"Which way Em?"
We'd had a great time in and around Cusco, however it was time to go. The touts and package tourists were beginning to get to us, so we set off in search of tranquility.
Peru route - courtesy Peru Toursit Info and a red marker pen!
However, before reaching nirvana, we first opted to check out those Nazca lines. Astronomical calendars, or extraterrestrial landing strips, we thought we'd suss it out for ourselves.
Leaving Cusco we soon entered a bikers' fantasy. No, it didn't involve leather and handcuffs, only wonderful swooping bends. One after another, all the way to Nazca, some 600kms away.
Along the way we met yet more eccentric Frenchmen aboard aging BMW outfits; just as we had in Antofagasta, in North Chile. Em fancied the idea of three wheels.
Em takes the helm
Thinking a mere 18hp was insufficient to power them over those 4000m passes, we next met Dominic pedelling away with his tandem and trailer. "Aren't you missing someone?", I asked. As it turned out, he wasn't. His trip was all about taking different folks along for the ride. All the way from Alaska, he'd so far picked up around 190 passengers to help him pedal towards his Ushuaia destination. Hats off! Dominic's website: Take a Seat
We continued to enjoy the bends as far as Puquio, where the mist descended into a right pea-souper. Slowing us to a crawl, we could barely see the cab of the articulated truck we followed into town. In fog worse than Victorian London, we stopped off for a kingsize pollo de milanesa (breaded chicken) reviving our dampened spirits, allowing us to continue on.
Fortunately the mist cleared as we neared the desert plains and Nazca town. Resembling Mr & Mrs Michelin sweltering in our rain gear, we waddled into a hostel and began to shed clothes, quite unaccustomed to the heat after Cusco.
Sunset over Nazca
It was here we met with both Lorraine and Jesus. Quite unrelated of course. We'd been in touch with Lorraine via e-mail, having met on the HUBB. She'd driven her old Chevy van down from the States together with her two dogs. It was good to finally meet and have a beer or two. Especially for Em, having a female to talk to and not another male biker. Lorraine's website: On a Mission from Dog
Lorraine and her travelling companions
And then we met Jesus and saw the light. Well, if not the light, then the lines, aquaducts and pre-inca tombs. Jesus drove a '76 Dodge and was our informative guide for the day. Recommended to us by Tandem Dominic, he sounded to good to refuse. Jesus doesn't disappoint.
We had a great day out, learning all about the famous Nasca lines, Marie Reiche and her life's work researching them; the intricate spiral irrigation systems still used today and the tombs of Chauchilla.
Em and an ancient spiral irrgation system
Before leaving Nazca we thought after all we'd learnt, we'd better see those lines from above, so took a plane ride to view them in their entirety. Lorraine joined us, along with two others in a little five seater Cessna for an entertaining (to say the least) flight. Suffice to say I was glad to reach terra firma, albeit sporting a hue Dulux would coin "Apple White".
One of the many Nazca lines
Alien or funky chicken?
Bidding farewell to Lorraine, we headed North to Paracas after two Slovenian cyclists we'd met en route recommended the place as worth a visit. As a National Reserve it was full of aquatic wildlife; from greedy pelicans along the foreshore, to barking sealions on Isla Bellestas. Scoring a room with a sea view topped off the seaside experience.
P.P.P.Pick up a Penguin!
Paracas peninsula candleabra
Sealions off Isla Bellestas
Playing in the sand
Just to the North of Paracas was the town of Pisco, unfortunately affected by an earthquake some six months previously. The damaging effects were immediately obvious, the poorly constructed buildings wiped out, replaced by charity supplied tents. With no insurance and little or no government aid, we had to wonder what the future held for these unfortunate folks. For not the first time, we were reminded how fortunate we are.
It was in Paracas we met Colombian bikers Juan Estaban and Paula. They were having problems with the rear wheel of their 1200GS, having broken ten spokes. Quite how, nobody knew. I was carrying a couple of spares, so gave them to Juan Estaban and helped him to balance out the number of spokes on each side. With a promise to get together in Medillin, Colombia, we wished them luck and bid them farewell.
