Words by Naomi | Photography by Alberto (MotoLara)
Holy cow, it is 2015!? When did that happen?? Where has my youth gone!?? Oh well, I guess this story begins back in the good ol’ days of 2011, when Alberto and I had the privilege of riding our F800GS bikes from Canada to Argentina, however unfortunately for us things went a bit pear shaped once we arrived in Peru. We got some gas, rode into the mountains, yada yada, had to get the engines replaced on both F8GSs. Please lets not re-hash that whole ordeal here, there is plenty of discussion in our RR thread. What I do want to touch on is that while we had an amazing trip overall back in the days of 2010/2011 we always felt a bit cheated by our Peru riding experience. This is what led us to discussing, planning, and ultimately doing this ride: Peru: Unfinished Business. The basic plan was to ride our newly purchased Keeway 200s, can you feel the power?, as hard as we dare into the Peruvian Sierra covering all the places we were unable to ride the first time around but had planned visit. However we only had 6 weeks of vacation from work so riding ALL the places seemed unrealistic, so we settled for the following mission statement “ride as many awesome roads as we can”.
Meet Chasqui, Alberto's 200ccs of terror. Can be seen lacking power on uphills at elevations of 2000+ metres above sea level and getting knee down in corners. Best known for being able to climb any hill in first gear. Chasqui, Incas word for the messenger who ran through the mountains of the Inca Empire.
Introducing Apu, Naomi's 200cc companion for Chasqui. Can be seen bouncing along behind Chasqui and best know for bolts going missing. Apu, the Incas word for the spirit of the mountains
I hope you enjoy our videos for the trip, there will be an Episode for each day. This is the teaser video of the whole trip. We’d love it if you subscribed to our YouTube channel and left your feedback in the comments section. We really want to hear what you think. Thank you!
So we had a plan, well sort of, maybe we should look at a map or something... What we did have was return tickets from Edmonton to Lima and two Keeway motorcycles stored in Huanchaco, Peru. You’ve got to start somewhere. The first step we took along this journey was to look at a map together. This was done back in Canada not at the side of the road in Peru by the way. We both had some ideas of places we wanted to go, so we loosely planned out some routes in google earth and google maps. The next step was packing. Oh boy, I naively underestimated this step in the process. We barely got all our stuff into two checked bags each, accompanied by some seriously bloated carry-on items, but we made it work. We usually travel light and agile, but that was definitely not the case for this trip.
March 19th began like any other day. We woke up early, not exactly bright eyed and bushy tailed. We had spent the previous evening re-jigging our packing to make sure we came in on weight. Air Canada aren’t the type of airline to be generous with these sorts of things. Shower, breakfast, shuttle to the airport.
Check in at the Air Canada counter was fairly painless. The bag check gentleman was a bit old and grumpy, but we were playing by the rules so there was nothing he could do to stop us. Security was a cinch and we were officially on our way. Our route was a flight from Edmonton to Toronto then onwards to Lima straight from Toronto. We had about 3 hours in the airport in Toronto, which we used to refuel, and relax.
I was able to sleep somewhat on the plane, Alberto was not. The Air Canada staff was friendly, keeping us hydrated throughout the 8hrs or so flight. Going through customs and retrieving our luggage was really easy in Lima. Soon enough we were navigating the shark infested waters of taxis and tours at the arrivals gate. Having just woken up it was a bit of a shock to the system at ~1:00am. Thankfully Alberto's friend Rodrigo came to pick us up at the airport. And a good thing too since all our stuff pretty much filled his Jeep Cherokee. We spent the night, or what was left of it anyway, at Grandma's house. It's pretty humid here in Lima, welcome back to Peru.
We only had the one day in the capital and we had a bit of a list of things that needed to get done. I enjoy riding in taxis in Lima though. It is fascinating. Somehow there are few accidents (at least I have yet to be in one in a taxi) and the horn language is entertaining in short doses. I also like the freedom to look around while sitting in the back of the taxi, unlike the constant focus that is required while riding a motorcycle in those streets. We were able to quickly get the things on our list checked off.
The bus to take us to Trujillo left Lima at 10:30pm. The person doing security at the bus station was pretty cool. He quickly checked my items by squeezing one of my carry-on bags. "Helmet?" he asked, "Yes" I replied. He then squeezed my very full backpack. "Equipment?" "Yes" I replied. He smiled and asked if I was doing motocross, since I had never heard that word before and didn't understand I smiled and nodded. Alberto later told me he was talking about Motocross. He looked very excited about my motocrossing in Trujillo, which started to get me excited as well.
We arrived in Huanchaco Beach refreshed and ready for hard day of work. The bus arrived at 8am. The goal was to hit the road as soon as possible. We were able to spend some time visiting with Alberto's family, but more or less we were down to business right away. It was a bit of a relief to have finally reached our destination. It was rather stressful managing our 4 massive bags and 4 carry-on items. Once settled we got busy with our long list of todos: washing the bikes, installing our farkles, unpacking and organizing our stuff etc... Boy are these Giant Loop’s a nice piece of kit. They packed up nice and small in the luggage and installed onto the bikes without a fuss. They were key to our plan to pack all our stuff onto these Keeways.
The bikes had some troubles starting but they eventually came to life, though after all was said and done one still had a dodgy battery. Alberto definitely got a workout starting them, as he was running up and down the road trying to bump start them. We worked long into the night, and by the time we went to bed we were both exhausted. Day two was essentially a repeat of day 1. We both were still working hard on trip prep. Or at least that was what we thought. When Alberto went into Trujillo to run some errands he noticed his bike was running like a piece of crap. Not exactly the news I wanted to hear.
Other than that though things were coming together slowly but surely. We took both bikes into Trujillo, to a bike shop, to see about sorting Alberto's bike and getting the oil changed. I followed Alberto through the city and I could hear his bike backfiring like crazy.
