Posted on April 16, 2014
As it had taken us the better part of a day to actually get to the gates of Ushuaia, the celebrating didn’t last long as the sun was setting in a darkening grey sky. One point of note that I noticed in our ride to the end of the world is that though the sky was dark, and rain threatened us more than a couple of times from Rio Grande to Ushuaia, there was a constant sun shinning toward the end of the road, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, that I thought was so befitting the circumstances.
As we high-fived on the side of the road, three motorcyclists pulled up next to us and Juan Pablo (Argentinian) introduced himself and his two fellow riders who were from Scotland. We explained that we were from California and that this was the last stop on our six month trek. Juan Pablo asked us if we had a place to stay, and seeing as we had not planned more than one day ahead, the answer was no. Originally we had thought to get a nicer hotel to celebrate the end of the trip, but Juan said his find owned the cheapest hostel in town and it had motorcycle parking.
Tired from the drive, and seeing the sun sinking in the sky, we thought it would be a good idea to follow our new friends to this biker hostel and see what it was all about. Less than ten minutes later we were parked at Momo’s and being given a tour by Lisa (one of the two Scotish riders), who had been there for eight days already and knew the lay of the land.
Momo’s is an oasis at the end of the world, where things can, and do, get a little pricey because of the unique local and the amount of tourists. There is a big yard that can accommodate many bikes (this morning there were four BMWs and our two KLRs with room to spare) and the entire hostel has heated floors so being cold is never a problem. Being in the right place at the right time landed us here, and we are grateful that we continue to have good luck finding great places and friendly people as we ended up being in Ushuaia longer than we thought.
After throwing our bags into our room we headed out for a celebratory bite to eat and then promptly passed out once we got back to the room. The next day we explored the downtown of Ushuaia and booked a tour to see the penguins (one of the main attractions I wanted to do when we got here!).
Downtown Ushuaia is half Swiss mountain village and half industrial shipping port, mixing tourism and functionality into one small town. To the north it is bordered by mountains that house a glacier and were just starting to be frosted with snow in anticipation of the coming winter. To the south is Beagle Bay (named for Darwin’s famed H.M.S. Beagle) that plays host to the port and the cruise ships that pass through from time-to-time.
The tours to the penguin island aren’t until later in the day as that is when they are the most active and the light is the best for taking pictures, so Alex and I decided to head up to Glacier Martial, where there is a chairlift that I read will take you to the top. After being dropped off by a taxi in the parking lot of the entrance to the mountain we were to find out two crucial facts: one, the chairlift does not go all the way to the top, it actually only goes up about 500 meters, and two, it is now closed for the season as winter is coming.
Finding out this information too late, we enjoyed the views for a bit and then decided to walk back into town before we left for the tour (I ended up going back and hiking up the mountain a couple days later). The tour starts with a bus ride out to the only farm in Ushuaia, where you then take a boat out onto the bay.
Before we knew it, the moment I had been waiting for six months for was upon us and we were face-to-face with wild penguins! There were two types of penguins on the island when we were visiting, the purely black-and-white ones are Magellanic penguins, and they migrate from northern Argentina to Ushuaia every year to have babies, and then swim north again once the summer is over. An interesting fact we learned about this species of penguin is that other than breeding season, they live completely in the water, floating on their backs at night as they sleep and rest.
The other species of penguin, Gentoo, just recently moved to the area from Antarctica about ten years ago and now live on the island year-round (much warmer than Antarctica, I would say these are the smartest penguins in the world). Notice they have orange beaks and feet, and are what I would call a stereotypical penguin.
We got to hangout on the beach with them (3 meters back at all times) and they just waddle around, preening themselves and jumping in and out of the water looking for fish. It was amazing to see this little animal in its natural habitat, just doing what it wanted to do.After seeing the penguins there was only one other goal we had to accomplish in Ushuaia, and that was officially reaching the end of Ruta-3, which is the literal fin del mundo. Ruta-3 runs through Ushuaia and into Tierra Del Fuego National Park finally ending at Bahia Lapataia. There is a famous sign at the end that declares the official end to Ruta-3, and all bikers joke that you haven’t truly made it to the fin del mundo, until you take a picture of your bike in front of the sign.
