28 March, 2007

Lima to Cusco 17,197miles

Lizzie and I went for a last wee trip inland over my final weekend in Lima. She wanted out of the city and I wanted to see how the bike might perform at altitude. The bike struggled up into the mountains and so I removed the pot-racked luggage in the hope that it may have been restricting the already thin air flow to the motor. This seemed to make a bit of difference, although it was difficult to tell. Freezing temperatures over this 4814m pass meant this photo was taken without feeling the camera. I had to watch what I was doing carefully so as not to drop it! Lizzie had arranged her woolly hat to go round her face to keep some cold out.

After the high pass, we smoothly coasted back down to the coast! This was very strange - going from freezing temperatures back to the sweltering heat of Lima in just a few hours. I wondered how our own bodies were coping with all this expansion and contraction in such a short period of time.

The longer I stay in one place, the longer it seems to take to gather together all my kit and get it back into the right spaces on the bike. I spent all of Monday doing this. Lizzie had a parents' night that night so she didn't get home until 10. A haggis she'd brought from Scotland was ceremonially consumed with the accompanying champit tatties. Luckily, neeps are a delicacy unknown to the Peruvians as they are unloved by me.

She had a late start in the morning so we were able to share a light breakfast before saying our goodbyes. Setting off was a little bit more difficult than usual for several reasons. Lizzie was the first old chum I've visited and during my longer-than-planned stay here she'd been an extremely useful interpreter and go-between. The other main reason was that I sensed that I was going the 'wrong way'. For the first time, I wasn't heading home. If continuing my trip, I should have been going north, not south. This seemed a bit like a daft detour, especially going down the Pan-Americana, back through the desert and over some fairly uninspiring terrain. The road was difficult, there wasn't much scenery, just that barren, dry desert which becomes quite depressing after a while. The only plus points were that I found some excellent headphones for the iPod and I sensibly bought a 'cruise control'. This allowed me to set the throttle on the boring straight bits so that I could reduce the strain on my wrist. I could do things with my right hand at last! It took a bit of getting used to, but it is useful and much more relaxing.

The bike seemed very happy. Plodding along quite the thing. Suddenly there was something of a wee sand-storm which whipped up and lashed the right side of my face as red as ever! This lasted for about half an hour - very painful! The roads were quiet and there were a very few twisty bits to make things more interesting. Very heavy skies welcomed me to Nazca. A lad appeared as I stopped on the outskirts of town to rub my eyes, foolishly wiping some of the dust in, before checking the guidebook for hostels. Since I was having bother reading that, I followed him to decent and very friendly hotel, even if the rooms were tiny.

There being little to stop for I hadn't got off the bike since Lima, 284miles ago! I'd stopped twice for fuel but hadn't needed to get off since the petrol attendants do all the work. This can be useful, but I find that it means I miss out on a short but very welcome break. Also it's an even chance that the attendant will spill petrol all over the top of the tank! On the first day 'back in the saddle' it's normal for me to do around 150-200 miles, just to warm up. But there isn't really anything at that distance from Lima in this direction and so I just had to make it all the way to Nazca.

Next day I climbed rapidly into the Andes, coming to a plateau after about 50 miles. The air was very thin again and I stopped to rearrange the luggage away from the pot-racks. Then I began fiddling with the mixture screw. I had been told that cv (constant vacuum) carburettors wouldn't be overly affected by altitude, but this clearly wasn't the case. If I opened the throttle too much the engine seemed to die, instead of accelerating away as normal, it seemed to be flooding the engine with too much fuel. This made some sense to me since the surrounding air was a bit thin on oxygen, which every motor needs to mix in the carbs with fuel to make it go. I reckoned (probably wrongly) that if I reduced the flow of fuel, it might match the lower oxygen.

No amount of fiddling with the mixture screw in either direction made much difference. It was during all this stop-fiddle-start carry on that the engine suddenly died altogether and I thought I'd killed it with my stupidity. I unpacked, got out the tools and removed a sparkplug. A good spark, and the other cylinder even fired up on its own! This bike was laughing at me! I consulted the manual but it couldn't tell me much. Some wild llamas (there were hundreds roaming around) came over for a wee look at the daft mechanic. I had only done 149 miles since the previous fill up but I tried the reserve tank anyway. It fired up!! This meant I'd gone on to reserve 50 miles too early! Is it the altitude, or just poor fuel quality? Any answers gratefully received. Now I would have to make sure I filled up every 100 miles or so, just to be on the safe side.

