So we’re off, Curtis and Janet, Roger and Linda, Fred and I, heading out through the early morning rush hour in Bogotá. In the middle of an underpass my bike cuts out leaving me stuck in the middle lane of traffic while I watched my companions weaving through the traffic ahead of me. Fortunately the traffic was hardly moving and slightly downhill so I was able to get to the roadside between impatient buses. Roger and I had discussed my bikes propensity to cut out and he had told me that some of the early BMWf650s had a habit of doing this due to a sticky relief valve in the fuel cap. This caused a vacuum and the fuel wouldn’t flow. I quickly opened the fuel cap and what do you know, she fired up and I was away again. Soon the traffic began to thin and I managed to catch up with the others. The roads in Columbia are quite good and we carried on through the hills towards the Rio Magdalena valley. We had had a little conference the evening before, each explaining what we wanted from the ride. Curtis and Janet had no wish to get into the culture of the countries we were going to drive through, Fred, well Fred wanted to get to ride as much of South America as he could in the few months he had available. This meant that while he was achieving his aim, he would also be riding long and fast, (to get to Ushuaia before the winter set in was a worry for me too); so two plus points for him there, but also he would not perhaps touch the real world as often as I wanted to. Roger and Linda wanted what I wanted, to see the sights, hear the sounds and try and get a real feel for the countries we were to visit. I made it plain that I had no intention of riding over 300 miles at 80mph every day, and if they saw that I had disappeared from their mirror not to worry, if I knew the town and hotel we were heading for that night, I would arrive eventually.
The Colombian countryside
The road was serpentine and rose into the mountains lining the valley of Rio Magdalena. The guys in front of me breezed past the trucks effortlessly but I needed to choose my moments being half the size of their bigger bikes. This meant I would slowly loose them and then with a reckless spurt I would catch up a little. Also my bike had a leaking radiator, so I had to keep one eye on the temperature gauge. I usually don’t stop for lunch, a swig from my water bottle and a chocolate biscuit were usually enough, so when the others pulled into a café or restaurant, I would see their bikes and pull over for a quick cup of coffee and top up my radiator. The radiator cap is quite difficult to get to on my f650, so I took to removing the temperature sensor and topping it up with my hydropack feed tube. Roger was very good at finding good places to eat. His maxim was, ‘If it don’t smell of cooking and no ones in eating in there, there must be a reason, on the other hand if it smells of cooking and tables are busy then it’s ok.’
In response to my feelings we had agreed to overnight in Ibague, a ride of less than 200miles. Riding into Ibague I became totally lost and had no idea where the hotel was situated. I tried to hail a couple of taxis but they looked at me oddly and drove on. In the end I rode in front of one that was about to exit a side street, parked my bike in front of him and managed to indicate that if he would lead me to this hotel I would pay him for his help. Realisation hit him and his slightly pained expression turned into a grin. The streets got narrower and busier as we neared the pedestrian shopping streets in the centre of the town, and luckily for us a van unloading caused us to stop 50 yards short of the hotel. Indicating we were here, the taxi driver pointed out the ramp of a multi storey parking lot, and he and the car park attendant gave me enough hints so that even I got the idea that the hotel used this parking lot and it was free for hotel guests. The only thing that worried me was I could not see the other bikes, but the car park attendant said that ‘si’ the Americanos were in the hotel. ‘Well to hell with it,’ I thought, ‘If it’s not my Americanos I’m about to make new friends and I have at least found a hotel for the night. I was unused to the concept of the hotel being above the ground floor while the ground floor was used by shops, so following directions, ‘50 mtrs and on the right,’ I walked right past the glass hotel door amongst the shop frontages, and turned right into the pedestrian shopping street looking for something that resembled the frontage of a hotel. Not finding one I turned and walked back. ‘No nothing looking like a hotel entrance, is there a sign on one of the buildings then? I looked up and there were Janet and Linda standing by a first floor window drinking coffee. I found the door amongst the shop fronts, yep the one with HOTEL in big gold letters written on it, and joined them with a cup of coffee. Apparently they all arrived in the street by the hotel door and nearly caused a riot due to the crowd that gathered to see, touch and ogle at these big gringo motos. However when they eventually got their luggage off and into the hotel, they realised that the parking was 50mtrs back up the road and the local cops wouldn’t let them ride back to it as this was a one way street, something that normally doesn’t bother us, so they took off round the block, and that’s about the time I arrived, so I wasn’t that far behind them after all. Trouble is they took a wrong turn, got lost again and eventually turned up 10 minutes later.
The lounge of the hotel had a good view on the street below, and I can say that from what I saw Columbian women are amongst the most beautiful in the world. Only trouble is they go for the same understated sophisticated style that Brittney Spears goes for so successfully. (For those who do not recognise it, this is irony) Shame really, but I put it down to the way that Latin men like to see their women. Same on the telly by the way, the presenters often look like tarts, and I’m sure that they are all intelligent women, well some of them anyway!
I took a couple of pictures of the town from my window as we did not get time to do more than walk up and down the shops, eat chicken and chips, and return to the hotel.
Ibague from the hotel lounge
At breakfast I mentioned that for the first time on my trip I had wanted to, but not stopped to take pictures of the scenery. I would therefore be even further behind today as I intended to stop if I saw a nice view. This was not a problem for Curtis or Roger of course, as they had pillion riders to take pictures for them. I don’t think a photo journal was high on Fred’s list of priorities on this trip though.
I was first to the car park but as I needed to fill my radiator, was last out. Reaching the street I saw not a sign of them, but managed to catch them up a few miles up the road. Roger hung back for me and we watched Curtis and Fred swapping lead in the distance ahead. Roger has this one trait though which I found amusing, and I’m sure he does not know he possesses. He can’t abide a lorry being in front of him and would ride quite nicely at 60 until about 100 yds from the lorry, then speed up to overtake it. Me? I’m as like to slow down by 2 or 3mph and follow it until we hit a hill and it started to run out of steam.
