Peru, Part 6: Breakdown in Andahuaylillas

July 14 – July 22, 2010

From Cusco, I was heading south to the canyons around Arequipa, but I had a mechanical breakdown with rear wheel bearings failing sooner than they should, but it turned out into a nice experience in the town of Andahuaylillas.

I was only about 50 kms (31 mi) south of Cusco when as I was passing through the town of Urcos, I heard a loud metal screeching noise from my rear wheel. Instead of causing more damage by riding on, I decided to take off the rear wheel at a gas station and…

…discovered that the rear wheel bearings had failed. Hmmpf. I felt I was being proactive before the trip by replacing all the bearings with new ones from All Balls. These failed only after 24,000 kms (15,100 miles). Yes, they’ve probably suffered a lot with the weight and the rough roads, but I expected them to last much longer. And therefore, was not carrying any spares.

The mangled braces that are meant to the keep the ball bearings in their race. I asked around town and the nearest place to buy bearings would be in Cusco. I tried hailing down a few trucks to give me a ride.

Just as it was getting dark, Helmut here came through on his Toyota Landcruiser pickup truck. After explaining to him my situation, he said I could stay the night at his house and tomorrow, he’d take me to Cusco. Even if a situation looks tough, it’s only a matter of time before something good happens.

Helmut lives in the nearby town of Andahuaylillas. It’s a sleepy little town and his house is right by the town square.

The next morning, one of Helmut’s workers, Henry, helped me remove the old bearings. I decided to change out all the rear wheel bearings (3), just in case. Because if one failed, the others might not be far behind, experiencing the same forces.

Since some of the ball bearings had already fallen out, in order to remove the bearing, he used this simple trick of hammering in wood pegs to keep the remaining balls spread around the bearing. Worked like a charm.

Heading straight to the Casa de los Rodajes (House of Bearings) in Cusco, where I got a set of SKF bearings, a well-known industrial supplier. I also got a spare set of all wheel bearings.

Having lunch with Helmut and Henry in the San Blas barrio of Cusco. Helmut is from Germany and came here around 25 years ago to monitor an aid project with communities in the jungle and decided to stay. He’s a carpenter and runs a small business doing jobs for the hotels around the area and restaurants, such as the one we’re at now, Granja Heidi, an Alpine cafe. Helmut and his team made all the furniture.

Starting the meal with some bruschetta and Cusquena beer, a tasty, malty dark beer.

Meal of the day of grilled steak with cheesy potatoes and some stir-fried veggies. The plate is huge, making the food look small.

Henry standing on the circular steps that he made 10 years ago.

Exchanging jeeps at Helmut’s second house in nearby Huari. He bought this 300 year old house that came with some farming land and he’s started growing his own crops. The area is also used to store wood for his upcoming projects. He helps out some rural communities with his work and actively seeks to employ them to get some prosperity flowing into their towns. He also heads off into jungle to work on development projects from time to time.

A more modern house at his second property.

We were walking around the town of Huari and came across this celebration in front of the church.

Having a hot corn-based drink with some alcohol, which went well with the chilly evening.

Helmut likes to cook and has a very inviting kitchen. You can see why I enjoyed my stay here. The boy at the sink is Julio, a kid from a rural community who stays with Helmut for free as long as he attends school and helps out around the house.

Cutting lots of vegetables for a tasty soup.

All four burners going, heating water, cauliflower, beet roots and onions. Timely preparation of the soup, because I fell sick the next day. I think it was because I ate some stale potatoes and could only manage to keep soup down until the fever broke the next day.

Checking out the local annual fair at Huari of the Virgen del Carmen Expo Feria.

All the Andean domestic animals were on display.

But first, some grub. Everything was deep-fried, from the chicken to the sausage and the bread. The white on the right is cheese and the yellow in the middle is roe, fish eggs. Buried underneath is all kinds of internal organs, all deep-fried.

Looks better on a plate. The dish is topped with sea-weed. I’m surprised it’s part of the local diet at 3,050 m (10,000 ft).

Henry having a man-sized glass of Chicha, the local alcoholic beverage made from fermenting dark corn. It’s not that strong at around 2% alcohol, so that’s why you’re served a large quantity of it.

Helmut and all his workers enjoying a day at the fair.

On the agricultural side of the fair; I guess there was a contest to see who could bring in the most varied types of potatoes. Each one is a different kind. Very fitting since the potato was first domesticated in southern Peru around 3000 BC and was the staple food of most civilizations here and only brought to Europe when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.

They aren’t kidding when they say there are over 4,000 kinds of potatoes grown in the Andes. Seeing nature’s vast biodiversity within a single species first stand sure makes me question the limited choice that we’re presented with in the supermarkets of the world.

Besides potatoes, corn or maize is also important to the diet here. Farmers showing off their different varieties of maize.

Golden, round maize.

Black, spiky maize.

Psychedelic beans.

Alpacas, a relative of the llama and this variety with the cool dreads is called Suri.

The regular variety of Alpacas growing a different kind of wool.

Universal displeasure from visiting a dentist. Getting the teeth in shape before the beauty pageant.

Different kinds of Vicunas.

This guy’s got a funky face pattern.

Getting a trim from the barber and surprisingly the animal didn’t get it in the eye with the amount it was fidgeting around.

The locals gathering around the biggest draw at the fair…

The beauty contest amongst the animals. The one with the red sash is the reigning Alpaca champion.

The next round of contestants lining up.

This animal did not want to move, clearly displeased at being disqualified during the first round.

The judge choosing who should move ahead to the next round. He was looking at the quality of the fur.

And of course, the most important Andean domestic animal in the small realm, the guinea pig, cuy.

Breeders lining up their best cuy on the judging table.

‘Ok buddy, you win this competition for us and I’ll set you free’

A judge inspecting this little guy.

Women wearing traditional clothes of the region at a booth.

We strolled over from the fair to Helmut’s second house. This is the patch of land that he’s cultivating.

He’s building a small house on the property to house workers when they come from the jungle and a building technique common in this area is mud and straw bricks, just sun-dried and not kiln-fired. I guess they’ve been doing this since the Inca days.

Mashing the mud and straw mix before it gets shaped into a brick.

The house under construction. And the mud also works as good insulation for the cold.

Helmut and the guys just finished putting up this shed to house lumber and an inauguration ceremony in these parts involves all the workers giving an offering to the ground, Pachamama (the sacred Earth for the Incas) and then having a small swig yourself. Here, the offering was some beer that was poured at the four corners and I can easily imagine the past cultures offering whatever liquid was valued at their time.

The 300 year old house on Helmut’s property. It’s unsafe to live in right now since the foundation is crumbling and he said it’s more expensive to keep this house up, rather than to build a new one. He said a Spanish general used to live here according to the local history.

That evening was a special affair in Huari. An old organ, dating to the 16th century, from a nearby church was carefully restored by specialists and tonight was its showing to the public. A organist from Argentina came to inaugurate the organ and lots of dignitaries were at the show as well, people and groups that had sponsored the restoration. The performance was about an hour long and quite interesting. The organ is the red object that’s in the lower left on stage, under the grand, gold-leaf covered altar.

The French government was one of the major backers through the World Monuments Fund and so the French Ambassador to Peru was here for the show (the fair lady being interviewed by the local media).

The organ from the 16th century that was restored and brought back to life.

The church itself at Huari is quite a sight. All the walls were painted telling various biblical stories.

Statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus ready to be carried around during festivals.

A grand fresco by the entrance depicting a gruesome Hell and encouraging all sinners to repent before entering the house of god.

I would say most of the frescos were quite macabre with lots of death motifs. I guess scare-tactics worked quite efficiently in converting the pagan masses to Christianity.

After the performance, hors d’oeuvres were served along with pisco (Peru’s brandy) as the local kids put on a dance outside.

The front yard was surfaced and decorated with colored pebbles.

The bland exterior of the church being modest of the rich visual treat on its insides.

I still hadn’t gotten around to putting in the new bearings and poor sanDRina was without a rear wheel for a few days.

Helmut’s work area.

A machine used to dry wood that’s been adhesively bonded. The pieces are put on each arm and then spun around.

His main shop area where furniture construction takes place.

Helmut showing me his neglected Honda 200 cc bike. He said he was now inspired to get it out of storage and have it running again.

Helmut’s beautiful house in Andahuaylillas. It’s about 300 years old also.

The grounds were well-kept with flowers and various fruit trees.

Lime tree shining in the sun.

One of his cats, Sasha that was very mean to his dog, pouncing on his face if he got close.

A shady tree in the central plaza outside.

That evening we made an egg curry when his girlfriend from Cusco came over.

Finally installing the new SKF bearings and putting sanDRina back together, ready to head into Bolivia.

