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 30, 2014
After Bogota it was like Willie Nelson said “on the road again”, the miles just keep coming and we are going with them. From Bogota we were headed for Tatacoa (the desert we thought we were going to with the KLR riders), but ended up passing on through (a longer story of how we got lost and would have had to cross a river on a dingy is involved, but we wont go there) and kept on the road. It went Bogota, Espinal, La Plata, Popayan, Pasto, 500+ miles of riding to get to the border and into Ecuador.
The only glitch was in looking at Google maps and not realizing that even if a road is listed as a highway it might just in fact be a dirt, rock, pothole road that stretches on for 75 miles. That was the day of riding when we went from La Plata to Popayan, at the beginning of which Alex famously said:
“I think it will be all paved today.”
The scenery of Colombia has been just amazing, but it is hard to focus on when your going ten miles an hour and getting bounced all over the place. Imagine riding on a road that is going through middle earth (J.R.R. Token’s Middle Earth), the scenery is amazing, but I don’t think those hobbits put a lot of effort into smooth roads for their wagons. The next day was an exhilarating ride through the Andes to Pasto, at some points literally riding on the side of mountains and dodging trucks trying to get to a warm bed and a hot meal (because a warm shower is a little to much to hope for).
The next morning it was up early and off to the border, with a stop on the way at Las Lajas, where there is a cathedral built into the side of a mountain over a river. I had seen pictures before we got there, however the site impresses regardless the way few sites really do compared to photos.
As we pulled up to the parking lot, I saw another KLR with a trailer and the driver approached me before I even made it into a slot. The pilot is a Norwegian named Jørgen who is planning to ride to the tip of South America by the end of the year. He bought the KLR in Colombia, it had been in the country way beyond the allowed time and so he was heading to the border as well, with a plan to just drive across and then walk back and get a stamp before heading to Ecuador (the plan worked by the way).
After this is was time for lunch (cuy, which is a large guinea pig) and then off to another border crossing and our 11th country of the trip!
We made it to a little town called Otavalo, which was rumored to have a massive market on Saturdays. As we cruised into town it was apparent the rumors were true, as almost every street in the centro had stalls selling everything from bracelets and textiles, to food and spices. We high-tailed it to a hostel and then headed out to the markets to see what we could find.
The market covers most of the downtown, with the main square having many stalls that are stationary and then tons of tarps thrown up to create many nomad stalls. We spent the majority of the day watching all the gringos shopping and haggling with the vendors. While the market does cover a tremendous amount of space, most of the wears start to blur together without a tremendous amount of variety if you aren’t interested in textiles of some sort.
In the evening we met up with Jørgen who had made it to Otavalo and ended up having a meal of delicious street food: tamales, empanads, meat kebabs, and a hot strawberry drink to help fight off the chill at such a high altitude. A couple hours of good conversation with a fellow traveler before it was time to hit the sack for another riding day.The morning came and we rode at of Otavalo, headed to the middle of the earth (literally). There is a monument just north of Quito (elevation 9,350 ft) that marks Latitude 0, the exact center of the world, where you can stand in the northern and southern hemispheres simultaneously. The monument itself isn’t really impressive, and they have tried to do a good job of adding other attractions to keep peoples interests, but I wasn’t too worried about recouping the stiff $3.00 entrance fee.
What really struck Alex and I was that we had ridden from California to the center of the world. It marked a milestone in the trip and we were happy that we had done it together (without killing each other…yet). There are still miles to go and adventures to be had, but for the rest of the day we basked in accomplishment, now officially in the southern hemisphere.
Posted on January 25, 2014
Our motorcycles tend to have a cult following in the United States and I quickly learned many months ago that KLR love stretches across borders, languages and hemispheres.
I was never afraid of what would happen to Nathaniel and I once we rode off into the sunrise from Oakley California towards I-5 and turned south. But, I did spend a lot of time worrying about how to properly prepare for the trip e-mailing people like Wes Siler (of Ride Apart), Brian Frank (fellow photojournalist and motorcycle enthusiast) and Alex Chacon (of Expedition South).
