Travel Through Peru on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Peru on a Harley (30/11/02 - 21/12/02)
Distance 3451 km (315149 km to 318600 km)

This is part of the ninth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Bolivia

30/11/02 We arrived as the border opened, an hour behind Bolivian time, 8.00 am. Easy immigration and customs but a firm request for money from the police, rejected politely. Puno and a great tour to Sillustani, a pre Inca, stone tower burial grounds. We joined the Gringo Trail from Uyuni a few weeks ago and will probably stick with it till Lima. It comes with the good and bad. A loss of individuality but good tours and facilities. A chance to meet other travellers but mingling in are the dreadlocked gone local bunch. More touts, beggars and dual prices (local and higher tourist) but things to see that bring tourists.

1/12/02 The Uros people started living on the totora reeds, which grow in the large bay of Puno, to avoid persecution. They developed techniques for creating floating reed beds, boats, housing and even eating the succulent reed base. Tourism and modern life has however overtaken them. The floating reed islands are now only maintained for tourists, the inhabitants living in more modern stilt houses on reclaimed islands.The Uros people living on the floating totora reeds, which grow in the bay of Puno Whilst not authentic for their current lifestyle the old culture is maintained through tourism. Our tour boat, 30 passengers, one of many, visited one of the floating islands, two metres thick in reeds and spongy to walk on, bought some souvenirs and left the people alone for the rest of the day. The tour operators have obviously been aware of western values regarding begging and asking for payment for photos, neither occurred whilst we were on the islands.

2/12/02 The shop where the motorcycle was parked didn't open till 8 am so it was later leaving than anticipated and we needed to dodge growing thunderstorms on the way to Cusco. We stopped for lunch to let one pass to find the only meal available was the local delicacy of baked guinea pig. Stuffed, with head and feet still attached this small animal was very succulent served with one of the hundreds of potato varieties native to the area. Guinea pig was such a delicacy in Inca times that the Last Supper painting in the Cusco Cathedral depicts the thirteen around a dish of guinea pig. The dry altiplano slowly became greener as we descended through more terraced crops on the steep slopes.The foundation blocks from the Inca Empires building, Cusco

3/12/02 South America's oldest city and the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco still retains portions of its past histories. Despite the Spaniards tearing down Inca walls to make room for their magnificent churches the amazingly hewn and close fitting stones of the Inca's remain in many foundations and up to the first floor in the buildings of the narrow lane ways. We collected our tourist card (bulk entry to museums and ruins) and were totally impressed with every aspect of the city. Inca walls or colonial buildings, no energy or expense was spared in their construction.

4/12/02 The city centre of Plaza de Armas is surrounded by shops and second floor restaurants, a great way to get away from the hassles of postcard, shoeshine and trinket sellers that won't allow you any peace to watch the goings on in the streets. A couple more museums and the main Inca temple of Coricancha, supposed to have been lined with 700 x 2 kg gold sheets, when the Spaniards arrived. We walked up the hilly streets behind the town and explored narrow lanes.

5/12/02 The prices to visit Machu Picchu have escalated sharply in the last few years with walking the Inca Trail at over $US 200.00. Entry fees are $US 20.00, and the cheapest train from Cusco $US 35.00 return, rising to $US 73.00 for the tourist train. Westerners are no longer allowed to walk the trail without a guide nor take the local train. It all adds up to milking the tourist cow which is OK providing the money is put back to preserving the ruins and not increasing political wealth. Cusco was a planned city of the Incas in the shape of a Puma, with its head to the north. Here ruins of the Pumas teeth lie, with stones as big as 30 tons still remaining in the staggered tooth filled jaw. We visited this site and a few others in the sacred valley on our way to Ollantaytambo, 100 km from Cusco and the cheapest train to Machu Picchu at $US 20.00 return. The most impressive ruins have to be at Pisac.Well fitting stones at Inca baths, still working Set on a mountain peninsula and surrounded by cliffs or fortified walls four villages terraced magnificent fields into the hillside. Many of the tracks from village to village hugged the cliff walls with even a tunnel dug at one point. The temple complex had the beautiful close cut and fitted stones the Inca's were so famous for. We also visited the Ollantaytambo ruins, with the largest carved stones, the temple incomplete, halted by the Spanish invasion. The motorcycle stored at an auberge, right at the train station and we caught the 8 pm train to Aguas Calientes (our only choice for the cheap train).

