That´s 100 days and 8800 miles since I left the USA, not counting the month I spent riding around the US before that. I have been slacking in my blogular duties, so I just wanted to post something so that people wouldn´t think I rode off the edge of the map or something. I am taking a rest day today in Huaraz Peru, so I might get some writing done.
While I was in Banos with Enrique and Isaac, I sw that they had mountain bike rentals, and as I had been pretty sluglike lately, figured I could do with some exercise. Banos is only 40 miles or so from Ambato, so when I left Ambato, after saying goodbye to Xavier and thanking him for all their kindness, I headed back to Banos. I got there and found a room, and just looked around town, and went to one of the excellent restaurants there, and just took it easy. The next day I went to one of the bike shops and rented a bike for the day. Going east from banos is all downhill for the first 20 miles, as Banos is up in the Andes, and it drops off fast into the Amazon basin in the Oriente province of Ecuador. After that it is rolling hills to the town of Puyo, where you can catch a bus back to Banos, and throw the bike on the roof. I had a fairly uneventful ride, except for waiting out some rain in a little store on the way, and found a bus without any trouble. The conductor kind of looked digusted that he had to climb up on the roof to put the bike up here, but he did it. Hey, it could have been a crate of live chickens. That night I met a group of British women on a group tour of several countries down here, and it turns out they rode the "World's Most Dangerous Road" in Bolivia, on mountain bikes. I think the name is marketing hype, I hope, but this road drops 7,000 feet or something crazy in just a few miles, and I had planned on either doing it on the motorcycle, or mountain bike. I'm still not sure which, but they all gave it good reviews, and I know which mountain bike place they went through, so I will check it out when I get to LaPaz.
I had now been in the Ambato area for almost a week, and decided I needed to get some miles in, so the next day I headed south on the PanAm, to Cuenca. I spent most of the day riding in fairly heay traffic, and by the time I got to Cuenca, my face was black with diesel smoke. That, combined with the ash the volcano in Banos was putting out started a sore throat that I still have. Cuenca is one of the few surviving colonial era cities in Ecuador, it reminded me of Mexico in some ways. After Cuenca you have two choices, down to the coast, or stay in the mountains. I had talked with Ricardo Rocco, a guy who runs guied motorcycle trips in Ecuador, back in Quito, and he said the mountain route was prettier, and the border was easier there too, so that's what I did. I could maybe have made the border that day, but chose to stop early, in the town of Loja for the night. Unfortunately, something I ate there didn't agree with me. The only thing unusual I ate was a blended fruit juice thing, but who knows if that was really it. Anyway, I spent some time getting familiar with the toilet facilities in my room, and didn't feel up to riding the next day, so I stayed another night and OD'ed on CNN, since the hotel had it on cable, which was the first time I had seen it in English for a while.
Still feeling a little wobbly, I headed for the Peru border on Saturday morning. Ricardo had steered me right on this road, you got some views that are just incredible. The vertical relief in the Andes is just amazing. The rockies in Colorado and Montana have a more rugged look to them, but the scale of the Andes just blows me away, the Andes being so much taller. Then the bad side of mountain driving came into view. I saw a dump truck all wadded up against a cliff face on a descent called Nariz del Diablo, or nose of the devil. There was already a police car and ambulance there, but the driver was dead. They had him laying in the road, with a blanket over him. I suppose he overheated his brakes and couldn't make the corner. Makes you think, of course.
So, let's see. When I left off I was headed for the Peruvian border. I had elected to stay in the mountains, and not cross on the coastal route that is more populated. As usual, this turned out to be a good choice, as far as border formalities go. The border guards were pretty bored and had nothing better to do than process me through. Total time, about 40 minutes for both sides, total cost $0. The town on the Peru side was La Tina, I don't recall the nearest town on the Ecuador side. You are losing altitude pretty steadily as you approach the border, after crossing the border the country changes immediately, drying out and becoming more rolling hills than mountains. By the time you hook up with the main highway again in the town of Sullana, you are down on the coastal desert floor. Up until this time, Peru looked like anywhere in rural Latin America. After getting on the main highway, it started looking like a dump. You could see where garbage trucks would just drive out into the desert and dump their loads. Some of the piles would be on fire, which added the nice smell of burning plastic to the mix. Maybe I had just gotten too used to first world conditions in Colombia and Ecuador, but this was not a favorable first impression of Peru. My first destination was the ruins of Chan Chan, near Trujillo, but I knew I couldn't get there the first day, so I just hammered out as many miles as I could, and got a room in a roadside hotel.
