Posted on February 21, 2014
It is true, right outside of Nazca (there are signs that say Nasca when you enter town so I am confused on how to spell this city) we hit the 10,000 mile mark! From Alex’s house in California to Nazca has been a crazy ride, and we have cherished every mile, though many haven’t been easy.
12 countries, 68 cities, 3 pairs of underwear (for Nathaniel anyway). We are currently in Cusco, which is very close to being on the same latitude with Cuiabá, Brazil, considered the geographic center of South America. What this means is we are about halfway through with our travels in South America and we have a little over a month before we should be rolling into Ushuaia.
Moving on from the nostalgia of the 10,000 mile mark, the ride from Pisco to Nazca was more of the same desert and sand we had been riding in since getting to Peru. On the outskirts of Nazca is a giant steel tower where you can view two of the Nazca Lines (‘the tree’ and ‘the hands’), though you don’t really get the kind of view you do from an airplane. We stopped on our way into town and paid the equivalent of $0.71 to climb to the top of the observation tower.
After reading several reviews of how to book tours by air of the Nazca Lines, we got up early the next morning and went to the airport to commandeer an airplane. There are several vendors at the airport, and as we arrived the security guard told us to make sure we shopped around, although they all seemed to offer about the same rates.
Online they listed the price at being around $90, though the range seems to vary from $80-$100. We were quoted $75, and decided to go with Aeroparacas for a 35-minute flight. As noted though, they are all really the same, and I would try to play them against each other if you can’t get a better price. Frommer’s suggests the best time to hike the Inca Trail (Machu Picchu) is June to September, so during these months it might be harder to negotiate a good deal.
The other suggestion, which was reiterated by our pilots: the morning is the best time to fly as the winds are at their lowest. Neither Alex nor I got airsick, though we both took motion sickness pills before we went up (rather be safe than sorry). The tour is quick, but you get excellent views of the lines (note there was going to be a GoPro video, but the camera couldn’t distinguish between the lines and the sand, very disappointing).
If you are near Nazca it is definitely worth a trip to see the lines, they are quit amazing. Alex and I both commented that we thought they were going to be bigger, as many aren’t as big as the most famous, ‘the hummingbird’. Overall it was great experiencing, something that I learned about in middle school and never thought I would see in real life.
Unfortunately for most travelers, if it wasn’t for the lines themselves no one would bother to go to Nazca (no offense to the people that live there, I myself am from a tourist town) as it is in the middle of desert that is transitioning into mountain terrain. The town has created other tourist attractions (sand boarding and tours of Inca sites), but the real draw for this tiny town are the lines.
(Always make sure to click the settings wheel on the lower-hand side of the video, to get the best quality 1080p viewing)
After our morning flight and some late breakfast, Alex and I were exhausted. I don’t know if it was being in the sun the last couple of days, or simply the wear of travel, but we both crashed for most of the rest of the day. It must have been what our bodies needed, because we have been on a roll ever since.
From Nazca it was a race to get to Cusco, up into the Andes Mountains. Peru finally showed us some of the famed countryside, Swiss style mountains and rolling hills that look like they could house something like Machu Picchu. It was great to finally get out of the desert, and into some lush terrain.
We thought we could get to Cusco in two days, but riding through mountains make for slow going. Between Nazca (1,710 ft) and Puquio (10,545 ft) we climbed close to 9,000 ft in elevation. After inquiring with a gas attendant in Puquio as to how far the next town was, we decided to stay the night and enjoy the ride the next day instead of pushing it to the next town.
I suggest to any riders doing this section of Peru to do the same if they have time in their schedules because the ride from Puquio to Abancay is some of the best scenery and one of the top five rides of the trip! From the moment you leave Puquio you climb into the mountains and are treated to lakes with wild flamingos, herds of roaming llamas, and endless scenic valleys.
Alex and I took most of the day to ride this stretch of road, stopping often to gawk at llamas or stare at the scenery. I commented to Alex that if people ask me what was the best part of the trip when I get back, that days of riding like this were by far the most enjoyable. You don’t know when you wake up that day what your in-store for and it makes the experience all the more sweet.
(In the next day we will upload another blog to detail some of the missteps that have occurred since we got to Cusco, but thought we would end on the high note of great riding)
Posted on February 16, 2014
Lima is more than double the square mileage of Los Angeles and you feel it as you wage war navigating it. Most of the countries thus far have had more aggressive driving than in the US, but they still respect motorcyclists as part of the traffic flow. Not the case in Peru, and there are noticeably less motorcycles in this country than the majority of the rest of Latin America, which may be partially to blame for drivers lack of concern over motorcycles. This goes for most of Peru, but is exceptionally bad in Lime (talking with a Brazilian biker today confirmed he also thinks Peru treats bikers poorly).For our first full day in Lima we did a walking tour of the historic downtown, which has several impressive cathedrals, shopping districts, and tons of tourists. The main centro has the President’s house (which has a changing of the guard akin to Buckingham Place), the Arc Bishops Seat, as well as, the resting place of Francisco Pizarro.
