March 31, 2012 GMT
Ecuador And Peru (North)

March brought in two personal notable landmarks. Three years ago, back in March 2009 I started this trip in Miami. Since then I have ridden 47,000 miles (75,000 km) around the Americas on my slow meander south (with a detour via Alaska). In addition; I somehow managed to reach the grand old age of sixty. To help me celebrate I met up with some friends of my brother in Cuenca, Ecuador, Australians Brian and Shirley are travelling from Ushuaia to Alaska on their BMW. We had been following each others progress and planning on meeting up wherever our routes crossed. It was good to have their company for a few days before they headed north and hopefully we will meet up again in Australia.

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Alternative Hostel Owner Xavier, Myself, Brian And Shirley

I spent a couple of days (once again) trying to buy kerosene to clean the motorcycle chain. Eventually I gave up and took a litre bottle to a fuel station and had it filled with diesel for 25 cents (16 pence per litre or a bit less than $1 per US gallon). Having cleaned and lubricated the chain I was all set to continue south into Peru. The poor starting first thing on a morning that the bike has been suffering from for a while disappeared once I got back to sea level so the problem seems to be associated with high altitude.

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Dirt Road Detour Around A Landslide On The Way To The Peruvian Border

For anyone thinking of planning a similar trip and attempting to work out a budget, I have spent £33,000 ($52,400) in total or an average of £11,000 ($17,466) per year. This includes flights, shipping the bike to the USA from England and shipping around the Darien Gap. The USA and Canada were obviously more expensive than the Latin America countries I have already visited. Budgeting is always difficult, I have met riders who spend considerably more than me and others who spend considerably less. For those poor souls that have to go back to work and therefore embark on trips of shorter duration the average monthly cost will be higher as the shipping costs and any flights are spread over the shorter period.

I had been told that the Ecuador Customs and Immigration offices were easy to miss when heading south into Peru at the Tumbes border crossing on the coast. The most common directions being ‘Ride to the bridge over the river that is the actual border then turn around and ride back seven kilometres’! Ade, a Canadian heading south ahead of me emailed the grid reference and I could see how it would be easy to ride straight past. This border crossing had a reputation for being a bit dodgy with a couple of villages in ‘no man’s land’ between the immigration and customs offices and lots of touts, money changers and ‘guides’ wanting to ‘help‘. There is now a new road and bridge which by-passes the villages and it must now rank as one of the easiest border crossings in the Americas. Customs and immigration are in the same brand new building and it was the first border in Latin America I have crossed where I didn’t need any photocopies of documents. The Peruvian Immigration and Customs are in a similar brand new blue and white building with the compulsory SOAT vehicle insurance available right next to the Customs desk. The only minor hiccup was that along with the brand new buildings, road and bridge there seemed to be a brand new computer system that the officers were in the process of learning which slowed the process down a bit. As building work wasn’t quite finished hopefully some signs identifying the buildings are still to come.

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Peruvian Desert South Of Mancora

After the rains I had been through in Central America, Colombia and Ecuador I was looking forward to the desert of Northern Peru. Also, having spent several weeks in Vilcabamba and Cuenca sitting out some of the wet season it was nice to be moving again. The Pacific Ocean of northern Peru was the first coast I had seen since leaving the Caribbean in Colombia and it made a refreshing change to be at the seaside for a while. With stops at different surfing resorts on the way south I ended up camping at Huanchaco, to my mind the nicest place on that stretch of coast.

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More Peruvian Desert

Traditional reed boats are still used for fishing off the northern coast of Peru. Historic examples of very similar reed boats have been discovered in many parts of the world, the earliest known example from Kuwait is 7000 years old. They were common in ancient Egypt where they were made from papyrus reeds. In Peru they are made from Totora reed which is cultivated along the coast and in Lake Titicaca. Peru, Bolivia and Ethiopia are the last three countries still to use this once common boat building material. Although the boat design may be 7000 years old the rest of the fisherman’s lifestyle is pure 21st century. He is likely to load his catch into a pickup truck and call his wife from his mobile phone to say he is on his way home!

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Huanchaco Traditional Totora Reed Fishing Boats

The sun usually made a spectacular job of setting into the Pacific Ocean as the last of the surfers made their way back to the beach. I joined the other tourists on the beach at sundown each evening for the free light show.

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Huanchaco Sunset Over The Pacific As The Last Surfer Comes Ashore

I bumped into a number of different backpackers in Huanchaco that I had met in Ecuador and Colombia and arranged to visit Chan Chan, a pre Inca archaeological site with two of them; Ry and Vanessa from the USA. Chan Chan is the largest city of mud brick construction in pre Colombian America occupying an area of twenty square kilometres (7.7 square miles). It was built around 850AD as the capital city of the Chimu Kingdom which ruled the area until it was defeated by the Incas in 1470. Mud brick walls up to eight metres (26 feet) high have survived because of the dry desert climate although the site is now under threat as climate change and in particular El Niño is causing heavy rainfall and flooding in what has been a very dry area for hundreds of years.

