September 14, 2008 GMT
BA then Home
We spend a couple of days in the Hotel, getting ourselves together and doing some research.
I speak to our Travel Insurance Company to get some help getting home - they don't want to know and make ridiculous requests for copies of our travel documents faxed across to them instead. I am totally disheartened with the lack of support and interest shown in helping us out at such a time by the Insurers - even after spending 800 quid on a top notch policy which was now virtually useless.
We set about trying to fathom out how the hell we are going to get 1) myself who can't ride or drive, 2) Darren who could ride but not a great idea and 3) a broken beamer who is ilegal to ride at the moment but could be fixed and ridden, 3000k up to Buenos Aires on a very limited budget at this point and in the shortest time possible. Then once at BA we need to organise getting beamer shipped home and ourselves on a flight.
I look into hiring cars, the idea is to hire a pick up truck like the one used to get us to the hospital and strap the bike in the back. This is dependant on Darren being ok to drive with his bad hands. We estimate getting to BA would take 4 days driving long hours.
Rio Gallegos is an average size town so we spend several days walking the streets and speaking to various hire shops who have nothing available. The Hotel suggests we try the small local airport, so we catch a taxi there the next day. That afternoon I phone the Hertz office to see what they can do.
They have a truck that they can hire us from tomorrow, I go through all the details on the phone, it can be dropped off ie. one way hire in BA but costs alot more. They quote me about 1000 pounds sterling, plus a huge deposit guarantee - it's money we haven't got but we have to find it.
We agree the price, get packed that evening, all ready to leave first thing in the morning. Our plan was to check out but leave the bike and all our belongings in the carpark, whilst we head over to the airport, pick up the truck and come back for the bike. Somehow we would try to lift the bike into the truck with a pole through the front forks- it wasn't going to be pretty but we'd manage somehow.
Arriving at the Hertz office in the airport next day and no-ones there. We wait around for a good hour until finally someone turns up. After trawling through paperwork we then have to give our credit card over so that they can take the 2000 pound deposit guarantee which you get back once dropped off in BA. The money is definately there in our account but would there stupid system agree- of course not that would be too easy.
The card gets refused 5 times in total and Darren and I are exasperated. It is so very hard to think clearly, especially when you are doing this all in Spanish, trying to translate what I think they are saying back to Darren, then asking another question- it is so confusing.
I have to take a moment outside the Airport to completely lose it and sob for half an hour. I can't describe to you how utterley helpless, totally frustrated and alone I felt us to be at that point. Why does this have to be so hard?
Darren persuades me to go back into the Office and speak to the Hertz guy again.
Our card gets refused a 6th time then the Hertz man has a suggestion...
He reckons that he knows a friend that for say 800 quid would drive us and the bike in a truck from here to BA..no deposit crap we just have to pay for the fuel.
I have to check several times that I have got my translation right but he says- no problem speak to my friend on the phone, calls him then hands me over to him. His friend speaks good English, confirms everything and agrees to meet us in 10mins at the Airport.
10mins later a brand new black BMW (the flashiest car I have seen since leaving the UK) pulls up and out jumps our man. We discuss the deal - it seems to good to be true - he says he has someone ready to drive us to BA now, he will help us load the bike, cash upfront obviously, we pay for the drivers expenses and fuel.
We decide to go for it and are promptly taken back to Rio Gallegos to the workshop/ business of our man, where a black truck is then driven over to the Hotel and the bike is loaded on along with all our kit.
We then head back to the workshop and the bike gets strapped down really hard on the back using the spring in the front forks to keep her from moving around. Darren double checks everything and is happy as you can be with other people manhandling your bike around. Our man turns out to be a total dick but he is helping us out so we can't complain.
After a fiasco trying to draw our cash out, we finally manage to pay the man and leave. It is about 4pm in the afternoon by this point. Our driver is a 65 year old man who speaks no english - well at least we don't have to worry about making small talk.
All I can say about the truck ride was it was the worst 3 days and 2 nights I ever spent in a truck.
This 65 year old man drove us for 28 hours straight - I kid not- at around 85-90mph the whole way.
It was truly terrifying and something I never want to do ever again in my life.
Night time was the worst- it was pitch black and the fear of hitting an animal was still pretty raw for us both. We took it in turns to catnap so that at least one of was watching the road and could try to do something. I remember sitting in the back with my hand in agony thinking, please god don't let me die in this truck.
Our only stops were for toilets and drinks and food. The driver repeatedly said he didn't need to sleep, he had done this route a thousand times being a long distance trucker.
As we neared BA the driving got worse and after some particularly hairy overtakes we told him to slow down, which he did.
The driver doesn't know BA at all, so we drive around various places looking for Hotels. We head for the Airport thinking there had to be somewhere nearby. Nothing.
Ending up in a very rough looking town we manage to flag down a taxi driver, Darren jumps in with him and we follow behind in the truck. After rejecting his first choice of Hotel, finally the beaten up taxi and myself roll up to what looks like a top quality B&B, Em is just behind in the truck and before too long she works her magic and secures a room for the night.
Meanwhile the driver, taxi driver and myself unload the bike from the back of the HiLux and dump all our kit on the driveway of the hotel. We then say are thanks to our driver and he gets on his way, not before wishing us well on our journey.
First thoughts are of a shower and a meal as we have not really eaten, showered or slept in the last 28 hours. I ride Beamer into the undercover parking area and we take our kit into the room. This place is great, clean and hot water plus everything works.
After getting showered (how good did that feel) we go through and get a meal in the lounge and I treat myself to a large beer, while Em treats herself to a large pudding before we get to bed for some much needed rest.
Next day after breakfast I set about emailing James Cargo to let them know we have got to BA so we can arrange the bike transport. We also email home to let everyone know we are safely in BA and are hoping to arrange flights within the next few days.
The reply from James Cargo later that day brought good and bad news, there contact out here had let them down and they advised that maybe we should consider airfrieghting the bike home, bugger, the good news was that they could recommend some contacts for us to try - but it meant we were starting from scratch.
Unfortunatly its now too late in the day to contact anyone so we will have to wait until after the weekend, we spend are time generally getting our act together so that there will be no delays on getting home once we can 'push the button.' We check flights and times, costs and transfer money from one overdraft to another to ensure we can pay for everything.
I also head over to the airport which is about 10 mins ride away to find a cashpoint, I get some funny looks from the other road users - I guess Beamer and I do look a bit odd, all busted up.
The bike rides fine thankfully and once at the airport I park up and find a hole in the wall. With the cash we need to pay the hotel, I then take a good look around the airport sussing out where everything is - hopefully it wont be too long before we fly out of here. Before leaving I pick up two cheap holdalls for us to use as hand luggage on the way home.
Once back at the hotel, I explain the aiport to Em, she is still in pain with her broken hand, I cant help thinking that the cast is too tight as her fingers look awful. We consider taking the cast off, but reason that with luck we will be flying home within a week so will cut it off before we fly.
With all the organising monday morning comes around quickly and we make first contact with Lufthansa Cargo. Things look promising as the organiser is really helpful and suggests we could possibly get the bike on a flight this Sunday (remember its monday today!). Whats better is the cost of the airfrieght is less that we were quoted to ship the bike home? Before too long email forms are completed and we are booked to take the bike to cargo on wednesday to complete the paperwork and clear customs - result.
While Em trys to relax by the pool as best she can with a cast on, I prep the bike ready for frieght basically repacking everthing and ensuring what needs to stay with us is in the holdalls and that everything else is squeezed into the panniers.
Waking up wednesday morning I know its going to be a long day, normally I rely on Em with the Spanish to help us through borders, customs etc.
Today I am on my own as Em can't ride, so I get our documents together and ride out to the airport. After parking the bike close to the entrance to cargo I walk to the office to get the nessessery papers required to enter the cargo area, after that I walk into the cargo area and into the offices of Lufthansa Cargo. The people here could not have been more helpful, despite my limited Spanish we get through the paperwork and I then take the bike to the weigh station before onto a second warehouse for customs.
I get a rollocking for taking a photo of the bike in customs (security) and for a minute thought I might lose the camara, thankfully all turned out ok.
The final part of the process again was easy thanks to very friendly officials, there was of course the usual paper shuffling and windows to queue at, but the whole process was very efficient. After a final pat on Beamers nose I walk off to get a taxi.
Getting back to the hotel, Em too had been busy with more research into flights home - with Beamer dropped off we could now book our flights. Ten minutes later we are confirmed on the afternoon flight leaving Thursday - another result.
We decide to cut off the cast at this point and manage with bandages until I can get my hand looked at in England. It's not pretty..
As we start to email family at home with our travel plans I turn on the tv to the music channel and up the volume. Its all quiet until the next song comes on and I struggle not to burst into tears - The Clash, London Calling "your not not wrong, I thought".
Posted by Darren Homer at 04:48 PM
To Buenos Aires
Next day we head back to Rio Grande and the same route as yesterday, now the rain has cleared the Mountains can be seen and they are stunning.
We head back to the same Posada in as they were really friendly, its only now that we have wifi and get busy letting everyone back home know that we have made it to Ushuaia and are now on our way home.
Next day we are up early ready for the busy day back to the mainland and crossing the two borders with the ferry ride in between.
We set out and once on the gravel get to our first border post. The staff are really fun today and joking around with us. Once outside we meet 3 Chilean bikers on their way in and they insist on a picture.
Then we head back past the flamingos and stop at the Argentinian office. While we are in here I see the Exchange office staff I had chatted to on the way in and they call me Senora Emma- I can't believe they had remembered my name!
We hit the gravel and make really good time on it today.
Next challenge is the ferry and we pull up first in the queue waiting for the boat.
Whilst we are waiting two friendly brothers start chatting to us about the bike and trip. Fernando and Paulo are travelling on a holiday driving from their home in Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and back again in a week. Paulo is a photographer and asks if he can take our picture too.
The boat arrives and it starts to rain, the boys (chicos) kindly lend me their umbrella.
Once on the boat Darren stays with the bike while I sit inside in the warm chatting to the boys. I go to pay but the crew aren't having any of it and let us on for free.
On dry land again we head off and hit the second border post. This is a breeze again with friendly staff and no one around. Darren and I say to ourselves this is all too easy.
We were having a fantastic day, meeting lovely people, having fun, easy borders, free ferry etc.
I see a sign for a lake and deciding that we have time for a little detour we take a look.
It is very pretty and desserted.
Heading out from the Lake and back on the main road towards Rio Gallegos the road is pretty straight and boring. There are deep ditches on either side of the road too.
10 mins later we are heading along at our usual 55-60mph when I feel Darren back off the throttle and start breaking hard, I look over his shoulder and see a llama coming up fast, it has frozen with fear in the middle of our path, I just have time to think 'we are going to hit it' before the impact.
I don't remember much except being thrown off to the right as the bike pitches and we hit the ground. I land face down in the gravel with my arms outstretched above my head and skid backwards for a good 20 metres. I remember seeing the gravel up close as I skid through it.
I come to a stop and manage to get up on my knees, Darren runs over to me shouting are you alright, are you alright? It takes me a moment to answer, Darren slaps me on the shoulder and tells me 'well done for staying with the bike'.
He runs back to the bike and I look round trying to take it all in. The llama is still in the middle of the road and I think it is dead, then suddenly it shakes into life and jumps to it's feet before running at me for a second then back down the road. A car passes us at this point, not even slowing down through the carnage left on the road.
Both my hands are really hurting and I remember thinking 'my left hand is broken'.
Well we did say the day was going too easy, as we left the lake I was feeling good about the day, its then that I spot the Llama coming out of the ditch to our left.
I get off the throttle and start to break just in case, sure enough the animal bolts across the road, the ABS is now working hard as I try to scrub off speed.
Just as it gets to the middle of the road the animal freezes, shit! Theres no time to get off the brakes and try and swerve, I just pray it moves.
The impact is hard, I guess we are still doing around 50mph as the front beak of the bike forces itself under the belly of the Llama. The front subframe breaks as the animal is forced up smashing through the oil cooler, light, clocks, GPS, mirrors and screen. The animal now makes impact with the bars and my hands as my head impacts its belly, Beamer now has too much weight on the front wheel and it tucks to the left and we go down.