I managed to get some low (84) octane fuel from a wee cafe nearby and went on my way.

Later that day, freezing cold and desperate for somewhere to stop, a wee hailstorm started. Luckily this one came from the left side to even up the redness from yesterday's sand-blasting! I was crossing what looked like an enormous Rannoch Moor - bleak, windswept, unfriendly and entirely inhospitable. I began to think about what might happen if I really did break down up here. A night in the tent would be possible, but not very comfortable!

There was an escarpment to go down. It was the steepest thing I'd ever seen! This was really scary stuff. I'm not normally afraid of heights but the sight of a 2000m drop on my left made me wobble like a granny coming home from the Co-op on her Passola (if anyone can remember the days when grannies weren't to shy to ride shopping-trolley mopeds!). I don't mind admitting that I was getting a big feardie!

Then the road found a river and followed it, sweeping gently down and down. Since the bike wasn't under any load it was loving it. You get roads like these in Europe but never, ever to yourself. They're always clogged up with tour buses, caravans and motorbikes trying too hard to get round them. In a hundred miles I counted about twenty other vehicles, half going the other way, the others easily overtaken.

I had to pay close attention to the road signs though. When they said "falling rocks", you could expect big, wheel-smashing boulders in the middle of the carriageway. When they said there was going to be a ford, the fast-moving water could sweep my wheels away if I went too fast. When there was a sign about cows crossing, Daisy and her pals were always waiting, often leaving slippery deposits in the road! But when there was a squiggly line to tell me of "bends", I knew there was going to be some fun ahead!

That couldn't last, of course, and eventually the road began to rise again. This time, as if on cue, whenever there was a particularly precipitous bit of road to one or other side, a dense fog appeared to block out both the view and the road! Handy for prevention of fear, but now I really had to concentrate on the light grey strip in front and forget everything else. Strangely, my sunglasses were better left on!

Then another plateau, the land flattened out and I arrived over a hill and there was Cusco, looking like a smaller version of Addis Ababa, lying in its own wee bowl. A really pretty town, more Quechuan than Spanish. But you can read about how pretty Cusco is elsewhere.

While I'd been in Lima, two lassies from Scotland had stayed over at Lizzie's, waiting for a connecting flight up here, where they were coming to study for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). I did TEFL when I lived in Portugal. It isn't highly paid, but it is something of a ticket to travel all over the non-English-speaking world. I checked into a hostel and e-mailed them.

Both called Sarah, we all met at a legendary motorbike bar called Norton Rats. Very civilised and run by Jeff, who has a Norton Commando, of course, and a more modern Triumph Speed Triple for everyday use. He also has a book which has been signed by just about everyone travelling by motorbike through South America!

I also met a Dutchman who was less pleased to see me. Jan-Willem had been waiting six months (yes months) for his bike, a BMW R80G/S, to clear Peruvian Customs. They say it's too old! It was built in 1994, mine was built in 1981. He wanted to take my bike to photograph it in front of the famous cathedral to prove to Customs there was an older bike in Peru. But mine is only temporarily imported, he wants to live here with his! I gave him the keys and read my book, trying to acclimatise to the altitude.

The altitude makes you woozy and quite lazy. There's a slight flu feeling. It's good to be cool again, getting a good sleep, all snuggled up under the covers instead of kicking them all off sweating. I just wish I had a bit of energy to do more. I wonder if the people who live here get any kind of ill effects whenever they go down to sea level?

If anyone's got a copy of the AMH, (Gavin, Helen?) I'm in the same hostel as in the photo there. Only my bike this time, so far!

15 March, 2007

Almost Ready

In order to get the parts out of Customs, I had to go around with Señor Hernandez and his English-speaking son Mattius for five days of pretty much constant confusion. Each time they had solved a problem, another one emerged. All this I had expected, but it was all happening two weeks after it should have been.