Buying one of my favorite fruits, called Chiri Moya here and referred to as Custard Apple in India.

The flesh is sweet and tasty.

Preparing a mutton (sheep) soup for my last night at Helmut’s.

Hearty and very tasty. We had lots of good, stimulating conversation at the dining table and whilst he spoke decent English, we conversed mainly in Spanish, since he was more fluent and comfortable with that. I enjoyed my stay and he said like-wise. It’s the unexpected events that make this trip a journey.

Happy to be back on the road and rolling smoothly along the altiplano south to Puno.

I stopped for lunch near Juliaca and the restaurant proprietor’s father wanted to show me his leather cowboy vest after seeing all my biking gear. Looks pretty good, eh?

Spending a night at Lizandro’s in Puno, through CouchSurfing. It was cold at around 3,800 m (12,500 ft).

Taking the beautiful ride along Lago Titicaca towards the Bolivian border with snow peaks from Bolivia visible in the distance.

Panorama of the immense Lago Titicaca. It’s the world’s highest, largest lake at an altitude of around 3,800 m (12,500 ft) and is the largest lake in South America. Geologically speaking, the whole altiplano was once under water and this lake is all that’s remaining. It was very sacred to the Incas with their myths saying that their civilization was born through the sexual chakra (energy focus) that is Lago Titicaca. The lake is fed by glacial melt and rainwater and has slowly been dropping in volume, due to the reduction in size of all the glaciers in the area and shortening rainy seasons.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Fisherman heading out to his nets.

At the end of Peru, nearing the border with Bolivia.

I knew I would enjoy Peru and its diverse landscape dominated by massive snow peaks. The awe of the Andes really sets in after traversing this grand land. The unexpected encounters along the way also made this a special experience.

Next: Bolivia, Part 1: Copacabana, La Paz and Death Road

Previous: Peru, Part 5: Machu Picchu

Peru, Part 5: Machu Picchu

July 10 – 13, 2010

At the farm I was staying at in Cusco, I became friends with Carlos from Lima and he was looking for someone to head to Machu Picchu with and knew the back route to get there without taking the expensive trains. I was up for it and left the bike at the farm and we backpacked it to Machu Picchu.

Getting an early start for the day long journey to the town of Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. That’s a drink from quinoa (Andean grain) that was quite filling near the bus stop. We first caught a mini-bus to Urubamba.

From Urubamba, we caught the bus heading to Santa Maria and Quillabamba. This is past Ollantaytambo and the scenery was quite pleasing.

Terraced farms. The downside to being in a bus was not getting as many photo opportunities compared to the freedom on a bike.

The road climbed up high, probably close to 4,000 m (13,100 ft).

Close to the summit after passing through this high valley.

Coming down the eastern side of the Andes, which was more lush.

Taking photos from the back window of the bus of the dirt road, which got muddy with some rain.

Getting off at the small town of Santa Maria, where we then took this first white station wagon inside to Santa Teresa. The rural transport comprises of mini-buses and station wagons, second-hand imports from Japan that are converted from right to left-hand drive.

Heading out of Santa Maria. We had dropped quite low in elevation by now, close to 1,500 m (4,900 ft). I don’t know exactly because I didn’t have my GPS with me.

Our driver, who was actually very tame and drove sensibly, instead of the maniacs who usually drive like they’re in a rally race.

The drive was beautiful along this rocky cliff.

The road was running along the Rio Urubamba, the same river running around Machu Picchu up ahead.

Meeting on-coming traffic and there was a bit of power-play to see who would back up to let the other guy through. We won.

Waterfalls were flowing across the road and there were a few deep crossings, but nothing the Toyota couldn’t handle.

Slowing down for some one-way narrow bridges.

Waterfalls over rocks. The driver was very nice and stopped whenever we wanted to take pictures.

Getting into Santa Teresa. The drive from Santa Maria was quite enjoyable and worth it to come this way.

Having some late lunch in Santa Teresa with Marie from France. We rode with her from Santa Maria and would be going to Aguas Calientes with her. She’s doing an international business internship in Lima.

From Santa Teresa, there’s transportation to the local hydro electric plant

Taking a collectivo (mini bus) to Hidroelectrica over the bumpy, rocky road.

It was a nice ride along the river and the crossings were quite low in some places, probably inundating the road during the rainy season.

Arriving at Hidroelectrica, the closest roads get to Aguas Calientes. The peak up ahead is Mount Machu Picchu.

From here you can take this train to Aguas Calientes for around $8, much cheaper for the locals, but…

…we were hiking it. After a quick climb…

…the trail flattened out and followed the railway tracks into Aguas Calientes, about 20 kms (12.5 mi) away.

Crossing Rio Urubamba. The train leaves much later and actually rolled into town just when we got there.

A wing from a butterfly among the dried leaves and rocks with a nice camouflage design of an eye to scare away predators.

It was about a two hour hike and it was fully dark by the time we arrived in town.

Carlos and I camped outside town and we’re making dinner here of spaghetti with tomato sauce and tuna.

The campground is in a stunning location with vertical cliffs enclosing it.

Sunrise over Aguas Calientes.

Ethereal clouds rising with the sun.

Looking across the river to the mountain on top of which Machu Picchu sits. We wanted to be in Machu Picchu for sunrise, so we were taking it easy today in town and going to head up tomorrow morning.

Looking up the river towards Aguas Calientes.

The fast-flowing Rio Urubamba cutting and shaping massive granite blocks.

The tourism overrun town of Aguas Calientes, whose main business is tourists heading up to Machu Picchu.

This is also where the $156 round-trip train ride from Cusco comes to. Taking the buses and hiking costs around $20 round-trip.

Making some lunch in a park by the river before we caught the World Cup football finals match between Spain and The Netherlands.

The police ceremoniously lowering the national Peruvian flag and the Inca flag in the central plaza as darkness fell.

We got up at 3 am the next day and started the two hour hike up the mountain to Machu Picchu in the darkness.

Signs indicated which way the trail went, but basically you just keep going up.

The stairs leading up the mountain to Machu Picchu. (These pictures were taken later in the day.) We had flashlights but we could navigate just with the starlight. There was no moon and the clear skies allowed plenty of starlight to illuminate the ground.

We reached Machu Picchu and it was still dark at 5 am. A picture of some stars. The glob near the middle is the Pleiades cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. I got this picture with a 30 second exposure (maximum) on my SLR.

The first rays of the new sun. We could see so much more than I was able to capture on film and it was a lovely experience to see the valley change from being visible just under starlight to the blinding power of our one nearby star, the Sun.

Carlos, waking up from a nap on one of the agricultural terraces at Machu Picchu, where we waited for the sunrise. It got very cold just before dawn.

We decided to climb further up to Mount Machu Picchu for a 360 degree view of the area.

Looking back at the ruins from halfway up, where the sun hadn’t shone yet.

The steps were a bit dicey in some sections, but it made for an interesting climb.

A view from almost near the top with the sun now shining on Machu Picchu and what sticks out the most for me is the head of the Inca. We’re looking at the profile with the Inca lying on his back – the nose is Wayna Picchu (the peak close to the ruins) and the shadowed area to the right is the left eye.

Steps getting us ever closer to the summit.

At the summit of Mount Machu Picchu at 3,050 m (10,000 ft), a 1,525 m (5,000 ft) climb from Agua Calientes. No, that’s not the gay-pride flag. It’s the flag of the Incas, developed in the 1970s to represent the arco iris (rainbow), which was sacred to the Incas. This flag pole looked really small from the ruins, but it’s actually about 15 m (50 ft) tall.

With Machu Picchu down below and the head of the Inca from the summit.

Panorama looking behind Machu Picchu at some of the snow peaks in the distance.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Panorama looking at Machu Picchu and the valley it sits in. The Rio Urubamba flows around the whole mount, except the side connecting it with the summit I’m on. The town of Aguas Calientes is on the right, deep in the valley.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Framing the ruins and the Inca head between some plants and rocks, which is all that’s left now here.

A wider panorama of Machu Picchu (center), with Hidroelectrica on the left. So, we hiked from there all along the river to Aguas Calientes on the right, about 20 kms (12.5 mi) away.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

A stone sculpture at the summit.

Heading back down to the ruins.

Happy to make it back down. Now to see the actual ruins.

The terraces at the edge of the city, which were probably used for agriculture.

The postcard shot with the ruins of Machu Picchu and the peak of Wayna Picchu.

Panorama of the ruins with Rio Urubamba deep in the valley below and Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock on the right.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Residential quarters with the main city.

The entrance into the sacred part of the city.

A framed window with the path leading to the Sun Gate behind in the mountain-side.

Foundation walls showing that the interiors of some buildings were mud-filled and not stone throughout. This might have helped as insulation against the cold.