Further down the road is the Monasterio de San Francisco, known for its humongous catacombs, which has some 70,000 human remains that weren’t discovered until 1943. Many of the bones were placed in circle pits, that were built to absorb earthquake shock, in geometric patterns with skulls creating circular patterns. What Alex and I found just as fascinating was the Peruvian Last Supper by Marco Zapata, which is painted on one of the walls in the cathedral. Google it, and you will notice that a lot of the food depicted are traditional Peruvian dishes, as well as, there being more people than just the 12 disciples.
Other than a couple trips around the city, Alex and I had business to take care of getting the bikes some much needed service, new oil filters, spark plugs, chains cleaned, new brake pads. On top of this I was dealing with some stomachissues that delayed us leaving Lima for a day. For anyone thinking of touring on a motorcycle, if you don’t have to go through Lima I would suggest skipping it. I know that many people will probably disagree with me, but for Alex and I, there wasn’t much to keep us there and the dealing with the traffic just isn’t worth the hassle.
On a note of point, I did learn in Lima that Peru has penguins! They are the warm weather kind, and are in a large bird sanctuary that was on our was to Nazca.
Stomach feeling better, we jumped on our nicely cleaned bikes and roared off south, after spending an hour in traffic getting out of Lima. A short ride to Pisco, where we go ready to to see the sites the next day.
The tour of the marine and bird sanctuary was decent, but Alex and I really only cared about seeing the penguins, and we ended up getting to see two, which made it worth it. Also on the tour you get a great sea view of Paracas Candelabra, a geoglyph carved into the northern face of the Paracas Peninsula. It was carved using the same techniques as the Nazca lines, and is quit impressive when you see it.
More desert, dunes, and riding as Peru is nothing if not consistent in the parts we have rode through thus far. It was another short ride down to Nazca, and here we find ourselves as we get ready for a plane ride over the famous lines.
More to come.
(Alex says she hates all of her Lima photos which is why we are not using any in this post.)
Posted on February 9, 2014
After our restful time in Cuenca, it was time to pack the bags and hit the road. We thought we could make it out of Ecuador in one day, but seeing as half of the country has the Andes mountain range running through it, you can’t make it anywhere very quickly.
In Mexico we weren’t happy with anything less than a 200 mile day, but when hairpins and s-curves, climbing then descending then climbing again, and dodging trucks (and stray dogs) is the norm you’re happy with a 100 miles. However, the day before our last day in Ecuador we saw some of the best scenery in the whole country, rolling green mountains, and just enough curves to have fun on without slowing you down.
Research is a must before every border crossing! Even if it is just to see pictures of where the buildings are (many crossing in Central America have the buildings in illogical places where they must be hunted out) and to know how much you might have to pay for insurance. In looking at the Ecuador-Peru border there seemed to be unity on the inter-webs as to its ease.
Leaving early and never knowing what to expect we headed to the border and in less than an hour and a half we were processed out of Ecuador and into Peru. This was the best border crossing of the whole trip, bar none. The Peruvian Aduana (customs) employees were friendly and helpful, two qualities you don’t find in many border officials, and a first of the trip, they even made copies for us of the paperwork they required!
Many of the countries that we have visited have shocked me in how different they are then I had imagined them. For instance, I always thought that Colombia was just one giant jungle. And don’t get me wrong, there is jungle there, but no country is one ecosystem, and the landscape of Colombia is one of the most diverse we have seen. With that said, northern Peru was exactly how I imagined it.
Ecuador is green, lush, and for a third world country, particularly trash free (Alex informed me later that there were anti-littering signs posted everywhere along the road). Northern Peru could not be any different, and was the most dramatic shift in environment we have experienced. The landscape is dry, arid desert spotted with a few towns. As you continue, the desert only intensifies into dunes that remind one of Tunisia.
We filled up with gas after the border, using the last of our cash, and continued on, hoping to hit an ATM at the first real town. Tambo Grande was the first larger town (i.e. not a cluster of huts along the road) that we stumbled upon and we went in search of an ATM. After driving through the whole town we stopped and Alex asked a passerby where we might find a cash machine. His response was that there wasn’t one in the entire town.