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An Open Well in Chan Chan Archaeological Site

I had hoped to team up with some other riders to go through Duck Canyon (Cañon del Pato) , a hundred kilometres (62 miles) or so of which is a rough gravel track but I didn’t meet up with anyone and figured that the locals are usually happy to help if help is needed. The GPS started playing up and would stop working altogether for a while. Fortunately, once you are in Duck Canyon you can’t go far wrong as the canyon narrows and the only way to go is between the cliffs.

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Duck Canyon (Cañon del Pato)

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Duck Canyon (Cañon del Pato)

It was hot, dry and dusty but inexplicably there were a few short sections of mud. I approached the first and worst muddy section which was bad enough that normally I would have stopped to look for the best way through. However, glancing in my mirror I saw a four wheel drive car coming up behind me and made a quick decision to ride straight in and stick to the centre of the track so that if I got stuck I would be blocking the road and the occupants would have to help me. I had to put a foot down into the very liquid mud which was deep enough to pour into my boot but that was the only problem I had.

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Duck Canyon (Cañon del Pato)

A very tired looking pair of cyclists were resting in the shade outside a Tienda (small shop), they were a French couple going in the opposite direction to me and had only seventeen kilometres (10.5 miles) of the rough gravel and the one section of deep mud to negotiate to get back onto a paved road. It had taken me over an hour to ride those seventeen kilometres. With the temperature rising as midday approached the cyclists were a bit daunted at having another seventeen kilometres of the rough stuff to go.

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Some Rough And Ready Accommodation At Yuramarca With Most Of The Dirt Road Behind Me

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Three Of The Many Tunnels In Duck Canyon

I arrived in Huaraz just before Easter and decided to stay over the Easter weekend as accommodation can be hard to find. Many Peruvians travel to visit relatives, go to pilgrimage sites or just to take advantage of a long weekend. Huaraz got busier as it got closer to the weekend and the hostel I was staying at was full. Huaraz is the trekking and mountain climbing centre for the Peruvian Andes. The town is on the banks of the River Santa which separates the mountain ranges of Cordillera Negra to the west and Cordillera Blanca to the east. The Cordillera Negra mountains stop the warm Pacific air currents from travelling further inland which keeps many of the Cordillera Blanca mountains cooler and capped with snow.

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Snow Capped Cordillera Blanca Mountains From My Huaraz Hostel

There was a Semana Santa (Easter) procession through town on Good Friday similar to the ones I saw in Antigua, Guatemala last year. Pictures were created on the ground along the route using coloured sawdust and in some cases flower petals. These impressive artworks would then be trampled and destroyed by the procession walking through them. The procession was made up of a number of heavy ‘floats’ carried on the shoulders of bearers with brass bands playing sombre music and children leading the way with their banners. Friday’s procession commemorating the crucifixion was considered the main event of Easter. The procession on Sunday commemorating the resurrection was very low key in comparison. It seemed odd to me and I never figured out why the crucifixion was deemed more important than the resurrection.

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Semana Santa (Easter) In Huaraz

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Huaraz Semana Santa Parade On Good Friday

I had hoped to bypass Lima but it looks as if my GPS needs repairing and Lima is the best place to arrange the work so my next stop will be the Capital City. I hope the GPS; which intermittently stops working cooperates and guides me through the city traffic.

Posted by at 03:44 PM GMT
April 24, 2012 GMT
Peru (Centre)

I left Huaraz early not knowing if I would make it to Lima in one day, the distance was 257 Miles (411 km), more than I usually do in a day on Latin American roads. It was cold and got colder as the road following the River Santa climbed to 4050 metres (13,160 feet) and Lake Conococha, the source of the river which lay just below the glacial snow line. Once passed the lake the road descended and the temperature gradually crept up until I was able to turn the heated handlebar grips off and finally once back on the desert terrain near the coast, remove my motorcycle jacket. I should have taken some photographs as the mountain scenery was spectacular in the early morning light but I was enjoying riding the bike too much and didn’t want to stop. Back on the Pan Americana the road opened up into a multi-lane near motorway / interstate quality road, the only one in Peru, going into and out of Lima. With only a brief breakfast stop on the way, I was in Lima by mid afternoon.