This was my first time riding my bike and the first impressions are good. The front wheel feels a little flimsy but overall the power and handling seem fine. Finding neutral requires a PhD in mechanics, but what is a bike without character. Oh and Aberto took my battery, so my bike needs to be kickstarted because the battery can't power the electric start. This leaves me extremely nervous during idling situations at intersections. What is an international adventure without a little excitement?
Back at the mechanics they greeted us and quickly brought Chasqui in to get worked on. I'm not exactly sure what happened but he fixed the crappy bike syndrome. It took him a while and he was working hard to get things just right. From what I understood of the conversation the mechanic seemed very knowledgeable. He also had two helpers, one of which was friendly and chatty. After sorting Alberto’s bike they quickly changed our oil, adjusted our chains and even fixed up my front rack. These guys were slick. I joked to Alberto that if these guys had rebuilt our BMWs 3 years ago we wouldn't have had any problems. When all was said and done we had working bikes and we were very grateful. It was dark by the time we left the mechanic shop. Filtering and trying to follow Alberto at night through the city was a bit tricky but I made it okay. Another day in the books.
With the bulk of the packing done the previous day we spent today finishing up our packing and bike mods. We finished everything up by mid afternoon so we took some time to relax and visit. Everything was on the bikes ready to go bright and early for the next day. Braaaaaaap! Next stop, somewhere awesome.
Ring, ring... ugh is that the alarm already? Let’s snooze a little more haha. Adventure can wait a bit longer can’t it? We eventually got up at 6:30ish. We grabbed a delicious breakfast of mango and avocado, que rico, to fuel us for the day. Since everything was packed we just needed to suit up and hit the road. Some goodbyes to the family and some strange looks from people walking down the street and we were officially off! We were charting a direct course for the mountains. Woohoo!
We grabbed some gas before leaving Trujillo, never pass up an opportunity for gas, and I learned that you can't stay sitting on the bike while they pump gas. They thought I was a flight risk. Driving along the panamerican highway it made me wish I had a more powerful bike to pass all the stinky trucks, but once we ditched the highway the open road was all ours.
We left the hustle and bustle of Trujillo and were free to cruise along at 60kph with little interference or worry. We were pretty much maxing out our combined 26 horsepower at that pace. haha! We passed through the sugar cane fields and the unfortunate smell of burning garbage. This was a familiar road, as we had ridden it before on the F8GSs, but this time instead of going to Santiago de Chuco, we turned at Otuzco.
As we climbed into the mountains the landscape changed from dry sand and sugar cane fields to lush green hillsides covered in eucalyptus. I love the way the air smells when riding through eucalyptus. One of my favourite things in Peru. I am always fascinated by the local people I can see from the road: a worker in a field raising his shovel as we passed, an old lady carrying wood on her back or the lady spinning wool. I’ll stick those in the memory bank.
Surprise surprise, we encountered a few navigational challenges trying to get on track in Otuzco. There was no roads on our GPS showing the route we wanted to take but we weren’t going to let that stop us. We stopped for gas and tried to get pointed in the right direction. The hand gestures waved to the mountains so off we went following the combis and buses. We figured they were going somewhere if not the right way. It didn't matter either way because we were having fun.
The road was a bit rough; the Keeways were getting a full workout. They handled the road no problem though and I commented to Alberto several times that I was happily riding like a genuine Peruvian. The roads were fun, despite being bumpy in most places. Life from a Keeway seemed pretty good.
Up and down the road went, as roads tend to do in Peru. We managed to escape a nearby thunder shower that was in the mountains to our Southeast, only to be consumed by fog once we summited our mountains and had started our descent down the other side. The fog reduced us down to first gear as it was very slow going with the limited visibility. Also having all the moisture collect on my goggles made clear vision difficult. We seemed to be the only ones on the road though, so that made things easier. We left the fog as we descended only to find rain. Luckily for us the rain was pretty light so it didn't really bother us too much. The deeper we got into the mystery route the less traffic we saw. We were getting some very strange stares when Alberto had his hi-viz rain suit on. The people came from far and wide to see the sight.
As the magic number of 3pm rolled around we started our search for a place to camp. We were still only 2/3 down the valley so on either side of the road the terrain was too steep to camp. We figured that our best option was down by the river so we continued to follow the road down. At some point Alberto noticed that my exhaust was broken, like hanging off broken. Looks like we lost a bolt. We ziptied it back in place but my bike had a much deeper exhaust note now because there was some gaps in the line. Perfect, makes it sound even more like an authentic peruvian moto I thought. The unfortunate thing was that the exhaust appeared to have knocked my rear brake nut off so my brakes were leaking and I had no rear brake. Since my rear brake is my best brake (the front is crap) I was a bit sad to discover this. The engine braking will have to do the heavy lifting from now on I guess.
We were able to find a flattish spot to camp once the road leveled off at the valley bottom. Just as we parked it started to rain, so we quickly got the tent up and hid inside. The rain continued off and on and the mosquitos deterred us from being outside. All in all a pretty good first day. Welcome back to Peru.
So the rain that was off and on earlier in the evening turned into full downpour overnight. The tent held up well, good location choosing for once, and all that remained was some early morning fog when we got up. When I tried to make breakfast I discovered that the bottle we had so proudly purchased in Lima didn't quite work with our MSR stove. D’OH! We couldn't keep a seal, so there was no fresh breakfast this morning and we will have to try to figure that one out soon. We scavenged a breakfast from some our snacks stash.
The day was already pretty warm by the time we set off, and both Alberto and myself worked up a sweat kick starting my bike to life. This is going to be a fun morning ritual. The road continued to follow the river down the valley, but at a distance well above the water. The terrain was still green and we were enjoying the ride with Chasqui and Apu. No traffic, nice views and an okay riding temperature. We encountered some muddy sections, most likely from the torrential rain the previous evening, but they were no match for our little engines that could. We were hardly fast and furious though, still riding in first gear the whole time.
