South America on Three Wheels

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by trackpete, Apr 13, 2011.

  1. trackpete

    trackpete Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2010
    Oddometer:
    209
    Location:
    Washington DC
    This winter, I spent 104 days riding a 125cc Peruvian Mototaxi from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia, Argentina then back up north. This thread documents that experience - in story, in photos, and in videos.

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    Hi, I'm Pete! I am a long time lurker on ADV, though a quite experienced adventure rider. I was inspired to finally join a bit and post after meeting some cool ADV people in person on my scooter trip to the Arctic Circle and thought I'd do a real ADV-style ride report for my current expedition:

    South America on Three Wheels

    A year and a half ago I fell in love with the idea of the Peruvian style mototaxi, a three wheeled tuk-tuk that combines the real live front end of a motorcycle with a padded bench and some wheels. I joined up with The Adventurists to drive one around on their pioneer Mototaxi Junket, during which I became in all likelihood the first person in the history of the world to cross the Salar de Uyuni on such a vehicle:

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    I knew I wanted to spend more time in South America - and more time on three wheels - so when I got back from the top of the world, I decided it was time to head towards the bottom. Even better, I decided to do it at the wrong time of year, heading south into the teeth of oncoming winter... because what's the point if it's all fun and games?

    On April 14 I arrived in Peru, and by April 16 I had purchased a brand new Honda CG125NL Motokar Ultra Abierta. With a ten day wait for delivery followed by another fifteen or so days for all the paperwork, I spent some time learning to surf and jetting over to Easter Island. I returned from Lima today to get the great news:

    My mototaxi is here, and the paperwork will be ready tomorrow. My journey south - first to Ushaia, then back up north to who knows where - will begin this weekend.

    I hope you'll enjoy coming with me on this adventure!

    For more stories about me, including some photos and videos of past adventures, please pop over to my personal web site at whoispete.com. Otherwise, see you around ADV as things get rolling...

    This is the Mototaxi:
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    Customized SPOT path, zoom out to see the entire route history:
    <iframe width=800 height=600 src="http://whoispete.com/map.php" border=1><a href="http://whoispete.com/map.php>http://whoispete.com/map.php</a>
    </iframe>

    Here are a few photos to get you interested, there are tons more throughout the thread that will blow your mind!

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    This is what I looked like when it started:

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    This is what I looked like when it ended:

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    You know you wanna read it. :)
    #1
  2. trackpete

    trackpete Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2010
    Oddometer:
    209
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Preparation: Buying the Mototaxi

    I knew from a little research that buying a motorcycle in Peru can result in a long wait, and that the best idea is to take care of everything ahead of time. I had enough going on in my personal life (and, truth be told, enough of a devil-may-care attitude) to decide that I'd worry about everything once I arrived in Peru... what happens, happens.

    I am by no means fluent in Spanish, however I spent three years in Colombia during the early 90's and can get by - even though I haven't really used my Spanish much in fifteen years. If anything, this trip would really put it to the test.

    My first day in Lima I headed over to Honda Desert Racing SAC, based on recommendations from here on ADV and other research. I walked in and introduced myself to Enrique Delgado and told him my desire to purchase a Honda CG125NL Ultra Abierta and drive it around South America.

    Instead of disbelief, he responded with excited glee, my first of what would be many times people would love the craziness of the idea. Within minutes I had a price (it was even on sale - 5,740 soles, or approximately $2000USD) and bank account info for a wire transfer. I immediately used xoom.com to wire the money, though I could not get their account to work and instead wired myself cash at Banco de Credito del Peru (BCP).

    When my transfer cleared, I went to pick it up and was surprised at the modern setup at the BCP branch nearby, complete with a touchscreen kiosk to select my service and take a number. Eventually I made it up to the counter and with minimum fuss was able to accept the cash transfer as well as perform a deposit into the Desert Honda account. BCP provided me with a receipt which I then took back to Desert Honda so they could order the mototaxi!

    After much back and forth, I was given to understand that it would take ten days to deliver the mototaxi and fifteen days for the government plates. I thought they could do both at the same time (for fifteen days total), but that turned out to be a misunderstanding... which I found out when I returned ten days later and was told it would still be another fifteen days!

