Getting Caught Up

It's not that Patio de Empanada is the ONLY thing to see in Salta... It was just the only thing I was really excited about. Photo: Alex Washburn

It’s not that Patio de Empanada is the ONLY thing to see in Salta… It was just the only thing I was really excited about. Photo: Alex Washburn

The days since Salta Argentina have been busy with riding and motorcycle repairs, so I will do a brief recap to get us all caught up and then Alex will be posting a blog soon about new adventures.

After our day of motorcycle maintenance in Tupiza, which also included paying our Argentinian reciprocity fee ($160) and printing out the receipt, we were off to the border to cross into Argentina. What we didn’t know was that this was going to be the longest border crossing of the trip. While many of the borders in Central America were long due to copious amounts of paperwork or bureaucracy, this border crossing was long simply due to the amount of people and the lack of employees.

We got to the border at 11am, and wouldn’t be done till close to 4:30. The main hold up was getting stamped out of Bolivia and into Argentina. Both lines were over two hours of waiting, in the sun for the majority of the time. The climax of the day was Alex and I yelling at people that were trying to cut in line and getting one of them sent to the very back. We both don’t mind waiting if everyone is waiting the same amount of time, but there is a special place in hell for people who think that line cutting is ok. Yeah I’m talking to you guy with the faux-hawk and nerd glasses!

Knowing halfway through the process that we were not going to making our goal of Salta by nightfall we decided that we would just drive as far as we could, hoping that we might make it to Jujuy. At dusk (considering we never know what time it is in a new country), I pulled over to the side of the road to point out the giant sundial on the side of the road, that marked the tropic of Capricorn (the southern most latitude where the sun is directly overhead at noon).

Having just passed a fancy looking hotel and being out in the middle of nowhere, we decided to see how much the hotel cost and make a judgement of weather or not to keep going. The hotel ended up being the most expensive of the trip, but Alex and I were beat and it was legitimately a distinct building having been constructed in the early 1900’s.

Salta Argentina claims to be the inventor of the empanada. Patio de empanada pits over half a dozen empanada places against each-other and the result is glorious.  Photo: Alex Washburn

Salta Argentina claims to be the inventor of the empanada. Patio de empanada pits over half a dozen empanada places against each-other and the result is glorious. Photo: Alex Washburn

The next day it was up and off to Salta where I needed to get my fork seals replaced. We got into town and found the shop we were going to take the bike to, and it was closed. A man passing by informed us that it was siesta time and that the shop would reopen at 4:30. We went and got sometime to eat as we waited, and later found out that the entire city shut down between two and four-thirty and that restaurants wouldn’t even start serving food until eight at night.

Got the bike delivered and were told they wouldn’t be able to get to it until Monday as Saturday they were busy and they weren’t open Sunday. The meant we were stuck in Salta for three extra days we weren’t planning on. Not the biggest deal, but Salta isn’t the best city to be stuck in and they were uneventful days.

One of its claims to the fame is that they say they invented the empanada and so Alex found a market that only served the doughy pastry. We went and enjoyed many different verities of empanada, but the best one we had in my opinion was at a restaurant on the main square of town.

Monday came and we picked up the bike in the afternoon and prepared to leave the next day. That night was the most intense lightening and thunder storm we both have ever experienced, with one waking me up that sounded like a car explosion. The torrents of rain that accompanied the thunder was enough to saturate the ground and caused our bikes to fall over in the patio of the hostel.

We packed and prepared for a long day in the rain, but were lucky that it must have rained itself out as we slowly made our way out of Salta and on to the open road.

The Road Less Traveled…

The road from Uyuni to Tupiza was deceptively vicious. 120+ miles of gravel, sand, undulating ripples and very few people. Photo: Alex Washburn

The road from Uyuni to Tupiza Bolivia was deceptively vicious. 120+ miles of gravel, sand, undulating ripples and very few people. Photo: Alex Washburn

For a reason…

In Bolivia I started asking the owners of hotels (using Alex translate their responses) how long it would take to get to the next stopping town we had decided on. Why? Because in Bolivia there can literally be nothing for miles and miles and I wanted to make sure that we made it to the next destination without running out of gas or having to drive long distances at night.