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Breakfast On A Deserted Pacific Beach On The Way To Lima

Teo and Anita, the owners of the hostel I stayed in at Huaraz said I could stay in their Lima Hostel which was in a good location, had a swimming pool and most importantly, secure parking for the motorbike. They gave me the address and instructions on how to find the place but when I arrived it turned out not to be a hostel but a private apartment in a high rise tower block with two university students living in it. I had thought my student flat sharing days were long behind me, but it gave me the chance to inflict my exceedingly bad Spanish onto a captive audience. Anita was coming to visit her son, one of the students in the apartment the following weekend which induced a flurry of cleaning activity on Friday afternoon in preparation for the parental inspection.

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Lima's Plaza de Armas

My sole reason for going to Lima was to get my GPS repaired. The touch screen had developed a fault. I could make menu selections sometimes but at other times the screen would lock up or different screens would randomly display. Fortunately it was working for most of the journey to Lima and for the crucial ride through Lima itself to my accommodation. After numerous journeys to Garmin Peru it was decided it would have to be sent to the USA for repair and this would take at least a month. Not wanting to wait that long and being unable to find my way out of Lima without the assistance of numerous satellites and an electronic Global Positioning System I had to buy a new GPS. Fortunately Garmin Peru, who don’t sell direct to the public helped by phoning around their dealers and located one nearby that had a motorcycle GPS in stock. A walk down to the dealer and parting with a shed load of money got me a new GPS and an invitation to join Giorgio, the General Manager in Ica at the weekend for a desert rally. Giorgio was competing on a Quad (ATV) and there would be a group of riders there who had competed in the last Dakar rally.

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Lima Palace

I would have gladly used the Peruvian motorway to ride straight through or around Lima having heard that it was a large; expensive ‘western’ city full of mad speeding motorists with the usual shortage of direction signs and street names making navigation difficult. All the above is true but with the assistance of my impoverished student flatmates I didn’t spend much more than anywhere else in Peru on day to day living expenses. My only extravagances were buying the GPS which I considered a necessity and a few visits to Starbucks which I loath specifically for their top priced coffee served in paper cups and generally for being a chain of outlets. Starbucks, in the San Miguel Plaza Mall which was full of designer label shops was the only place I found near my apartment with a WiFi signal.

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Clifftop Malecón In Mirafores, Lima

Most of the Lima coastline, and there are miles of it, has a cliff top Malecon (promenade) linking a string of parks together making for a scenic walk which I did several times on my way to and from Garmin Peru in the central district of Miraflores. One of the cliff top parks had a full length statue of John Lennon playing a guitar and any city with a statue of John Lennon can’t be all bad.

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John Lennon And I Enjoying The Lima Sunset

ARGENTINA VICTORY IN MALVINAS screamed the La Razon newspaper headline on the 12th April 2012. The thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands / Malvinas war and the British oil exploration in the area had brought the conflict into the forefront of Latin American news and a number of Latinos had brought the subject up with me. I checked the BBC online news at the first opportunity but there was no mention of the Falkland Islands. Either the BBC was in collusion with the British Government to keep the loss of the islands a secret from the public or the newspaper story didn’t live up to the headline. After several hours and the capable assistance of ‘Google Translate’ I got the gist of the story. The ‘Argentina Victory’ referred to the results of a survey. A higher percentage of Argentines than British poled in the survey considered the Sovereignty of the Malvinas an ‘important topic’. So the news is that there wasn’t a huge British cover up of the loss of the Falkland Islands. I selfishly wish the story would disappear as I draw closer to Argentina.

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On arrival at the desert oasis of Huacachina I headed for the Bananas Adventure Hostel as Jordan and Sandra had recommended it for camping but they obviously didn’t like the look of me. They would only sell me an exclusive package of camping, a dune buggy tour and a dune boarding tour for S50 ($18.70 or £12). I wasn’t particularly interested in the dune buggy tour, I do enough unpaved riding on the bike and if necessary I would happily pay not to go dune boarding which seemed to comprise spending an hour lugging a board up a sand dune then taking fifteen seconds to slide back down again. When I said I only wanted camping they redirected me further back up the street to Silva House Hostel which probably suited me better. The Bananas Adventure Hostel had a packed lively bar when I was there while Silva House was deathly silent, I had the campsite to myself and the hostel only had a couple of guests.

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The Desert Oasis Of Huacachina

Huacachina oasis is surround by huge sand dunes and it is virtually compulsory to climb to the top of the highest dune to watch the sunset. It’s a hard slog as your feet slip backwards in the soft sand with every step and it is still hot under the late afternoon sun. It is worth the effort though, both to see the sunset and to smugly watch the struggling of others following you to the top.

