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Stephan and 'Chenda Solon, UK

Round the World, in South America

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South America


Buenos Aires is a lovely city with a very European/Spanish feel. The only really obvious clue to us being in South America was the grid iron street layout with virtually every street being one way. Oh, and traffic was pretty insane with every one overtaking where they can. This became progressively more exaggerated and dangerous with each new country. The biggest revelation for us after South Africa was the constant buzz of the place. There were always people walking around and it seemed that most shops were almost always open. And shops were everywhere in the vast central part of the city. Mostly small, they made up the ground floor of most buildings, the upper floors generally being flats. We stayed in a shared apartment on the 5th floor of an ugly concrete thing looking onto similar buildings across a narrow street. It was owned by the hostal we'd arranged to stay at. They took one look at us and decided we needed to be somewhere quieter...Only $28 per night which for BA is dead cheap. Best of all, we had the use of a kitchen.

We spent about 5 days seeing the sights and generally being tourists although I got most pleasure out of just lying out on the grass in Plaza San Martin when it was sunny. The hostal was certainly right about me!

Watching the mothers of the disappeared march outside the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) where General Peron and Madonna addressed huge crowds was very interesting. Far off history and politics becoming real.

One of the biggest tourist traps in BA is La Boca, an area where Italian immigrants settled in the 1920s and constructed their houses using steel and paint from the ships they arrived in. It is very colourful although this sight is confined to one street, La Camonita. It is also justly known for its street Tango shows every Sunday. What it is not so well known for is the awful smell from the adjoining river. Polluted doesn't begin to describe it. There's even an abandoned capsized ship next to the new pedestrianised area on the quayside and don't forget about the smell. The Tango shows are good though.

Well, transporting the bike to BA and clearing it through customs went incredibly smoothly. Amazing after the Kenyan experience! We took about 3 hours to clear customs which did involve having it moved from one warehouse to another so it was in an appropriate place to ride away from. In fact the customs people couldn't do enough to help us and the warehouse people were only too happy to take the crate apart and dispose of it for us. We only had to pay a fee of US$67 to the authorities and that was it - we were free!

....and into yet another bout of rain! At least it held off while we were being tourists.

The following day was also very wet which is not the best circumstance to be introduced to riding in South America but it eventually dried up nicely for us and we had clear blue skies and smooth roads all the way to Iguazu Falls.

Our luck didn't entirely improve however as on Ruta 14, a couple of hours north of Gualaguaychu we were fined at a police checkpoint for speeding. We were initially asked for $1000, which we didn't have. We were then asked if we had half the amount. Nope. OK, how much money do you have we were asked. I looked in my wallet - 7 pesos. Definitely not enough to keep them happy so I took out 100 pesos from a separate wallet, half my pesos. Don't you have any dollars they asked? Nope, that's all I have. (Lie). I explained I only had travellers cheques but relied on ATMs to get whatever cash I needed. This was accepted, they took the 100 pesos and then gave me 20 back pocketing the remaining 80.

I was furious. We were effectively robbed but I have no idea if we could have got away without paying anything at all or at least a lot less. Maybe if I'd had a Met Police ID. At Iguazu we met a German couple who'd had a similar experience at the same checkpoint but eventually didn't have to pay as the woman made herself cry. She'd heard that the macho nature of Latin American cops makes it hard for them to be nasty to young weeping women.


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That day was a strange day all round. That morning the owner of the hotel we stayed at in Gualaguaychu called some friends of his in the local press and I ended up doing an interview for the local paper and a live local radio interview! In Spanish! Later that day we ended up in a cheapo hotel which got raided by some very sweet immigration officers who were very concerned we were slightly alarmed. If they'd arrived 5 minutes earlier they'd have caught us trying to fix the water supply to our toilet which we'd inadvertently broke leading to water everywhere. Fun! Fun! Fun!

At Iguazu we camped and the weather continued to stay dry so we were well chuffed. It was nice to be warm and dry again after the last couple of weeks in South Africa. Camping where possible in Argentina really is necessary since our expenditure went mad there. A really rough hotel room cost US$20 and a reasonable one US$40. Unfortunately finding good campsites that were open where we wanted them together with warmish weather didn't happen again until Peru. The campsite at Iguazu was very pleasant but even that is US$12. It did however give us the opportunity to cook so we could save even more.

The Falls were fantastic! We saw them on the Brazilian side of the Parana river first where there is a good general overview of them although you do get very close to the bottom of the Garganta del Diablo - the Devils Throat.


