8.5.09 Puno, Peru.
Call me a hideous travesty of a bastard if you like, but why doesn't everyone in the world just listen to "Exodus" all the time, to the exclusion of everything else (except, maybe, once a week, the long version of "Trans-Europe Express", for balance)? Apart from the fact that it's a perfect song, it's also the most brilliantly produced record ever - fact. (And maybe on Friday mornings, the No Sleep Til Hammersmith version of "Capricorn", for kicks.)
After a necessarily-short visit to Bolivia, due to having gorged myself on Chile, affecting my Iron Schedule of being home just in time for the 2010 World Cup, it's Hi Ho! for Peru! I wonder what the border guards will try on? The answer is - much the same as their Bolivian muckers. It's all quite polite and slightly sheepish, but I'm not giving them anything, and again I'm glad of my cheeky "licences". Beyond Lake Titicaca, and everywhere's still at least 12,000 feet up; fine during the day, but as soon as the sun goes down it's mighty cold on a bike. La Fluffita doesn't miss a beat at this altitude. I need to start her differently in the chill mornings, but she still fires up first time, every time. I'm proud of the old gal, 9,650 miles into the trip. There's a slight but perceptible loss of power, but look, I like oxygen as well, and my loss of power is way more obvious.
Now then. How about a boat trip to Titicaca's floating islands? Man-made freak-platforms built of reeds, invented - ooh - ages ago to escape one set of marauding bastards or another, they sure are weird 'n' spongy when you first set foot on them. The fact that they've now become floating tat-shops shouldn't surprise, and doesn't diminish their uniqueness.
I spend a couple more days in Puno to ensure I've visited all the necessary bars, squeezing in an oil change and suppressing (or rather failing to suppress) an intestinal disaster caused, I suspect, by some restaurant cucumber that had been "washed" in a liquid far more noxious than the soil it grew in.
Squittered to puckering-point, it's time to spin - and the direction's Cuzco. I don't know it yet, but the signs are there; Peru is a monstrously beautiful country. There's every possibility of falling over a cliff while gaping at the landscape, however hard you try and concentrate on the road. Plus - it's rammed to the rafters with Inca antiquities, the people are lovely, the hotels are a steal and the beaches in the north are (apparently) paradise (fact-check to follow).
In the minus column, we have 84 octane petrol - excuse me? Is that not what they put in European fire-extinguishers? - and a lot of very bad chips*, which is something of a surprise in the country that invented the potato.
Hi ho for Cuzco! And - Mother Mary - it's blinking gorgeous. 15 days trundle by, and still it's hard to go. Here's the backstory. About 700 years ago the Incas built Cuzco. Look at the stonework and wonder - HTF?
Then the Spaniards arrived and built their stuff on top. Ugly scenes at the time, but pretty as hell now. What was once the House Of The Virgins Of The Sun is now Norton Rats, a - get this - motorcycle pub with 3 dartboards and Mountain's "Nantucket Sleighride"** (the best song ever) on the jukebox, overlooking the most attractive square in Latin America (it says in my book).
Harry and Dave challenge me at the dartboard...
...to no avail.
It's just perfect, and plays a large-to-total part in my extended stay. Also I couldn't find the road out of town; and checkout time at the Hostal Inka is 9am, which, if you've been chugging Cuzqueñas and playing Brand Of Shame*** with Jeff (Norton's owner and Norton owner) until 6am, simply won't do.
Harry and Jeff swallow another beating with good grace.
You're only allowed to sign the Norton's guestbook if you arrive on 2 wheels (tough luck to Stephen Hawking - that's 4, bucko) and a lengthy read reveals a couple of expected names - Dan Walsh (Jesus to Ted Simon's God), Alan and Martin (BMW bad boys from Ethiopia and Marlow); but also Gary and Lou from Mauritania and Cornwall, participants in the most breath-snatchingly laughy evening Nouakchott has ever seen.**** They had a spice rack built into one of their panniers. A spice rack!
Hang on old bean, I sense you thinking, but what of Macchu Picchu? Is it not both close by, and the eighth wonder of the etc?