I didn't quite understand all the problems but one was that I had written Mick McMillan c/o Elizabeth McMahon . . . at Lizzie's address. This had been changed by someone in Paris to McMillan Mick McMahon Elizabeh. The problem for Customs was that the name in my passport is not 'McMillan Mick McMahon Elizabeh'. It took the best part of a day, fueled by litres of deliciously refreshing Inca Kola, to scan and change the address sticker on the package. Then we went to the Peruvian equivalent of the RAC who at first said they'd be only too pleased to help by providing me with a letter saying I'd be leaving the country soon. We should come back in the morning. Next morning the man who was supposed to write the letter said the best thing I could do would be simply to return to London and get a Carnet for the parts. Apart from the obvious logistical difficulties involved here, you need a complete vehicle, with a registration number, frame and engine number - even a colour - for a Carnet. How do people of such a very little brain manage to get such jobs? Another day.

Then I was told by Customs that an "Honour Guarantee" from the British Embassy would also help. A Dutch couple had brought one from their Embassy last month. It should say that I'd be leaving Peru within 45 days, and so I shouldn't need to pay import taxes, since I'd almost immediately be exporting the items. Somewhat huffed that my own word of honour should be deemed insufficient, I asked. The Embassy said no problem, I should come back next day. The letter would be ready at 8am sharp.

Naturally, at 8.30 next day the Vice Consul (a young lassie - you know you're getting old when Government officials are so much younger!) had checked the rules and this wouldn't be possible at all. Neither had she any notion where I'd got such a crazy idea. From her colleague who had told me it would be easy? Another day.

Also it would take ten working days for them to get me another passport. They would keep my existing passport during this time and charge me only 90GBP for the privilege. My passport doesn't run out until 2015, it's just getting a bit full now. No, there weren't any 48 page bumper editions available. Forget it! This wasn't a good time to be surrendering my passport to anyone, even the British Embassy. Peruvian Customs might want to see it at any time. I retreated.

Eventually, after one week and a great deal of negotiating by Sr Hernandez and his team, a wee box appeared in the arms of Ernesto, Sr H's loyal, and very funny employee/pal. Each day I'd been panicking about the extra $32US 'storage fee'. (I called this 'ransom'.) It had by then risen to almost $800US. Then there were the import taxes and Sr H's fee. Maybe $1000US - 500GBP extra for a package I'd already paid 350GBP for? Somehow (they wouldn't tell me how) Sr H and his team had managed to reduce all of this to just $350US, all in. Still quite a lot of money to pay for my own property, that for which I had already paid, but at last I had the parts! Sr H was so angry about all these shenanigans that he refused his own fee, hoping this might go some way to redressing any negative thoughts I might have about his country, which he clearly loved. It really is the thought that counts, and this thought was more than enough in itself. It's never the countries, or even the people in them, but the daft laws that are created which confuse and distress others.

With new (2nd hand) speedometer, throttle cables, diode board and regulator fitted, it was the weekend so I took Lizzie for a test spin around the hills surrounding Lima. 75 miles later the wee genny light was glowing sometimes and wasn't coming on when the engine stopped. This was Square 1, where we were in Illapel, five weeks and 1750 miles ago!

This time I had sent for a 'magic box' from Motorworks. With the help of this and the manual I traced the fault to a loose connection at the regulator. Could this have been all that was ever wrong with it? I'll never know, but I'm keeping the stronger alternator unit in reserve and not fitting it yet. When out of curiosity I put the old regulator back on, having fixed the loose connection, it worked fine. The old diode board was broken, but when and by whom? The new one looks pretty snazzy - all bright colours and shiny bits.

I punctuated all these goings on by visits to Lizzie's school. Five hundred 4-7 year-olds are under her care. A fantastic facility any teacher would give their eye-teeth for. Challenging play equipment (much of which would probably be banned under H&SE directives at home) and good, compatible computers everywhere with the real opportunities and support provided to teach the technology. Smart boards have to be the only effective way, and here they had them in P2. I was amazed and impressed by the confidence and ability of the class of 6 year-olds I joined. Not one of the computers was broken, and they all matched. Proper investment from the Executive is essential in this field at home if we are ever to pull Scots children (and too many of their teachers) into the 21st century of information and communication. I was envious, and impressed. It's all down to money, and which is chosen as a greater priority, educating kids or exporting "democracy". I saw a postcard once which asked the question "Wouldn't it be great if all the hospitals and schools had all the money and resources they needed, and the army had to have jumble sales so that they could buy bullets?" Good sentiment.

