miles. There were several little llama herding hamlets about, which must be godforsaken places as no sign of heating, and no timber anywhere for miles. A damn hard existence!

Near to the high point of that stage we could see off to our left a huge gathering storm. Oh dear! It looked like we would avoid it, but needless to say within a further few miles the road was angling that way...looked like we were in trouble.

Being at over 4000m it was already bleeding cold and so the sight of a thunder, lightening and hail storm only a kilometer away was a good excuse to pull out the winter gloves and don full waterproofs.

That accomplished we were off straight into the storm. To be honest I was a bit apprehensive as a storm at this altitude could lead to all sorts of difficulties and even heavy snow that might leave us stranded which would certainly be no fun.

We rode straight into the jaws of it and were pelted with rain, and then the hail, not pleasant. Can't imagine what it would be like for a cyclist, guess you'd just stop and camp.

As luck would have it we were climbing the side of the valley and avoided most of it, only got 15 minutes worth, yet further to the other side was white over with hail. Lucky.

The plateau continued for some distance more, bleak cold and inhospitable. The descent was worse, fog, the second time in the day, but this time not due to hitting a warmer area, just cold fog. It was a slow process continuing down, even though only 30kms to go it took forever. Fog is crap on a bike, your glasses mist up, the visor mists up, and you end up ridding with visor open and no eye protection which is uncomfortable and difficult.

Finally Puguin loomed into view and looked quite sizable. In the way it does, the reasonable road disappeared and we gradually rode into streets unmade and layered in mud and slime. What a godforsaken place this looked. There were even side streets that were so bad I don't think we could have ridden on them, it was for all the world like a scene out of a prospectors town in the Wild West. Unbelievable. And sadly too wet for many pictures!


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Puquio town centre, note river running down high street


It wasn't looking good for finding a nice posh hotel, and that was no surprise. I even had to check we were in the right town....we were. The locals said there was a hotel just round the corner, and indeed there was, well, a hostel. To be honest the Hostel Andes is not too bad, it's more the surrounding everything else that is lacking.

We went for a stroll around, it got dark within minutes of us arriving. Thank god we hadn't been later. The town looks no worse for being in fog and pouring rain, I'm sure on a sunny day it would look dire!

We found an internet cafe to mail Martin and Alan who were supposed to be on there way here, but they had enjoyed a rather too festive Saint Patrick’s Day (there were two Irish bars - no Irish - in Cusco) and not set out today. They are hoping to get from Cusco to Nasca in one day but that might be optimistic. We should meet them before we leave Nasca at least.

Dinner was not looking good as the only restaurant was full of kids watching TV and nobody eating, so we choose a fast food chicken place. It was OK but not too sophisticated shall we say. Still half cooked chips, an untouched salad, and half a chicken each which was good only cost under £2 I suppose.

We bought a Porto style wine for 30p to take back, it was good we poured it straight down the sink ! And that is a rarity I can assure you.

The other characteristic thing here is folk either speak and say hello, or are just open jawed amazed at the sight of the two of us wandering around in our bike gear. No point changing as you can see your breath and we'll be up and out without any sight seeing I think!

Some people were down right rude in their stopping and staring, or even coming back to stare again. The only time on this trip that South America has seemed third world. In fact, in some places today I would say it would be easy to think some of the folk might be less than friendly, as if this area was a stronghold of the Shining Path a few years ago, maybe was. I was reading in the political history of Peru that only 2 or 3 years ago a major near Puno was lynched by a mob for supposed corruption so I guess this is not the most progressive of places. Still, most folk are outwardly friendly and that's the picture we have most of the time.

Though our room is good enough, the tracing paper thin windows aren't so good at keeping the truck and bus noises at bay, and we are cold enough to be sleeping in T Shirts and socks. You wait, once we get to Nasca we'll be complaining about the heat!

Although blessed with general good health on this trip I seem to have developed a broken blood vessel in one of my eyes that looks a bit evil. Hopefully it will resolve itself, and maybe being at a lower altitude will help.

We must have been at high altitude now - above 3000 - for two or three weeks, think it'll be nice to be lower down once again.


Sunday 19th March 2006

Puquio - Nasca

200 something kms

It was good to leave our abode, as all night we'd had buses outside creating noise as they picked up passengers and departed, but had a surprisingly good night’s kip. There was no breakfast with the room and nowhere immediately nearby so we left dog town. Grim old spot really altogether. Petrol and some water and the ride to Nasca was all we had ahead.

