The fun side of motorcycle journeys ...and the shit side.
We had planned to ride down the spine of Peru, but the weather seemed to be against us and we had rain on most days and some of the roads were damn dangerous in the wet! So after 5 days, we headed for the coast and hopefully the sun...
17 March, 2011
This was an easy ride to San Ignacio, albeit in the dark. The road seemed to disappear as we passed through small towns, and we had to stop and ask for directions a few times. Many friendly waves and cheers / greetings as we passed instantly let us know that we were not in Ecuador anymore. :) We got a really nice hotel for ~$15 dollars, and started to unwind from the border crossing from hell.
18 March, 2011
The morning was taken up dealing with some hangovers from Ecuador. There was no ATM in town after the locals protested and burnt down the bank. I think that the only effect was to create long queues, like 200, to get to the newly reopened bank. I guess they will reconsider things before protesting again. So we tried to change the extra US dollars that we just got out from Ecuador. The notes were old and all bar three of the 10 dollar bills were rejected. We had a $40 hidden stash that we managed to exchange. This was enough to pay for the hotel bill, snacks and petrol easily, and some piece of mind as we drove south.
It was another easy ride down, hampered only but long delays due to road works.
19 March, 2011
Easy paved road riding albeit for bad directions that cost us nearly 5 hours! We couldn't find a Peruvian road map, so we were using our South American road map, and the road we wanted to take went straight through Chachapoyas. However when we got there, the locals all pointed us in the direction that we came in. After 5 exact same responses, we road back down the valley (about 60 km) and headed in the way they suggested. A really nice but long road climb took us up into the mountains only to be told that we were headed straight into the Amazon. We turned around and headed back down the mountain and back up the valley. We set up camp behind a church right at dusk, wondering where the heck the road turnoff was.
20 March, 2011
This was a full day ride up, down into a valley and up again. Only 200 km or so, this took all day. The road was mostly single lane gravel / mud and had hundreds of blind corners and switchbacks, with mist and rain obscuring the tops. The majority of the road hugged the edge of a very steep ridge line. While the road was quiet, we still passed a bus, two trucks and about 6 other cars in 10 hours. We passed more crosses than cars, testimonial to the dangers on the road. I think we were on the bikes for about 7 hours with around 4 hours of breaks to charm our nerves.
By the end of the day we had traversed 4,200 m up and 3,950 m down, mostly in the 90 km section between Leimebamba and Chachapoyas.
21 March, 2011
This was the strangest day on the road so far. Nice riding out of Celendin, but after Cajamarca things got crazy. Al hit & killed a dog that raced out after Chris, Chris nearly hit a sheep, and 5 seconds after being overtaken by another biker, we turned the corner only to see him hit a calf and nearly killed himself. We helped him and his bike up, only to realise that he was absolutely legless. With no apparent injuries, and much drunken talk about his jacket being inside out, we left him there under the watchful eye of the owners of the cow that he had just hit. Add to that, 5 hours of rain, a bad car crash and a million or so animals on steaming wet roads in the rain in the dark.... we were glad to make it to the hotel with only wet clothes to complain about!
22 March, 2011
Rest day. A chance to dry out and chill for a day.
23 March, 2011
We got up early and headed for the coast. Only 1 hour into the ride, we were stopped by road works. A couple cigarettes, a petrol siphon, some running repairs on Chris's bike and a lot of honking we finally got underway again. We drove up through the countryside, slowly gaining height. Up and up to 4,200 m. We think that this is the highest that we have ever been before. Chris's bike started to misfire, and we started to assume the worst, altitude sickness. What was it going to run like at 5,000 m plus?! Luckily, it was just some dirt in the leads, and it was back to the powerful beast that it once was.
Just as we started down the ridge for the coast, it started to rain hard. The road turned to mud. Most of the base was still gravel, but occasionally a clay base sent both of our bikes sliding. Not nice on a 4,000 m decent in the rain, with lots of traffic and nasty drop-offs. Just to make things even worse, we had two more delays for road works, one for an hour and another for two hours. We finally made it to the coast, once again in the dark, and we stayed in the first hotel that we saw. We thought that it was a "park n f*$%", a drive-in hotel that is common in Mexico, but at this point we didn't care and bunked down for the night. In the morning, daylight showed that it was a "normal" hotel.
25 March, 2011
We slept in and headed down the coast late. It was a mix of desert landscape and horticultural land. We were amazed that anything could be grown in the sands, but there was plenty of water flowing down from the Alps to irrigate the fields.
27 March, 2011
We headed up the Rio Santa and found a fantastic camping spot just over the first bridge once you get into the gorge on the gravel road. Only 5 minutes from the road, but sheltered by a 5m wall of gravel and the sound of the river below.
We continued up the river on a great gravel road. It cuts up through a desert landscape into the higher alpine regions. While not as scary or difficult as the previous rides, we still rate it. The road is most famously known for its tunnels, about 30, but we didn't count. We got to Huaraz in sunlight, even with yet another hour delay due to road works.