Well, yup, it is. I went (bike to Ollantaytambo and then train), and it does rather urinate over everything else in the world. No point talking about it; very little point, given its constant pictorialization, in showing pictures of it - but here it is anyway.
Eventually I manage to squeeze my increasingly cow-pat-like form through Cuzco's bristly, chapped back end. I'm plopped out (veiny temples and corn-hole spasms notwithstanding) onto the road to Nazca and the Lines. The Nazca Lines. I'm just off to South America to do the Lines. Ha.
Somebody (and I think it was Dan Walsh in the Norton's guestbook) described the Cuzco-Nazca road as "the most beautiful road in the world", and maybe it is. It's stupid, mind-breaking, bloody odd in its constant one-upmanship; "hey! this view is better than the one 100 yards back!"
It's three days to Nazca if you dawdle like I do, and dawdle you must. I like to stop fairly frequently for water and cigs, but this road begs you to stop at every kilometer marker, just to take another cack-handed pic of the always-collapsing grandeur of the world.
The rocks of which the Andes are made took millions of years at the sea-bed to create*****, then millions more to shove up into the sky, then millions more to erode into the triangular, valley-scored dribblescape we have now. Millions of years from now they'll be gone, like dozens of mountain ranges before them, but I'll still be here because I'm immortal! Cool, huh? (Fact-check to follow).
*Crisps. No wait - fries.
**If you're 35+ and British, you know it as the Weekend World - with Bwian Wawden - music.
***A splendid European darts game.
****Not saying much
*****Unless you're a Creationist - you bozo.
28.5.09 Nazca, Peru.
I'm sorry, truly sorry, if your grandparents perished in an unheated Middlesborough council flat last January, but if it's any consolation, riding them around on the back of a motorbike at 14000 feet after sundown wouldn't have helped. They had a good innings anyway, unless one of them was an England cricketer.*
What's the smelliest bed you've ever slept in? For me, the prize goes to Room 08 at Hostal *Ahem* in Puquio. Getting in bed here is like clambering into a very ill horse's derriere. It has the added attraction of being startlingly uncomfortable, but that's outweighed by the horrifying niff, which penetrates the skin and survives the morning's (quite good) shower. Nice people though, and they're happy to have a large motorbike stuffed into a room of its own (twin beds 'n' all) at no charge. And the Milanesa de Pollo is extremely tasty; although because all meals are served in the room, the reek coming from the bed does tend to affect the palate. And by "affect", I mean "shit on".
Behind the wall of sleep, there's some respite from the honk... although in dreams, halfway through the night, I'm convinced I have actually become a latrine.
I skip breakfast and crowbar Her Royal Highness out of her room. It's hot - we've descended to about 6000ft and I'm looking forward to a breezy scoot through the last 100 miles and the rapid descent to Nazca (1500ft). Progress is hindered, however, by the tarmac, 90% of which is potholed to buggery, particularly on the 300 hairpins which follow. The visual treats continue, but I gotta look at the road...
Five bumpy hours clang by, and here we are in Nazca - home of The Lines. That's right officer, I'm here for the Lines. What's with the handcuffs?
The Hotel Internacional is Top Five. Bear in mind that it's tourist high season; the hotel's on the main square; there's secure parking for about 150 bikes (or 20 Unimogs if that's your style); each "bungalow" has cable TV, a lovely, non-stinky bed, a huge bathroom with 24hr hot water and a private patio area (!) with seating; towels, bog paper and soap are provided; and there's a daily cleaner. Guess how much? Incorrect! It's nine of the Queen's pounds per night. Probably a bit less due to the recent recovery of Sterling.
Get me! I've forgotten to mention the Chilean Overtake. It's a cracker. Here's how to do it. (You're in a car.)
1. Spot me on the horizon. I'm doing 75mph and you're doing 70.
2. Accelerate to 76.
3. Overtake me, agonizingly, dangerously slowly.
4. Once ahead, immediately decelerate to 74mph.
5. Become annoyed when I (safely) overtake you and bugger off at 85mph.
6. Return to stage 1.
7. Kill yourself - please.
This only happens in Chile, but it happens all the way up the Chilean Panamericana, and it is MAD. Apart from the Chilean Overtake, Chile is damn near perfect.
