Monday, 7 October 2013

Peru ...

" .. these Are The Days That Must Happen To You." Dan Walsh

Well, I had been on the road sometime and was very much into the groove now. I had seen some amazing sights and met some wonderful people, I hadn't become blase but I figured there would be less and less that would surprise me and provide those 'wow' moments, but no. From the highlands and mountains of Colombia and Ecuador I found myself entering a completely different landscape, the deserts of Peru, I loved it, it was not just a complete change it was perhaps the most amazing landscape so far. I rode down through Sullana and into Piura for my first night. Dust and sand everywhere, the cities were more developed than what I was used to but still managed to provide some interesting roads.

Along the main highway businesses were protected by high walls, they looked like mini fortresses, there was often rubbish flying about and backed up in corners but I just loved it, Peru really gets under you skin. After a good night in a friendly hotel I set out to drive across the desert, around 250 + kilometres from Piura to Chiclayo with nothing in between. On the outskirts of the city I saw a group of riders on BMW's in a petrol station, they waved and I stopped. They were from Argentina on a ride through Chile, Peru and up into Ecuador for a couple of weeks. Welcoming and keen to talk it was a great way to start the day.

Argentine riders, firing up the mate (
My first try out, it's like tea but different
After swapping stories about roads and border crossing I left the riders and headed south, they were crossing into Ecuador that day. I was becoming aware that the weather further south was closing the border crossings across the Andes between Chile and Argentina, I was now in the Southern Hemisphere and in winter heading into early spring, snow and ice was a concern in those high passes. The Argentines showed me the most northerly crossing between Chile and Argentina, the Paso de Jama, they advised this was open most of the year, I made a note. 
The road to Chiclayo, I stopped to take these photos but left my engine running, it felt so remote I didn't want to risk being stuck.
I loved this landscape
I got to Chiclayo with time to spare so decided to carry on to Trujillo and stay at Huanchaco for a few days. I had seen a few programmes on TV about Huanchaco, in particular the reed boats the fishermen use, the first 'surf boards'. It was a bit on the tourist side but was a great place to check over the bike, riding gear and feed up.
The best park of the trip, right outside the door at Huanchaco
Reed fishing 'boards'
Main street Huanchaco
I moved on after a few days towards Barranca, more amazing landscapes and easy miles along straight roads. There is plenty to see here, I don't subscribe to the view that deserts are boring, often you would have the sea on one side and the mountains off to the other, huge dunes which you would ride over and along, looking down hundreds of metres to the coast below. In more remote areas the sand would blow across the road ensuring you kept focus on corners.
On route to Barranca. Like birds heralding land when you are at sea, three wheel mototaxis start appearing as you approach a town, you share the rest of Peru with trucks and buses, occasionally.
I rode into Barranca, the roads between the highways and towns are often in poor repair here, not sure how the funding is worked out. Unlike Huanchaco, Barranca was pure Peru, a local town. I found the hotel with the help of a mototaxi and settled in. All through Peru you ride by ancient forts and archaeological sites, often signposted, pre-inca civilisations. It fascinated me that humans decided to populate this area, desert and not much more. Irrigation helps and you often round a hill to find yourself in green farmland which abruptly stops a few Kms further on.
When in Rome .. 'sweet' doesn't quite cover it
The hotel staff really took an interest in the ride and made me very welcome, often the way when you're away from the tourist centres. Next challenge, ride across the capital Lima and get clear out the other side. I set off early hoping to reach the outskirts of the city just after rush hour, plan worked (I think) but madness still in evidence. If there's three lanes that means at least 6 vehicles can get in that space, it was a fight for every square cm of tarmac. I had got used to all sorts of driving on this trip, even so I had to say the coach drivers surpassed all others in Peru, I lost count of how many times I had to exit the road as a coach overtook slower traffic by coming over to my side. All that advice you get in the UK about maintaining your 'bubble of safety' and 'utilise all your lane' goes out the window. Keep focus, expect the unexpected, watch out on blind corners and keep right over to the edge of your lane. In some respects you can understand it, most bikes here are 125-250 and can't keep up with the traffic so sit on the sides of roads, bigger bikes like mine which can keep up are rare, they don't expect you to be there. In Ecuador, when behind slower moving traffic waiting to overtake, you always had to watch behind you. Cars would just pull up alongside and push you off the road, they had no sense you had the power to overtake, you were in the way. One day a guy in a Toyota did this to me, most of the time I just slowed and let them go but today he was about the 10th to do this, he needed teaching a lesson so I ..... 
Anyway, I survived Lima and stopped for a coffee to celebrate, I was on the route of the 2013 Dakar rally (tarmac, obviously) and the services had been updated.
'Eight thousand kilometres, without toll'  Pretty close .. you think ?
I spent the night on the coast at Paracas, heading inland the next day towards Nazca and the world famous 'lines' ( I had plenty of time to stop and run up the tower to have a look beside the road, I chose not to fork out for the aeroplane ride. As interesting as they are I have to say the landscape was far more interesting, the snow capped Andes in the distance and just amazing dunes, hills/mountains and valleys.  
