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Leg 6: Peru

Monday, 12 October 2009

Peru... desert and Pisco Sours...

Today is not only a border crossing day, but also Kevin and Julia's 8th Wedding Anniversary... so they get to spend it trying to get us all out of Ecuador and into Peru with the correct stamps in the correct places...

Jim and Mac set off early as they didn't want to be last across the border, leaving the rest of the group eating a hearty breakfast and then going in search of a petrol station that will let motorcycles fill up (the first one refused). With full tanks we then rode the 2Km to the border, a small bridge separating Ecuador from Peru. The usual exit formalities were quickly dealt with, getting an exit stamp in my passport and handing back the temporary import permit for the bike, then we rode the bikes out of Ecuador and onto the bridge, where we parked them up whilst we dealt with getting ourselves and the bikes legally into Peru. Oh, and my new camera packed up with a lens error, so I've had to revert back to my trusty Ixus 850IS, so if the images are not quite as good, then please accept my apologies... with any luck I'll be able to get the new one looked at in Santiago.


Parked on the bridge between Ecuador and Peru...


The customs guys at this border were very efficient, giving us the forms to fill in before they issued the permits, and the process only took around 2½ hours. As I'd been first through the last border, I held back and waited to go last through this one, but everyone also waited to leave so we could have a group photo, which, like all the group photos so far, has a couple of people missing, in this case Jim and Mac – who had gone through the border on their own before we arrived, and Late Guy (Andrew) who... well, was late and missed the photo call...


The group at the Peru border...


Once we'd finished posing for pictures we rode as a large group across the border and into Peru. Almost immediately the landscape changed in a very dramatic way, from the lush green of Ecuador to the arid desert of northern Peru. Where there had been cows and pigs grazing in the fields in Ecuador, now there were skinny goats grazing in the scrub and dust at the roadside. As we descended from the mountains onto the plain, the desert opened out even more, the small towns looking more like landfill sites than places people could live, the ramshackle buildings built of either yellow mud bricks or woven wood, more like a cardboard box than a permanent place of residence.


Ramshackle buildings in northern Peru...


When we stopped for a drink and for those with smaller tanks to fill up again, we were completely surrounded by tuk-tuk drivers eager to look at the bikes and chat to us in Spanish. They blocked most of the group in, so after a drink of Inca Cola (a bright yellow pop drink that tastes a little like bubble gum), Nick and I made a bid for freedom, glad to get away from the group riding for a change. The ride then took us into a real desert, as the towns disappeared and the landscape became flat and barren, nothing but sand as far as the eye could see, with a ribbon of straight black tarmac cutting through the middle. We simply had to stop to take some photos, as this really wasn't what I was expecting Peru to be like...


In the Peruvian desert...


The wind was really strong as we continued on to Chiclayo, causing us to ride along the straight road at a steady lean, which will at least mean we don't wear out the centre of our tyres... On the outskirts of town we caught up the main group, who had passed us when we were stopped in the desert. Following Kevin at least meant we didn't have to find our way to the hotel, but when he did a sharp u-turn and then rode up the pavement, we were wondering what the hell was going on. It seemed they'd dug up the road that leads to the gates into the car park and he wanted to ask at the front desk of the hotel how we were supposed to get in. But there was no problem as there was a new gate, and soon we were all parked up and checked in. A quick shower and then off to find a bank to get some local currency and then into the hotel bar for a complimentary drink. The local drink is Pisco Sour, which is alcohol made with the grape that's also used for making brandy and egg white, and tastes really quite nice. It's also very alcoholic. And very nice too. After a couple of pisco sours, Aaron showed the bartender how to make a Mohito (a rum drink with mint and lime) and bought a round of them for everyone. Kevin and Julia then arrived and bought us all a Pisco Sour as our “welcome to Peru” drink, and that set the tone for the rest of the evening. We had the weekly Prat Hat ceremony which looked for all the world like it was going to go to Simon again, for “dissing the hat” by not wearing it at the border into Ecuador, and then actually losing the hat (we've had to replace it with Chris' woolly gimp mask), but in the end Al won it again for his drunken actions 2 nights ago (full details are being withheld as part of an ongoing blackmail deal...).


Al in the new Prat Hat...


We ate in the chinese restaurant across the road, which was excellent, and had some more drinks before returning to the hotel bar, where we had yet more Mohitos, and took advantage of the karaoke to clear the bar of anyone else... it all got a little loud and raucous and it was gone 1am when I finally gave up and went to bed...


The group rocking in the bar in Peru...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Suffering the consequences...