The next day, I got an early start and made Trujillo early in the day. I found a room in a little hostal in the beachside suburb of Huanchaco. Huanchaco is a weekend getaway for Trujillo residents, as I got there on a Sunday and it was packed, and Monday it was just about deserted. Monday, I spent the day going to the various ruins with a Canadian woman I met at the hostal. Yes, she ended every other sentence with; eh? Chan Chan was huge, but wasn't particularly impressive other than its' size. What I really enjoyed was The Palace of the Sun and Moon, or something close. This place had more detail work and the construction techniques left some incredibly well preserved original paint on some of the murals from the 800's AD or something.
Tuesday, I left Trjillo early, with the intention of making it to Huaraz. Huaraz is in a valley between two mountain ranges, many of which are over 6,000 meters. You turn off the PanAm at the little town of Santa, and climb up following a river through a canyon. Starting down on the desert floor, the canyon is totally naked rock, with not a speck of green. As you climb, there starts to be vegetation. About 50 miles of this route is gravel, but not especially rough, although some of the bridge decking leaves something to be desired. Once you top out of the canyon, the road becomes paved again, and this portion of the drive is supposed to be spectacular, with views of the snow capped peaks. I can't confirm that , as about this time it started raining, and there was no visibility upwards. I made it to Huaraz in mid afternoon, and got a room in probably the best run hotel I have seen snce the states. A little expensive by Peru standards at $15 a night, I was ready for some luxury after riding in the rain. Besides, my stomach troubles from Ecuador had morphed into a head cold, and I thought this would be a good place to rest and regroup a little. The big attration in Huaraz is mountain climbing and high altitude trekking, and there are lots of guide services for all the adventure sports here. This means there are excellent restaraunts and tourist services here. Naturaly high prices go with that. From here the decision is how to go from here to Cuzco. The easy way is to go back down to the PanAm, through Lima, to Nazcz, and up to Cuzco, all paved. The alternative is to go east up over the mountain range on the east side of the valley on a mixture of gravel and pavement, and on to Cuzco the back way. Hmmm, you know which is more appealling, except that there will be a lot of stopping and asking directions. It would mean bypassing the Nazca lines, but I can live with that.
Another border crossing done. I think that is 9 down and 3 to go.
One of about 30 tunnels on the road up the canyon towards Huaraz. This is just a little baby one.
When they expanded the temple at The Palace of the Sun and Moon, they covered up the old facade, preserving it almost perfectly. The paint you see is from 800 AD or something. I thought this site was much cooler than Chan Chan, if you can only see one, this is it.
On my next trip I am going to use a giant fiberglass chicken as a top box.
While I was in Huaraz, I met a German/Swiss couple, Horst and Ruth, Who were staying at the same hotel I was. There were celebrating the 20,000th kilometer of their bicycle trip. That's right, bicycle. They have been on the road for 15 months or something like that, starting in Canada, and are now in central Peru. Makes me feel pretty wimpy, doing all this motorcycle riding. A day later, we were joined by their German friend Annette, who they had met in Panama. Annete was riding the length of the Americas as well, having not gotten enough riding to satisfy herself on her trip cycling Africa from the Cape to the Mediterranean. These people have more patience than I do, although I do understand the appeal, having once done a 500+ mile ride back in Wisconsin once. Anyway, we all went to dinner at a place I had found a couple days before, Chili Heaven, run by a British guy, Simon, who had motorcycled Africa and the Americas. Simon has a KTM 950, and has a 990 on order from the KTM dealer in Lima. Funny how you run into people like this.