Of course the morning we chose to ride into the park it started snowing and even doing twenty-miles an hour in the park our hands were frozen by the time we made it to the end of Ruta-3. Ignoring the group of tourists that had arrived in a bus, I pulled right past them and parked my bike next to the sign. After six months of riding, I wasn’t going to wait for any entire bus load of people to take their pictures, this was our time.
While we were snapping pictures and rejoicing at the official end of the autopista, another tourist strolling by told us we shouldn’t leave our bikes their as we might get a ticket. Not that we were planning on doing this, but it spurred in us a desire to take the no motorcycles sign that adorned the pillars in front of the Ruta-3 sign. We had been joking about taking a Ruta-40 sign, but they were too big, this was the perfect size and was held on by two flimsy looking screws. Out came the tool kit, and in less than a minute the sign was safely tucked away in our panniers, motorcycles once again free to bask in the glory of their accomplishment.
One of the other features of this national park are the foxes. When we entered the park the attendant we purchased our tickets from told us that “foxes will ask for food, but don’t give them any”. Low and behold, as we moved the motorcycles, the fatest fox I have ever seen came wondering out of the underbrush and started looking for food from all of the tourists that were gathered around. It acted more like a a dog than a fox, and it would go running up to any new vehicle that pulled into the parking lot.
It started snowing again as we packed the camera away, and we figured it was time to get back to the warmth of the hostel rather than freezing our tails off out on the road. It was a bittersweet moment riding out of the park, we were officially headed north, we had made it to where the autopista ends.
P.S. We will be posting a couple more blogs about how we got the bikes and ourselves home and reflections on the trip. We hope you will stick around for a little while longer and enjoy.
Posted on February 28, 2014
The morning came early the day we left for Machu Picchu, the first alarm rang at 4:00am, with one following at 4:15. Alex wanted to straighten her hair (a rarity on this trip, and I applaud her for even trying, you all see how my hair is done every day, short) and I was off to the motorcycles to get the straightener, my mono-pod for the GoPro, and the audio recorder in case there was any good sound along the way.
It is mentioned in the video, but because it is the rainy season in Peru (I swear it is the rainy season in each country we go to no matter what) they don’t run the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu for fear of the tracks getting blocked. With that said, you have to take a bus from Cusco to Pachar and then catch the train from there.
Our day went taxi-bus-train-bus-bus-train-bus-taxi, though it isn’t that hard compared to hiking the Inca Trail. For note, the Inca Trail is closed during the month of February so that it can be cleaned of trash and maintained. Anyone who read our other blog on Northern Peru, knows about the trash problem in this country. Research will return all sorts of results saying that Machu Picchu is closed during February, but this is not true, as clearly we made it there and back just fine.
Seeing as I had sprained my ankle a couple of days before, it is probably a good thing that we couldn’t do the Inca Trail. By the time we got to Machu Picchu it was about 10:30 in the morning, which gave us the better part of the day to explore the site.
It is currently low season for tourism in Peru (again because it is the rainy season) so we were both pleased at the amount of people in the park. Though in 2011 they restricted the amount of people that are allowed in the site to 2,500 people per day. Also for note, if you want to hike to the top of Huayna Picchu (the famous mountain to the north west) there is a limit to 400 people per day, and we were told by one of the docents in the park that there is usually a two week waiting list. Due to the massive nature of the complex, even with the amount of tourists allowed in, you never really get a sense of it being overcrowded, which helps add to the experience.
We hiked around the park, took pictures, and did the whole tourist thing for the better part of the day. Machu Picchu is at 7,972 ft, which is well below Cusco at 11,200 ft. With that said, if you have spent some time getting acclimatized to the altitude in Cusco, then you shouldn’t have any issues with hiking at the lower elevation of Machu Picchu. Though it is quite a hike from the bottom to the ‘Guardhouse’, where you can take the quintessential postcard photo so you might be out of breath.
Personally I would have liked to have had two days at Machu Picchu. Alex and I get caught up in documenting the experience that for me it sometimes gets in the way of just being in the moment. It would have been nice to go the first day and do the whole picture taking thing and then know you had another day to just soak it all in. Even with only having one day, there was a moment where it began to rain and we were forced to just sit and wait under one of the huts. It let me stop, recenter, and enjoy just being in this magnificent place.
I think I have written enough, and will let you pictures and video do the rest of the talking. It was worth the expense, and as far as expectations go, it doesn’t disappoint.
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.