[Jeff 20.05.16] Leaving Copacabana together with Bolivia behind, we head for Peru. The border is a busy little crossing, mainly foot traffic but most seem to be food vendors pushing carts who are free to pass without any formalities. We park the bikes and before we have a chance to head inside we are approached by someone with a badge who says he will start the process of passing the bikes while we get our passports stamped. We have an uncomfortable feeling about him and are not all that happy to hand our bike papers over while we go in the other direction to get our passports stamped out of Bolivia. We keep half an eye on where he goes, after getting our passports stamped we head straight to his office. He asks us to sit down (there is only one chair, so I remain standing), then he starts asking us about the IRA. We have no idea where this is going and so remain silent. We then noticed that the import papers state our nationality as Irish, a mistake made by the customs agent when we entered Bolivia because it is the last word on the front of our passports (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). In the end, he doesn't make a big deal of it and stamps our bikes out of Bolivia. He doesn't even bother to get up to let us through the barrier, asking me to close it behind us when we leave.
A short ride takes us to the frontier of Peru. Again we park and go inside. A little paperwork to fill in and our passports are stamped. Across the road is the office where we need to get the bikes processed. A very official looking officer asks us to sit (he has two chairs). Sternly he asks for our passports and driver licences. We only have our 'muggers' wallets on us, so Sally hands him a laminated copy of her licence and I hand him a real but expired licence, but he seems satisfied with these along with our international drivers permits. He then looks me in the eye and asks for 'seguro' - our insurance. We haven't needed this up until now, but I had heard that it would probably be required in Peru. I could see he wasn't expecting it by the look of mild surprise and the tentative way he took it when I handed over the certificate. His attitude immediately changed, he was very friendly as he pointed at it saying 'good, very important!'. However we had to wait for his boss to come back from other business (i.e. a siesta) to formally process us. When he arrived, he took me into a side office to fill in the details (of which there were many), nevertheless the process was friendly and simple enough. The same was done for Sally but more quickly now that they had a handle on the Australian registration form for the bikes.
We needed some lunch by the time all this was finished, so we headed down the road a few kilometres to Yunguyo. I pulled over to talk to Sally and was taken aback by a group of 15 men approaching. I could tell they just wanted to say hello, but they lined up to filter past, shake hands and welcome us to their town. This hasn't happened on the same scale since and I suspect it was because I happened to pull up outside a motorcycle mechanics shop. It's evident that Peruvians love motorcycles. Lunch was the typical affair that we are now used to (and like), of a set menu soup and main. It's quick, tasty and cheap.
We'll be stopping in Puno tonight, the weather has been raining on and off all day. The landscape immediately changed when we entered Peru - (this never ceases to surprise us when we enter a new country, how does it know to do that?) There are now beautiful green hills and snow capped mountains not far off. I'm glad not to be up there, I've been pretty determined to avoid riding in snow. As we are on the final approach to Puno, it starts to snow.
Not to worry, it didn't last long. We arrive at a hotel in Puno, install the bikes in a garage where there are already three bikes belonging to some Canadian fellows who are heading in the opposite direction to us. We enjoy a chat and share notes.
A fairly long ride by our standards ahead of us the next day, 400km to Cusco. We have one major town to traverse on the way, Juliaca. From experience we know this can suck hours out of our day, so we spend some time studying the maps for the 'path of least resistance' through it. There seems to be a major road around town, it looks almost like a ring road. We should know better.......