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That is the highest part of the falls and a walkway into the river gets you very close. Yes - we got soaked but it was a warm day. My favourite view was of the middle of the falls - Cataratas San Martin. There you got a real impression of this huge powerful thing set in really lush surroundings with lots of birds flying through the spray.

On the Argentinean side more walkways take you far closer to all parts of the falls and I enjoyed it far more. ´Chenda got soaked again on one of the walkways and at the end of the day we had the Garganta del Diablo all to ourselves for half an hour. That was fantastic. There was a lot of water in the river and the spray created rainbows that would come and go. If you stared at the flow of the water long enough and followed its path to the top of the falls you could create the illusion of falling. 'Chenda had set her walkman to play Gabrials Walk from The Mission - the music we had when 'Chenda walked down the aisle on our wedding day - really romantic!

The trip to the Brazilian side of the falls also included a visit to Itaipu dam and Cuidad del Este in Paraguay. Itaipu could have been interesting were it not for an over controlled tour by the electricity company but Cuidad del Este is just an intensely boring shopping centre for foreigners to buy electrical goods. The traffic on the bridge to it from the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguazu was more interesting with loads of small motorcycle taxis flying through impossible gaps in the lines of stalled cars.

From Iguazu we had to backtrack to Posadas, a pleasant city on the border with Paraguay where I found the car park attendant where I kept the bike overnight was an architect. Not enough work for him in Argentina so he made a living on the few commissions he could get, lecturing in Paraguay and, of course, managing the car park which I think was his back garden. We generally found South America has lots of cars but as most people live in flats over shops, they have nowhere to park. Enterprising people have then turned most spare land in towns into car parks called cocheras, estacionamientos, playas or bodegas depending on what country you're in.

The last two names seem weird to me. Beaches and wineries?


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Our route then took us through Resitensia, Santiago del Estero, and Toucaman to Salta. At Resitensia the hotel we stayed at wasn't due to open till the next day but the owner opened early for us. There was nowhere to keep the bike but the chappie who ran the veterinary surgery/leather products shop next door rearranged the shop so we could park there. Later that evening the owner of the restaurant we stayed at gave us a very nice complimentary bottle of wine to take away when he found we were leaving the next day. Had we not been I think he may have invited us to go fishing.

The journey to Santiago del Estero was long and hot. A taxi driver led us out of Resitensia and suggested the best route but even so, we didn't arrive till dusk. The only notable town on route was only notable for the amount of rubbish around and in it. The 'fill' part of the landfill concept has so far not been very apparent in this continent.

I'm afraid I have nothing to say about Santiago del Estero and Toucaman was just bypassed. North of there the long straight roads through flat country disappeared to be replaced by nice wide windy roads through hilly country.

Very nice. Especially on a bike. At Salta we stayed at the only budget accommodation I can recommend in Argentina - Hostal San Jorge. A clean room with shared bathroom with the bonus of a comfy living room, use of a small cooker, laundry facilities a wonderful garden all run by a lady who behaved like she was our mother. $20 per night. Perfect.

We spent a few days there chilling, went on a very interesting ride to Cafayete passing through a gorge with very wild scenery that became progressively more desert like for the last half of the trip. The colours of the rocks were often reds and purples as well as the normal brown colour and some of the features were very weird. Great biking road too! Cafayete was pleasant but a sandstorm was developing so we escaped into a restaurant for what was probably our best meal in Argentina. The ride back was fun too but we ended up arriving in Salta after dark and in the rain. We got lost and there was no way we could keep up with the kid on a trail bike who offered to lead us to the hostal. To the inside of an ambulance was more likely so eventually we found our own way.

Bike and hill views, Cafayete, Argentina, South America.

Bike and hill views, Cafayete, Argentina, South America


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Although we haven't been to Bolivia, we have experienced Bolivian cuisine at a cheap family run restaurant in Salta. The man serving us conspiratorially asked us if we liked rock music. Yes. I'm really into the Doors he told us and pulled a friend over. We're both rockers he said pointing out their sideburns to emphasise the point. Do you want to listen to the Doors? How could we refuse? After a few songs his mum made him replace it with something more traditional. When we told her of our journey and travel plans she treated us to a free desert. Well, just me really as 'Chenda didn't like it. Bolivian cuisine? It's ok.

After Salta we had a very wet journey back the way we came stopping at Termas de Hondo an the way to Cordoba, a great city which we thoroughly enjoyed. As all Latin American cities the focus is on the main Plaza where we found two really good singers performing on our first night there. Very good acoustic guitar complete with backing band and as far as I could tell, very catchy lyrics, especially the song about Che Guevara. Yes, we were definitely going to enjoy Cordoba.