Just as I thought it as safe to leave, a wee note came in the post telling me the locks had arrived early from MotoBins. I was to report to a post office on a particular street. Next day I went to the street mentioned, as I found it on the street map. After several people had assured me the post office was "two cuadros up" or "in the red building just there" I found out that of course it was the wrong street. The street I wanted had the same name but was in a different district of the city, not included on the road map. Miles away, back through the city to the other side. Right. I went to the correct district and needed fuel so I stopped at a petrol station. A helpful young attendant gave me excellent directions to the street, which was quite nearby.

A comfy pillion seat.

Arriving at the Post Office in preparation for something of a wait, I decided that in order to entertain myself I might record the experience for future reference. So here's what happened . . .

At 1235 (two hours after setting off from the flat) I entered the Post Office. Rows of chairs were laid out in a smallish room, all facing the counter, as if a small press-conference or lecture might take place. Few people were sitting in these chairs. A young girl sat at a desk by the door, a counter with four booths stretched across the width of the further end of the room. To one side was a small hatch, like a dockyard storeman's. You can see all that he has, but getting any of it will prove an exercise in diplomacy.

I was beckoned to the counter. I smiled and showed the note that had come in the post and presented my passport. On the note it said Mick McMillan c/o Elizabeth McMahon. It doesn't say this on my passport. "It is incorrect" the man said in monotone English.
"No," I giggled, "it´s fine! How many McMillans are there in Peru? Just one - me!"
"Where is Elizabeth McMahon?"
"At work." The man looked at my passport and then at the note.
"Where is 'Nick'?"
"Here I am!" I smiled.
"It is incorrect." This guy's English was more limited than he was letting on.
"No it's fine, here I am and you have a package for me." I smiled, he didn't.

He returned the note and passport and sent me to the girl at the desk by the door. She took out a form and began to fill it in for me. She had to check my passport - I smiled and emphasised the McMillan part. I had to sign. She had to stamp and then send me with the form to the storeman's window. I smiled, he didn't notice. He had to check passport, note and form. The passport and the form together by now clearly outweighed the note, which I had taken the care to crumple a little bit to encourage its lack of authority. I had to take a number and sit down. 20 minutes later I was brusquely summoned once more to the counter. My number had come up on the screen, what was wrong with me!? Nobody else had a number, and those coming in after me were just as confused by the process as I had been. I smiled -'I'm the daft gringo'. It was going well, I thought.

There was the package! I recognised the MotoBins logo - a twang of homesickness. Now it was to be opened, very carefully, by a helper man. With a red scalpel and surgical precision he made a neat incision in the fold. The plastic separated, out came two locks, they looked a bit wee to me. "¿Pode ver?" ["Can I see them?" in Spanuguese] You'd have thought I'd asked if I could use his toothbrush to clean between my toes!

"What is the value?" He demanded.
"I don't know, they are under guarantee and have been sent to me for free." This was clearly too far beyond the scope of Peruvian Post Official comprehension.
"But what is their value?" His voice rose.
"I have no idea." I smiled, he stared. An explanation was required. I took a very deep breath. "They arrive to me as combinated to the originally purchasement of motorcycling boxes, which is very grand, combined as an integrated participation of those boxes then proceed to attach themselves as one to the machine, which is outdoors, should it be useful for you, Sir, that you could see it?" my longest Spanuguese speech.
He glared back at me, expressionless. It was as if I was speaking a foreign language! The only words he had understood seemed to be those which insulted him, and I hadn't thought I'd said. Furious, he looked back down at the form and wrote that they were worth $80US. "Sit down!" he said quietly as he wrote, no longer able to look at me. My parcel disappeared. I was crestfallen, but putting on the bravest face of pleading resignation I could manage. Trying to display a confidence that, although I was quite clearly the least intelligent person they had ever dealt with, they couldn't possibly deny me access to my own property.

A wiggled finger, not too rude, beckoned me back a while later. I smiled and was handed a form and waved towards the storeman's window. I gave the form to the storeman, smiling (he didn't notice). I had to sign, he had to stamp. He gave me the package. "Go away." He said. I went away. It was 1310. Not bad. I felt a bit like a pinball but, not bad. I had my package, I hadn't paid a Solé!