It wasn't long before we reached a truck parked in the road and noticed a dynamite prepping station at the side of the road. The explosives were completely unsupervised by the way. So we parked the bikes and Alberto went to find out what the deal was. There was a medium sized excavator repairing the road just up ahead and luckily they would let us pass without a wait. It's always good to be a moto. We got lucky there, because it was a LONG way back to find a detour. Phew.
There was a bit more rough sections of road, nothing too crazy, I would classify it as intermediate level riding. Just enough to keep you focused. It was a nice day with amazing views of the valley. The bikes were handling everything really well, and so far my exhaust was keeping it together. We did notice another bolt missing at the intake, so it was leaking a bit and I could smell the exhaust. Not exactly ideal.
We were happily cruising along, enjoy the remote road and peacefulness, when we noticed a loader working up ahead. When we got closer we could clearly see that the road was blocked by a landslide. Oh crap. We were in too deep, no turning back now, this could be a long wait. We drove further down the road where we were greeted by a rocky river. I could see that the loader was quickly clearing us a path so things were looking good on that front. The only issue I could see at this point was that the road was single lane and the Loader filled the road. Alberto, of course, dove into the deep end without hesitation. He crossed the river and scooted to the side of the road trying to let the loader pass him. The road was literally just the width of the loader. I watched the operator park his tire within centimeters of the edge of the road and somehow Alberto squeezed through on the inside. Oh god, not it's my turn. I waited for the loader to do his thing. He parked in the river, which in truth was the widest section of the road, but it was a bit tricky for me to navigate downstream of his machine. I gave it my best shot but I stalled it a few times on the slippery rocks, which was a hassle because I had to kickstart Apu back to life. On the plus side I was developing quite the knack for kickstarting. Alberto came to my rescue, which was good because I wasn't going to make it on my own. The line through the river left for me by the loader was too tricky for me to drive through. His bucket was in the way; I had to angle my handle bars severely to get through. So Alberto propped the bike up as I got past the bucket and then he just pushed me out of the water. Exciting times. After that whole ordeal we decided to take a break, just a few 100 metres up the road.
We had a few snacks, and it looked liked the equipment operators had swapped out. The guy who was driving the loader was now walking along the road in our direction. When he reached us he stopped for a chat. He asked us where we were going and asked to see our map. He showed us some spots on the map and said that the road narrowed a bit before the next town but that after that it was smooth sailing. Good to know. He also asked if we had been able to try the fruit from the area. We told him that we were planning to buy some in the next town. He's said that we wouldn't be able to and then opened his bag and gave us two avocados (two different types no less). Awesome! We gave him a Canada sticker and thanked him. He wished us a good trip and continued walking back to wherever he was going.
The road ahead was fine. It did start to narrow, and there was more greenery growing on the road but everything seemed fine to us. And then, to our surprise the road turned into single track. Just like that! When the man said narrow, he meant narrow! Anyone planning to take this route on a big adventure bike had better put their game face on for this section because it just got real! Thankfully we were on small bikes so it wasn't too bad. There was only one steep section that caused us real trouble. We had to push Chasqui up, which completely exhausted us. It was hot and we were sweating like crazy. Before taking Apu up we modified the hole that was giving us trouble a bit to make it smoother. That way Alberto could keep the momentum to make it up the steep hill. It worked and he was able to drive Apu up no problems. With both bikes safely at the top we needed another break. This was getting to be hard work. We thought we could see the town, so we hoped the end of this tricky single track section must be almost over. Just one last push through the tricky bits. With a lot of focus, and some skillful avoidance of a man on a donkey we popped out the other side, smiles on our sweaty faces. That was interesting.
The town wasn't much of a town, so we didn’t stop. The people outside gave us some VERY strange looks when we emerged from the bushes. At the first sign of road side water we decided to stop. It was hot, and we were tired. It was a muddy little river but we didn't care. It was refreshing to us. We chomped down those avocados, and between the boost in nutrition and cold water we gained a new lease on life.
The road zig zagged through houses, turkeys and pigs running across the road. Again lots of strange looks from locals riding motos and people standing outside their houses. When we reached the end of the rural area of Tambo? the road got nice again and the view of the valley opened up. The terrain was getting drier, with more cacti on the hills than lush trees and bushes. It was a nice road that snaked along the edge of the mountain, and for the most part followed the river Huancay at a nice steady elevation.
The riding was very fun and we were finally able to get the bikes into 3rd gear. It had been quite a while since the bikes had seen even second gear and now we were cruising in 3rd. Weeeeeee! As the elevation dropped the heat increased. At its high we reached 36 degrees Celsius, a little bit too much for our taste. Dust and sweat always feel so great at the end of the day.
When the road eventually connected to the bottom of the valley it was dry, dusty and there was garbage everywhere. The road conditions deteriorated and it became hard work riding. It reminded me of the Canon del Pato. We were both exhausted and Alberto was ready to stop for the day. While I didn’t disagree, it was really hot and dusty so I was wanted to push on further in hopes of finding a better environment to camp overnight. We compromised and stopped for a snack at a corner store. That seemed to give him the extra push needed to make it to the paved main road that would take us to Cascas.
Once on pavement it felt like we were flying, even though we were still doing under 70kph. It was nice to get off the bumpy road though. For the last little while we were riding on washboard and dust and it was becoming a killer. We quickly made it to Cascas where we stopped for gas and to ask where we could find a mechanic for motos. We got directions and I embarrassingly couldn't start my bike after the tank had been filled. I could smell the gas, as if the engine was flooded by my kickstarting techniques, and here I thought I was getting so good at it. The lady who pumped our gas was even quick to give starting the bike a try. Thankfully the town of Cascas is on a hill so Alberto just free wheeled out of the gas station and bumped it on the road. Easy peasy.