Wes, Brian and Alex were all awesome (none of them told me we were idiots!) but in my preparation obsessed craze I found several KLR owner groups on Facebook. The most lively seemed to be TEAM KLR COLOMBIA so I sent them a join request which they quickly accepted.
TEAM KLR COLOMBIA was really helpful in answering a few questions for us along our route south and I announced on their wall when we had arrived to Bogota and asked if anyone wanted to ride with us to the Tatacoa desert last Saturday. People responded saying there was already a ride planned for Tatacoita on Sunday so Nathaniel and I quickly decided we should hang out in Bogota an extra day so that we could ride with them.
I should at this point mention that adding ‘ita’ or ‘ito’ to many spanish words miniaturizes whatever you are talking about or can be used to create a pet name. So, when the riders called the desert Tatacoita I just assumed they were speaking about it with love, it never crossed my mind they would be going to a different desert than the one we wanted to ride too…
The night before the ride we tried to go to bed early because we wanted to have our panniers packed and be ready to roll out the hostel door by 6:30am. It said on the motorcycle invite to meet at 7:30am so after getting direction clarification from the girl at our hostel we decided we should leave an hour early. Our hostel was on Calle 9 and the group was meeting at Calle 193!
With almost a two-hundred blocks to ride in a foreign capital we of course left 30 minutes late on two empty tanks of gas. Once we got on the main road heading north out of town we started driving aggressively (speeding) and were pulled over by the cops with just 10 minutes to spare. Luckily for us they weren’t interested in how fast we were going but instead wanted to give us a sobriety test. They were testing all the motorcyclists coming out of town and had already loaded one bike onto their tow truck.
Thankfully we got gas and arrived to MAKRO supermarket on Calle 193 only 5 minutes late. As we pulled up, I saw a line of bikes parked waiting and smile spread across my face so big I’m surprised it could fit under my helmet! I had been waiting months for this!
As soon as we pulled up a local named Hernando came up to us smiling and introduced himself. He was really excited when we told him how we heard about the group and that we had ridden our KLRs all the way from the US. He took a lot of photos of us while we were there and he introduced us to some of the other guys.
One thing about the group was that although it had been organized through the KLR page, it was the most diverse group of bikes I have ever seen riding together. Usually in the United States Harley guys ride with Harley guys, the BMW guys ride with other BMW guys and so on. This group had KTMs, Kawasakis, BMWs, Suzukis, Yamahas, Hondas, at least one Triumph and we were later joined by a quad. I was just so impressed that this group meets up and welcomes everyone from the GS 1200 riders to 125 cc dirt bikes. They are just guys with motorcycles that want to ride and they show equal acceptance to everyone on two wheels.
I keep using the word guys because I was the only female out of 19 riders.
We lined the bikes up against an orange wall for a photo opportunity, took a group photo and got directions from the ride organizer about staying safe and how they were going to keep us together. At that point we all got on our bikes, rolled up to the exit of the parking lot, waited for some people to make a few tire pressure adjustments and headed north.
We had realized at this point we were going to a DIFFERENT desert than the one we had wanted to visit, nevertheless we had waited too long to meet them to not do the ride to ‘Tatacoita’. We were only disappointed that we had all of our gear packed on the bikes. It’s easily an extra 80 lbs. and we were going to be doing off road riding with them, something Nathaniel and I hadn’t truly tackled yet.
Our KLRs are considered dual sports, which means they aren’t the best at off-roading or the best at long distance cruising, but they are good enough at both to be perfect for our trip, they are a jack of all trades. Obviously we couldn’t keep up with the the 1200cc bikes on the open highway, but the organizers were really excellent at keeping everyone together. We waited at the highway exit for the little dirt bikes to catch up and for the quad rider to join us before winding through a small town and hitting our first dirt road.
The Colombians (all great riders) were going 40 and 50 mph over the gravel and I tried my best to keep up, however riding that fast on loose material just freaks me out.
Just before we exited the gravel for pavement again one of the little dirt bikes got a flat tire so the rest of us waited on the side of the road for them to pump his tire full of enough air to get to our breakfast spot where they could properly fix it. Every time we stopped people were whipping out their phones to take pictures of each other so my camera wasn’t out of place.