It is a city full of history with the second oldest university in South America after Lima but with the oldest buildings as Lima was flattened by an earthquake in the 1800s. Much of it was founded by the Jesuits which intrigued 'Chenda who's imagination has definitely been caught by The Mission. A number of pedestrianised streets link most of the sights, which made getting around a pleasure rather than a chore. We also found a lot of shops selling motorcycle tyres. I should have bought a set.

West of Cordoba are the Sierra de Cordoba. Great mountainous scenery, lovely twisty and perfectly smooth roads: fun. We passed through on the way to San Luis, a pleasant city on the way to Mendoza. It wasn't all fun however as at one point on the journey we spent an hour trying to find the correct road to take out of a very hot town. A cop in a shop I went to to buy water put us on the right track.

The ride to Mendoza was extremely windy and I found I couldn't exceed 80kph for most of it as well as having to more or less constantly lean about 20 degrees to the right. At least being overtaken by lorries wasn't a problem as the wind blew any turbulence created by them away from the bike. We had a long rest at the police stop at the provincial border.


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Those police stops had really started to irritate me by this point although we never had any trouble other than at that bent one on the way to Iguazu. They are at every provincial border and sometimes into and out of towns near borders. Each stop potentially involves being stopped 3 times. Once by each province's police force and once by the national Gendarmarie although the Gendarmarie were always the more professional. Often one of the provincial police posts wouldn't be manned and the police never stopped us when it was raining. In comparison we have an awful lot less hassle from the cops in the UK.

Mendoza was another favourite city. A large very well kept city centre with 4 interesting plazas arranged around a central one and a huge park to the west complete with a 1km long artificial lake and park attendants riding around on horseback. All this is set against the backdrop of the white peaks of the Andes. Do we really have to cross that I thought to myself?

After a pleasant time taking it easy in Mendoza for a couple of days it was time to move on to Chile via Puenta del Inca, a natural bridge over a river formed from minerals contained in water from a thermal spring. This is at 2700m in the Andes, about 10km from the border with Chile. A small village based on tourism to the bridge skiing and a small military community has sprung up here. We stayed overnight which was a good idea as not only did we get to see the Puente del Inca with no tourists around, we also could take it easy and acclimatise to the altitude which was affecting both of us.

It is, however a very expensive place. US$50 for a room and that's the low season rate. It is also a very windy place but fantastically set within a steep sided valley and the highest peak of the Andes, Aconcagua reaching over 6000m not far away. Due to mist we couldn't get a good view of Ancongua and the next morning we awoke to find a fresh snow had settled on the peaks of the mountains either side of the valley although not in the valley itself.


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Crossing the border to Chile was done in brilliant sunshine, a complete contrast to the mist 10km back down the road. This was through the main border control, which operated very efficiently although the Chilean officials weren't as helpful as they could have been. Our Carnet was stamped when we produced it but really there was no need for it. They could have said. They also could have told us where to get the necessary immigration forms before we queued for admittedly a very short time. Minor niggles which made us think that despite the expense we would miss Argentina for the friendly open welcome people generally gave us. Loads of people would come up and talk to us out of pure curiosity and no ulterior motive.

We met two Brazilian bikers at the border who had all their oranges taken off them by the agriculture police. We gave up some mankey garlic (it was about time we checked how it was surviving anyway) and a bit of honey.

Chile's agriculture was saved from foreign disease that day.

The Brazilians had rode through the Amazon area on part of their journey They rode a Yamaha XT600 - sensible trail bike, and a Suzuki Intruder a custom style machine - a mad choice considering where they went. On one occasion they took 3 days to cover 100km cos the Suzuki kept getting stuck.

At least it had a 21" front wheel so a trail tyre could be fitted. If we'd attempted to go through the Amazon area on the NTV we'd still be there!

The road to Santiago from the border was another amazing biking road for most of the journey. A lovely well surfaced switchback road with dramatic views of mountains all around must have descended about 1000m within 1km of the border and later became a new motorway where unfortunately we had to pay tolls. We were used to being waved through toll barriers free of charge in Argentina once we'd left Buenos Aires.

Finding a place to stay in Santiago was a pain as all the signs to the centre disappear once we got close to it. We must have rode past our turning at least 3 times before I figured it out. No thanks to the cop who hurriedly gave us wrong directions in order to get rid of us. We stayed in a cheap (for Santiago - US$20) but run down place within walking distance of the centre. Free parking in the nearby estacionmiento after a couple of attempts to get it into the hostal with much encouragement from the owner's son proved to be very dangerous.


