Posted on February 4, 2015
Nearly nine months have passed since Alex and I rode through the gates of Ushuaia realizing our goal of riding from San Francisco to the end of the world. When we got back people wanted to know what our favorite country was or the best experience of the trip and what I found was that it was hard to put this trip into the mini sound-bites people wanted to hear. Yes I have a favorite country from the trip, I have places I would like to go back and places I don’t ever want to go back, but they are all a part of one massive undertaking Alex and I completed.
Another thing that I think people want to hear is that you had a life altering spiritual experience that has moved the clouds of doubt from your life and everything is clear now. Unfortunately, for me, that was not the case. I’m not saying that this trip hasn’t changed me, it most certainly has, but in small ways I see in my every day life.
On the adventure to getting our bikes back from the shipping container (story to follow) a fellow biker and I found ourselves on the long road to LA talking about our trips and the experiences. One comment that he had was that he could remember every day of his trip distinctly for one reason or another, but since being back the weeks blended together and he could hardly remember what happened last week let alone a couple weeks ago. I find the same occurrence in my own life. I can run through almost every day of the trip in my head, but often forget what I did last week. It’s because during “Autopista End” every day was a new experience or a new place. I need that in my life now because at the end of it all, I won’t remember any given weekend I spent watching Netflix but I will remember crashing in Cusco.
The other thing I learned was that I needed to stop procrastinating with the goals in my life and need to take steps, even little ones, every day in achieving what I want. I don’t want to wake up twenty years from now saying that the best thing I did in my life was the Autopista End trip. I need something more than that.
Alex and I have talked about the phenomenon of the “Bucket List” in recent years and how you will overhear people saying, quite literally on a daily basis, “oh I am putting that on my bucket list”. I don’t have a bucket list anymore, if there is something I really want to do, I am going to find a way of doing it, of taking some step toward accomplishing it. It doesn’t mean it will happen this month or this year even, but if I keep taking steps toward it I will eventually succeed or realize it wasn’t what I really wanted. I would rather die in the process of achieving a goal than with a list of a bunch of dreams I never even attempted to realize.
This trip has changed me in ways I can’t really put into words and there are still some days where I think it was all a dream, that Alex and I are still planning this crazy idea we had so many months ago.
I would like to thank everyone that followed our blog, left us comments or helped us along the way. I would like to thank my Mom, for teaching me that “I can do anything, it may take me longer, but I will get there” and my Dad for keeping my imagination alive and young. But most all I want to thank Alex Washburn for without which this trip wouldn’t have happened. She is an amazing person that I have been fortunate enough to share my life with.
Posted on March 2, 2014
The day after Machu Picchu we leisurely packed our bags and had breakfast before asking the woman at the front desk of our hotel to please open the garage so we could be on our way. She said something to me that I didn’t quite understand, but I was so focused on hitting the road that I didn’t bother to clarify it.
As we rolled out of the garage onto a nearly empty street and on to Cusco’s Plaza de Armas it quickly became apparent that something was going on. There were no cars in the plaza and a few groups of police in riot gear stood in the shade at various locations.
I found this interesting as I slowly puttered behind Nathaniel, however things only got stranger as we moved our way through town. Avendia del Sol, like Plaza de Armas had no vehicles moving on it aside from a few other random motorcyclists and there were a lot of people walking freely in the street. As Nathaniel drove past a large group of men walking in the same direction we were heading one of them threw a rock at him, although I am certain by how casually it was thrown it was not meant to hurt him.
At the end of Avenida Del Sol we pulled into a gas station next to a huge roundabout where people were gathering en mass. The gas station attendants told us that we would have to wait till the protestors in the street moved on before they would serve us – it was at that moment a large white truck driving way too fast whipped around the circle and was met with a volley of rocks from the protestors. It was then we realized how serious things could be getting and I asked the gas station attendants what was going on.
They informed me that it was the first day of a two day protest that stretched throughout the region, though mainly focused in Cusco. People were protesting a variety of things including inflated government salaries, gas prices and false promises made by President Ollanta Humala.
It was because of these various grievances that people had called for a strike of all motorized transport – to prevent the use of gasoline.
After a few minutes the gas station attendants motioned for Nathaniel and I to go to the pump furthest from the street so we could fill up. They told us that they didn’t think we would be able to leave the city and they seemed frightened by what was going on.
Wanting a second opinion we exited the station and approached a group of police officers to ask them what they thought. It was at this point that the photojournalist in me started having an all out fight with the Autopista End part of me – Photojournalist Alex loves photographing protests. I knew we really had to be getting out of Cusco, on the other hand the idea of skipping this protest was getting more and more painful by the moment.
The police officers, probably not wanting to alarm us tourists, told us we would have no problem getting out of the city, although it would be easier if we waited till the afternoon to do so. The idea of sitting around in our gear for hours and hours was really unappealing to us so we continued on our way down the main road out of town till we saw a wall of people blocking the way. We parked about 6 blocks away and watched as several other motorcyclists and cars approached the people and quickly turned around and gave up.
Nathaniel and I discussed our options and decided the best thing for us to do would be to go back to the hotel, stow away the bikes and hit the streets to document was going on. Latin American governments don’t have a great track record when it comes to human rights violations and protests so if anything illegal happened I would feel guilty not being present to document it.
