18 April, 2007

Between Two Ancient Capitals. 20,010miles

Gert, Will, James and I bid a sad and quite reluctant farewell to Cusco and headed west towards Abancay, and then to Nazca. Much better this time, with four bikes snaking through the hills. For me, knowing how long the road was, meant the ground seemed to be covered more quickly.

A late start meant we reached our first destination in the dark. Some young boys trying to play football in the street (the main road was quiet and lit up at night) were made very happy when we replaced their flat ball with a shiny new one from the local shop. Grown-ups nearby may have been less pleased as the new ball bounced in and out of their shops and off at least one surprised head. We had a good wee game though, before peching off to find food. The weather was much kinder too. No snow or hail this time. It was still very cold so high up, and we got the chance of a snowball fight. James dodges a snowball lobbed accurately by Gert. My bike struggled again on all the uphill bits. Gert had organised an effective Bolivian fix for his carburettor using some electrical wire and the others had fuel injection. They noticed the altitude as their bikes lost some power, but I either had to rev mine to daft numbers or just plod slowly upwards patiently. Slowly the landscape changed from green to beige and we were back in the coastal desert.

On arrival at Nazca, we immediately booked up for a flight over the famous Lines in the morning and went for food at the place I'd eaten in last time. Flying over the lines in the early morning light was amazing, and even the flight alone - in the smallest aeroplane I'd ever been in - was well worth the fee. This is 'the astronaut', you may need to click on the picture to enlarge it and make him out! Of course, since we were all gents together in the plane, the pilot felt obliged to entertained us with some mild yet stomach-churning aerobatics. Many references to Biggles, Algie and Ginger were inevitable.

We readied the bikes and headed north on the hot, sandy, dusty PanAmericana. When we reached Ica, Gert had some things to investigate before heading back to Bolivia via the south. We had a tasty final meal together, dining at the Plaza. I gave Gert the address of the excellent Hostal Grau in Chala. They'd taken great care of me some weeks ago.

Three 650cc BMWs headed north to Pisco, where we refreshed ourselves with the Peruvian national drink of Pisco Sours, sitting on a balcony overlooking the main square. The heat was a novelty, especially for Will and James who had been living at altitude for three weeks.

Since we were passing through Lima, I had arranged to have a quick evening's meal with Lizzie. Her flat was full of other visitors so we couldn't stay there. Instead, she had booked me into a room in a hostel in Lima. We three had planned to split up and I would have caught them up the next day, but at the very last minute, Will remembered he had ridden over his old MP3 player and had had some trouble finding a new one. I knew the very place in Lima where he could get one. They decided to rest in Lima and luckily, the hostel also had a room for them.

A very pleasant and quite posh pizza was consumed and, for a change, Lizzie even let me pay for it. During the meal she asked if we might like to come into the school in the morning to show the bikes to some children. Will and James thought this would be fun, so in the morning, we had a wee detour. We parked up the fully loaded bikes on the football field and some P2 children quickly surrounded us. They had some excellent questions - "why are you doing this? Why not just look at pictures in books? Why not fly in an aeroplane? Have you seen any llamas/snakes/gorillas/kangaroos/dinosaurs? What's that orange thing?" Very enjoyable. Their English was also very impressive, given it's their second language.

Afterwards, we went north towards the mountains again. Lima stretched forever through streams of fume-belching traffic. Sometimes this traffic seemed to be in cahoots and maybe even in radio contact as they combined to make our continued existence quite a challenge. Eventually we reached more hot, empty desert and began to make some real progress. At last this was new ground for me, I was back on my way.

At one sad point we were stopped and accused by some roadside policemen of speeding, which we weren't. They demanded our licences and said we would need to return to Lima and pay lots of money to get them back. We were some hundreds of miles from there now, and this didn't seem such a great idea. I had given just a photocopy of my licence but the others had surrendered the real things. Then, all of a sudden, we could pay the fine directly to them, and it wouldn't be quite so much, just 100Solés. This 'fine' was, in fact, a bribe and would be going straight in their pockets. With a very nasty taste in our mouths we were allowed to continue. We decided not to stop again, but to wave back at future policemen and hope they wouldn't chase us. Not recommended at home! Policemen were everywhere, at the outskirts of every village and often in between. Not hiding, but just lounging around in the sun, waiting to pounce. Often we complain about the police at home but at least they aren't corrupt and they rarely stop you unless they have some very good and entirely legal reason to do so.