    Without much of a fuss, I found things to entertain me (what happens, happens right?) in the interim, arriving back in Lima today to find out that my mototaxi is here and my paperwork and license plates should be ready tomorrow. I'll find out for sure how that goes then, but for now, here is a picture of my mototaxi (phone shot, real pictures will be forthcoming) and some information on it:

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    Year: 2010
    Engine: 125cc, gasoline, 1 cylinder
    Power: 7.2@8500 KW/rpm (~9.6hp @ 8500RPM)
    Width: 1,315mm (~52 inches)
    Length: 2,840mm (~112 inches)
    Height: 1,710m (~67 inches)
    Net Weight: 235kg (518lbs)
    Gross Weight: 415kg (915lbs)
    Max Cargo Load: 180kg (397lbs)
    Axles: 2
    Drive: 3 wheels, 1 drive (rear left)
    Passengers: 2

    The General Plan:

    I will be heading south mostly trying to avoid large roads - the Panamerican especially. Unfortunately I need to take it (jumping off onto the accompanying side roads as much as possible) down to Ica, then the plan is to swing towards Arequipa for the first service.

    After that, I hope to head towards the Salar de Uyuni while it's still covered in water, then slide southwards towards Tierra del Fuego on the crappiest, most remote roads I can find (as long as they aren't pure sand). With a top speed around 60kmh, it's just frustrating and boring to drive on perfect tarmac - plus I hate cities, instead preferring small villages and raw nature.

    Food will be foraged as available from local villages, though I expect to find myself hungry and alone as often as not. During the night I expect to mostly be sleeping in the mototaxi, though I have a tent for crazy weather (and I am carrying some solid gear which should stand me for all weather)... A mototaxi can be surprisingly comfortable from previous experience:

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    The rest will be about great random experiences, awesome photos, and as much fun with video as I can manage... plus I'll be writing on my blog as well as more motorcycle-related posts here.

    How long will I travel for? I don't know... right now, the plan is to stay down here in South America until I run out of money. Originally I planned for 6+ months, but the way I'm being irresponsible it may be limited to three or four. We'll see how it goes - what happens, happens.

    The Hook:

    As part of this trip, I hope to inspire people to donate to an awesome charity that has done amazing work all over the world, especially down here in South America: Operation Smile. They put on large clinics to perform surgery on children with facial deformities in order to massively improve their quality of life.

    If, over the course of this ride report during the next few months, you find yourself enjoying my writing, photos, or videos, I hope you'll take a moment to share the word with others by linking them to my site at threewheels.net. I hope you may even be inspired to donate a small amount - even just $5 makes a difference - on my behalf by clicking the donate link on that page or by visiting http://trk.pe/te?donate. I won't harp much, but this trip isn't just about me.
    #2
  3. * SHAG *

    * SHAG * Unstable

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2001
    Oddometer:
    4,679
    Location:
    Bradford, Pa
    :lurk
    #3
  4. Archimedes

    Archimedes Adventure Researcher

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2009
    Oddometer:
    181
    Location:
    The Americas
    Adda boy.[​IMG]
    #4
  5. trackpete

    trackpete Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2010
    Oddometer:
    209
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Paperwork appears to be complete and I have a Peruvian plate on the motorcycle, which should mean I am all set to go!

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    I picked up some last minute spares including two tubes, two spark plugs, one each of throttle, clutch, and brake cables, a liter of oil and some chain lube. Additionally, I had them swap out the stock tires for dual sport tires to hopefully help me avoid getting stuck in the occasional patch of deep sand on bad roads (I got stuck for hours once at 4000 meters trying to push myself out of a sand well, the effort was exhausting to move six inches at a time).

    The downside is that their shop was busy enough that they can't swap the tires until tomorrow morning, so in theory the mototaxi will be ready for pickup at 11AM and I should be on the road out of Lima by noon. I doubt I will make the 300km to Ica, but at least I'll be on the move!

    I spent all of last week zooming around Easter Island on a Yamaha 250 enduro bike... I think I may be in for an adjustment!