We got to the little breakfast place in a tiny town I do not know the name of and the Colombian posse went to work. Some people immediately began searching for bricks to use as a center stand while other people began unpacking the tools they thought might be useful to fix the tire. Through the whole ordeal people were teasing the young kid who had the flat, though it was all good-natured, like big brothers teasing a younger one taking up a new hobby.
As Nathaniel and I talked with people (at least half of them spoke English to some degree) I told myself that everything would be okay if the road stayed like it had been. I hate gravel, but it’s not hard to ride on and I was sure if I just gritted my teeth and said a prayer or two I could try and keep up more than I had been.
What. A. Joke.
As they were about half done fixing the tire on the little dirt bike someone noticed one of the other KLRs had a flat front tire. A mechanic nearby was open so Nathaniel dug the extra front tube he carries out of his pannier and gave it to Miguel so that he could replace it to get the group on the road quicker. We lost a lot of riding time hanging out waiting for the tires to be fixed (the grease we carry also came in handy), still it was a lot of fun to soak up the atmosphere and bond with people.
Once we were mounted up and moving again, they took us (VERY QUICKLY) down another gravel road and then we all pulled over as a few of the bikes and a quad scouted ahead of us up a somewhat steep hill. One bike came back and told us the route had been approved so up we went one by one to where we re-grouped at the top.
Next up for us was a decent dirt path and some nice hills that we both really enjoyed. Puttering along on those I could keep up much better than on the gravel, however the texture of the road started to get a little insane in places. There were big loose rocks in the road, but worst of all people had filled in places that get muddy in the rainy season with what looked like bricks (just big loose bricks) and sharp looking shards of roof tile.
(Keep in mind through all of this Nathaniel and I haven’t done true off roading and our panniers and top boxes are loaded with all of our gear.)
I felt fairly confidant over most of the places with brick and tile because I could weave around the worse bits, still there was this one spot about 10 ft. long in the pathway that I couldn’t see a way around. I didn’t want to ride straight over a pile of loose bricks! I panicked and killed the bike in the middle of the bricks. I was stuck with my tire wedged against one of them and I couldn’t get enough momentum to climb over it. One of the other riders helped me move some of the debris out of the way, which I was really embarrassed about. He didn’t seem frustrated and told me to just relax and it would be okay.
Meanwhile the group of motorcyclists was waiting up ahead out of sight and they started teasing Nathaniel about having abandoned me. One of the guys that wasn’t comfortable in english made a joke and as everyone else cracked up someone translated the joke for him in a very serious voice: Well, now that we’ve got you out here we need to have a talk…
Colombians are very aware of their country’s reputation in the United States and many of the Colombians we met were comfortable with openly talking about it or even yes- making jokes about it.
By the time we caught up to the rest of the group the scouts decided we should turn around because the path had disappeared. In my mind I was like “SWEET, now everyone gets to watch we ride down that same part again like a dork!”
One of the riders leaned over and asked me if I had fallen. I told him No – that I had just gotten a little afraid because I wasn’t used to that kind of riding. He nodded in acknowledgement and sat back up on his bike.
*Sighing* I turned my bike around and filed into the middle of the line weaving its way back down the hill. Some of the better riders on true dirt bikes went off the path completely, however some of the men rolled their bikes into a little ditch next to where I had gotten stuck and walked their bikes past it.
I was relieved to see them do that and followed their example.
We went over some more pleasant rolling hills till we came to a gate that marked the start of some sort of park. We all parked and pulled out our wallets to pay the $1,000 peso (50 cents) entry fee. As they all pulled out their phones to take more pictures of their bikes I turned to one of the group leaders and told him:
“¡Ustedes toman mas fotos de sus motos que sus novias!”
He couldn’t hear me so I repeated myself loud enough for more people to hear me and they cracked up in agreement telling me yes it was true – they do take more pictures of their bikes than their girlfriends.
It was time to get back on the bikes and then the road started to get really intense.