Onward it was. Continuing through large swaths of dry desert and the occasional grouping of houses, that are more what people at home would think of as huts, on the sides of the freeway. We got to Piura (the first major town on the map) and here we struck pay dirt at a mall that had a line of ATMs from every major international bank. We decided to call it quits for the day and thankfully we did, because early the next morning we found out how long it was to the next town.
What started as brown dry desert reminiscent of Baja, California, gradually turned into dunes as we got further from Piura. The luck of that day was that we filled up before we left Piura, because once we were in the desert it was 120 miles to the next town. As we entered the Zonas de Dunas, the winds picked up and it was hours of riding with the bikes tilted at an angle, reflected in the small brush on the side of the road that had grown blown in one direction.
What some people might not realize about this trip, or any trip on motorcycles, is that there are days where all you do is get up, and ride. It’s not a complaint, we have seen some of the best sights while on two wheels, but it is a reality I don’t think many people grasp. Riding into a town at dusk, looking for a hostel with parking (something you never worry about while backpacking), and only thinking about how much your ass hurts and that the overpowering, sometimes rancid, smell of your riding suit permeates every breath.
Get up the next morning, pack the bags, grab a bite and jump back on the bike for another full day. The dunes continue, going through small towns on a two lane road, dodging trucks and tuk-tuks. The sun is high in the sky, then low, then setting. The haze of evaporated water blends sky and earth and sand and road. A water color painting of a landscape that has no outstanding features. And we ride.
Get up, pack, no breakfast, on the bikes. We make it to the ocean, dunes that lead right to the break. The towns become further apart. Stop when you can for food, for gas, for a break from the bike. Then more riding. The mirages stretche ahead, endless pools of nonexistent water, reminding you of the heat and the sand and the sun beating down. Sweat pools in your underwear, you can feel it every time you shift weight on the bike.
Its near the end of the third day that we hit a true stretch of freeway, not a two lane road, but an actual freeway and we twist the throttle and really open the bikes up. Ripping through the dunes, and the mountains of trash. What makes northern Peru look like a post-apocalyptic nightmare are the mounds of trash, which are usually on fire, that accompany the exit of every city.
Trash as far as the eye can see, with huts scattered throughout where people live and sift through the garbage. And then back into the desert of Mad Max the road warrior. The wind picks up, you tilt the bike, feel the sand sting that one spot your gloves and jacket have left unprotected. And the sun sets.
The final days ride brought us to Lima, our goal for the first leg of Peru.
Peruvians favorite part of the car is the horn, which they use instead of brakes or signals to inform others of the haphazard driving maneuvers they will perform that would churn the stomach of even the most talented of stunt drivers. Traffic be damned, Alex maneuvered us through the honks and sirens and shouts to our hostel, for a couple of days rest and some sight seeing before we get back on the bikes.
Posted on February 1, 2014
…at the end of the world.
On a mountain, above a sleepy town nestled in the mist of the Andes laying in the shadow of a volcano, waits a man. He listens to wind, feels the restless earth, and is every watchful of the volcano, a constant guardian of the city and a very special swing.
Dangling from La Casa Del Arbol, a house in the only tree on the mountaintop, is the swing at the end of the world. Travelers have been known to come, from far and wide, to swing over the edge and see what their destiny holds. Whether it is the thin mountain air or the rush of going over the edge, many have left the mountain changed.
Carlos, the volcano watcher, never swings. He sweeps the grounds, herds his two cows, has family visit once a week, but he never swings. He smiles at the weary travelers, as they appear out of the mist and then dissolve once more into the quiet countryside, but he never swings.
The travelers donate what little they have to help maintain the swing of their dreams, that others may come, as they have, to see into their futures. Carlos replaces nails, tightens loose rope, and checks the foundations of La Casa Del Arbol, but he never swings.
Occasionally he will talk to one of the travelers. He tells of the volcano and of the house, but rarely of the swing. To those he likes, he invites them to leave a message in his journal, for the lonely hours he spends on the mountain, watching the volcano, but he never swings.
For those who will come and those that have gone, their paths were their own. But for Carlos, he is the watcher of the volcano and the guardian of the swing at the end of the world. That is all he needs to know. So let others come and swing, he is fine smiling and watching and guarding.
(The above is just a fictional interpretation of Casa Del Arbol, feelings that I had while we were there. Carlos is real, he is the old man that watches the volcano and signals others if there is activity. He does have a book he invites some to write a message in for the long hours on the mountain and his family does only come once a week to visit him. He is the guardian of the swing at the end of the world. –Nathaniel)
Posted on January 8, 2014
Panama City seems like a hundred years ago and the adventures we’ve had over the past few days started off so quietly as we met some fellow motorcycle riders and prepared to sail from Panama to Colombia.
