One Couple's Highs and Lows in Northern Peru

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by RockyRoads, Jan 13, 2010.

  1. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    I just love mulling over my world map and asking, "Where do I want to ride this year?" Let the dreaming begin! Near the end of last year, my gaze focused on Peru.

    Peru enticed me with its narrow dirt roads that wind up and down the Andes Mountains, countless small villages and towns in the northern area where tourists are still fairly uncommon, the lushness of the Amazon jungle, and the opportunity to communicate with people in my basic (but continually improving) Spanish. The primary lure, however, was Machu Picchu. Like many people, I have had Machu Picchu on my list of “must visit” places for far too long. From the moment I first saw a photo of the extensive stone dwellings stretched out beneath pointed mountain peaks that rose high above wispy fog, I knew that I must one day experience that splendor for myself.

    After some planning (okay, extensive planning), my husband Ben and I left our two kids (ages 7 and 10) in good hands and set off on a 16-day adventure. Our trip to Peru can be divided into two separate portions—our visit to Machu Picchu, and our motorcycle journey into the northern area of the country.

    I will spare you the details of our time in Cusco and at Machu Picchu--we weren't on bikes during that portion of the trip. However, I will post a few photos from there as an intro, and say that we had a FABULOUS time.

    Ben and I arriving in Peru:
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    We made it to Machu Picchu!
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    We even hiked a steep set of switchbacks and rock steps to get to the top of Huayna Picchu (the pointy peak behind Machu Picchu, in the photo above).

    The views looking down from Huayna Picchu were glorious! Look at all of the terracing around Machu Picchu:
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    #1
  2. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Oddometer:
    61,031
    Must be nice to be able to ditch the kids and go off on a moto adventure :ricky

    :lurk
    #2
  3. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    Day 1: Lima to Barranca, Off to a Sizzling Start on the Bikes

    During the initial planning stages of our motorcycle journey, I had identified several key cities that I wanted to visit in both the Andes and the Amazon jungle; then I had created a lengthy route by connecting the towns on my map. I had then researched the possibility of renting motorcycles and traveling on our own throughout the northern area. However, I couldn’t find a company in Lima that would rent us bikes. We had the option of renting bikes in other towns further south (Cusco and Arequipa), but that meant we wouldn’t be able to travel as far north as we would like.

    In the end, we found a company that would provide us bikes in Lima if we allowed a “guide” to come along too. The guide would be the owner of the company; he currently offered tours throughout southern Peru and was looking to expand his market to the northern area, which he called “the mysterious north.” The price was steep—higher even than the cost of our motorcycle tour through Bhutan last year (which had included a chase truck, mechanics, all lunches/dinners, and gas—none of which were included on this trip). However, we decided that the adventure would be worth the cost.

    About a month before we left for Peru, our guide emailed us to explain that he hadn’t yet been able to travel northward along our proposed route (due to some violent clashes between locals and the army during the summer). He offered us an option under which we could ride the bikes on our own, without him, and he would reduce our cost by a relatively small amount. Ben and I debated what to do.

    In the end, we decided to have the guide along for a combination of reasons (none of which seem compelling in hindsight)--we would be traveling through many remote areas on roads that were reputed to be not well marked (similar to Bolivia), we didn’t know how well the bikes had been maintained or if we would be able to fix a mechanical failure miles (or days) from a big town, our guide spoke fluent Spanish (he was from Europe but had lived in Peru for the last eight years), he had a general knowledge of Peru, he seemed to be a pleasant and professional person (through his emails), the discount he was offering us to go without him was not that significant, and the fact that he hadn’t seen the places we would be visiting meant that we would be experiencing the adventure together, which we viewed as a plus.

    We were to meet our guide in Lima today, after our flight from Cusco.

    Looking down at the Andes mountains, I dubbed them “the chocolate mountains” because of their soft brown color.
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    From the air, I could see roads that wriggled from one small town to the next.
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    I felt a rush of anticipation, knowing that we would be soon be riding bikes on similar roads.

    As we neared Lima, which is located along the Pacific Ocean, I caught the first sight of the ever-present layer of coastal fog, sneaking its way into the mountain crevices.
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    Our guide had arranged for a taxi to meet us at the airport. The man behind the wheel drove fast and furious, whipping us in and out of lanes. I felt as if I were a participant in one of my son’s Nintendo DS racing games. Perhaps I might have felt better if my seatbelt hadn’t been broken. I tried to avert my eyes from the road ahead, while simultaneously squelching visions of my body flying through the windshield; and I tossed out a few prayers for good measure.

    We met our guide at the hotel, changed into our motorcycle gear, and set to work strapping our luggage onto our bikes.

    Ben and I had initially requested to ride Honda XR650-L bikes, one of the two choices offered. A month before our trip, our guide had emailed to say that I would be riding an XR-400 Falcon instead, but raved that it would be “brand new with 0 miles.” (He had a large southern tour scheduled at the same time as our ride, and my XR650 had apparently been given to one of those riders.)

    I was surprised to see that the bike waiting for me in the hotel courtyard was not “brand new”—it had over 11,000 miles on it. Our guide offered no explanation for the change, and his silence bothered me more than the switcheroo did. The bike seemed fine, so I didn’t complain (although my "BS" detector was now fully triggered). We would be spending the next 10 days together, and I wanted to have a lot of fun; I didn’t want to start the relationship off on anything resembling a “confrontational” note.

    I must say, however, that this was just one of a long line of “small” things over the course of our trip that made Ben and I wish that we had traveled on our own, without a so-called "guide."