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The centre of Santiago was very pleasant arranged around the Plaza de Armas which contains a great Picasso inspired statue in one corner as well as the usual one to an ancient hero and is surrounded on three sides by fastish food places. They display an example of all their dishes in their shopfronts and walking by feels a bit like walking through a food morgue.

We did end up finding a very nice place to eat and found Chilean cuisine much more varied than that in Argentina as well as being a lot more affordable. They do believe in the existence of salads, vegetables and especially fish. What a relief!

The Palacio del Gobierno was definitely on our agenda as it was President Allendes last stand in the face of attacks by the Chilean airforce during the 1973 coup. Well, the damage had been repaired and there seems to be no reference to the coup anywhere. The building, unfortunately is ugly to my eye. It's not so much the design but the choice of a grey concrete like finish combined with the backs of air-conditioning units sticking out of most windows, which does it for me.

The City is supposed to be brilliantly set with the white peaks of the Andes as a backdrop. Unfortunately those promised peaks were invisible through the smog we found when we were there. We did however enjoy sunsets from the viewpoint of Cerro Santa Lucia and the had fun watching some kids practicing rock and roll and salsa dancing. The harder side of life was apparent at the bottom of Cerro Santa Lucia where students tried to sell photocopies of their (so they said) poems in order to get the money for their course fees.

They told us they were US$200 and we bought 2 for $1. Better than nothing I thought.

By this point the bikes tyres were well past their prime but were not entirely worn. I reasoned we were unlikely to find any more until Lima so went hunting for a new set. Not as straightforward as I expected unfortunately and we ended up buying a set of radials for a sports bike which cost about twice what I'd pay for a set of crossply BT45s in the UK.

Definitely should have replaced them in Cordoba but that was almost 1500km earlier. Still, they're the best tyres I've ever had on the bike in terms of handling but the back one isn't lasting as long as the old one.


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Although we still had more to see in Santiago we were drawn to the Pacific coast and headed off the next day. Dual carriageway took us out of Santiago and after an hour most traffic disappeared. Soon after we were stopped by the police who claimed we'd ridden through a radar trap at 106kph where the limit is 100kph. Now, apart from the fact you would never get stopped for such a minor infringement in the UK unless you were considered to be doing something dangerous, I didn't believe I had exceeded the limit and insisted that their radar must have made an error.

After discussing this point for 20 minutes with 2 different cops as well as chatting about our trip and Spanish lessons we were eventually sent on our way. I guess they decided that on the one hand they quite liked us and on the other we were too much trouble to deal with. Six Chileans we later met in Cusco said we were very lucky and had we been Chileans there is no way we'd have got away. Two other drivers were done in the 20 minutes we were there.

We were looking forward to some time lazing on the beach and went to a small place called Pichindangui or something like that. Niceish but far too cold for swimming so we went for long walks instead. We really shouldn't have wandered into a military training ground but it wasn't our fault. No signs you see but at least the group of about 50 soldiers we almost ran into didn't bother to approach us. This probably happens to them all the time.

It was fun to be by the Pacific and we enjoyed some of the best fish dishes of the trip so far with some excellent Chilean wine.

Bike and Pacific Ocean, Chile, South America.

Bike and Pacific Ocean, Chile, South America

We met a fun Swiss couple there and met them again in the next town, La Serena. I don't have much to say about La Serena other than it was a pleasant enough place beyond which the Atacama Desert starts. The desert goes on until just south of the Peru/Ecuador border.

The desert started off fairly interestingly with lots of pink and purple flowers as it had recently rained but then turned ugly and boring. In fact most places in the Atacama are remote and really only geared up to mining nitrate, calcium or copper, loading the stuff onto ships or fishing and perhaps some local tourism. The mines are all open cast and everything is on a grand scale. Normal tipper trucks can carry 20 tons but those at the mines can carry 250 tons and are so big I heard ordinary trucks have to drive around mines with flagpoles attached so the big ones know they're there.

In fact it's mostly pretty grim with the landscape in the southern 2/3 of the Chilean part of the desert being a browny-grey colour. The hills are like small mountains (500m) and much of it rises straight out of the Pacific.

There is a sort of plateau at about 750m 20kms inland with loads of those hills around valleys. The air is generally clear so visibility is often about 80kms depending on where you are - e.g. the top of a hill.


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After La Serena we spent the night at a nice resort place called Bahia Ingles. Mind you, its only nice if you don't look too closely at the ground which was full of rubbish and this was low season. I blame the local dogs as much as anything. They regularly empty the contents of dustbins and spread it about in their search for food. Can't blame them for all the broken glass in the sand though.