Not unsurprisingly, I think I may have been a little drunk still when I woke the following morning, and was glad to go to the Lord of Sipan museum in a taxi... I think Aaron, Nick, Andrew and Simon were also equally relieved, as none of them looked any better than I felt. The taxi ride to the museum involved the predictable wacky race as we crammed ourselves into 2 of the strange little cars they use as taxis in Peru, a sort of smaller and less well built version of the Fiat Panda. Once at the museum we had to check-in our cameras so couldn't take any pictures of any of the beautiful artefacts inside. Not only that, but all the exhibits had explanations only in Spanish, which means that I've little idea of what we were looking at. Sipan is an archaeological site just a few miles down the road, and whilst most of the tombs were raided a long time ago, one was found relatively intact and had the body of a king (or lord) buried with some rather beautiful metalwork of gold and blue, with intricate carvings of faces on the bracelets and necklaces. There was also a display showing how the archaeological site was when found, with the body of the king laid out in the centre surrounded by 4 other bodies and lots of pottery, which were then covered by a sort of wooden ceiling on which lay another body, perhaps of a guard, and a further body in a sitting position in an alcove in the wall. Quite fascinating, but it would have been more so had we had some English explanations and had the hangover from the night before not kicked in big style whilst we were wandering around...

So we quit the museum, got out cameras back and jumped back in the taxis which were waiting for us and survived the journey back to the hotel where we met up with Jeff, who'd driven the van through the night to catch us up. Then back to bed for an hour to shift the hangover before getting on the bikes. My starting problem has re-emerged, the bike reluctant to start despite it turning over, but thankfully it did fire up and I was able to head out with Aaron and Nick. We rode out of town and back into the desert, following the Pan Am down the coast to the seaside town of Huanchaco. The ride was pretty uneventful, and we arrived around 3pm. Just outside Huanchaco is the mud adobe village of Chan-Chan, which was recommended as a spot to visit, but we were hungry and knew it closed around 4pm, so we pulled up outside the hostal and ordered some lunch (hamburgers and chips). At least by now I was feeling better...

After lunch we went in search of some 'presents' for Kevin's birthday tomorrow, and found some suitable tat. We also had time to wander down the pier and to look at the traditional reed fishing boats that they use here, the promise being that if we get up early in the morning we'll see them heading out. I managed to get a few photos before the fog came in and turned everything dull...


The south Pacific coast at Huanchaco...


Traditional fishing boats at Huanchaco...


After exhausting the town of its sights (not many), we wandered back to the hotel and had a beer in the bar before heading across the road to a small restaurant where I had some very nice Taglielle Bolognese washed down with... well, water, actually... and then off to bed for an early night, as tomorrow we tackle Canyon del Pato, over 60 miles of gravel road up into the mountains...

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Canyon del Pato and a day in the dirt...

At least this morning I woke feeling my usual sprightly self, the excesses of Chichlayo now a distant memory. So I was up early and out to go to the beach to watch the fishermen going about their business. Only they weren't. Whether it was because they were hungover or because of the ocean swell and fog I don't know, but it was quite a disappointment. Then back to the hotel for breakfast, before grabbing Kevin to have a look at my bike as I was expecting it to play up again. The starting problem is odd, because it seems to be dependant on how long the bike has been stood for, as later in the day, when I stop for fuel or to take pictures, it starts pretty well, but first thing in the morning it's a real problem. We discussed possibilities and changed one of the coils and then the main spark plugs, but still it was reluctant to fire up. Our conclusion is that it's most likely to be some sort of fuel supply problem, perhaps an air lock in the fuel system or a blocked injector, but further work on it will have to wait until our next rest day on Saturday. At least we managed to get it running and I was able to follow Kevin and Julia out of town and back onto the Pan Am. We rode south for around 90 miles, through more desert and past yet more villages that looked like landfill sites, before stopping for fuel and a drink, and to stock up on snacks for later in the day.

We then left the Pan-Am and headed inland, the scenery at first becoming more green before we reached the village of Chuquicara which seemed to comprise one general store/cafe/restaurant and one military checkpoint with a couple of ramshackle houses. We grabbed a banana and some drink in the cafe, and made use of the bano (toilet) which was little more than a stinking shed out back with a hole in the floor. Outside the landscape had started to change significantly, gone the greens of the plain, replaced by stark rock mountains and rubble-strewn hillsides.


Parked up outside the cafe, Chuquicara, Peru...


Riding out of the village at the head of a small group I was stopped at the checkpoint, the soldier coming towards me brandishing a book with lots of official looking stamps in. I took a leaf from Kevin's book and smiled and shook his hand, and he then asked me to write my name in the book, which I did, and then the names of my “amigos”. I turned round and realised I now had almost half the group behind me, so duly wrote their names down too, next to mine. Then he wanted to know our nationalities, so I said English for everyone but Pertti, the “Finlander” seeming to confuse the guard for a while, but then he smiled and lifted the barrier and waved us on our way.