It wasn't even a block to the mechanic. Luckily he had time and was going to sort my bike today. He fixed the back brake, exhaust, installed a new battery and adjusted the chains of both bikes. It was over 1.5hrs of work and it only cost us $10. Way better than dealing with it ourselves at some remote camping location, so money well spent. The only downside was that it was getting dark by the time he finished so we decided to grab a hotel in Cascas for the night. The mechanic, Victor, recommended a place to stay and it ticked all the boxes. Sorted.
Alberto went all over town trying to find a new battery for me bike. After searching nearby didn’t turn up anything one of the guys who worked at the shop took Alberto on his bike! Alberto rode around town pillion with this guy, hilarious!
When we were searching for the hotel I was left alone in the Plaza de Armas. I was approached by one brave kid, of the many standing and staring, and though I could only understand bits and pieces of what he was saying (everyone seemed to speak very fast and I was wearing earplugs) he showed me this cool game he was playing: trompo. Once he had broken the ice some more kids came over and asked questions about the bike etc. They thought I was in the Dakar, what a compliment.
Once we had a safe place to sleep sorted, we grabbed some chicken at a popular restaurant for dinner. This town is filled with friendly people, quite remarkably so. A sure sign we are heading into the Sierra I suppose. It could also be because this town is famous for its wine, so maybe that helps keep everyone happy. Another thing we noticed while we were out searching for dinner was that this is definitely a moto town. We saw tons of bikes ripping around the town two or three up.
It was a day filled with everything from the rewarding riding to the unbearable desert heat. With experiment number one in the books (we didn’t know if the road would connect through) it should be smooth sailing for a few days following Garmin and actual roads on my map.
It was somewhat of a lazy morning, as mornings are when staying at a hotel. So many luxuries to leave behind (toilet, power, etc...). It was getting surprisingly warm (I guess it should stop being a surprise?) before we left, so we were in a bit of a hurry to hit the road. And here I thought we were continuing out of town on the same highway we came in on. Haha not even close. We drove the steep streets leaving Cascas and ended up on a dirt track. I thought we were lost since we had come into town on such a fancy highway but Alberto told me everything was in order.
No matter, the road was pretty nice and the scenery was even better. We were climbing again and we had reached eucalyptus elevation. How sweet it is. The road was pretty quiet, though we passed the occasional house or grape farm as we climbed up the mountainside. When we reached the top the view of the valley below was amazing. Also the temperature was much better for riding. Double win!
As we crossed the side of the mountain the road narrowed considerably due to the terrain limitations. It was a fantastic stretch of road, complete with a neat little tunnel perfect for a photo-op. The drop off on the left hand side was quite spectacular, though I didn't let my gaze linger too long. A very enjoyable and unique stretch of road, and thankfully we didn't encounter any other traffic. It wasn't long after that we reached Contumazá.
When we arrived in the town we stopped at the first store we saw to buy some snacks. We walked out of there with a bag of fruit (peaches, bananas, oranges, mandarins) and an avocado. We eat at least one avocado a day in Peru. It is glorious. We headed with our fresh goods to the Plaza de Armas to enjoy a mid-day snack. While we were stopped on our lunchbreak Alberto saw a stray donkey with a propane tank graze on some grass as he passed through on his daily route. Sometimes you see the strangest things.
The road to Chilete was wider, it could easily accommodate two lanes of traffic. It was also smoother, indicating that someone maintained it, so we expected to see more traffic. We passed a Rhino money truck (camion blindado) coming the other way, so it must have been the major route in the area. Either way once again the riding was truly amazing. Too many switchbacks to count as we descended down the other side of the mountain with 360 degree views.
We only encountered one maniac driver, and Alberto gave him a taste of his own medicine. We also saw quite a bit of exotic wildlife, we almost thought we had got lost and ended up in the Amazonas. Lots of bright colored birds, and I saw a tarantula crossing the road. It was a far departure from the lifeless dust-scapes of yesterday.
The further down we went the drier it got. It was trying to rain but it was only a few drops here and there and it was so hot we didn't mind it. By the time we reached Chilete there was no rain and the terrain was dry as a bone. We quickly gassed up the bikes and headed for the hills via the signs to San Pedro.
What a surprise that turned out to be. The rain continued to drop, but still not very hard so it wasn't a nuisance. The road however was a paved treat! It was curve after curve and we were carving it up, albeit at a gentle pace of 60kph. Still we felt fast and the twisties at any speed put a smile on the face. Up up up we went getting closer and closer to the black rain clouds. At this point we were hoping to avoid the rain and camp for the night but spots to camp were hard to come by. Besides it was hard to keep an eye out for good camp spots because the road was so much fun.
When we saw the sign for Kuntur Wasi we thought we might be able to camp. The museum was closed, so we were unable to ask permission regarding camping, so we kept following the road only to discover that it led to people’s houses and nowhere campable. Did we miss the ruins somehow? We parked and considered our options. We climbed up the hill a bit to see if we could see any ruins but no, we saw nothing. Then a gentleman came walking past and offered to show us the way to the ruins, 15min he said. We couldn't say no.