I assume this is when Em comes off, I stay with the bike as we slide on our side through the gravel on the side of the road. Eventually I let go and the bike spins away from me, desperate to get to Em, I put my foot down thinking I have stopped, I hadn’t, I flip up in the air and eventually come to a stop.
I look back up the road and see Em on her knees, shit shit shit, running up to her I start to shout, I need to hear her say she is ok, please let her be ok.
Em manages to say she is ok, clearly in shock but ok, “your face is bleeding” she says ‘don’t worry its fine I answer’, just head butted the stupid thing. Once I hear Em say she is not badly hurt my thoughts turn to the road, our panniers and bits of bike are everywhere and cars are just whizzing by.
I get to my feet and start helping Darren with the clean up. There is alot of stones and bike strewn in the road so we pick up bits. Several cars pass us as this is happening and I gesture to them to slow down, to which they ignore, thowing stones up at us as they pass.
Once we get our kit to the side of the road, I realize its only a matter of time before the adrenaline wears off for both of us and we need to get the bike on its wheels before the pain kicks in.
Em mentions that her hand feels broken, I know her pain threshold is seriously high so admit to myself that she is probably right. Its only now that I do an assessment of myself, my hands are not right and I am finding it hard to breath as my ribs on the right side are painful.
Its amazing how the brain works in these situations, instinct kicks in and we know that first we have to see if Beemer is ridable, if so then we need to ride to a hospital and get checked out. I look down the road at the bike, its lying on its right side and my first thoughts are that its history.
Em and I haul the bike up onto its wheels and manage to put it on its stand, this takes a great deal of effort as we are both in pain. The ignition is still on but with no clocks left I cant tell if we have electrics, I go to thumb the starter but its not there. Looking down between the forks I find it and press the button – nothing, Darren you idiot think – its still in gear, reaching down I select neutral and try the button again…Beamer fires up.
Unbloodybelievable, even after that she fails to let us down, a quick assessment tells me that the forks look straight and the brake and clutch appear to work – its ridable. I get the gaffa tape out of the back box and attempt to make the mess at the front safe, its then that a Pick Up truck passes us then stops before reversing back to us.
The driver is a really nice man and insists on helping us. He suggests that we put the bike in the back of his truck and he drives us to the nearest town of Rio Gallegos. He drives the truck down into the ditch then reverses back so that his tailgate is nearly level with the slope. There is about a foot in height to lift the bike onto the back and all three of us struggle to lift it in. We are then joined by a Bolivian guy who happens to be cycling by (we had passed him about an hour ago and waved) and he joins in the clean up, helping to lift the panniers into the truck.
Just then the boys (chicos) we had met on the ferry come past and stop, they ask the driver where he is taking us, he says he is taking us to the hospital first then a hotel. They say they will meet us at the hospital and head off.
The driver (I don't even know his name) gets us into the truck and gives the Bolivian guy a lift too. He puts his pushbike in the back and then climbs in the back to hold our motorbike up steady as we set off.
It takes about half an hour to get to the hospital, the driver speaks to the staff and gets us sorted. They ask only for our passport numbers and details. We meet up with the boys there too and they decide to go off and organise a hotel for us while we are getting looked at.
We get looked at by a nurse and she takes one look at my hand and says that it's definately broken, then they take us through to get xrayed on the places that hurt.
My knee and left hand and Darren's ribs and hand are swollen.
As Em is getting xrayed I take a good look at my left hand, its very swollon and I don’t like the look of my thumb. How the hell am I going to ride the bike if I get put in a cast? Maybe not one of my better ideas, but as I go into xray the lady asks me to put my hand on the slab, I put forward my better right hand just in case.
The diagnosis is everything is fine except Ems hand which is indeed broken and needs to go in plaster. The driver returns at this point to tell us that the boys have found us a hotel and that he has taken the bike there for us and parked it safely round the back and that the boys will be coming to get us in half an hour.
We have no words to express our gratitude to this man for his amazingly generous assistance, I give him a big kiss and Darren gives him a hearty handshake.
What do you say to a man that you owe so much to? I didn’t know either, after Em gives him a hug I shake his hand and don’t let go until are eyes make contact and its then I just say thank you.
That’s one of the biggest things I will take from this trip, my faith in human nature is restored and some. We have been helped by so many people that I resolve that from now on my outlook on helping a stranger will change.
Next it's time for me to get plastered and after an excrutiatingly painful five minutes of trying to pull my wedding rings off my swollen finger with soap and Darren holding my arm while the nurse pulls my fingers it finally comes off.
They tell me that I will need to get to a hospital in Buenos Aires before I fly home to get the plaster cut off then send us on our way.
Once outside we wait 15 mins for the boys to arrive. They have lots of stuff crammed in the car and managed to make a small space for me on the back seat but Darren had to squeeze in the front with them.
We get to the Hotel and get checked in, the hostel is very welcoming and the guys show us where the bike is situated – right by the back door. They had taken our panniers up to the room too. These had been open since the hospital as we hadn't thought to lock them shut at the time. The kit in our panniers was probably worth more than they earn in a year alone, a refreshing change from England where if it's not tied down...
On getting to the room the guys ask if they can take us to dinner that evening, surely we should be taking them out? But they insist and make a grand gesture of inviting us, so after a very painful shower each we head off for a really enjoyable evening in their company, before saying our goodbyes as they are leaving early in the morning.
Por neuestros amistades los chicos - Paulo y Fernando - Muchas gracias por sus amabilidad.
Neither of us get much sleep due to the aches and pains – any of you that have ever fallen from a motorbike will understand – everything was so stiff next morning, we looked like a couple of oap’s walking around.
The hostel was great, but the reality is we need a hotel with wifi so we can get organized so we take a walk around the block and find a very good hotel with all the facilities we need. After checking Em into the room I tell her to try and get some sleep as she looks shattered. I then walk back to the hostel and check us out, with everything back on the bike I realize its going to hurt trying to ride.
I swing a leg over but cant seem to pick the bike off the side stand, I put my lid on and try again while gritting my teeth, I cant descibe the pain.
Sitting on the bike I start Beemer and it then takes me 5mins to get my left hand to work pulling in the clutch, I could really do with the adrelaline kicking in again.
Its not the smoothest of starts as I pull away from the hostel for the 5min ride to the hotel, I am getting some strange looks from people but I guess both the bike and I look a mess. I get parked in the hotels secure car park and its all I can do to get off the bike.
While struggling with the luggage a porter appears and he speaks perfect English, we have a good chat about music and his home town and also discuss the trip. I then explain that my hands are damaged and he insists that I just go to my room and he will bring everything up – top lad I'm very grateful.
Posted by Darren Homer at 04:46 PM
September 13, 2008 GMT
Next day we are up early and ready for our official last day of the trip. The weather however is not playing ball and it is still torrential rain and low cloud.
We start out and follow the RN3 down, with the wind and rain it was pretty hard going. The temperature really starts to drop too and even with my heated vest on I was still getting cold from the wind chill.
We stop for fuel after a good two hours and Darren admits that his heated vest isn't working.
He is shivering badly so I get him into the coffee shop and warmed up with a hot chocolate.
What Em fails to mention is that I was shaking that badly that the first cup of hot chocolate ended up on the floor! And yes I did have my liners in, the heated vest has been tempremental since Alaska, Ems has been perfect so I guess mine was a Friday afternoon job.
We head back out into the cold and rain and the scenery starts to get more interesting with Lenga Forests and scary 'witch' trees covered in moss.
The road climbs higher and skirts the Fagnano Lake before heading higher still and through the Garibaldi Pass.
Unfortunately we can't see much from here on in and this cloud is thick and low.
As we start to head down from the pass I keep a close eye on the GPS, not far now, being an emotional idiot I start to well up, its cold and throwing it down with rain but I hardly notice.
I think back to the last 8 monhs and what we have achieved and try to savour the moment, its too much, I start to blub. Theres no reaction on the autocom, I check to see if its working by chatting to Em about what we have achieved, places we have seen and people we have met, little reaction – the sad reality is that for Em, Ushuaia is a place to get to so that we can go home, for me Ushuaia is so much more and this realization really hurts.
All I can say Darren is that this bike trip was the hardest thing I have ever done, I put my heart and soul into it from planning through to facing every challenge thrown at me with good humour and a positive attitude. Reaching Ushuaia for me was actually gutting as it was the end of the trip and the realisation of that for me was devastating. I was too upset to form words or think clearly.
While all this is on my mind, I round the bend and there it is, the sign 'welcome to Ushuaia' .
Finally after 8 months of riding we had made it, we park up where so many have before for the photo by the sign, we hug and pat each other on the back – we have made it to Ushuaia!!
We head through the town and get chased by various dogs until we turn off down to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park. This is officially where the road runs out, the furthest point that you can drive South.
We pay to enter the Park and follow the very muddy track along through some very pretty scenery.
There are also of tourists around, mainly old people from the Cruise Liners in Ushuaia, they are all looking very grumpy and not very happy to be in the freezing cold Antarctic capital.
Finally we reach the end of the road - and there is the sign, the one I had been dreaming about getting to in a very long time. It feels surreal to actually be here and we take a moment to take it all in.
There are some wooden posts in the way and we manage to get the panniers off the bike and squeeze it through the posts next to the famous sign.
The tourists are all staring at us in disbelief like we are mad as we take our photos.
I would rather visit this sign at the age of 31 knowing that I have ridden half way around the world to get to it than to turn up in a coach at the age of 80 with barely the breath to walk the 40 metres across the car park...
A Park Ranger turns up and proceeds to tell us we can't do this and we need to move now - Darren is having none of it and persuades the ranger to take our picture.
Like Em says it was a little surreal, but no one was going to stop me getting the pick of the three of us by the sign.
We had rode 30,000miles through 13 countries in just over 8 months and had completed our goal of riding from the top of the World to the bottom.
Heading back we bump into some bikers coming the other way- finally- we had wondered where they all were! After a brief chat we head back into Ushuaia to find a Hotel.
After driving round several times we find what looks like a great Hotel. We want to treat ourselves tonight and celebrate so need a Restaurant too.
The Hotel we find (Canal Beagle 4star) looks great and it takes me over an hour to check in. Whilst I am battling with paperwork Darren is busy getting beseiged by lots of people outside.
While outside I just can't believe the attention that the bike and I are getting. The cruise ship had docked some hours earlier and many of its passengers of all nationalities were now busy asking the usual questions, all of a sudden I felt very proud of what we had achieved.
We get into the room, cleaned up and then head out into the town for a wander round and for Darren to get his stickers.
That evening we head to the Restaurant and treat ourselves to a nice meal and bottle of Champagne.
We then sit at the bar till midnight and the Barman gives us free drinks all night to help us celebrate.
Ushuaia - End of the World, beginning of Everything
A special note from Darren.
The adventure is not over yet of course, theres the small matter of riding the 2000 miles to Buenos Aires to get home and we will continue the blog until we get on the plane, but I feel now is the time to say a few words.
Taking on something like this as a couple on one bike was never going to be easy, living with your partner 24/7 was always going to be our biggest challenge, I will be the first to admit that I am not the easiest to live with.
Em has always been what I would describe as a 5 star girl, she likes her comforts and its this that makes her achievement so much more. She has had to put up with numerous hardships, made many sacrifices on route and has taken them all in her stride, I can't begin to describe how proud of her I am.
We had to make some very difficult decisions at times, events at home meant that Em had to consider returning home at one point. It was at this point that I made the decision to continue on my own if necessary and this effected Em deeply.
Its for this reason that I just want to say this to my co-rider;
Thank you Em, for giving up what we had in the UK, for taking the chance and for allowing us to achieve a dream. From the organizing of the trip back home to the planning of the day to day you have been phenominal.
I am so happy that we were able to complete our adventure together, to see it through to the end.
I honestly could not have done this without you, what is more, I wouldn’t have wanted to.