January 2nd Nathaniel and I sat in the front office of Panama House Hostel waiting for the proprietor to scan some documents for us as someone motioned outside telling us another motorcyclist had arrived. Jesse swaggered off his Suzuki 650 and immediately lit a cigarette already wearing sunglasses – we’d spend the next week with each other so we exchanged polite greetings and started feeling each other out. He had a very strange accent (Ottowa Valley Twang) but he seemed like the sort of person you could easily spend a few days on a boat with.
Later in the morning (it was still quite early) Nathaniel, Jesse and I were relaxing in the back patio when a friendly Canadian voice called out “Oh these look like some motorcycle riders here!” and in strolled Ken. At just over 50 years old with grey hair, a serious tan and standing over 6’4” in his motorcycle boots he was not the most likely person we expected to join our party. His wife was out front and at barely 5 feet tall they make quite the pair riding two up on his 1200GS BMW motorcycle.
Eventually Taylor (of Seattle Washington) would arrive on his 650GS and our interesting mix of motorcycle riders was almost complete; Jesse informed us that “Nico” would meet us the next morning. The rest of the night was spent on pre-trip chores like doing laundry and charging camera batteries before we all headed to bed early preparing ourselves to ride out at 6am the next morning.
Somehow we were all out of bed packing before 5:30 am and as I rolled my bike to the front of the hostel I saw a thin guy with dreads sitting in front next to a Honda cruiser. It was Nico, a Chilean who is now in the process of riding his bike to Chile from Delaware before he goes back to work in Bakersfield California (don’t ask).
After squaring away some leisurely last minute details we started the bikes up and headed out of Panama City with Ken at the front (he had the best GPS) and me at the back (I prefer to ride slowly). Our trip to meet the Stahlratte was mostly uneventful, we got turned around a few times and wasted perhaps 10 minutes going down a gravel road (we called it the goat trail) before we turned around, and finally arrived to a national park entrance within two hours of leaving the hostel that was the last leg of the journey to the docks.
At the park entrance we paid our entry fees and then rode another twenty minutes to the beach where we could load the bikes (and ourselves) onto the ship that would take us to Colombia. The ride through that park — I don’t even know the name — of was intense.
The road was mostly well paved but full of blind hair pin turns, steep hills, and washouts. It was a gorgeous ride, but I was so stressed out about you know- not dying that I couldn’t enjoy it very much.
We arrived to a cement dock, rolled up onto it one by one and parked. All of us: Ken, Diana, Nico, Taylor, Jesse, Nathaniel and I were grinning ear to ear standing out on that dock as the 105 year old Stahlratte floated just out of reach in the warm blue salty water.
Captain Ludwig (wearing pants for the only time during our three day trip) told us to take the Panniers off our bikes as an army of locals began tying ropes to our motorcycles so that they could be hoisted onto the ship. The Stahlratte approached and we all held our breaths as each bike was lifted into the air and over the edge of the boat. It is a scary sight to watch a 1200GS BMW lifted over salt water by a few ropes even if it isn’t yours.
A few bikers were already on the ship as the bikes started going into the air and Jesse monitored the proceedings already shirtless from the bow of the ship gesturing with his beer can to punctuate his remarks.
The cruise to the San Blas Islands was about three hours and we spent the next day and a half swimming, swinging into the ocean on a rope, exploring the tiny islands near us and eating good food. There was also the serious business of sun tanning and beer drinking to be handled while we were there and by the end of our first day on the island Jesse had managed to pass out in perhaps the most picturesque place a person could safely pass out in.
It would be easy to make this trip sound glamorous, however most of it was actually pretty unpleasant and in the words of Jesse “a bunch of fucking bullshit eh?” The boat ride to Colombia was essentially a perfect three day metaphor for travel as a whole.
Our first day on the boat was actually perfect. The adventure of riding a few hours through a foreign country to winch our motorcycles onto an antique sailing vessel was rewarded by motoring through calm waters to a beautiful chain of islands with every comfort you could reasonably require (wifi not being a reasonable request).
We dropped anchor next to one of the many tiny San Blas Islands and spent the day doing every postcard worthy time wasting activity possible. It was seriously gorgeous and perfect and we capped the day off with bbq beef and chicken skewers on a tiny island with good conversation around a bonfire as the sun sunk out of the sky.