31 March, 2011
We rode down from Huaraz on one of the most stunning roads across the paramo and then down from 4,300 m to sea level. After staying at Barranca for the night (moderate sized town with a rough edge), we headed south through the coastal deserts. While these were interesting for the first hour or two, they soon became fairly monotonous with sections of sand followed by agricultural lands. Just before Lima, we had a very interesting incursion with the notoriously corrupt police. They separated us, but didn't realise we had headsets and were talking to each other. One tried to tell Alan we were going too slow, and the other tried to tell me we were going too fast. Al played dumb, and I just kept pointing out other cars who were clearly braking the speed limit. 15min later we were on our way. We managed to pass through Lima without any hassles, albeit about 50 km of crazy traffic on a 6 to 10 lane bypass.
We stopped in Pisco for the night to make sure that we had a chance to have a Pisco Sour in Pisco. While given a bad rep from the Lonely Planet, it was a fairly pleasant town - we'd recommend it. After seeing some of the Nazca lines, we headed in land to Cusco, with stop-overs at Puquio and Abancay. This road is truly spectacular. 1st, you ride up to 3,500 m around windy sandhills. It's stunning, but numbing. We got to Puquio late, famished (forgot to get lunch), and freezing cold after passing one of the punos at 4,300 m (Punos are high altitude grasslands where the llamas & Vicunas hangout). We found a chicken booster (nice way to warm up my bum) and demolished a huge serve of chicken, rice, chips and salad each. We then had a really fun chat with some of the truckies we had been playing leapfrog with, and a couple of locals. Next day, more of the same, 4,500 m punos with Chris's moto having altitude sickness, spluttering along at 50 km per hour and sucking through the juice. We can't yet tell the difference between Vicuna, llama and Guanaco, but it was truly awesome to watch them roaming around and across the road and around the lakes. We picked up speed down the hill for the stunning ride down the river to Abancay; would be an excellent continuous 70 km class II-IV run which reminded us of the Buller. Stunning day, and only 1/2hr of light rain!
2 April, 2011
After getting a taxi to the bus at 6.30am, we made our way out of Cusco. The bus took the back roads through the city and we were sadly reminded about the double standard of living here, with old men and dogs savaging through the nightly garbage for food. Once out of the city, the standard rural way of life took over, the Peru that we have fallen in love with.
We caught the 8.45am train and had an enjoyable ride down the valley. We were reminded that we were still in the middle of the rainy season, as the river was very high and muddy. It was an awesome site to see the power of the current washing things clean. We sat beside a Peruvian and Japanese couple and had interesting discussions about the way of life here. It was a bit of an inside look at life. Apparently, all of the gum trees were introduced, and due to the standard fire construction in the mud brick houses (open stoves and no chimneys), they are one of the worst woods to burn in regards to the locals' health. The Peruvian guy was a doctor that was involved in studying the fire stoves, and has helped push through a small modification that drastically reduces the effects of the smoke on the locals health. This has now been installed in half a million homes.
We caught the train that runs down the valley and then the bus to Machu Picchu. This is definitely one of the most impressive Mayan / Inca sites in terms of the aesthetic appeal, on par with Tikal. We somehow managed to get a free tour and spent a few hours walking around the site. While there would have been a thousand tourists visiting the site that day, it was not overrun with people and it was easy to find great photos and peaceful spots to chill out. After the tour, we walked up the hill and chilled for a couple of hours with the llamas absorbing the site from above.
We had an hour to kill after setting off by bus to the train, so we managed to find some cheap food places just off the main tourist drag. Chicharron, not pork skin as in Mexico, and not pork fat as in Ecuador, but pork chops. Yummy. Only 10 soles for a plate of food. Chris then had a bit of fun bartering for a couple of bags, down from 30 soles to 16 soles each, or about $5.50 per bag. The husband of the vendor, wouldn't barter, but happily ran 1 km to find his wife and it was her and Chris that played out the game.
Sadly the trip home was not as smooth. The train broke down right at the start, so another one had to be called from the next station. The 3 hour ride became a 6 hour ride. And the rain started, and it rained hard. With no one to meet us at the station, we walked for a km in the rain to the plaza and managed to track it down. Then the bus back had to wait for a number of tourists, another hour delay. We guess that they hadn't figured out that they had to walk in the rain.... The trip back was smooth, but the dangers of riding in the dark was apparent, with the heavy afternoon / night rain washing tons of rubbish onto the road. This included one tree and a hundred meter section of road that was littered with rocks up to the size of soccer balls. We finally made it back to the hotel at 2.30am, a 20 hour day all up.
When we left our last hideous 8hr border crossing with ecuador/peru, we thought it would be the last of our border nightmares. We were so wrong.