The road was still sheathed in mist and fog and it was hard going. A few loony moments with two vehicles looming out of the fog directly in front of us to add to the general feeling of danger

The road was in poor shape with pot holes all over the place and hard to avoid in the limited visibility. Unfortunately the road took its toll and the panniers have split down the repair we had done in Porto Montt. Very disappointing as we don't really have time now to start looking around for repairs. We'll continue with duct tape slapped all over and hope it doesn't get any worse, or that we hit any torrential rain. Fingers crossed. So much for the costly repairs !

The road was just as twisty as previous and went over another 4000m+ pass. The scenery up there was weird as so much like the dales or Rannoch Moor again. At least we didn't get any real rain.

It wasn't until the last 30kms odd into Nasca that the temperatures heated up, but boy did they, immediately to about 35 and humid with it, such a change. And yes, we're now complaining about the heat!


v03.jpg

Just before Nasca


We took a ride out north a way until the viewing tower from which you can see a very limited amount of the lines. What's clearer seen is the fact the Pan America goes right slap bang through some of the designs and there are looks of vehicle marks were people have driven off the road into the desert - not very good for such a world importance site.

There is the constant buzz of light aero planes taking people sight seeing over the lines too, which we will add too in the morning.

We are definitely at our furthest point now, and the only way is home!

We decided to stay out of town, and town looks a right something hole if you see what I mean. We decided to stay at a more pricey place by the airport in order we can get a morning flight and then head off and get a few miles in nearer Chile.

For a double room and a half hour flight each we pay £30 which isn't bad. There are options for longer flights but really we need to make some progress homeward now so this is the best plan.

Martin and Alan have made it about half way so as we'll leave in the afternoon we won't meet again....until the UK that is.

Because we're at a place outside of town we have to pay for food and beer at a higher price but there you go. A few biscuits and some water was all we had today as the only roadside places looked a bit grim. Don't mind them in most places but Peru looks just a bit too grim were we've been compared to other countries we've been too. There really isn't much choice in the sticks.

By doing a few days of just riding with little else we could be in BA in 9 days so we have room for movement, but we'll feel happier once we are back at San Pedro de Atacama as it's a hop and a skip to Argentina from there, and we'll know better our complete return details. At present we have our return flights, but yet to fix the details for the bike, which may or may not take a few days.


Posted by Simon McCarthy at 06:40 PM GMT
20th Mar 2006 - Nasca - Camana

Virtually 400 kms

Like lingerie, the more you pay, they less you get, ...

...seems that way with hotels, another crap breakfast from a three star establishment

We had our planned flight for 10 over the lines, but as was to be the pattern for this establishment everything then changed. After crossing the road for our flight (the reason we'd paid more in first place) we were told it would be at 11.30! Exactly what we didn’t want. It was air traffic controls fault apparently, my arse, they'd sold too many flights for the allocated slots, piss up and brewery came to mind another case of money taken, thank you very much, forget the service. Apologies for blunt language, but we were both peeved as we'd stayed here at greater cost in order to maximise our limited time, we planned to hack a few miles off our return route after the flight that afternoon.

In a rare case for either of use we complained bitterly and got moved forward, a bit. Needless to say we had to pay for the flight across the road and we'd been misquoted at the hotel (didn't mind that though as the price he'd given seemed ridiculous). It was $40 each for half an hour. It warns in the book that there are a lot of tight turns and turbulence, but I have always loved flying in any size of craft and didn't see a problem. How wrong can you be!


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v05.jpg

There were 5 of us and the pilot in a small Cessna type thing. Hardly room to move, but only half hour. He assured us we'd all see all the sights as those on left would get sight, then those on right. It was steaming in the tight confines of the plane and we were overheating before we took off. Headphones on, we were off. The first bit was a straight flight and fine if not a little hot. Then we reached the lines! Cranking over tight to the right with the buzzer wailing in background (presumably warning of imminent stall or wing snap) our pilot would wail, "the astronaut, the astronaut... can you see him" Yes you could see him, but the sweat was now pouring off us and the bile was rising. I've never felt sick like that before, guess mainly the heat. Anyway this continued for half an hour before we were blessed with the return flight of straight heading. The lines are amazing, but I was more amazed by the fact I was hardly able to enjoy the experience for the feeling I would be sick at any moment. It was more like a figure of 8 pole race than a pleasure flight.


v06.jpg


v07.JPG

Landing it looked like we were all glad to be back on terra firma, and released from the cramped sweat box. If they said "another round is free, hop in" I'd have said no, and that really is a surprise. Only way to see the lines, but honestly, no a pleasant experience. I’d suggest an overcast day....or ideally a balloon!

Needless to say when we landed we were charged a 10 sols airport tax (they're all the same!)