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    One random comment: According to the manual, the transmission is a "rotary system" which goes N-1-2-3-4-5 then starts over (or vice versa, depending). This means you can shift "up" from 5th into Neutral (then first!) or shift "down" from Neutral into 5th and not go anywhere. The shifting is also set up like a race bike, meaning you click down to go up a gear and up to go down a gear. I've ridden a bike with such before, but never this "rotary system." Hopefully it doesn't confuse me too much!
    #5
  6. InterGalactic

    InterGalactic SoleTraveler

    Joined:
    May 27, 2010
    Oddometer:
    16
    Location:
    NW Georgia
    Go Pete, Go......This will be great. Any mods planned for the tuk? :ricky
    #6
  7. Flys Lo

    Flys Lo cool hand fluke

    Joined:
    May 4, 2009
    Oddometer:
    321
    Location:
    between my last drink and my next one
    wow. flipping cool man.

    Threw a few bucks in for the cause :thumb
    #7
  8. DWR302

    DWR302 Justan Nudderboomer

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2009
    Oddometer:
    147
    Location:
    SW Flowdah
    Subscribed! 9.6HP! Wow. This'll be good. In a slow way. Lets go!
    #8
  9. Yukoner2

    Yukoner2 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2008
    Oddometer:
    183
    Wow, that thing looks neat, would love to see someone ride something like that north to Prudhoe, not that it would be a quick 2 week trip or anything.
    I will be watching this report.
    #9
  10. Morinite

    Morinite KLRista

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2008
    Oddometer:
    116
    Location:
    Brandon, Manitoba, Canada
    Oh hell ya. 9.6 ponies, I'm in for this one. :D Get er done!
    #10
  11. fastjarl

    fastjarl Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    41
    Location:
    no´where in Norway
    Trackpete, you are not alone down there with bike taxi.
    We met chinese 3 wheelers in the worst spots during a express round trip from Santiago Chile Argentina and La Paz Bolivia www.speedtravel.blogspot.com in January
    They all did some kind of charity and had crappy Chinese Taxi bikes, fixing problems by them selves, and all happy smiling

    Attached Files:

    #11
  12. Throttlemeister

    Throttlemeister Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2007
    Oddometer:
    4,155
    Location:
    Okie near Muskogee
    This is going to be interesting:clap

    Maybe I'll see you around down there this year sometime. Cheers:freaky
    #12
  13. fastjarl

    fastjarl Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    41
    Location:
    no´where in Norway
    1

    Attached Files:

    #13
  14. fastjarl

    fastjarl Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2010
    Oddometer:
    41
    Location:
    no´where in Norway
    :clapI salut you and all the other on these incredible terrain bikes. strugling around dirt roads. that riders on good bikes where complaining worst ride they ever had.

    Attached Files:

    #14
  15. trackpete

    trackpete Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2010
    Oddometer:
    209
    Location:
    Washington DC
    It took longer than I hoped to get everything ready this morning (11AM became 1PM), so I don't have much time to write because I want to get OUT OF LIMA before dark... Nonetheless, I am off!

    No idea where I'll get to tonight, but hopefully halfway to Ica at least.

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    #15
  16. Beltway

    Beltway Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2011
    Oddometer:
    40
    Location:
    Peoples Republik of Takoma Park, MD (Wash. DC)
    I'm so very in.
    #16
  17. trackpete

    trackpete Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2010
    Oddometer:
    209
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Day 1: Lima to Ica (click photos for larger images)

    Begin: Lima, Peru @ 1PM
    End: Huacachina Oasis in Ica, Peru @ 10PM
    Distance: approx. 303km (~190mi) in 9 hours (~33KMH / ~21MPH average)
    Average Gas Mileage: ~57MPG
    Stopped by Police: 2x

    Almost exactly a month to the day from the initial purchase, my mototaxi (henceforth “motokar” or “moto” since the locals use those terms most) was finally going to be ready to go at 11AM today. It took a teeny bit longer, but before long I was tearily shaking hangs with Enrique at Desert Honda and waving goodbye to my home in Lima (at Pirwa Backpackers Hostel) to head out on this brave new adventure.

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    I was quite surprised to escape the clutches of Lima with a minimum of hassle, I only missed a few turns and my map kept me under control. Soon enough I had made it to the Panamerican Highway where my real struggle would begin. I need to take this road south for quite awhile before I can cut away from it and there’s only one problem with this scenario: Motos are prohibited on the Panamerican. Time to see how far my charm could get me…

    I started out catching the pieces of Panamerica Antigua that I could, as it’s a local road that parallels the highway. Before long I ran out and had no choice but to merge onto the four lane autopista directly before a toll! Three ladies from three different booths came out to tell me that I couldn’t drive a moto on the autopista, but they quickly relented in response to my subtle wit and charm – “this time only!” they tell me as they let me through (okay I admit I’m pretty sure this only worked because I just smiled really big and told them I would drive careful on the side and they could not resist my infectious grin!).