Altitude Sickness Observations
Now I'm back at (more or less) sea level, here are some medical notes about what happens up there in cloud-world.
1. First 24 hours; headache, shortness of breath, pounding heart, smoking tricky (but do-able). Saliva strangely foamy. Absolutely everything is extremely hard work.
2. Second 24 hours; no headache, heart OK, saliva OK, everything still hard work, ability to talk restored, smoking OK but limited.
3. Next 4 weeks; A deep breath every 10 minutes. Smoking back to normal. Olympic participation unlikely. Reduced interest in even the most degrading episodes of "Girls Of The Playboy Mansion". Appetite for grub utterly unaffected by altitude.
Animals I've nearly hit in Peru: Horses, cows, donkeys, vicunas, llamas (or maybe alpacas) and pigs. Pigs in the road are hilarious. Vicunas you get used to, but pigs! Hoot!. There's a theory that, if you're hurtling towards a donkey, it'll run in the direction it's pointing; whereas a llama will turn round and run the opposite way. Or is it the other way round? And by llamas, do I mean elephants?
30.5.09. Nazca, Peru
Are you a nut?
Do you sometimes wear a foil helmet?
Does your email address feature the words "Fox Mulder"?
Do you see it as interesting that your horoscope is sometimes right?
Do you have an "Area 51" sign on your bedroom door?
Have you ever had an estimate for any kind of bunker?
What is your estimated annual consumption in kilograms of prescription sedatives?
How likely would you say it was on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing "don't be stupid - it's absolutely impossible", and 10 representing "it's a certainty", that there are ants living under your skin?
Have you ever watched "Fox News" for any reason other than a short-term craving for sick, empty laughs?
Have you ever been denied exit from any kind of hospital ward on legal grounds?
Which of these words or phrases most accurately describes your current accomodation: a) House. b) Secure facility?
Do you admire Derek Acorah?
Yes? You'll be familiar with the Nazca Lines then, and will no doubt have swallowed, or even created, one of the many swivel-eyed theories about how they were created by aliens. All I can tell you about them is that they're bizarre, and well worth a $60 4-seater plane flight. (Nervous passengers - take a spew-bag).
Alien - not quite so obviously.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, why not visit the following websites for further help and support:
*Sorry - I know nothing of cricket.
31.5.09. Pisco, Peru
The plan - come to Pisco and go ape on Lord Cocktail, the Pisco Sour. I hit the oddly-named Afro Cafe and suck down the first one. It's nectar with balls. The second one's nearly as good, but halfway through the third one I'm all "no more, dude" and "nuff lemon juice already". I scoot, muy rapido, and drop anchor at Taberna Don Jaime, which looks like Julius Caesar's favourite boozer - wine and vines all over the walls and ceiling - and tuck into an icy Cuzqueña. (The guide book says "never go out in Pisco alone after dark". It probably says the same thing about Margate in the England guide, but I leave my credit card at the hotel just in case).
There's a sign in Don Jaime's that reads "Las promeses con vino se olvidalo en el camino" which means, I think, "promises made with wine are forgotten on the road". Damn straight, DJ! Eh, what was the question again?
Anyway, Lima tomorrow - home of Paddington, the Lima bean (I guess) and, er, Jan Leeming. Perhaps. Tally ho! And the devil take the hindmost!
There are some lovely doggies in Peru. Wuffly and soppy, if a little diseasy-looking. There are also some utter goons, who like to run to within an inch of your front wheel, snarling and foaming. I SWEAR TO GOD - the next one that tries it will feel the full force of a 50mph Hein Gericke boot-tip on its idiot snout. Man's Best Friend that, you bum-sniffing oik. Let's see how much you enjoy gnawing your bone with no teeth. Try digging it up with broken paws, you cankerous, un-evolved, co-dependent little bastard.
2.6.09. Lima, Peru.
Two nights in Lima will have to do. It's expensive and shrouded in cloud, and there are beaches up north. The hotel recommended to me by Norton Jeff is full and I end up, having ridden past the Crowne Plaza twice with flirty gaze, at something calling itself a "Youth Hostel", which is actually a very nice hotel - and so it should be at $36. Anywhere else in Peru it'd be $15. I nip out for live music ´n´ drinks at Jazz Zone and get stiffed for a $6 "cover charge" for each band. Humph. Woulda been nice to have been warned beforehand.