Returned (late) to hotel to shower, pack and leave, we discovered their Visa machine wouldn't work - fine for flight - so Bev had to go into town with staff to get cash, yet more delay. Frustrating. By the time we'd resolved all these issues we were near two hours later than anticipated. Bev refused point blank to pay full bill due to all the problems. Everything was expensive, accepted that to get what we wanted, but didn't get it so price was unreasonable, Bev stuck to her guns and we paid less (by a marginal amount). Perhaps we were unlucky with our experience.

So we finally left at 13.30, time we couldn't replace, left us short for time to get were we wanted - and not much between, hence the importance and willingness top pay more for hotel etc.

The first section was desert with strong headwind and intense heat, boring but only 50 miles odd so not too bad.

It was cooler at coast and more interesting, shifting sand on road a bit of a hazard, at one point there was a JCB constantly clearing it away - the strong wind didn't help.


v08.JPG

Sand across road on Pan America by coast


At Chala it looked like a landslide with big boulders strewn across road. Checked with police and it was a demo. We could ride through, but only to further up road nearer were the demo was actually taking place. More rocks and huge numbers of vehicles, Bev counted 160. The police suggested we could go through if we pushed the bike, fortunately not too uphill. Made sure we were nice and said hello to everyone as we passed the big demo, and everyone was fine and spoke and were amazed at us pushing bike through demo. A local walked us through. Without that I guess could have been risky. Keep smiling. So that's why little traffic!


v09.JPG

Road block(ade)


The Pan America for all its name would suggest is not heavily trafficked at all, in fact quite the opposite, you wonder at the economics of it, no Cost Benefit analysis here, or not based on any figures we'd recognise.

Stopped for a bottle of water and two pics, but nothing else - five hours solid riding. Sadly both Bev's batteries were flat so she couldn't even take any pics 'on move'. Great shame, as was lack of intercom, in worlds of our own.

This section of road has to go down as one of the best biking roads in the world. It's not without dangers, but the sinuous tarmac is something only motorcyclist would understand. Both front and rear tyres were scrubbed to the extreme edge which takes some doing with the bulk we're carrying. All this on a bike that supposedly doesn't handle that well to start with, has crap brakes (ignoring the leaking master cylinder!) and is overloaded. All that should conspire to create a Frankenstein like monster, but surprisingly doesn't.

The bends followed the curves of the cliffs and at times followed the sea at its level, and the next moment climbed high above it with little protection for overrun other than the sand, rocks, or sea below. Though lightly trafficked it only takes one truck coming towards you on wrong side of road to remind you of the hidden dangers. That along with sand and rock falls and other unusual features like the sea spray coating your visor - a new one! The tarmac is far from the best generally, but the newly surfaced sections where bliss.

Undoubtedly a STUNNING road, and amazing we are still finding them within weeks of leaving.

The other feature of the coast here was the people and what they must do. Quite unexpectedly, in what would literally be the middle of nowhere, hours and hours from any population of any size, you'd meet a group of people.
The only things that were obvious for them to have been doing would be fishing, or seaweed gathering. I say this as there were huge tracts of piled seaweed drying by the roadside obviously awaiting collection. There was even one whole processing plant. I guess the weed doesn't go for food, but fertilizer. Anyway it must be a very hard way to make a very small amount of money.

Some of the hamlets were incredibly rough looking with ramshackle houses constructed on base stonework that looked to date back to Inca times (and not the high quality stonework). Then there were houses (if you can call them that) made of raffia that were so ramshackle you wonder what protection they offer at all.

Time limitations meant we just had to ride and ride, sad not to stop on many occasions as so many amazing sights, but likelihood of riding in dark meant we had to push on. So no pics. Very sad to be short of time on this stretch, some great places to camp and enjoy two or three days on this leg alone. Stunning beaches deserted for mile upon mile in spectacular setting.

Having said all this, if we hadn't have the time restrictions the ride probably wouldn't have been so memorable.

As nearer nightfall we were back into oasis valleys like in Chile. Crops growing by sea with defenses - was it de-salinated by sand, or issuing from springs that close to sea? An odd site whatever.

Time getting on and still 100kms to go. We made Camana just as it got properly to dark. Never want to ride in dark over here as the risks increase ten fold.

We wanted a decent spot and had seen a sign Hotel turista (chain) headed for centre and asked a police lady and it was just around corner. Got here at 7 about half hour after total dark. Lots of unlit vehicles and bicycles and pedestrians on road - wouldn't want to be any later.

Nice place, good traditional food, I had Ceviche, Sea bass marinated in lemon juice with toasted corn and sweet potatoes, excellent and lots of it (though it was my downfall, see entries in couple of days!). Tried a Peruvian white wine (poor) and relaxed. What a day!