So there we were hiking up the side of a mountain, at 2000m+ elevation in full riding gear. The old man was leaving us in his dust, and there was no dust. Needless to say we were both exhausted and we could barely keep up. The man set us on our way about halfway up, he could clearly tell that we were slowing him down, which was good for us because we could take more breaks haha. He continued along the foot path to his house. We eventually made it to the top of the hill, a little delirious from the exertion. There was a little hut where we paid our entrance fee (5 soles) and a nicer pathway leading up from the Museum (that must be the official way). We were able to leave our jackets with the guy at the hut, which allowed us to regain our breath somewhat. We toured the ruins, which were quite nice. Alberto said that as a child he always heard people talking about Kuntur Wasi. The setting was phenomenal and I can only imagine what the temple would have been like in its time. We got some tips from the guy manning the hut, Valdéz, on where to camp: the museum or the high school. He said we could camp at the ruins but it was hike in only. Thankfully the hike down was easier and took a third of the time. Just as we reached the bikes the rain started up again.
We checked in at the museum first, and while the police man (the only person on the property) was very friendly he could not let us camp there. He had an adorable dog named Blanca that we said hello to. She was super friendly and loved to be pet. Next stop was the school. They let us camp in their soccer field and gave us access to their bathroom overnight. The rain was coming down now, and we weren't going to find somewhere else so while we typically like to be remote with our campsites we were thankful that the school let us use their facilities.
It rained off and on during the evening, but mostly off. The man who guided us on our hike said that the rainy season had just come a few weeks ago and that January and February had been dry. We were trying to strategically plan our trip at the end of the rainy season, so his comment wasn’t inspiring. Another funny observation is that two of the people we asked about camping locations tried to deter us due to rain. To which we smiled and said that rain was not a problem for us. People are so friendly in the mountains.
Overnight there was some loud dog barking, but no real problems to speak of. All in all it was a pretty solid camping spot. The rain stopped early on, so the tent sort of dried out before packing. At who knows what time, but it was still dark out, the cleaning lady and her son came to clean the bathrooms at the school. We knew they were there because they were blasting chicha music. And when I say blasting, it was like 250 decibels loud. Oh boy, that is a hell of a way to wake up. Even I could not sleep through that noise. So bright (the pitch black sort of bright) and early we got packed and hit the road.
The road to San Miguel switch-backed downwards from San Pedro but then leveled out as we sweeped across the side of the valley. We were happily cruising at banana elevation, with views filled with waterfalls and hot sunshine on our backs. The road was nice, curvy and stuff, but it was in rougher shape than the tasty treat we were riding yesterday afternoon. Still fun, but not quite worthy of bringing a sport bike. I think turning around at Kuntur Wasi would satisfy the Sunday blast crowd.
We saw a bunch of school kids walking to school, some waved, some stared with expressionless faces, some seemed to be shy. We saw women washing their hair in the drainage ditches, which were full no doubt from all the rain. The road was an average Peruvian road, the entire way seemed to be populated. Even though we weren't in specific towns we wouldn't go too far without passing a house or seeing traffic or pedestrians.
When we reached San Miguel we stopped and asked for directions for the market. We found it easy enough, or should I say Alberto found it easy enough and I followed him. I watched the bikes as Alberto bought some food for breakfast. He returned with two avocados, a pomegranate, a mamey, two bananas and some cheese. It was the breakfast of champions. While we were eating by our bikes a passing gentleman commented that Alberto's helmet was nice. He just went right up to the bike and picked it up, asking how much it cost. Alberto told him $100USD, and the guy repeated "it's a very nice helmet". Another person stopped to talk to us as we were finishing our breakfast. During the conversation we took the opportunity to confirm which way to leave town. He gave us directions and told us to be careful because the drivers on the road are crazy. Haha, no kidding.
Without GPS or good verbal directions you'd probably miss the turn off for Llapa. It is just a simple dirt track heading north into the next valley. The sun was still shining and the road was pretty nice, in some ways in better shape than the paved road we had ridden earlier in the morning. We did encounter some crazy drivers but for the most part people were tranquilo or riding horses so they didn’t pose much of a threat. Again the area was populated, similar to "the countryside" with farm houses every couple of 100m. I said to Alberto what a nice life it would be, relatively speaking. Having a nice farm in such a beautiful location, staying busy all day growing yummy food. I would make chicha (Purple Corn juice) every day. One house even had an epic view of a waterfall. I could maybe get used to using an outhouse.
I guess we must have got distracted by the fun roads and happy scenery because we missed our turn just after Llapa. Luckily Alberto noticed our mistake pretty quickly and we only had to backtrack about 7min. The reason we had missed our turn was because the road barely resembled a road. It was a bit steep and rough but Chasqui and Apu had no problems. We love these little bikes.
As we left the happy valley and started to climb the next valley it got clouder and subsequently colder. Alberto, as always, was boiling but I was starting to get a wee bit chilly. We continued to pass houses but the the higher we got the less houses we saw and the more remote everything started to feel. Once we started to see pampas grass at the side of the road we realized we'd made a step change. We were now up in the high elevations. This particular area appeared to be a dairy producing region because all the buildings we passed had milk containers, donkeys carrying milk containers, trucks carrying milk containers and even people carrying milk containers. I think we maxed out at around 3700m. It was windy up there and I was past getting pretty cold, I was cold! I like the scenery this high up, pampas grass and tiny little pine trees. It is so stark and peaceful. If it wasn't just 10am it would have been nice to camp.
The bikes were feeling a tiny bit more sluggish but were handling the altitude quite well. No real effective difference for us and our riding. When we reached the pavement we decided to take a rest. I was just trying to get warm while Alberto treated himself to a yummy snack. It looked like rain was ahead, but for the time being we decided to risk it. When we set off again I lead us in the wrong direction, but luckily again Alberto caught the mistake early on so were we able to get back on track pretty fast. The section of road we had to do twice was actually pretty fun so it wasn't all bad. As we got back on track the rain was starting to sprinkle a bit. It was still really cold and windy so we stopped in a somewhat sheltered location so that I could layer up. Oh boy, what a difference that made. Silly to not have done it earlier but I kept thinking we would end up somewhere warm. It seemed apparent now that we were going to start climbing again so it was only going to get colder.