Posted by Darren Homer at 04:58 PM
Reaching the border post into Argentina, again all is simple and easy.
Once we head out into Argentina the scenery is beautiful. There are may ski lodges and chalets, along with lovely little shops, flowers everywhere and friendy people. It feels like you are in the Swiss alps!!
We head round Lake Nahuel Huapi which is beautiful and can see our planned stop for the night of Bariloche on the other side of the lake.
We roll into Bariloche and follow the road round the edge of the lake- it is lovely. Accommodation is quite pricey here but we manage to find a cheap hostal with secure parking.
Deciding to head into the town later for some dinner we find a busy cafe. The service is slow and dissmisive and we think it must be us because we are British. We were warned by people that there might be some animosity towards us beacause of the Falklands. After a while it becomes clear they are like it with everyone! The waitors are highly distracted by the football on the TV, it is clear that Argentinians are very passionate about the game. The food is worth waiting for and we both sample the Argentinian beef.
Then we go and do my favourite sport - chocolate eating! Bariloche is famous for it's handmade chocolate and there are hundreds of chocolate shops in the town offering every type you can imagine. The first shop has a pick and mix option so I set about getting a good selection, then we try another shop for some more.
The chocolate is really good and definately different on the palate with many unusual fillings that aren't the norm in Europe too. It melts quickly (a sign of quality) so we have to eat the lot.
Next day we head dead South following the 40 road to Esquel.
The scenery has started to dry up and is dusty.
Stopping just outside of Esquel for fuel we meet up with Doug, he is heading south after starting out in the rain forests of Brazil on his 1150GS. We have a good chat about bike travel and as we do so a group of Chilean bikers turn up too.
After a good chat we head back onto the 40 and down to the town of Gobernador Costa. This is a very small town with 1 hotel only. We knew it would be a bit grim as we are out in the middle of nowhere, the price you pay for the quick route to Ushuaia.
The Hotel is actually a restaurant that has some rooms attached. There is a dreadful smell in the Restaurant and we skip dinner and breakfast. There is alot of building work going on and we settle in for a noisy night.
Keen to leave the hovel we are up and out early heading down to Comodore Rivadavia.
This place is the pits too but we manage to find a basic Hotel- far better than the previous night.
Next day we head South on the 3 to Puerto San Julian. Just as we head out of the town of Rivadavia we get stopped at a Police checkpoint and are made to get off and take our passports into the office.
The grumpy Policeman takes our passports and asks us where we are going. I reply 'Ushuaia then returning to Buenos Aires then England.' The policeman looks blankly at Darren, completely ignoring me and asks again where are we going?
Darren says 'Ushuaia then returning to Buenos Aires then England.' He nods and stamps our passports then sends us on our way.
Darren thinks its hilarious that the policeman ignored me - I mutter under my breath that Argentinian men are all sexist pigs frightened of blonde women on motorbikes...
Finally out on the open road it is good to get going but ridiculously windy. The wind cuts across from the sea and it is all we can do to hold on. There are occasionally big gusts that blow us around on the road too especially after trucks passing us in the other direction.
The wind robs us of valuable fuel as the bike is working a lot harder to keep us in a straight line. There are fuel stops on this road but they are few and far between, several are locals selling fuel.
After a strenuous morning we reach a fuel stop with about 10 miles left in the tank. The pump assistant tells us they have no petrol (they call it nafta out here) and the next fuel stop is 140 kms ahead. I tell him that this is seriously bad as we have 10 miles left and are desperate for fuel.
He thinks for a moment then says there is a place we could try a kilometre down the road. It is a comedor and doesn't advertise the fact that they have fuel. We set off and a mile later pull into the comedor, I ask the local and he tells us to go round the back, where a cheerful guy is filling up a car from an oil container with a hose.
Thankfully he fills up our tank too but then won't accept our Argentinian money as the note is too big and he says he has no change. It was probably a ploy to get our money and after I offer to pay him intead in either US dollars, Peruvian Neuva Soles or Chileano pesos he suddenly finds the change and sends us on our way.
There is alot of fascinating wildlife on this road, mainly Emu's and Llama's!
Wearily we reach Rio Gallegos after feeling like we have been sandblasted by the wind all day. The town has a weird feeling about it and we feel rather self concious here. Finding a hotel in the main town we get settled in.
Later that evening we head out a few blocks to a Bakery I had spotted on the way into town. It is an amazing little place full of lovely things and the smell of fresh baked bread is delicious.
We don't get any sleep that night due to a loud Nightclub again not stopping until 5am. They certainly like to party here.
Next day is a big one as we plan to get onto Tierra del Fuego today.
After checking our guide book for the details of the day we need to cross 1 International border, then take a ferry to the island, then 100k of off road, then another International border before reaching our planned stop at Rio Grande.
Leaving Rio Gallegos very early we reach the first border from Argentina into Chile.
This post is already quite busy (8am) although it is pretty civillised with clear signs and helpful staff. I also stop to change some money here so that we have Chilean pesos to pay for the ferry. I have a good chat with the staff in the Exchange Bureau and they are very interested in our travels.
Heading further South we follow the road along 40 miles and stop abruptly at a line of cars and the end of the road - this must be the ferry stop then!
We check with the office and the next ferry is in an hour, so we wander around to kill some time. A friendly man in a truck asks if he can take our photo as he is a journalist. After posing for the shot we notice the cafe windows. They are covered in biker stickers - we decide we need to stick our blog details on the window too and after finding some glue in the back box we get our card stuck on.
The ferry arrives by this time and we are made to wait at the side of the road until everyone else is on. For some reason they must like to put bikes on the back of the boat. There are no straps to hold the bike down so Darren stays with the bike while I find the Pursers Office and pay.
After 20 mins it's time to get off - only problem is that a coach has got stuck trying to get off and is grounded out.
It takes nearly an hour for the ferry crew to free the trapped bus by moving the ferry back and forth and using wooden chocks under the back wheels to try and lift it up. At one point a truck is used to try and tow the bus but this doesn't work either. Finally the Coach gets free and everyone on the ferry gives a loud cheer.
Once off the ferry we are all eager to get going. The Journalist we met earlier is ahead in his blue truck and suddenly veers onto the verge, we slow down and see that he has hit a llama. Luckily there isn't too much damage to his truck but the llama is definately dead.
After a short section of tarmac the road turns to gravel. Big chunky gravel and the dust blocks everything out too which really doesn't help.
After about an hour of bumping up and down I am desperate for the loo, so we have to pull over. There is no place to shelter here- no trees - nothing, I manage to find a slight hollow in the ground to 'hide' in but still manage to flash my backside at some poor trucker. Think I am a proper biker now as I didn’t even blush…
Feeling better we continue and manage to make it to the second border post, crossing back from Chile into Argentina. This post is really relaxed and there is no-one around at 4pm in the afternoon which means no queues.
The stretch of gravel road between the two offices is very pretty and we see some flamingo's.
We stop for fuel and nearly get blown over, the weather has suddenly turned very blowy and grey, we are going to get wet soon.
Sure enough the rain starts just as we hit the tarmac, but it's not long till we get to Rio Grande our stop for the night. We take a wrong turn once in the town and end up riding by the Army base and giant Maldivas/ Falklands Memorial complete with F1 Fighter jet.
At this point, I should add, that so far in Argentina we have stayed at two of the towns that hold the garrison from where the Argentinians launched their campaign on the Falklands.
We are riding a British bike with UK plates with dirty great Union Jacks stuck all over it and yet we have experienced absolutely no hostility. In fact the locals are very welcoming and friendly, the warnings that we had been given were frankly rubbish.
We pull into a nice looking Posada (Bed & Breakfast). The staff are great and it is a nice place with a Restaurant too. After the best hot shower in the world (probably) we have a nice meal then plan our final day tomorrow - Ushuaia.
I don’t get much sleep that night, the thought of what tommorow means keeps playing through my head.
I lay there listening to the howling gale and heavy rain and think that it would be nice to wait for better weather. But the reality is that we frankly cant afford to, we ride tommorow, whatever the weather.
Posted by Darren Homer at 03:56 PM
September 11, 2008 GMT
Relieved to have got out the other side alive we head into Chile. After reading and researching online I was expecting Chile to be very different to Peru and the difference between them to be startling.
Yes Chile has shops and is 'civillised' but it's not that different at first. There are certainly less dogs here and they are less aggressive which is a good start.
We head into Arica and pull into the first Hotel we can find on the sea front. It is a beach type resort and not very cheap.
Today has lost us 2 hours in time due to crossing time zones so it is now about 8pm. After a speedy change and dinner, we unfortunately realise there is an ant problem in our room. Then we notice the yukky bathroom and the smell from the toilet is vile.
Checking out next morning I set about complaining in spanish to the Receptionist. Maybe I got some words wrong but she certainly was very embarrassed by what I said and offered us a discount straight away. This is the first complaint I have made so far concerning hotel rooms and I was so mad about the price and lack of quality that I made a point of telling the staff I have stayed in better hostals in Peru...
The next few days would see us ride through the infamous Atacama Desert, Em found this boring at times, but for me the place was wild.
Some of the sand dunes have to be seen to be believed as they tower above, many stories high. With some stretches It felt like we were riding through Mars not Chile, the wind was fierce - sometimes blowing us onto the other side of the road. You daren’t open your visor even a crack out here due to the sand and the heat is searing.
Looking out into the dessert you could see whirlwinds pulling up great cones of sand, amazing to witness, but glad they werent too close.
The road on the whole is straight, at times stretching to the heat hazed horizon, the only thing breaking the monotony is the elaborate road side memorials to those who had not survived a particular incident on the road - a reminder to keep your concentration.
More worrying though is the lack of petrol stations. The first one we find we ask for extra fuel cans. They don't have any but recycle a couple of oil containers and fill with petrol for us. We strap these to the side of the back box and hope we have enough.
The riding starts to get very windy and it is hard going just holding yourself up.
The wind blows the sand around and worse it increases our fuel consumption.
Later that day we have to pull over and use the spare cans to fill the tank. With the wind effect and our additional cans we can do around 300miles, its only now I wish we had the Adventure fuel tank, but we manage fine. Luckily an hour later we reach a fuel station and brim the tank and containers.
After a long days riding we reach the town of Iquque. This place is nestled by the sea and has cool sea breezes.
We treat ourselves to a proper hotel with great views of the ocean, later after getting the sand out of all the cracks, we head down to the restaurant for a very good meal and our complimentary drink.
Later that evening we route plan for the next few days riding, using the laptops remaining battery as we don’t yet have a Chilean power adaptor. One practical thing a day....
Setting out for more of the same wind, sand and boredom it is now that I am so grateful for my ipod.
We get to Antofagasta after another long day and find a hotel on the seafront.
Leaving Antofagasta early the next day we drive past "The Hand'.
This is a sand monument of a hand probably made by the Chileans to try and ease the boredom of the landscape. It doesn't work.
That evening we get to Bahia Ingles and decide to stop for the night. We have trouble finding a decent hotel and end up in a hostel, which is very pricey but has secure parking. There are loads of backpackers around as we wander into town in search of food. Finding nothing except a Mexican Bar we settle on Pina coladas and nachos for tea.
Knackered after the last couple of days we settle back into the hostal. At 11pm the underground club across the street from us kicks off with banging dance music until 5am, then the inevitable noise of drunk people leaving. We get no sleep at all it is so loud, I think the bed was shaking in time to the music. I must be getting old as I was very peeved by it all.
Next day is a little better as the scenery starts to green up abit and we get out of the dessert. Stopping at a fuel station just before lunch we meet up with a Chilean local on a BMW. Fernando asks us to join him for a coffee and we chat about the bike, where we have been, and in general. It is fascinating to hear about his life here, Fernando is a fruit farmer in La Serena, he has 7 children (6 girls 1 boy) which we have a good chat about.
After lunch we all head out together and Fernando leads the way to La Serena, pointing out landmarks and interesting things along the way. Once in La Serena he takes us to a lovely hotel, and bids us farewell.