Outside in the bright sunshine, I opened the pack. These locks would keep any Gobi pannier securely closed against all weathers and potential thieves. I needed those that attach the panniers to the bike. I'd have to send these back to MotoBins!

As I rode back into town I noticed this. A fine inspiring example of making the very best of a bad lot, these pillars had been originally constructed to support an elevated railway. The city ran out of money and gave up on the idea, leaving these. They are known together as the "Great White Elephant" and someone has taken to painting them with pictures of more attractive spots in Peru.

06 March, 2007

Kilo Lima Mike. 16,522miles

Lizzie's kindly colleague, Julia, provided an ancient family-heirloom of a battery charger that worked perfectly. Of course I had been worrying over nothing and the bike burst happily into life as soon as its re-charged battery was reconnected. I was very relieved to find that as soon as the new parts arrive, it should be a straightforward swap for the new bits.

Before I left home my family doctor since childhood, Doc Halliday, gave me a thick wad of advice on the types of illnesses I might encounter on the journey. Half of this information was dedicated to the Sudan! Yet, having passed illness-free through the 'dangers' of Africa - places where there was no running water, sanitation or much opportunity for the sort of hygeine we in 'the West' insist on at all times - I was almost immediately laid low by a horrible stomach virus on arrival in the Peruvian capital of Lima. One week of pain and general unpleasantness however, and it was over. All apparently very normal for those unaccustomed to Peruvian bacteria. And, once more, I was fortunate enough to be in the perfect place for such an illness where there was someone to mop my fevered brow (with a real mop!) and prop up pillows. But seriously, I was extremely grateful for the shelter of Lizzie's luxurious flat; books, fridge, cable telly, DVDs, flush-toilet, music, balcony, all the most modern of conveniences.

As a wee aside, and to show it's not only me, I got an e-mail from Namelok, who has just survived living with the Samburu in northern Kenyan for four months without so much as a tickly throat. She got home at last and raided her mum's fridge. (This is fairly understandable given the comparative dietary restrictions of Samburuland.) Sadly, she wasn't paying too much attention to the 'sell-by' dates and promptly ended up in the hospital with salmonella, courtesy of one small tub of hummus. Stay healthy - eat in Africa!

In keeping with the common ex-pat tradition of providing employment for locals, Lizzie has a 'maid', Norma, who comes Monday to Friday, washes the dishes and plays with the cats, among other light-housework activities. I felt as if I was pretty much under her feet! Lizzie needs Norma since she is so rarely home. Up, showered and out at 6.30 then returning after 6pm. She's asleep on her couch in front of the telly by 8.30 and then away to her bed by 10. She only has any kind of a life at the weekends. Such is the pressure of the heidie of 500 kids in a school with fee-paying parents. I admired her applied, disciplined determination, but I couldn't live that way. Too many other interests outside work would surely make me resentful of so few opportunities to enjoy them.

One day that first week I felt well enough to take a wee trip into town. Some pretty and some very interesting architectureand incredible museums. The Museum of the Inquisition was especially scary. It seems this nonsense only stopped in 1820 here in Peru, after a Papal decree of 1813. Very nasty, and all in the name of 'God'. I wouldn't like to be any of these Godly blokes, or any of those others that permitted such horrors, come any kind of Judgement Day, which they all expect. Curious.

Biscuit-tin cavalrymen practised manoeuvres outside the Presidential Palace, protected by policemen in little armoured cars and the big palatial fences. A fair crowd had gathered to watch the fun. A band was involved and some infantrymen goose-stepped around as well. This always provokes me to laughter and wincing. They look very silly and can't be doing their knee-joints any good stomping around like that. It just looks too painful. What is the purpose of such daftness? It seems so unlikely that anyone could ever have been scared by this 'walking'. Maybe I just heard and saw too many jibes poked at the old Nazis during my formative years in the '70s. Nazism is and should be laughable nowadays though, and so it follows that the ridiculous habit of goose-stepping should surely be out of even the geologically speedy military fashion.

This week 'off' gave me valuable time to read and wait for the electrical parts I'd ordered the day I left Illapel. I wasn't panicking back then, or in any big hurry. I knew that it would be some time before I reached Lima, and so when my contact at Motorworks said that Parcelforce were really fine and that the package would be there in about 6 days, I let it pass, knowing I'd be in Lima visiting for at least a week. But a week after my arrival there was still no package.