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Huacachina Dunes Sunset

Desert Rally
I used my recently acquired sixty year old enhanced discretionary powers for the first time when I headed off into the desert to try and see some of the desert rally I had been told about by Giorgio. The special stages were held either side of an unpaved road running towards the coast sixty kilometres away. I planned on riding along the road until I got to some desert rally action or the coast but after only ten kilometres and a number of soft sand sections I decided to stop. It was still cool in the early morning but if I continued to the coast I would be returning in the glaring heat of mid afternoon. My enhanced discretionary powers told me that if I was hot and tired on the return journey I was liable to lose my concentration and may come off in a soft sand section and coming off could be expensive as well as painful. I waited for an hour in the partial shade of an old building and only saw three vehicles near the horizon which may or may not have been part of the rally. I then went to the hotel that was parc fermè and rally HQ which was deserted apart from a couple of parked quad bikes (ATVs). After waiting for a while without anyone arriving I gave up and headed off in search of lunch which was a lot easier to find than a bunch of desert racers.

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The Nearest I Got To The Ica Desert Rally

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Doing The Desert Rally Road The Hard Way

The Highest Drivable Pass In The World
According to my map the highest drivable pass in the world at 5059 metres (16442 feet) was north of the Pisco to Ayacharo road. I suspect that a number of passes claim to be the highest in the world but never the less I was compelled to see if I could get there. Highway twenty-four from Pisco to Ayacharo turned out to be a beautifully smooth paved road with little traffic that climbed up to over 4000 metres and then stayed there for over 100 kilometres. I got to the turn off onto eighty kilometres (fifty miles) of dirt road quicker than I expected and for most of the way the dirt road was smooth compacted clay. I had planned on riding so far on the first day, camping and making my ‘summit’ attempt on day two but as the roads had been so good and my progress better than anticipated I continued on to try and get to the top of the pass and back to a lower altitude to camp. I got to the final turning with around ten miles to go to the summit before encountering my first section of bad road. This section was very uneven with lots of muddy puddles which required a lot of leg work to keep the bike upright and pointing in the right direction. Then I got altitude sickness. There are a number of different symptoms for altitude sickness, mostly not very nice but fortunately I got the feeling euphorically drunk symptom which was very pleasant and exceedingly funny especially when my legs decided to go all wobbly. My recently acquired sixty year old enhanced discretionary powers kicked in a second time and told me to stop laughing at the llamas and get back downhill as quickly and safely as possible.

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Choclococha Lake On The Way To The 'Highest Drivable Pass In The World'

I had got to an altitude of 4715 metres, only 344 metres from the summit of the pass. Hopefully in another ten years my seventy year old super enhanced discretionary powers will persuade me to stick with the first plan and camp on the way up to help acclimatise and to be fresh for tackling the rougher road nearer the summit. I hadn’t worried about altitude sickness as I have spent most of the last year in the mountains and thought I would be acclimatised but I had been at sea level for two weeks prior to this ride into the Andes which was enough to cancel out any previous altitude acclimatisation.

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Taking A Photo At The Turn Around Point Whilst Laughingly Trying To Figure Out Who The Chap In The Foreground Is

As with the alcohol induced euphorically drunk feeling it was followed by a headache, general unwellness and difficulty in concentrating but I got the bike turned around and carefully headed back down the track wanting to get to as low an altitude as possible without risking an accident. I would have preferred to have got a bit lower but stopped and got the tent up at 4200 metres just as it got dark as it was too dangerous to ride on mountainous dirt roads in the dark while feeling drunk.

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Skinny People Wearing A Helmet And A Motorcycle Jacket Watched As I Turned The Bike Around

I didn’t sleep much that night which was a pity as it felt like the longest night on record. I was a bit cold, a bit unwell and a bit uncomfortable due to the rocky uneven ground that I had pitched the tent on and I suspect a combination of all three kept me awake. Daylight eventually arrived and I packed up the camping equipment as quickly as I could with numb frozen hands. Ice had formed on the outside of the tent through the night and I bundled it up wet and strapped it on top of my luggage. The starter barely turned the engine which was reluctant to start anyway with the high altitude but it eventually fired up and I continued back downhill having to use my frozen numb left hand as a claw to operate the clutch to the wonderfully oxygen enriched and warmer air of lower altitudes. Four hours later I was back in the hot desert heading south on the Pan Americana towards Nazca.

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6am In A Frozen Andean Campsite At 4200 Metres (13650 feet)

Posted by at 07:35 PM GMT
May 17, 2012 GMT
Peru (South)

On the approach into Nazca heading south on the Pan Americana Highway I stopped at a viewing tower. From the top you could see two of the famous Nazca lines, geometric patterns etched into the desert floor. I’m afraid I didn’t find the lines overly impressive. They are made by moving a top layer of dark rocks and pebbles and scratching a shallow trench through to the very pale, sandy coloured sub layer. What is impressive is that these fairly flimsy looking constructions have survived hundreds of years thanks to the stable weather conditions of little wind or rain resulting in virtually zero erosion. The road beside the tower is now fenced but you could clearly see tyre tracks cutting through and destroying part of one of the ancient patterns. I could only see two of the many Nazca lines from the tower and I imagine they look much more impressive looking down at them from a plane.