A street in the city with a view of Mount Machu Picchu.

Looking across the central plaza towards Wayna Picchu.

Llamas lazing around the grounds. They come and go as they want and they’re quite used to humans by now.

Scattered granite slabs at the edge of the city, which were probably going to be used for further construction.

Just like in Cusco, impressive stonework abounds in Machu Picchu. The theory on how they could cut through these massive blocks of granite is that they used water and wood pulp in natural cracks in the rock to further encourage cracking (as the wood expands with water). But I don’t know how they got such straight cuts with sharp angles.

The Principal Temple. Loose ground or an earthquake probably caused the shift in the rocks on the right.

Another example of tight masonry with no mortar. They say you can’t even get a blade of grass between the cracks.

A sacred rock since it resembles the mountains behind it. They say the rock was not moved but found in this position and with no man-made cuts it had the shape of the background mountains.

Another sacred rock since it too resembles the mountain peak that it frames.

Intihuatana, hitching post of the sun, a carved rock of prime importance to the Incas. The Spanish destroyed most sculptures related to sun worship since they wanted to wipe out the blasphemous paganism and impose their Christianity. Intihuatana and Machu Picchu survived because the Spanish didn’t know about this hard to get to site during their years of conquest. After the Incas abandoned the site probably in the 16th century, Machu Picchu was forgotten and taken over by the forest until her discovery in 1911 by Hiram Bingham.

The stone was found at the top of this natural pyramid and carved into its present shape. It’s believed to be a power center connected to one of the Earth’s chakras (focus of energy).

The four sides of the tip of Intihuatana point to four mountain peaks surrounding the site. Initially thought to be a sundial, it’s more related to the changing seasons with the solstices and equinoxes.

A girl following a tour guide’s instructions on how if she stood at this corner, near Intihuatana and faced south and the peak of Mt Machu Picchu, and if she opened herself up and focused intensely on the peak, energy would flow into her, leaving a tingling in the fingers. I tired it and didn’t feel anything.

Roof-less buildings blending in with the surrounding mountains. The roofs were probably made of thatched grass.

The natural pyramid, upon which the stoned terraces were built on. Intihuatana sits at the top. The un-used granite blocks indicate that 1) the mystery of how all these stones were brought here was that they used whatever rocks they found in the area and 2) construction was still on-going when the site was abandoned.

A wider view with the pyramid and sacred sites on the right under Mt Machu Picchu. There was an obelisk in the center of this grassy plaza and in a show of indigenous pride, Alejandro Toledo, the country’s first native Quecha-speaking president wanted to host his inauguration ceremony at Machu Picchu in 2001, so they removed the obelisk for his helicopter to be able to land. Doesn’t seem right.

A llama, up close on the grounds of Machu Picchu. His ancestors probably roamed this area during the Inca days.

A granite block outside the principle site in the process of being split along its natural cracks.

Roof-less buildings with Wayna Picchu showing the shape.

Temple of the Three Windows, the most insightful name at Machu Picchu :p

What’s left of the water supply to the city; today’s it’s a small trickle. They’ve found intricate water channels bringing water from rivers to satisfy the city. Water is also thought to be important in their rituals.

Temple of the Condor. Can you see it? The wings of the condor (similar to an eagle) are the two big granite stones behind, spread high. The body of the bird is the flat stone on the ground and the Incas laid some white stones to represent the white collar around the bird’s neck. And like other sacred sights at Machu Picchu, this too was found by Incas as it is naturally and only the white patch was added.

The walls of the Temple of the Sun. A nearby tour guide pointed out how the perfectly straight cut lines, on the left, signify a sacred part of the temple and further to the right, the cuts are more rounded, signifying a less important structure. They must’ve valued their stone-cutters; similar to modern-day society’s engineers, I think.

The most sacred sight at Machu Picchu, the Temple of the Sun, central to the Incas. Also, this is the only round building on site, signifying its importance from the other rectangular buildings.

Stairway leading into the temple, carved out of a single block of granite. It was getting worn down from all the tourist traffic that they’ve closed it off and directed traffic to the wooden stairs.

Entrance to the Temple of the Sun. Hmmm, rounded stones on one wall and straight-cut on the other. The temple was to the right.

Strange inter-locking between stones. It doesn’t connect to anything behind it, so, why cut the channel and put a different rock in? They probably had good reasons.

A room called the Sacristy, where if people in different windows hummed a harmonic vibration, like Omm, some sort of bouncing audio waves created an energy buzz in the room.

Looking from the sacred side of the city to the residential side. They sure had a good view.

Agricultural terraces, under the watch of Mt Machu Picchu, going quite far down the steep cliff towards the river. Some archaeologists argue that Machu Picchu was used as an agricultural experimentation area for the kingdom, due to the various climates that could be achieved along the cliffs around the city. Terraces have been found around the mountain at various elevations.

Machu Picchu at sunset with the nose of the Inca shining in the setting sun. Nice to spend a whole day at the site (waiting for nice lighting conditions). Even if you don’t like ruins, the location is quite spectacular and I can see why the Incas chose to build a sacred city at this site.

A plaque in remembrance of Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911.

On way back down, we saw the steps that we climbed at night under the starlight.

A rain shelter hut on the trail up the mountain.

Sun setting over the Machu Picchu valley.

Gorgeous colors to finish an exciting day where I climbed up and down a total of 3,050 m (10,000 ft) in elevation changes.

The next morning, getting an early start before dawn for the long journey back to Machu Picchu.

Arriving in Santa Teresa by breakfast.

In Santa Maria on the main road, waiting for the bus to Cusco.

Having a hearty drink of quinoa for S/.1.

Enjoying the beautiful scenery on the way back. A stream coming from a glaciated-peak under the clouds.

Walking back to the farm for one last night in Cusco, before continuing south.

Next: Peru, Part 6: Breakdown in Andahuaylillas

Previous: Peru, Part 4: Abancay and Cusco

Peru, Part 4: Abancay and Cusco

July 5 – 9, 2010

From Nasca, I climbed back up the Andes, first to spend some time in Abancay before heading over to Cusco, where I stayed on a farm.

Stocking up on some bananas for the road ahead.

Distance board at Nasca. I was heading to Abancay today.

Climbing up in the shadows of the morning sun.

Looking back towards Nasca and the Pacific Ocean after the quick ascent.

Riding across the Altiplano at 4,170 m (13,670 ft).

A herd of wild vicunas, prized for their fur.

Taking their time to cross the road with very little traffic around.

Still altiplano lakes.

The road was straight with a few curves, making for an easy ride.

Coming down from the altiplano.

Llama pens on the hillside.

Looking back at his house. A llama heading down to his pen.

Having a peaceful lunch at 4,000 m (13,100 ft) of leftovers from dinner.

Heading into Abancay at 2,700 m (8,850 ft) having covered a total of 8,068 m (26,460 ft) of elevation changes today.

Having dinner with Tanja and Khalid through CouchSurfing, who are volunteers from Germany. Khalid’s father is Egyptian and he made a traditional bean dish.

The next day Kahlid took me around town. First, we’re having his favorite breakfast: freshly made sweetened pop corn with bananas and fresh sweet yogurt. Very tasty.

Khalid works in a plant nursery and his owner (right) prepares fruit trees to be sold to farmers in the surrounding hills. Khalid is implementing a compost project.

Palto, another name for avocado.

There was a resident parrot, who we took with us on our walk around the farm. Argggh, matey.

Happily eating some fresh fruit. Kahlid mistakenly killed the original parrot by trying to give it a bath, so this is his replacement.

The farm had a river flowing through it, making for this tranquil area, under the shady trees.

Visiting a friend of Khalid’s (center) who works for the local government with disabled persons. We had a good talk about the local politics and her aspirations for what Peru can achieve, but she feels the old school, corrupted people in power are holding them back. She said her boss doesn’t like to pay for special buses to transport disabled people around but will happily reimburse the petrol for a staff trip in one of their SUVs.

Visiting a nearby orphanage.

Where this cute little girl was waiting for her new parents to come pick her up. She sat there quite reassuringly, without making a fuss and being quite brave with the cards she’s been dealt.

Having a cheap lunch for S/.2 of pork ribs with yuca and potatoes, while catching a World Cup football match with everyone else in the little restaurant. Khalid was vowing the crowd with his Quechua (the local indigenous language).

Saying hi to some of his friends who are carpenters, busily working until the bleachers of the stadium.

Heading out the next day. I parked the bike in this nearby warehouse and the owners enjoyed going through my trip website. They wanted to give me a large bottle of water, but due to lack of space, I just asked for a small one.

A wide view of a river valley with interesting geologic views.

Looking up the river valley. Note the v-shaped rock in the center.

Riding along Rio Apurimac.