It started easy enough with a slow climb up a small hill that had some ruts in it, yet few rocks.
On one of the hills one of the guys went over so the rest of us paused while they helped him get upright again. I was ashamed to secretly admit to myself that I was both glad he was okay and glad that I wasn’t the first to fall. Nathaniel soon went over as well and I took another deep breath knowing the inevitable would soon come.
Eventually we came to a steep gravel decline that turned immediately left at the bottom becoming a gravel climb with a hairpin turn to the right half way up to the top. I got almost to the hairpin turn, however the rider in front of me had slowed down so much… I lost my momentum and over I went into the gravel. I turned my bike off and thanked the guys that helped me pick the bike up. They held it stable on the incline as I got back on and put it into first – I pulled away from them trying to gain enough speed before I reached the turn, but couldn’t quite get going enough… I fell over again not 10 feet further up the hill and the same guys helped me pick the bike back up again.
I apologized profusely, though they were the epitome of caballeros. They told me not to worry, breathe and it would be okay. Calm down they said – don’t worry!
The three of us made it up to flat grass field at the top without further incident and I announced to everyone after Nathaniel asked what happened that I had fallen DOS VECES. One of them asked me if the bike was okay and I responded in Spanish: “Oh of course, the KLRs are mules!” They seemed really surprised that I was still stoked about EVERYTHING.
And why wouldn’t I be? I wasn’t doing very well on the terrain, nevertheless I was riding around the Colombian countryside with a whole group of locals and my boyfriend. We were exactly where we wanted to be at that moment and it was glorious.
The weather was perfect and we were enjoying the freedom of it all.
It was a really friendly joking group in general. The organizer of the ride came over to me and patted me on the shoulder saying loud enough for everyone to hear his joke “It’s okay, today is your baptism!”
“¡Si – de acuerdo! Después de Colombia estoy preparada por todo!”
After everyone took their photos at the top it was time to head back down and Nathaniel decided to follow behind me in case I needed help again. I gave the rider in front of me a lot of room as I started back down the hill of doom, but I slowed myself too quickly on the gravel.
I felt my back tire start to slide out from under me as I fell again in almost exactly the same spot I had fallen the second time I was going UP the hill. I turned my bike off and stood up quickly as Nathaniel tried to park his bike on the steep decline. He and another guy once again helped me pick the bike up and I got back on (probably cursing).
I started down the hill again and not a minute later hit a rock or something that forced my steering column violently to the left and threw me to the ground. I felt my leg get smashed between my bike and the rocks as I fell onto my elbow with most of my body weight.The first three times I fell hadn’t hurt at all… but this one took my breath away. I yanked my leg out from under the bike and turned the ignition off as I laid my head back on the ground.
I’m not sure what I was thinking about as I indulged in a few seconds of self pity laying there like a child but I’m sure they were all adult words. It hurt – but I was mostly worried about looking like a loser in front of all our cool new friends.
I sat up and started tossing the shards of broken mirror off the path as I heard Nathaniel coming up behind me. With the boxes on it I can’t pick the bike up by myself so I had to wait till he got there anyway – that part was not self indulgent.
We caught back up to the group (they weren’t that far) and I announced as cheerily as possible that I had fallen DOS VECES again. A few guys came and looked at my bike and I showed them how I had broken my mirror. One of them took some phone photos of me as I gave him a thumbs up.
I knew that they could forgive me for slowing them down (especially since I was such an anomaly), but they wouldn’t be able to forgive a bad attitude.
We left the park (spoiler alert – I didn’t fall again) and stopped one more time at a small store a few miles away. We all grabbed cokes and cookies and had our last conversations of the day as people started to slip off into the afternoon. A lot of people came to say goodbye to us and a few hugged us as we put our helmets on to ride back to Bogota.
People exited the highway in small groups and finally one last rider honked and waved and it was just Nathaniel and I navigating our way through the streets back to the hostel all alone.
My ankle and shins are now some really awesome swollen shades of blue and I have a few inches of skin missing from my forearm, still the day we got to go off roading with the Colombians is going to be one of my favorite memories of the trip.