    (In writing this story, I discussed at length with Ben the issue of how to handle the description of our experiences with our guide. He has some good qualities, as everyone does, and I don't want to disparage him personally. However, the reality was that our overall experience with him was definitely on the negative side. I finally decided that I would be honest in telling what happened, from my perspective, but that I would change his name to “Guy”--a short version of “guide”, but also a nice French name to reflect his European heritage, although he was not from France.)

    Before getting on our bikes, Guy made it very clear that this was “your ride.” He said that he was just along to accompany us and that we were “the boss”--whatever we wanted was fine with him, even if we chose to spend our entire 10 days riding around Lima.
    #3
  4. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    Lima is a huge city--it has almost 8 million residents, almost 1/3 of the country’s population. We rode for 20 miles amidst buses, big trucks, minivans and cars, all weaving through the lanes and tooting their horns. The heavy mass was very different than the fluid "dance" of vehicles that we had experienced in India last year--I only saw one other motorcyclist the entire time in Lima, and there were no bicyclists. It took about an hour before we finally left the last crazy traffic circle behind.

    Our plan for the trip was to ride as far as we could each day and to stay the night at places we found along the way. I had based our route on the lines and dots of a map, with seemingly realistic mileage on paper. But we had no way to know what the true road conditions were, or if we would have any delays along the way. The uncertainty of what each day would hold greatly enhanced the “adventure” element, and Ben and I were both excited.

    We headed north, tracking along beside the Pacific Ocean. All around us was barren land, with giant sand dunes on both sides of the road. We were moving fast, and didn't take any photos.

    The bleak landscape had an occasional stretch of bushes. In comparison, the New Mexico desert we had seen this past summer looked like an oasis.

    We rode through a scattering of small towns. The dominant architecture featured small, rectangular, 1-story, adobe buildings with flat roofs.

    Guy was in front, scoping out a place for lunch. We passed through a couple of small towns with (to me) some enticing-looking local restaurants. Near the town of Chancay, we passed a gas station that had a “touristy” café attached. Guy pulled over to the side of the road and indicated that we should turn around. That was our first lunch spot. I realized that Guy was still getting to know us and our preferences. As we were getting off our bikes, I mentioned that Ben and I generally like to eat at places where the locals eat, not places that cater to tourists.

    Here we are at the lunch stop:
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    We sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine. The food actually was pretty good. Ben and I ordered a new (to us) dish called arroz chaufas—it was very similar to the Chinese dish of chicken fried rice in the U.S.

    As we continued northward through the outskirts of Chancay, some boys next to the side of the road were waving to Guy. He didn’t wave back. As I reached my hand up to wave, I saw one of the boys pull his arm back and then throw some brown lumpy objects directly at me. Yikes! I swerved to the inside of the lane, missing the impact.

    We traveled up and over a long rise. To our right was a vast stretch of green, with sprinklings of yellow and lavender flowers.

    Near the city of Barranca, Guy pulled over to discuss whether we should stop for the night or cut inland to start our ascent into the Andes. Ben noticed that his bike was smoking from the tailpipe side. When he had secured his bags to the bike, the tightened strap had pushed the side plastic onto the tailpipe. The heat had melted through the side plastic, the bag, and a good portion of the bag’s contents (extra GPS, rain gear, satellite phone charger, a stash of batteries, and other things).
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    Ben spent some time sorting out what was lost, seeing what could still be saved, and trying to figure out where he could pack the saved items now that one of his saddlebags was useless.
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    We were packing light, with only two small saddlebags and a tailbag each. Given the scarcity of space, each item that we had packed had been deemed “indispensible.” Throughout this trip, we came to realize that we had still carried “too much stuff” and left a variety of items behind in hotel rooms along the way.

    While Ben repacked, I took some photos of our surroundings. Looking back from where we had traveled:
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    To our right were agricultural fields:
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    We decided to stay in the nearby town of Barranca tonight. Guy was not sure if we would be able to find accommodations easily over the next 50 miles or so into the Andes Mountains.

    The streets of Barranca were packed with cars. It was a fairly big town (almost 50,000 people) but was not included in my Moon Peru guidebook. Barranca appeared to be several steps removed from the tourist trail, which pleased us immensely.

    One important concern when selecting a hotel throughout Peru was whether our bikes would be "safe" overnight. Guy stopped beside a police truck at a stoplight and asked for the location of a hotel with secure parking. The police officers directed us to Hotel Chavin, a high-rise hotel (perhaps 8 stories) on a busy street. The police then followed us to the hotel and then honked their horn long, loud, and repeatedly in front of the hotel—we could only presume that this was to let the hotel owner know that the police officers had referred us here.

    The parking lot in the back of the hotel had a friendly and very talkative security guard, who voluntarily assured us he would watch our bikes carefully. The guard had a good sense of humor, and he and Ben talked at length about motorcycles and other things.

    Ben and I were given an upper-floor room with a sweeping view of the town and the ocean in the distance.
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    The hotel had a pool, which looked clean—but the air was a bit too nippy for a dip.
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    Ben continued to work on how to best reconfigure his bags.
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    I had forgotten to pack a hair-tie (which would keep my hair from whipping around and getting tangled while riding). We asked at the front desk where we might find one—we didn’t know how to say “ponytail”, so we used charades, resulting in a lot of laughter all around. The desk clerks directed us to the local market around the corner. There, we found a series of stalls spread out in an indoor maze. We wandered until we spied some hair ties hanging on a small stand. The merchant was very helpful and friendly, and I purchased two different kinds for an extremely cheap price (I didn’t bargain).

    For dinner, Guy asked the hotel owner for a restaurant recommendation. Surprise! He directed us to the hotel’s restaurant on the second floor, which we hadn’t discovered ourselves. The restaurant was large and empty. We hesitated a bit, unsure how to politely decline. The owner assured us repeatedly that the food was delicious, adding (in Spanish), “If you don’t like it, you don’t pay.” We ordered fish, and it was indeed very tasty. Peru has proved to have excellent cuisine!

