I think I had all but forgotten how to have deadlines, for the first time in over a year. I had a previous deadline in 2017 to cross from Colombia into Ecuador and be in the town of Baños to volunteer for a week. Somehow, I had landed on the only rainy night in a Colombian desert in probably that entire year. I had managed to get the bike stuck a number of times and eventually blew the clutch. Needless to say, we missed the Ecuador deadline. The next of these deadlines would be to land in Lima Peru for Christmas; meet up with some other travelers to avoid spending the holiday alone eating processed turkey sandwiches and wanting to overdose on cranberries. That, and my girlfriend would be flying in from Canada a couple days later so I thought it best to shower, do some laundry, and try to conceal a bit of real life on the road. Christmas with American strangers, loads of food, and enough red wine to pay the bills at a vineyard; I had made it for Christmas dinner!
Plan, SHIT, I was supposed to make a plan!
Discovering that the address of the hotel I had booked online actually posted the information of a small store with old men playing cards outside on the opposite side of the city; I was now treated to a nice five-hour delay of driving through Lima traffic in 34oC heat! Lima is the 3rd largest city in Latin America, only beat out by Sao Paulo & Mexico City. If you have never had the pleasure of driving a bike loaded down with luggage around 10 million people, you my friend are missing out. In the end, I found the hotel, made it to the airport for a 1 A.M arrival time, found my girl, and shortly afterwards, the bike found some extra new luggage. Aside from just driving, I hadn’t really considered a route. Planning more than two-days in advance seems to leave too much room for error. So, we left the city, hit the coast, and landed at Paracas National Park, a little peninsula in Southern Peru, just outside of Pisco. In case you’ve ever heard of its famous drink, the Pisco Sour. The place has breath-taking sunsets, excellent camping, and some of the rare bits of Peruvian coastline without garbage.
A Hint of DAKAR...
Peru is scattered with more history than you could possibly try to see in two-weeks, let alone the three-months of effort I ended up giving it. Lucky for us, on most routes you can tick something off the ’gotta see’ list. Never one to miss an opportunity for setting up the tent at the base of an ancient historical site, we arrived at a viewpoint for some of the legendary Nazca Lines . Lines that had been abandoned by the workers for the day. The Nazca Lines are images of various shapes such as a monkey, a hummingbird, a spider, and other things thought to have been created around the 1st Century. In an area with next to no rain, wind, or erosion, they have been embedded there for centuries. They are considered to be well protected and a valuable piece of Peru history. Though when we stopped the following day at a road-side viewpoint where you climb a steel tower to get an aerial view of the massive outlines, it became clear that it was simply, too difficult to build the highway around the lines, so they paved right through the middle of this 2000-year-old piece of history.
It was here that both fan and team would get caught up in the Dakar frenzy that was building in anticipation of the rally that would start in Peru the following week. A large Dakar-blazoned truck followed by a support van arrived as we were coming down off the viewpoint. It would be my first Dakar interaction and I think I was the first fan this mix of Uruguayan & Argentinians would have thus far. I was so excited to see anything Dakar and they seemed impressed that we’d ridden this bike from Canada. We all got photo happy with each other and talked bikes before they had to get back on the road.
15,000ft of Rain & Snow!
Some locals had asked me earlier how long I’d be planning to stay in Peru. Until the end of March I answered. They laughed and said I would be here for the entire rainy season. What I thought?! Wasn’t this summer? Man did I misunderstand summer in Peru. We opted to take one route up to Machu and a different one back so as to catch some different sights. In all Peru has 37 peaks, some over 18,000ft and at some point, you are going to have to deal with them. If you’ve never taken yourself and a bike to such heights its hard on the both of you, or in this case, all three of you! The bike needs some constant teething to deal with the lack of oxygen, as did we. Being altitude adjusted, well hydrated, possibly relying on the local cure, coca, or some Doctor prescribed meds, you can usually survive without much incident. Wearing every piece of clothing we owned, hopped up on coca leaves, and wrapped in rain gear, we aimed to pass one of the summits.
Somewhere around the 15,000ft range we hit a full-on blizzard, two-up, loaded with gear, blinded by the elements, and hoping to survive the pass. Several hours went by, an ice-covered windshield, icy-visor, and I couldn’t take it anymore, I was passed fatigued. I’m sure Angie was having the time of her vacation life and could have endured several more hours shivering in the cold, but I pulled over in some iced mountain village, right at the top of the Andes mountains. Like two scared cubs without there Mum, we came bursting into a small shop looking for shelter, warmth, and possibly a little snack. I will never forget the faces of the locals whose front door we came barreling through, sopping wet, teeth chattering, and unable to speak their local dialect; we weren’t breaking the ice, so to speak. An hour or so later and we had made friends, used one of the most questionable bathrooms either of us had ever seen, which also required the use of a paid guide about 10 years old, and we had been offered a place to stay for the night. However, we decided to press on in search of warmer temps and lower altitudes.
Moose Shooters & Chicken Foot Soup, NEW YEARS 2018!