As we enter Juliaca, we take the turn-off for our 'ring road'. It's very wide but not too busy at this point. Along the road for a few kilometres, Sally is in front, suddenly the road divides, one lane is directly in front of us and there is another off to our right. Sally heads straight, I have the benefit of a few extra seconds decision making time and don't think it looks ok, so I veer off to the right on the opposite side of a big dividing median. Sally is now on the wrong side of a major road, facing a ton of oncoming traffic, I can still hear her over our helmet comms, sounds like a lot of people are helpfully informing her of what is now obvious - (Hola, yes I know......Hola, yes thank you.....Hola, yes I know *Honk!* I should be over there). Unfortunately it is not an easy recovery and it takes several long minutes for Sally to battle the head-on traffic far enough to find a gap in the median and make it onto the right side of the road. This is just the beginning of the most chaotic ride we have had so far. I had pulled over to wait for Sally, she catches up and we continue, the road surface deteriorates badly. There may have been asphalt at some time in the distant past, but now it is just gravel, rubble and mud, full of wheel-swallowing pot holes. There are big trucks, little tuk-tuks, motorbikes, bicycles, dogs and people all over the road, everyone is trying to avoid the huge pot holes. I'm using the bikes long suspension and big wheels to their full advantage, bumping through most of the big holes. That is, until I get to a line of traffic all merging off to the left to squeeze past a narrow gap beside a particularly large hole. I slow down and head straight for it, the front wheel disappears, I feel the water rushing past my shins, realising that the other side is likely to be as steep I gun it and bounce rather ungracefully out of the other side. It's then that I hear Sally squeal. She had seen me go into my puddle and thought better of it, so headed for a slightly smaller one. Unfortunately Sally had to stop in the middle of it to give way to some cross traffic. Eventually we burst out of the other side of town, our bikes and everything on us completely covered in muck, dirtier than we had been at any other time on the journey so far, and all this from passing through a major town.
An uneventful run the remaining distance to Cusco, we have a hotel booked on the outskirts of town which will be our base for the visit to Machu Picchu. Our bikes get a space in the hotel owner's home garage and we ask if it's possible to leave them there when we're away. It's not possible to ride to Machu Picchu, only a train line and the Inca walking trail leads through the mountains to the site. We organise our train and entry tickets for the next day. Visitor numbers are limited each day, but it's off season so we have no problem. First we have to get a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. The bus is a collectivo, so we agree on a price and hop in to wait for it to fill up. It's a two hour run to Ollantaytambo, which has a nice town square, we have plenty of time before the train leaves so we relax and have lunch. The train will take us to Aguas Calientes which is at the base of Machu Picchu. The train ride takes us through beautiful scenery, a river on one side and snow capped mountains on the other - so Sally tells me, I nodded off before we even left the platform.
Arriving in Aguas Calientes we exit the station through an open air market and go in search of our hostel which is located above a restaurant. As a fully fledged tourist town, every step involves running the gauntlet of restaurateurs and tourist shop owners flogging their establishments, but this at least lends itself to the possibilities of negotiation, a free drink and your choice of seating in most cases. We buy our tickets for the bus to get up to Machu Picchu in the morning and enjoy Pisco sours overlooking the plaza.
Early start the next day to catch a 5:00am bus the short run up to Machu Picchu. At the top of the hill the crowd filters in to the site and quickly disperses. Sally has really been looking forward to seeing this and I'm impressed by the workmanship and building techniques. After a little morning fog we are treated to a perfect day for it. The ruins are spectacularly laid out, involving a lot of climbing up and down but we take it easy and stroll around taking pictures and eavesdropping on the guided tours in English to work out what we are looking at.
We stayed in Aguas Calientes one more night and returned to Cusco the next day via Ollantaytambo again. After Cusco we want to head towards Lima via Nazca, it's 1,100km so we'll need a couple of stops along the way. The first one is Abancay, the road winds it's way through cultivated hills and we still have views of the snow capped Andes. Once out of Abancay the roads are quiet and make for great riding.
