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Werner Zwick

South American Journeys - Bolivia and Peru

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South American Journeys - Bolivia and Peru

Stage 3 of my South American travels - 18 April - 13 May 2001

In La Paz, I stayed at the Hotel Oberland, a Swiss chalet style hotel, 10km outside of La Paz. Very good, friendly, helpful and with a last minute price of 15$ cheap for what you get. I met Gerald from Backnang near Stuttgart and we travelled together for the next 3 weeks.

Walter Nosiglia had prepared my Transalp perfectly. If you are looking for a reliable motorcycle shop, Nosiglia Sport in La Paz-Calacoto is your choice.

From La Paz we went via the 4700m La Cumbre pass into the lowlands, the famous Yungas. The unpaved roads into the Yungas are often one lane, with hundreds of meters of steep cliffs and no protection whatsoever. The road to Coroico is dubbed the most dangerous road in the world. We intended to meet Birgit and Jo, who were travelling in South America for several months, in Coroico. But a truck that fell over a cliff blocked the road and the rescue work took almost a day. We could not pass and turned around since it was already early afternoon and we wanted to reach a place where we could stay before it got dark.

Since we could not reach Coroico, we headed for Chulumani a nice town on a hill, overlooking the jungle. There was a tense atmosphere in town, and the hotel-owners urged everybody to leave the next morning as soon as possible. Roadblocks were planned, and last year the town was cut off for 3 weeks. We did not want to get stuck and left the next morning the same way as we came. The heavy rains at night had turned parts of the road into a quagmire, but with the new motocross style tires, my Transalp ploughed through the mud holes without problems.

Bike on muddy road, Yungas, Bolivia.

Bike on muddy road, Yungas, Bolivia

Surprisingly, everything was quiet. Even in downtown La Paz. Bolivia played Argentina in a world cup qualification match that day. There seem to be more important things in Bolivia than staging a revolution.

We crossed the chaotic traffic of La Paz and got to the Peruvian border early in the afternoon. Since the football match was in full swing, nobody bothered us on the Bolivian side. Customs and immigration officials watched the match on TV.


Great photos from Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador!!

Zwick's Home

Stories and Photos -2000-1
Patagonia -
where the
beyond the
/Bolivia -
The Land of
the Condor
Peru -
Colca Canyon
and Machu
Ecuador -
dream roads,
volcanoes and
the equator

More to come...
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We entered Peru, where our motorcycles were disinfected and went along famous Lake Titicaca to Puno, a sprawling town on the northwestern edge of the lake. We took a boat tour to the famous Islands of Uros, Amantani and Taquile, where indigenous people live in their traditional ways.

Uros Island, Peru.

Uros Island, Peru

We walked on the grass bottom Uros islands, stayed in a native house on Amantani Island where we were received with great hospitality and moved on to the island of the knitting men Taquile. All three Islands were under a strong pressure by the influx of tourism, but it seems, that the indigenous village councils are determined to fight the slow but steady growing influence of modern life. But despite all efforts, it seems that this fight will eventually been lost and the unique culture of each island will fade away gradually.

Taquille Island, Peru.
Children in street on Taquille Island, Peru.

Taquille Island, Peru

From Puno, we took, against the advice of local people, the road to Arequipa. I thought that the warnings were exaggerated and as a gringo, nothing can happen to me. This road is heavily used by trucks and buses, but has not been maintained for 2 years. Huge potholes, washouts, mud holes, and sand slowed us down to a 10-20km per hour average of highly concentrated riding. It took us 12 hours in 2 days to travel 190km of dirt road. Once, my concentration slipped and so did my motorcycle. A bruised side panel and some bruises on my chest was the penalty for this.

Altiplano, Peru.

Altiplano, Peru

We spent a cold night on the altiplano, where we were surprised to see a group of llamas close to our tent in the freezing morning. They seemed to be even more surprised than we were, when Gerald started his XT with its emptied out pipe. The countryside on this road is spectacular, snowcapped volcanoes, a salt lake, and a pass of 4600m allows impressive views.

Transalp on the Altiplano, Peru.