    We went to bed immediately after dinner. With all of our early morning rises over the past few days, we were still trying to catch up on our sleep.
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    #4
  5. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    Day 2: To Caraz, Winding Along the Cordillera Blanca

    The sun filtered through the morning haze over Barranca, and we could see the ocean in the distance.
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    From our hotel room, we looked down on the slightly-peaked, overlapping roof-tops covering the market where I had shopped for hair ties last night.
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    We had a small breakfast of bread and coffee next door to the hotel.

    Street vendors were already busy setting up their carts nearby.
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    We would be climbing into the Andes Mountains today, riding along the range called Cordillera Blanca (“White Range”--for its snow-covered peaks). This range has over 30 mountains that exceed 18,000 feet in elevation. Our destination tonight was the small town of Caraz, nestled near the northwestern end of the range.

    We headed inland and gradually emerged from the fog/haze after about 20 miles.

    We encountered our first toll booth, which is shown below:
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    Motorcycles do not have to pay tolls. Guy warned that if we rode up to the toll collector’s booth, past some invisible “point of no return” on the road, then we would have to pay. When approaching a toll, we had to quickly scope out the “go around” route, which often involved squeezing through a narrow gap between barriers, or sometimes crossing to the far left side of the street and slipping around the toll structure. If the route was not obvious, we would slow down to a crawl and try to catch the eye of someone nearby, who would point and gesture largely to show us how to navigate around the booth.

    After the toll, we stopped to allow Ben to set up his camera to take photos while we were riding.
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    To our left was a large sugar-cane field.
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    We entered a narrow valley that looked fairly bleak, with its naked soil and rocks.
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    There was a small river flowing on the left, with vegetation. We passed through an occasional tiny scattering of houses. A few people were walking on the side of the road.
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    These three people appeared to be waiting for a bus—I loved the woman’s red and white clothing:
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    Some of the people waved as we rode by (and I was relieved that no one threw anything).

    Most of the homes were small, with walls made of cinder blocks or woven fronds.
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    This home appeared to be made of a mixture of “whatever-I-can-get-my-hands-on” materials:
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    Throughout the rural areas of Peru, there were many political signs that promoted certain candidates in upcoming elections. Here is one example:
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    Along the roadside were numerous crosses that marked the spot where people had died. One particular set made my heart pang; it consisted of a family of four crosses, two large ones on either side of two small ones.

    We passed a road sign that showed a car climbing a tall skinny triangle. The car was almost vertical. I braced myself for a steep hill. I kept waiting . . . and then realized that the gentle slope I had just covered was the “hill.” There were several of these signs, and they always made me smile. (We didn’t get a photo of any of the signs, as there was no safe spot to pull over.)

    We wound our way higher and higher. The road curved to the right of this massive rock face.
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    A view of the green valley below:
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    Most of the other vehicles on the road were big trucks, such as this one:
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    Approaching the town of Marca:
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    Here are some roadside shops:
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    The mountainsides were steep, and the people have constructed terracing to grow crops. Terraces extended about half way up this mountain:
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    Near the town of Cajacay, we were stopped at a police check-point. While Guy took care of showing an officer our motorcycle paperwork, which he carried with him, Ben and I chatted with another officer. I asked him if I could have a photo, and he was happy to pose with me:
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    #5
  6. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    Continuing onward, we passed some adobe houses.
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    This small group of houses offered a baño (bathroom) for use, but we didn’t stop.
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    The road snaked up and down.
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    Me, having fun!
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    We caught our first glimpse of the distant Cordillera Blanca peaks:
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    We crested the mountain pass and began cruising at an altitude of over 13,000 feet. Laguna Conococha stretched out before us:
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    The town of Conococha is located where three roads meet. Multiple signs let us know that if we were craving queso (cheese), this was the place to buy it!
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    We passed a roadside statue of a shepherd and llama:
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    The narrow road did not have a painted center line, so we had to be cautious about trucks and buses coming at us around corners.

    The golden, tree-less hills contrasting beautifully with the brilliant sky:
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    The southern peaks of the Cordillera Blanca:
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    This small house had a place outside to either wait for the bus or watch the world go by:
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    In the small villages throughout Peru, the most well-maintained buildings often were the churches and the schools. Here, the school looked well-built and freshly painted:
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    The “children-crossing” sign . . .
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    . . . perhaps should have also included a picture of a cow (sauntering, not running).
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    Mineral deposits stretched all along the side of one town, covering part of the river.
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    (We weren’t sure what exactly was in those large piles, but the close proximity to the water did not appear to be a good thing.)

    The entrance to the small town of Recuay was flanked by two carved figures:
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    Recuay:
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    Our lunch stop today was to be in the city of Huaraz, a short distance down the road. Huaraz is the capital of the Ancash district in Peru, and is a popular starting point for treks and climbing expeditions into the Cordillera Blanca.

    The entrance to Huaraz:
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    The city was quite lively, with a lot of people, businesses, hotels, restaurants and shops.
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    The main plaza in Huaraz:
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    As we circled around the one-way streets, looking for a place to eat, we happened upon this large church that was being constructed:
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    Next to the new church was a modern building with stained glass panels.
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    The glass panels had a number of jagged holes, which looked as if they had been caused by thrown rocks.
    #6
  7. Still Running

    Still Running Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2008
    Oddometer:
    79
    Location:
    Prosperity,S.C.
    Intresting trip. Love the pictures and commentary .
    #7
  8. seatec

    seatec Dutch Transplant

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2006
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    Clearwater
    Same here. i'm wearing my F5 key out.
    #8
  9. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    We had a delicious and relaxing lunch at Las Tulpas & Chimichurri Restaurant.
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    The pumpkin soup was excellent.