6/12/02 Aguas Calientes is the end of the train track for tourists. Nestled in a valley between towering peaks and a raging river alongside we had arrived from dry land to almost rain forest on the night train. Here hundreds of tourists daily dodge the handicraft stalls between train and bus stations before the switch back ride to Machu Picchu. Backpackers fill the town's booming hotels and restaurants forced by train prices to stay two nights here. Away from the main street the locals live in shoddily built concrete and tin houses. The place has the feel of a frontier mining town, some having made the money, others living in squalor still hoping. We caught the bus up ($US 4.50) and were in awe of the sight, overlooking Machu Picchu before the tourist trains arrived, almost empty of people. The ruins themselves no more stunning than others we have seen but the setting, in the mountains, atop a mountain itself, cliffs to the river below, in cloudy forests to me the main attraction.Machu Picchu, before the crowds arrive We sat for hours just watching the morning cloud blow through the ruins, finally clearing. We watched the tour groups arrive and hustled by their guides wander the site and eventually the  noisy local school groups descended on us so we left to walk down the mountain back to Aguas Calientes.

7/12/02 Again the only cheap train option had us leaving at 6 am and arriving to collect the motorcycle at 8 am. We had intentionally made Machu Picchu our finale for the Inca Ruins, and now headed towards Abancay and off the highlands towards the coast. This newly asphalted road, totally sealed, (except finishing roadworks of 30 km of dirt after Abancay) winds and twists over three high mountain passes down into hot valleys on its way to Puquio where after 550 km we stayed the night. The third pass was more a high altitude plateau where only llama and the hardiest people live. It was late into dusk as we crossed and the temperature dropped to 4 degrees, cold we arrived in Puquio.

8/12/02 Down and up over another mountain pass with the surrounding landscape slowly turning to desert before we reached the coastal plains at Nazca. Here we met two German women motorcycle travellers on a BMW and an Africa Twin, Susi Jungkeit and Claudy Lendle travelling the length of the Americas and heading south.Meeting two German lady motorcycists at the Nasca Lines They had just climbed the tower to view the Nazca lines. Spread out across the stony desert these lines drawn by removing the darker stones are believed to have been made about 2000 years ago. They depict many animals up to 200 metres in size. They were part of the speculation that UFO's had visited earth being best viewed from the air. We climbed the tower to view two figures of a bird and moved onto Pisco for the night after a roadside oil change.

9/12/02 Out of the mountains and back to the coast. The weather warm and dry with afternoon sea breeze. No problems breathing and more energy it seems odd we want a rest. A short ride along the coast past the offshore islands of sea lion colonies and birds nesting, their guano used here for thousands of years as fertilizer. Past the more modern fish oil and fish protein processing factories drying the fish and filling the air with that strong fish market stench. There is no greenery, just the ocean running into the desert but there is some appeal between the fish boats and fish restaurants.

10/12/02 More motorcycle travellers heading south as we go north. We always seem to be heading against the flow. Mika, who we had met in Turkey three years ago and he is still travelling, Mark an Australian and a Danish couple plying the well worn route from North to South America. I think that makes 18 westerners on bikes in the last month, only one heading north. Meeting someone a second time on the road, particularly 3 years apart and both still travelling is something unusual and a lot to talk about between us.

11/12/02 Just rested over a few beers and a bit of planning for the Caribbean trip.

12/12/02 We had been unable to get a Dunlop tyre in Chile or Bolivia and had bought and carried an emergency inferior brand in case ours hadn't lasted to Lima. But by going slowly and having it well inflated we nursed the old one through. Today we collected a new one from the H-D dealer and in typical Peruvian style we were first quoted $US 190.00 but thanks to Luis (from the Horizons Community) we knew they were available elsewhere at $US 150.00 and the price was immediately reduced. Dunlop will reimburse us for the expense later. Not ready for the 8 million people of Lima and their pollution we fitted the new tyre and moved north. The region around Lima is famous for its sea fog and mixed with a big city's pollution the air was unpleasant to breathe having a depressing closed in effect after the clarity of the mountains we have just been through. More deserts to the north on the Panamericana and looking forward to getting back onto minor roads.