Seeing these farmers by the roadside, thrashing the grains out of their crops and walking two horses around in circles to stamp on the harvest.

The road flattened out near Cusco at 3,400 m (11,150 ft).

Taking in the expanse of Cusco, the largest city in the Peruvian Andes and a big draw for tourists.

The Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus in the grand Plaza de Armas – the name of the central plaza in most Peruvian towns meaning plaza of weapons because during the Spanish colonial days, this was where everyone gathered when there was a call for arms. Most towns have just one church in their central plaza, but Cusco, being the capital of the Inca Empire has four. I guess the Spanish really wanted to stamp out the Inca culture and impose Christianity.

The sun setting over the Portal de Panes in the Plaza de Armas.

Dusk falling over the main cathedral in the plaza and the really long steps where people gather.

Arriving at Christian and Marisol’s farm outside the city. I contacted Christian through CouchSurfing about staying a few days on his farm where they’re starting some projects to help out the local community and ask travelers who stay to help out a little.

Sunset at the farm, which was located on a hillside with great open views across the valley and towards these snow-peaked mountains. It was very chilly at night, elevation here was 3,700 m (12,100 ft) and the temperature dropped about 14 C (25 F) as the sun set getting near freezing over night.

Some of the other travelers who were passing through and stayed on the farm. Back L-R: Danny from Spain, George (Russian-Canadian), Karan from India. Front L-R: me, Karina from California and Anastasia, George’s wife. I had a good chat with Karan, being the first Indian that we’ve both seen since traveling. He’s from Delhi and used to be an automotive and motorcycle journalist, taking part in rallies. He gave me some good info on Brazil and I told him about the countries further north.

One of the tasks was filling up the water tank with water from a generous neighbor about 300 m (984 ft) away. We had to connect numerous long hoses to get to the source. L-R: David, Carlos (from Lima), Dave and Danny. Both the Daves were traveling together from the States and Dave’s father is involved with Nasa in trying to build a robotic explorer to go under the ice on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Dave is studying for a PhD in High Energy (Particle) Physics and we had some good talks. Also, at night, with the super clear skies, our Milky Way Galaxy was very clear and we exchanged info on some of the cosmological marvels in the sky, like the supermassive black hole sitting at the center of our galaxy.

They had this cute VW bus for bringing supplies to the farm.

Marisol and others digging up the vegetable garden. Things were just getting started.

I helped in sawing up all the planks for this first bunk bed and then hammering them all in. As a reward for the work, I got to sleep on the bed, yeah!

After a hard days work, everyone gathered for a family-style meal. Beautiful views from the dining room.

Simple vegetarian food of rice, potatoes and some veggies.

Local kids that Christian invited to eat with them. Some of the programs they want to implement at the farm involve things like teaching English to some of the poor artisans to help them better sell their wares, educating mothers about nutrition and teaching yoga and meditation to the volunteers. Every morning started with 30 minutes of meditation.

Making some Chicha Morada, a drink from black corn, tasting similar to iced tea.

Marisol putting some finishing touches on the garden as dusk grew into night.

Taking a tour of Cusco’s streets at night.

Beautiful Inca stonework visible all over the city.

Norton Rats Pub, a famous location in the motorcycling community, run by a biker. And note the intricately carved wooden balconies, a signature of the city.

A corner of the Iglesia El Triunfo.

The famous Hatunrumiyoc street, known for its huge Inca stones that make up the foundation of most buildings in Cusco as the Spanish found it convenient to do so. Implying that the layout of the city harks back to pre-colonial days. It was constructed in the 12th century by the first Inca king, Manco Capac on direction from Inti, the sun god, to find the navel of the Earth by seeing where the ground would swallow his staff and there he founded the city that would be the capital of the Inca Empire. Cusco is regarded as the continent’s oldest, continuously inhabited city.

What’s amazing about the Inca stone work is their lack of use of any kind of mortar to join the stones. Each stone is cut to fit perfectly with its surrounding stones and one has to marvel how these structures have stood unshaken with all the seismic activity in the Andes.

Being the tourist and posing with the famous 12-sided stone. It’s a massive block that’s cut to match all its surrounding stones. This stone was part of the palace of the sixth Inca, Roca.

A corner of a building with Inca stones supporting the newer colonial buildings above. The small bits jutting out from the rocks might be places where ropes were tied to move the stones in place. Seeing that some of the stones have them and some don’t, perhaps there wasn’t enough time to knock of the handles.

Heading up to the artsy San Blas district.

A few tables in the open air with some appropriate relaxing live music.

Here’s a nice colonial wall and the hole-in-the-wall in the lower left is a small French restaurant.

Looking out over Plaza San Blas.

The streets of San Blas, lined with fancy restaurants.

Elephant raising its trunk in the window of an Indian restaurant.

Musicians gathering outside a pub just after a gig on a side street in San Blas. There’s definitely lots of foreigners in Cusco, as besides the charm of the city itself, it’s also the starting point for the journey up to Machu Picchu.

The main cathedral at night, which was constructed on top of Inca Viracocha’s palace.

Buying some dried fruits and nuts for the trip to Machu Picchu.

Next: Peru, Part 5: Machu Picchu

Previous: Peru, Part 3: Lima to Nasca

Peru, Part 3: Lima to Nasca

June 28 – July 5, 2010

From Huaraz, I took the more scenic mountain route down to Lima, through Huanuco. After taking care of some business in Lima, I headed south along the coast to see the lines at Nazca.

Heading south from Huaraz the road climbed up to 4,300 m (14,100 ft) and these snow-peaked mountains were just sitting on the altiplano without a grand prominence. Looked like an easy climb.

Warming up with some meaty noodle soup and mate de coca at the turn-off to Huanuco.

This girl, probably the daughter of the restaurant proprietor was tossing this poor kitten through the air for her amusement.

Traffic was much reduced on the road to Huanuco and the curves made for a fun ride.

Nice view all around with snow peaks showing up, now and then.

Interesting exposed geology. The sedimentary lines curve up to the peak.

The road was climbing higher through some picturesque landscapes. The rocks above look volcanic in the smooth shapes they take and the rushing sound of the waterfall made for an energetic setting.

The pavement was in excellent condition with jagged peaks all around.

A wide view of the mineral-rich peaks running along the road near the summit at 4,700 m (15,400 ft).

The road quickly dropped down on the other side to 2,900 m (9,500 ft), getting very narrow through this canyon.

The scenery changed, getting drier with more human settlements.

Distance board; heading to Huanuco for the night.

Having lunch surrounded by eucalyptus trees.

The road got in progressively worse shape until it was just gravel, which is much better than a misshapen tar road.

Passing by a local geologic feature called the Inca’s Crown, where the road peaked one last time at 4,000 m (13,100 ft) before dropping down to Huanuco.

There was heavy construction work going on and they stopped all traffic, but they let bikes through. These channels in the road made it quite challenging to keep the bike balanced with the front wheel skitting about.

Looks like they’re paving the whole stretch that’s gravel. Following some rollers back down.

Newly laid tarmac, which was less than a centimeter of asphalt over the dirt. I had to wait an hour at one section for the new tarmac to dry enough for me to ride on. The road dropped very quickly in elevation with switch-back after switch-back. A very fun ride.

I like the juxtaposition of the fluorescent orange bridge amongst the natural setting. With the road dropping down to 1,900 m ( 6,230 ft) at Huanuco, today was another roller-coaster of a ride covering 6,700 m (21,980 ft) in elevation changes.

After finding a cheap hotel in Huanuco, I was riding around trying to find a safe place to park the bike and this lady hailed me down and told me to follow her to their welding shop, where I could park the bike for the night. Very nice couple.

Heading out of Huanuco the next day for Lima, saw this motorcycle contraption – a cart added to the front steering wheels. I guess you don’t need a long chain this way.

This gas station attendant was flirting with me, so had to grab a pic.

Climbing back up to the altiplano.

The Andean Altiplano, high plains at 4,100 m (13,450 ft). This high elevation plateau, the largest outside of Tibet probably formed due to the weakening of the Earth’s crust after the Cordillera Occidental (western) and Oriental (eastern) formed leaving a wide gap between them.

The road continued across the bleak landscape for about 100 kms (62 mi), but there was something beautiful about it.

Passing through one of the many small towns along the way. It was chilly up here and I had on most of my layers and was comfortable.

Strange purple sculpture with trippy mushrooms in the center of one of the towns.

Towards the end of the altiplano ride, mountain ridges started showing up. Taking in the slanted sedimentary lines and the llama road sign.

Interestingly-shaped mountain. It wasn’t smooth like all the others around.

Having lunch at La Oroya, the turn-off down to Lima at a small road-side Cevicheria, which Peru is known for.

