Desert & Mountains
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.
Posted by Derek Fairless at 01:07 AM
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
Posted by Derek Fairless at 09:25 PM