That evening we meet up with a lovely couple from Scotland who are here visiting family. We have a fantastic evening with great food and company.
David and Ailsa- it was a pleasure meeting you, thanks for a fabulous evening!
After a great breakfast we head out the next day. Our first stop is a photo shoot outside the hotel courtesy of our new friends from last night!
The Pan am from here downwards starts to get better and Chile is starting to feel alot more civilised from here on in. Fuel stops aren't such an issue and you can buy water and snacks at them too which is a bonus after Peru.
There are many cake ladies along this stretch of road - locals who bake cakes and sell them on the roadside. They wave white hankerchiefs at you to get your attention.
Reaching Santiago, later that afternoon we drive around the capital looking for Hotels. There must be a Hotel district in Santiago and we definately didn't find it! We did find the banking district though and it was very hectic. After about an hour we manage to find a hotel and get us and the bike sorted.
That evening after dinner we set about doing some research. We need to find the BMW dealer in Santiago tomorrow to hopefully get some new tyres ready for off road later to come. After emailing the dealers twice about 3 weeks ago and no response we really don't know what to expect. They might have our tyres in stock?
Next day we head out armed with a tourist map and a route by me. We manage to get out of the centre and onto the right road after 10 mins or so. After half an hour we reach the BMW dealership, only to find out it is the wrong one. Luckily we meet Gonzalo there, another BMW rider on his bike and he offers to take us to the right place. We set off after him and he isn't hanging around! Gonzalo speaks perfect Queens English and sets about explaining to the staff in Spanish what we need. Then he translates it to us - they have the TKC’s and can fit them by 5pm today. Perfect.
We decide to hang out in the showroom all day while the tyres get changed.
Gonzalo is concerned about us driving around Santiago as there is a tag/ toll system in place. We need to have a tag to drive on the ring roads and there is no way we can get out of the city without crossing a checkpoint and maybe getting fined or chased by the police. Think London congestion charge, but with bigger fines.
Darren heads off with Gonzalo on his BMW into town to the Motorway Office to find out how to get a tag etc. I am secretly thrilled by this as I am hoping Darren will realise what it is like to be a pillion for a change.
Ems comment made me smile, I actually don’t normally like being pillion, as I have said many times I don’t know how she does it – especially off road. But today I really enjoyed being pillion riding with Gonzalo around the city, first we went to his house to collect his tag, then onto the transport office.
It turns out that as we have foreign plates we don't need a tag and don't have to pay anything to drive around – one less thing to worry about. I suggest to Gonzalo that he should get himself some international plates for his bike – save a fortune. We offer to take Gonzalo over to a cafe to buy him lunch for all his help, he is not having any of it though and insists on paying for us instead. Whilst in the supermarket we pick up some bits and bobs we needed for the road and head back to BMW.
At BMW they wheel the bike out and I only just recognize it – they had cleaned it, Beamers first bath in months! The fitter also mentioned that although he managed to fit the tires ok, he was concerned about the rims as they were somewhat buckled…really? Cant think how that happened…
Gonzalo meets back up with us at 5pm to check everything is okay with the new tyres, then he leads the way out of town and waves us onto the right road.
Gonzalo, mucho gusto, !gracious por sus ayuthar con los pneumaticos!
We head out to Rancagua and reach it by about 6.30pm. Finding a Hotel proves very difficult and eventually we come across the most lovely place on the outskirts of town. It is beautiful here, very quiet, with loveley gardens and spotless rooms.
Breakfast is very nice the next morning and I ask Darren if he can just leave me here and do the last bit on his own, it is just too nice to leave. He tells me to stop day dreaming and get my kit on!!
I would have liked to stay longer, but what Em fails to mention is that this place is 3x our nightly budget! The stop was a good one and it was nice to get some luxury for once – and to see Em with a smile on her face.
We head out and back onto the Pan Am for a long and fairly uninteresting ride down to Los Angeles .The great thing about Chile now is the fuel stops- they have cafes attached to them with a nice area to sit down and have something to eat so we treat ourselves to lunch.
These roadside service areas remind me of riding through France, great service and very fresh produce – plus you have to pay to take a leak!
We reach Los Angeles and find a suitable motel. We need a good car park area so that I can do the long awaited oil change- we have been planning to do it since Panama.
Once checked in, I set about the bike, its seriously hot as I drop the belly pan ready for the oil change. Its then that I spot the reason why Beamer has not been on top form – theres a hole about the size of a five pence piece in the exhaust down pipe. On closer inspection I realize that on one of the offs in Peru, the now bent crash bars had hit the pipe, forcing the bars fixing bolt to go through the pipe. Ten minutes and some metal putty later and the repair is done.
After swapping the oil and filter I also replace the air filter and check the brakes and spoke tension, thankfully all is in order.
The next day is a very wet one and we get absolutely soaked travelling down to Osorno. We planned to stop here so that we can pick up the 215 road tomorrow across into Agentina. The town of Osorno is terrible, we couldn't find anywhere we would like to stay, so decide to head on in the rain to Puerto Montt.
The rain is now torrential, and we come across numerous accidents caused by the conditions, the worse by far is a double trailered tanker that has overturned after hitting a car – as we get closer I spot it’s a fuel tanker and gas it to get away as quickly as possible!
We had been warned that Puerto Montt wasn't very scenic or pleasant- for me it was nicer than Osorno, it is a port town and rough around the edges is how I would describe it after staying there.
While Em checks us into the hotel I wait outside in the rain and its here that I am approached by a guy who had arrived in town yesterday. He too is on a bike trip and plans to ferry across to pick up the Carretera Austral. We are not the only riders he has met in town, apparently there are a few riders ready to go south – I wondered where they all were.
Once settled into the room we decide to give ourselves a day off to plan ahead for the border crossing and organise money. That evening we realise that we are seriously pushing the budget to get to Ushuaia as we had planned, ie by taking the famous Carreterra Austral and the infamous Ruta 40.
This route to Ushuaia would take us about 10 days- 10 days of money we didn't have. With all our options used up, we come to terms with the fact that we have to take the quickest route possible to Ushuaia. Then to 'haul ass' as a Texan would say, back up to Buenos Aires as quickly as possible to ship us and beamer home.
That evening we sit in the room not saying much, alone in our own thoughts about what we have to give up. I work out a route that still gives me a small taste of Ruta 40, but the reality is that the true Ruta 40 and the Carrettera Austral will evade us on this trip, maybe next time.
It is a disppointment for us both but our number one priority is to get to Ushuaia ASAP and finish the trip as we had planned from the top of the world to the bottom in one ride.
With the new routes planned, we leave Puerto Montt setting out early back up to Osorno then onto the 215 road heading East and into Argentina. Just outside town we pull up to a road block where the Police tell us that the Ruta 5 (PanAm) is shut so we have to follow a detour out of town. For some reason it is very smokey and we pull our neck buffs up to cover our mouths just to breath.
Once out of the backstreets and smog and finally on the 215 road the scenery opens up to parklands and trees reminding me of England. The weather has dried up and it is a lovely sunny day. We pass lots of tourist spots and cabanas for rent. It is really pretty out here. We stop by a field full of buttercups to have some biscuits and a drink.
As we approach the border, a BMW 650 Daker is coming the other way, we chat to the lady rider who is Australian and has traveled from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and is now making her way north – alone. I have a great deal of respect for her as, to put it politly, she was mature in years and still living the dream. Em – I thought she was the coolest woman I had ever met and vow to take my bike licence as soon as I can. We both hope you have a fantastic trip.
Crossing the border from Chile into Argentina is the best crossing yet. There are clear signs telling you where to go and why, the staff are friendly and best of all it is quiet with no crowds or queues of people.
After checking out of Chile you have a 15mile ride through 'no mans land' which happens to be a National Park and is very pretty.
Posted by Darren Homer at 08:32 PM
July 25, 2008 GMT
Peru (Part 3)
Leaving Cusco reluctantly and with another send off from the Hotel Manager and his staff, we head to Puno. Sticking to main routes it takes us over high elevation and mountain ranges. As we reach the top of the mountains the view is amazing and the most awesome thing I have ever seen comes into view.
A rainbow in a perfect circle around the sun is visible - it is stunning.
There are two other rainbows alongside us on either side of the mountains below us, with the sun overhead and the rainbow ring, it was an awesome sight and I can honestly say I don't think I will ever see anything like it ever again in my life.
This place certainly is beautiful, I love being up here in the mountains as it feels like you are on top of the world looking down. It is very peaceful and deserted with not a person in sight.
After a couple of hours it flattens out and the weather starts to turn. It is pretty bad and it is so vast that you can see the storms and clouds way off on the horizon and hope that we skirt them.
Eventually we get wet and then worse - a hail storm for 15 mins. It is hammering down on us and there is nowhere to shelter. We continue on slowly but the hail has turned the road into slush and we have road tires on. We skid on a section as Darren tries to slow us down then hit a speed bump and a motorput-put/ bike taxi on the other side. The driver doesn't even look round or stop he just drives off- it must happen all the time!
Finally reaching a great Hotel in town we get given some Coca tea at reception to warm up. We get into our room and ramp up the heating in an attempt to dry out our sopping wet kit.
The hotel is on the banks of Lake Titicata and is a bit pricey for us, but there wasn’t a lot of choice and when your sopping wet and frozen saving 50 bucks is not high on the agenda.
Sitting in my bathrobe in the now hot hotel room, I think back to the days ride and I could not believe how quickly the weather changed, as usual I had not fitted my waterproof bottoms into my riding trousers. By the time the rain had turned to hail I could not feel anything from the waist down, you would have thought I would have learnt by now eh? As we approached town, In a matter of seconds the hail turned severe and the road became ice - just what you need when your reactions are dulled by the cold.
The destination for the next days ride is Arequipa we head out expecting more of the same high mountain views, bad weather and hail storms.
The day starts badly when we miss the turning we want to take and Darren is adamant that he is not going to turn round and go back through the town again. I understand it is hard for him riding in the towns with all the hazards but can't help feeling that 10 mins of pain would be better if it gets us on the right road to start with.
There is little point argueing however as I am the one on the back - not the one in control up front.
Heading along for about 40 miles back on yesterdays route, Darren feels that we can pick up a smaller road shown on the GPS which should lead us eventually to the road we should have been on. Unfortunately this means we have to turn off into another town to try and find the smaller road.
The only way to describe this place is utter chaos. There are small winding streets - all very confusing, markets and stalls everywhere, crowds of people in the road, bike taxis everywhere - alongside us, cutting in front and nearly taking us off. Then there are horrendously bumpy and slippery railway lines to cross. What frightens me most about this place is the atmosphere- sometimes you just know when somewhere has a bad vibe. We have to keep stop starting in the traffic which is nerve racking too.
At one point we stop and there are people walking everywhere between the traffic- some man grabs my arm shouting 'you' in spanish and tries to pull me off the bike. I throw my arm up and jerk it away, he lets go as we pull away. 'Get me the hell out of here' I shout at Darren down the autocom before bursting into tears- this was so unexpected and it really frightened me.
Em was clearly upset from being grabbed, I don’t know the guys intentions but hope it was more a case of trying to get our attention than anything sinister, either way we were both glad to get back on our right road shortly after the incident.
As any of you who have travelled this way before will know, there are two roads leading to Arequipa from Puno. The first is from the town of Puno itself, but try as I might I could not locate it and rather than ride around the town again, I decided to go for the second road located north of the town - I had clocked it yesterday as we rode in so at least I knew where it was. That was my logic but I understand not everyone would agree with the decision.
(It's very difficult to approve when you are completely left out of the decision making process! EH)
Five minutes after setting off on the road to Arequipa we are stopped at a checkpoint. The stress for Darren is all too much at this point and he loses his temper, starting to punch the tank bag, much to the concern of the Peruvian Policeman watching with his mouth agape.
For obvious reasons I decline to get on the back until he has taken some time to calm himself down. The policeman asks to see our documents and eventually with all being in order we are finally on our way. This road again crosses the mountains and like yesterday it gets really cold very quickly, all too soon it starts to rain for a while before once again the hail storms set in - I know what your thinking and yes I did have my waterproof liners in!