This was another easy day and we ended up in Cali through mountains with brooding black clouds in the distance, but we only caught the odd shower as we topped the higher passes. I say we, but once again I found myself alone at the end of the afternoon, although I was sure the others were just ahead by about 10 minutes. Then on the last mountain before town the traffic crawled to a stop. After a while engines were turned off and people began to stretch their legs. I, with my British propensity not to jump a queue, did likewise, while other, smaller, locals rode past. Never ones to miss an opportunity to sell things to passing motorists, some local villagers were walking along the stalled traffic selling hot broth, empanadas, sweets and fruit juice. I became the centre of attention as people asked about my bike, luggage and trip. I in turn learned that there had been a landslide and the way ahead was totally blocked although a crew of about 100 were working on clearing the way but no one knew how long it would be before the road was open again. The sun was disappearing behind the mountains when a policeman indicated for me to pull out of the traffic and go on ahead. The work men had carved a corridor through the landslide with their bulldozers and earth movers and left a clay surface several feet above the original asphalt. This was slippery and not at all nice to ride on, I later learned that it was even worse for the others as earlier they had left a hump in it as well, but when a lorry started to slide sideways trying to get over it, they stopped the traffic and removed it, but first let the motorbikes have a go. I think the guys said they made the ladies dismount because it was so slippery. They knew I was ok because a local dirt bike rider and I had spoken earlier in the queue and he had ridden ahead. Seeing the others he told them I was just down the road a little ways. Anyway somehow or other I caught up just outside of town.
Curtis and Janet
We were going to stay at a hotel run by a German couple that night, one at which both Curtiss and Roger had stayed before, but they seemed to have forgotten the way and while they discussed it on one side of a road junction I waited at the other side for the outcome. ‘Right, that’s straight on then!’ I thought as they rode off leaving me cut off by a sudden swell in the traffic. My own fault, I should have joined them on the opposite corner, but I thought it looked a bit exposed to the traffic. Needless to stay no one noticed I was gone, but when the German hotel told them it was full, they were kind enough to ask them to give me a message. I, in the meantime, stopped at the first really good looking hotel and had a hot bath then ate a five star meal accompanied by a fine bottle of red wine while I watched the traffic go by 6 floors below my restaurant table.
I figured that if I started early, then either they would catch me up and overtake me, or I would see their bikes parked outside a roadside café. In the event, I had pulled in for petrol and was just getting a cup of coffee from the outside cafe when they pulled up for gas themselves. After gassing up they joined me and had their lunch. Just as we were about to leave the local school turned out and Roger, Linda and I, being slower to get away than the others, found ourselves signing autographs for about 2 dozen 13yr old girls and boys. Quite sweet really.
In Pasto there is a fantastic plaza with a modern theme to it and wonderful bronze plaques. Also there is a small museum with articles from the earlier culture that lived amongst the hot springs of this hilltop town.
Bronze Plaque in Pasto
One of the earlier inhabitants
Again I got left behind somehow and nearly rode straight through the frontier area, I thought it was a recreational area with cafes, toilets and stuff. The Columbians just took the copies of the documents we were issued in Bogotá and stamped my passport. I could see on the desk the paperwork from Roger and asked if they were far ahead, I made out from the reply that they were about 10 minutes ahead of me. Riding over to the Ecuadorian side of the border I saw Janet and Linda standing by the bikes and drew up next to them. Fred, Roger and Curtis came out of a small office towards me. ‘The computers down,’ said Fred, ‘It may be an hour of so until we can get our paperwork! They have called the main man and he is coming in, it’s supposed to be his day off!’ He duly arrived, diagnosed a faulty server connection and we all retired to another part of the complex and used another computer there. Fortunately it was Sunday and so a lot of the offices were empty. Armed with our paperwork we hit the road for Quito, and this time I was determined not to loose them.
Janet and Linda at the Ecudorian border
Fred, Curtiss and Janet soon disappeared off the radar and Roger, Linda and I rode towards Quito together. We were headed towards the zero line on the map and knew that there was a park with a monument somewhere. Along the way we saw Fred stopped talking to some other BMW riders and pulled over to find out what was happening. These were a group of guys and girls from Quito out for a Sunday ride. Unfortunately one of them had hit a dog in the village but luckily there was no serious damage done. The dog died on impact though. I should explain to those of you who have not witnessed the canine way of life here why this appears so callous. Dogs roam the streets everywhere in South America with no apparent owners, and strangely it is only in the cities where dogs are on leads that you see dog crap on the streets. In most towns the dogs rummage in the garbage for food and lie in the sun or practice group sex to make more little doggies. They also chase cars and motorbikes through the town but are quite subdued around people. They howl and bark all through the night like in those cartoon films, one setting the next off. In the markets there are dozens of puppies for sale and often a young family can be seen cuddling a puppy as they walk up the street, but I bet it will be left to its own devices when they get bored with it. I think the dogs regard the engine noise as an animal growling at them or something, but half ignore you and the others chase you out of town. Anyway we follow them to a local café and chat and they say they will lead us to the road that leads to the monument before they peel off to finish their ride.
Coffee with the locals
Arriving at the monument park we walked through the shops and booths to take pictures of the line that marks the equator. After a cup of coffee and a pastry we got back on the bikes and headed the short distance to Quito, Fred had already left it was Roger Linda and I that headed into Quito looking for the hotel by the Theatre Plaza.
Cheesy, but you gotta do it!
We got hopelessly lost as we had to ride past our exit from the freeway because the lanes were separated by a series of lane dividers about the size of half a football, which you could get over if you were in a truck or bus, but were out of the question at that angle for a motorbike. We left at the next junction thinking that we could run back parallel to the main road, but ended up in a cul-de-sac after going up one of the steepest roads I have ever encountered. Choosing not to ride down the stairs, which were just as steep, we eventually found a cab and followed him to our hotel, outside of which Fred’s bike was parked. I did not know until later in the afternoon that Curtis and Janet had elected to stay at The Quito Marriot in a better part of town. We all agreed to meet up and go on to The Turtles Head, a British Pub run by a Scot who brewed Real Ale there. Curtis then told me that he and Janet had decided to return to Texas by plane, and generously gave me his maps and guide books to the countries I would be visiting if all went well.