Later that day, the road deteriorated quickly as we left the PanAmericana and rose high up into the mountains between the unbelievably spectacular Cordolleiras Blanca and Negra. I had thought this would be a lovely run through a valley at the foot of these mountains but we rose again to well over 4000m. It got very cold and the bike began its usual nonsense again. The road was covered in rocks and gravel and at one point Will took a bit of tumble, taking a gravelly bend too enthusiastically while trying to keep ahead of a truck he'd just overtaken. The truck scraped to a halt on the gravel behind his bike, James and I went in various directions but we all stopped safely, the trucker happily jumping out to help right the bike. Scrapes and damaged pride were dusted off, a bit of a giggle at the close call and we went on our way.

Huaraz seemed a bit more shabby on arrival than most Peruvian towns. We were told that the season hadn't started yet and that the place was being cleaned up in readiness. However, the food was fantastic and we even found an excellent curry house run by an Englishman, Simon, (with a bike - KTM) who was able to advise us well about our dirt-track route to the north.

There was lots to do around Huaraz which we didn't have any time to take advantage of. Trekking, climbing, mountain biking, horse riding and all would have been fantastic in such excellent scenery. We visited the buried town of Yuangay. Some may recall this place being covered without warning in 1970 by a giant landslide. 25,000 people died in the town itself and another 55,000 in the surrounding valleys. Some building still protrude above the earth - all very spooky and strange.

Leaving Huaraz, we (I later found out I) had a very challenging day in the Canyon del Pato coming back down to the PanAmericana. This road was along the side of a very steep canyon, a roaring river flowing faster than we could ride sometimes hundreds of metres to our right. There were roughly-hewn tunnels of varying lengths in which we prayed not to meet any oncoming trucks. But there was only very little traffic on this road. Deep mud in places added interest, especially when it was inside a dark tunnel, and we'd been blinded by just coming out of the bright sunshine. At one point a small traffic jam had accumulated. This wasn't going forward for some time to come because the road had fallen away. Luckily (?) there was just enough room for a person - or a motorbike - to pass with cracks in the roadway and the roaring torrent below. I didn't want to prolong this any more than was completely necessary so I made a go at it, leaning to the left and looking nowhere but straight in front of me. Will stopped after he'd crossed and took a photo, I wondered what might happen if the entire road was gone further on. Then we would need to return this way! Mud, gravel, thin roads with sheer cliffs to one side, rocks, tiny villages. The road surface never achieved any kind of consistency so I bounced and bumped around like a mad thing concentrating on; missing jaggy things, finding bits of grip for the tyres, not slipping on/in the mud, avoiding boulders, staying on the bike, keeping both bike and self on the so-called 'road' part of the landscape.
At one point James offered me a go on his bike. We were each equally nervous of doing any damage to the other's bike but we had a go. What a revelation for me! This thing didn't notice bumps, gravel, mud, nothing at all. I began to understand some of the reasons for the advancements in motorcycling. My short suspension might as well not have been there at times, even though it's the best I could afford to fit to this bike. James' bike's longer suspension and easy motor just plodded along. After only three or four miles I realised I couldn't subject him to any more of this, although I could have sat on his bike all day! We swapped back. He kindly said he hadn't been too scared!

After lunch (these two have healthy appetites!) we had to find a gated bridge which, if we could get the gates open and cross it, would save us about 60miles. We found it, and spoke to the guard, a man in a track suit with a clipboard and a gun belt. "Do you have a ticket?" he asked, as he checked his clipboard for any mention of three motorbikes.
"No, sorry. Where can we get one?"
"You can only get them from the government so that you can pass this way."
"We didn't know, is it possible to pass?"
"You cannot pass this way without a ticket from the government," the man said as he began to unlock the padlock and swing the gates open. He waved us through.

This was the dirt road of my adventure motorcycling dreams - dry, hard, thin dust - just enough to create a small plume of dust off the back tyre. We roared along this empty track, making excellent progress back to the big, wide, flat, smooth, well-surfaced PanAmericana del Norte. Very soon after that, we were checking into a four star hotel. Too expensive for us, the Belgian proprietor soon lowered his prices when he saw the bikes and James had charmed him a bit with some French and mention of his Belgian ancestry. We felt quite justified as we relaxed in the pool, some cool drinks lining the edge. Adventure motorcycling is really hard going, we agreed!

The ride further north was just hot. Hot and, the further north in Peru we got, more smelly. Authorities seemed to have decided simply to dump their decomposing rubbish next to the road. Then there were some fish factories who had decided to dump all their waste outside their factories. Then some of the driving got worse, until we were very glad to see our last Peruvian town.

Along the road, crying by his bike and in a bit of a state, we came across a lad of about ten years old, all tears and snotters. It turned out that Cleiber was 60km (37miles) from home and was too tired to cycle any further. He had no idea how he was going to get home. We gave him water and took his dad's phone number, telling him we'd phone his dad and get him to come for him. His dad didn't own a car, but maybe he could get a friend. Then just as we were about to leave, a bus roared by. "How much for the bus?" James asked Cleiber. "Three Solés, but I haven't any money . . ." he bubbled again. We quickly fished around our pockets and came up with 10 Solés. His face barely brightened, but he forced a quick smile. Couldn't leave a fellow cyclist by the side of the road. Job done.