After the bbq on the beach Nathaniel and I easily fell asleep below deck with the fan running on the most comfortable bed we’d had in over a week, it felt like paradise but the feeling was short lived. At some point in the night I woke up choking – the air was thick and humid and it was completely dark. I could feel sweat sliding off my arms as I reached for my cell phone and I realized that our precious fan was no longer on.
Using my iPhone as a flashlight (and waking Nathaniel up in the process) I inspected the fan and realized power to the entire ship had been turned off. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and without saying goodbye I stumbled out of the room through the hull of the ship to the stairs that would lead me above deck.
I felt my way up the stairs and a figure passed in front of me as I got to the top. It was Taylor heading back down the stairs.
“Dude, it’s so hot I can’t breathe.” -Me
“I know that’s why I came up but it’s starting to rain. I’m going back down.” -Taylor
He padded down the stairs and I was suddenly alone on the deck of the ship. I stumbled over to a flat spot where I could sit down and the air felt amazing. The boat rocked softly in the water and apart from the occasional creaky boat sounds it was totally quiet. I decided there was no way I was going below deck before the power came on and I went to look for a folded hammock I had seen on deck earlier in the day.
It was quite a feat getting it hung up in the dark armed only with my iPhone but I collapsed into it sometime around 5 am and wrapped the sides of it around me like a burrito as I watched the stars winking at me from above the crows nest and tangle of ropes necessary on such a large boat.
I wasn’t alone for long – Jesse came stumbling through the dark and after giving me his “Hey Buddy!” catchphrase collapsed onto the metal floor clutching a bottle of water. He muttered some curse words and a general complaint about paying $1,000 dollars to sleep on a metal floor before he was asleep.
The second day on the boat was spent anchored next to the tiny island and people really did spend the day with every post card worthy time wasting activity possible in such a small space. I was a little burnt from the day before so I used my trusty hammock as shade near the front of the boat and laid in the netting suspended about twenty feet above the water.
Nathaniel went swimming with some of the other guys and caught a giant starfish for me at my request.
But – as all real travelers know, you pay for those perfect experiences in blood, sweat, tears and occasionally a lot of vomit.
Perfection can get boring so I we went to bed early knowing the boat was going to set sail for Cartagena at 5am the next morning.
As the engine rumbled to life in the pre-dawn light I sat up in bed (thanking god the fan was on still), popped a few dramamine and went back to sleep. Nathaniel got up around 7:30 and and at the urging of Taylor I got up around 8:30 for breakfast…
Seasickness I now know has a lot in common with a hangover – it might not hit you until you stand up. I wobbled through the boat as we rolled over the swells and barely made it to the side of the boat in time to vomit bile into the waves.I vomited three or four times before stumbling into the kitchen to sit down. Nathaniel came down stairs to join me and suggested I try and eat fruit because vomiting nothing can be really bad for you. After he brought me fruit I managed to eat a few pieces of papaya before I was back to the side of the boat puking again. All off the papaya came back up but it was at least more pleasant than that acidic yellow bile. This fruit eating, projectile vomiting pattern repeated seven or eight times through the next hour as I glared at the clock, the che poster on the wall or Nathaniel laying on the bench next to me. The only thing I couldn’t look at was the endless rolling waves in front of of that kept sending me to the side of the boat.
I kept trying to eat more dramamine, but I couldn’t keep it down. Nathaniel disappeared somewhere and I took his place laying flat on my back on the wooden bench in the kitchen and I didn’t feel sick…
I realized that as long as I laid there I didn’t need to throw up. I sat up long enough to take some more pills and then laid back down.
After a few hours I tried to move back to our room, but couldn’t make it all the way across the ship before I was puking (once again) into a cup I carried with me. I finished vomiting at the edge of the bed and then ran back upstairs collapsing once again onto the wooden bench where the world was okay.
This bench was so terribly uncomfortable a child couldn’t properly lay down on it but I spent the next ten hours of my life laying there sipping water and eating saltine crackers or bread (you can eat them laying down) at random intervals.
Once in a while Nathaniel or someone else would come through for a snack and I would talk to them getting regular updates on the other people sick aboard the ship (I was apparently lucky to not be vomiting blood). As long as I stayed on the bench I had absolutely zero nausea, it was magic and as uncomfortable as I was I was thrilled to have found peace.
Around six o’clock that night I rummaged through the kitchen for a black trash bag (insurance) and then made a break for our room. I made my way as fast as I could across the rolling ship down the stairs and collapsed onto the bed… waiting to see if I was okay.
I had managed to swallow enough dramamine that I was okay – and able to sleep. I spent the rest of the night in the sweaty darkness tangled with that bag. I didn’t moved until we were pulling into the harbor of Cartagena the next morning… where our adventures with Aduana would soon begin.