During dinner Albert arrived and introduced himself and we were all having a good old chinwag about our plans, when I mentioned my radiator problem. Albert said that I was in luck because one of his chillers was having the heat exchanger repaired the next day by a guy who was probably the best aluminium welder in town. If I could get my radiator to the pub by 10am the next morning, he would get him to fix it. What a star!
After an early breakfast I stripped out my radiator in the cellar garage, not realising that the spot I had chosen, under the light well, was also the point where the hotel washing machine emptied, I thought the outlet was a rain pipe, and as the weather was fine, was of no threat. By the time the first flush of soapy water gushed around my feet it was too late to move. After delivering the radiator, I returned to walk around the town.
Next; Waterfalls. Volcanoes and more friends lost.
In Quito the University buildings are right next to the main square and house an interesting display of exhibits including, while we were there, an exhibition of photographs from international photographers. After seeing them I walked around the University admiring the Art Nuevo murals decorating the walls, before returning to the main part of town and inevitably to the main plaza where I saw that something special was going on. There were police and army clearing away the old men from their normal seats around the war memorial and cordoning it off. Trumpets sounded, the Presidential Guard marched onto the terrace of the Presidential Palace and a military band struck up. Lancers rode their chargers slowly in from both side of the plaza and formed up in front of the Palace. Dignitaries took their places on the balcony and the Ecuadorian flag was unfurled. Today was Independence Day!
I listened to the presidential speech, not understanding any of it, listened to the band, and watched as the whole thing went into reverse and the old men resumed their seats by the war memorial. An interesting diversion for a little while, and I do like ceremony, especially when everyone is dressed up like toy soldiers.
The Presidential Guard line the balconies
While those on horses line up on the street
and the National Flag is unfurled
We returned to ‘The Turtles Head’ that evening and I was delighted to find my radiator had been repaired and was as good as new. Apparently just a tiny hole in it somewhere, maybe a stone. As good an excuse as any for a few celebratory pints. Also we were bidding farewell to Curtis and Janet who had decided to fly back home from Quito. Fred had told us earlier that he would be leaving in the morning too, as he was anxious to get to Ushuaia before the weather closed in down there. That left Roger, Linda and I who planned to make a leisurely way down to Chile where Linda was to catch a plane home in early April, leaving Roger a month before he too must return.
I assembled my bike amid more gushing soapy water and by late morning was ready to resume the trip. Roger and Linda were taking a guided tour of the city, so I wandered up to the Cathedral for a look. The cathedral in Quito has all of the worst aspects of organised religion built into it. It seemed to me to shout ‘Thou shalt not…..’ from every corner. It was of course built in another age when the church was out to dominate rather than nurture, but where others may have softened their message I felt that Quito had somehow not done so. All the people who looked as if they worked there appeared pleasant enough, it was the building itself that seemed cold and uncompassionate.
The daunting Quito Cathedral
Albert had marked on Rogers map some of the better rides on the way to Santiago and we headed for the first of them at Banos. The dirt road to Banos went through small villages and farming communities before once more getting back to asphalt. After rejoining the main road we came to an area that was under intense construction efforts. Here the local volcano had spewed larva down the mountain and across the road. A year later and they were still clearing up, only to find that the mountain was blowing its top again.
Notice in shop window at Banos.....
'If the volcano blows, run, but run in the right direction!!
The shops had notices posted on what to do if the volcano blew up again and we also saw that there were trips up the mountain opposite to se the lava flows. The bus we got on that night had a wooden seating platform that was a bit worrying in its construction, and we hurled around blind bends in the dark going up that mountain road. Now I know what it’s like for all those poor backpackers who catch country buses.
At the viewing point we had a brief lecture in Spanish which we could not understand, plus a tot of some local drink that tasted of aniseed. We gazed out at the town spread below us and up the valley where the volcano should have been, but all we could see was cloud. We amused ourselves watching the local TV reporter going on air with his night’s bulletin, before returning to the coach for the death defying decent. If it had not been for the actual coach ride, the whole thing would have been a waste of time.
Linda and Roger on the 'Volcano Express'
The road out of Banos towards Puyo, travels along a river valley that leads to the headwaters of the Amazon River. There are many tunnels and lots of waterfalls, the scenery is beautiful. We rode steadily to Payo and after a coffee for me and lunch for the others, we headed back now aware how much time we had to linger and take photos etc. There is one stunning waterfall (I’ll try and look up the name) where I walked down to the bottom of the gorge, whilst Roger and Linda explored the jungle gardens and the top of this spectacular cataract.
Having taken my pictures of the falls from the bottom, I trudged back up the footpath and went searching for my two companions finding them only when I got back to the little café where we had left the bikes, the owner kindly looking after our motorcycle jackets and helmets while we were gone.
Waterfalls tumble through the jungle onto the road....
and swaying bridges cross gorges over torrents....
....while intrepid explorers hack through the jungle
....searching for who knows what?
Roger and Linda getting ready for another leg of the outing
The border crossing near Santa Rosa was our destination as we said goodbye to 3 pleasant days in Banos. As we rode down the mountains there were frequently places where debris had fallen into the road, or where the tarmac had been washed away to be replaced by slippery white or red mud. In most places it had been compacted down, but sometimes we were switching from one side of the road to the other to try and find the best line. Coming out of the mountains at last we witnessed the flooding that the last week of rain had caused the lowland inhabitancies. The rivers were swollen and many of the roadside houses were flooded by a foot of water or more. I felt so sorry for the people here, but wondered how many times it would have to happen before they twigged and built their houses on stilts like in Belize.