For us it was back on the Pan-Am and North to Lima, capital of Peru and home to some eight million people. Not being city lovers, we weren't exactly looking forward to the experience, however it was blocking our path North. Furthermore, Bertha's fork seals had gone from weeping to leaking, so Lima seemed a good place to find suitable replacements.
Although 'Desert Sport Racing' in Miraflores didn't have any suitable seals, they pointed me in the right direction and allowed me to use their worshop to fit them. Top blokes. With no BMW dealer in town, I scored a pair of Yamaha DT175 seals which did the trick. And at £1 a pop, who's complaining?!
Monasterio de San Francisco
We even managed some sightseeing, taking in the Monasterio de San Francisco and seeing the thousands of skulls and bones stored within the underground catacombs. Not exactly my cup of tea, however Em lapped it up. What was of more interest I thought, was a colonial period painting of the Last Supper. If you looked closely, you could see Jesus and his disciples chowing down on Peru's National dish - guinea pig! As our guide pointed out, Jesus was obviously Peruvian.
Being the gentleman I am, I treated Em to our last supper in Lima and a flick whilst in the big smoke, before tackling the suburbs the following day.
After what seemed an age and education in slum dwellings, we managed to clear Lima and its swarms of little yellow taxis and continue North. Friends had told us of a large archaelogical site to the South of Barranca which we hoped to check out on our way to the mountains.
We weren't expecting it to take an hour to cover the 26kms to Caral, but that'll give you an idea as to the condition of the road!
The road to Caral
Only discovered some 13 years ago, Caral is a 5000 year old settlement, which makes it pre-Inca. It was interesting, however I have to say although Em remained ever enthusiastic, I was a little ruined out by now. Pre-Inca, post-Inca, it was all beginning to blur into one for me I'm afraid.
I was happy to get back to cooler climes and to the Cordillera Blanca, the so-called Switzerland of Peru. Not that there were many exclusive banks or wooden chalets mind you, must be them mountains! Being the wet season, we unfortunately didn't get to experience the breathtaking vistas you'd expect at other times of the year. However, the weather did stay dry, the clouds breaking from time to time to provide a view of some spectacular snow-capped peaks.
Nevado Huandoy - 6395m
We enjoyed a few days in the peaceful town of Caraz. Well, peaceful in between all the fireworks going off! The town was apparently celebrating the Santisima Virgen del Rosario Chiquinquira. Now I'm all for celebrating virgins, but not with fireworks at five in the morning! We found respite in the hills surrounding the village, enjoying some good walks and some great views.
Out for a walk
Em hitches a ride
Caraz by night
Mobile shop - Caraz
Peruvian re-bar transportation
Poor Em picked up some stomach bug and spent the remaing day in Caraz within the close vacinity of a toilet. Thinking we were safe to proceed, we set off the next day for the coast via the Canon del Pato and its copious number of rough hewn tunnels. All I'll say is Em left her mark in several places along the way, poor lass. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the ride, albeit a little loose in places (excuse the pun!).
Crossing the Rio Santa
Taking in the view
Arriving back on the Pan-Am at Santa, we pulled into the nearest fuel station and met Eddie. Now we get a lot of folk admiring the bike, but Eddie was postively drooling! I took him for a couple of laps around the forecourt much to his glee.
Eddie and I go for a spin
Back dodging the oncoming Pan-Am traffic, we sped North towards Huanchaco, a beach town to the North of Trujillo. Was that a travelling cyclist ahead we asked each other? Pulling over to say hello, we met Grant, an Aussie cyclist looking for a place to camp for the night. We shot the breeze for while before leaving him with some informative news; "Is that a tack in your tyre?"
Meeting up the following day in Huanchaco, we celebrated Grant's belated 30th birthday with sunset beers on the beach. It could've been worse...
Em wasn't impressed with our hostal's breakfast board, so took matters into her own hands.
Em and her sign
Em takes a breather
Next stop on up the Pan-Am was Chiclayo. We'd made contact with English bikers Scouse and Sara and had a plan to meet them there on their way South. Finding a cheap hostal was easy, we just followed the circling black vultures to the Royal Hotel. Situated right on the plaza, the vultures basked in its former glory. As did we for £5 a night!