Motorworks were brilliant, but Parcelforce's 'tracking system' was completely ineffective. It only tells you that they picked the parcel up on the 15th of February, and that it left their 'International Hub' on the 17th. No details of where they'd sent it and no amount of asking got any kind of a reasonable response. I couldn't even tell where the 'International Hub' was! All I got in response to my enquiries were computer-generated e-mails apologising for the inconvenience and asking for details I had already provided! When I phoned in desperation I was told nobody had recorded those details, provided three times! Parcelforce - even the name began to irritate me! How can a company that delivers parcels (or doesn't!) be described as a 'force'? If a few elves, a big chubby bloke in red and some reindeer can do it, without any 'force' . . . 'Farce' more like!

Meanwhile, of course, all the ex-patriots here 'could have told me'. But they weren't in Illapel when I put the order in.

And the lock on one of the panniers has broken, as predicted by the AMH. On the bright side, MotoBins are sending me not one, but two new ones, completely free of charge! They said this hadn't ever happened before. I just have to find someone who can fit them to the actual boxes now. Or borrow a drill and a pop-rivet gun from somewhere. And once more . . . the bike will be good as new! Sadly these were to arrive by standard mail. Maybe a month . . ? It's funny these guys think I have all the time in the world to get round the world! I can just relax and wait around here and there for parts to arrive all in their own good time. I'll just lash up another botch and hope that Lizzie can post them on.

Further good news has emerged however, in the shape of the Good Captain Marcos. He says he'll be quite happy to wrap my bike in clingfilm, lash it to the mast of his 42ft yacht and take to the high seas of the Caribbean from Cartagena, in Columbia, to Colón in Panama. In this way I can avoid the impassable Darien Gap, but I may miss out on visiting Cuba, unless I can get a boat from Mexico or one of the Central American countries. Not impossible, but not convenient. I'd have liked to have said hello to Uncle Fidel, especially now I hear he's on the mend. Mexico, north of the Yucatan, is geographically part of North America. Few people realise this, but any Mexican will put you right.

Another thing not many realise is that Darien is indirectly responsible for the creation of our very own United Kingdom. It was there, in the latter part of the 17th century that a desperate population of Scotland sank most of its wealth in an ill-judged (retrospectively speaking) plan to create a forerunner to the Panama Canal. The idea was to build two ports at either side of the Panamanian Isthmus, with a good road in between. It would be far less trouble for ships between Asia and Europe to unload at one side, and have their goods transported overland to waiting ships on the other. This would save both Atlantic and Pacific ships sailing either all the way round Africa (no Suez Canal at that time) or South America. Good, simple idea, but completely the wrong place! No-one has ever managed to build a road here - not even today. The colonists died of all sorts of horrible diseases and couldn't find too much use at the time for further shiploads from home supplying them with Bibles and thick woolly socks. The whole venture was further scuppered by those baddies in London letting loose their "privateers" (pirates) on Scots shipping to and from the area. So just as Scotland was on the verge of bankruptcy, our southern cousins came charging to the rescue by providing the opportunity of the Union and 'Great Britain' as a convenient escape route. This also co-incidentally secured their northern border against that Auld Scots ally (but ancient English enemy) France. We already shared the same King so why not? Well . . . many, on both sides of the border, were unhappy about it at the time but that's a much longer story!

The PanAmerican Highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego simply runs out at Darien, creating the infamous "Darien Gap". A huge, mosquito-infested swamp that separates Colombia from Panama, and South from Central America. It has been like this probably for some few thousands of years. I've heard that when Land Rover developed the Range Rover back in the '70's, a mad bunch of British squaddies drove the new vehicle down the PanAmerican from Alaska to see how it might manage. When they came to Darien of course, being determined British soldiers, and representing Her Maj, they fell into three ranks (chests out, stomachs in, necks in the backs of collars and looking up), gave each other hearty salutes and simply dragged the Range Rovers through it all anyway, just to prove their point. Some days they covered as little as one mile. They made it, of course, but I've no idea how long it took them, and I've never heard of anyone else even attempting it.