In the time it took us to leave our hotel and then turn around to head back to it the protest had picked up steam. There was no confusion as to what was going on now that Avenida Del Sol was similarly blocked with a wall of people waiting to stop any motorists from heading into the city center.
We stopped a safe distance from the protestors puzzled about what to do. They certainly hadn’t blocked EVERY street that could lead us back to the hotel, however riding blindly on the steep cobblestone streets of Cusco was another unappealing option (remember what happened to Nathaniel’s ankle).
We hadn’t been stopped for a full minute before two men on a small motorcycle pulled up next to us. The guy on the back was filming with an old fashioned camcorder so I asked them if they were with the television news.
The driver of the motorcycle cheerfully answered that they were and I told him I was a photojournalist from the United States. He got an absolute kick out of that and asked where we were going. I told him we were trying to get back to our hotel and described to him where it was.
He thought a moment and said they were also trying to get back to Plaza De Armas and told us he would lead us back to our hotel. “Follow me!” – and he was off.
We wound around through some small neighborhoods around the city center full of kids enjoying the traffic free streets with spontaneous soccer and volleyball games and in about 10 minutes we were back to our hotel without having encountered another blockade.
I thanked the moto-journalists profusely and with a grin and wave they were off to continue their work. I was absolutely brimming with happiness being part of the journalism community at that moment- we have a strong sense of camaraderie that transcends borders.
The hotel staff smiled when I came back in the front door and I joked with them about what was going on outside. We were given the same hotel room we had spent nearly a week in and were soon walking towards Plaza De Armas (the focus of the protest) me carrying a 5D Mark II and Nathaniel with his Go-Pro and Canon G12.
I was right in my assumption that the protestors would ignore our presence as long as we were not violating the motor vehicle ban. Nathaniel and I both agreed that at no time did we feel like we were in danger. This video our motorcycles friends produced shows us riding through Cusco during the protest, check 38 seconds into the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbwUKMoiTik
Photographing the protest was really fun for me because I haven’t had the opportunity to shoot an event like that in a long time and it is one of my favorite things to photograph. I love covering protests because the energy is high, you have to be alert at all times and people are usually so involved in what they are doing photographers can be truly invisible as they do their work.
Even the most laid back of subjects tend to be a little self aware in front of a camera, but that is hardly ever an issue during events like this.
I spent the next several hours photographing the protest and seeing if they AP was in need of any photos of the protest. Spoiler: They didn’t need the photos, however the Photo Director for the region told me he liked my work and to feel free to contact them again if I came upon anything else I felt was newsworthy.
With that bit of encouragement Nathaniel and I set off to get something to eat and re-prepare to leave Cusco the next morning. We ended up spending twice as much time as we wanted to in Cusco and even though we knew the blockades would still be up the following day we decided to roll the dice and make it happen.
I feel the need to paraphrase the day we actually left Cusco because this blog is getting really long and I don’t want to bore everyone to death who is still reading.
As we prepared to pass the first blockade out of the city some older gentleman told us to tell the protestors we were tourists and they would let us through. As Americans we are particularly nervous about volunteering that information (with all our gear on it’s hard to tell we are foreign), although the advice turned out to be invaluable for the next 8 hours.
The first blockade began hurling rocks and other things at me as I approached so I turned on my turn signal well in advance, stopped about 15 feet from them and motioned for someone to come up and talk to me. A man in a brightly colored sweater raised his arms in an effort to calm people as he walked up to me. He asked me one question – Are you tourists? When I said yes he started yelling at the crowd to let us through and that we were tourists. People kept shouting at us from all directions, but they stopped throwing things and let us through.
After some advice from the police just past the barricade we attempted to take the smaller streets to get out of the city. We spent nearly three hours backtracking, winding through neighborhoods and crossing pedestrian walkways in the most absurd places trying to get past all the barricades. I personally did not want to deal with having things thrown at me a dozen or so times and explaining over and over that we were extranjeros and in no way apart of the problem.
Then it began to rain… a blessing and a curse. My gloves and riding pants are not fully water proof so as I started to get colder and wetter people began to thin out and we ventured back to the main road out of town.
When we finally escaped Cusco the highway (beautifully paved by the way) was full of rocks, broken glass, piles of cacti, barbed wire, trees, burning tires, bits of cars and everything else people could get their hands on to slow or stop the flow of traffic.
There were at least 5 places the highway was totally blocked and I had to ask the people manning the blockades for permission to pass through. Although one group of people asked for money as we passed (we said no) everyone was perfectly willing to let us through when we identified as being non-Peruvians.
At one blockade they were having a meeting and I fell over as I tried to ride my motorcycle over the pile of trees they had laid across the road. As soon as I hit the ground 4 or 5 men from the group were helping me pick the bike up and lifted it over the barricade they had built.
After that – they helped Nathaniel to roll his bike safely over the trees and one of them gave me a good old fashioned “you be careful out there young lady” talking before we continued onward. By 4:30 we had only gone 80 miles and I was shaking with the cold. We stopped at a hotel for the night, giving up on the day, however with some really great stories about that one time we escaped Cusco in the middle of a protest…
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.)