Due to the often bad state of the road, we were more focused on the potholes than on the countryside. The last part of the dirt road led us from 4200m down to Arequipa at 2200m, with a breathtaking view of the perfectly shaped volcano El Misti.

Santa Catalina convent, Arequipa, Peru.

Santa Catalina convent, Arequipa, Peru

Huge Volcanoes dominate Arequipa, Peru's second largest city. It has a very nice climate of never ending spring weather and a lively colonial center. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen in South America. The highlight is the 16th century convent of Santa Catalina. Protected from the bustling city by strong walls, the nuns lived in a medieval Spanish village, with nice plazas, fountains, small buildings and a huge church.

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Colca Canyon, Peru.

Colca Canyon, Peru

200 km north of Arequipa is the Land of the deep Canyons. Cotohuasi Canyon and Colca Canyon are considered to be the deepest in the world with 3200m and 3400m twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, respectively. It's interesting how the depth is measured. They take the highest mountains on each side of the valley, draw a line between them and then take the deepest point of the valley below this line. With this method, many valleys in the Himalayas and even some in the Alps (i.e. Rhone valley between Aletschhorn 4195m, Brig 684m and Dom 4595m) would be deep enough to compete with those two.

Colca Canyon, Peru.

But tourists go for superlatives, and we jumped on the gringo trail to Colca Canyon as well. We met Birgit and Jo again and had a nice breakfast at the Canyon rim at Cruz del Condor where we watched giant Condors sail by almost at arms length. They seemed to be attracted by our spread out breakfast buffet.

Giant condors in Colca Canyon, Peru.

Giant condors in Colca Canyon, Peru.

Via a truck infested dusty gravel road we went to Cusco. The ancient capital of the Inca empire deserves a longer stay than I could afford. My vacation was running out, and after three days of visiting Inca temples and fortresses, churches and monasteries, I had to start my way back to La Paz. But not before visiting the famous lost city of the Andes, Machu Picchu. This was the most memorable visit of the entire trip. On a steep ridge lies a city, almost intact, just the roofs are missing. Very impressive and mystical. There is no road to Machu Picchu and all the tourists arrive by train or take the strenuous Inca trail, hiking for three days at altitudes between 2500 and 4200m. The train ride was nice, although expensive. Added to the 20$ entrance fee to the ruins and the 10 $ for the short bus ride from the station to Machu Picchu, this became an expensive but worthwhile excursion.

Ancient city of Machu Picchu, Peru.

Ancient city of Machu Picchu, Peru

I said goodbye to Birgit, Jo and Gerald and went back via the newly paved Altiplano road to Puno and further on to La Paz. At Walter Nosiglia's shop I parked my Transalp again, asked for some minor maintenance and repairs be done, and flew back home.

In three weeks I travelled 2500km through the jungles of the Yungas, over the highest mountain pass (4890m) so far, between the majestic volcanoes and deep valleys of the Andes and over the windswept highlands of the Altiplano.

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Stage 4 of my South American travels - November 1, 2001

Hi from Nasca, where I arrived yesterday on my fourth stage of the South American tour. Last Friday, I picked up my Transalp at Walter Nosiglia Motorcycles in La Paz. It was well serviced and ready to go. In the beginning, I had some problems adjusting to the bike, which I had not ridden for 6 month. But after a few kilometers it was okay again. 140.000km should be enough to get used to the bike. The Hotel Oberland in La Paz - Mallassa has become my home when I visit La Paz. Walter Schmidt has transformed it into a very nice and comfortable place and is nevertheless looking after the needs of travellers on a budget.

Since I visited La Paz several times within the last year, I longed to get out of the city into the countryside. Unfortunately, bad weather forced me to abandon my plans to visit the small Andean town of Sorata. Heavy thunderstorms gathered in the mountains and reached far into the altiplano.

My first stop was in Tihuanaco, were the largest and most important ruins of Bolivia can be visited. There I met a resident Argentinian, Ricardo, who has travelled with his Transalp all over South-America. We had some good motorcycle talks and he showed photos of his Transalp deep in the mudholes of the Yungas roads and white of salt on the Salar de Uyuni.