The road we had marked off to take to Bambamarca started off very sketchy. Lots of rocky and washed out sections. What have we got ourselves into? We definitely got some strange looks from a few people we passed on horseback. Especially since now Alberto was wearing his rain suit, which is hi-viz of course. The road conditions never really improved, it was a technical ride the whole way and the rain got harder. Sadly the views were partially covered by fog, but on a sunny day I imagine this route would be quite spectacular. If you are planning on bringing your large adventure bike let it be known that this was an intermediate route. I certainly would have been a lot more stressed on my F8GS. The highest elevation we reached was over 4000m. On one steep rocky climb we both had the Keeways maxed out in first gear and the poor bikes were just barely making it up. A bit steeper grade or rougher terrain and it would have been touch and go. Still, we haven't really adjusted the carbs or anything and the bikes are performing quite well at altitude.
We kept hoping when we crossed over into the next valley we would be able to outrun the rain, but every time we popped over a crest we saw the rain clouds still there. So we got rained on. We were still having fun though navigating the tricky steep rocky sections. We unfortunately had got off course from the track we laid out on the GPS and didn't really see how to rejoin it. The GPS road and real life were not telling the same story. We followed one road for about 10 min only to find it terminate at a school yard. A man came out of his house to talk to us. He asked Alberto "what is your situation?". To which he explained we were tourists, not that that would be all that reassuring to the man because what would tourists being doing here. He was very helpful and told us that we had to go back to the 4 way and take a right to get to Bambamarca. The rain was becoming very persistent at this point and backtracking isn’t a mood lifter. Riding in rain gear is just not fun, it just feels icky. Not to mention reduced visibility putting a negative stamp on the situation. We were off the Garmin track at this point so we just followed the road and hoped for the best since I don't think either one of us could have endured a significant backtrack. As it turned out we ended up at some sort of quarry, concerned we had definitely taken a wrong turn, only to see that the main road, (3N) was just up ahead. So we followed the road through the industrial zone, worried it wouldn’t run through and soon met up with the paved highway. Salvation!
So the plan was to cruise in the direction of Bambamarca hoping the rain would stop and we could find somewhere to camp. Hualgayoc was the first town on the road and apparently also where the pavement stopped. It seemed as though this area had recently been hammered by landslides. It was hard to tell if we were indeed on the right road, but thanks to reassurance from Garmin it seemed we were. What followed was an interesting 60min of riding. Some sections were deep red mud, others were just puddles or soupy mud lying over the hard road beneath. Other sections were very narrow and were tricky to negotiate with traffic coming the other way. Needless to say things got very messy. Pretty much the entire route to Bambamarca it was raining and the road was in a state of flooded, muddy mess. We have never before encountered such a mess on what appeared to be a main road. It would have been extremely stressful on a heavier bike but with ours, while we did slip and slide at times, it was mostly easy to keep things under control. Slow and steady we just made our way through the mess. It was exhausting though, and as we were approaching our destination we agreed that we would not bother with camping and planned to get a dry hotel instead. At some point during the endless rain and mud the mind and body give up on camping and showers become the subject of fantasies. We were wet, tired and I was very cold.
Though I am not quite at the point where I am keen to wash my hair in a drainage ditch I remembered what I saw the locals doing earlier and suggested to Alberto that we stop to try and clean our boots and pants in the ditch. Because we were a complete mess and it was going to be a disaster getting a hotel. So we parked up next to the drainage ditch and then hopped in sloshing our boots around and wiping the mud off our pants. It worked really well actually, and while we were still soaking wet at least we weren't muddy as well.
A system that never fails is to get directions to the plaza. There is usually a hotel nearby. Alberto was able to find a really nice hotel just a block from the plaza, all I could think about was getting this wet gear off and drinking tea. We secured the hotel room and unpacked. Alberto did a good job of cleaning our stuff so it wouldn't make too much of a mess in our room. We felt bad though since our muddy footprints were all over the hotel. After some hot showers we set out into the night looking for dinner. A yummy pollo a la braza was in our sights, and we had some fresh chicha morada, which was hot so it was kind of like tea. Dinner was delicious. When we got back to the room we pretty much both flaked out we were so tired.
It doesn't seem to matter where we are, the country or the city, there always seems to be a rooster nearby to let us know when morning comes. As it turns out Alberto had a case of 'Pollo a la Brasa' revenge last night, vomiting and having an overall shitty time, so he was feeling quite less than 100% when we woke up this morning. I went out to get him some water so he could hydrate. It was about 6:30 in the morning and most of the shops were still closed up. It was a pretty quiet scene. I did see some street vendors selling breakfast stuff though and made a note to return to investigate further.
When I returned with his water I told him they were selling fresh orange juice in the plaza. He was very tired and felt weak all over but he thought that some fresh air and orange juice were worth the effort. So we walked to get some fresh orange juice, which was very yummy.
When we returned to the room Alberto wanted to sleep some more, so he did while I sat around in the hotel room. He pretty much slept all morning, so it was clear that we were not going anywhere today. We paid for another night in the hotel and then went for a walk in the afternoon. We went back to the plaza. It was lunch time and all the school kids were out and about. We bought some fruit from the vendors, some more mamey (local fruit) in particular. We wandered around for a while checking out stores and talking to people. A group of young school boys addressed me in English, asking "where are you from?". I told them I was from Canada, to which there was some giggling and I told you so gestures. Then they asked me my name, which I told them and then asked them their name. Two guys responded while the others were too shy. I enjoy talking to kids and helping them practice their English.
We spent the rest of the day back at the hotel relaxing, and giving Alberto time to recover. He made me commit to not going out for any more chicken while we are in Peru. Darn, one of my favourites.