We are enjoying the ride, stopping now and again to take photos and enjoy the views, but then we start to come across some debris on the other side of the road. At first it's a few boulders and tree branches which look to me like they have been placed there for a cleanup crew to come and collect; however the amount of debris increases as we continue and now it is also spread across our side of the road. Soon it becomes obvious that it's a protest blockade, even though we haven't seen this much destructive effort before, the placement of some of the boulders is downright hazardous and needless, such as in the middle of our lane on a blind corner, forcing us to ride around them on the wrong side of the road. After about 5km we come upon the protestors and pull up at the front of the blockade. I'm immediately approached by an older gentleman who is friendly enough, but tells me that in 30 minutes we can go. We settle in for the wait, but then some other protesters come for a look at our bikes and on seeing our Australian licence plates shout out to the head honcho 'They are tourists!'. A minor kerfuffle breaks out among the protesters between those saying 'Let them go!' and a few saying 'No, let them wait!'. It doesn't last long as the 'let them wait' party were only half hearted in their argument and couldn't really be bothered. We picked our way between boulders, tree branches, cars, trucks and buses, at times with much difficulty. For the next 30km the debris came and went as we crossed several more groups of protesters, one mob had cans of paint and were painting slogans on the waiting cars and buses. One threatened to paint my bike and I 'politely' told him that I would prefer it if he didn't. The last part of the road blocks ended with a sort of crescendo where there were police in riot gear and whole piles of fully grown trees across the road. I had a chuckle as I rode past and saw some of the police taking selfies. We finally arrived in Abancay, about three hours later than expected.
The next morning we head out on our way to Puquio, our next stop over point. It's a superb windy road following a river along a canyon floor. We are enjoying the ride and having our bikes running smoothly again after weeks at high altitude.
There is the occasional wet patch across the road where runoff from the hillside crosses the road towards the river. It's on one of these, about 100km from Abancay, where I come out of a right hand curve down a slight dip in the road that my bike suddenly goes into a severe steering wobble that instantly starts a tank-slapper. I barely manage to hold onto it. I travel about 50 meters before I can regain some control. As soon as I have my bike settled I turn and see Sally go down hard on the same patch and slide along the road. By the time I pull over and run back, a truck and van have stopped to see if they can help. Sally is already on her feet, the bike lying on the side of the road. I unhitch a pannier off my bike for Sally to sit on in a patch of shade, after a quick check it doesn't seem to be anything too serious so I remove her helmet, jacket and gloves. Sally is holding her right wrist and there are nasty grazes on her left arm, but otherwise looks ok. I go down the road with the truck driver to pick up Sally's bike which had slid to the edge of a culvert and so had to be dragged across a little first. Then, as I'm collecting our bikes and gear off the road an ambulance shows up. I'm not sure if this is coincidence or if someone in the van called them. They are super helpful and not only see to Sally but offer to help get Sally's bike back to Santa Rosa where the nearest medical centre is. The ambulance driver can ride a bike, but he is the only one who can drive the ambulance. Just then another car shows up that has someone else who can drive the ambulance, so the original ambulance driver hops on Sally's bike and we take off in convoy back towards Santa Rosa, about 30 km away.
Santa Rosa is a small town and doesn't even show up on Google maps, but they have a medical centre. They don't have any X-Ray equipment however, so we have to get a collectivo back to Abancay. They agree to let us leave both bikes at the medical centre which is nice and secure. We wait a while until a collectivo comes, as we sit down a guy behind us introduces himself - Jacobo - he is also on his way to the hospital and speaks good English. Some things are going right today...... the ambulance showing up within minutes, the driver who could ride Sally's bike and now Jacobo offering to help us......
Back in Abancay and Jacobo takes Sally where she needs to go. The right wrist is fractured, so it will need a specialist in Lima to take care of it properly. They put a half cast on and bandage it up. We go back and check into the same hotel we previously stayed at. We got to know the owner - Wilbert - a little during our last brief stay, so we ask for his help to ship Sally's bike to Lima. He calls around and comes back to us with three quotes, we pick one and Wilbert takes us in a taxi to the cargo company. When we get there they ask us for the bike papers, so we have to go back to the hotel and get them. They then tell us they need photocopies of them; the copy 'shop' is just down the road. This is pretty common, the copy 'shop' is a little corner store selling everything from pot noodle to motor oil.....and has a photocopier on which the owner will make copies for a few cents per page. Back at the cargo office, they tell us they need to send the originals with the bikes - what the...? Why did we need to go and make copies then? Typical 'charming' bureaucracy and red tape. We're not really happy about handing over the originals but there doesn't seem to be any way around it. They say they can take the bikes right away, but this turns out to be wildly optimistic. Besides, we prefer to be there (back in Santa Rosa), when the truck comes to supervise the loading. We then have to go and buy our own rope to give to the truck driver. Wilbert spends the whole afternoon with us throughout all this running around and we can't thank him enough.