Chicken and rice with some ceviche, which is fish cooked only with lime juices and some other natural acids. Kind of like sushi, but it’s technically cooked, even though it’s cold.

I thought the road would be dropping down from here, but we were climbing again.

Passing by mineral rich mountains and like-wise, turquoised lakes. Their stillness reflecting the riches in the peaks.

With so many minerals within easy reach, hardly surprising that mining is the main activity in this high, desolate region. The mountains were being cleanly shaven off.

Another still lake reflecting a jagged peak.

A panorama near the summit of mineral-rich rocks and the lakes they’ve colored.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Peaking at 4,835 m (15,860 ft) before dropping all the way down to sea level at Lima, making this the most roller-coaster of a day so far, covering 10,770 m (35,325 ft) in elevation changes.

Dropping down the switch-backs with beautifully red-colored hillsides.

The road getting narrow as it wound its way through the guarding mountains.

Ooops, a case of STFFC (Speed Too Fast For the Conditions), taking this curve with a bit too much speed. Drivers down here definitely drive with a lot more abandon, especially the buses, keeping me on my toes all the time.

Cutting through some tunnels.

The road got very narrow in places as the route followed the easiest way down.

Since I was making good time into Lima, I took a break and washed the bike with these free water hoses. They’re connected to a river and the pressure is all natural, so they’re on all the time. Just rinsing the rims and the engine, no need to be carrying extra dirt around.

The cliffs at Miraflores in Lima, where the strong ocean wind against the raised cliffs provides for some great paragliding. And the overcast clouds that shroud Lima during their winter months. Didn’t see the sun or sky the whole time I was in Lima. The temps were also much cooler than I expected, having come down from the altiplano. The air is very humid, around 95% and that makes you feel much colder than what the temperature actually is. It was around 14 C (57 F), but felt like 5 C (41 F).

Meeting up with Yuri, riding a Honda Africa Twin. He’s a friend of Sargento’s (Mexican rider I met in Cartagena) and he took me around town to take care of a few things.

Welding up the corners of my panniers after the bike fell in Huaraz from the flat tire.

Riding 2-up on Yuri’s little Honda 125cc bike into a more seedy part of town to find an aluminum machinist.

When the bike fell in Huaraz, my helmet was on the rear-view mirror with my GoPro helmet camera attached to it and a piece in the bracket broke. The machinist did a fine job of replicating the plastic piece in aluminum. Cost $20.

My main reason for coming to Lima, to get my tourist visa for Brasil. The staff were quite helpful and processed my visa in a day.

Hanging out at a nearby McDonalds for their free WiFi while I waited for my visa pick-up time. A McChicken tastes the same everywhere and apparently, costs the same too, $1, S/.3. That’s my Acer/Gateway netbook that I’m traveling with and posting all these pictures from. It’s been working really good so far and the 10.6″ screen isn’t too small.

Meeting up with Edison through CouchSurfing at Parque Kennedy.

Riding back to his house near the airport at 1:30 in the night. I heard Lima traffic was terrible. Not a car in sight.

That’s Edison on the right and Carlos, another CouchSurfer from Buenos Aires.

Edison’s family’s narrow 4-story house.

A panoramic view of his neighborhood.

Grabbing a street snack while taking a walk around town.

It was a hot dog on a stick in a kind of waffle dough with ketchup and mayonaisse. Tasted quite good actually.

A fruit stand by the bus stop.

Grabbing some dinner of Lomo Saltado (beef stir-fried with veggies and french fries).

Doing an oil change the next day. I bought my own oil and just asked the shop if I could borrow an oil drain pan and they were happy to help. I caught bits of the dramatic Ghana vs Uruguay World Cup match in the store along with random customers and the employees. Whilst everyone else was rooting for their South American brother, I was all for Mama Africa.

Talking with the parking attendants on top of the Tottus supermarket (good utilization of space to have the parking on the roof). I finally bought supplies to cook on the road, such as lentils, quinoa, olive oil and oatmeal. I also stocked up on local varieties of granola bars.

In Edison’s house before heading out with some friends.

Having some cervezas (beers) on the terrace and taking in the sights of the neighborhood. That’s a football game, which might look like a pickup game of basketball in the States.

Carlos’ friend said we were going to a Mexican restaurant and I was looking forward to some nice tacos, but can you believe it, this is what they call a burrito? It tasted good, but nothing resembling Mexican food.

Catching a show of percussionists. Drums of all shapes and sizes played by a huge number of people. Good time.

Fueling up at the cheapest gas station on my way out of Lima. Petrol is quite expensive in Peru, averaging S/.12/gallon = $4/gal and here it was S/.10.83/gal. In most of Peru, you can only find 84 or 90 octane gas, so I’ve been using the 90 octane; not much price difference. And then only in Lima, where all the fancy new cars are at, they have 95 and even 97 octane. I was told the octane numbers are less than what they state.

Convertible trucks? Poor chaps braving the cold winds like us bikers to transport these chassis to their body builders.

The gloomy overcast clouds stayed with me for about 280 kms (174 mi) south of Lima. The winds were strong from the Pacific, crashing big waves against the rocks.

Riding the 4-lane freeway of the Panamericana to Paracas. Time for an audio book.

Staying with Jose Miguel in Paracas through CouchSurfing, at the edge of the desert-filled Reserva Nacional de Paracas. He’s runs a tour group with his brother and they go for dune rides in the buggy. Oh and nice to see clear blue skies again.

The small town of Paracas with the ocean up ahead.

Having breakfast with Jose Miguel (standing) and some of his friends. The couple on the right are CouchSurfers from Uruguay and Sweden who invited me to stay if I swing by Montevideo.

A hearty breakfast of tamales (baked corn meal) with pork and beef.

A view of Paracas and its harbor. Visiting the nearby Islas Ballestas is major business for the town and is supposed to be a smaller version of the Galapagos Islands.

The desert at Reserva Nacional de Paracas.

S/.5 entrance fee for a 30 km loop of the park.

Rocky cliffs butting the desert against the ocean.

There used to be this beautiful natural stone arch called the cathedral, but…

…it came crashing down during the strong 8.0 earthquake in 2007, which also destroyed most of the town of Pisco.

sanDRina riding the waves.

Taking in a different view of the cliffs on the shore.

There was a general path in the sand, but the track split with no directions.

Enjoying the sandy landscape.

sanDRina with a huge bay.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

The wave crashing and releasing its energy against the land, propelling me forward.

Back on the road south. Vineyards, most likely for Pisco, the national drink – a brandy made from grapes.

Taking a quick look at the desert oasis of Huacachina, surrounded by tall sand dunes, where sandboarding is popular.

It’s overrun with tourists and tour groups trying to milk as much as possible from this natural oasis in the desert.

Local legend of a mermaid that seduced people who visited the oasis. They were probably so thirsty, it didn’t take much to conjure up a mermaid to welcome them.

Back on the super straight Panamericana, heading south to…

The lines at Nasca!

You can either pay around $60 for a flight over the lines or S/.2 to climb up this tower and take in two diagrams.

Seeing this image on the left, it’s either a frog or a fish. The current thinking is that the lines were made by removing sun-darkened stones from the desert surface to reveal the lighter soil below. But to what their purpose was and who actually made them is still a mystery.

Even from the tower, you can marvel how these lines have lasted for around 2,000 years in the sand and amazing that they haven’t been vandalized yet or disfigured from erosion.

Looking south from the tower at the ribbon of tarmac that is the Panamericana Highway.

Staying the night with Ruben through CouchSurfing in the town of Nasca. He’s also a rider, having a Yamaha 600 and his brother has a new KLR650. They’re carpenters making custom furniture for restaurants and hotels.

Next: Peru, Part 4: Abancay and Cusco

Previous: Peru, Part 2: Canon del Pato and Huascaran

Peru, Part 2: Canon del Pato and Huascaran

June 22 – 28, 2010

This next part takes me from Cajamarca, down to the coast to the start of the Canyon del Pato, back up to the snow peaks and a ride through Huascaran National Park.

Staying with Adam (right) in Cajamarca for a night, through CouchSurfing. We were walking around the streets and ran into Holger and Anja who were happy to speak in German with Adam. They camped out at the bridge at Balsas the previous night and just rolled into the city. Adam is here on his year of voluntary service with the German government, which is required in place of military service and is done usually before heading to college. He invited them to the farm where he was staying but Holger was after a hotel after a few nights of camping.

Taking a tour of the city with Adam.

Trying ‘anticucho’, which is grilled cow’s heart, a local snack. Mmmm.

Climbing up some concentrically elevated steps for a view of the city.