Stopping at a petrol station just outside Santa Rosa we had a chat with some local riders before pressing on along the half finished by-pass to get to the border crossing of Macara which is off the main road leading to Loja. Following the signs to Loja, I was puzzled as to why Roger had slowed down at a fork in the road, the sign clearly pointed to Loja. Off to the left. Not stopping, I just took the left fork and carried on, although I did appear to be heading north and not east, but you can never tell as the roads here sometimes do funny things. Just ahead a town looked to be coming up and Roger and Linda overtook me and a couple of lorries just as I saw the towns name; Santa Rosa! We had, I had; taken the road back into the town we had just by-passed. The road met a roundabout and I was lost as to which road to take, so took the busiest looking one and followed it through the town, looking right and left for Rogers orange Buell. I ended up in a suburb and turned back to head once again into town and look for Roger and Linda. Stopping to ask the way to Loja from a family group sitting on their porch I set of an argument. All the older folk said ‘Yes keep going north and the road bends east to Loja.’ All the young men said ‘No, go back the way you came and take the road south and it will bend east to Loja’. And the argument started getting quite heated until I got of my bike and told them all to gather round my motorbike while I took a photo. Handshakes and smiles all round and they seemed to have forgotten that two minutes ago they were shouting at each other, but it did explain why the signpost pointed the wrong way.
Go this way, no that way!
Another beautiful road through Piedras and along river valleys towards Loja. Where the road turns to Macara and the border, there is a little police post and barrier. I asked them if another gringo moto had passed through and they said no. I told them that it was probably behind me and could they tell them I was going for a hotel in Catacoche. Since there seemed to be only one hotel in Catacoche, I expected to see them later that afternoon, and since I had to park in the street, I was pretty sure they would see where I was anyway. I never saw them again, and as I rode to the border at Macara kept thinking ‘should I go back, or is this kismet?’ In the end I decided it was kismet and reached the bridge at Macara that separates Ecuador from Peru, being slightly puzzled why none of the petrol stations had any petrol. This I would find out during the coming afternoon.
In the end, go your own way!
Next; Barriers, Arguments and the £10 bottle of Coca Cola.
Barriers, Arguments and the £10 bottle of Coca Cola.
Crossing the bridge at Macara was easy as there was hardly any traffic. I congratulated myself at choosing a nice quiet border crossing. The town itself was pretty standard for a country town here abouts, with poorly maintained streets and the usual run of small shops and kiosks. The bridge that separates the two countries of Ecuador and Peru is about a mile out of town, past several petrol stations all of which seemed to be out of petrol and only had diesel for sale. I had hoped to top up with petrol from Ecuador as I had heard that in many places in Peru you could only get 84 Octane petrol. The border people in Ecuador did their stuff and I crossed over the swollen river into Peru.
Torrential waters rage at the border crossing.
The Immigration Officer stamped my passport and directed me across the road to a couple of men sitting at a desk on the veranda of the Customs Post.
‘The road is closed, you should go back into Macara and find a hotel,’ were the first words he said to me in halting English.
‘But I’ve just had all my documents stamped out of Ecuador and into Peru.’ I replied.
‘Oh no one will bother about that, just ride straight past, they won’t stop you.’ he grinned.
‘How long will the road be closed?’ I asked.
‘Two days,’ he said, ‘barrios.’ Or something like it. I thought for a moment and said
‘Well lets do the paperwork and I will ride up the road and have a look, I may be able to get past where lorries and cars cannot.’ I said, thinking that maybe if there were landslides ahead, perhaps there would be enough room for a bike to get by.
Fortunately just up the road a few miles was a petrol station so I was able to get rid of at least one of my worries.
Coming into a small un-named village I saw a crowd of people standing in the road, not the first crowd I had passed through on my travels, so I thought little of it until an old stringbean of a man shouted at me
’Go back, get a hotel in Macara.’
It was then that I noticed a line of boulders blocking the bridge ahead.
‘Is it a protest?’ I asked of no one in particular.
‘Si,’ someone said, ‘go back.’
‘I am a tourist,’ I replied, can I go through?’
Another man said ‘Yes’and indicated with gestures that I could go round the blockade if I went down a gravel road and then around. So I turned off the road expecting to find a way across the canal somewhere at the back of the village. Sure enough there was a little bridge about a mile down the track and I crossed over only to find that one road led into a small group of rough houses and the other continued alongside the side of the canal. But at least I was now on the side of the canal i wantedto be on. My map showed a small road that joined up with another main road some 10 miles further on. It was to prove a long and fruitless ten miles!
The good side of the Canal
I asked if the road through this small hamlet went back to the road and was told that it didn’t, so continued alongside the canal. The gravel petered out and was replaced by a muddy path. After about half an hour I met a man on his small 50cc moped and asked him if there was an exit, my GPS seemed to indicate there was. ‘No’ he said, and carried on, but I was not convinced and I carried on too. Another half hour and another small motor bike and a ‘Si’. Made me feel better. About 10 miles down this slippery muddy path and I met a third man who stopped when I hailed him and in no uncertain terms replied that yes the track went to the road, but no I could not get out as a fence had been put up and the road ended. I stopped and had a drink, turned around and went back down the track where I promptly fell off. I hauled all the gear off of my bike and got it back up, loaded it up and 100yds later fell off again. I soon noticed the reason why, the mud was building up on my front wheel, fouling the mudguard which made the front wheel stop and skid.
Once more I took all my gear off and started to remove the front mudguard. By now the light was just beginning to fade, although it had been a dull day all along with low glowering clouds.
Mud, and more mud, don't let the grass fool you, that's just loose gravel and rocks.
Believe it or not my bike is on it's side!! but I am too tired to lift it fully loaded.
I thought to myself that since the camping gear was off the bike anyway I might as well camp until morning, when along the track there came a battered old car. Three young men got out and each showed me their identity card. ‘But why?’ I asked. ‘It is very, very dangerous here,’ the leader said, ‘many robbers and guns, you must not stay here it is not safe, what is your problem?’ I indicated the mud build up under the mudguard and between us we soon had it off, the bike upright and the gear stowed safely on. I thanked them profusely and continued on slipping and sliding back to the little bridge and the relative safety of the gravel track.
Help is at hand
When I arrived back at the main road I had built myself up into a real temper. A man who appeared to be in control of the blockade, and better dressed than the others, repeated that I should go back and find a hotel.
‘No!’ I shouted at him and drove right up to the barrier getting off my bike. ‘No,’ I repeated, 'you have sent me 16 kms up the track and I have come 16kms back because there is no way out. I am sleeping here,’ indicating the road next to the boulders, ’to protest about your protest’!
‘Come,’ he said, we will talk,' and led me to a table outside a small kiosk that served as a café.