    As we were eating, a petite older woman came by, beautifully dressed in traditional clothing. She stopped at our table and began talking very quickly in Spanish. Guy was off running an errand, and Ben and I were able to catch phrases here and there. The gist of it was that she was asking for the “gringa” (me) to pay her some money. I gave her my unopened mineral water, which she tucked into her giant bag. I talked to her using my halting Spanish, and she said that she liked my “palabras” (words). Ben then asked her if we could take a photo. She asked how much would we pay her, and Ben said 10 soles (about $3). She said, “No, treinta (30 soles).” We said that was too much. We didn’t have any change to give her, but our waitress came out, slipped some coins into her hand, and ushered her out of the small courtyard.

    We continued riding, tracking along the west side of the Cordillera Blanca range.
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    The town of Jangas had a series of three statues. Here is the last one:
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    The statue’s inscription read: “Jangas, Productor de Oro Verde.” (Jangas, Producer of Green Gold.)

    These women crossed the plaza carrying their loads.
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    Our road ran through the center of a string of small towns. Here I am in one of them:
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    This home had a small herd of cows in the side yard:
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    This colorful building had a great message (even though it was part of an ad): “Con Creatividad, Todo es Posible.” (With Creativity, All is Possible.)
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    An abundance of prickly pear cactus grew along the side of the road. Guy stopped by one and showed us the crimson-colored dye that is contained in the powdery white parasitic insects, called cochineal, that feed off of the plant.
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    After returning home, I did some research on the cochineal and discovered that they are native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico. The cochineal dye was used by the Aztec and Maya peoples. After the Spanish invaded Mexico, cochineal became the second most valuable export to Spain (after silver), and it was traded in India and other places around the world. The cochineal industry took an economic dive, however, when Europe began producing artificial dyes (such as alizarin crimson) in the mid-1800’s.

    Passing through the town of Carhuaz:
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    There were a number of fires today in the surrounding hills:
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    A girl and her pigs:
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    In the town of Ranrahirga, the central plaza was full of flowers:
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    I walked around the plaza to get a better view of the church tower:
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    On the way back to my bike, I met a girl, her mother, and her grandmother. We exchanged basic greetings, but they were speaking a language that I didn’t understand (perhaps Quechua). I gave them a postcard that showed my hometown in California, and we communicated quite well with nods and smiles all around.

    A few miles down the road, we came upon the entrance gate to the Yungay memorial.
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    At lunch, I had mentioned to Guy that I had read about this site and wanted to stop here. In 1970, the entire towns of Yungay and Ranrahirga had been buried under an avalanche, and over 20,000 people had been killed. The Peruvian government had declared the area a national cemetery.

    Ben and I paused outside the front gate. Guy was nowhere to be seen—he had passed the site without stopping. I wanted to explore the area, so we waited out front for Guy to return. At this point, I was feeling some friction with Guy. It is hard to pinpoint exactly the cause—some of his comments here and there had caused me to bristle and bite my tongue, as I really was trying to get along and have things flow smoothly. Our personalities were definitely not in sync—sometimes it is like that between people, through no fault of anyone.

    In any event, Guy did eventually come back (without apology), and I set off to explore the memorial site. Entering the site required that I pay a small fee (less than $1.50), and then follow foot paths to what used to be the old town plaza. Neither Ben nor Guy were interested in venturing beyond the front gate, so they relaxed in the sun while I had a good hike.

    Detail of the front gate:
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    Near the parking area were several exhibits with photographs and a more detailed description (in Spanish) of what had happened to the town. I learned that on May 31, 1970, there was an 45-second earthquake that measured about 7.9 on the Richter scale. (This earthquake destroyed many buildings in the city of Huaraz, where we had eaten lunch today.) Directly behind Yungay is the highest mountain in Peru, called Huascarán. The earthquake caused a large chunk of the mountain to break free and rush downwards. The flowing mass of ice, snow and rock measured 1 mile long and over ½ mile wide, and it roared through the town of Yungay at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Everything was buried except for the upper portion of the hilltop cemetery.

    Here is a photo of what the town looked like before the avalanche:
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    This photo shows the path of destruction:
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    And here is a photo of the town after the avalanche—it was completely buried:
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    Today, one can only imagine the hundreds of buildings that lay beneath the soil.
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    The area now contains two tall memorial columns, multiple flower gardens, and numerous crosses and gravestones.
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    The grassy fields on either side contained many crosses.
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    To the left of the gardens was a bus that had been bent and twisted by the avalanche.
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    The hillside cemetery that had not been buried in the avalanche now had a white statue of Jesus Christ in the center, overlooking the former town of Yungay.
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    There were very few other people walking around the site, and the air was very somber.

    During my 45-minute hike through the area, the clouds above Huascarán had become darker and more ominous looking.
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    On a lighter note, there was some humor (perhaps unintended) in the bathroom signs.
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    The woman’s silhouette was quite curvaceous, complete with high heels (va-va-voom!)
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    I was curious as to whether the man’s silhouette would show a buffed physique, with bulging muscles . . . but no, it was just “an ordinary guy” wearing baggy clothing:
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    Hmmmm . . . I bet I can guess what gender created those signs!