The mountain we pass on this road is called Pichu pichu, not that we see much of it due to the intense fog that clung to the altitude we were at. The road is slippery in places and I keep a delicate grip on the controls trying to keep everything smooth, as we round one bend we come across a tanker lorry on its side in a ditch, proof if it were needed just how slippery the tarmac is up here.
Reaching the town of Arequipa 6 hours later, a car jumps a red light causing me to test the ABS once more. My heart is pounding as yet again my reactions save us from an incident - I think to myself that it’s realistically now a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ we have the big one. This realization sends a shiver down my spine as we pull up to a cheap and basic hotel for $40 then head over to a pizza place down the road.
As we are walking a tiny little girl on the street is trying to sell us matchboxes, she must be about 4 years old and it is dark as she walks beside us chattering away. God knows how but I resist the urge to scoop her up and take her somewhere safe, I give her money instead and worry about her all night.
Darren is acting really strangely this evening and in a very fraught state- his nerves are shot from all the worry about riding / keeping us safe and dogs running out at us.
He says he is scared to get on the bike and has lost his nerve from all the worry.
This really bothered me as it is not really what you need to hear when you are sat on the back – your life in someone else’s hands.
We talk about it for an hour or two and I hope that it helped to ease the tension Darren was feeling. I feel that we should stay put for a couple of days until he feels better, but Darren is keen to press on and insists he is fine the next day.
It's true, I was in a bit of a mess, the last few months I have been in my element - just riding and enjoying the adventure.
However since entering Peru things changed for me, the ‘offs’ on route to Huaraz, the fear of our remote situation and the ever constant fear of animals or other road users taking us off has crept up on me - frankly my nerves are shot.
Talking it over with Em helped, but after being in each others pockets for so long now - part of the tension I am feeling is us, it’s to be expected of course. I think it over some more that night and give myself a good talking to - "Darren if it was easy everyone would be doing it...tomorrows a new day and a new country make the most of every day - you know its the tough times that validate the adventure."
We get up early knowing that we have alot of miles to cover and we also have a border crossing into Chile which might take some time out of our day.
We are both looking forward to a new Country. Peru has been a complete rollercoaster and the only way I can describe it is a land of extremes. The scenery is stunning - the roads are terrible. The people are so hospitable yet the food they are serving is awful.
I really feel that in Peru we had met our match.
To a degree I agree with Em, Peru has been the best and worst of times, but throughout the country was spectacular and its people very genuine and friendly - I have a feeling that we will look back on Peru as one of the highlights of the trip.
As we head along the main road out of town we get confused by signs and take a wrong turn. Turning back round we notice alot of cars turning round too.
Thinking they were just lost for a moment like us we continue.
Rounding a bend and stopping suddenly- there are people everywhere and rocks strewn across the road. When we look up and realize the mountainside is full of people throwing and kicking rocks down the side onto the road. Some boulders are big and bouncing through the road into the valley below. We stop not knowing what to do.
A 'friendly' local tells us not to worry and to carry on. I ask people 'whats happening?' no one really says they shrug at us.
We evaluate the situation and as the road bends round we cannot see what happens further ahead - all we know is that our junction to the Pan American highway is ahead and, as it is the only road out of town, we need to get to it.
Deciding to run the gauntlet and ride through the rocks we continue. Darren focuses on avoiding the rocks in the road and I watch the hillside and tell him what rocks are coming and when ie. speed up!!
As we start the bastards start actually throwing rocks and hurling boulders trying to hit us.
I give them the biggest 'British wave' (one finger) as we pass unscathed.
Reaching the other end a group of guys start taunting us by hissing and shouting as we drive past them in the road, one actually throws a rock at us, to which Darren slows down as if to stop, the guy realizing his mistake and runs off...
That particular guy was about 8ft in front of us and had a neckerchief over his face so only his eyes were visible. As we approached he let out a scream and raised the rock in his hand to the air, for a split second our eyes met as he began to throw the rock.
I remember conciously thinking that if the rock hits either of us or the bike, then I am going to run him down. Our eyes are still locked as he thinks twice and releases the rock a fraction later than planned - slamming it into the road before it bounced up and hit my knee, then the bike.
As I slow down the guy runs off, we pass some branches and now being able to see the road ahead realize it is definately impassable. There are burning tyres, branches, stones, boulders, broken bottles and smashed windscreens strewn across the road for about 1/4 mile ahead and worse there are hundreds of people- mob rule, this isn't good.
Again I ask someone what is happening and a kind man expains there is a protest by the Farmers to do with proposed Agricultural laws. He says it is dangerous to pass, no kidding..
We turn around and get the hell out of there after having to run the gauntlet a second time with the guys on the hill. My British wave must have worked because only one rock was thrown on the way back...
What a bunch of nutters...its not just us and non local traffic these guys are targeting, they even throw rocks at woman and children who are trying to get through on foot after the bus drivers give up, we struggle to take it in.
We stop at the first junction with everyone else in cars and ponder our next move. We check with some locals who look at our map with us and confirm that that is the only way out of town.
Great. We head back into Arequipa and decide we have no choice but to hole up and see what happens.
We pass several police checkpoints on the way back with queues of traffic not being allowed through. Everyone looks at us as we pass slowly.
This takes us back through a toll. The moto lane on this side has a giant pothole and steep slope down into the valley so we decide to give it a miss.
This of course causes uproar and several staff come out of their booths to wave at us frantically and get stressed. We point blank refuse to use the moto lane as it is dangerous, (we are not in the mood for being pissed around at this point), suggesting the official takes a look. They don't want to know.
After 5 mins of shouting they tell us to drive up the moto lane on the opposite, ie wrong side of the road into the oncoming traffic- that makes sense! We tell the officials that they are crazy (loco) as we pass.
After driving round town for over an hour trying to find our Hotel from last night we give up and bail out at one called the Sueno. It is in a side street and near to the Plaza del Armas which is the town Centre. I get us checked in and ask about the parking. They have a car park around the back but suggest we put the bike in the Hotel foyer for safety.
The doors are quite narrow but Darren manages after taking the panniers off.
The staff show us to our room insisting on carrying our lids and kit. They show us around then bring us fresh towels. It is amazing how much effort they make to be welcoming and we sit in the room marvelling at how some Peruvian people realise that Tourism is important and make every effort whilst others really don't have a clue and use any excuse to throw rocks at us...
We have WiFi in the hotel (for a $35 room?!) and check the Internet for details on what is happening with the riots. We find out that the whole Pan Am is barricaded from the North to South of Peru and that 1 person was killed, many buses were pelted with stones and windows broken and that the train to Machu Picchu was nearly derailed by locals and pelted with stones.
I feel really sorry for the tourists on the train whose dream trip to Machu picchu has been ruined. That could very easily have been us.
Later that day we order some food as the Hotel has no Restaurant of their own only a Comedor (dining room) they use for breakfast.
The food gets brought to the Hotel and we can eat it in the Comedor.
What actually happens is that the guy on Reception orders it for us then the hotel's waitor runs down 8 blocks to collect it then brings it back to the Hotel. Then he changes back into his Waitor's coat, plates it all and serves it for us at a table using a silver tray...
He then has to clear up and wash all our plates etc. They don't charge any extra -the price is what you would pay if you eat in the actual Restaurant.
I am really gobsmacked by the service they offer- they will do anything for you as the customer, their hospitality amazes me.
I give the waitor all my change as a tip ($10) he is very shy and begrudgingly accepts the tip.
Next day we head out after breakfast to the Tourist Police Office which is a few blocks away. After speaking to someone there they confirm that the roads should be clear by tomorrow.
Then we head into the Plaza del Armas for a look around in daylight. It is pretty busy but has some lovely buildings.
We get hassled alot obviously (because we look like tourists) for trips and tours. It can get off putting sometimes when you just want to hang around and look at buildings or enjoy the town and you always have to watch out for pick pockets.
I use all my spare change up handing it out to beggars - the majority of which have physical disablilities and are unable to get work due to the stigmatism.
We find a supermarket type store and go in to get some water and munchies. I need some toiletries too and we are really surprised to find that all the toiletries like shampoo, conditioners, toothbrushes and toothpaste are all kept in locked cabinets with glass doors.
This means that you have to ask for what you want for it to be unlocked and you can then take it to the till and pay. This makes us really self concious carrying our carrier bags back to the hotel- are we going to get mugged for our shampoo?
This is a frightening example to all of us in the 'civillised' world of just how poor the people here in Peru really are. I certainly use alot less shampoo now...
Next day we start out early in the hope that the roads are clear by now. We are both quite apprehensive. On reaching the same junction we round the corner to find that the road has been cleared and the rocks and boulders at the side of the road. Phew.
Further up the road there is a crew in blue cleaning up the debris.
Once we get on the Pan american highway we both give a loud 'wohoo' and are pleased to be on our way.
We press on happy in the thought that Chile is half a day away, as we round a bend my heart sinks as the view of the road looks like a warzone. This area had not been cleared yet and we have to pick are way carefully through the debris, I have know idea how we did not get a puncture.
A policeman stops us about an hour later - he wants to know the usual where have we come from? where are we going? Then he asks us about the road situation, clearly he hasn't been informed of the road being passable as very few vehicles had braved the route.
Soon enough the sea comes into sight and we follow the coast down to Arica in Chile. This means a border crossing at the end of a long day and is nothing short of a nightmare.
Firstly to exit Peru we need to have four copies of the same yellow form filled in. The customs office cannot give us these forms we have to follow a kind local into the carpark as he has some spare copies in his car. ?
After filling in the four copies by hand at the customs desk the Customs Officer then hands me some carbon paper! Is he taking the piss?! He takes one copy.
Next we get over to Immigration who take the second copy, then we have to drive the bike round the Offices and park up to walk back to the first Office to hand in the third yellow form. Finally we get to drive through the gate into Chile and hand in the last yellow copy.
At this point I am very happy to leave pedantic Peru and it's silly rules.
Entering Chile I then hoped would be a civillised affair. It was nearly as bad as Peru with silly forms and queues of people. It is only when you have to queue in other countries that you realise how very polite we are in England, everyone here pushes in, jostles you and is generally rude.
The term 'personal space' clearly has no meaning here.
While in the above queue a local guy comes over for a chat and is very friendly, he tells us what queue to join first, then next for each of the procesess to enter the country. This is a good start to Chile, I remember thinking.
Just as we say our thanks and goodbyes, an official organising the baggage search takes pity on us and decides to help out by chaperoning us through the whole process onwards. He helps us get our panniers through the scanners, then tells us which queue to join and why, practising his English on us, finally he waves us on our way once all is completed.
Posted by Darren Homer at 08:00 PM
May 26, 2008 GMT
Peru (Part 2)
Next day we are up early and on our way to Nasca.
This is a long day sticking to the Pan am but fairly successful. Along the road we can see the visable evidence of the earthquake that hit this area in 2007. There are miles and miles of rubble where houses used to be.
We pass through the wide open valley where the nasca lines are. It is a huge open space and no lines can be seen except from in the air.
Unfortunately budget dictates and we miss out on a flight seeing tour of the nasca lines. Reaching the town we find a good hotel straight away and get checked in. Later that evening we do some research on line regarding Machu picchu tours and have a meal.
Next day we start it the right way with breakfast. They have a spread of strange food laid out for breakfast. Deciding to stick with the toast I proceed to put a piece of half toasted cold bread through the toaster machine only to be told by the waitor that I cannot do this beacuse it is already toasted. I explain that it is cold and not toasted properly- he insists it is hot and that I cannot use the machine. Great - I'l just starve then beacuse of stupid pedantic peruvian rules.
Frustrated we check out and get on the road heading towards Cusco inland.
The road is another tough Mountain road which twists around with steep drop offs and no barriers. It is pretty slow going and sitting on the back, I am starting to feel the familiar sickness. It takes us a while to get anywhere and is pretty hard going. Although the road itself is tarmac it is in a terrible state on the first section with giant pot holes. However later on it improves, mainly beacuse it has to as Cusco is the main tourist spot in Peru.