The next place was Taltal which would normally be an insignificant place best avoided but towns with reasonable accommodation, a place to buy food and petrol are few and far between in that part of the world. Mind you, we did stay at a brilliantly situated hotel with a patio on the edge of the beach where we watched one of the most memorable sunsets we saw in South America and had a good supper of snacks bought from one of the few shops in town.

Finally we arrived in Antofagasta, a nice city where we enjoyed a free classical concert put on by the Council, a pleasant Plaza and a fun walk along a nearby beach which in contrast to Bahia Ingles was only polluted by seagulls. Antofagasta is a major city in the Atacama and you certainly know this on the approach to it. In either direction for 20km on the PanAm Highway are a succession of advert hoardings in the desert. The desert may be boring and ugly but the hoardings don't help. Having said that, I've been conditioned to hate them after years of working as a planner.

The one real highpoint of the Atacama was San Pedro De Atacama. It's an oasis at 2700m with mountains all around including a number of volcanoes that go up to 5800m. Its still desert though and there the colours of the landscape are far more interesting - reds and bluey purple with, of course, brown. Being an oasis there are lots of green things. Bright green.

During the day it reaches 30 degrees but at night it's about 10. Being dry its fine. On the coast its cooler up to 25 but generally only about 15 even at midday if it's cloudy as it often is on the coast. 20kms inland it's almost always clear and hotter as the cooling effect of the Pacific (cold water currents here) can't reach that far. We enjoyed visiting Valle de La Luna, some pre Inca ruins a short walk from town but best of all, just riding there. The dry, jagged, larger than life landscape was really interesting.

I felt like we were riding through the fossilised bones of some fantastically huge monster. The teeth were the best bit! There was a lot more we could have done in San Pedro but after 2 days we felt it was time to move on.


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After the high of San Pedro we found ourselves spending the night in a desolate place called Tocopillo which is built around a port exporting nitrate and has no other purpose. We did however get to see a very good FREE concert but even so, like lots of similar places, the sight of a ramshackle town surrounded by the bare brown/grey mountains rising straight out of a cold ocean is a grim one. At least we had fun there and - this is important -we didn't spend too much.

From Tocopillo the road runs along the coast and is very interesting. Lots of nice curves with a good surface. The road led to Iquique, which I quite liked although the sea and beach were as polluted as any other I'd seen.

There we met a really fun German biker, Werner, on a Transalp who stayed at the same residencial as us. He was looking for a replacement chain for his bike and I also wanted to replace my spark plugs. We'd both heard you could get lots of stuff for bikes at a duty free shopping area on the edge of town. Unfortunately this was not true. You can buy a whole bike but no parts, not even tyres. Neither of us had any luck at local bike shops and workshops either. What our bikes had would just have to last.

'Chenda was ill with a stomach bug there but still insisted on going to see some geoglyphs, shapes made on the hillside with rocks by some very bored Indians who lived there centuries ago. That was a 200km round trip.

Interesting but hot - very hot.

Werner Zwick, in the desert near Arica, Chile.

Werner Zwick, in the desert near Arica, Chile

The next day was a travel day to Arica, the most northerly city in Chile, 30kms south of the Peruvian border. We met Werner again outside an abandoned mining town and as he was heading the same way we rode together stopping at various geoglyphs and generally had a lot of fun. It was a long ride with a couple of long delays at roadworks where we had to stop for half an hour on two occasions. We got to Arica at about 5:30 where we went our separate ways. Us to a nice hostal run by a French man who married a Chilean and Werner to Potosi, a town 120kms further up the road towards Bolivia. It is at about 2500m and Werner wanted to spend the night there to acclimatise to a higher altitude so he could push on to La Paz the next day.

It was fun riding with him. I hadn't been riding with anyone since I left England and it was good to be able to do it again.

Werner had quite a good scam going by effectively permanently importing his bike to South America yet avoiding paying customs duties. He'd find a friendly mechanic to leave the bike with an a country with lax enforcement of either customs regulations or border controls at certain border posts and then make sure he returned to ride the bike out of the country once a year before his Carnet expired. That way he'd get a motorcycling holiday once or twice a year in South America without having to spend money on freighting it back and forth. Last I heard his bike is successfully stored in La Paz awaiting his return. Unfortunately, he also managed to get mugged in La Paz.

Ed. Note: Read more about Werner Zwick's adventures in South America and Antarctica on this site.