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One Of The Nazca Lines Viewed From The Pan Americana Tower

I sometimes service the bike myself and sometimes find a mechanic to do it for me. Labour is cheap by western standards and I have a problem finding somewhere socially acceptable to drain the oil and to dispose of it. In Nazca I found a workshop that would do the job. I hung around to tell the mechanic what bits to take off to get to the drain plugs and oil filter and distrusting soul that I am, to make sure he took the old oil filter out rather than throwing the new one I had supplied away and claiming to have changed it. I then left to find an optician to see if I could get a pair of glasses repaired. In Europe the glasses would have to be replaced but in Nazca I had a new arm fitted that was taken from a new frame to make the glasses as good as new for S5 (£1.20 or US$1.90). When I returned for the motorbike it was being dried with compressed air and looked cleaner than it has since the trip started. The service cost S75 (£17.80 or US$28) and most of that was for the oil.

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The Nazca To Cusco Road

The road from Nazca to Cusco has to be one of the best paved motorcycling roads in the world, particularly the first section which climbs from the low lying desert up into the mountains. The road is over four hundred miles long (640 km), rising from the desert floor in a series of hairpin bends and sweeping curves. The scenery changes from the dry dusty desert of the coast getting greener as it passes alongside small fields of crops then on into cattle and alpaca country. There was a thin covering of snow at the side of the road at one point.

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The Nazca To Cusco Road

With Cusco not too far away the bike lost power. I was at an altitude of over 3000m (9750 feet) but the drop in power was too sudden and severe to be caused by the high altitude. There had been no nasty mechanical noises and the bike was still doing my normal cruising speed of 50mph (80kph) although now only with the throttle wide open. Being forced to slow down for a tope (speed bump) on the approach into the village of Porhoy; the engine cut out and wouldn’t restart. A smoking exhaust and a smell of burning oil indicated a top end engine overhaul. Fortunately I was only ten kilometres from Cusco and on the main road. The situation would have been a lot worse if I had been stranded on some remote dirt road miles from anywhere. I left the bike at a nearby restaurant and took a cheap shared taxi into Cusco.

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Cusco, Plaza de Armas

The following day I walked to the Cusco street where all the motorbike shops were and was directed to the owner of a pickup truck who agreed to collect the bike. When we got to the restaurant where I had left it the owner had padlocked the room for security and had gone to Cusco with the key. Eduardo, the pick up truck owner couldn’t wait but arranged for the local hardware store owner to bring my bike into Cusco once we had the key to get the bike out. It turned out Eduardo owned one of the motorbike shops and we arranged for the bike to go to his workshop for preliminary inspection. If it couldn’t be repaired in Cusco it would have to be trucked 690 miles (1100 km) back to Lima.

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I Was Relieved That This Sign Was Outside A Knitwear Shop And Not A Restaurant!

As I suspected, the mechanic said there was a loss of compression. I immediately envisaged a twenty hour ride in a truck to Lima but the mechanic was confident that they could strip the top half of the engine, get the parts from Lima and rebuild the bike in four or five days. I thought it would take longer; but as I planned to spend at least a week in Cusco and nearby Machu Picchu and definitely didn’t want to trail all the way back to Lima I gave them the go ahead with the job. Having spent some time learning the Spanish for various engine parts I returned to the mechanic a few days later and was told a piston ring had failed and that the necessary parts were on order. I would have liked to have had an in depth talk with the mechanic to figure out why the engine failed but my Spanish wasn’t up to that level of conversation. I wondered if the recent oil change had anything to do with it but the oil level was fine, no warning lights came on and the bike had done over 400 miles since the service so I think it unlikely.

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Cusco, San Blas Plaza

The broken bike removed the decision on how to get to Machu Picchu 110 kilometres (69 miles) away. There are no roads to Machu Picchu. With the bike I could have ridden to Ollantaytambo, half way to Machu Picchu then taken the expensive tourist train or ridden to Santa Teresa on dirt roads then trekked for a further two or three hours along the railway track. Without the bike, the buses to Santa Teresa then walking or a combination of bus to Ollantayambo then train seemed complicated so I opted for the expensive tourist train from Cusco. When I bought the train ticket I discovered that the train actually leaves from Porhoy Station less than 100 yards from where the bike had broken down.

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Machu Picchu Train At Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)

The Peru government which controls Machu Picchu has a simple policy of maximising the revenue it can get from overseas tourists. Prices to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu and into the site are expensive by any standard but very few tourists that come to Peru are going to bypass one of the worlds greatest archaeological sites. The site is amazing and if the entrance fee had been a bit cheaper I would have seen it over two leisurely days instead of one hectic day marching across the site determined not to miss anything out.