The holiday adventure isn't over yet!


Tuesday 21st March 2006

Camana - Arica

590 kms

As the pattern, another day of mileage crunching (look at a map and find Nasca, then find Buenos Aires...we're along way from our return flight! With hindsight we should have go open-ended flights and returned from say Quito. But we have a bike crate and some belongings in BA and it will be worth it just to see Sandra and Javier and friends again!

Up early (for us) the usual poor breakfast and then fuel up and off for full days riding again with no comfort breaks to mention and a border to factor in.

Sadly this stretch is a similar one to the stretch from San Pedro to Arica....utter tedium. At least in Peru we had some bendy sections to relieve the tedium. Actually it wasn't too bad, though nothing at all like yesterday. We were lucky that it was overcast as it kept the temperature down to bearable levels. What you have to remember here is from Nasca down it is all desert apart from occasional irrigated valleys. The vast part of today was sand, sand, and more bloody sand (fortunately not on the road though). We passed flat red desert sands, multicoloured valleys of sand, and more and more sand !

The latter part of the day was less interested until we got to Tacna, the last Peruvian town before the border. There was a piece of paper that the SA Handbook suggested we needed (the 'relaciones de pasajeros') and we wanted to try and get it there as we'd heard some horror stories of people leaving here without the paper finding open corruption and suggestions of the form being available in exchange for a goodly sum of money, or you have the choice of a 70kms round trip to get it.

We asked a local policeman and he suggested trying the 'tourist police'. I approached an attractive young lady in uniform and she insisted on coming and seeing the bike and hearing all about our adventures. Unfortunately she misguidedly said we didn't need the form so we left empty handed.

At the border it was obvious you do need it! They don't use this system elsewhere, but the form is used by both countries here at least.

Now obviously you can buy the form ($0.5) but the scam is the border guard (Peruvian anti drugs in this case) suggests he can provide one for a fee, and you must have it. It's obvious is a bribe as money is only mentioned when no-one else is in earshot. Anyway, he passed a form (four copies of course) across for us to fill in whilst we were playing our 'stupid' card and 'no understand'. We fully well understood, but often this gets you a long way. He asked for $10 but with our usual guile we had taken all the US money out of wallets so we had very little of anything so when we opened wallets we looked poorly provided for. To cut a long story short we paid $3, about 6 times more than official rate, but considerably less than many others have, and in fact without the form we'd have had more problems.

The border crossing was about the most disorganized of the trip really, for first time I had no idea were to go, or for what. Still, the rest of the Peruvians were fine, and it only took half an hour in total anyway. The worst part with Chile is the SAG officials. They are the ones who check for illegal import of fruit and veg etc and they are like right little Hitler’s.....definitely jumped up officials.

Anyway, with light fading we were through and on the way to Arica to the same hotel we'd stayed in before. We found it easily and knowing our way round town went straight back to the excellent eatery we had previously used before taking and early night ready for a long day ahead.

Sadly, this is when I realised I had picked up a stomach bug, the fact I was peeing through my backside was not a healthy sign. What great timing!


Wednesday 22nd March 2006

Arica - San Pedro de Atacama

700+ kms

We wanted to get off early today and usual poor breakfast we hit the road just after 8. Having taken two days to get from San Pedro to here on way up didn't want to do it again as it is so bloody boring a stretch of road.

Unfortunately all the best riding is over with in the morning as the first 200kms include some nice up and down and twisty sections. We met some more affluent Brazilians on big bikes doing a high mileage short tour but there after bugger all.


v10.JPG

It doesn´t get much better than this..ahem..I mean it doesn´t get much worse than this for motorcycling


This section of road (after that 200kms) has to go down as one of the least inspiring roads on the planet (if not universe!). It is straight, hot, and BORRRING. There are occasional distractions by way of geogylphs, old nitrate mine ruins or 14kms of off road diversion, but otherwise it is mind numbingly boring. Image without intercom too, and then factor in the stomach upset, great!

To be honest, Bev had asked if I was up to it, I of course said yes, but in truth wasn't. The last thing you want when dehydrated and feeling totally drained, is 700kms of riding through 40-45 deg heat with no shade, and no rest.

Basically it was hell! Not big or clever, but I wanted to get here to relax, and breaking the journey wouldn't have helped (even if we could, not many opportunities). Even fuel is 200 or 300 kms apart.

Basically by the time we arrived (half hour before dark) I was a physical wreck. Definitely not the right thing to do, riding the length of France in the heat of the north Sahara when likely to be dehydrated, but there you go. Back into the same place we'd been before, a pass away from Argentina

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 06:46 PM GMT
 
 

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