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The next day we arrived in Peru - Tacna - having decided to give a round about route to Lake Titicaca via Bolivia a miss. We thought it was the only paved link to the Altiplano and if we followed it we'd have to retrace our steps to get to Lima costing us at least a week which we weren't prepared to do. Plan A therefore was to go to Arequipa and arrange getting to Puno/Cusco/Machu Pichu by train. Plan B however was to investigate a new road link to the Bolivian border at Lake Titicaca 150kms from Puno, which an old man in Tacnas main square told us about... Hopefully wouldn't cost us more than a day if it wasn't possible as it apparently leaves the PanAm highway halfway between Tacna and Arequipa. My main concern was riding all the way to 4000ish metres in one go without stopping somewhere overnight to acclimatise. Roads up in the Altiplano are supposed to be fine; it's just the connections between the coast and there which I thought were crap.

Well, the man we met in Tacna was right! The trip from Tacna to Puno was amazing. We rode 100 miles to Moquegua where we were told the new road started and asked a traffic cop if the road really existed. He said yes it did and gave us directions. After half an hour what was a fantastic new road appeared to turn into a dirt road and disappear around a hill. I almost gave up there and then, as I just couldn't believe there was a good road all the way to Puno. After a bit of discussion we continued along it and after about 300m the good surface started again and never let up.

The road was amazing, twisting back and forth up hill for and hour or more. We had no idea how high we were but 'Chenda started to feel really weak at that point so we must have been higher than 2500m. It also got cooler even though there was brilliant sunshine. Eventually we passed a sign informing us we were now at 4755m! I must admit I was feeling it then too but nowhere near as bad. Previous journeys to places at between 2500m and 3000m must have left me partially acclimatised to the altitude. Unfortunately there was no town to stop at and spend the night at a sensible height of about 2500m. The road just went straight up!

We stopped for a late lunch at a very poor small town called Mazo Cruz where 2 bowls of cazuela - a kind of soup - and 1 plate of lamb stew, rice and veg cost about 1 pound. Very tasty but the place was a bit of a shack. I won't describe what passed for a loo there but it was the dirtiest I've seen. Unfortunately the food didn't help 'Chendas altitude sickness. Petrol was available in Mazo Cruz from a man with a petrol pump inside his shop.

Weird. Also strange to see most people, well, women only really, wearing traditional clothes.

The road continued to Desaguadero on the border with Bolivia, a total length of 300km. Riding on the altiplano - a large area of level ground between mountains at around 3800m - was an odd sensation. I'd never really expected to get the bike there. There was lots of low-tech farming and instead of herds of cattle there were herds of Llama or Alpaca. The area we were passing through was really windswept. We passed mountains and volcanoes, which must have reached 6000m and a small lake with about 100 pink flamingos.


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Desaguadero was a dump and we soon passed through, chased out by some of the local dogs. Soon after we came over a rise in the road and there was a deep blue Lake Titicaca in front of us with snow capped mountains on the Bolivian side of the lake in the background. I really didn't expect to see it so suddenly and for it to look so stunning. I'm sure I wobbled the bike at the distraction.

That was about 5:30pm and we still had 150kms to go to Puno. It gets dark there at about 6:30 and we saw a dramatic sunset on the way. The road does run alongside the lake for much of its length between Desaguadero and Puno but I was so intent on making the most of the light I didn't really look at it. Once there it was a bit like being back in Arusha with loads of touts who want to find you a hotel and sell you an excursion. We used one man and then took a room on the hotel next door to the one he wanted us to stay in.

He wasn't pleased but we'd managed to find a comfortable room and a secure place for the bike for about 7 pounds a night.

We spent the next day chilling and arranged a trip to the floating Uros Islands and Taquille, a real island. The Uros were fun. People survive by flogging stuff to tourists - we bought a wall hanging - and fishing. They make the islands from reeds and anchor them in shallow parts of the lake (3m deep). Originally they were formed by local Indians to get out of the way of wars between the Incas and others, mostly the Ayamara. Ayamara and the Inca language, Quechua, are still spoken here and some real islands speak one while the neighbouring island will speak the other. Spanish of course is the common language although many people speak all 3. I thing the Uros speak Ayamara but I'm not sure. Their Spanish did not seem entirely fluent.

Taquille was also fun although we really needed to have spent the night on there to get a proper feel for it. For me sailing on Lake Titicaca was the best bit of the trip - very blue and calm, almost pond like.

Having enjoyed the lake it was off to Cusco on a pretty good road other than lots of roadworks for the last 140kms. The first bit was another fantastic ride through the altiplano on a brand new road. The bike does suffer a loss of power at this height but nothing that going down a gear didn't solve.