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The Compulsory Machu Picchu Photograph

Machu Picchu has the best preserved Inca architecture as it was hidden in a remote valley and never discovered by the Conquistadors and therefore avoided the destruction that was inevitably carried out. It still has that feeling of remoteness despite the number of visitors. I guess, in the 21st century anyplace that can’t be reached by road feels remote.

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Early Morning Mist On The Machu Picchu Agricultural Terraces

The site is believed to be the country retreat of the Inca ruler, Pachacuti who ran his empire from the capital city of Cusco.

The Inca stonework on the high status buildings is ingenious with carved stones closely knitted together without any form of mortar. Some of these stones weight over a hundred tons with one estimated at around three hundred tons. Brilliant stonemasons as the Incas obviously were, they had no written language and no records exist of how they prepared and positioned the stones. The Spanish Conquistadors ‘employed’ Inca stonemasons to build the lower courses of the colonial buildings in Cusco to produce a mixed architectural style of Inca and Colonial. Many of the stones would have been reused following the demolition of the original Inca town. It is now difficult to tell which is original Inca foundations, rebuilt colonial Inca stonework or fairly recent reproduction. All very impressive though.

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Clever Inca Drystone Wall At Machu Picchu

The Norton Rat’s Bar in the main square (Plaza de Armas) is a legendary watering hole for overland motorcyclists. The gringo owner did an Alaska to Ushuaia journey a few years ago then returned to Cusco to set up home and business. Unfortunately I picked the wrong time to visit, 4pm on a Sunday. The balcony was full of customers enjoying the view over the plaza but the bar was almost deserted. I ordered a pint of English bitter, my first in over two years, the barman and the cashier were both looking in my direction and having a furtive whispered conversation as my money was passed between them. I drank half of the beer at the bar waiting for my change which I rightly suspected wasn’t forthcoming and in the end had to ask the cashier for it. On another day; with a few motorcyclists to chat to I would have enjoyed the Norton Rat’s Bar but the behaviour of the bar staff put me off making a second visit. My pint of bitter went down a treat though!

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Norton Rat's Pub, Cusco

Life gets pretty scary when you suddenly find it necessary to look up the Spanish for “Why did you have to split the crankcase?”. I went to the workshop to see if the ordered parts had arrived and… they hadn’t. Then I noticed that the engine was now out of the frame. I found it under a dust sheet in many many pieces spread across a workbench with the crankcase open and no sign of the barrel, piston or rings which I wanted to have a look at to see exactly what had failed and hopefully why it had failed. Dates for the parts to arrive come and go without the parts making an appearance. The mechanic working on my bike is rarely in the workshop and none of the others really know what is going on but they confidently give me a new date for when the parts will arrive and ask me to check back then.

Cusco is as good a place as any to be stuck in while waiting for the bike to be repaired. It’s small enough to walk everywhere but big enough to offer a variety of walks and places to visit.

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Cusco Traditional Dance Carnival

Posted by at 08:44 PM GMT
June 15, 2012 GMT
Still In Peru

Six weeks after taking my motorcycle to a Cusco workshop to have a broken piston ring changed I finally got it back. The estimated time to complete the job had been ‘four or five days’ although I never for a moment thought that was achievable; I hadn’t expected it to take six weeks. The phrase ‘Mañana, Mañana’ will always remind me of this time and the continuously moving completion date.

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Sacsayhuaman Inca Site Above Cusco. How Do You Make Walls With Blocks This Size Without Machine Tools And Only Stone Handtools?

Fortunately Cusco turned out to be a nice place to wait and I have plenty of time as I’m waiting for the warmer weather of the southern hemisphere summer before venturing too far south. A steady stream of motorcyclists turned up at the Estrellita Hospedaje where I was staying. The most unusual bikes were ridden by four Germans. They had shipped their tiny 125cc machines with scooter sized wheels from Germany to Santiago, Chile for $250 (£158) each then ridden them north to Cusco. They were turning round at Cusco to return to Santiago to ship the bikes back to Germany. Not wanting to ride the first leg south to Arequipa they rode to the bus station, put the bikes in the luggage bay of an overnight bus and planned to sleep while they travelled. I had been complaining that my bike had proved too heavy for me on the badly eroded and/or muddy dirt roads of Central America, Colombia and Ecuador during the wet season and decided that if my bikes problems turned out to be terminal (I was beginning to doubt I would ever get it back in working order) I would migrate to the opposite end of the motorcycling spectrum and buy a similar small bike as the Germans and save tons of money shipping across the stretches of water.