13/12/02 It was not hard to work out that all the chicken meat in Peru comes from the desert sandunes. Row upon row of roughly constructed cloth walls and roofed houses grow this staple meat. We headed back up into the mountains to Huaraz and whilst the scenery was beautiful it was not stunning like we have seen elsewhere recently. I have not been feeling well for the last two weeks, nothing specific, just run down, a virus or stomach problem, and not feeling like sightseeing we moved on to Yungay and rested for 15 hours. It was here in a 1970 earthquake every member of the town's 18,000 was killed in a landslide. The new town was built nearby.

14/12/02 Still not feeling well we headed out early through a few small mountain towns living off the higher rainfall and fertile valleys. These towns all over Peru have lost the appeal of rural villages with traditional houses and are now concrete and terracotta brick with reo steel sticking out of the top floor giving the whole place an untidy, unfinished look. The rubbish in the street doesn't add to their appeal. The road turned to mostly single lane dirt for about the last 150 km to the coast at Santa. But the scenery along the road made this detour worthwhile. We followed the river from its source to its mouth. From crystal clarity carving its way through two stunning gorges as we weaved through dozens of single lane tunnels along the disused railway track, now road. A hydro scheme slows the river for a while and just as it gets to full strength Peru's environmental laws come to full light as the river turns black after washing the dirt in surrounding mines. Still it doesn't deter the locals from using the polluted water for their irrigated vegetables and sugar cane farms. I wonder why we feel sick. A magnificent river in a stunning setting destroyed near its mouth by uncontrolled mining.Being towed by a three wheeler, another belt broken, riding the beach

15/12/02 Yesterday evening we were looking for a beach place to hang out for a couple of days and by coincidence met Todd Peer and Hugh Caldwell, heading south on their KLR and Suzuki 650 motorcycles, right opposite the turn off to Chicama. Our hotel overlooks the beach and its series of left break waves, supposed to be the longest in the world. All three bikes took the short cut off the headland in front of the hotel onto the beach for a hard packed sand ride but as with yesterday's environmental experience the fish oil and meal processing plant at the southern end pumps its effluent straight back into the ocean and billows its fishy stinking smells into the atmosphere. We rode a few km's to the north but between the smell, the dirty sea water and the dozen or more dead dolphins on the beach being devoured by vultures the ride became unpleasant quickly. Adding more to the unpleasantness was when leaving the beach we became bogged in the sand and our tired worn drive belt broke, leaving us stranded in the smell. We tried to fix the belt in the sand but gave up and organized a push out and a tow up to our hotel behind a 3 wheeler motorcycle used here as people movers. Luckily the wind almost always blows S-N so our end of the beach is cleaner with fresh air.

16/12/02 It seems we used the wrong anti seize on the swing arm bolt in Buenos Aires just three months ago and it has now rusted solid to the bushes. The whole day was spent coaxing it out with a sledge hammer, tapping it back and forth applying lubricant.

17/12/02 With the swing arm bolt finally loose it was a normal belt change taking the morning. The afternoon was spent resting, as will tomorrow as we haven't yet had the rest day we came here for.

18/12/02 A rest day with a few "just living jobs"

19/12/02 The next surfing beach north seems to be at Mancora, 560 km. More desert with irrigation fields from mountain streams, Not much traffic and good roads got us there by 3 pm. It seems if you want your house painted just wait for the next election and one or the other political party will do it for you together with their candidates picture and party slogan. All you need do then is cover it with one or more coats after the election. The problem is the final coat doesn't seem to happen so almost every house remains a billboard to a successful or failed candidate.Believed to be the longest left break surf in the world, Chicama

20/12/02 Mancora seems to be a holiday destination for the well financed Lima'ites plus a few surfers and fewer westerners. The road north and south runs along the beach and strung out along it are dozens of restaurants and hostals. The season hasn't yet started (Jan-Mar) so we enjoyed that pre season enthusiasm of the locals preparing for the onslaught of loose spending tourists. A much better time to visit than the end of the season when everyone is tired and the money is in the bank, The waves rolled in but the water still looked dirty to us.

21/12/02 We had decided to spend Christmas in Quito, Ecuador and New Years Eve in Bogota, Colombia so we need to move quickly, leaving Peru at Aguas Verde, easy departure, easy paperwork, however the thriving cross border town meant immigration 5 km before the border but aduana (customs) right at the border.

Move with us to Ecuador


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Story and photos copyright Peter and Kay Forwood, 1996-
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