When I finally left Huaraz, I started up a gravel road towards Huanuco, intending to kind of take the back way to Cuzco. I started out easy enough, on a graded gravel road, in cool temperatures. After 20 miles or so, the road climbed into the clouds, and it began raining. Soon after, the road turned to dirt, and climbed over a pass and it started sleeting and snowing, and the mud had a little crust of ice on it. Mind you, this is at about 10 degrees south latitude, way inside the topics. After descending somewhat, I went back up over a pass that was 4670 meters above sea level, that is 15,318 feet, according to Bill Gates' Windows calculator. That is the highest I have ever been, without help from an airplane. The KLR just kept chugging along, down on power and with noticeably less engine braking, but no real problems. This was one of those days where I was really glad I was on a motorcycle, as there is no way you would get to see this kind of remote country otherwise. I took a bunch of pictures, but landscape pictures are a little fustrating, as you only get a tunnel view through the camera, when it is all around you in real life. Soon after the econd pass, I intersected with a paved road and had a decision to make. Turn left, and it would be 3 more days of this kind of thing, through the mountains, with lousy maps. Turn right, and in 3 hours I could be back at sea level on the PanAm. I hate to admit it, but I turned right. As remote as the country I was travelling through was, I just felt I couldn't take the chance on doing it alone. I had seen a couple of sheep herders, but no other traffic on the road, and in the sleet and ice thought, better to live to ride another day. My main concern was getting lost though. Maybe next time, with some more preparation and better maps. Anybody want to fly to Lima, rent bikes and explore the Huaraz area for a couple weeks? In a couple years when my wallet recovers.
From 15,000 feet, down to sea level is a long way. You just descend and descend, it doesn't seem like you should be able to go downhill that long. I made me think of my cycling friends making that climb, when they came up from Trujillo. Soon I was down at the coast again. It was still quite cold, which has surprised me about the coast of Peru. The cold Humboldt current comes up the west coast of South America from Antarctica, and dominates the weather, creating the coastal deserts here. The next day, I just rode, for the most part, except I did stop to check out some sand dunes west of the highway.
About the time I was thinking about stopping for the night, the speedometer on the bike quit working. That may not sound like a big deal, since no one pays any attetion to speed limits anyway, but the odometer is a crucial piece of equipment in remote areas, as that is your gas gauge. I was in Ica when this happened, so I got a room in a hotel near a motorcycle shop. After a little disassembly, I found that the worm gear in the speedo drive had seized. Something had to give when that happened, and luckily it was a washer with internal and external tangs to drive the gearset. I was able to get the worm gear freed up and lubed over at the motorcycle shop, and hammered and filed the drive washer until it looked more or less like it was supposed to. It's not perfect, but it worked fine for 120 miles today, so with luck it will keep working. I'll look at it again when I change tires in a couple thousand more miles. I think all the water crossings this bike has done washed the lube out of the speedo drive. Now let's hope the wheel bearings make it.
After Ica, it was a fairly short ride to Nazca the next day. Nazca's tourism business is built around the famous Nazca lines. Nobody knows why these were built, and the fact that they can only be seen properly from the air has fueled all kinds of speculation that they were built to signal aliens and who knows what all. On the highway going into town there is a tower built for looking at a couple of the figures, so I climbed up that. I was interested enough that when I got to town, I looked into an airplane trip to see the lines. For $50 you can go up in a 4 seat plane for 40 minutes or so and loook at the lines. It was me and a British couple on my flight, plus the pilot. We went early in the morning, when the winds were lightest, but wind was the least of our worries. The pilot banked the plane to where it felt like we were vertical in both directions to get the best views out the windows. This was the closest I have been to acrobatic manuevers in a plane yet. I kept an eye on the airspeed indicator when we did climbs and banks, but the pilot was really good and didn't scare me at all. The British woman did hurl into the plastic bag thoughtfully provided by the pilot, and I felt queasy a time or two myself, but it was worth it for the ride. As for the lines, they were OK, but didn't blow my socks off or anything. I don't think it is that big a mystery, leisure time + creative energy = art. If you have a desert to work with, that is what you use. But it was a cool flight anyway.