‘Do you have any money for coffee?’ he asked and I gave him the last of my $1 bills. He came back with two cups of coffee and three cigarettes. Now I had not smoked since the week before I left Antigua, Guatemala, but in the spirit of good negotiation, joined him for a smoke and chat about what was to be done.
‘You may pass in the morning.’ He said, ‘but do not sleep in the road. This man,’ he indicated one of the onlookers, ‘has said you may sleep on his veranda just over there, also his house has a fence around and you will be safe.’
The kids make sure I'm OK
The local kids thought it was all very exciting and followed me into the garden and onto the veranda where I pleased them even more by taking their photograph. A young Chiquita insisted I take her photo away from the younger children and was quite the prima donna. After seeing herself on my camera she then asked if she could have a go and took my photo, it wasn’t until I saw it again later that I realised it shows just how tired I was.
and rider haggard
Everyone gathered around while I took out my sleeping mat and sleeping bag and only when I was safely in it did they go, making a great racket as they went, telling the kids to be quiet so I could sleep.
It started raining again at about 1.00 o’clock in the morning and I did my best to ignore it until my hand got wet from a puddle that was slowly spreading on the veranda, I moved the bike a bit further along to a dry spot, soaking my socks in the process, and retired to an old wicker chair with my feet on a small coffee table that was handy. I cat napped through the rest of the night while the water ebbed and flowed depending on the strength of the rain. After a breakfast of coffee and biscuits I made my way out of the rain sodden garden back onto the highway where the men graciously drew aside a boulder for me to pass through the barrier.
'At last' I thought, 'I can get some miles in and get to a hotel.' Not so; 2 miles up the road there was a barrier of mud and clay. A young man was helped through with his lightweight 125cc motorbike, with a great deal of trouble, but afterwards they closed the small gap up. I knew there was no way my heavily loaded 650cc BMW would get through the soft sticky stuff even if they would let me, so I busied myself helping the older locals traverse a steep and slippery slope at the edge of the barrier. The reason they had let the 125cc bike through now became clear after he returned with a woman and child sitting on his bike. He was doing a roaring trade as a taxi from somewhere ahead back to this barrier. A dozen trips more brought old ladies and gentlemen, baskets of vegetables and the odd live chicken to our sodden barrier, most of who I aided along the narrow slippery temporary path through someones garden and along the bank at the side of the road. After about an hour one of the men manning the barrier told me that it may be possible to get past by going up a rough hill on the other side of the road. After walking it I found myself at the other side of the barrier and thought it to slippery for my heavy bike. The young man on the 125cc offered to ride my bike across this hill for me, and with me and a couple of kids pushing, and him bouncing up and down furiously, we finally managed to do it. Not having any money I gave hime a pair of binoculars that my brother had given me in Texas, but which I had yet to make use of,and a harmonica which I had vainly thought I could teach myself to play during my journey.. I continued on.
Another barrier, this one of mud.
'and more helping hands'
No surprise then to find another barrier a few miles further on, of felled trees this time, but while most of the men had been good natured about their refusal to let me pass, the young man at this one was in no mood to make an exception for this gringo. Luckily a couple of tuk-tuks arrived with some older and more senior officials and they said that they were not out to make enemies with tourists and directed that the trees across the road be drawn back a little so I could pass.
'Not a happy young man'
While waiting for this to happen, one of these older men tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a telephone indicating I should speak to the person at the other end of the line. I started with my standard phrase, ‘Yo hablo Espaniol poquito, perro…..’ and added something to the effect that if the farmers had a legitimate complaint then as representatives of all of the people the government should at least talk to them. I added that everyone had been most kind to me and I did not mind the delay as it gave me a chance to talk to the ordinary people of the area. This last part I added because turning around, as you do when using a cell phone, I saw a group of people with big smiles on their faces listening to a transistor radio. I was broadcasting to the nation!
The next few barriers were easy to get through as I was instantly recognised as the Gringo from the radio, but the day was hot and I felt tired and thirsty having used the last of my water to make coffee that morning. I came to the road junction with the local town, Las Lomas, and turned west towards the coast, thinking I had seen the last of these barriers, but the number of people walking or riding in tuk-tuks should have warned me. After a brief discussion with what seemed the whole village out on the street at the next barrier, and being told I could ride through someone’s garden to skirt this barrier of tree trunks, I turned the steering hard to the right to get off of the road and the engine promptly cut out. As the instrument panel indicator lights were also out I really hoped it would be something simple like a fuse. The cause of the fuse blowing also worried me, but first things first. The crowd roared, some with excitement at my plight, others with disappointment for me. I wheeled my bike to the side of the road and with the help of some of the people there removed my rucksack and camping gear so that I could take the seat off to get to the fuses. As I bent over I swooned due to the heat and lack of fluids, so promptly sat down and rested against my bike explaining the best I could that I was dizzy and had no water. A couple of kids took my empty water bottle and soon returned with it full of cold water. This I dumped over my head, to the great amusement of the onlookers, and asked if there was somewhere I could buy a bottle of orange to drink. There was a small roadside café just a few yards away, but I realised I only had US$. He had some litre bottles of Coke and I asked if he took US$, No he said, but a more affluent looking man came forward and offered to pay for the drinks in exchange for my $20 bill. I thought this guy was taking the piss a bit so said ‘3bottles’ giving the other 2 to be shared out amongst the crowd. So I got a litre of coke for 10quid and the guy who changed my bill got the best exchange rate ever. While I was thus engaged a taxi arrived and looked as though he was going to drive through the garden of the house that had been indicted to me earlier. A shower of fist sized stones made him change his mind and after a furious shouting match and another shower of stones he retreated. Then a BMW1200 arrived on the scene with another English rider on and after a brief chat I told him to get going while the crowd was still on our side. I was too woozy still to take in his name, but saw a wonderful email from him to Fast Freddie who he intended to hook up with later on his travels. A blown clutch oil seal left him stranded in Sullanna with a very jaundiced view of his first day in Peru.
The village people who helped me revive with a $10 coke.