    Exiting the memorial site:
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    While I was hiking, Ben watched a group of men hoisting up a wooden pole, accompanied by loud festive music:
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    #9
  10. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    Guy had heard that there was a beautiful lake, called Llanganuco, up in the mountains; it might be worth an up-and-back trip. We could get there by riding east, up into the mountains on a twisty dirt road. There were two issues. The first was that we were running out of daylight. We had about 90 minutes left before the sun set. By car, the drive to reach the lake was supposed to take 90 minutes, but we thought that we could cut that time by at least half on the bikes. Ben and I didn’t mind riding in the dark. The second issue was the threat of rain. The clouds over Huascarán were very dark and indicated certain rain there; however, we didn’t know if the lake road would lead us directly under those clouds. Ben and I said, “Let’s go!” The possibility of rain and mud in the dark did not faze us.

    Guy asked a few people which way to the lake. (Well, he didn’t really “ask”—he just rode up to people and yelled the name of where he wanted to go. Many times the people would simply look stunned. Guy would yell the name again, and the people would point and sometimes provide verbal directions. We never heard Guy say, “Excuse me” or “Please” or even "Thank you" during these exchanges, and his shouting made me cringe. We didn’t see many other “gringos” in the places that we went, and I was embarrassed to think that his behavior would be perceived by the local people as representative of our entire small riding group.)

    We soon found the right road, and up we went. The road was dusty and rocky, with numerous switchbacks.

    Here is a view looking down:
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    We rounded one bend and found this huge rainbow stretched before us.
    [​IMG]

    Lake Llanganuco is located in the National Park of Huascarán. We arrived at the park entrance only to discover that the gate had closed 30 minutes ago.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    However, the guard was willing to let us through. We had to pay a small fee and write our names and passport numbers in the registration book.

    Outside the registration office were these figures set above a shallow pool. (I think the male statue was supposed to be welcoming us, but his facial expression was a bit freaky.)
    [​IMG]

    We continued upward, with more switchbacks. Here is one curve:
    [​IMG]

    We entered a narrow canyon, with rock walls on either side.
    [​IMG]

    This monstrous rock face loomed over us.
    [​IMG]

    The road ahead:
    [​IMG]

    The lake, with its deep turquoise water, was breathtaking.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    Ben and I were so glad that we had the opportunity to experience this piece of paradise.
    [​IMG]

    More views of the lake (we couldn’t get enough):
    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    What am I taking a picture of?
    [​IMG]

    I was trying to capture the vision hovering across the lake--the 22,200 foot peak of Huascarán in a swirling mass of clouds:
    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    The ride back down the mountain was a bit slippery (my tire pressure had been set for street riding, at sea level).

    By the time we reached the main road, night had fallen.

    The town of Caraz was much bigger than I had anticipated. We headed to the main plaza with the hope of finding a good hotel nearby.
    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    Here I am, all lit up from the reflective stripes on my jacket and luggage (this photo should make my mother feel better about me riding in the dark):
    [​IMG]

    Guy found a hotel about 10 blocks from the main plaza, up a long hill. I was hoping for a hot shower before dinner; however, through a series of misunderstandings about flipped hot water switches (on the hotel’s part), and the length of time needed to heat the water (my part), my shower would have to wait until bedtime.

    We walked down the hill for dinner, and then back up afterwards (good post-dinner exercise). We passed this church along the way:
    [​IMG]

    We slept tonight under the watchful eye of this angel:
    [​IMG]

    Above our bed in every hotel room in Peru so far has been a painting of an angel holding a sword or a gun. This one was holding a fish. We hoped that she would be a good guardian.
    #10
  11. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    [Day 3--TO BE CONTINUED LATER . . . .]

    Gadget Boy, yes it's great to get away and have an adventure without the kids. However, they both love zipping around on their dirt bikes at home--a TTR 50 and a CRF 70. And we can definitely foresee a time in the future when they will be joining us on our moto journeys.

    Seatec and Still Running--thank you both for your positive comments! Glad you are enjoying the story so far. It gets even better with Day 3!
    #11
  12. seatec

    seatec Dutch Transplant

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2006
    Oddometer:
    835
    Location:
    Clearwater
    Can't wait!
    #12
  13. idahoskiguy

    idahoskiguy Long timer

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,147
    Thank you for sharing.

    :lurk
    #13
  14. Flyingavanti

    Flyingavanti With the Redhead on Back!

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2004
    Oddometer:
    1,555
    Fantastic!!!!!

    Thanks

    :clap
    #14
  15. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    Thank you, Idahoskiguy!

    Flyingavanti, I followed your South America journey and enjoyed it immensely--especially all of the "old" versus "current" photos of buildings and other places.

    It's good to have you both along for this journey!
    #15
  16. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    Day 3: To Pampas, So Close and Yet So Far

    The sun was shining this morning, and the day was full of promise. We would be riding mostly dirt roads today, with a route that squiggled across our map, through tiny-dot towns that were not likely to be found in any guidebooks.

    A view of our hotel courtyard in the town of Caraz:
    [​IMG]

    Looking up over the hotel rooftop:
    [​IMG]

    We had parked our motorcycles across the street in a secure courtyard connected to a home. The daughter, Paola, had rushed out to greet us the previous night with a big smile, eager to introduce herself and to shake hands. She was just as effervescent this morning. I asked if I could have a photo with her; she said yes, but I think that she was a bit unsure. Here we are:
    [​IMG]

    When I showed her the photo on my digital screen, she got a bright smile and called out excitedly for her mother to come and look.

    Before reaching the dirt roads today, we had a short stretch of pavement to cover. The scenery was lovely:
    [​IMG]

    We passed a mine that appeared at first glance to be abandoned, but then we noticed the bicycle out front, as well as the man and white donkey with a cart (in the left corner).
    [​IMG]

    This statue of a man holding out a dove was in an overgrown courtyard beside the road.