The next day is all about the footwear shopping for both me and Her Ladyship. Four pairs of socks for me - Peruvian cotton; marvellous - replacing the threadbare four I bought in BA, and a new front tyre (a Pirelli Scorpion since you ask) for 'er outdoors. $45 - a bargain! The rest of the stuff on my list, top of which has to be an urgent visit to a laundry, will have to wait. No hay problema! *pinches nostrils shut*
Talking to a motorbike is stupid and pointless isn't it? But, hell, I challenge you to ride one 10,000 miles across the continent of your choice and not start doing just that. We bang over a pothole and I pat the tank and say "sorry darling". I promise oil-changes out loud. I remind this lump of metal, plastic and rubber, when things get weird, that "I told you we were going on an adventure". Never say anything like "what an excellent motorcycle you are" though. That's a magic spell that causes something to break, however much you believe that Homo Superstitio is an evolutionary mid-point between flint-arrowed, mammoth-bothering cave-thug, and facted-up, Spock-a-like future person.
4.6.09. Trujillo, Peru
"You have committed two serious infractions señor, and the fine, with a receipt, amounts to 375 Peruvian Soles (75 GBP)", barks the uniformed shortarse in the layby (just after the tollgate 150 miles north of Lima*). Bingo! I think, on hearing the phrase "with a receipt". I loathe bribery - it rots people and societies from within, but toss-features - I'm so sorry, the officer - has a point. I was, in fact, speeding, and I do not, on this occasion, seem to have 3rd party insurance for Peru. I meant to get some - truly I did - but it appears I haven't been able to get round to it. So I am - I suppose - in the wrong, and he is - in theory - a policeman (read "armed pickpocket").
I explain that I don't have 375 Soles on me - a massive lie. He asks me what I would like to do. I show him 50 Soles (10GBP). He pockets it. Game over. I feel sickened and ashamed for 24 hours, but - look - I had actually done the crime, and if you're gonna do the crime, hurrah for corruption...
After this incident, and still uninsured, I scheme up a foolproof new plan; the next time I'm flagged down by these fellows, I'll pretend not to notice and sod off quickly. It works! Four times between Lima and Trujillo! It's all extremely exciting, despite the fact that they're not fussed enough to give chase.
Fun though it's been, I do now intend to buy some insurance for the last 500 miles - if only so I can get back on my high horse (which is currently lying down in a deep ditch with its hooves over its eyes) and refuse to pay subsequent bribes.
A little bit of insurance backstory: In Argentina, you have GOT to have it. I had, and I was stopped and asked for it 50 miles outside BA by some very nice, un-corrupt cops. Chile - according to the border chaps, motorbikes don't need it. I was never asked. Bolivia - same story. Peru - well, I guess I'd sort of lost interest in the whole insurance issue by then.
So when you boil it down, a 10GBP bribe covered me for 8000 miles and 6 months of uninsured riding. The game is SO up!
Do you mind if we talk about Peruvian driving skills? It won't take long, chiefly because there aren't any. I have no idea what it takes to acquire a Peruvian driving licence, but I can only imagine that the ability to palm a 20 Soles note across a counter is top of the list. There is NO WAY there's any actual driving involved. Peruvians - particularly taxi drivers - drive like extremely drunk 6-year-olds. There is nowhere in Africa this bad. It requires a a total, and quick, re-think of your riding strategy.
Let's at least try and be fair: it's Lima and northwards where it all goes haywire. Riding out of Lima, I feel Death's ragged talons on my shoulder five times before I adopt a survival technique - do what they do, but faster. 85mph undertakes, insane lane-switching and constant use of the horn and full-beams gets me out of the suburbs alive. Then I'm contending with being forced onto the hard shoulder by some murderous cock in a bus overtaking on a blind bend.