From Nazca, I rode towards Cuzco, over a couple of big passes, and across a high plain that has to be over 4,000 meters. There were a couple of lakes up here with pink Flamingoes on them, and a lot of Vicunas, a deer like critter. There were enough of them that you had to keep a sharp eye out, as they would run across the road, and it would not be fun to hit one. Most of this trip, I have only had to worry about livestock on the road, not wild animals, so I had to realign my thinking as if I was in west Texas, or northern Wisconsin. This was a really pretty ride on good asphalt most of the way. It was cold, being at such altitude, and for the last two hours it rained. I pulled into Cuzco cold and wet, but found a place to stay near the center of town with good parking for the bike. That's where I am now, in Cuzco. I signed up for a 2 day trip to Machu Pichu from here. I was going to do the full 4 day hike up the Inca trail, but it has rained so much, I just don't feel like walking in the rain for 4 days, so I am taking the easy way out and getting somehelp from a train. I will write more a bout Cuzco when I get back.
These 3 pictures were taken on a very remote road, east of Huaraz, Peru. Naturally, photos donñt do justice to the scenery.
This is the famous Ästronaut¨figure at the Nazca Lines.
Mummified remains of some pre Inca people at a cemetery near Nazca. There was a whole cemetery on display like this.
The Plaza de Armas in Cuzco
This is some municipal building in Cuzco, built on top an Inca foundation. The Spaniards tore down what was the Supreme Inca´s palace and built on top the Inca foundation. This building was rebuilt at least twice due to earthquake, but the origina Inca foundation is still being used.
The stone to the left of me is estimated to weigh 6,000 lbs.
More detail of stone work. Nobody really knows how they got them to fit so perfectly.
On the bus ride to Ollantytambo, to catch the train to Machu Picchu, a totally bald tire on the bus blew out. They replaced it with an equally bald spare. At least it was the outside dual. Still made my train though.
If you are going to go to Machu Picchu, you might as well have some mate (mah-TAY) de coca. Coca tea is on the menu of every restaurant in Peru, anyone that thinks we are going to eliminate the crack problem in the US by spraying some parraquat or whatever on the coca fields in Colombia and Peru doesn´t understand how much a part of the culture coca is here. It would be like taking coffee away from Americans. It´s just like any other tea, I didn´t get all whacked out on it or anything. I hope Dick Cheney doesn´t read this, I won´t get back into the US.
The classic shot of Machu Picchu, taken during the 10 minutes the sun was shining.
This was taken from on top the mountain on the right in the previous picture. I worked hard for this photo, so you better appreciate it.
I worked even harder for this one. This in in a little visited part of the park known as the Temple of the Moon. As good of stoneworkers as the Incas were, they didn´t have the arch, and it limited the size of the doors and windows they could build. You´d think someone would have slapped their forehead and said DOH! Apparently not.
I signed up for a group mountain bike ride the day after getting back from Machu Picchu. What was I thinking, my aching quads.
This was an easy part. The route was a lot more down than up, but I now have a lot more respect for downhill racers, as my legs were jelly at the bottom of a descent that took forever. Of course the fact that I had hiked Machu Picchu and was at Norton Rats Pub till midnight the night before had nothing to do with it.
No, this isn´t a gay pride flag. The rainbow had mystical meaning to the Incas, it´s an Inca pride flag. Confuse them at your peril.
I think I have seen more other motorcycle riders here in Cuzco, than the rest of this trip combined.When I first got to town, in the rain, I was riding around the plaza when a guy waved me over to the side walk. At first I thought it was somebody trying to hustle up business for a hotel, but then I noticed he was wearing a motorcycle jacket. It turned out that Leo was a Thai, who has ben living in Switzerland for several years. He was staying in a hostal with 2 other riders, and invited me to stay with them. The place turned out to be a dump, really, but it had good courtyard parking for the bikes, and was in a good location. Good location being stumbling distance from Norton Rat's Pub. Norton Rats is owned by an American who came down here in the late 80's on a bike, liked it, and found a way to stay here. As you might expect, Jeffrey, the owner, is into Nortons, but his daily rider is a Triumph Speed Triple. First honest to God biker bar I have been in since the US of A. Everyone who comes to Peru ends up in Cuzco at some point, and if you are on a bike, you end up at Norton Rats. There were Brits, Germans, a South African, a Swiss, and me the lone American, except for the owner.