The beautiful colonial town of Cajamarca. It’s known as the city where the last Inca king was killed by the Spanish. Atahualpa was tricked by the Conquistador Pizzaro into turning over a lot of gold and silver in exchange for his release, but they still killed him. What a brutal world view the European colonizers had, and all in the name of the church! Adam said in his talks with some Peruvians, they say the one thing they disdain about being colonized was being forced to take up a new religion.

Heading back down the circular steps.

Sun setting over a plaza in Cajamarca.

The disappearing sun still illuminating the towers of this cathedral in the main plaza.

Adam buying some groceries for the dinner I was going to cook.

At the farm outside the city where Adam and other volunteers stay. His project involves working with handicapped children.

Sunset over the hills surrounding Cajamarca. Venus shining through dusk up above.

I prepared a vegetable curry for Adam and his co-volunteers. They were interested in seeing the whole process and I tried to convey that lots of patience is needed when making a curry since you have to add each ingredient only after the curry has reached a specific phase. I also shared with them how the sound of the cooking pot (the water from the vegetables interacting with the oil) conveyed important info about the temperature, which is key in getting the desired consistency.

We enjoyed a nice meal together and Adam even tried eating with his fingers, which for me is the most natural way to eat rice. We like to say it tastes better then eating with a metallic object and the fingers can sense when the temperature of the food is right to put in your mouth.

Taking off the next morning after a nice evening at the farm.

Getting some fresh orange juice and a sandwich at a kiosk on the road.

A Bajaj autorickshaw with doors for the cold climate, something you’ll never see in India, where they come from.

After climbing up to 3,200 m (10,500 ft), the road plummeted down to the coast. Note the U-shaped sedimentary lines in the mountain behind.

A beautifully blue lake near the coast as the terrain started drying out.

The flat Panamericana highway running through Peru’s costal desert.

They were huge sand dunes right by the highway and many places with sand blowing across the road. The super tall Andes block all the rain that falls on the Amazon side, leaving the Pacific coast very dry.

Growing sugarcane in the deserted coast; putting marginal land to commercial use.

And the pollution that comes along with growing sugarcane. The fields have to be burnt to remove unwanted plants. I’m looking forward to the time when society will realize that you can’t continue polluting like this without adding the cost of pollution into the product. That would change everyone’s view on pollution and lead to a sharp curtailing of it.

Spending the night in Chimbote, a city known as the fishing hub of Peru and the stench of fish permeated the whole city. Back in the hey days, when no one knew about sustainable resource use, they over-harvested the seas and now with very little fish for the nets to catch, the local economy has slumped.

Staying with Juan Pablo, through CouchSurfing, who’s an aspiring artist.

We took a walk through a local fair and I was surprised to find a booth blasting Bollywood songs (India’s Hollywood). Seems like Indian culture is quite popular here.

Heading out the next day back up the Andes.

I came this way specifically to ride the length of the road through the Canon del Pato (Duck Canyon).

Beautiful views started soon after the walls of the canyon started to close in.

On the trail through the Canon del Pato. The road was quite rough and I was poddling along in 1st and 2nd gear, trying not to stress my rear shock too much with all the weight I have.

The canyon is very dry and vegetation is sparse, but there was a stark beauty, especially the clash with the clear blue skies above.

Taking frequent breaks as the engine was getting quite hot with the slow speeds.

Coming across the first tunnels in the rock, which is what this canyon is known for in the motorcycling community.

The rushing Rio Santa, which created this canyon, slowly carving down and carrying the minerals away.

The elevation was quite low for most of the canyon and shadows of cliffs provided some relief from the heat.

A fascinating geologic cut-away. The Earth’s crust is shaped like putty by the convective forces of the magma that circulates deep under our feet. We are but alive for a short blip in the story of this planet.

Entering tunnels cut right into the cliff-sides. The contrast of the brightness outside and the absolute darkness inside the tunnels and the delay in my pupils adjusting to that made it quite hairy to pass through, especially with lots of sand in the tracks.

Being passed by a bunch of bikes, which I later found out were part of Adventure Peru Motorcycling, a tour group.

Tunnel cut into the slanted bedrock.

Almost a tunnel.

A sleek waterfall by the road.

The construction of the road exposing various slabbed layers of rock.

The road following the path of the river.

Meeting up with the tour group at the next town. They’re based out of Cajamarca and Lima and run tours around Peru on DR650s. Dave is the owner and he’s from England with a crew of local and English guides. The clients were British. They were heading to Caraz for the night and Dave invited me to stay with them and ride for the next few days.

Riding past the hydroelectric plant that was built in 1913 and is the reason the road exists.

To Caraz.

The road started climbing and Dave said more tunnels were ahead.

Inside a tunnel with its jagged walls.

A series of tunnels.

sanDRina enjoying all the tunnels.

A good ride through the Canon del Pato.

That’s a huge rock topping this tunnel.

The light at the end of the tunnel, in a narrowing canyon.

The tunnels are one-way and this sign is asking you to toot your horn before entering. I didn’t encounter much traffic, but there is still some, mainly pickups heading to the hydroelectric plant.

The canyon got narrow in places with the afternoon sun receding quickly and shadows growing.

Reaching the pavement as the road got close to Caraz.

Having a nice dinner with Dave and his crew from Adventure Peru Motorcycling in Caraz.

A tasty meal of Lomo Saltado, a typical Peruvian dish of stir-fried beef with veggies and french fries.

The next day we went on a day ride to nearby Parque Nactional Huascaran, which encompasses the whole Cordillera Blanca (white mountains) above 4,000 m (13,100 ft). S/.5 entrance fee.

The shimmering turquoise and emerald Laguna Orconcocha, colored by the minerals from the glacier run-off. This lake is one part of the Lagunas Llanganuco.

Having some snacks at the nearby hut.

This lady was frying up some Papa Rellena, stuffed potatoes.

Freshly fried-up papa rellenas.

They were stuffed with minced beef and that’s some green hot sauce. Tasty and just the right thing for the chilly winds at 3,850 m (12,630 ft).

Having some Mate de Coca (coca leaf tea) for the first time. The alkaloids in the leaf help to deal with altitude sickness and other ailments.

The support crew of Franco and Carlos refueling the stock DR650’s and their 3.4 gallon tank for the run up to the summit of the park.

Climbing up to the peak with views of Nevado Huascaran, the tallest mountain in Peru at 6,768 m (22,200 ft) on one side with…

Expansive views of Nevados Huandoy on the other side. The view alternated with each switch-back from one snow peak to the other.

An almost 180 degree panorama of Parque Nactional Huascaran, capturing Nevado Huascaran on the left, the twin glacier-fed lakes of Lagunas Llanganuco in the middle with Nevados Huandoy on the right. A wonderful feast for the eyes, especially with the clean high-altitude air.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Crossing the narrow pass at the top…

At an altitude of 4722 m (15,490 ft). The highest yet on this trip.

It was fun riding sanDRina without the weight of all my cargo. I left the side panniers at the hotel room and emptied the top box.

A wide view of the sinuous track leading up to the summit under Nevados Huandoy.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

sanDRina posing under Nevado Huascaran. I like how as the glacier is getting more filled with dirt and rocks, the image blends it with her windscreen, flowing the energy of the glacier into the bike… Ommmm.

Heading back down.

Nevado Huascaran with its shrinking glacier turning into a stream running down to Laguna Llagucho.

Riding by the glaciated lakes on my way out of the park.

Heading back down to the main road as the afternoon wore down.

Strong sunset colors over Caraz.

Having some dinner at a chaufa (Chinese restaurant), which provides an economical meal anywhere in the world. The hot soup was good to warm up to after the chilly day up at altitude.

sanDRina enjoying the company of all the other DR’s in the courtyard at the hotel. The APM crew also had a Honda Africa Twin and a 250cc Tornado. One of Dave’s clients was a friend of his from the UK riding big BMW GS’s and he was complaining of the puny DR650s the whole trip and Dave loved it that I came along to show him what a capable bike the DR650 is.

Taking a walk through the market in Caraz. Ladies in traditional clothes. The hats vary between regions and almost every woman had a hat. They didn’t look to be the warmest design, but fashionable, for sure. It’s a smaller city than nearby Huaraz, which is considered too touristy nowadays and not as charming.

Cows’ hoofs, ready for a tasty soup.

A game of women’s football in the streets, as the excitement for the World Cup grew.

Heading out of Caraz to Huaraz.

Riding with the guys from Adventure Peru Motorcycling to Huaraz.

Stopping by the memorial to the town of Yungay, which was wiped out by a earthquake-induced landslide in 1970. This is a picture of the town below Nevado Huascaran before it got destroyed.

And this is the after shot. The entire town was buried in debris that came racing down the steep slopes and took 18,000 lives in one swoop. A lake that was formed with melted glacier water was unleashed during the earthquake to become the landslide.