Checking into the Royal
We hooked up with Grant once again, unfortunately he'd been robbed at gunpoint on his way North from Huanchaco. Fortunately he was okay, albeit with a lighter wallet. It was a stark reminder of what can happen on the road.
The following day Scouse and Sara turned up, necessitating a bit of a party. The five of us pulled out the Royal's aging furniture onto the balcony and soaked up the remains of the evening sun, as well as a few cold ones of course.
As we were travelling in opposite directions, it was good to swap info, as well as meet a couple of like minded Brits. We tried to persuade them to join us on our trip to Chachapoyas, however it was out of their way and for them meant back-tracking. We said farewell and planned to meet up when both back in the UK. Grant however, we'd hopefully meet again somewhere further North.
Sara & Scouse, Me & Em
Once again I was glad to leave the heat of the desert coast as we headed East inland. Back in Cusco, Jeff (Norton Rat's) had told us he was in the process of building a house in the small village of San Pablo near Chachapoyas and said we should go and check the area out.
A little off the beaten track, it certainly appealed, and with the world's third largest waterfall on its doorstep, how could we refuse? The ride proved to be a good one. Once again, lots of bends making for some entertaining riding, with a variety of spectacular scenery along the way. Upon entering the Amazonas region we both felt as we'd returned to Asia; lush green padi fields, banana palms and red earth. Great stuff!
Into the Amazonas!
Just like Asia
Turning off the main road, we wound our way up a narrow dirt track to the picturesque pueblo of San Pablo. With majestic views of the surrounding hills under an ochre evening sky, we knew we'd found our tranquil nirvana.
Arriving in the plaza we were greeted by the local kids as they surrounded the bike shouting "gringo, gringa!" Locating the only house in the village with a telephone and electricity, we were warmly welcomed by Jeff's friends Luis and Filipa along with their two children, Luis and Hilda.
After a much needed early night, we set off the following morning towards the waterfall, together with Romelio, our guide and Pepe-Lucho, Em's stubborn mule. I felt they had a certain connection Em and Pepe-Lucho!
Romelio, Em and Pepe-Lucho
After a couple of hours climbing, we stood atop an outcrop and marvelled at the view; Gocta waterfall, at 771m, the world's third largest. And unbelievably, only officially discovered less than two years ago by a visiting German tourist.
Cataratas de Gocta - 771m
A rather wet Em
We pushed on for a closer look, the weather closing in as we stood under the first section of the 'fall, 200 or so metres of water powering down beside us. I took the opportunity to take a dip, Em declining, despite the pair of us being soaked through as a result of the rain.
Luis, Em and Hilda
San Pablo was so laid back it was tough to leave, so we stayed another day and hung out with Luis and Hilda before leaving for Chachapoyas at 5:30 the following morning - a record for us! Not out of choice I may add, the road was under re-construction and closed to traffic between 6am and 7pm, leaving us little choice.
Road to Chachapoyas - 6:30am
When in Chachapoyas we took a trip to Kuelap, a pre-inca fortress set atop a ridge with fantastic views of the surounding valleys. Yes, it was yet another ruin, but even I was impressed. With little restoration, the undergrowth covered the fort akin to the Lost City.
Ecuador beckoned, so after another 5am start to beat the road works, we headed North. After a breakfast of fried egg butties in Pedro Ruiz we stumbled across a water powered saw-mill by the side of the road.
Using a collection of truck wheels, shredded tyres and wooden blocks to transmit the power of piped water to the saw blades was an amazing sight. Then at night, the owner confirmed, the water was used to power a dynamo, providing electricity to his nearby house. A lesson in alternative energy if ever there was one.
It wasn't much longer before the bitumen ran out North of Jaen, turning quickly to a pot-holed track all the way to our destination of San Ignacio, the last town of any size before the Ecuador border.
Setting off the following day under a dark grey sky, it wasn't long before the heavens opened. As they continued to do so at sporadic intervals throughout the day. Great fun on a slick muddy track! As a result, it took us two hours to cover the 50kms to the border check point at Namballe. An entertaining ride to say the least!
Road to Ecuador
Finally it was time to say adios to darkest Peru. We'd had a great time, but despite our efforts had failed to encounter Paddington Bear or his infamous marmalade sandwiches.
Next trip's transport?
Em's pic's of the month:
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