The following day we catch a collectivo back to Santa Rosa, the bikes are right as we left them. I get Sally's bike together ready to be picked up. As I'm packing our bikes a curious kid comes and chats away to us, he's interested in all acessories on the bikes. My Spanish is 'almost' up to his level, so we can actually understand each other quite well. I give him a couple of stickers (I carry a stash for such occasions), he disappears for a few minutes to hide them somewhere safe. We let him start the bikes, rev the engines and beep the horns.
I have a couple of hundred kilometres to ride to Puquio, so I have to be on my way and leave Sally in Santa Rosa to meet the truck driver. We're hoping that Sally can get a lift in the truck to Puquio. I'm very cautious on the first stretch of road and stop to check out the spot where the accident happened. I can't see anything wrong with the road, it doesn't feel slippery and I don't understand how both of us became unstuck here.
The ride however, is fairly spectacular, following the river until the end of the valley and then ascending in a series of steep switchbacks until reaching an enormous flat plain, with eerie looking dead-calm lakes at 4800m. It feels eerie because there is no one else around and at this altitude the air and light has a certain attribute which envelopes everything. There are farm buildings, but nearly all look abandoned and rundown, I realise that it's the first time I've ridden alone in months. The sun is going down, but because I'm heading west and riding in a perpetual twilight, it all adds to the effect.
Finally, I can see Puquio below me in another valley. I find the hostel after a few laps of town, but can't find the car park. I go and ask; they direct me to the mobile phone shop downstairs. The shop owner clears a space, I'm eyeing the kerb, which is a double step and really tall wondering what they have in mind for me to get the bike into the shop. The owner motions that we will lift the bike into the shop - *ahem* - I point at my bike, which he hasn't looked at yet. His face comically changes and we laugh as he realises that it isn't the typical 125cc scooter found locally but a 650cc, 250kg hulk. I motion not to mind as I think the bike and I can handle the gutter and steps, and indeed we manage it fine.
Sally has texted to say that her ETA is 10:30pm, the truck didn't show up so she has left the bike with a Wari (the cargo company) agent in Santa Rosa and caught a bus. Sounds like things didn't go well there and Sally had a pretty rough day requiring several lengthy walks up and down Santa Rosa, thanks to the cretin in charge of the Wari depot disappearing after agreeing to wait for Sally to find someone who could ride the bike down to the depot (the burke seemed to have trouble grasping that someone with a broken arm couldn't ride the bike on their own). We meet many, many great and helpful people; regrettably we occasionally have the misfortune to come across someone with such dismal mental abilities that it has the potential to turn a simple task into an onerous experience. (Sorry, a little venting there as a result of several similar experiences in recent days. I guess this can happen anywhere in the world).
The next morning we go in search of breakfast. There was a festival last night and most restaurants are busy cleaning up and say they won't be open for a while. We eventually find one that doesn't really look open, but it's door is slightly ajar, so we step inside and ask if they are doing breakfast. They turn towards the cook, who looks around the kitchen, shrugs her shoulders and replies something that we take to mean 'sure, why not'. A few seconds later she appears with an enormous bowl of chicken soup, leftovers from last night. Sally looks at it with an expression reminiscent of the time a girl at a fast food stall put our chips in a microwave to warm them up. Breakfast typically consists of scrambled eggs and bread. Sally asks them if they have any eggs. Duly, they remove the chicken soup and we think we are now in for a normal breakfast. A minute later the chicken soup is brought back, but this time it has a hard boiled egg floating in it. It's our turn to shrug, close enough we think. It actually goes down really well.