The liquid soon revived me and the bike fired up with no problem as soon as I replaced the fuse. Taking care not to put it on full lock, I rode down the indicated path, and on through the back garden to shouts of 'Hasta Leago' and 'Bien Via' from the crowd. Further up the road I passed an Army convoy complete with bulldozers heading in the direction I had come from. The signs of dismantled barriers and armed solders made it obvious that the government was not prepared to talk.
In the meantime I headed through Sullana and crossing the bridge into town I noticed the river was very swollen. At the other side of the town is a ford about 50 metres wide and with my heart in my mouth I rode into it, the water swirling around my knees. Luckily I angled my approach to head upstream a little, because the force of the water began to take me in an arc downstream. The road is very wide here so by opening the throttle a bit I made the other side ok, just, but it was an experience not to be repeated if I could help it (fat chance).
The swollen River through Sullana
The landscape began to change to sand dunes and scrubby desert, and in the hot sun I soon dried off, making it at last to the town of Chiclayo where I found a third rate hotel that to me was as good as any Hilton.
Next: A serenade plus deserts and mountains; mountains and deserts
There is no garage at the Hotel so I drive my motorbike through the lobby and into the tiny courtyard garden, where, trying to make a tight right hand turn around a raised flowerbed, the bike once more blows a fuse. That will have to wait until tomorrow as now I am too tired to fix it. The room is very basic, the linen clean but well worn and the bed sags in the middle, but after a meal of chicken (that tastes like cardboard) I sleep like a log.
This is a strange little town, with a modern façade built onto crumbling older main structures, and poorly built modern buildings too. It is like most of the lowland towns in Peru. I decide that I can put up with the poor facilities in the hotel for another night and go out to explore. The showpiece of the town is a narrow park that runs alongside a small river and is dotted with statues in the classic style.
In the morning I replace the fuse and during this time another of the guests introduces himself to me. He speaks very good English which he learned in Europe. He is Venezuelan by birth, but spent many years in Europe singing opera, and proceeds to serenade me with a rendition of ‘O Sole mio,’ His voice has obviously been well trained, but now in his later years , is showing signs of age. Nevertheless the final high notes are strong, clear and controlled.
An hour later he sees me into the traffic and as I finish getting ready asks if I could spare a little cash. This touches my heart, to see a man that once enjoyed the cities of Milan, Paris and London down on his luck in a little desert town like Chicalayo. I give him $20 and to save his pride tell him it is payment for the song he sang earlier. There on the side walk he bursts into song once more with another rendition of ‘O sole mio’, this time a little stronger with more control. I set off south with those last high tenor notes still ringing in my ears and hum the tune to myself for the rest of the day. He wrote his name and email address on my map, the only piece of paper I had readily available, but unfortunately I lost it somewhere on my journey.
Walter, the opera singer
The desert rolls on beneath my wheels in an endless stream of trucks that belch black smoke, pickups that drive too slow and cars that drive too fast. There a many abandoned adobe houses along the highway, and in other places Adobe bricks drying in the sun to build more. Don’t like the locality? Simple, move to somewhere you like better, mix up some mud and straw and build a new house.
There is not much difference in one part of the desert to the next. Occasionally I went across bridges spanning dry riverbeds with a flush of green along the banks, but it is the smell of the desert that I remember as well. It smells horrible in places, like the smell you get from very old diesel fuel; slightly sulphurous and unpleasant. Not the whole desert, just now and again. The discarded rubbish thrown from cars and trucks along the roadside and the rubbish tips on the edge of every town are also part of the average desert scenery here along with the abandoned adobe houses and new adobe bricks drying in the sun of course.
Desert landscape complete with strewn rubbish.
Out of town it all looks much cleaner, but it still smells of petroleum.
After spending the night in Chimbote I once again ploughed ahead through a bland desert landscape with glimpses of the sea here and there until reaching the coastal town of Barranca. The Hotel was a good quality 3 star hotel so I decided to stay here for a couple of days. The hotel has a swimming pool and I spent the afternoon in the pool bar drinking coffee and talking to a local farmer who had brought his granddaughter into town to enjoy a swim.
Hotel Chavin has a fine view of the sea.
Much refreshed from my day off from travelling I rode back the way I came for a few miles before branching off down a road that followed a river up into the mountains. At the delta there are broad fields of sugar cane but further up the river the mountain walls begin to close in. Here for 50 meters or so each side of the river there is meadow, maize or orchards, the rest is desert sand and rock. As the road climbs candelabra cactus appears and then the occasional sage brush.
The Road to the Andes
I follow in the fumes of the local bus until it stops at one of the many hamlets along the way. The dogs eye me as I pass, but it is hot and they are too lazy to give chase. The road begins to zigzag up the mountain with tight hairpin bends, each one of which has been cut up by the scrubbing of lorry and coach tyres. Grass, wild flowers and small bushes begin to make their appearance as I climb higher into the mountains, and the temperature drops a degree or so with every 1000 feet that I climb.
Photo 9m At 2800 meters the bike begins to become unresponsive due to the altitude, and by the time I reach 4800 meters I have forgotten what top gear is like, as it will only hold its speed at over 70mph, and there are not many opportunities to go that fast, although when the road plateaus out there are long straight stretches, but I am not in that much of a hurry. Besides which there are groups of llamas wandering about and they are always a bit unpredictable as to which way they will run, always at the last minute of course. Funny thing is if you stop and try and photograph them they run even further away.
A waterfall gushes down from the high plateau somewhere in the clouds above,.
To my right even higher snow clad peaks appear through the clouds that gather around them, a magnificent view to see, the high Andes are a spectacular sight. While stopped to gaze at the scenery I noticed something, some screw or other, I forget which, needed adjustment but was stiff, so I had a brainwave. Why not drop a drip of oil from my dipstick, (which is high up, just to the front of the petrol tank,) on to it, simple job. Job completed I rode off, but had forgotten to screw the dipstick back down, my light grey motorcycle jacket now has black oil marks all over it from the spray!!
Suddenly snow capped mountains appear between the clouds.