    [​IMG]

    A dam project cut across the river below:
    [​IMG]

    Here I am at the beginning of a very narrow and long canyon called Cañón del Pato.
    [​IMG]

    This swinging bridge crossed over the river:
    [​IMG]

    Here is Ben in front of another means to cross the river—a large basket that could be pulled over by a set of ropes.
    [​IMG]

    A close-up of the basket:
    [​IMG]

    The road sliced through rock on the left side of the canyon, and multiple tunnels had been carved through the stone. In the distance, we could see the dark entrance to one of the tunnels.
    [​IMG]

    Some of the tunnels were fairly short, where we could see the interior and the exit—I called these the “peek-a-boo” tunnels.
    [​IMG]

    This was a continuous line of “peek-a-boo” tunnels.
    [​IMG]

    We could see three in a row, which we thought was pretty amazing, but the tunnels continued around the corner. I was laughing out loud as we rode through one after another after another. I think that there were about 8 or 9 altogether.

    Then there were the dark, mysterious entrances, which revealed nothing.
    [​IMG]

    The sign posted at the entrance warned people to “Toque claxon” (beep the horn) before entering.
    [​IMG]

    We would find these signs posted before countless tunnels and curves all over the Andes mountains. Beep beep!

    Riding into one of these black holes was a great leap of faith, trusting that there would be nothing coming the other way. Sometimes I could make out headlights in the distance, so I would stop outside.
    [​IMG]

    It was visually challenging to enter a tunnel that held a floating dust storm from another vehicle's tires. Even if you waited a while, the dust was still swirling around, and a longer wait would risk another vehicle coming through (which happened to us twice). At times I couldn’t see ANYthing except a fuzzy tan cloud in front of me; I just had to keep the bike pointed in the direction I thought it should be going and hope that I wouldn't hit anything coming the other way.

    One entrance had two dark holes. The hole to the right was blocked off with a barrier, and the left hole looked as if it were leading away from the river, deep into the interior of the mountain. There wasn’t any choice—I veered to the left. The blackness was all consuming, and I felt as if I was being swallowed up by the nothingness around me. My headlight made little illumination, and it seemed as if I were traveling into the bowels of the earth. I received some comfort from knowing that Ben was somewhere behind me. I just had to keep going forward. Finally I could see a small dot of light in the distance—the exit! I focused on the light, which gradually got bigger and bigger. Back out into the sunshine, I laughed with relief!

    We stopped to marvel at a multi-tiered waterfall.
    [​IMG]

    In the middle of the rockface, to the left of the top tier, we could see the half-circle entrance to what was (or is still) a mine.
    [​IMG]

    Many tunnels later, we exited the canyon and could see the town of Huallanca below.
    [​IMG]

    Our descent had a series of switchbacks. We rounded a corner near the bottom and encountered a bulldozer, which backed up slowly and allowed us to get around.
    [​IMG]

    On the bridge to Huallanca:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    A woman was resting in the quiet plaza:
    [​IMG]

    Passing through:
    [​IMG]

    On the other side of town, the road was cut into the side of the mountain, along the river.
    [​IMG]

    We stopped briefly in the next town.
    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    We continued on, along roads that were covered in rocks.

    My tires were not hooking up very well today, but I was adjusting my riding style to make them work. One of the subjects that I had addressed with Guy at breakfast this morning was our tire pressure. Back in Lima, I had watched Guy measure our tire pressure and asked him what we would be running; he had said 28 psi (pounds per square inch) for the pavement, but that we would run less on the dirt. The high tire pressure had meant a very slippery ride to and from the lake yesterday on the dirt/gravel road. I didn’t have a tire gauge with me (next time I will!), so this morning I had asked Guy to let out some of the air in my tires. I explained that I normally run 12 psi with my dirt bike at home and 15 psi if the roads are really rocky. (I'm a lightweight, and pretty smooth in my riding technique.) Guy scoffed and said derisively that 12 psi meant that I was riding with almost flat tires—this is simply not true, but I wasn’t going to argue. He then said that he had measured the 28 number with a gauge that read kilos not pounds, so the air pressure was actually less than I thought it was. (A few days later, Guy admitted that he had bought his gauge in the U.S. and that it did indeed measure in pounds, not kilos.)

    This pounds/kilos explanation sounded fishy to me, but I will admit ignorance in doing metric conversions. (I now know that if Guy had actually put in 28 kilos, then I would have had more air in my tires--a whopping 61 psi!) I told Guy that, regardless of whether he was measuring in pounds or kilos, I needed to have some air let out, as the tires had been too hard for me to ride comfortably and safely.

    As I was picking my lines through the rocks, the front tire started feeling off. I looked down and saw that it was almost flat. Ben and I pulled over at this bridge and starting getting set up for a tire change.
    [​IMG]

    While we waited for Guy to roll up with the axle wrench, we found a big rock and got the bike balanced on top in preparation for the wheel removal.

    I took some photos of our surroundings.

    This donkey was across the bridge.
    [​IMG]

    The clouds were casting shadows on the mountains.
    [​IMG]

    This small house was next to the road.
    [​IMG]

    I have never gotten a front flat tire before (and only a handful of rear flats in all the years that I have been riding). I figured the flat tire was my “karma” for insisting that Guy let some air out. Once the tube was removed, however, we discovered a big nail in the tire—I have to admit that I felt relieved. The flat hadn’t been caused by my hitting a rock with a tire that had (what I thought was) low air pressure.

    Ben was looking at the tire rim and noticed a big flat spot on the curved metal.

    "Oh, that's new," said Guy, seeming to imply with his tone that perhaps I had dented the rim.

    "No it's not," said Ben. He pointed out that someone had already tried to repair the rim, as evidenced by obvious grind marks. Guy didn't say anything in response.

    I was thinking, "Was he just trying to get me to pay for a rim that I didn't damage?" Thank goodness for Ben's good eye and expertise!