Heading to Nazca today, Sally goes off to the bus station and I take off from the mobile phone shop. Puquio is at 3200m above sea level and I know Nazca is at 500m, so I'm expecting a slow descent during the course of my ride. It turns out not to be the case at all, it's high plains desert country with fantastic twistys until just 40km from Nazca, where the descent begins. The narrow mountainside road is full of trucks, they require the whole width of the road to negotiate switchbacks. It's absolutely treacherous for me, I never know if I'm about to meet a truck head-on around a bend. They give a warning blast on their horn as they enter the bend, however I can hear two or three horns at a time in the canyon, never aware if it's from around the next bend or not. I see a truck some distance ahead of me and come up with a strategy, speeding up to catch it and then sticking behind. If there's going to be a head on collision, better truck vs truck than truck vs bike. This works well and proves its value when my truck meets another mid corner just narrowly avoiding an accident.
I arrive at the hotel in Nazca and it's a pleasant surprise. Hidden behind the walls is a little taste of paradise. A swimming pool, green gardens, palm trees, bar and restaurant. Sally arrives just 1/2 hour after me and we have most of the afternoon left to relax by the pool, drink cold beer and read.
In the morning I help Sally get to the bus and go back to check out of the hotel. The day is baking hot already, by the time I get my bike packed I'm melting in my riding gear. I need to sit in the shade and drink some water. A uniformed security guard comes over and walks around my bike. It's still filthy from Juliaca; he goes away, brings back a bucket of water and proceeds to wash it for me. He won't accept any tip, how nice of him!
I plan to stop and see some of the Nazca lines, there is a viewing platform 20km North of town. The Lines are figures in the desert thought to have been made by the Nazca culture between 500BC and 500AD. No one knows their purpose. They have been made by removing sun darkened stones from the desert surface to expose the white sand beneath. Due to the arid and windless nature of the region they have survived.
Two figures are visible from the tower, but the view is oblique and I can't get a decent photo - so the ones here are from Google. One is called the "Tree" and another is called the "Hands or Frog".
An uneventful ride to our next overnight stop - Pisco - Sally and I arrive within minutes of each other at the hotel.
The following day is our final hop to Lima. Again Sally takes a bus and I ride. Since we need a base for Sally to be comfortable during the upcoming hospital visits we get an AirBnB rental for the week. We're not sure what to do from here, first Sally has to go and see a specialist at the hospital.
The specialist says that the wrist is fractured in three places and proposes to hold it together with screws. The next couple of days however, are spent entangled in red tape between the hospitals inefficiencies and gathering the documents our insurance company asks for. It's eventually sorted out and Sally goes into the hospital for a couple of days. After the operation the surgeon says that it will be six to eight weeks before Sally can ride. We have to visit again in a week to check on the progress.
We have to move to a new AirBnB as the first one was only available for one week. The new one is in an area called Miraflores, which has more shops and restaurants and is close to the ocean. The next mission is to get Sally's bike back from the cargo company. We enlist the help of Omar, the host of our first AirBnB to trace where the bike is and see when we can pick it up. The depot is in La Victoria, across town. We head over in a taxi. At the depot we are pleased to find the bike is there, but realise immediately that the spotlights are missing. Everything else looks ok, we spent a little time trying to get a report out of them for the missing parts but it's taking too long and we decide it's not worth the time and effort. We do, however, need the original bike papers back which we had reluctantly handed over in Abancay. It doesn't look hopeful at first, no one knows where they are, but to our surprise they are eventually produced still sealed in the envelope. Sally gets a taxi and I hop on the bike, it's now peak hour.