We stop at every opportunity to top up with fuel, just in case we get caught out. Some stretches of the road are really desserted with nothing but views.
The views really are very special, I am having to work the gearbox hard on the twisty road that just climbs to the heavens, then all of a sudden the scene opens up and you honestly feel like your riding across the top of the world.
We pass small remote villages, small children in brightly coloured dress with red faces wave at us frantically and are beside themselves when we slow down and wave back.
The only vehicles we see are the odd truck, I usually exchange a nod with the driver - a kind of mutual respect thing - as we both understand the risks of being on this particular road.
Stopping at about 5.30pm in a small town for fuel we are beseiged by 15 or so young guys crowding around us just staring. Finally getting on our way we know that we have at least 3 hours yet to ride and there is nowhere to stop on the way. We make the difficult decision to keep heading towards Cusco knowing we would arrive in the dark- not a decision taken lightly but with not much option- as long as we have fuel. Oh god I can feel another Huaraz coming on...
Leaving the fuel stop I really get a wriggle on, trying to make the best of the remaining light, thankfuly the road is well surfaced but so, so twisty meaning progress is slow. As we switch back up the mountain side the sun is going down behind us - I know that once we get on the other side of the mountain we will lose the daylight and with no light pollution out here, when its dark its really dark.
We make really good progress but as expected the light slowly fades just as we hit slightly better roads. Its about an hour and a half to Cusco, but we are taking no chances - we keep our speed to the minimum and just pick our way through the blackness.
Riding at night in Peru is pretty terrifying as you have all the usual hazards like potholes and dogs you just can't see them properly. We manage to follow a truck for a while and use him as our sweeper. He turns out to be local and turns off the road after 15mins or so. We struggle on alone. Every truck we overtake I wave to just in case we need them to stop later on and help us.
It seems to take forever to get there and is truly terrifying, not something I ever want to repeat.
We get into town and inevitably get lost as it is even more confusing in the dark. Finally we find a Hotel, once again the local hospitality is heartwarming and very genuine. They have no parking for the bike but insist we put it in their boiler room adjacent to the restaurant, its now about 9.30pm.
Stumbling into our room, we order some food as we are both starving and a large hot drink marks the end to another hard day. 407 miles today in 15 hours of virtually non stop riding. And we thought Mexico was tough...
(What a road though...DH)
Next day we get up early and I finalise our tour plans. We had arranged to go on a City Tour of Cusco later today and Macchu Pichu tomorrow. As we were short on time and budget we decided to book the tour and enjoy being tourists for a change and let someone else have the stress of driving!
We get some sleep then wait in Reception for the tour bus collection at 2pm. The city tour turns out to be a good one and we first visit the Cathedral in town which is a Spanish Colonial Church built on Incan ruins.
The tour by a great guide is fun and enjoyable, interesting and more of a whistle stop tour of Cusco. As we are entering the Basillica Cathedral there is a guy taking pictures of everyone, I thought it was a toy camera and we don't pay him much attention. The Cathedral is beautiful inside and very ornate with some stunning paintings. It is now that I wish I had more time- I could have spent a day in here looking at all the fascinating altars and art.
Next we head for some ruins just out of town called Sacsayhuaman (pronounced sexy woman) which are really interesting. There is also a great view of Cusco from here.
Em and I have been lucky enough to visit Egypt, to me these ruins rival the great pyramids at Giza - try as you might you cannot get your head around the fact that these people transported, shaped and fitted together, all these massive multi angled rocks - perfectly, as in fag paper acurate. What makes it more interesting is that the multi angles on the rocks mean that the whole structure fits together like a giant jigsaw puzzle - making it earthquake proof. The question on everybodys lips was the same "how did they..."
On the way back to the bus we get accosted by ladies selling hats and gloves. We also find out we have been 'papped' by the photographer at the Cathedral and our picture made into a postcard! I had to buy it of course!!
Next up we head up to see an Incan built water stop on an Incan trail at Tambomachay. Then on to a cave with an altar stone.
On the way back into town we stop off for some shopping in an Alpaca Factory. We get taught the difference between different types of alpaca wools and get a free cup of Coca tea. (Coca tea from the cocaine plant - tastes slightly minty and gives you a bit of a buzz- illegal to import for obvious reasons).
think the tea went to my head...
We head back to our hotel and get an early night ready for an early start in the morning.
We are up at 4.30am and after breakfast we get collected at 5.30am by our tour guide. As we booked last minute it meant that we could only get seats on the Vistadome train service from Ollataytambo, so our tour company drops us there.
As we go to get on the train with our tickets the conductor demands to see our passports for ID. We explain that we don't have our passports and that no-one told us they were needed. Our passport numbers are on the tickets themselves, is that not good enough? Apparently they need ID to check the ticket is in your name- another stupid, pedantic peru rule. This place is starting to get really annoying!!
Finally we find an old AA card in Darren's 'muggers' wallet (wallet with expired cards which will look like a prize to a mugger) with my name on it and an old visa card with Darren's on- the guard accepts these and we are allowed on. As we wait for our train in the waiting room our driver from the tour company comes running in he had spoken to our hotel and got our passports faxed across to him from our Hotel in Cusco. (you have to give your passport for copies to the Hotel so as not to pay tax).
We get on the train and are made up to find that we have front seats and the best view of the stunning mountains. We get served sandwiches and cake and in an hour and a half are at the Bus station in Aguas Caliente.
It is here that we meet our guide for Machu Picchu and jump on the bus. It takes about 20 mins to get to the top.
I could not believe our luck with the seats, an American couple behind us are miffed because they booked months ago and didn't get the front seats - just to antagonise them I shout loudly to Em that these seats are great especially as we only booked 24hrs ago..
The bus ride to Machu Picchu was not as bad as I expected - I had read that it was fairly scary, but the reality is that after the roads we have rode on recently - this was no great shakes, the views were amazing however.
Road up the mountain
Its now around 10am as we pass through the turnstyles and get our first view of Machu Picchu, it doesn't disappoint. We had come prepared with jumpers, waterproofs etc. due to the fact we are visiting out of season, but we are blessed - the sun is out and there is not a cloud in the sky as we start the tour.
In fact, after about an hour I can feel myself getting burnt, our guide then looks up and spots a Condor. She starts shouting to all the other tour guides pointing the bird out to them, she then explains to us that this is really lucky. The Condor represents the heavens or afterlife in Incan culture and to spot one today over the ruins we are told is rare.
I think back to the front row train seats, the amazing weather, no crowds and give the giant bird a nod, thanks fella. We have just the one day to enjoy the site and had put a large part of our budget for South America aside for it - I was so glad that we were able to see it for what it is, without bad weather or crowds of people.
A very special day in a very special place.
With the time up with our tour guide, we stop for lunch in the restaurant and as we eat I notice the clouds rolling in. Within ten minutes the heavens open and I look out to the queue of people entering the site - how lucky were we..
After lunch we brave the odd shower to take one last look around and climb up the dilapidated stairs to the Watchmans Tower at the very top of the site. This is the famous picture everyone likes to get when visiting here.
We sit on a step for 15 mins and drink in the view, this place is awesome and really peaceful, you just don't want to leave.
The train journey on the way back to Cusco was very entertaining, not only were the views stunning but the cabin staff put on a show. First up was the guy in local costume carrying a toy Alpaca for people to stroke, then came the fashion show with the train ailse used as a runway for the modelling of garments made from Alpaca wool. The four hour trip flew by and eventually we came into Cusco, tired but with another box well and trully ticked.
Posted by Darren Homer at 02:50 PM
May 24, 2008 GMT
Peru (Part 1)
First impressions of Peru are very poor, a very harsh life for the people here and rubbish everywhere. This is a shock as Equador is really clean in that respect.
As we continue along from the border people we pass are friendly enough and wave back.
Today is really windy and hard going with the straighest road through desert. The wind whips up the sand making it tougher still.
From a riders point of view the first thing I noticed after crossing into Peru was the lack of traffic, also the roads were much better than I had been expecting. One thing I wasnt expecting though was the wind - as Em mentioned, it was seriously windy and we had to get used to riding at a constant lean angle.
After riding through Sullana and Piura the PanAm opened up a bit and we made good progress and stopped for fuel and a drink - petrol prices are very low compared to what we would pay back home, which is just as well as the wind is robbing us of our usual fuel range.
By mid afternoon we reach the town of Chiclayo and roll up to the first Hotel we find. It is great and we get settled in with lots of help from the friendly staff.
Next day we head down the coast road (Panamerican Highway) to the town of Huacanchao and find the Huacanchao International Hotel on the sea front - a really good place similar to a B&B back home. At reception we spot the stickers from the adventure bike tours that had passed this way before.
The wind is strong again but not as bad as yesterday. There is alot of rubbish dumped at either ends of each town we pass through and combined with the open sewers the smell is overpowering. I don't quite know how I wasn't sick in my lid - lots of breathing through the mouth!
As we ride through the edge of one particular town the rubbish is really bad, what doesnt help is the wind whipping up all the litter with the dust. Its here that we notice that the open sewers have overflowed onto the road in front of us, nothing to do but select first gear, breath through your mouth and hope there are no potholes to make you put your foot down or worse...
However the mountain views are stunning and the occasional green oasis.
We pass miles of sand dunes with warning signs not to veer off the road due to land mines in the sand.
Once checked in at our seafront Hotel, we drop our luggage and head back to Trujillo to see the Ruins at Chan Chan. This is an ancient site of the Chimu civilisation and was buried over time in the sand. They have excavated a small part of it to see.
Everyone is very friendly and we decide to pay a guide for an hour. George is great as he speaks some English- he speaks to me in Spanish and Darren in English - it works really well.
There was alot of fascinating information that we learned about the symbols, buildings, how life would have been etc.. that we wouldn't have gained without a guide.
Unexpectedly we come across this huge well in the ruins in the middle of the dessert.
There is the strangest looking dog in the water, George tells me he is there everyday always in the water and a pure breed of peruvian dog.
After a fascinating afternoon we head back to the Hotel with a lovely view of the beach, friendly and helpful staff and a very peaceful nights sleep for once. We also get our first taste of Inca Kola which is really sweet and full of caffeine.
Next morning we set out after breakfast for an easy day heading down the Pan American coast road then into the Canyon del Pato via the 106 road which is a short road on the map leading to Huaraz.
We wind along the Pan American with no trouble and the scenery is all dessert, sand and mountains - it reminds me of Death Valley in the States - well apart from the rubbish!
The road is pretty straight, lots of cars and trucks overtaking in the other direction don't seem to care about bikes and just pull out expecting us to move over as far as possible. We have several near misses.
Heading off on the wrong road at Camas we stop to do a U turn and ask a Police Officer on a moto nearby. He takes us back down the road to the right turning and waves us on . This road is a stunning mountain range with the road running through the valley, very remote too with no one around.
We continue along climbing higher and reaching a small town all signs disappear. The road turns to mud and as we reach a junction we don't have a clue which way to turn. A local waves us to go straight over.
This road winds around the town and out down a track, clearly looking like a back street and not the right road.
It is pure slushy mud in the first section and we get whistled and cheered at by a group of guys working on this section. They clearly think it is fun to watch and see if we fall off or not. We ask two different locals passing by in taxis and they confirm that this is the road to Huaraz.
Its a this point Em and I stop for a chat and to double check we are on the right road, so after speaking to the locals we feel confident that all is well - afterall it was a copper who directed us....
Carrying on this road it runs along the valley floor by the river for a while, then it starts to climb higher, switchbacking up each mountain, passing small villages and people in bright clothes looking at us in awe. We have several near misses with dogs running out at us and chasing us as we try to negotiate the tight turns and farm track road.
After several river crossings in the valley the road starts leading up a mountain, we have a scary moment on the single track road with a bus coming the other way. We pull over to the outside of the track and skid on some loose gravel- far to close to the edge for my comfort.