I accomplished only one of these goals when we set out from Uyuni to Tupiza after our day in the salt flats. I had asked the owner of our hostel the night before how long it would take to get to Tupiza, as we were planning on crossing the border to Argentina the next day. She responded that the road between the two cities was bad, mostly gravel, and that it might be better to back-track to Potosi and then head down from there as it would take 4 hours from Uyuni straight. A total of over 600km (roughly 372 miles) for the back-track, when the road that went straight there was only around 200km (or 130 miles).

Alex and I had been told by Google maps not to take certain sections of road and to instead do these long loops, but as of yet, we had’t encountered anything the bikes (or us) couldn’t handle. The worst was the road between La

I was laughing so hard when these lamas started following Nathaniel that tears were running own my face. I quickly pulled out my iPhone to take pictures. Photo: Alex Washburn

I was laughing so hard when these lamas started following Nathaniel that tears were running down my face. I quickly pulled out my iPhone to take pictures. Photo: Alex Washburn

Paz and Oruro, and that was simply because at varying intervals it would turn into gravel (while also hailing), before becoming asphalt again. Annoying, but nothing to worry about. And with this in mind we decided that some gravel wasn’t bad enough to warrant a back-track of more than 350 miles.

The next day we got up, got packed, didn’t take showers because the element in the water heater was broken, and headed out after having some breakfast (our last meal until 9:30 that night) and spending a half an hour looking for gas, in a town that isn’t any bigger than a four or five street grid.

By the time we got onto “highway”-21 it must have been close to 10:30, not the earliest start to the day we’ve had on the trip. Highway-21 was never asphalt, not even in Uyuni, and about ten minutes in I gave up on it ever being asphalt for the entire length of the drive.

The first half was boring landscape you can’t be excited about going ten to fifteen miles an hour through. Llamas littered the sides of the road, while bumps caused by rains, that make the road resemble monster truck tire tracks, made for a slow bumpy ride. Stopping for a moment to wait for Alex to catch up to me, and checking what appeared to be an oil leak on my front left fork, I stood up to see a mama llama and her baby starring at me.

Not knowing if they wanted to attacked or were simply curious, I backed away from them slowly and raised up on the balls of my feet and put my arms above my head (what I was taught to do in cub-scouts if you come face to face with a mountain lion) making myself as big as I could. All the mama did was look at me, blink, and continue forward as I retreated to where Alex had stopped some twenty feet back.

All in all they were just friendly, curious llamas not accustomed to seeing stupid motorcycle riders, in full gear, stopping on the side of the road. The mama even ended up nuzzling Alex’s hands as she tried and succeeded to pet her. Seeing as we still had an entire days worth of riding ahead of us we pushed on from the llamas, as they lost interest in us and went back to grazing.

Alex makes friends with the rural lama. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Alex makes friends with the rural lama. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Thinking the road couldn’t get any worse, it showed me a thing or two, by giving us sand on top of monster truck bumps, which helps to destabilize you better than anything we have encountered thus far (I almost tipped over more than half a dozen times that day, but was able to keep the bike up luckily). I went around one corner and couldn’t see Alex in my rear-view mirrors so I stopped to let her catch up.

However, after a minute of not seeing anything I knew something had to be wrong, so I flipped around and rode back around the corner to see Alex sitting on the side of the road, her bike smack dab in the middle of the sand on its side. I made sure she was okay before anything else, she replied that the sand was soft and she wasn’t going very fast when she fell, so we both went to lift the bike back onto two wheels.

It was at this moment that Alex realized that a cable was hanging loose, and upon further inspection, it had been held on by one of the sub-frame bolts. We don’t know how long she had been riding without it, but for those that don’t know the KLR, the back and front of the bike are held together by, you guessed it, the sub-frame bolts. There was no way she was going to be able to go another 100 miles on one sub-frame bolt without risking snapping the other and literally having her bike come apart into two halves.

There was a small cropping of buildings that some people might call a town only a couple minutes away, so we decided to get off the road and figure out a plan. Supposedly, according to locals, there was a larger town about ten miles away (though when your only going 15-miles an hour that can be almost an hour of riding) that we might be able to find a replacement at. However, I had read forums before we left where people had snapped sub-frame bolts and had a hard time finding replacements.