I lose count of how many times this happens between Lima and Trujillo, and eventually get used to it... but I can't help wondering what happens when there isn't a hard shoulder. I suppose people are getting away with driving like this because all the traffic cops are hanging around the tollgates collecting bribes. ARE YOU LISTENING, GOVERNMENT OF PERU? (No, we are not - Govt. of Peru).
Stunning country, really lovely people, criminal police force, shit drivers.
Anyway, Trujillo's beautiful, it's midnight-thirty, the hotel's fabulous and here comes the band. Listen to the band!
8.6.09 Chiclayo, Peru
It's in Trujillo that my gizzards go frightfully and explosively wrong. Normally as reliable as a Hyundai production line (at producing serviceable turds, d' you see?), they down tools on being asked to process some ordinary-looking supermarket chicken. 36 hours of alimentary malfeasance follow. I'm unable to stray more than 10 feet from a lavatory, a hot shower, 2 rolls of toilet paper, 3 towels and 2 beds (just in case) at any time. The price of not soiling the bed is eternal anal vigilance, and a man's gotta sleep sometime. Honestly, you'd think there was an Oompa-Loompa with a water cannon up me jacksie.
After about 17 sittings in 24 hours, I locate some Loperamide and Chloropraxamine (or something) pills which I bought in Ethiopia exactly 4 years ago. Amazingly, they work. Medics! Brilliant, aren't they?
I take a trip to an insurance office to purchase the necessaries. After quite a lot of twatting about, they decide they can't sell me any insurance because my numberplate has the "wrong" amount of digits in it.
"Bah!" I mutter, and stomp off to another round the corner. "Two weeks worth of your cheapest, bare-minimum insurance, please", I venture.
"No problem señor: 100 English pounds in total" comes the response.
I blanch visibly, snort, and turn on my heel.
"I'll chance it with your miserable excuse for a police force, you utter robbers!" I snarl over my shoulder as I leave.
The icy fingers of mild concern take hold as I rejoin the highway. What if I chance upon an officer who actually gives a flying crap about the law? Long story short - I don't, and make it across the border having coughed up a tenner and avoided a ridiculous hundred quid fork-out.
It turns out that, in Peruvian bars, a "No Smoking" sign is effective only up until the point that the first customer pretends not to have seen it and asks for an ashtray. Beautiful! Sod you London, with your "yes actually you do have to pay it sir" fines and your "no you really can't smoke here - it's the law" laws.
*If any Peruvian Government officials are reading this and give a shit about the shameful activities of your so-called law enforcers, I suggest you start your investigations here. Hmm. Not gonna happen, is it?
9.6.09 Colan, Peru
Hang a left (or "turn left" for those of you that don't regularly sport Wayfarers or believe that Teen Wolf is the second greatest movie of all time) off the Panamericana just after Piura, and 30 miles up the road you'll hit Paita, a quite pretty little port. Keep on movin' - don't stop - and you'll get to Colan.
Find the "Restaurant/Hotel On The Beach" sign and you've arrived at Alfredo's place. Step onto the deck, order a beer and reeee-laaaax. Not that much! First you'll have to have at least a variant of this conversation:
Alfredo: Hola! Hello! Yes! Si! Enter!
Me: Hola! Er, do you have a room? And somewhere for my bike?
A: Always! Enter! Come!
M: Great! How much is it?
A: Don't worry! Come and see the beach!
M: Er, OK!
(One sees the beach)
M: Oh! Fantastic! So how much is the room?
A: Yes! Si! Er... choice! 20 or 35 soles. I think you need 20. 35 has four beds!
M: Ah! Can I see the room?
A: Look at the beach!
M: It's beautiful! Um... Where is the room?
A: ....Yes! Come! Here is room!
(It's very small but OK)
M: Hmmm... OK! I'll take it. I'll go and get my bike.
A: Very good! Muy bueno!
(Luggage is dumped in room, bike parked in corridor. All good.)
A: So, 30 Soles with bike yes? Muy good!
M: *sigh* Ah... OK. Nice beach!
(The change into shorts is effected. One emerges from the room.)
A: So! I think 40 Soles! The sea, the beach, very bueno!
A: 40 for room and bike! Nice beach!
M: OK pal! Enough. You said (etc etc etc rant rant rant...)
A: Oh si! I forget! 30 good!