The weather begins to deteriorate a little and it is now quite cold. The road passes little mountain lakes and now follows another river that gushes and tumbles along beside me. This area has good mineral deposits and these have been mined for a long time, leaving spoil heaps on the edges of some of the little mining towns. The trouble is, my guide book warns me, these spoil heaps leach toxic metals into the river, the water of which is used for drinking and domestic purposes by the locals!
The barren landscape reminds me of moorland in Britain. At one of the small towns I make the error of thinking I have reached my destination and branch of to find a hotel, but I soon realise that the lack of hotels and shops indicates I am wrong. The Garmin World Map in my GPS is not much help in this area and I have not loaded the more detailed Wanderlust map yet. Onwards and upwards until the road ends in a confusion of road works and potholes, neither the State nor the Municipality, it appears, wanting to accept the cost of repairing this ‘no mans land’. And so I ride into the busy mountain town of Huerez
My guide book informs me that there is a small hostel run by an Englishman, but I cannot locate the street and so park and ask a tuk-tuk taxi to take me there. the only trouble is that by the time I get back on the bike he has disappeared into the traffic and it is some minutes before I realize I am following the wrong cab. I have one more try myself and succeed in getting a room for a couple of nights at Jo’s Place. There is enough room in the courtyard for my bike and everyone is very friendly. Joe is out of town today but I meet him the next morning and we spend a pleasant hour talking. His biggest problem, he tells me, is getting good baked beans, well if that is his biggest problem he has a very untroubled life, which I think he does, lucky man.
I wander around the town which has a mix of ordinary shops, tourist shops selling local crafts, and recreational shops selling every kind of adventure activity the mountains are known for. Everything from mountain biking, hiking, mountain climbing, water running, (don’t; the pollution remember!) and bird watching, to guided tours of the local ruins.
The busy streets also have casual vendors of everything from chickens to knitted goods and all sorts of food being cooked on street corners and anywhere there was a free space. I had an Italian meal as I was beginning to get tired of a constant diet of chicken and chips, (seems to be the only thing available in some towns unless you go into the little dingy cafes where they serve tacos and empanadas of uncertain origin,). While I eat a couple of boys came in, one about eight years old, the other about five, and went from table to table asking for money. The older boy asking for money because his brother was so hungry. The sad look on the younger boys face, so close to tears, would have wrung anyone’s heart, except I had seen them five minutes ago laughing and joking in the street outside. It was a performance put on for the rich gringos, and I was so delighted at the false expression of deprivation on their faces that I gave them a few coins. I know that they are poor; I know that by begging they can get a living, but these two had it down to a fine art. There are so many poor beggars in the street that if I gave a few coins to everyone I saw in Peru, I would soon be penniless too. Knowing that there is no welfare in Peru I invariably have a few coins to those who were crippled or had limbs missing. Unless they had sawn the parts off themselves (see Jabberwocky starring Michael Paling), they have little opportunity to make a living any other way. It was very cold out and walking around the town following my meal I saw many street traders peddling their wares. There were a lot of hand knitted things on sale and so I bought myself a pair of woollen gloves, these would go nicely inside my leather riding gloves later, and they came a woollen hat which I immediately put on.
Street vendors in Huerez
The next morning all was its normal chaotic self when I strode out for a daylight ramble around the town. I paused at a busy junction and watched incredulously as taxis and cars in the left-hand outside lane at the traffic lights pulled across and turned right while some from the inside lane did the opposite. In amongst this chaos were mixed tuk-tuks and motorcycles all trying to get through any space they could squeeze through. How they all avoided each other goodness only knows, but I expect it has a lot to do with driving on their brakes with copious amounts of horn blasts. In general a horn is sounded as a warning that you are about to be passed, or ‘look out here I come’, rather than an aggressive ‘what the hell do you think you are doing’ signal we use in the UK Further along the street a street vendor is selling Guinea Pigs, but these are not going to be the family pet, these are going to be the family dinner. I never had Guinea Pig as a meal, not because I am squeamish, it’s just that it seems to appear on the menus of the smarter restaurants as a tourist attraction, and I did not want to join in. Chicken made from cardboard and beautiful chips made from real potatoes became my staple diet in Peru, and also Chinese food when I could find it.
Choosing the menu for tonights dinner
The town is very run down due to the frequent earthquakes. In the 1990’s it was flattened killing many thousands of it’s inhabitants, so there are not that many old buildings here and many of the new ones are unfinished.
It will be fine, trust me
Building works are either hurried or left incomplete. Along the riverbank is a series of statues depicting children in local dress, but the most prominent, and poignant, is the one in memory of all of the children that were killed in that last big earthquake.
For the children
The river runs by, remember the warning not to River-run here because of the heavy metals in the water? Well the following picture shows that no one told the people who actually live in the town! These local women use the torrent as a laundry.
For glowing whites and luminous colours, use polluted river water!!
The journey back down to the desert is the reverse of my earlier one to get up to the high Andes, and my bike regains its power little by little as I descend. The Hotel Chavin has plenty of rooms and I stay for a couple of days, unfortunately leaving my map behind when I left, this has Walters’, the opera singer, email address on it and I much regret loosing it.
The City of Lima is sprawling and not a very pleasant sight in western eyes. The traffic is dreadful and I spend hours avoiding impatient taxis and buses as well as huge potholes in the main roads while I head for Millaflores, the better end of town. I ate, I slept, I moved on, and that’s about as much as I want to say about Lima.
The next morning when I pulled over for petrol I met a gang of dirt riders, and although I only intended to have a quick coffee before heading off, it was well into the afternoon when we finished lunch and said goodbye to each other.
What better excuse to stop, than to share lunch and a bottle of vine with this guy and his mates. Timetable? What timetable?
I remembered that the Globebusters duo, Kevin and Julia Saunders, said that the town of Pisco was a good place to stop, but last year it was flattened by yet another earthquake, and so I rode a little bit further to the National Park at Paracas where although the hotel was expensive, it did have a restaurant and a fantastic view across the bay. Tomorrow I should be able to reach Nazca and see the famous lines marked into the desert by a people now long extinct.
Sunset over the Pacific at Puracus.
Next: Lines in the desert.
Lines in the desert.