I love this stuff, irrigated valley in the distance, you can just see the dark line of the road heading down.
All the roads here in great condition.
Up the tower at Nazca, the lines can be seen if you look the other way, I'm just in awe of this landscape. Nice bike.
It's a fish with a fork in it's mouth .. no I don't know either
It's a ... to be fair they are amazing, all the history, both ancient and recent makes them fascinating.
Nazca, the town, provided a good choice of hotels and the opportunity to take in all I had seen over the last few days. I'm a desert sort of guy. I planned the next part of the trip, Arequipa looked a good 8-9 hours ride away, there is not much in between. I decided to see how it went, there were a couple of towns which may have hotels so I filled up with fuel and started early. Again, I'm sorry for this, I was amazed at the landscape, at times the road was covered in sand being blown by winds coming off the sea, it rose up high along cliffs and then down again. I stopped in a small village to find some fuel, the guy was dispensing out of a broken toilet block, he used a plastic bottle with the bottom cut off to scoop it into the bike, who knows what octane it was, but it worked. So did the toilet. The bike really handled the low octane fuel and altitude very well, it ran slower but never let me down, great machine. I made good progress and decided to make Arequipa. After coming off the coast at Camana I began to climb, eventually heading in to dense fog/mist, after this cleared I ran onto a high flat plain and rode into Arequipa after a few switchbacks. A taxi driver helped me find a hostel in the old centre (Spanish Colonial) where I sat and ate outside a restaurant, I was back above 3000 metres.
Heading out from Arequipa
The next morning I set off in good heart and headed back into the mist of the previous day. I was riding towards Tacna, the last big town in Peru before Chile. If I made good time I could get over the border the same day, Arica in Chile was only 20 or so kms the other side. The mist was soaking the road, me and the bike, I began to head into ever tighter hairpins as I dropped back to the coast, 'to the coast ?' I thought, I should not be this close. Somewhere in the mist I had taken the wrong fork in the road, left the Panamerican and found myself in the port town of Matarani. I chatted with some locals who advised me to stay on the coast, I took their advice but further along at La Curva the road was blocked and I was channelled back up to the Panamerican, I had lost a couple of hours and thought my chances of getting to the border in time had gone. But, the road was good, straight and so I decided to up the pace and make up time. I stopped at Moquegua for fuel and carried on, there was nothing about, amazing long views and the odd car.
Suddenly, I had no power, the engine was revving but I was slowing, I glided to the side of the road, onto the dust and sand. I killed the engine, put the bike on it's side stand, got off and had a look, no chain ... no chain ? Time for a cigarette. Most importantly, I was lucky, dropping a chain when running at 120kmh can be dangerous to the rider and destructive to the bike, I was OK, the bike looked OK. I had a spare chain link .. eureka .. now I needed a chain. I wandered back down the road and saw a 'snake' lying in the middle of the lane, just at that moment the only car I had seen in about 20 minutes headed towards that chain, he passed over it, then he waved, I gave him the thumbs up. I collected the chain, saw the old link had gone, shook off the dust and headed back to the bike. I was lucky, I threaded the chain back over the front sprocket and got out my spare link, it was too small ... not so lucky. I guy suddenly pulled up on a small Honda bike, Ren, his job was to 'sweep' the desert, looking for rubbish on the road and stranded gringos, he had got both. We worked to try and get the link on, rocks, tools, no joy. Another biker stopped, he said he would pull into Moquegua and send a mechanic in a taxi. Then Ren said his friend was a moto mechanic in Tacna, about 1 1/2 hours further down the road, he rang him and after some negotiation he agreed to come out. Ren and I chatted using my Spanish/English phrasebook, it was a slow conversation. His mate arrived after a couple of hours, had a chain link which fitted (I bought two more off him) then he followed me into Tacna to make sure I made it. I gave Ren some 'beer money', he had earned it.
'god damn gringos ....' Ren has a moment, first aid in the desert, an amazing guy.
So, no border today, stayed in Tacna and watched as they prepared for a celebration the following day, marching bands and flags, I would have missed that if the chain hadn't broken. That chain link had held since Guatemala, it had more than done it's job, with another link on I decided to keep my speed down to around 100kmh from now on.
One of those trip things, from 'how am I gonna get out of this ?' to meeting a couple of bikers, the mechanic and his mate, celebrations in Tacna ... great people, very patient, so helpful. I like Peru.
Chile tomorrow then. 


  1. ha ha good old Ren..that made me laugh mate. Over here with our vast built up areas you would be waiting hours for the AA to turn up & there was you in the middle of nowhere....So enjoyed following you on your journey buddy & im sure you will have lots of stories to tell us on your return. Got a message for you from the daughter. (she leaves on fri 11th oct)..she wishes you well on your journey & is sorry she wont be here on your return....but her & james are hoping to move to your neck of the woods in keep your eye out for her xxx. Take care mate & stay safe xxxx Debs x

  2. Yeah .. so true, beats the AA/RAC hands down, sat there at the side of the road with Ren and two rocks trying to knock a chain link in. Thanks for the kind words about the blog, great to get your comments. Best wishes to Lucy, will keep an eye out in Brissie. Cheers Debs xx