M: Here's 30.
A: Yes! I forget! Muy nice!
It is, as Alfredo points out, a very very nice beach.
The Long Road To Freedom... Although I'm stopped by a pair of cops 20 miles before Piura today, they seem to have no interest in anything other than my passport, my GPS (with which their fascination borders on the prurient) and my - ha! - job. I really am starting to believe I'm gonna get away with having no insurance. Touch "wood".
Today's favourite waste of time is watching a skinny cat try to catch crabs* at 11pm on a Peruvian Pacific beach. The cat doesn't appear to stand a chance. If I hadn't ganneted my dinner so quickly I'd chuck it some fish bits. Well done you crabs though!
10.6.09. Las Lomas, Peru
Makes Of Motorcycle That Are Available In Peru But Are Unlikely Ever To Be Sold In The UK:
1. RTM; just because the logo is a direct steal of the KTM one and they'd all have to go to prison.
2. Wanxin. Just can't see 'em catching on. "Try Wanxin - for Cheap Thrills." Oh dear me no. "The new single seat Wanxin - a great solo ride." No, I think not.
I don't think they get a lot of gringos in Las Lomas. It's 30 miles from the Ecuador border (one of the less popular crossings which I've chosen because the guidebook calls the main one "the worst border crossing in South America") and I'm sitting in a dusty, hot, very amenable roadside restaurant with motorbikes and moto-taxis passing within 6 feet of my table at the rate of 1 every 10 seconds. Everyone that passes makes eye contact, and I smile at them, and they smile, or hoot, or wave, or shout something that doesn't taste of "crap off out of it, you fat gringo twat". It's really quite special. It's 4.45pm, and at 6 this place starts serving Parrillada Mixta - mixed grilled meat with a strong possibilty of organ action. I'm extremely excited. A great way to say "Ta-ra!" to Peru.
Hmmm... Sweated of Trout, or Male Thing?
Number of extremely attractive Peruvian gals I've seen wearing desperately tight official Honda t-shirts: 2.
Number of times this has coincided with me being on, or within visual range of, my bike: 0.
Maximum number of helmetless people it seems you can get on a Peruvian-registered motorcycle without going to prison for ever: five. Husband, wife, three small children. Good work! Up to a point.
*oh come on
11.6.09 Catamayo, Ecuador
I stagger home at 10pm from Bar Lovely in Happyville and decide it's time for a haircut. I'm armed with an electric razor and sheer, bloody-minded, booze-enhanced willpower. I am, literally, Mad Britney, with way less cash. A tramp, if you will.
Just a light trim, please
I haven't had a haircut since Margate in September last year, and my shaver is crap, so it takes 2 hours, but at last it's done. Something that looks like a flattened adult cat is left on the floor. I look in the mirror. I am Telly Savalas. Cool. Bedtime.
The next morning I blunder towards the mirror, confused, dehydrated and vaguely ashamed. Oh goodness. I am Telly Savalas, but as he would look now if you dug him up and punched him in what used to be his face.
The hotel staff clearly don't recognise me when I descend to reception, but are kind enough not to point/stare/laugh. My face is red-to-brownish, but the area where my hair used to be is Snow White. I wheel Her Ladyship out of the building and scoot. It's hot, jungly and sweaty on the 30-mile border dash. Only 15 minutes elapse before I start to thank Jehovah for my hairless scalp. What a feeling!
(Later, at the hotel in Ecuador, I see they've supplied packets of 2-in-1 Pantene - the finest shampoo a sensible amount of money can buy. Bingo! I think, before remembering that shampoo is a thing of the past. No problem, I counter. I have other hairs! Oh no - it seems I don't. Must unclog my shaver.)
Proper, Sensible Motorcycle Travel Advice Section.
La Tina is a really easy border crossing if you're going from Peru to Ecuador. I was out of Peru in 15 minutes and into Ecuador in 60 (only because the Ecuadorian Customs computer is a Windows 95 pig-stool). There was no suggestion of a back-hander at any point.
The one issue you might want to look out for is the possibility of a gun-battle between Peruvian smugglers and the Ecuadorian army. I missed one by 10 minutes.
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