The site of Yungay with a memorial built over the buried town. The new town has been shifted to a safer location.

Having lunch with the APM crew. L-R: me, Dave (owner), Carlos (support van driver), Steve, Alan, Peter (English guide), Franco (Peruvian guide), Allen (who didn’t like the DR650).

A tasty lunch of lamb chops.

Picking up a nail as we rolled into Huaraz. The bike fell over on her right side as the tire deflated after parking her.

Going about the process of removing the tube from the tire to get it patched up.

My right-side pannier got bent around the pannier frame as the bike fell on this side.

Carefully reshaping the pannier so that the lid would close again.

At a llantera (tire shop) getting my HD tube patched up. I had 3 punctures in the tube.

Dinner that night at Chilli Heaven, a restaurant run by world biker Simon preparing all sorts of curries. He rode around the whole world and decided to settle down here in Huaraz, where there are also many other expats.

I had to have the Madras Chicken Curry, but to be honest, it wasn’t that good. Tasted very much like a dish prepared by foreigners and yes, I think I can make a better curry, haha.

The tube went flat again over night and I think the old Kenda K761 carcass was just about done. I wrung as many miles out of it as possible, 17,230 kms (10,700 mi) and decided to mount the new Metzeler Tourance that I’ve been carrying since Medellin, Colombia.

I warmed up the new tire in the sun for a few hours (as I watched the England vs Germany World Cup game) and it was surprisingly very easy to mount the new tire. I didn’t even use any soap nor lubricant. I remember one lesson strongly from a tire-changing session to “never fight the tire” and thus you shouldn’t have to use too much force to get the tire on.

Putting some baby powder in the new tire to help the tube expand effortlessly and reduce chances of pinching.

I also figured it was time to change the rear brake pads (old on right). I mounted those before my Continental Divide trip and got 32,200 kms (20,000 mi) out of them. Looks like maybe a thousand or so kilometers left, so I kept the old one as an emergency spare. With dirt riding, I’ve been using more rear brake than front and with all the weight of the bike, even on the tarmac, I find the rear brake stronger than the front.

A pleasing sunset over the Cordillera Blanca and Huaraz.

Spending the night with Ivan from CouchSurfing who works as a local tourist guide.

Next: Peru, Part 3: Lima to Nasca

Previous: Peru, Part 1: Bague Grande and Kuelap

Peru, Part 1: Bagua Grande and Kuelap

June 16 – 22, 2010

Comprising the heart of the Inca Empire, Peru has become well known for its archeological sites, such as famous Machu Picchu. However, the varied landscape, ranging from dry deserts to rain forests up to glaciated peaks was the main draw for me. The Andes start much further north, but here is where it starts to become majestic. The sensation that this is the highest mountain range besides the Himalayas is felt as the road climbs ever higher and clings to cliff faces.

I followed a route staying primarily in the mountains thru northern Peru, climbing up and down the Cordillera Blanca down to Lima on the coast. From there, I rode the desert down to Nazca before climbing back up to Cusco for a trek to Machu Picchu and then exiting via Lake Titicaca.

There are three land borders with Ecuador and I crossed at La Tina. Tumbes is the main one down on the coast and La Balsa is further east in the jungle.

Immigration was a breeze, even with my visa needing to be inspected by national police, and as usual, getting the bike processed through customs is what takes more time. But everything went smoothly. This border was very relaxed and surprisingly there were no money changers around. I found a taxi driver who was willing to change a few Dollars into Nuevo Soles for lunch. I crossed with Holger and Anja (Anya), touring around the world from Germany. We met in southern Ecuador and would be riding together for the next few days.

Nice first impression. The road was in much better condition than just across the border in Ecuador. We spent the night in Sullana.

My route through Peru. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.

The Nuevo Sole, Peru’s currency. USD $1 = 2.90 Soles (written as S/.2.90). The scene on the back of S/.50 note is of Huachachina, a desert oasis on the way to Nazca.

Regrouping after a toll booth as we watch a donkey cart pass. Motorcycles don’t have to pay tolls in Peru, but it’s very important not to go through the main toll gate, there’s probably a vehicle counter. We were directed to go around the toll booth, but there’s no dedicated moto lane like in Colombia.

Looking forward to getting back into the Andes. From Olmos, we turned east to climb up.

Nice, new pavement as we climbed into the clouds.

It got chilly and we stopped to put on our liners, but the road peaked at only around 2,000 m (6,560 ft)…

…before dropping down on the other side. Note the clouds caught in the hanging valley.

The landscape got dry as we rode into a rain shadow (all the water gets dropped on the other side).

It was getting late in the day and we figured we weren’t going to make it to Bagua Grande, so we stopped in the small village of El Arenal and asked if we could camp somewhere. The elders and children lead us to this tree.

Everyone was so excited to welcome these strange travelers. The kids grabbed some leaves and started sweeping the area for our tents. Very nice of them, but it kicked up a lot of dust. Almost everyone in the village came over to introduce themselves and curious onlookers hung around to see all the fancy equipment on display: tents, sleeping bags and stoves. Anja was entertaining the kids by showing the flags on her bike of all the countries that they’ve traveled through . You don’t get privacy when staying in a village, but at least there’s some security from banditos.

It was a pleasant valley and we prepared dinner as the sun went down on a warm evening.

The next morning, Naomi here brought over some mangoes. That’s her husband’s moto-taxi, a source of income.

Their home, made with mud bricks and an outside stove.

She allowed us to use her outdoor shower to wash up.

The kids showed up as soon as they saw we were up and about. Holger kept joking to the kids that he knew where there were two new tires (on my bike) that would make great toys. I cable-locked them at night, just in case.

This is their huge tunnel tent. Looks like they could park the bikes in there too. But with all that space, it’s nice to be able to cook when it’s raining. Another creature comfort Holger allows himself is a folding camping chair.

Heading east to Bagua Grande.

Passing by a busy market on the highway.

From Olmos onwards, there were these strange cuts in the otherwise good-conditioned road, about 5 cm (2 in) deep at varied intervals. We couldn’t figure out why they were doing it. Some of them were repatched and looks like a case of ensuring job security (“let’s cut holes in the road, then we’ll have to come back and patch it up”). Most of the edges were not ramped and it was quite rough on the suspension if you couldn’t avoid going into one. We rode the shoulder mostly.

Welcome to Amazonas state of Peru. I wouldn’t be going into the Amazon itself (not just yet, that’s for Brazil), but this state covers a lot of area.

The elevation dropped to about 500 m (1,600 ft) and the terrain flattened out.

Seeing coconut trees after a long time and rice (paddy) fields.

Being welcomed by Jeong-Rae (Julio) in Bagua Grande, through CouchSurfing. He’s an overseas volunteer from South Korea (similar to the US Peace Corps) and he’s teaching computing at a local school.

At the school where Julio works.

In our correspondence, Julio requested if I could speak to his class about my trip and India. They were quite excited and kept peppering me with questions about the food, culture and history. They even asked me to sing the national anthem of India and in return, I asked them to sing Peru’s national anthem.

I managed to keep them entertained for an hour and a half. It’s been about two and half months since I crossed into Mexico and my Spanish is pretty decent by now. I can convey most of my thoughts.

Can you figure out what I talked about? Location of India, close to China. Religious break-down in India (Hindus, Muslims, Christians). And how that makes up a population of over 1 billion compared to Peru’s 30 million. Time difference. They wanted my contact info. My route from Chicago. The heaven reference is because I was trying to explain how there’s no real heaven in Hinduism, compared to Christianity, which is the de facto religion across Latin America.

Talking with the teachers after the class session. I’ve been regularly asked what’s my mission, what’s my purpose? and I simply say, to know the land and its people and they understand.

With my students for the afternoon. I had fun sharing with them about my trip and India. Julio said in his experience, so far, he sees a general lack of ambition and drive in some of the students. Hope I could throw some inspiration their way.

Being treated to a dinner of cuy (roast guinea pig) by the teachers.

Later that evening, heading out with Julio to a yogurt place for a desert of fruits and ice cream with yogurt. Yum.

Next morning, Julio prepared a traditional Korean breakfast, which was very tasty and a welcome change to the taste buds.

I kept blowing fuses in my accessory panel on the bike and here, Julio’s moto-taxi friend, Percy is helping me buy some spares at a hardware store.

Re-routing all the main electrical accessory wires. A reader of my ride report on suggested that the Centech fuse box might have some debris, which bridged the positive and negative lines, causing the main Centech fuse to trip. It sounded right and since the next stretch of the trip was going to be rough roads, instead of trying to make the fuse box work properly, I just by-passed it.