    From there, things got boring, really fast. There’s a reason I don’t want to take the Panamerican down like many people do and this is exactly why – it’s a busy road through a desert in this area, where everyone drives super fast. I amused myself by attempting to translate all the giant billboards (harder than you may think), either trying to figure out what a word meant by the placement or just making up a meaning (this is probably not a good idea). I also settled down to fall in love with my moto.

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    I didn’t expect it to happen so fast – it’s not a normal thing, a moto. It doesn’t quite drive like a motorcycle or a car or an ATV, the closest I have experienced is maybe a snowmobile. On the other hand, I’ve driven one for over two thousand miles before, so maybe it was more a matter of remembering than learning… regardless, by the time I was out of Lima I was seriously stoked. This Honda is bloody fun to drive and it’s going to be awesome to take it to the end of the world.

    To start with I was extremely careful as the engine was brand new. After the first hundred kilometers I could feel everything bedding in, some of the vibrations stopping, and the engine generally breathing better. I still haven’t taken it to the limit, but I’m guessing it will top out at around 70KMH (44MPH). There’s a bad resonance from 45KMH to 55KHM, but just north of 55KMH (35MPH) seems to be the sweet spot for cruising,right around 7500RPM (redline is just north of 9000RPM). Of course this will change as I get up into the mountains and lose oxygen.

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    The foot pegs, gear and brake levers, and handlebars are all quite comfortable, though the latter definitely puts out a lot of vibration – I’ve been stopped for nearly 45min and my hands are still feeling funny. There’s a nice back rest at the end of the seat that gets a lot of use (also conveniently helps prevent the back of my shirt from flying up), but the seat itself is HORRIBLE. It’s the most uncomfortable motorcycle seat I’ve ever experienced, I think because it is way too soft. My ass hurts so bad right now I can barely sit down… I sure hope I get used to that seat fast!

    As I continued to feel out the moto and get used to it, I noticed the sun was going down and I had only made it around a third of the way to Ica, my ideal destination. I told myself on this trip that I wouldn’t keep driving into the night repeatedly because I miss scenery, take considerably more risks, and lose out on random side-of-the-road stops (for food or sleep). Every half hour I would tell myself that I’d stop at the next decent location, but then I’d notice how much more distance I had covered and wonder if I could make it all the way to Ica..

    As darkness fell, I was waved down for the first time by the police in their ever-present checkpoints (I had avoided a couple by drafting trucks). The officer was surprised to see my strange looking face and asked for my papers while telling me that I wasn’t allowed on the highway in a moto. I gave him my license and registration and told him the nice ladies at the toll booth had let me through, so it must be okay, right? He then asked the standard “where are you going?” to which I replied “Ica” and he told me I was crazy.

    I expect the conversation that followed is going to be typical for me on this trip – I explained that I was traveling all over South America by motokar and was raising money for a charity that helped children in their country. There was a crowd of police officers asking questions before long and my illegal driving of the Panamerican was quickly tossed off with a “please be very careful and good luck!” and I was off again.

    A few hours later, the scenario repeated itself, except the second officer said it would be okay to drive it in the daylight but not at night! I told him stories about driving in India at night and explained that the trucks and busses here are actually quite nice (they are) and he let me off as well.

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    Twilight turned to darkness quickly, the darkness that you forget is reality outside a city or a suburb with street lights. Even with a large moon, I could barely make out shapes on the side of the road and resorted to simply trusting in the quality of the road as I crush another couple hundred kilometers. Suddenly I saw a sign that said Ica was only 25km away, and in my travel addled state it seemed I had teleported 300km to get there. I rode into the town surprised at how big it was, found the turn towards Huacachina on my map and road into the little tourist area at the oasis.

    As I drove around looking for a hostel (the plan is to spend a day here sandboarding), I went to the end of a street and started at the darkest one only to have a guy come out all excited to talk about my moto, then be joined by a woman. They turned out to be running the hostel, loved what I was doing, and hooked me up with one bed in an empty hostel room for 20 soles! Then Victor asked if he could drive my moto around before putting it into some secure parking and I got to experience being a passenger in my moto for the first time.