We discuss my preferred option which is to turn around at this point. Although not wanting to run the gauntlet again past all the dogs and hazards etc. my biggest concern is that this is not the right road, my second concern is fuel.
Darren says he thinks we should continue and we should have enough fuel to get there. I agree to continue after saying 'ok I guess it can't get much worse ahead than it has been already'.
It must have been really scary for Em when I had to get close to the edge of the track, but there was no other choice as there was just about enough room for the bus - and he didnt seem to be slowing down.
The "road" to this point had been fairly challenging but we had battled on well and had even overcome the countless dogs that at one point were running in between the wheels. The views were jaw dropping and the locals very friendly.
To me, to turn around now would be a shame as we had both worked hard to get this far. I was fairly sure we were on the road to Huaraz, we had plenty of daylight and the GPS was telling us we had around 50miles to go with around 100miles in the tank. Just how wrong can you be..
Following the road on it winds round and round many valleys, up and down the mountains. We don't feel like we are getting anywhere or making any progress.
Then it starts to rain and the track starts to get really wet with low cloud. Visability is bad and Darren has started to stand up to get a better balance and view on the road. The Locals up here are very friendly and we are waving to everyone. There are cows, pigs and dogs everywhere as it is really rural.
I happen to be waving to a group of ladies when we have our first 'off' on the track. The right side pannier comes off completely and is lying on the other side of the track, the bike skids round as we hit the deck and is facing the wrong way. A group of farmers rush over and help lift the bike.
A helpful local then starts to give us advice about sticking to the ruts only and pointing out our skid mark on the 'wrong' part of the track. He tells us when I ask that it will take 3 hours to Huaraz. We can't believe it will take that long - the GPS is telling us that Huaraz is 15 miles away...
After 10 mins to compose ourselves we turn the bike around with difficulty on the steep farm track and head off.
The next 'off' happens about 5 mins later on the track and is faster. This one hurt as we skid off to the left and the pannier hits a rock causing us to spin off over onto the right side. The right pannier stays on this time and pinches my ankle pinning it under the weight of the bike as I land flat on my back bumping my head on the rocks in the road.
Lifting the bike off Ems ankle I am really concerned, we really are in the middle of nowhere and if either one of us were to be injured - well, it doesnt bear thinking about. The mud track is now very slippery and we have dual sport rubber on, I am doing my best but I realise that there are probably more 'offs' to come.
Again we have to hoist the bike up straight away as it is in the way of an oncoming local bus. We take 15 mins out to get ourselves together with me sat on the offending rock, then head off.
The next part of the road is awash with water and the mud is a thick and slippery mix of sand and clay, we have another 'off' in a foot deep puddle of it, both of us manage to step off somehow.
We decide I should walk this part and let Darren ride on his own. This is mainly because my extra weight makes it harder to control but also Darren really doesn't like to see me getting hurt and it puts extra pressure on him to keep us upright in very bad conditions. Also 9 times out of 10 he can step off the bike should it go over and its easier without me in the way. The mud is so thick here the wheels on the bike are completely clodded with it and just spinning and skiding with no grip at all. I try and scrape some of the mud off with a stick but it really doesn't help.
After a mile or so we reach higher ground where the rain has stopped and it is drier so I hop back on. We make progress for a good hour and a half, then it starts to really hammer down with rain, thunder and lightening. We stop to put on our jacket liners and heated vests as the temperature is dropping due to the altitude. A silver truck stops behind us and again we ask how far to Huaraz. They say 15 km and that they are headed that way so to follow them.
We follow them a while but soon they start to get further ahead and we lose them. The light is starting to fade, then finally I look down the valley and see the small town of Huaraz lit up at the bottom of the valley- thank god we are nearly there.
We round another bend and have several really long skids which Darren manages to hold - God knows how, the road is slippery and impossible to even steer on, we are just sliding. Rounding a bend we have another 'off'- again both managing to step off.
Darren sugests I walk for a bit again and as I set off he stops abruptly. Darren turns the engine a few times - nothing. We are out of fuel. Is this really happening to us?
We move the bike over onto a gravel patch on the very edge of the road and after a brief discussion decide we have no option but to abandon it and continue by walking to Huaraz.
It's getting dark and about 7pm, we are on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere in Peru, abandoning our only asset with the focus now on ourselves and getting to safety. The GPS is telling us it is 3 miles to Huaraz although we know that the road is so twisty this just isn't the case.
Prepared for a 6 mile walk at least we set off with a torch, the GPS and the big knife.
The road winds down and round and round the mountains, every so often we get a glimpse of Huaraz lit up at night. The road gets dark quickly - it is about 7.30pm by this time, we are cold and dripping wet still from the downpours.
As there are no street lights or electricity for the locals in this area we can't see where we are going easily and the mud is ridiculous- you can't even walk on it without sliding around.
This 'road' has to be the most treacherous and frankly frightening I have ever been on. I fight the fear and keep telling myself just focus on getting to the town.
We reach a small settlement of a few mud houses and several dogs start barking. Anyone who knows me will know that I am scared of dogs so this freaks me out a little in the dark. I try not to let it show.
As we pass the villagers are hanging around their doorways in the dark and say a wary 'hello'.
I explain about the abandoned moto, they nod back not really knowing what to say- don't think they get many bikers round here.
As we walk away the dogs continue to circle around us- it is pitch black by now and I guess there must be 6 or so all barking and growling. I am holding Darren's arm and terrifyed - this has to be my worst nightmare come true.
Darren says 'just keep walking'. Suddenly I am in pain as one of the dogs bites me on the calf through my bike trousers and I yelp in panic 'it bit me, it bit me! Darren is really angry and turns on the dogs shouting and managing to kick one as he scares them off.
We don't stop we just keep walking. I can feel wet blood in my boot and am having trouble getting my head round it all, is this really happening to us? Don't we deserve a little more luck?
After 30 mins or so we hear a car coming down the hill, we decide to flag it down and luckily they stop. It is a shared taxi and I ask how much to Huaraz? The driver says 5 soles, I get in the back with a Peruvian Lady and her 2 children while Darren climbs into the boot.
We bump down the hill for 45 mins finally getting into tiny side streets and then Huaraz. I ask the driver to take us to a good hotel and he does this after stopping for gas on the way.
There is much discussion amongst the passengers as to where we should be taken and they chatter the whole time.
The driver helps us out of the car and I again ask how much- he thinks for a moment then says 10 soles - we give him a 100 soles ($30) and can't thank him enough for picking us up and getting us to safety.
The hotel is a basic 3 star but with excellent service. I explain the situation to the Receptionist- she suggests we pay tomorrow and doesn't even blink at us caked in clay/ mud from head to toe.
Once in the room, I phone down and ask for a Doctor to see to my dog bite. It looks pretty bruised but not bleeding badly luckily. I am really concerned about Rabies, having had all my jabs before leaving England I know that you have about 1 day to get to a Hospital and Rabies is always fatal.
In 15 mins time a Doctor is at our Hotel room - we are stunned at such amazing service.
The Doctor tells me that there were no reported cases of Rabies in this area but it would be safe to have a jab. He checks with his clinic who unfortunately don't have the vaccination.
He suggests we get one in Lima if we can get there in 2-3 days time.
We are exhausted and get a hot shower using what soap we can find in the room. I have to admit that I didn't get much sleep that night, not from the pain of my bruises and bite but for worrying about our little beamer sat out on a mountain on her own...
I will also admit that I did not get much sleep either, not for worring about the bike, but today it really hit me how exposed we now are on this trip. I thanked the big man upstairs for Em being ok, its one thing having an adventure, but quite another to risk the health of your better half. I tell myself that if the bikes still there in the morning, then its gravel or tarmac from here on in.
My confidence has taken a knock too, not only did I make the wrong call today to carry on, but as a result we have had numerous offs - I like to think I am fairly handy on a bike, but I guess on this road, on this night I found my limitations.
I lay there and tell myself to stop beating myself up, all thats important is that we made it to the hotel, we will sought the rest out in the morning.
Next day we are up early and I get our complimentary breakfast sent to the room. We didn't eat anything yesterday really so manage to get some eggs and bread down.
I am not foaming at the mouth yet so think I got away lightly.
We take a taxi at 8am to go and get the bike. First it takes me half an hour to explain the situation to the driver and that it might take 3 hours, we don't know what road we came in on, we need to stop at a fuel station and get a container of fuel etc.
He says thats all fine and is cheerful about helping us out. First he drives us to the local Petrol Station where an attendant recycles an oil container and fills it with petrol.
Then we head off to the tourist office where a group of guys gather around us listening to my description of where we left the bike and trying to work out where it might be. We get some photocopied hiking maps from a helpful man and all agree which road it is. The road on the photocopy looks nothing like the road on our map...
Then we head back into the mountains and recognising certain landmarks like broken down buses etc. we know this is the right road. After 45 mins or so we see beamer. She is absolutely fine nothing missing or even tampered with- we are amazed.
Darren fills the tank with the petrol whilst the driver and I set about knocking the crusted mud off the tyres, brakes, engine filters etc. with sticks.
I get back in the cab with the driver and we head off first, keeping slow and Darren in view behind us.
With Em in the cab I thumb the starter and Beemer fires up, I look around and it hits me just where we are - the snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca are off to my left (including Huascaran, Peru's highest mountain at 6768m), dead ahead are more mountains in the distance and below the shanty town of Huaraz, it really is a beautiful scene.
Thankfully the track is more gravel from here and has dried out a bit, I follow the taxi around the twists and turns down the mountain, we pass the mud huts from last night and I spot the pack of dogs - one with a serious limp (probably from a size 11 motorcross boot).
The driver takes us back to the hotel and we pay him 60 soles for his time and trouble.
It turns out it is actually his hotel anyway...
We relax for the rest of the day.
I would like to tell you about the Hotel we are staying at called The La Joya. It is a 3 star Hotel, the rooms are spotless, the staff in every department are friendly, fun and attentive.
The whole Hotel is run by people under 30. They have Wifi, Laundry, Room Service and a Restaurant, Security on the door etc.
The town of Huaraz is pretty poor and alot of the streets are mud/ dirt roads.
It does make you feel bad when the view from your hotel window is of children playing in the dirt streets, washing hung out on tiled roofs because they have no washing line and the general poverty everywhere.
And yet Peruvian people couldn't be more helpful, kind and attentive. They truly are very genuine people.
Deciding to take another day off after our trauma we get some laundry done and attempt to scrub our kit clean.
That evening we spot a map on the wall in the Restaurant. It shows the road we came in on and states it is 180k long, rises to an elevation of 4,500m (14,763 feet) and crosses the Cordillera Negra mountain range.
It also states that this road is impassable in wet weather and to check local information for advice.
It is also very very wiggly and nothing like the road on our map. I guess the moral to this story is do your homework.
Next day we very reluctantly head out. Gracias a todos a La Joya.
The road South from Huaraz winds down through the Cordillero Blanca Mountain Range and is truly stunning- a really beautiful place.
Its with relief that we discover the road out of town is tarmac and we are both happy to be on a firm road, the bike feels like its struggling a bit, I put it down to the altitude as the clutch feels effected as well. Huaraz itself is at an elevation of 3100m.
As we stop for pics I take a closer look at Beemer, she looks like a pro adventurer now with the mud almost hiding the fresh scratches and dings. Anyone looking at this bike could only imagine what its been through.
Once back on the Pan Am there are also many tolls to go through on the way.
The good news is that motorbikes are free, the bad news is that you have to drive through the 'bike lane'. The peruvian staff get highly agitated and bothered if you don't go through the right lane.
They won't allow you through the car lane and will actually insist that you turn the bike around and go in the bike lane. This wouldn't be such a problem but the bike lane is very narrow especially if you have panniers like us. It is usually an afterthought and not maintained with potholes and bumps.
We have an argument at one such toll where they insist we use the lane. We insist the bike is too big and we cannot. I say we will pay to go through the car gate. They insist that because we are a bike we shouldn't pay to go through. Fine I get the money out anyway. Finally realising they have no option we pay and they open the gate.