Anyway the speed limit is 80kph. It took 8 hours including photo stops, bum rests and a lunch stop to get there. When we did we met 6 mad Chilean bikers on huge Honda Africa Twins who led us to the main square and invited us for a drink. It was large Pisco Sours all round and it was lucky we'd found a hostal that was just round the corner as I didn't fancy riding too far. The sight of 6 Africa Twins and the NTV parked in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco was quite an amazing one, which attracted a lot of attention. The police seemed to automatically park one of their massive Land Cruisers next to the bikes and kept an eye on them. Or did they just want to do us for parking on the pavement when we returned. Whatever, the Chileans had a small chat with them on our return and all was well. Of course a small crowd had formed around the bikes. Well, mostly around the Africa Twins, which are far sexier.


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Cusco is a wonderful place. It has one of the nicest city centres anywhere and is full of history - Inca and Colonial. There are perfect examples of the incredibly precise Inca stone work everywhere, generally being used as the foundations and ground floor of colonial buildings which are also very impressive. The city is a tourist trap of course but we had great fun exploring it and the plethora of Inca ruins around it, which involved a great walk through the surrounding hills. All downhill of course - we took a taxi to the highest ruin called Tambo Machay.

Stephan and campground Puerto del Inca, Peru South America.

Stephan and campground Puerto del Inca, Peru South America

More Inca sightseeing took up the next two days. Yes - Machu Pichu! It was as good as expected although my favourite moments were falling asleep in small grassed areas on both days we were there. You can only go there by train which takes about 4 hours but, at least on the way there, the journey takes in some wonderful scenery which progressively becomes greener as Machu Pichu is much lower at about 2500m compared with 3800m at Cusco. It is amazing to see such well preserved ruins even if they are crawling with tourists like us. It's the noisy school parties which take away from the atmosphere of the place - Latin Americans don't do anything quietly.

The town associated with Machu Pichu is Agua Calientes, which mixes tourist trap with a bit of the wild west to my mind. I think it's the way the train line goes down the main street that really makes it. We took a hotel room overlooking it, as the noise wasn't going to be a problem. We got up early enough to catch the 6:30am bus to the ruins on our second day there.

Unfortunately it was cloudy and soon started to rain as clouds rose up the sides of the valley. The rain only lasted an hour and then the fast moving clouds just added to the atmosphere. By afternoon it was back to bright sunshine. I felt sorry for the people who'd walked the Inca Trail for 3 days, got up at 3:30am to see Machu Pichu bathed in early morning sunshine as the walked through the Sun Gate only to be greeted by a thick mist.

Sometimes you just have to be lucky. One walker we spoke to, however, said the number of other perfect Inca sites they passed on previous days of the walk made it all worthwhile. Good!

The train journey back was largely in the dark so was very boring. The next day we had a chill out day apart from losing my wedding ring at yet another Inca site. A slightly panicky 45 minutes followed my realisation of the loss while we retraced our steps. I am very relieved to say we found it again. I must be more careful with it.

That day was rounded off by going to a biker pub run by an American. I had a good but fairly short chat with him as I didn't want to bore 'Chenda with too much bike talk. He was a nice guy who came to Cusco in 1989 on a BMW R80GS.


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Retracing our steps to Puno we had the good fortune to avoid a number of showers, which seemed to pass all around us - it was after all the rainy season. Arriving there seemed a bit like coming home. It's nice to go somewhere familiar again. Unfortunately 'Chenda was laid up the next day with a stomach bug. Still, I had fun finding some out of the way places and having an interesting chat with one of the waitress in our favourite restaurant. She was determined to marry a foreigner and when she realised I wasn't available we discussed the practicalities of a) persuading someone to fall for her, and b) how easy, once she was married, it would be to avoid problems with immigration in whichever country her husband came from. Good luck to her I say.

Once 'Chenda had recovered we continued on to Arequipa. Now that was a seriously long journey. Thirteen hours! We followed the same route to Moquegua we had followed on the way up to the Altiplano only this time without the effects of altitude sickness and with the opportunity to take lots of early morning shots by Lake Titicaca. We left at about 6:00am and it was very cold for the first two hours.

It was almost nice to get back down to the desert but that was just because we wanted to move on. Arequipa has a very nice city centre and we treated ourselves to an expensive hotel (US$20) after the long ride. The two most impressive places there were the Plaza and Santa Catalina Convent. Santa Catalina had been closed to the outside world since it was founded in the 1600's until 1971 and provided a very picturesque snapshot of what Arequipa may have looked like in the 1700's. It was so photogenic I used up almost a whole roll of film. I hadn't done that since Iguazu Falls!