4 April, 2011
After going to Peru immigration, we realised we had not been stamped into the country (although we swore we had seen them stamp our passports). We also did not appear in their computer system (although we also swear they entered our details onto the computer - remember, we finished this crossing in the dark, so had no way to check our passports, as far as we were concerned, the 35min in the office should have been enough time to have immigration done correctly). This, as the chief of immigration told us, was a very big problem. All the while enjoying ourselves in Peru, we had been illegal aliens. The head of immigration did not care that the paperwork for our bike imports was immaculate, nor did he care that the police had stamped our tourist card. He simply accused us of going to the office to collect the card, and never speaking to immigration there. He proposed two options: he could hand us to the police, or we could leave Peru. Of course, we chose the second option.
Off we hopped with our bikes across the bridge to Bolivia. We talk sweetly with Bolivia, but they advise us they cannot let us in without an exit stamp from Peru. So we cross the bridge to Peru and ask again politely for the stamp. We are then hauled into an office where our shortcomings are explained. Apparently it is our responsibility to have our passports and tourist cards date stamped, and he could not give us an exit stamp (which we needed to enter Bolivia) because we didn't have an entry stamp; it was our fault because we avoided immigration in La Balsa. Then it came: it would cost us $1000 each to get the exit stamp we needed to enter Bolivia. The boss refused to give us his name or ID number. Gobsmacked, we returned to our bikes. We then went to Bolivia with our news, and asked if there was anything we might be able to do to help get the entry stamp (fearing never getting off the bridge, and a potentially huge bribe on the Peruvian side, we were open to paying a smaller suggestion from Bolivia). No luck.
Let us describe this border to you: Desaguadero is a town of maybe 10,000 with a semi-major border in the middle. After the immigration, police and aduanero (customs) on the peruvian side is a bridge across a scummy river. On the Bolivian side is the same, except that there are around 4 shops either side of the road before the immigration office (alongside the aduanero and police in the middle of the road). We were incredibly fortunate: one of those shops was selling drinks, one snacks and another was a 'llamadas' office, including international calls. Remembering seeing the sign, we praised our decision to keep our lonely planet and to change money before we went to immigration, and went to call our embassy (with the number from the back of the LP).
After advice from the head consulate in Chile, Al went back to get the phone numbers of both offices (it was decided best given the masculinity of Latin America and the fact that Chris had ruffled the Peruvian boss a little by arguing with him already). He managed to get the number. Back we went to the call place. They (Rosemary, the consulate) called the Peru fellas (no phone on the Bolivian side), who said they could not do anything, and denied asking for the bribe. By this stage it was getting late, the borders were closed or closing, so we decided we should camp on the bridge between the two border gates, much to the amusement of the police who rather liked our tent and were surprised we were not cold. We had some of our stash of lollies and chockie bikkies for dinner. In Alan's words, these are people who happily sit and watch cows and sheep all day. We expect we were in this for a long while yet.
5 April, 2011
We wake up. Aside from the dogs barking and fighting at night, we had a good sleep. Toasty at 3,800 m. We make coffee and start to draw the attention of the locals - especially the women who liked our stove. We tried the consulate's suggestion to see if a different manager is on in Peru. No luck - the same guy will be back later. The boss on the Bolivian side does have a phone, but he won't be there until 4pm. We call the consulate again, we can't get through. We wait a couple of hours thinking our best bet is Bolivian manager (when he arrives). We chat with Bolivian police (who offer cash up front for our bikes) buy bread and coke, then call the consulate again. They offer to start pulling strings high up on both sides, just give them a couple of hours. We call back in a couple of hours (around 2pm). They have written a letter to the Peruvian President, and a letter to the minister of Justice. We are to go back to the Peruvian side and speak with a different person. We do that, and they say they can do nothing, although they understand our consulate is now involved. We explained we had little choice after we were asked for $2000, and given that could not go anywhere. They apologise for the bribe attempt. We go back in 30min and wait some more. They say they will speak to the Bolivian boss when he arrives. We go back to the bikes and wait. At about 4pm we get the shock of our lives. We are summoned to the Peruvian immigration office. They will give us our stamps. We enter and exit, enter Bolivia and import our bikes into Bolivia. We are relieved, and grateful. We are proud to be kiwis, proud of our embassy, and internally grateful to the Chilean consulate staff. We'd love to know what was in the letter to the Peruvian president, but more than anything we just want to enjoy our freedom after >24 hours on that bridge.
Aside: At the same time our drama was unfolding, 3 Argentinian bikers (who we met in Cusco) are held on the Peruvian side; apparently they don't have the paperwork they need (they don't need paperwork; as Argentinians they can travel with drivers license and ID card in South America). This speaks volumes to us about the corruption in Peru. What can you do? They jacked up a bribe with Bolivian police and a time to cross when Peru was 'asleep' - but were lucky that in the end their perseverance was sufficient; we called our consulate. We'll be incredibly careful where we cross borders again (no more La Balsa) and we'll always keep consulate numbers close by.