210 Cusco German Bikers In Estrellita  28th May 2012.jpg
German Riders Heading To The Bus Station On Their Mini Bikes

The motorbike was returned to me for a few days in order to ride it for three hundred kilometres before changing the oil again to flush out any debris following the engine rebuild. It also gave me the opportunity to test the bike and partially renew my confidence that it won’t fail again, possibly on some back road miles from anywhere. I did two circular rides from Cusco, one going up the sacred valley to Ollantaytambo and the other going down the valley to Calcay. It felt good to be riding again and nice to get out of town and into the countryside.

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Lake In The Sacred Valey

I had a week and a half left on my Peru visa and temporary motorcycle import document when I got the bike back from the mechanic and decided to go to Colca Canyon before leaving Peru for Bolivia. Colca Canyon is one of around five canyons that claim to be the deepest in the world and is home to some impressively large condors. I plotted a 420km (262 mile) route, mainly on secondary roads. The route took me through the district of Espinar; where the government had declared a state of emergency because of demonstrations against the expansion of a Swiss run copper mine. Two people had been killed and the mayor arrested and jailed but my route was well away from the towns so I wasn’t expecting any problems. My paper map showed that forty kilometres of the route was on dirt roads while my GPS thought that considerably more of the route was going to be on dirt. I would normally have planned to do this journey over two leisurely days but as I didn’t have much time left in Peru decided to try and do it in one day. As the bulk of the journey was travelling through the desolate Alto Plano there wasn’t going to be any accommodation available anyway.

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Espinar Anti Mining, Pro Environment Demonstration In Cusco

I loaded the bike the day before and fitted the thermal lining to my motorcycle suit in preparation for a chilly early morning start. For only the second time in six weeks it was raining when I got up. Normally I have the luxury of delaying my departure by a day if it is raining but time was pressing and I headed out of Cusco through the heavy morning traffic. The rain eventually stopped although it didn’t get any warmer as I climbed up to over 3900 metres (12,700 feet). The first section of the journey was on the main road south from Cusco which headed to Puno then on to Copacabana in Bolivia. Once out of Cusco, the traffic was light and it felt good to be moving through the high Andes scenery. Other traffic became virtually non existent once I turned onto the secondary roads which crossed the Alto Plano. The roads were still paved and if my paper map proved to be accurate I should reach my destination of Yanque in the Colca Canyon before dark. The dirt road started where the paper map said it would but the surface was dry and compact and I was still making reasonable progress. Having covered the forty odd kilometres of dirt road I was looking out for the paved road to start again to be able to press on at a higher speed to Yanque but the GPS proved to be correct and the dirt continued for 129 kilometres (80 miles) until Sibayo a short distance before the journey’s end.

002 On Way To Colca Canyon Espinar During State Of Emergency 8th June 2012.jpg
Entering The State Of Emergency Area Of Espinar

003 On Way To Colca Canyon Espinar During State Of Emergency 8th June 2012.jpg
Espinar Protest Graffiti

Stopping for a quick picnic lunch at the roadside; a few drops of hail started to fall although the sky was bright and predominately blue. When I remounted the hail got heavier then eventually turned to snow which was blowing horizontally across the open plain. The snow wasn’t falling particularly heavily and my motorcycle suit and heated handlebar grips were sufficient to keep me warm but the visibility was reduced which meant I had to slow down from my normal mediocre pace. It looked like I was going to run out of daylight and if I did I would have to choose between setting up the tent in the snow and the wind for a cold night on the Alto Plano or riding on dirt roads in the dark. I normally avoid riding in the dark. I like to look at the scenery as I ride which you can’t do at night and there is an increased chance of having an accident in the dark. In Latin America I have occasionally ridden to my destination during dusk but always found somewhere to stay before it got completely dark. The only time I have ridden at night was when staying in an out of town motel and I have ridden the short distance into town for something to eat.

005 On Way To Colca Canyon 8th June 2012.jpg
Lunch Stop On The Way To Colca Canyon

The snow had eventually eased but the road; which was fine for most of the way had a few rough rocky sections and water crossings seemed to appear more frequently as black shapes looming out of the increasing darkness. At one of the deeper crossings I had to put a foot down to keep the bike upright and got a boot full of icy water. I continued to ride; hoping to drop to a lower altitude and out of the snow which would make camping a more comfortable option but the darkness descended, my progress slowed still further and I was still at a chilly and windy 3900 metres. When it got dark; I had according to the GPS; twenty kilometres to go to the next junction which could be the start of a paved road or even a village with some accommodation. Riding twenty kilometres on dirt roads in the dark seemed marginally better than camping in the bad weather but progress was slow as I looked for rocks and potholes in the beam of the headlight. Eventually lights from a small town appeared way below me and the road descended through a series of tight hairpin bends. The wind dropped and the temperature rose as soon as I left the Alto Plano and got into the shelter of the hills. The hairpin bends were tricky in the dark with the headlight peering straight out over an open mountainside, all I could see was blackness which I knew represented a long drop down the mountain and the outside of the bend which seemed to continue forever as I pulled the bike tighter into the turns until, eventually the road would appear in the beam of the headlamp once again. I was concentrating on the outside of the bends and the void beyond them more than the road surface and on one bend I skidded and stalled the engine on some fine powdery ‘bull dust’. As I regained control of the bike I pressed the starter and as I don’t normally ride at night; didn’t realise that the lights go out while the starter is turning. Plunged into total darkness on a slippery road surface; near the edge of a mountainside even at less than walking pace and for only a few seconds provided enough excitement to last me for quite a while.