Crossing back over the Andes and into Brazil is another very lengthy process that I am sadly going to have to miss out on. There are just no decent (tarmacked) roads over from here and the only other options might have been to go through Bolivia (flooded, bad roads) or return through Chilé and Argentina (too far). Lying in a hammock on a boat down the Amazon sounds lovely but that could take four weeks and cost a small fortune. Also it's lovely until you think of all that heat and the mosquitoes and other beasties and then I'm not at all sure I can be bothered! And then you've to change boats a few times. Only really a matter of time, till something very heavy falls to the bottom of the great river.

Before I got here, I had heard a million scary stories about Lima and its drivers. Matthew Parris hated Lima in his book, Inca Kola, calling it "an atrocity", but that was written 20 years ago. Funny book, but I was surprised to see that he readily reveals his xenophobic Tory tendencies. Lois Pryce, who rode her 225cc Yamaha Serow from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, (flew over the "Gap") seemed to describe riding through a WW2 bombing raid in the AMH. Of course the drivers are highly inconsiderate and very dangerous. Mine is one of only a baby handful of working brake-lights in Lima and nobody seems to have an indicator switch, while everyone has a hazard-warning button which they use in unclear situations and then forget to switch off. Everyone has a car alarm and there seem to be at least two going off at any one time, day or night. All of these sound exactly the same (Lizzie does a good impression) so, of course, no one pays any attention while the cars get pinched. But the actual driving is quite kitten-like in comparison to what I've previously endured. So, if this is the worst South America has to offer . . . Perhaps it's best not to tempt the fates by finishing that sentence!

Everyone seems very helpful but the service ethic hasn't quite reached here yet. Few say "please" or "thank you" as they take your money. They do surround you in any shop. I went into one just to look at postcards and couldn't hide my bafflement when, while looking at a display stand, an assistant approached me with a bundle of postcards to look through. What's the point of looking through a bundle when there's this perfectly useful display thing right here in front of me!?

My package of parts, I've heard from Lizzie's secretary Laura (who seems to regard its recovery as something of a personal challenge) will arrive. I may need to pay an extra $600US to get it out of Customs. No really, six HUNDRED US dollars, or about 300GBP! Mainly I have to pay $32US per day for not picking it up earlier. This comes to $448US for fourteen days. The rest is import taxes which everyone resents but has to pay. I didn't pick it up any earlier because Parcelforce (or some anonymous middle-man - their "agents") didn't supply me either with its location in Peru or the number needed for Peruvian Customs to find out. It's difficult for me to even think about this without my head imploding with frustrated rage. Of course, I couldn't recommend Parcelforce as being useful for anything outside the UK, and I won't be using their "service" again. (Although, to be fair, they are very good within the UK!)

The only even slightly funny part about all of this is that, in the absence of anything else to do, DHL here had to call Motorworks in England to ask for a contact number (I'd supplied this to Parcelforce about three times but for some reason they were keeping it a secret). It had come to DHL and they had to contact me so that I could go to them and organise Customs before getting the parcel. The only contact number Motorworks had for me was at Denend Primary School in Fife where I'd had parts sent some years ago. So the man from DHL Peru phoned Maureen, our excellent secretary there, who then e-mailed me his phone number. Parcelforce and their (secret) "agent" were totally by-passed in this whole operation. Mad. So how did they earn their money!?

I can only claim that "it's all part of the adventure" so often before I start to doubt it. If too much of the "adventure" becomes waiting around for parts during unnecessarily long periods of time, having paid and done everything I can then it won't be living all the way up to expectations. Now before you think; 'serves him right for taking such an ancient piece of junk', all machines need replacement parts now and again - even modern ones. I don't mind that at all. It just shouldn't have to be that so much time is spent waiting for them to arrive. Of the six months I've been away so far, two have been spent waiting for bits! And I'd have to argue that one of those shouldn't have been necessary. On the positive side, it allows time for touristy things.

On a lazy weekend, Lizzie and I visited an ancient pre-Incan site within walking distance of her flat. There was this Peruvian dogIt was bald, and particular to Peru. Its body was roasting hot to touch and it only had this fluffy tail with a Mohican-style hair-do. I couldn't get an answer as to why this dog might have been bred this way. This is how the archaeologists think these "Limanos" chappies might have looked as they went about their daily business.

So, I should be on the road again soon. Hopefully heading up towards Cusco to look at the ancient Inca sites, before heading north.