The day itself is a long one and we find ourselves in Lima by about 5pm. No hotels are obvious and the Panamerican Highway is closed for road works which doesn't help. This means we have to take a detour around the city - not much fun at the end of a long day. We end up way off track and in a rough part of town.
Deciding it was not safe to stop we head on in the dark. Eventually we see a turn off to Puerto Barcas - a seaside type resort with private security gates into the area- this looks abit more like it- we head down and I ask the security guide about a good hotel. He recommends Casa Barca and gives us the directions after letting us through the gate.
We find the place and it is anything but a good hotel. Nothing in the room works- bathroom lights, tv etc. there is no hot water and no food available. However we have a bed for the night and end up sleeping fully clothed on our sleep sacks.
Posted by Darren Homer at 03:39 PM
February 19, 2008 GMT
From the airport we jump into a taxi and head for the hotel that we had booked online. The hotel was not too pricey, but more importantly it was only 5 minutes from the airport and the air cargo terminal.
As the taxi pulls up, Em and I look at each other - this will do! Somehow we had managed to book a cracking posh hotel for very little money - result. It got better, after we check in we are shown to our room - a suite.
Em hurridly ran around the room checking out all the freebies, toiletries, chocolates etc, when she gets to the bathroom she lets out a scream. I run in to find her almost in tears of joy - we have a Spa bath!!
The reason we got so excited is that we really aren't used to these luxuries now. We resolve to get our monies worth and take it in turns to use the bath to sooth our biker aches and pains. We have decided that our backsides aren't just sore - they are actually broken...
We eat in the hotel restaurant that evening which overlooks Quito, with the rain and fog it reminded me of London. Quito is the second highest city in the World and you can feel the lack of air at first. Em was unaffected, but the bike and I were decidedly down on power.
During the meal the service was impeccable and first impressions of the Ecuadorian people are that they are very friendly and nice, this is a great start to our South American adventure.
At the bar we also get a free welcome drink (another result) the drink is a cocktail that is a traditional local brew used for traditional ceremonies such as warriers going to battle and preparing for a journey. Its supossed to be lucky too, so we give it a try - Em struggles so I have to drink hers too, the taste is very Perno & Black, but gritty as the taste largely comes from crushed roots and berries.
Heading out at 10am the following day we get the shuttle coach over to the airport to get our bike back from Cargo. We had only a phone number from Girag as a contact and this didn't work so we decide to head straight for the Girag office in Quito and go from there.
Only problem is that no one has heard of it and we wander down the cargo terminals for half an hour looking. I spot a sign in the window of Cubana's Offices who use Girag for air cargo, it is in a lock up and the guard won't let us in.
I try again, he is not having any of it. We stand outside the window debating what to do and checking our paperwork again. The kind lady in the office sees us waiting and calls the guard over who tells her we want to have a flight to Panama(?) (is my spanish really that bad?!).
She tells him to send us in, so he gives us badges to wear, sweeps us with a sensor and takes our passports for good measure. The kind lady speaks great English and calls the Girag office for us, then gives us the address.
We catch a cab to their office - you would NEVER find it in a million years without help, even the cab driver struggles. Once there we get our paperwork sorted pay $22.50 for it then get lined up with a 'helper' called Perry. He gets us a cab to his Office for more paperwork, then the process stalls, as it is lunchtime, so we head out for an hour and return to his office at 1.30pm. Heading straight over to Customs we visit about 5 offices all over the place, several without any signs - you wouldn't have a hope of doing this on your own.
Finally we set eyes on the bike in a warehouse. We then have to wait another 3 hours before we can get it as paperwork needs to be signed, then checked, then signed some more. The only good thing is that Perry has started running everywhere now and appears to be earning his $50.
We have not much option but to hang out in the cargo yard with all the truckers loading and unloading. No-one pays us much attention until finally we get the bike out. Suddenly we are swamped with people asking us questions (where have you been, where are you going, how big, how much? etc).
While all this is happening, I give the bike a good check and its fine, I cant tell you how relieved I was, I now class this combination of metal and plastic as family - it was good to be re-united.
After reconnecting the battery, mirrors and inflating the tires we were ready to get back to the hotel, once there it really feels like the trip is back on.
Next day we leave our hotel and head out for a trip North of Quito to see the Mitad del Mundo - The Equator. This is a great day out and we meet some lovely people interested in the bike and our travels as we wander around. Some even ask to be photographed with us. It feels like we are celebrities for all of 5 mins...
This is a pretty big moment for me, I had seen so many websites and blogs of bike travellers standing with a foot either side of the Equator - well now its our turn.
The Equator monument itself has an interesting Culture and crafts museum too.
We head back to the outskirts of Quito and stay one more night, while checking into the hotel a businessman walks up to me as I stand by the bike and says "your a long way from home" the guy was English and it was great to hear the Queens English again. As with all Brits abroad, Stephen offered us his card and said if we need anything while in South America.....thanks Stephen, nice meeting you.
We are up and out early next day for our first day travelling in Ecuador, all goes well if a little slow and we reach the town of Banos by 4pm.
The scenery is truly stunning here with lush mountains and tropical flowers, but easily the most impressive thing we have seen for a while comes into view just before we hit town.
The Volcano Tungurahua (16,500ft) is dead ahead of us and is active, really active as in throwing up ash. The scene is one of those once in a lifetime deals and we struggle to take it in.
After the Volcano we check out some nice looking hotels, but they are out of our price range so we head for the main square and find a Hostal for $18 which is clean and basic. A couple of doors down there is a secure garage which costs $2 overnight so we get parked and sorted then head out for some food.
Today has been abit of a culture shock for me and I am not particularly hungry as I find the general grime and dirtiness everywhere quite off putting.
I have been carrying a bottle of DEET with me for 6 months now and for some reason today it had decided to leak and melt my hairbrush (and I have been putting it on my skin?!). We walk round the town and find a little shop to buy another hairbrush and some water. Then we find ourseves in the local Cathedral which has a service just starting and people singing.
We stay for a bit then light some candles- I am not religous at all but it was just a nice place to be.
Next day we are up early and over to Cuenca. The views are stunning and the road is great. We see a group of woman working near the road - with their brightly coloured clothing and hand tools. Lots of people are friendly and wave as we pass.
As we climb higher the road gets washed away and it is brown slippery mud.
Ems not kidding, as we got to the town of Alausi, the PanAm ran out to broken tarmac and eventually a mud track. Its now starting to rain and the "road" is rutted and slippery as we make our way through what the locals call the "Devils Nose" (I think I remember that correctly, we called it the Devils A*@#hole as it was a challenging stretch of road, brown and messy).
Once safely back on tarmac, the rain really starts to come down (well it is the rainy season here) we then spend the afternoon tackling the landslides that occured due to the rain. We would come round a bend to see either a muddy river, piles of earth or occasionally the road washed away altogether.
Throughout the day my mind was back in London, my brother and good friends were at the Bike Show - I would normally be with them and I could not stop thinking about the day, its 3pm back home, the boys will be in the pub now.....thankfully I got to talk to them later that day which capped a difficult yet very rewarding day.
After the hard days riding the hotel we find in town is again near the main square. This place must be Ecuador's version of Faulty Towers complete with a Manwell like Porter/ Waiter who keeps saying "que". The food is ok and we head to bed early as we are both exhausted by todays hard riding.
Unfortunately we are kept awake by a party all night.
Leaving next day after another dodgy bean breakfast, we head for Loja and find an amazing hotel in town again near the main square.This place is beautiful and I spend some time getting pampered while Darren attends to the bike.
While finding this hotel, as I ride around the streets I notice that everyone seems to be soaking wet? Its a hot sunny day so it seams strange, then I notice the water pistols and water bombs that everyone is carrying - we find out later that it is part of a "Carnival" - and yes we did get wet!
While Em is pampering herself I am once again working on the bike, the hotel staff are very helpful as I explain that I need to work on the bike in their pristine underground garage.
Two minutes later a waiter brings a bucket of water, a brush, rag and soap while the hotel Manager and Chef join the party to watch me swap the brake pads and filters on the bike.
The job takes twice as long as it should as I keep up a running commentary on what I am doing and answer as many questions as I can in my limited Spanish. Thanks for your help guys.
Next day as we head out, the Manager asks if he can take our photo outside the Hotel - we are celebrities again. We have another great send off as all the waiters and door staff wave us off.
We continue to follow the PanAm highway up and down and for a while it gets really twisty. I loose count of the amount of animals jumping out at us - pigs, dogs, goats, donkeys, cows etc. are all over the road.
Again we find ourselves at altitude after the twisty climb and come across a military checkpoint. We are asked to pull over and show our documents which of course we do. Before long we have a group of army guys around the bike (and Em) all asking about the trip / bike. They were a friendly bunch and we were soon waved on our way.
On rounding a bend close to town a lorry full of locals passes us and one of the occupants throws a bucket of water at my head, bloody carnival! Em then finds it hysterical when I tell her that at the time I had my visor open - I hope that was river water...
We reach the border town of Macara and it is pretty bleak with nothing much there. Its a very poor town with the main income coming from agriculture - largely rice. Stoping for fuel we have to queue for half an hour. There is an armed official overseeing each fill up. I am told by a lady that this is because of the border being so close they have to police it.
We find two hotels in the town which I check out - both rooms are gross and smell revolting. Really really bad. There are swarms of flies everywhere. This 'town' really is the pits.
We head around and out of the town and don't find much. Heading back into town we spot a Hostal and not expecting much I look around. You really can't judge these places from the outside as it looks pretty bad (swarms of flies everywhere, 90 year old ladies peeling nuts on a step, scabby stray dog outside etc.)
However the room is pretty clean and basic with a private bathroom and no hot water (the norm here) all for $12. We get unpacked then head over to find some food from the local shops. The first shop has a scary young lady with bad armpit hair who has a bit of an attitude. After not being allowed in the shop and having to guess at what we want we head off down the street. Finding another shop the lady is really helpful and sweet telling us that this chocolate we have chosen is delicious etc...
We settle back in at the Hostal for a restless nights sleep. After checking behind the curtains Darren removes several beetles and moths.
Once I had removed the wildlife for Em, she settled down to sleep (Em- I was cocooned in my silk sleep sack so nothing could get in!). I on the other hand knew it was probably going to be a long night for me. First up the bike was parked on the street outside the hostel, this was the first time we had not either found secure parking or had been in view of the bike and this made me uneasy. Secondly as I laid there I could here beetles and bugs flying into the window pane and I repeatedly had to catch the various bugs that were coming in under the door.
Thankfully the only English speaking channel on the TV was showing Apollo 13, so I watched it twice to pass the time. Eventually around 4am, I was comfortable enough to think about getting some sleep, then something flew in front of my vision, what the...
My first thought was that it must be a bat, but as I jump up and try to catch the thing before Em wakes up, I realise that it is in fact a moth - a big moth, about the size of my hand.
I manage to catch it in my riding shirt (better than a bug spray) and put it outside the door, as I look out the whole landing which is exposed to the night, is covered with every bug you could imagine.
We were in Macara as it is supposed to be an easier border crossing, it better be worth it.
Happy to leave 'bugfest' we are out of the Hostal and at the border by 8.30am.
The Ecuadorian side is fine and takes 20 mins. The Peruvian side is more interesting however as after Immigration we have to head over to the National Police Office for questioning on our travels. The Police Officer is actually very friendly and nice. He queries us as to why we have the same surname- I explain that we are married, he doesn't understand this and asks if 'we are from the same Mother'? I explain that it is usual for a woman to take her Husbands surname when they marry- he thinks this is unbelievable and asks 'but what if you divorce?' I say that I can keep my name, he thinks this is even more ridiculous and unbelievable.
Heading on to the Customs Office the guy is very laid back and takes his time. He is made up that we have colour copies of our documents 'just for him'. He asks us to fill in the same form each although he meant with Darren's details only, then for some reason he seems to find it hysterical that I have signed my copy.
We get another customs sticker for the bike that melts within 2 hours and is unreadable. Don't you just love the burocracy?
Posted by Darren Homer at 08:58 PM