004 On Way To Colca Canyon 8th June 2012.jpg
On The Way To Colca Canyon

The town I was approaching was only forty kilometres (twenty five miles) from my final destination so I decided that if the road was paved I would continue on to Yanque in the dark but if the road was still dirt I would try and find accommodation for the night. It was a relieve to reach the town and a lower altitude and the road was made of beautifully smooth concrete so I rode straight through the small town on the road towards Yanque. At the edge of the town the road changed back into gravel so I turned around, stopped at a restaurant and went in to ask if there was any accommodation available in town. My luck finally took an upturn as the restaurant turned out to be a hospedaje (small, cheap local hotel). I had to leave the bike on the street, something I try to avoid. I did walk a few doors along the street to the police station to see if I could park in their compound, something I have done in the past. I walked through the open door into the deserted office, full of computers, all turned on. I shouted and waited but no one appeared so the bike had to rough it on the street for one night.

I was soon changed out of the bike clothes; but unable to wash as there was no water available and sat in the restaurant with a large bowl of soup followed by the Latin American standard of chicken and chips.

The following morning it didn’t take long to reach Yanque in Colca Canyon. The road was paved after all apart from a short section of road works that had prompted my to turn around the previous evening. At least I got to enjoy the scenery as I entered Colca Canyon and there was a narrow rocky detour for road works and more slippery ’bull dust’ on some of the corners which were easier to negotiate in daylight. ‘Bull dust’ is a term I picked up in Australia for very fine, talcum powder like dust that settles on roads. It’s like riding in very fine dry sand and this journey was the first time I had encountered it on this trip.

022 Colca Canyon Chacapi 10th June 2012.jpg
Chacapi, Colca Canyon - Near Yanque

I liked Yanque, a small rural village with cows, alpacas, sheep and donkeys being herded through the streets and almost as many horseback riders as cars. There were snow capped mountains to the south and clear blue skies that set them off nicely. The same clear skies produced a multitude of stars in the evening and I may have caught my first glimpse of the Southern Cross constellation on this trip. In the small fields on the outskirts of the village men were threshing some kind of grain with sticks while women in brightly coloured traditional dress were sat on the ground winnowing the threshed crop by scooping it up into a bowl and skilfully pouring it out so that the wind separated the chaff from the grain into two neat piles. It looked like I had stepped back into some medieval world except for the preponderance of mobile phones clasped firmly to the side of the workers heads.

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Snow Capped Mountain From Yanque, Colca Canyon

There are two reasons for coming to Colca Canyon, the scenery and the condors that live in the canyon. One day I rode out to a mirador (lookout point) overlooking the canyon and in a couple of hours counted eight condors, some were way off in the distance but others, soaring in the canyon below me or silhouetted by the sky above where close enough to see in detail. Unfortunately they were all too quick to get a decent photograph.

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After Two Hours This Was The Best Shot Of A Condor I Could Get

My final destination in Peru was Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The road climbed up from Colca Canyon to over 4000 metres. The clever folk at Garmin decided that the altimeter on my new 220 GPS should display the altitude in whole kilometres only so I can‘t be any more accurate I‘m afraid. By now I can usually guess how high I am to the nearest kilometre based on how cold it is and how out of breath I am. There was ice on the standing pools of water on the Alto Plano and a waterfall by the side of the road was frozen solid but the day was crisp and dry with a clear blue sky. The wind was blowing strongly, a sample of what I am expecting as I get further south although once the road dipped between the hills on its descent into Puno at 3800 metres (12,350 feet) there was shelter from the wind. I spent the afternoon walking along the shore of Lake Titicaca, exploring the town of Puno and achieved a lifetime ambition by seeing ladies wearing bowler hats several sizes too small for them for the first time.

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Lake Titicaca, Puno - The Highest Navigable Lake In The World At 3810 Metres

009 La Paz Bowler Hats 20th June 2012.jpg
A Lifetimes Ambition Achieved, Ladies In Bower Hats!

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