The PanAm led us through lots more desert to Lima via the resort town of Huacachina. A genuine oasis beautified with a classical promenade around what has unfortunately become a very polluted lake. It looked really good from a distance. The dunes around it are huge Hollywood style dunes, which take an age to climb and very little time to sandboard down. We saw lots of people fall off their boards after less than 50m and then have to watch the board continue without them for the next 300m.


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Lima was mad for traffic but we stayed in the much saner suburb of Miraflores. I must admit, for the oldest Colonial city in South America and the hub of the Spanish Empire there, the centre of Lima is dull. Cusco is a far more interesting place.

We tried to fly the bike to Panama from Lima but it just wasn't meant to be.

All the airlines with direct flights used planes too small to take the bike whilst those that could fit the bike in went via either Miami or Santiago so the price was phenomenal. We didn't fancy putting it on a ship after Kenya so opted for trying our luck in Ecuador. That meant several more days on the road and by then I was getting concerned I hadn't serviced the bike at all since Buenos Aires, 12000km previously, and that was just an oil change.

Getting out of Lima was slow going but we did have some help from the police who got us to follow them until we were on the right road. The destination for that day was Trujillo and we did make it but not until we had a puncture in the rear tyre and 5 minutes after discovering that getting fine US$80 for speeding. I'd forgotten we were in a 50kph limit and was travelling at 85kph so that was my own fault. At least the tyre was holding air despite a piece of metal sticking out of it. Our first puncture since we started the trip!

The hotel we were looking for in Trujillo had closed down so as it was after dark on a hard day we ended up treating ourselves to a nice hotel where we were given a suite for US$50 per night. The jaccuzi didn't work unfortunately...

After getting the tyre repaired the next morning we explored some pre Inca ruins on the edge of town which left us even more ruined out. Travel fatigue? That evening was spent enjoying our hotel room.


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Really we had left South America behind in our minds when we left Lima so the next two days to Guayaquil held little interest for us. Just more ground to cover. We passed interesting beach resorts on the northern Peruvian Coast and saw the landscape turn tropical as we approached the Ecuadorian border. That border was straightforward despite attempts by moneychangers to cheat us on both sides of the border. Oh the joys of programmable calculators! Well, we got good rates for the small amount we changed and gave very little to the people who supposedly had helped us through formalities but in fact did very little. They wanted US$20. They got US$2 and that was just to make them go away. US$1 buys a cheap 2-course lunch in either country.

Ecuadorian driving was slightly crazier than that in Peru and the road surface slightly worse but by now this didn't phase us too much. We reached Guayaquil, the commercial capital of Ecuador by mid afternoon and settled into a youth hostel by the airport.

At the airport we got the same response from airlines that we'd got in Lima so we found ourselves a good agent and selected the shipping option with great reluctance. We cleared customs the next day and expected to have the bike crated after the weekend giving us 3 days to kill. Guayaquil only has enough interest for 2 days however. Still, the hostal did have cable tv and I could spend lots of time on the Internet, which if not as cheap as in Peru was still cheap. I suppose the price difference may have something to do with Ecuador abandoning the Sucre and adopting the dollar as their currency 6 months previously.

On the Monday no progress was made with the shipping but we did manage to get plane tickets to Panama for the following Saturday by when we should have received a bill of lading from the shipping company. Tuesday hit us with the news that the ship would leave 5 days late. There was no way we wanted that sort of delay so we asked the agent to come up with something else. He did. If we were able to get the bike to the airport by 11:00am it could depart for Panama on a LACSA flight leaving at 4:00pm! We got going riding the wrong way up a one way street to avoid a bonfire at one junction lit by strikers from a nearby factory and arrived with 10 minutes to spare.

The airline said get a crate built and make sure the bike was cleared through customs and the police (drug searches - all taken very seriously that close to Columbia) by 3:00pm and it would be on the plane. Chaos ensued with a carpenter working like crazy and lots of people advising him.

I drained the oil and most of the petrol and tied the bike down to the base of the emerging crate. Once the crate was completed off the bike and I went to customs which sorted the necessary paperwork to say the bike was leaving the country by plane on day early. The police did their drug search and didn't find any so all was fine. It was 2:45ish. We'd made it. The chappie from the airline was surprised we didn't have to give the police any money.

All that remained was to pay the airline and our agent, change our flight to Panama for the next morning and we were free. Able to continue our journey and make that date for Christmas in Costa Rica.

Well, that's all for now folks!

Previous Story - Africa


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Story and photos copyright © Stephan Solon 2000-2001.
All Rights Reserved.
Grant Johnson


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