    Then, a shower – I was shocked to notice how crazily swept back my hair was, though I guess I should have predicted it. I looked craaazy. There is a big fiesta in town going on right now and I was promised tons of beer and girls if I went, but instead I decided to wind down and recover. Within a couple weeks a nine hour non-stop day won’t be that unusual for me, but for now the emotional and physical impact is definitely noticeable. Ah, sleep…

    P.S. Because I had a destination and was dealing with the emotional payload of a new moto and a new adventure, I didn’t take very many photos today. That will change as time passes!

    (written April 15 @ 11PM)
    #17
  18. trackpete

    trackpete Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2010
    Oddometer:
    209
    Location:
    Washington DC
    I'm relaxing at an oasis in Ica, a shockingly green pool in the middle of huge sand dunes. I wanted to stay here for a day to try out the local sandboarding, which involves hiking up a massive dune then riding down it on a cheap board strapped to your feet with velcro... The down side is that you can't do it until evening because of the heat, so today is an R&R day (already!). The next R&R will be in Arequipa or somewhere around there to get the moto serviced.

    Here are some quick responses while I have internet (since I expect to go days at a time without on this trip, especially when I hit Bolivia):

    The first thing I did was replace the tires with dual sport tires, though I'm not convinced they were the best since I still spin wickedly on sand if I'm not careful. After that, at some point I'd like to build a wooden box on the rear cargo area and maybe one in the front area within which to put my things. I've found in the past people are usually awesome but all it takes is one bad apple to walk off with a bag while I'm taking a dump or something (the unfortunate downside to solo travel).

    From a drivetrain perspective I'm not planning on making any changes aside from tuning for altitude when I hit the altiplano.

    Awesome! Thanks a ton for supporting Operation Smile!

    After riding a scooter to Prudhoe, the scary thing about taking a motokar up there would be those freakin' RV's on the AlCan. There were times when I got pretty pissed having an RV pass me doing 60MPH while I was doing 35MPH with barely a foot of clearance... can't imagine what they'd do to this motokar!

    That said, I dreamed of driving it up to the US to keep it but my cursory research has indicated that the paperwork on this may be nigh-impossible. I don't even know if I could get it into the US temporarily.

    Yep, that was the Second Mototaxi Junket (the third is about to begin next week). I was on the first and that's what hooked me on the idea. The Adventurists are awesome and it's a crazy good time for two weeks targeted at more "normal" people (out of maybe 40 people on the first one almost no one had motorcycle experience). I highly recommend them for a short and crazy adventure vacation, good for a working stiff. Links are in my first post!
    #18
  19. trackpete

    trackpete Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2010
    Oddometer:
    209
    Location:
    Washington DC
    I've been thinking about putting one up myself to sleep at night! In a serious answer to your question though, once I get everything broken in and get into the rhythm of the trip, I do hope to see if I can get people to meet me various places and join in few a week or two at a time - that's part of the reason I went with the motokar instead of just a 125c enduro.

    New Plans

    I spent the morning looking at where to go next, with the understanding that I really should be getting my moto serviced before Arequipa (500km first service and Arequipa will be at like 1300km). Found a Honda dealer in Coracora, the capitol of the Ayacucho district, approximately 300km from Ica. In theory I'll arrive with 600-650km on the clock, which isn't too bad.

    The trippy bit: It's on the altiplano. In fact, when I cut off towards it up 26A, it look like I will be climbing from around 700 meters at Nasca up through a 4300 meter (14,200ft) pass in what appears to be around 20km of crow-travel distance on Google Earth. :eek:

    Coracora will be at around 3200 meters (10.5k feet), so if nothing else this will give me a good early test of the altitude capabilities with a definite dealer at the end to help me tweak anything.

    After that it will be back down towards the Panamerican with small side trips through Peru (frustrating, but not really any other options for going south unless I go all the way up to Cusco and I've been on those roads already).

    Not sure when I'll get a shot to update next, so that's the deal. You can keep an eye on my route at threewheels.net (or whoispete.com) by clicking the map icon, courtesy of my SPOT tracker.
    #19
  20. c5babe

    c5babe Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2008
    Oddometer:
    265
    Location:
    North Woods
    This is gonna be wild! I'm in.

    :lurk
    #20