Machu Picchu lived up to it's hype. It really was as stunning as the pictures make it look to be. But first I had to get there. This place must be a gold mine for the Peruvian government. First off, there is a $36 fee to enter the grounds. Then, the town where you have access to Machu Picchu from, Aguas Calientes, is not served by road, only train, and there are two classes of passenger, "local" and "tourist". A tourist ticket is $22 each way from the town at the end of the road, Ollantytambo. I don't know what a local ticket costs, but probably $2, but you have to show ID proving you are Peruano to get one. Then, you really need to spend 2 nights in Aguas Calientes if you want to have a reasonable amount of time at the ruins. Anyway, I ended up paying $130 for a package deal for all this stuff, including bus transport to Ollantytambo, hotel, and a guide at the ruins, partly because I went through my hotel in Cuzco, and they let me keep my bike and luggage there while I was gone.
Machu Picchu itself was just phenomenal. The mountaintop setting where it is, is the most spectacular of any ancient city I have ever seen. The amount of work that went into fitting some of the stones in incredible. I'll let the pictures in the previous post do the talking on Machu Picchu.
After leaving Cuzco, my next major stop would be La Paz, Bolivia. I knew it would be more than a one day trip, if I took the scenic route, so I stopped for the night in Puno. I only picked it because it was a convenient distance, but it is on the shore of Lake Titicaca, and had a nice waterfront area, with a good sized boat that was built in England in 1860 something, disassembled, shipped to Lima, then packed by mule train over the Andes, and reassembled here.
The next day it was only 100 miles to the Bolivian border, and then maybe another 100 to La Paz. Bolivia is an hour later thean Peru, so that caused me to get to the border at lunch time, so I had to wait around. After lunch, I got processed through in hardly any time, and at no cost. My passport has enough stamps in it now that the border guards get some entertainment looking through it. This guy made a show of wiping his forehead with the back of his hand and said, Whew! Just 5 miles into Bolivia, there is the town of Copacabana. I stoped and ate lunch, and the town was so nice I decided to call it a day here. Really, just a way of delaying the plunge into another big city. I found a place to stay for $2.50, a low for this trip, to make up for spending the princley sum of $13 in Puno the night before. You get what you pay for though. Anyway , I walked up the hill in town to get a view of the lake, and it is spectacular. Titicaca is at 3800 meters, and is at least a couple hundred miles long. I could just see a couple of mountain peaks on the far horizon, other than that, you couldn't see the other shore. Later, I had lasagna, bread, salad, and a glass of wine, all for $3. I'm getting to like Copacabana. The only thing is, you can't stay here and not have that stupid song running through your head. (the hottest spot north of Havana....) Who was that, Barry Manilow? Consider his initials.
To get to La Paz, you have to take a ferry across a strait in the lake, which looked a little scary, till I saw a bus loaded on one of the ferry boats. It floated, so I figured they could handle my bike. They did, and I made it to La Paz by noon. Spent a little time finding a place to stay, and with my bike secure in the lobby of a smal hotel, went out to see the city. One of the things I wanted to do here was ride "The World's Most Dangerous Road". This is a road that goes from La Paz to the town of Coroico, and from the summit at 4780 meters it goes down to 1180 meters in 65 km. The decision was whether to do it on my motorcycle, or ride a mountain bike down it. Back in Banos Ecuador, I met 2 Irish women that had done the road with Gravity Bolivia, a bike tour company in La Paz, and they couldn't say enough about the ride. If you can't take a drunken Irish girl's recommendation, what is the world coming to? So, I went to their office and signed up for the ride the next day.