My route has left The Pan-American Highway and now takes me inland. The landscape is dry and dusty, and there are 700metre sand dunes in the distance, an adventure playground; imagine sand-boarding down a 2000ft sand dune! My road takes me up and through these sand dunes into the dry mountains I saw in the distance. This is desert country again with only the odd splash of green where an underground river nears the surface. Then as the road passes over a small hill the flat desert plane of Nasca is spread out before me. Incredibly the highway passes straight through the middle of this World Heritage Site, but I expect the highway was there before any one realised that there was anything here but rocks and sand. The road heads as straight as an arrow across the plane and I can see trucks passing over another little hill well over 3 miles away. Halfway across the plane I pass a viewing station but do not stop as I want to see it from the air tomorrow.
Straight as an arrow to Nasca
Riding through the busy streets of Nasca searching for a hotel, I am surprised how un-commercialised it is. The same run down streets and shops, the dogs and old men dozing in the sun in the plaza, and a busy street market, it could be any small Peruvian town. The hotel I choose, in truth it is the only one that looked open to me, has small bungalow accommodations at the rear with small terraces outside to sit and laze on, as well as being in line of sight of the parked up bike. After a walk around the streets to get my bearings and having chosen a place to eat I sit with an after dinner beer and watch a gaggle of elderly American tourists waddle up the street. Behind me a couple take a table and I hear the unmistakable sound of a Yorkshire accent. We talk for a while and then I head back to the hotel.
The next morning after breakfast I head out to look for an ATM and am accosted by a ticket tout who offers me a flight to see the lines. Not only that but there is another couple booked on the flight, so I get the co-pilots seat; how could I refuse?
A bumpy taxi ride to the airport, a swift introduction to my Korean co-passengers and we climb aboard the small high winged monoplane. The interior looks a bit like a badly maintained Morris Minor with extras, but it all seems to work ok and we get the ok from the tower as we taxi across the apron.
Looks great in the photo, just don’t look too close in real life!
The pilot banks right almost as soon as the wheels leave the ground, or so it seems, and the landscape of the town outskirts, peppered with green bushes and little houses appears through my window. Our pilot takes us to each location and circles both clockwise and anti-clockwise so the view can be seen from either side of the plane. There are one or two little mewing sounds from behind me, so it seems the Korean girl is not to keen on flying in a small plane, but on the other side of her I hear the continuous click and whir of an expensive SLR camera so guess her partner will console her when our feet touch the ground again. This is really exhilarating! I’m enjoying the banking and turning along with the sudden updrafts and downdrafts from the desert below almost as much as seeing these fantastic motifs set out in the desert by a long gone civilisation, maybe more so dare I say, but that would make me sound like a Philistine, heaven forbid! A photo is worth a thousand words, so they say, but I have had to enhance these quite a lot so you can see anything at all. I'm sure there are good photos elsewhere if you want to search for them.
The Whale (at the top) and The Scorpion.
The Astronaut. (on the hillside)
The Frog. (note the viewing tower and main road in top left corner)
Back on the ground my guide has left to tout a few more tickets but left me a ride back to town. It is with some amusement that I mount pillion on a small 100cc motorbike and with me holding on for dear life, we weave our way around potholes and through the traffic back to the hotel. What an enjoyable morning this has turned out to be.
Now once more on my own sturdier mount the next morning I head for the next ‘must do’ in Peru, Cusco and Machupicchu unaware that I will be knocked out by the stunning scenery on the way. The road climbs steadily out of the plane, through barren small mountains with verdant valleys. The little town of Puquio is a mess with a torn up detour through its back streets, but the horizon promises high mountains ahead.
Yes, the road does go out of the picture and come back again, many many times.
Not only is it fun, you get this fantastic view as well.
Further up the road I come to a sharp bend at the top of a mountain pass and there are skid marks all over the road.
‘Wow!’ I think, somebody certainly overcooked it here.’ But the way they drive here made it no surprise. Around the bend a few hundred meters there were a couple of cars and a lorry stopped, nothing unusual about that, until I got level and saw the safety barrier burst open and the debris on the road. A little further on the road turned across the slope and I could see the ruined shell of a bus in the rocks with paper and cloth still blowing around along its route to its resting place. ‘This has only just happened I thought, maybe an hour ago.’ About a mile down the road I passed a group of people, heavily ladened with bags, boxes and reels of plastic water pipe. It was only after passing them that I realised that these were the surviving passengers from the bus!! They had been left to make their own way to the next town or maybe the hospital to see loved ones who had not been so lucky. Unfortunately there was not much help I could offer, having no room for a passenger. I briefly thought of unloading the bike and offering to ferry them, but with insufficient Spanish for the task, and all the stuff they had, it would be an almost impossible task, much to my regret at my inability to help I carried on.
Wreck of the bus, clothes still blowing in the breeze where they caught on the shattered windows.
The road follows a river gorge through the mountains and I am knocked out by the view, but dusk is coming on and it starts to rain, I begin to worry both about the petrol situation and driving at night in the rain, when I get to the small bus stop town of Chalhuance. The hotel is basic to say the least, but it has a lock-up yard out back and a small cantina downstairs, so who wants to worry about the cold and the wet, especially after seeing such fantastic scenery.
The road follows the river gorge, crossing and re-crossing the raging torrent below. All too soon I have to branch off and head back up into mountain passes where the road zig-zags up and down the mountain sides, then through lush valleys that you can see are following the general direction towards the higher ranges ahead. After crossing through green pastured farmland set in wide valleys, I eventually see the city of Cusco spread out before me.
Mountains and terraces, the Inca heartland.
Not too far ahead lies Cusco.
The normal thing happens; I get totally lost for a while before getting my bearings and try to find a reasonable hotel. As you would expect from a place as world famous as Cusco, there are many. The first one I try does not have a garage but offers to let me park my bike in reception, unfortunately there is no way that I can get my bike, huge by local standards, through the dog leg created by the glass doors. The next one I have more luck with and ride around the back streets and alleys to reach the garage at the rear. The hotel is a proper 3 star hotel, very plush by recent standards, and a good hot shower, a pleasant meal and a good night’s sleep prepares me for the days ahead.
Next: Machu Picchu
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