I find New Years to be one of the larger let-downs of the partying year. I can honestly say that after the party-crashing event I was part of for a VISA card VIP party in Australia when I was 19, I don’t recall too many other memorable ones. This New Year's Angie & I landed in a town about the size of a pin-head on any map. Cold, worn out after almost 8 hours of riding, and a bit famished, we hit up the local six-table restaurant for what was some of the most delicious chicken soup I’d ever eaten. A massive dinner for two that would be enjoyed along with a side of head turning stares of amazement from the locals; a great date-night for the pleasing price of about $3. They even hid a little flavourful surprise in each soup, the foot of your favorite little feathered friend. We ended up ringing in the New Year cozied-up and finally warm under several layers of blankets. Clinking our Christmas Vacation classic moose-head shot glasses full of pisco for a New Year's cheer, kissed goodnight celebrating one hell of a crazy travel day, and I think we were asleep by 12:03 A.M, while fireworks banged on in the streets.
Bikes Don’t Belong in Ditches
I don’t like to dwell too much on some of the more ‘off’ moments of adventure travel, so I’ll keep this brief and hope my parents skim past it. As there was no investigative crew or witnesses to confirm the details of the incident, I will say it could have been part of any number of factors. Those being: an extremely overloaded bike, a shortened distance from nose to tail as the result of some other modifications, a brand new front tire, an almost ready for a replacement rear tire, light rain on a curvy road, or just fate itself. While negotiating a turn on one of many mountain passes, we would make a slow right around an S-curve; had it been a left, the results could have proven fatal. Faster than your first sexual encounter, the bike would fall to its right; our legs miraculously protected by the width of the rear luggage and front crash bars. What then turned into a dramatic slow-motion moment just like you see in the movies, the bike would skid on its side, sparks set a blazing, doing a full 180-degree spin. Passengers gripped by the pavement, myself still holding on to the handle bars as it skidded across the pavement, while Angie flew off the back and landed in the middle of the road on her side. We would both come to a halt mid-road and watch as the bike come to an abrupt stop backwards and upside down, leaking fuel into a cement ditch. At this moment I was happy we were both unscathed
and devastated the trip would now be over.
Moments later a small car with a couple came around the corner and seemed somewhat unsurprised, they simply asked if we needed help to get the bike out. The four of us would haul the slightly bent and now heavily scarred bike out of the ditch. We picked up a few pieces, gave the starter a hit and it fired back up, seemed all that heavy protection I’d been lugging around paid off. The gutted feeling was eased, we hugged it out, still in shock, and thanked the heavens we were OK. We then jumped back on the bike and continued on with bent handlebars and a new outlook on life.
Come on’ Machu Already!
The ride through the Sacred Valley and into Machu Picchu is one of the world's most beautiful drives. Despite the fact that millions of people a year travel to Machu, the road I don’t think is used as much as the train. Even though it is as calm as it is enchanting. The drive is dotted by earth constructed homes, waterfalls, alpacas, and enough scenery to burn through a camera battery in a day. It was worth the efforts! I can’t recall if Angie said she took 2 or 3000 photos,
I’ll need to check that stat :)
We parked up in the little town of Santa Teresa and as we arrived we were immediately tracked down by a lady who had a nice hotel and a safe place to park our bike while we made the trek from Hydroelectrica down the railroad tracks several hours to Augas Calientes. It was low season and the town was still a buzz of activity. I’m sure in the drier months it’s even crazier and no doubt, a bit taxing.
Unable to buy the sold-out tickets for the sunrise hike the next morning, we settled for the afternoon entrance and were glad we did. It rained all morning and the clouds would part just in time for our afternoon arrival, to unveil what is truly a magical part of planet earth. Dotted with alpacas who call the place home, a few locals, and only a few late day tourists. We (Angie), were able to get some National Geographic worthy photos and the classic shot from the top at days end.
The day was rewarded by some high-end local cuisine and the tales of a neighbouring country in shambles. I ordered the alpaca tenderloin and Angie a quinoa burger, both of which are regionally delicious. To our surprise the waiter, who was honest about the food to the point of hilarity, spoke impeccable English and explained that he used to be a business owner in his home country of Venezuela. If you don’t know, that country is currently in dictatorship shambles and many are being displaced around the Americas. He told us that do to rationing, the police would often confiscate the sugar from his bakery, stating personal amounts were closer to a few pounds and not the large baking amount he had. Unable to deal with the growing crime and corruption in his own country, he sought out another life in Peru with the hopes of immigrating his family there after he himself had gotten settled. Dinner was delicious and the reminders of how lucky we are to hold Canadian passports, savoured even more.
Long Road Home
In a cross-country adventure that would need to return to its base, we limped the bike back to Lima, cameras full of memories and pockets full of plastic bags. We had used those little treasures to tape off our feet from the rain and anything else that was exposed to certain elements. In the multi-thousand-kilometer marathon route from Lima to Machu and back again. I think both travelers and bike were tested by the elements & sheer distance. If you ever have the opportunity to visit one of the world's greatest wonders, I can’t recommend the route by motorcycle enough. Maybe make it a one-way route and take it easy on those left-hand bends though.
*** All photos taken by Angie. Mine are for sale somewhere on the Bolivian black-market.