I can't pick my motorcycle up without Nathaniel's help while is has all my gear on it. Without the boxes I can pick it up but it's still difficult.  Photo: Alex Washburn

I can’t pick my motorcycle up without Nathaniel’s help while it has all my gear on it. Without the boxes I can pick it up but it’s still difficult. Photo: Alex Washburn

Before we went to anything drastic, we decided it would be best to check our tool bag, as I had thrown in a bunch of random spare screws and nuts we had bought, but hadn’t used when we mod’ed our bikes. Miracle of all miracles, I had not one, but THREE bolts that were the right size to fit. I don’t know where they came from, but they saved our asses (literally). Alex’s bike went up on the center stand, we made a couple of minor adjustments, and we were off again.

I’ll spare the details of the next 100 miles, and nearly 7 more hours of driving that occurred other than the important details. No more tip-overs by either driver, getting to the halfway point at 4:30pm, driving the last 40 miles in the dark, still on gravely dirt roads (they did get better in the second half, though still quite rocky), in the middle of the mountains with no ambient light say for headlights, smell of gas on my bike (to be covered later).

All in all, what the lady said would take us 4 hours took us ten plus hours to drive, the last three in the pitch black. Although, after driving the road all day and seeing how the Land Cruisers blast through it like they are training for the next Dakar we can totally understand why a local would think the trip only takes 4 hours.

Finally making it to Tupiza, we found an awesome hotel with parking and a restaurant right next store that was still open, again small miracles.

Even though we wanted to get to the border the next day, one of our bike gurus (Chuck Squatrigila) suggested we take a half day and check every bolt for looseness on the bike. It was a good thing he did. My bike was now leaking quit a bit from the left fork, but there was no mechanic in town who could do the repair, and it was looking like Salta, Argentina was the place to get it repaired. Though one mechanic in town told us it would be fine to drive on asphalt for another 1,000 miles (I don’t know if I believe that).

We found several loose bolts on both bikes, and the connections to my battery were loose (I lost electricity while parking that day, which made me think that might be the case). The big find on my bike was that gas smell I mentioned earlier, ended up being a hairline crack in my tank that was leaking a small amount of gas. Not to worry, Alex and I had prepared for everything (thanks to the help of many people) and we pulled out the tube of JB Powerweld, followed the instructions, and epoxied the crack right up. We checked to make sure it stuck and there were no leaks in the morning, good to go.

It was the hardest day of riding of the trip, but we both felt accomplished for tackling it and making it through, though I think are guardian angels took a couple blows that day.

Machu Picchu

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.

The famous view. Photo: Alex Washburn

The famous view. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

One of the best parts of visiting Machu Pichu was getting to pet this baby llama. Photo: Alex Washburn

One of the best parts of visiting Machu Pichu was getting to pet this baby llama. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

Happy 10,000 miles AutopistaEnd

The Peruvian coastal desert is a formidable beast. After almost a week it had beat us into a lethargic submission. This photo was taken just outside of Nasca. Photo: Alex Washburn

The Peruvian coastal desert is a formidable beast. After almost a week it had beat us into a lethargic submission. This photo was taken just outside of Nasca. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

Here is an aerial view of the observation tower we stopped at on the way into Nasca. The tree (left) and hands (right) are clearly visible - check out the semi truck on the highway for scale! Photo: Alex Washburn

Here is an aerial view of the observation tower we stopped at on the way into Nasca. The tree (left) and hands (right) are clearly visible – check out the semi truck on the highway for scale! Photo: Alex Washburn

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 saw wild flamingos in this lake on the way to Cusco so we stopped to check it out. Sadly, they floated away from us when I started walking towards the water but it was beautiful nonetheless. Photo: Alex Washburn

I saw wild flamingos in this lake on the way to Cusco so we stopped to check it out. Sadly, they floated away from us when I started walking towards the water but it was beautiful nonetheless. Photo: Alex Washburn

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)

A quest for penguins

One of our fellow tourists (from Hong Kong) at Reserva Nacional de Paracas. Photo: Alex Washburn

One of our fellow tourists (from Hong Kong) at Reserva Nacional de Paracas, just outside of Pisco Peru. Photo: Alex Washburn

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).

This is an awkward couple photo. Enjoy! Photo: Our fellow traveler

This is an awkward couple photo. Enjoy! Photo: Our fellow traveler

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 stomach

Nathaniel as a general rule does not like animals but he loves penguins. This was one of the little guys we spotted on the tour! Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Nathaniel as a general rule does not like animals but he loves penguins. This was one of the little guys we spotted on the tour! Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

issues 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.)