Individual in-line fuses installed for the main electrical accessories (LED lights, head light, GPS, 12v power outlet). Everything was working good again but I would have to remember to turn off everything when I shut the bike down, since they were now hot-wired direct to the battery. The nice thing about the Centech fuse box is that it has a relay that knows when the bike is turned on or off, preventing an unaware battery drain. Oh well, I’ll fix it further down the road when I get some down time.

Julio took me on a tour around Bagua Grande and here we are at a lookout (mirador) of the town.

Riding with Percy in his moto-taxi. This is the standard low-cost way of getting around. It’s the front end of a Honda 125 cc motorcycle with a carriage welded on to carry two people and some cargo. sanDRina was feeling smug with her additional 525 cc’s to only lug me and my cargo around compared to what these little engines have to struggle through.

Percy took us to his sister’s house for a refreshing drink of coconut water.

Ducklings running about. Looks like a good representation of global human skin color, mostly brown with a few darker and a few lighter 🙂

Panorama of a rice (paddy) field. Looks just like my dad’s fields outside Madras, India.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Percy promised us one more attraction. We went down this narrow, rocky pathway with branches snapping at us.

And what an attraction it was! Panorama of the beautifully still Laguna Burlan near Bagua Grande.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Lunch (almuerzo) of breaded beef with rice and some salad. Being Indian, my taste buds are accustomed to eating rice with something liquid (lentils, curry, etc).

Taking a walk through the local market and seeing these kids jumping up and down on dried corn to break loose the kernels. Not really child labor when they’re having so much fun.

Black corn (more like deep purple) that’s used to make the local beverage of choice, Chicha Morada, which tastes similar to iced tea and is served with most meals. The alcoholic version is called simply Chicha.

Colorful potatoes. I was told these were not potatoes exactly, but can’t remember the name and looks similar.

Well camouflaged parrot among green and yellow limes.

Dinner that night at Bagua Grande’s fanciest restaurant of ‘Pescado a la Chorrillana con arroz’ (grilled fish with rice).

Heading out of Bagua Grande to the capital of the region, Chachapoyas.

The ride was excellent, twisting through a narrow canyon with the sun shining strong.

Following Rio Utcubamba.

Well-maintained road heading to the turn off at Pedro Ruiz.

Full flowing river with the road cut into the cliff side.

Taking a lunch break at Chachapoyas, a small colonial city, which wasn’t that attractive but is used as a hub for nearby attractions.

On the dirt road to Cajamarca, about 330 kms (205 mi) away.

I ran into Holger and Anja again. They spent two nights in Chachapoyas and since we were all headed to the ruins at Kuelap, we rode together.

Riding up to Kuelap from the main road, about 40 kms (25 mi) up the mountain.

A beautiful two-hour ride. We kept leap-frogging each other as we took breaks at different times.

Being introduced to cliff-hugging roads with no guard rails.

Which was enjoyable besides the fear of reckless on-coming traffic around blind corners.

Anja got a flat in her front tire coming around this hair-pin turn. I helped out with my air compressor. They had a hand pump and Holger said he was going to buy an air compressor in Lima after seeing how easy it was with mine.

Halfway to Kuelap.

First glimpse of the fortified ruins of Kuelap, perched on the edge of a ridge at 3,000 m (9,840 ft).

The road ends at the park entrance and then it’s a twenty minute hike up to the ruins.

The fortress of Kuelap, a citadel built by the cloud-forest dwelling civilization of Chachapoyas around 1000 AD, before the Incas.

The stone work is very impressive and it’s nicknamed the Machu Picchu of Northern Peru.

Besides getting a glimpse into our human past, what I found even more interesting was this view from Kuelap with a glimpse into our geologic past. The lines in the rock tell the story of what happened to the land here. The lines were laid down flat at the bottom of the ocean, millions of years ago and through the process of plate tectonics, the Andes have risen. For there to be such a sharp kink in the sedimentary layers, imagine the forces at work and the strength of the surrounding rocks. Always impressed by the power under our feet.

Back to some human past and the respect that must be paid to our cousins for undertaking such a formidable construction project with very limited tools ten centuries ago. The thick wall runs around the whole fort. Note the llama under the tree.

The entrance to Kuelap. This little slit is the only entrance to the fortified compound, a good security measure.

The walls lean in towards the top and amazing that they haven’t fallen down yet in this seismically active region.

The entrance path squeezing down to this little doorway, the actual entrance into the compound. This is all very good for preventing invading armies but what about if everyone had to leave in a hurry?

The remains of the base of the buildings inside the compound.

A recent reconstruction. There’s on-going archeological research to understand who exactly built this structure and what its purpose was.

A funerary tower with the trademark design of the walls leaning away from the base.

Aww, the happy couple framed at the entrance of Kuelap.

Another look at the impressive walls of Kuelap.

The fort of Kuelap perched on the edge of a ridge with a view of the access road snaking across the opposite mountain. Being a remote and difficult destination to get to, the nice thing is, there’s very few to no tourists around. It was a very peaceful and calming site.

Walking back to the park entrance and the open space of the parking lot where we camped for the night.

Using my MSR Dragonfly stove for the first time on this trip.

It’s powered by pressurized petrol (no need to source another fuel) and has the ability to control the strength of the flame, useful for some real cooking.

I mixed a can of garbanzo (chick peas, channa) with some left over lunch of meat and potatoes. A dash of some spicy curry-leaf powder (homemade by my mom) and voila, tasty meal.

Beautiful sunrise. I got up early since I wanted to keep going, but Holger and Anja wanted to go back and explore the ruins some more.

I camped under this shed. I wore all my layers for the cold night and slept well.

On the road back down to the river.

I was aware of not getting too close to the edge. From Kuelap, the road drops 1,200 m (4,000 ft).

Passing by some farms.

Back on the main dirt route heading to Cajamarca.

Passing through the sleepy town of Leymebamba, the last bit of civilization for the next 150 kms (94 mi).

Riding past beautifully lush valleys.

The remote road climbed high into the Andes.

It was generally a well-maintained hard-packed, gravel, dirt road.

The road peaked at 3,600 m (11,800 ft) and the weather was iffy at top with fast moving rain clouds.

But I had to stop for this stunning panorama of the bare Andes.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Another panorama with the road on the left and expansive valleys straight ahead.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

sanDRina enjoying the ride and the views.

The route slicing through some rock.

A look back at where I came from and a look forward at where I’m going.

A beautiful ride with great views all around.

Having a hearty meal for S/.5. I ate the soup and the yuca and saved the rest (don’t want to get the sleepies after a full meal).

The cut of man into the hardened rock to allow cultures to spread.

The road dropping down with beautiful erosional views.

Steep cliffs. This is where you want to pay attention to the ‘watch for falling rocks’ sign, if there was one, that is.

The enjoyable route following the contours of the geology.

The route dipping down quickly to the low point of Balsas before climbing back up the other side (off in the distance).

The bridge across Rio Maranon at Balsas, at an elevation of 860 m (2,820 ft).

A distance board at Balsas. It would be another two hours to Celendin.

Climbing up the other side with a look back at the route dropping down to Balsas. The dark clouds at the peak were just gathering when I went through there and it was spreading.

The route was drier on this final summit to Celendin.

Climbing up in the late afternoon.

More awesome geology on display. I can’t help but be stunned knowing the fact that these lines were once flat and some force has pushed them up right, that too without deforming them. Who needs television when nature provides so much drama that makes the mind ponder.

I was thinking about camping again but wanted to find a spot away from the road for security and this cliff-hugging track didn’t provide any opportunity for such a site. I decided to push for Celendin.

The road snaking up.

This climb was more gradual with the route snaking all over the gentle mountain slope, gaining elevation slowly but surely.

Near the summit it got back to road-sliced-into-sheer-cliffs. And yes, I’m taking pictures with my left hand while riding. Don’t tell my mom.

Peaking at 3,100 m (10,200 ft) and enjoying the setting sun as I dropped down into the valley to Celendin.

Well, hello Mr. Shadow. Today, from Kuelap to Celendin, together with climbing and dropping, in 230 kms (143 mi), I covered a total of 8,280 m (27,300 ft) in elevation changes! I knew the Andes would be fun. Good girl, sanDRina.

Stunning sunset lighting in the main plaza of Celendin, a colonial outpost. I found a room with parking for the bike and hot water for S/.15 (~$5).

Breakfast of Caldo Verde (green soup), a thin soup with potatoes and egg and a herb similar to mint giving the main taste and color. Quite filling for S/.1.50.

The route continuing out of Celendin towards Cajamarca.

The scenery wasn’t as dramatic as yesterday, but pleasing, nonetheless.

The pavement started about 70 kms (43 mi) from Celendin, down to Cajamarca.

Next: Peru, Part 2: Canon del Pato and Huascaran

Previous: Ecuador, Part 3: Cuenca