    As Ben was inflating the new tube with his CO2 cartridge kit, I looked at Guy and said, “You never let the air pressure out of my tires, did you?”

    “No,” he admitted.

    I had a few choice words that I was thinking, but I kept them to myself. At this point, however, I started mulling over the possibility that Ben and I could continue on the ride without Guy. The large fee that we had already paid to Guy had included a sum to cover hotels, so we would probably have to eat that cost. Things hadn’t yet reached the breaking point, however, and I was still trying to make things work. Onward we went.
    #16
  17. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    We crossed over the bridge:
    [​IMG]

    These small trees were growing near the road:
    [​IMG]

    Another bridge:
    [​IMG]

    The rocks were slanted at sharp angles, revealing how they had been shifted upward by the forces of nature.
    [​IMG]

    A waterfall:
    [​IMG]

    These two photos give some perspective on how massive the rocks were—can you find me in the second photo?
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Entering a dark tunnel:
    [​IMG]

    And hoping that I didn’t meet one of these big trucks before I exit:
    [​IMG]

    The trucks and buses often took up the entire road.
    [​IMG]

    One time I came around a corner on my side of the road, and found myself face to face with a big truck. I put on the brakes. There wasn’t time to stop completely, but I managed to squeeze myself over to the far right edge of the road, onto a berm, and slip by the front tire. As I came to a stop, I saw that the rear tire was all of the way to the edge of the road, and rolling straight at me. Yikes! I tried to get out of the way by leaning the bike as far as I could to the right. The ground was sloped downward on the other side of the berm, however, so there was no solid earth to put my foot on. I felt myself doing one of those slow-motion falls, and landed in some pokey shrubbery. The bike was on top of me, and as I tried to wriggle free, I realized that my leg was trapped. I didn’t have the leverage needed to hoist the bike off of me. Luckily, the truck had stopped now, so I called out to the driver, “¡Ayúdeme ayúdeme!” (Help me, help me!) He quickly came running and helped free my leg; then we both pushed the bike to an upright position. He was very concerned about how I was, but I assured him that I was fine. Ben and Guy arrived a few minutes later, having missed all of the drama.

    After that, I took to beeping my horn around all of the blind corners if I was in the lead.

    Crossing another river, and looking at the road ahead after a tunnel:
    [​IMG]

    The rocks along the canyon walls truly looked like they could come tumbling down at any minute.

    Ben, emerging from a narrow canyon:
    [​IMG]

    The roads were not well marked. We had to ask directions a few times, just to ensure we were heading in the right direction.
    [​IMG]

    Across the river was what appeared to be an abandoned town. However, as I know from my Appalachian roots, many people make their homes in structures that do not look as if they could possibly be habitable.
    [​IMG]

    We saw a small group of homes high on a hill:
    [​IMG]

    The façade of this church was nicely painted, but the piles of bricks on the side evidenced some ongoing construction.
    [​IMG]

    We continued to navigate through tunnels that had been blasted into the rocks. This is one of my favorite shots, with Ben and some distant headlights:
    [​IMG]

    Around lunchtime, we crossed a bridge onto asphalt and were faced with a junction.
    [​IMG]

    We could continue straight on a road that wound up into the mountains, or we could turn left onto a wider road with a barrier and a line of buildings on either side. We chose to go left, hoping to find a restaurant and help with directions.

    Here I am, beyond the road barrier. (Note the man sitting down against the building across the street—he is the gate-keeper, in charge of raising and lowering the barrier.)
    [​IMG]

    There were several restaurants, but we just weren’t getting a “good vibe” from this area. The people that we saw, and talked to, weren’t very welcoming . . . but they weren’t “hostile” either. The energy here just seemed “tired” and somewhat depressing.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We decided to trust our instincts and keep moving. We did, however, buy some bottled water and a bag of locally-grown, small oranges. The oranges supplemented our lunch of Power Bars (I had brought a stash from home); the fruit was sweet and juicy, although getting the peel off with my fingers was quite a challenge, and eventually I resorted to using Ben’s knife to cut the oranges into quarters.

    After our brief stop, Guy said that we needed to take the road up into the hills. After several miles, Ben noticed that his GPS indicated we were going in the wrong direction. (He had mapped out a general route before leaving home.) Guy was leading at this point, so Ben zoomed to the front and asked Guy if there was more than one way to reach our destination, explaining that his GPS was saying we needed to turn around. Without looking at Ben’s GPS, Guy said curtly, “No, there’s only one way!” and took off on his bike without a backwards glance.

    The road was curvy and fun, and took us through a canyon with a number of tunnels. Here I am (note the peek-a-boo tunnel in the background):
    [​IMG]

    After about 30 miles or so, we came to another junction that had a dirt road straight ahead and a paved road to the right. We stopped. At this point, Guy tells us that we have two options. We can continue going straight on the dirt road, but he didn’t know what the conditions were like or how long it would take for us to reach our destination. Or we could turn around and go back the way we came, and reach our destination in about 3 hours via the paved road that went out to the coast and then back to the mountains.

    What?! Ben and I were astounded. Guy had dismissively told Ben 45 minutes ago that there was only one way, and now he was telling us that there are two, with one choice being to backtrack. This discussion of what route to take should have occurred at the start of this canyon, or at least when Ben was trying to show Guy his GPS.

    In any event, I didn’t want to backtrack, and I didn’t want to take a paved route—I came to Peru seeking small dirt roads and an adventure. My paper map showed a tiny line wiggling its way through the mountains, and that line was my choice.

