October 01, 2005 GMT
Due South

It´s definitely worth riding some roads twice, once in each direction. The road south from Chimbote to Lima goes through some stunning desert culminating in a climb and then descent over the biggest dunes you´ve ever seen.

The terrain changes fairly suddenly at the border between Ecuador and Peru. In Ecuador it´s wall-to-wall banana plantations with mangrove swamps on the coast, then when you reach Tumbes (the first place of any size in Peru and where Pizarro landed) there´s a couple of token plantations and then unremitting desert. There are some superb white sandy beaches, miles and miles of them, with sporadic settlements, but mainly the desert is the beach and the Panamericana cuts straight through; there was a very strong wind off the Pacific this week which made the riding tiring and delivered a free facial exfoliation.

There was some sort of protest about health services going on near Machala on my way out of Ecuador. The road was blocked with the usual rocks and burning tyres, and I had to squeeze through around two miles of stationary trucks and buses to get to the block itself.

Naturally there were plenty of police and soldiers hanging around watching, and they very kindly persuaded the protesters that as I was a stray English tourist I should be let through and, no, not have my tyres slashed while I threaded through a very narrow gap they allowed me.

The hotel in Chimbote was a hoot - very dreary and cavernous, and it was perfectly clear that the presence of any guests was extremely detrimental to the smooth running of the establishment. Made Basil Fawlty look positively hospitable. The advantages were the price (low), the view (local fishing fleet anchored off shore) and very secure parking. I nearly got the waiter to smile once, I think.

I´ve managed to lose the Coyhaique sticker on the pannier. That means I have to go back and get another one. Fabiola will kill me.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 05:22 PM GMT
October 09, 2005 GMT
More Sand

Isn't it fortunate that I decided to turn south? If I hadn't I'd now be somewhere in the general vicinity of Guatemala/southern Mexico where the roads have either been washed away by the floods or destroyed by the earthquake.

I've had a great ride down through Peru on the PanAm. Desert and more desert, and the last 350-mile stretch from Nazca to Arequipa was simply stunning. The road hugs the coast, and at times is more or less on the beach. The snag was the strong wind off the Pacific (which has been blowing all the way down. At one point the sand was a couple of inches deep right across the road, so I was trying to stay upright on a road I couldn't see with 40-ton trucks steaming past in both directions from time to time.

The desert is the road is the beach - PanAmericana south of Nazca

So now I'm in Arequipa, the White City (nothing whatever to do with either greyhounds or Auntie Beeb). It's a rather beautiful colonial town 8,000 feet up on volcano and canyon country; in fact the two deepest canyons in the world are very near here - over 3,000 metres deep, so I'll be doing a little side trip to take a look.

But I have time to spare; the aforementioned sand isn't that nice fine soft Sahara stuff - oh no. It's coarse and gritty, and gets in everywhere especially when it's being forced in by the wind. Specifically, a large amount entered through the vents in the front engine cover, where the alternator resides. And guess what? It's wrecked both the stator and the rotor. So I have to stay here while the sainted MotoBins send me replacements, which they can't do till Monday. The learned lesson is that when in that sort of environment again I'll tape over the vents temporarily.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 05:29 PM GMT
October 19, 2005 GMT
The Colour Purple

I've been having a hilarious time with hotels.

The one I'm based at has nice secure, shady parking for the bike (well away from The Alpaca Gang), but occasionally fills up with coachloads of Saga Louts. So they chuck me out for a night while perfectly happy to store my luggage and the bike.

When it happened last week I managed to coincide with the two-day trip out to the Colca canyon and Cruz del Condor; tonight I'm in a nice little place opposite the Monasterio Santa Catalina. Everything's within walking distance in this town, and anyway there are thousands of taxis. They're mostly little Daewoo Ticos (forerunner to the Matiz, I believe) which happily absorb 4 passengers and zip around at high speed very cheaply.

The monastery is amazing. It only opened to the public in 1970, I suspect mainly because the need the money to effect the ongoing earthquake repairs. It's a village within a town, completely enclosed, and it still accommodates Dominican nuns (a closed order).

I got trapped on the way to lunch yesterday. I'd forgotten about El Señor de los Milagros, silly me. When I was riding down from Ecuador I kept coming across groups of pilgrims dressed in purple dragging large crosses on little wheels at the side of the PanAmericana. This is all to do with the aforementioned Señor, whose feast day is on October 18th. More than that I'm not sure of, not being an RC, but it's a big one.

Anyway, there I was heading for one of the nice little restaurants on Calle San Francisco; the road was closed by the glamorous police, and various devotional designs and legends had been laid on the cobbles using sand, chalk and flower petals. The procession was forming outside the Church of San Francisco, loads of people in purple - some in formal robes, others in street clothes but also purple as far as they could manage, huge flower arrangements, and the most dirgelike, tuneless music I've ever heard.

Interestingly, while countries like the UK are busy devolving power to the regions, here in Peru there's a referendum soon on whether to join various provinces together for economic efficiency. And in the presidential elections next year the ex-pres Fujimori is definitely a favourite of the indigenous peoples and farmers as he apparently did good stuff for them towards the end of his previous term of office.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 10:10 PM GMT
October 22, 2005 GMT
The Other Motorcycle Diaries

There was an interesting article in the local paper this morning about

When I was in Ecuador the locals told me (not without some pride) that Ecuador is the second most corrupt country in the world. Apparently (on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is the least corrupt) Iceland, Finland and NZ top the league with a score of better than 9.5. South America averages 3.5 (Africa is 2.9). And within S America Colombia scores a bit over 3, Peru 4.5, Uruguay 5.9 and Chile 7.3 It
doesn't mention the rest, but do the sums yourself.

Yes of course I've read the Other Diaries. Not seen the film as it was released in Oz just as I was leaving.

It's very interesting to see how little has changed in the last 50 years - the roads, Chilean hospitality, maté (coca tea). There are places where I *know* I've photographed stuff Che saw. I'm heartened that neither he nor Alberto had any better a relationship with mud than I do. Shame the bike broke down even more often than mine, though.

And, of course, I gather the continent is about to be invaded by film crews following Ewan and Charlie and Jude while they do the bits they missed the last time. With a bit of luck I can stay ahead of them so they can pick me up next time I fall off.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 10:11 PM GMT
October 26, 2005 GMT
Black Holes

A rather bizarre question I was asked last week:

"Who does your scheduling?"


Turns out the guy thought I had someone ahead of me to sort routes, hotels etc. When I explained I had maps and guide books he was nonplussed.

"But how can you do that?"

I sort of gave up at that point.

My new alternator has dropped into a black hole. Parcel Farce (UK) swear it´s in Peru; SerPost (Peru) swear it´s not. So another one is being sent, this time by FedEx or DHL, I know not which yet.

So I´m here for another few days. The upside is that there´s a local Garmin man who´s attempting to get me a complete South America basemap to download, plus a USB power/data cable, and right next door to him is the enduro man who´ll have a pair of Pirelli MT21s for me on Friday. I was going to get new tyres in Santiago, but they´ll be a lot cheaper here (Antonio says max USD100 the pair including fitting).

And then I can go to Bolivia.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 10:14 PM GMT

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