We met at a restaurant in the morning, and had a van ride up to the summit, where we unloaded the bikes and got ready to ride. My bike was a Kona hardtail, very similar to the Cannondale I have at home. Those wacky Brits have the front brake on the right, and that's the way most of the bikes were, so the main reason I picked this one was to have the brakes in my normal position. You start out with 20km of downhill on pavement, and we seperated into the people who rode the brakes, and those who tucked in and tried to go the fastest. You guess which group I was in. After going through a checkpoint, where I'm told they are most interested in supplies going to the coca labs in the Amazon region, where we were headed, but which we were obviously not carrying on our bikes, we stopped where the road turned to gravel for some instruction on rules of the road. For instance, downhill traffic uses the left side of the road, which has the drop off next to it, and yields to uphill traffic, as the road is only one lane wide, with turnouts for passing. This is the main road between La Paz and the Amazon region, so there is quite a bit of truck and bus traffic. The turns are way to tight for a semi, but you see lots of 20 foot box trucks and 35 passenger buses. They average about 2 buses a year going over the side, which is how the road gets its' name. The road itself is in a lot better shape than some of the gravel roads I have ridden on this trip, but the sheer drops of 3-400 meters are intimidating in places. We started in rain at the top, and it was dusty by the time we got to the bottom. Out of the 8 riders, plus 2 guides, we had one spill by a guy who banged up his knee and elbow bad enough that he rode in the chase van the rest of the day. The best part was that we got the wall side of the road on the way up, since my biggest fear was trusting someone else's driving on the way up. I'm told the record for riding a bicycle up, is 5-1/2 hours, by some New Zealand adventure racer. I'm not going to try and beat it.
So today, Friday, was an errand day, when I got laundry done, mailed some stuff I wasn't using back to Texas, and just got caught up on a few things. Tomorrow, I will head towards Sucre, but I doubt I will do that in one day.
Hot dogging it on the ¨World´s Most Dangerous Road¨
Yeah, I know, hot dogging again.
In my opinion, the scariest place on the WMDR. At least one cyclist has gone over the side here and died.
Lake Titicac, with snow covered mountains in the back ground.
Ferry across Lake Titicaca.
Between Potosi and Uyuni, Bolivia. Southwestern Bolivia looks a lot like the Western US, I can see why Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid set up shop here after things got too hot for them in the US.
Bolivia has some of the richest silver deposits in the world. In the early 1900´s they had some of the most advanced trains here to work the mines. After they had outlived their usefulness, they just parked them out in the desert here. Some of these have been sitting here for over 100 years.
A little anti Bush graffiti at the train graveyard. Roughly translated: ¨G W Busch (sic), like this train, you are finished.¨ They could have at least spelled his name right.
Allan, the guy on the left, is someone I met at a Horizons Unlimited meet in Mexico a few years ago. He and I had kept in email touch and we met up in Uyuni for a few days. You can keep up with his travels at www.worldrider.com, there might even be a video of he and I out on the salt flats on there by now. The 2 on the right are Dutch guys we met on motorcycles here. They run motorcycle tours in Europe, and were here scouting locations for tours in South America.
Lots of empty space out here on the Salar de Uyuni. Much bigger than Bonnevile.
Allan at speed on the salt flat.
We camped for the night near an ïsland¨ in the middle of the salt lake.
Sunset on the Salar de Uyuni.
Between Uyuni and the Argentinian border at Villazon.
For maybe 6 or 10 miles, the road doesn´t exist, you just ride in the river bed. At least there were enough truck tracks to follow so I didn´t get lost. This is the only road between two good sized towns. No one said this would be easy.
No, this isn´t Utah, it´s southwestern Bolivia.
It might not be exciting to you, but this was the first piece of asphalt I had seen in over 400 miles. I wanted to kneel down and kiss it.
With a totally white canvas, and nothing for scale, you can get some very weird effects with a camera. These are not photoshopped in any way.
That is my goal, still a long way away. I crossed the border to Argentina without incident, except waiting in line for 2 busloads of tourists in front of me. About and hour and a half standing in the sun.
Premium fuel at YPF stations in Argentina is refered to as ¨Fangio¨ I asked the attendant if that refered to Juan Manuel, and he was all excited that I knew who he was. You know, Juan Manuel Fangio, the Formula One driver from the 50´s. He is a national hero here, the attendant told me their is a museum devoted to him, but I forgot what city. I´ll have to look it up.
In the same town as the YPF station, a guy on a motorcycle stopped to talk and said he owned property and had an empty apartment which he would rent me by the night. That is where I am now, $8 per night.
"The calendar is magnificent!"
"I just wanted to say how much I'm loving the new, larger calendar!"
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