The accommodation at Tambo Grande was basic but clean. The town itself had little to attract and most people appeared to be unemployed. The north of Peru seemed much like a post-industrial waste land. I slept very little in the baking heat, with lots of noise going on all around. In the morning I was up early and eager to get on. Will and James appeared, sleepy but willing. They had slept like logs!

As we left Peru, the land suddenly became more lush and jungle-like. We had opted for the inland border crossing at Tulcan, since we had heard bad things about things being too busy at Tumbes. Also we hoped the altitude would mean the road was cooler. Crossing the border was not a problem in the least. As I checked through my documents I saw that my MoT had ran out that very day. Everything having gone smoothly, we went to the bank for some money. The Ecuadorians use US dollars as their currency, but there are still some old coins around. Quite confusing.

During our second day in Ecuador, things took on something of a surreal tone. Stopping in Cuenca to look for a hotel, we first encountered a BMW shop - bikes aplenty. The proprietor was most pleased to see us and offered all manner of assistance, including driving us to the local Pizza Hut! I wouldn't normally eat in a chain store I could eat in at home, but Will was so excited at the prospect, he'd parked up and was in there before the options could be mentioned. We were very hungry and the pizza was very good. When we went to look for the hotel a man came up and just began interviewing us for his newspaper. He asked all sorts of questions and took photos. While this was going on up popped Michael on his R1150GS, a Swiss-German who had no English and as much Spanish as us. We had no German but that didn't stop us finding a hostel together and all having a top night out making lots of sign language about bikes. He was heading south, so we swapped information about the roads ahead.

During that evening things became a bit more bizarre as James was hand-picked by a birthday girl at a nearby table to dance with. As a reward, he had his head covered with a sombrero and was encouraged to drink tequila in this most Mexican of bars. After the drink a man in a funny mask shook his head violently. All very odd, we were amused but baffled. When we went somewhere we thought might be quieter, the waitress soon started passing notes to James about whether he liked her friend, the manager of the bar. Breaking hearts all over!

The next evening we were in Quito, late, cold and wet. But we found a decent room, parked up the bikes safely and went to find the Sarahs who were on holiday from Cusco. And there they were, in a 'Scottish' pub which was a bit odd and over-priced. We'd been recommended to go there by Jeff back in Cusco, as the place was owned by a Scots motorcyclist who brewed his own beer! His beer was very tasty, and the food was delicious, but the place wasn't really very Scottish. Alan, the owner, was away working in Peru, according to the staff, so we never met him.

The Sarahs were in fine fettle, talking lots of very welcome nonsense - dreaming about pies in tin-foil lined drawers, as well as much other silliness. I don't think I've laughed so much since I left home! I nearly burst. We had an excellent lunch in a quite fancy restaurant overlooking the city, watching the rain clouds come and go. Later, Will and I took the ladies for quick spin around the city which they seemed to enjoy, vowing to get bikes on their return to Scotland. Great, the 'fraternity' needs more sisters.

Meanwhile, the lads found cheap air flights from Bogota and were going for those, after the weekend in Quito. I decided to go along for the ride, but that I would regret not sailing from Cartagena while I had the chance. My boat isn't until the 9th, and I don't need to be there until the 6th. Plenty of time to dawdle through the hills in a vague northerly direction.

Quito and Cusco were the two ancient capitals of the one Inca Empire. I was impressed to find they were 2200miles apart. At least they were the way we'd come.


At 27/04/2007, 21:17, Anonymous Roy said...

Ah you've spoiled yourself now, driving one of them modern bikes.

At 28/04/2007, 10:10, Anonymous Alf said...

A Norwegian truck driver taught me to always shut one eye on approaching a tunnel. Even if only for a few seconds, it makes a fair difference to visual perception when you open it again inside the tunnel. Closing your better eye is best if possible. Try it.

At 30/04/2007, 09:18, Anonymous Ailsa said...

Ailsa: BE QUIET, I'm reading the blog! Gordon is excellent at writing them

At 01/05/2007, 01:50, Blogger Mick said...

Aye, spoiled right enough - but I consoled myself with the thought that, had I brought one, I'd have spent the whole time thinking how the old bike would have coped!
If I'd have shut an eye I'd have fallen in the canyon! But I'll try this next time there's any tarmac!
Ailsa - you flatter me, but then that's what nieces are for! :-) Keep 'em quiet as well, it'll do them good!


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