The road then immediately became the dirt and gravel road leading to the Canyon del Pato, all rough with lots of large rocks embedded in the surface, giving the bike and rider a real pounding (how the pillions cope with this terrain I'll never know). Stood up and riding with confidence, I started to enjoy myself, the bike bouncing around underneath me and clattering off the larger rocks. Picking my lines carefully to try and avoid the worst rocks or the loose gravelly sections, I was once again as happy as Larry, doing what I love doing, riding my bike in the middle of nowhere. And nowhere is a good way to describe where we were, the road winding its way up into the mountains along the river valley, whilst on either side towered great lumps of rock, stark and with no signs of vegetation or other life forms, like riding on another planet. At one stage we encountered a large puddle, and I was following Kevin and Pertti, the 3 of us taking the puddle at reasonable speed, only to discover it was deeper than we expected and we all got a face full of muddy water, which set me off laughing again.

Deeper into the valley I passed Ozzy Andy and Nigel, who were taking it steady as Nigel is still suffering from his crash. How he was able to ride at all on this road, being bounced around all the time is a mystery, but he was there, riding with good style and a smile (or was it a grimmace?) on his face... top job!


Battered bike, battered rider...Nigel on the Canyon del Pato road


A little further up the road, I got stuck behind a dumper truck when I heard a loud bang, which I thought was a rock inside the truck. As I went to overtake it, I noticed my bike pulling to the right, but I got safely past, thinking perhaps I'd got a puncture. When I checked my mirrors I noticed my left hand pannier was missing... it had bounced off in the road, which was the bang I'd heard. I pulled to the side of the road and Pertti pulled up alongside me, saying the pannier was about 400 m back on the road. He then turned round to go back, and when I went to do the same, the lop-sided weight of the bike caught me out and down it went. I just stepped off as it fell, and took a picture (of course) before attempting to right it.


My bike, down...


I couldn't as it was too heavy and leaning downhill, so I had to wait for Pertti and Tony to come and give me a hand. Once upright I was able to refit the pannier, which was undamaged and still with all the fastenings intact. Then back on my way, bouncing along and constantly checking my mirrors in case anything else fell off. At one stage I was unsure of the way, so stopped and joined up with Nick, Al and Simon to ride the remaining section. This part of the road was not as rough, though it did have some deep sandy sections, which we all got through safely and then a large number of tunnels through the rock. The road was originally intended to be a railway, so the tunnels are narrow and one-way, so it's necessary to go in with lights on full and horn blaring. As I have the loudest horn, I got to go first into the darkness, riding tentatively and hoping nothing was coming the other way. We were lucky, only encountering one truck as he was about the enter the tunnel we were in, but I think my horn echoing inside the tunnel must have made him think we were bigger than him because he stopped and we escaped without confrontation...


Al and Simon in one of the smaller tunnels...


Finally we emerged from the dirt road onto tarmac and found our way to the village of Caraz and the hostel we're staying in. Only Aaron, Pertti and Tony were already there, drinking cold beer and eating hot cheese toasties, so we joined them, the toasties in particular were delicious. When the rest of the group arrived, the tales of carnage were everywhere. Jim had had a few falls, on one occasion when his brakes failed (a banjo bolt working loose and draining all his front brake fluid) and he rode into Phil, taking him down too. Phil also had a couple of offs in the sand and gravel, Richard dropped his bike at a standstill (the first time it's been down), and a couple of others also fell whilst going slowly or stationary. But no-one was hurt, and we now have Jeff with us to knock the bent panniers back into shape...

When everyone was assembled we went down to a local restaurant to celebrate Kevin's birthday, with Jim and Gerald both staying in the hostel to sleep, the day unsruprisingly having exhausted them. Before we ordered we presented Kevin with his gifts.... when he was younger, he hung around with the “Tottenham Massive”, listening to reggae, and so his hat was a fantastic rasta hat, complete with dreadlocks. We also got him a pink tie-die shirt, a posing pouch (thankfully he didn't model them for us), some Viagra, a bottle of scotch and a litre of wine (both of which were drunk that night), a rude pottery cup, and a shot glass. He seemed quite happy with his lot...


Kevin opens his presents...


The food took an absolute age to arrive, but when it finally did it was very good, as was the red wine we washed it down with. At one stage the owner brought out a bottle of Pisco as a present for Kevin, so shots were passed around, and it tastes foul. Which is just as well, as I didn't want to drink too much again, so stuck to the wine. The bill came to the grand total of 50 soles each, about 10 quid... bargain..

Postscript... the picture below was taken by Aaron and is one of the few that actually shows me doing what I've been waffling on about for the past 12 weeks... riding my bike...


Me, grooving on my bike, in Canyon del Pato, Peru...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

From high in the Andes back to the coast....