Again our rooster neighbor was kind enough to wake us up this morning. The day looked cloudy at first but once we hit the road the sky was blue and the sun was shining. We needed gas before leaving the city so that was the first stop once we hit the road. While at the gas station station we met a nice man who thought we were riding KTMs, what a compliment. Alberto chatted to him while we got our gas pumped. Before we left, the gas station attendant gave us some cloths to wipe our helmets. What a nice guy.
We got a little lost trying to leave town, but after asking for directions a few times we were set straight. It was sort of a surreal moment because we only drove down the road 20min and poof, there was no Bambamarca in view. You wouldn't even know it. It had just disappeared over the hill.
The road was surprisingly busy and it was very scenic. So we let people pass and took our time taking photos and stuff. Alberto’s GoPro mount broke (rough terrain) and the camera when bouncing along the road. I had to quickly park my bike and rescue the camera from the traffic. Surprisingly there was very little damage, and no functional damage. It was just a normal day when Alberto told me (as we were descending a rocky hill) that his bike died. He tried hill starting it, but each time he got it going it would stall out again. Crap. We were able to pull over at a flat shady spot and proceeded to start the troubleshooting.
Since there was no sign of life from his battery we started there. Once we opened everything up we were able to confirm that the battery was indeed fine. This was good news, except that now it seemed like we had an electrical problem and didn't know what was the culprit. The road in the morning had been rocky and rough so we thought that a cable had come loose.
We started with the easy stuff, but didn't see anything out of place. We took off the instrument panel to check the connections. Everything was fine, and we still couldn't start the bike. The rest of the connections led up under the seat. We decided that we had two options. Bust open the bike and continue to look for the obvious or flag down a truck to take the bike back to Bambamarca. After thinking it over we were going to give it one more go.
To get to the seat we had to first take everything off the bike.A nuisance I know, but we didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Once we got under the seat we discovered a blown fuse. There was a spare, and when we popped in the new one and the bike was alive again. Oh man, what a relief. We were back in business. We packed everything up and hit the road. Only one Peruvian truck driver stopped to ask us if we needed help and by that point we had identified the fuse as the issue.
The section of road ahead was really neat. The road dropped down into a canyon, following the river Llaucano. There was waterfalls on one side, and overhanging rock on other side. It was spectacular and then Alberto's bike quit again. You have got to be kidding me! Thankfully Alberto had positioned the fuse for easy access so we didn't need to go through the ordeal of getting under the seat. When he checked it, yes it was blow again. He had a bunch of spares of a different type of fuse but no more of the same model for Chasqui. Desperate times call for desperate measures. He bumped it up to 15amps and modified the housing to accommodate the different fuse. There was no going back now. The bike started again and we were cautiously optimistic about being back in business. It was 1:30 in the afternoon at this point and we had not even made it an hour down the road from Bambamarca.
Nevertheless we continued along the planned route. It was a stunning road for scenery. The road itself was rough in places but it was worth it. We got turned around trying to get to Paccha, as the road was out, but luckily there was a detour that didn't really get us too off track. The other road headed up into the mountains, so we left the river behind and set off into the unknown.
To our surprise, the road was pretty populated. We climbed up to about 3000m and then the clouds got darker and the temperature was colder. The rain was spitting but it was never enough to convince us to suit up in rain gear. We drove through many towns that were not on my map, and came to intersections with town names that weren't on my map. We had no idea where we were, relatively speaking. A combination of asking directions and following Garmin seemed to work out. We made it somewhere I guess.
Only once during the day did the road get remote to the point where there was no people. The road led up over the mountains. It was windy and dark clouds loomed. The scenery was stark but beautiful. It was kind of nice to feel like we were in the middle of nowhere. We considered stopping to camp but the cold and potential rain convinced me to keep chugging along until we could see into the next valley. We were in luck, the next valley had some blue sky so we decided to push on.
We were back in farm land. The animal of choice definitely seems to be pigs in Peru. At every house there is at least one hanging out. Alberto commented that these pigs seem to sleep more than a dog, because they are almost always sleeping when we drive past. We also passed a troublesome horse who had his leash carelessly across the road. Given my track record with horses we passed by him very cautiously. We eventually caught up to the sunshine we had seen from across the valley and started to look for a place to camp. This proved to be harder than anticipated because as far as we could see was farms. When we could see Tacabamba we knew we had to make a move.
There was a cell tower up on a hill that looked like it had potential. We went to check it out only to find out the road dead-ended at a house. We tried to ask if we could just camp there but no one was home. So back to the main road we went. There was some women at the house back at the road. Alberto went to ask them about possible camping locations. I'm not exactly sure how he asked the question but what followed was quite something. The two ladies he was speaking to were very animated. I was too far away to understand what they were saying but I could see that they were giving him a serious talking to.
Afterwards he filled me in. We weren't on the right road to the tower for starters. The path to the tower was a lot sketchier. When Alberto sounded hesitant to go up the path the lady told him that she rode her bike up there every day. That he must not be a good rider in dirt if he can't make it. It was hilarious to watch the ladies telling him off even without being able to hear. I told him we should go for it, since this looked like our only chance. The path was indeed sketchy in parts but we made it most of the way. We didn't make it all the way to the tower but it didn’t matter. We stopped once we reached a suitable place to camp.
Before setting up the tent Alberto talked to a man walking by with his donkey. He said it would be fine if we put our tent there. Then the ladies walked by on their way to their house. They told us off for not going all the way to the tower. Haha. I wish I had it on video tape. Those two were spunky. Then we got another visitor, a man wearing a security vest. He was concerned about mining companies opening a mine in the area. Once we told him we were tourists the mood lightened and he told us it would be okay to camp. We were on his father’s land apparently so it was comforting to get the green light.
It was pretty close to being dark by the time we got the tent set up. It was an amazing spot though, and breakfast tomorrow with a view is going to be good.