    When initially designing our route, I knew that I wanted to visit Caraz (where we had started from this morning) and the city of Cajamarca (which we hopefully would reach tomorrow night). For tonight, I was only seeking a midway point between the two. I had identified the tiny village of Huamachuco as a possibility, so that was where we were currently heading. However, I wasn’t really concerned with exactly where we ended up at the end of the day, just so long as it was somewhere between Caraz and Cajamarca.

    Guy repeated several times that the dirt road could take a long time, as much as 8 or 9 hours. According to Ben’s GPS, Huamachuco was only about 34 miles away as the crow flies. We knew that the actual road would cover many more miles as it switch-backed up and down mountains and over rivers. Ben and I were in total agreement—the dirt road was what we wanted. There would be no backtracking.
    #17
  18. Gimme 2

    Gimme 2 wheels , with nobs

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2009
    Oddometer:
    2,565
    Location:
    still looking
    AWESOME!!

    A truly inspiring land.

    Thanks for sharing.
    #18
  19. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads RockyRoads

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    250
    Location:
    Aptos, California
    We passed a small group of homes without roofs:
    [​IMG]

    I spotted this boy up ahead on his bicycle, and stopped to give him some colorful children’s stickers:
    [​IMG]

    The wide, gravel river bed sometimes had farms along the edge. Here is one with some crops and cows, with the house built up high along the road. [​IMG]

    We also passed through a number of tunnels, such as this one:
    [​IMG]

    As I entered one tunnel, I saw Guy on his bike talking to the driver of a large truck just outside the exit, which was about 50 yards away. He was pointing back towards me—I found out later that he was telling the driver to wait outside until two other motorcyclists came through the tunnel. I was about half way through the tunnel when the driver decided not to wait. I had a momentary wave of panic as I watched the driver’s truck coming directly at me, blocking out the light from the exit. The tunnel was very narrow, and there was no time to turn around. Survival mode kicked in, and I stopped the bike and literally pressed myself and the bike against the right wall of the tunnel. I then closed my eyes and said some prayers. Oh, that guardian angel of mine—she was working overtime today! I felt the truck brush against the outside of my boot, and then it was past. After giving some prayers of thanks, I started the bike and exited into the sunshine.

    Guy was waiting. He was absolutely livid that the truck driver had continued through the tunnel. Then we heard the shrill scraping sound of metal against rock—apparently, the driver had gotten too close to the curved tunnel walls and was scraping his way through.

    The road had some steep drop-offs, and we passed many crosses marking where unfortunate accidents had occurred.
    [​IMG]

    Guy discovered that he had a flat front tire on this section of road. Like me, he had picked up a nail somewhere. During the tire change, several large trucks passed, with their clouds of dust. Ben was checking the time:
    [​IMG]

    A view of the rock face across the river:
    [​IMG]

    Eventually, we left the riverbed behind and started zig-zagging our way over the mountain. Looking back on the road we had traveled:
    [​IMG]

    The view near the top:
    [​IMG]

    This small community was spread out over the hillside:
    [​IMG]

    In one mountain crevice, we were surprised to find a large grove of trees—with tall skinny trunks:
    [​IMG]

    We reached the town of Pallasca, which had a pretty main plaza and lots of people enjoying the fresh air.
    [​IMG]

    Ben:
    [​IMG]

    Me:
    [​IMG]

    A door on the plaza:
    [​IMG]

    We looked at our maps and revised our plan to reach Huamachuco today—there was quite a bit of red line left, with at least two junctions. Instead, we focused on a small dot not too far away, Mollepata.

    Pallasca looked like a sizeable town (much bigger than most of the places we had passed through today). We decided to see if we could find some gasoline. Guy asked around, and we were led to the storage room of this woman, who filled our bikes with gas using a funnel and a bucket.
    [​IMG]

    While my bike was being filled, I struck up a conversation (in Spanish) with one of the men who had come over to watch. He asked where we were going, and I answered Mollepata. He said that the town was about an hour away—time and distance are all relative and very fluid, we have found. As we talked further, he told me to come and he would show me. I followed him down the street, past some children, and down the small hill.
    [​IMG]

    He finally pointed across a deep valley to a place on the next mountain where I could see some buildings—there was Mollepata!
    [​IMG]

    If there had been a bridge floating in the air, we could have reached Mollepata within ten minutes. However, our route would be much more circuitous, with long stretches winding down the mountain and then climbing up the next one.

    Moreover, the man told me that there were no hostels or places to stay overnight in Mollepata. Many of the rural towns are not set up to accommodate tourists, so this was not a surprise. The man said that Pallasca had a hostel and that we should stay here tonight. However, we still had a couple of hours of daylight left, and I wanted to keep riding in order to close the gap between here and Cajamarca as much as possible.

    Views as we left Pallasca:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We passed through a small village:
    [​IMG]

    A closer view of Mollepata (still so far) . . . but look at that fun road we would be climbing to get there!
    [​IMG]

    After almost an hour, we reached the final switchbacks leading down to the river (can you find the two bikes?):
    [​IMG]

    Looking down to the bridge below:
    [​IMG]

    At the bottom, we crossed the bridge and came to a junction. We could turn left to reach Mollepata (which did not have overnight accommodations), or we could turn right and ride about 10 miles to a town called Pampas (where we might find beds). Our map showed a very jagged line northward out of the backside of Pampas that might shorten our route to Cajamarca tomorrow. We turned right.

    The road to Pampas went up and up, flowing along the side of a mountain (there’s a bike on the road in the photo below):
    [​IMG]
    #19
  20. j_seguin

    j_seguin Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    736
    Location:
    Superior CO
    :clap Glad you stayed in Caraz! That was one of my favorite stops on that trip. Looks like the weather was a bit nicer for you guys when you headed up into the national park. That pass was something else. Thanks for the pics!
    #20