I realise that I have forgotten to bring along some important documents, especially since the bike isn't mine. I hope the police don't pull me over. I enter the main expressway and within 500m see a motorcycle policeman standing at the side of the road, sure enough, he motions for me to pull over. He reminds me of the 80's T.V. show CHIPS, but I don't mention this to him. He asks for my drivers licence, I don't have my international one with me, so I hand him a dodgy laminated copy of my Australian licence (we keep a number of these to hand over to police in case they threaten to keep it). He then asks for my passport, I don't have it, so I hand him a photocopy of it which I always keep in my wallet. No reaction so far..... He asks for my bike papers, I say that I don't have them with me. He asks for insurance papers, I say that I don't have them with me. He asks if I have insurance, I say yes, I have insurance.......He says 'ok', but motorcycles are not allowed on the expressway and I have to get off at the next exit. That's it! I ask if I can go and he says yes. It's bumper to bumper once off the expressway and it takes about an hour and a half to ride the 8km back to the apartment. I'm amused to see motorcycles riding on the pavements, across parks and through shopping malls, all with the police looking on.
Later that week, we visit the hospital again for the checkup, but after waiting around for several hours we're told that the surgeon isn't available and to come back in the morning. The next morning we return and wait several hours again; this time he eventually sees us. Everything seems to be as expected and we're told to return in two weeks.
We hear that a friend, Johnny is in Lima, so we arrange to meet up with him for dinner. It's a fantastic night, we have a bunch of laughs and share opinions and insights about all things South American (Johnny is Chilean). We plan to meet up in a couple of days time at a restaurant Johnny found along the promenade. Friday rolls around and unfortunately, Johnny is caught up in business meetings, but Sally and I go anyway. When we arrive at the restaurant they are shooting something for the television, so we are asked to move seats for a while. The balcony overlooks a rotunda where there is a band fleecing tourists for money and a badly made up cross dresser. It's more entertaining watching the band members literally herding groups of tourists into a corner and then seeing the tourists trying to edge away without making eye contact.
I decide to spend an afternoon giving the bikes a thorough clean and taking a proper look at Sally's bike to see if I've missed any damage. It takes nearly all afternoon just to do my own bike, but it comes up quite nicely. As I start on Sally's, the side stand breaks. We had it cut and shortened in Ushuaia, but looking at it now I can see the weld had no penetration in the metal so I'm not surprised it didn't last. I decide to Macgyver it, with materials I have on hand, namely a 13mm socket which is a snug fit inside the tube and some JB Weld (an epoxy resin touted to be as strong as steel). So, far, so good, it's still holding.
Our AirBnB rental is up, (this one was also, only available for a week), so we move again. Now that we have the hospital visits and bike stuff sorted out a little, we have some time to visit a few attractions. There is a water park called Parque de la Reserva featuring fountains and water shows, near the centre of Lima. It's best viewed at night so we make our way over and grab some food from a street stall before enjoying the display.
Omar works for a cargo company, normally dealing with shipping parts and supplies for a fleet of fishing vessels, but he asks if we need any help. I've already been looking into shipping the bikes out of Peru, probably to Panama however, the resources and contacts we have recommend shipping from elsewhere, (Santiago, Chile or Bogota, Columbia) as Peru has a reputation for being expensive and bureaucratic. I got a quote of USD5000 per bike, which is completely out of the question. We ask Omar if he can quote us and, although he has never shipped motorcycles he has contacts who can ship them as a consolidated container load. In the meantime, I have done some rough planning to see where we need to go next. We decide to make for Toronto, Canada before it gets too cold (October), as there are more shipping options out of North America from there. Working backwards, we decide to ask Omar to quote for a shipment to the West coast of the U.S.
At the moment, we are thinking of shipping by sea to Los Angeles, and while the bikes are at sea we will make a trip to Panama, Cuba and Mexico. Hopefully, by the time the bikes arrive in L.A., Sally is able ride again and we can tour the U.S. and Canada.
Only thing is......the general consensus among the motorcycle travel community is to avoid shipping by sea. It can take much longer than expected (sometimes your 'little' shipment can be left on the docks for weeks before someone decides to fit it in somewhere), and port costs to retrieve your bike can be unexpectedly pricey as everyone from the forklift driver to the customs men want their cut. Almost everyone who has done it says "ship by sea......NEVER AGAIN!"
Wish us, (and Wallace and Gromit) good luck......