Once again it was an exhausting day. It was touch and go there at the side of the road with the fuse issue. When the sun was long gone Alberto went star gazing. What a treat it was, plus the added bonus of fireflies. It was a pretty special spot.
Our camping spot was even more spectacular in the morning so were really took our time to appreciate it. It was a Christmas miracle as Alberto had fixed our fuel bottle using some teflón tape. We were back in business and treated ourselves to a traditional camping breakfast of quinoa and tea. Hot breakfast again was a treat. Alberto did some minor repairs to the bikes, and we also walked up to check out the view from the tower we didn't bother driving to last night. The view was indeed spectacular. To get there we had to pass through a farmer’s field and his guard dog was doing an excellent job of letting us know that we were not welcome.
Once the sun came out in full force it started to heat up rather quick. As we were packing up the bikes we got a few more visitors. Our lady friend from the previous day came over to say goodbye. She told us that her neighbors had asked about us. They were suspicious that we were mining prospectors and that she should have got rid of us. She assured them that we were nice people and were only visitors to the area. Either way Alberto and I decided to come up with cover stories for our occupations in case it came up in conversation again. We decided to be teachers. He is a Spanish teacher and I am a Math teacher. Also a gentleman with his children stopped by to collect his cow. He came over to chat, but his kids seemed too shy to even respond to our hellos. Like most people we encountered at that camping spot, he was surprised that we spent the night outside instead of going into town to find a place to stay.
Leaving the camping spot was a little tricky. There was a narrow steep section, and when I tried to navigate it I drove my crash bar into the bank and it almost bumped me over and down the hill. It was a butt clenching moment, that I somehow managed to save and then Alberto came to rescue me, because my foot didn't touch the ground on the non bank side. The rest of the road wasn't too bad, some mud and some rocks. Worth it for the camping spot for sure.
It was a hot day, and only got hotter as we descended down to the town. We needed our chains adjusted so we stopped at a moto taxi repair shop. He said he would adjust our chains but we needed to wait an hour. That wasn't going to work. Alberto asked if he could pay to use his tools instead. That was okay, so Alberto adjusted the chains and in the end the guy didn't ask for any money. A man on a bike at the shop, who we were asking directions, offered to show us the way out of town. He did say though that the road was a dead-end, but we chose to ignore that little detail. We don’t believe in dead-ends. Unfortunately in the haste to be led out of town Alberto forgot some of his tools at the shop. I guess we ended up paying the guy in the end.
We were en route to San Luis de Lucma, and thankfully in the direction of blue skies. The road was rocky, but overall a fine road for a fine day. We had a nice view of the valley and the mountains on the other side. Surprisingly Alberto had a crash when he lost the front in some rocks. It came out of nowhere, and he ended up stuck under his bike. He said he saw the gas dripping from the tank and had a movie moment thinking "this is where it ends". Luckily I was right behind him and between me lifting and him pushing with his free foot we got him out from under his bike and the drama of the dripping fuel. No serious damage was done but the crash bar was bent a bit and restricted access to the shifter. His boots and gloves, both Alpinestars, did a good job protecting him.
We took a post crash break to stop and smell the roses. Time to take a moment, eat some snacks and relax. I enjoyed the scenery and Alberto nursed his bruises. The first town we reached was Anguia, which had a cute little plaza. We always ask for directions at the plaza, which is nice because we get to see lots of Plazas. The road was pretty smooth sailing as we were off our GPS route and the road we were physically on didn't show up on our GPS. We were just going on faith. In the end though, Lucma came into view. The road was rocky, and at some point narrowed considerably, to the point where a truck couldn't pass or at least it didn’t seem that way. Traffic miracles do happen in Peru though...
The road never led us through Lucma, we just came down and followed the river, Rio Curtervo, with the town off to the right. We were able to stop at a river crossing to freshen up because at this point it was hot hot hot! Bananas were growing at the side of the road, that is how hot it was. The road led us along the river, eventually crossing the river and joining what Garmin showed as a main road. The road we took was a bit off the beaten path and not for the faint of heart. There was definitely some tricky sections.
The main road had traffic, and was kind of dusty. The views across the other side of the valley were stunning though. And for the first time this trip, I think, we saw a mountain without a road on it. A virgin mountain! It was only a short distance to Sócota where we re-upped on directions at the plaza/church. Did I mention it's hot!
The road to San Andrea de Cutervo was crazy bumpy and rocky. It looked like it had been washed out on many occasions. It was tough work and required all our focus. Also the road was now heading in the direction of some unfriendly looking clouds. The road slowly climbed along the valley, and then when it crossed over to the next valley there was a distinct change is vegetation. Alberto called it ceja de selva, the eyebrow of the jungle. It definitely looked jungle-like, and I ran over a my first snake of the trip. Oh boy snakes creep me out, just running it over made my skin crawl. We could see the town below, and we could also see and hear the thunder shower that was currently visiting the town. We were exhausted from the rough road and didn't want to camp in the rain so we were trying our best to find a place to camp in the dry. This was a difficult task since the road was basically cut into the side of the hill and didn't really offer anything in access off of it, not to mention the farms that were all over the place. This was going to be a challenge.
The rain was getting closer and we were running out of options. By chance there was a spot that became available, and the rain had not got us yet. It wasn't perfect, but it was going to have to do. We set up camp, and luckily the storm passed through in the opposite direction. The sun came out and we were able to have dinner in the sunshine.
A passing gentleman walked through our camp so we were able to inquire about if it was okay to be there. He was wearing a Daddy Yankee t-shirt and wellies and carried a large axe. We knew he could be trusted, haha. He said it wasn't an issue, and again was concerned that we were mining people. Good thing we have cover stories now. Once he saw that we were who we were he was happy and wished us well. It was a nice peaceful camping spot that treated us well.