Crossing the border into Peru was much easier than expected. After one hour both sides were completed and I could move on towards Moquegua, almost on the coast. The road from Desaguadero on Lake Titicaca to Moquegua is fully paved and in perfect condition. It runs at 4000-4500m altitude, at one point climbing up a pass to 4755m. Up to 4500m the Transalp had no problems, except some loss of power. Above 4500m, there were intermittent problems with one cylinder. But that seemed to be not serious, as it only occurred when going uphill.

Cajatambo waterfall.

Cajatambo waterfall

The scenery was great, grazing llama and alpaca, volcanoes, big empty spaces, and towards the coast huge fields of sand. The descent from 4500m to 2000m was a breathtaking succession of curves, serpentines and steep descends with great views. Moquegua was badly damaged by the earthquake in June. There are many gaps between houses where once proud buildings stood and now construction workers try to build new houses. The city is charming, but there is not much to see.

Continuing on the Pan American Highway parallelling the coast was pretty boring. Although some curvy sections were no too bad, long almost straight sections through the desert made me almost to sleep. After staying in the uninteresting town of Camana for the night, I continued north on the Pan-American Hwy high above steep cliffs that made Hwy 1 in California look like a street along a flat beach. Although the area is dry as a bone, there are some irrigated valleys, where water from the mountains produces an abundance of crops.

Rice fields in the desert are a very surprising sight. In Nasca I flew over the famous lines. Between 4400BC and 600 AD the Nasca culure has produced huge figures, geometrical forms and seemingly endless straight lines int the dry ground. They are only visible from the air and there are Condor, Monkey, Hummingbird, Dog, Astronaut and more figures to see. The climatic change threatens these old structures, since the first rain ever recorded in Nasca was in 1998, and last year it rained one day for 4 hours. The runoff water has swept away parts of the lines, and it is possible, that further rain will wipe out large parts of the figures.

Here in Nasca I met Kris from Belgium. He is travelling around the world on a Honda Pan European. He shows that it is possible to do all the bad roads with a 328 kg touring bike as well. Tomorrow, we will go to the oasis of Huacachina, 300km south of Lima to relax for a day or two at the desert lake.

Relaxing at the oasis in Huacachina, Peru.

Relaxing at the oasis in Huacachina, Peru

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November 20, 2001

Leaving Caraz was difficult, since I did not know when I would be residing in such a nice place again. Thanks for the good time, and the good food at Hostal Chamanna, Caraz, Peru. The road to the coast through the Canon del Pato, Canyon of the Duck, is spectacular. An old railroad track is used, very narrow, with 35 dark tunnels. Most of it is unpaved, but reasonably good to travel. Beyond the canyon, the road gets a bit rough, but easily passable all the way to the coast. I made it to Huanchaco, a fishing village near Trujillo, 500km north of Lima. Its a small seaside resort where local fishermen still ride the waves with their tiny boards made from reet. The nearby ruins of Chan Chan, once a thriving city of 28 square kilometers in size, gave only partly a feeling for the huge city that still existed when the Spaniards conquered the area.

Huanchaco, Peru.

Huanchaco, Peru

My next destination was Cajamarca, the city where the last king of the Incas, Atahualpa was killed. Its situated in the Andes, 200km from the coast. The weather was mixed, with sun in the morning, but heavy rain in the afternoon. The room, where Atahualpa was kept as a prisoner is now a museum. The Spanish conquistadores demanded a room full of gold for his release. Atahualpa delivered, but was nevertheless killed. There are some nice churches and many old buildings in Cajamarca.

Cajamarca, Peru.

Cajamarca, Peru

The road through the Andes is fully paved and scenic. This made up a bit for the next boring stretch of road through the desert near the coast. After a night in Piura, a boring town in northern Peru, I went to the border with Ecuador at Macara. Just before the border, I had my first flat tyre of the entire journey. With the help of a local motorcyclist who stopped when he saw my problem, it was resolved within 30 minutes.

Previous Story - The Land of the Condor

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Story and photos copyright © Werner Zwick, 2000-2001.
All Rights Reserved.
Grant Johnson

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