Another morning that I woke up probably before I should, as an extra half an hours kip would not have gone amiss... but at least getting up at 5.45am when we have a 9am departure gives me time to catch up writing the blog (with no Internet it will have to wait until later to upload it). Breakfast was good, some nice bread and jam to follow the small omelette, which should keep me going for the rest of the day. With just a relatively short 170-odd miles to do there's no rush to leave, which is just as well as my bike won't start again. Rather than keep trying, I enlisted Jeff's help and we systematically check the plugs again and conclude that it is almost certainly a fuel supply problem. In order to get it running we pour some fuel directly into one of the cylinders and crank the engine again, and it finally kicks into life, settling into a steady tickover as though nothing was wrong at all...

When we're finally ready to leave I hook up with Aaron, who was kind enough to volunteer to wait with me until my bike was running. At least riding with him has the advantage that his GPS has good maps of Peru, but it still doesn't stop us riding the wrong way down several one-way streets as we head out of town. A few miles down the road we stop at Yungay, the site of Peru's worst earthquake disaster when in 1970 the Ancash earthquake caused a massive landslide that buried the village and most of its 20,000 inhabitants. Underneath clear blue skies and with the distant snow-covered mountain Alpamayo in the background it's hard to imagine such devastation affecting the area. All that remains now is a mound with a statue on, the ground consecrated as the mass grave of those that perished...


Site of the village of Yungay with Alpamayo in the background


Monument to, and grave of, the lost souls of Yungay


Leaving the rest of the group still taking pictures, Aaron and I forged ahead, the road leading past a few small villages where the local women wore splendid tall hats, like overgrown stetsons, and where the children, in their smart school uniforms giggled and waved as we passed. In the fields there were people working the land, bent double planting crops, and we saw at least a couple working oxen in muddy fields... Passing through this land that time forgot we rose higher into the mountains, climbing steadily on a pot-hole ridden road, joined by Simon who we passed in one town as he was trying to fathom out the way the road went, the town transformed by roadworks making the route notes useless. We climbed higher and higher, topping out at over 4,100m (13,500ft) where we stopped at a small wooden shack for a coffee. Walking down the street was a little old lady selling hot corn on the cob, for 1 sole a piece (about 20p) so we had to try some. It was odd tasting, not sweet like normal corn on the cob, but tasting more like potato with a hint of corn. Good, though...


The view from inside the café...


As we were preparing to leave, several others pulled up so we encouraged them to buy some corn, the little old lady doing her best day's business in years...


The corn seller...


We then left the others eating their corn and continued on our way, glad to be descending from the high altitude and cold air, the road winding its way quickly down the mountains in a series of well-surfaced bends, the riding much better than on the pot-hole ridden ascent. The views were simply stunning, the scorched brown mountains closing in on either side as the road followed the contours down to the coast, where it intersected the Pan Am.


Descending from the Andes to the coast...


Once we reached the Pan Am we headed north for a couple of miles to see the adobe brick fortress at Paramonga. This impressive structure covered a large area to the side of the Pan Am highway, overlooking the coast and spread over a number of nearby hills. The main fortress was built on several layers and occupied around 1200-1400AD. Aaron and I climbed to the top for some good views towards the town of Barranca where we're staying and back up to the mountains we'd ridden through this morning. When we were done and on our way down, we passed Simon and Richard & Karen who were on their way up, and when they reached the top they waved so I could take their photo... which gives you some idea of how big the fortress is...


Richard and Karen atop Paramonga Fortress


Aaron and I then rode on to the town of Barranca, and when his sat-nav appeared to lose its way, I took over leading using mine as a guide, the compass feature pointing the way to the waypoint that marked the location of the hotel. What it didn't do was let me know the road I'd turned into was one-way, but I guessed as much by the tuk-tuks that careered towards us on both sides of the road. We played chicken for a while before turning off and working our way round the one-way system to the hotel, thankful that as driving standards are so poor, no-one seems overly upset when a couple of strangers on big bikes ride the wrong way through town... At the hotel we performed the usual routine of showering, phoning Tracy, emailing, and getting some local currency from the ATM, then I went for a wander round the local market before the others arrived. Dinner was in the chinese opposite the hotel, the food pretty good despite the rest of the town being pretty basic...

And so, off for an early night. With over 450 miles tomorrow to Nazca, I'll need plenty of sleep...

Friday, 16 October 2009

I just can't seem to get started (the bike, that is...)

Was awakened at 4.50am by an alarm sounding in the room, and at first thought it was the wake-up call Jim had arranged, but it wasn't, the source completely indeterminate. I tried to go back to sleep, but failed and so got up at 5.30am, in order to get packed and to try and get my bike started. Using the same technique Jeff had tried successfully the day before (pouring some fuel directly into the cylinder via the spark plug hole then replacing the plug and trying to start it failed, just making a very loud bang. Jeff then tried with no joy, and it looked as though we might have to put the bike in the van. As a last resort, he squirted some WD40 into both cylinders and tried again and luckily it fired up OK. As I'd almost ¾ of a tank I'd at least be able to get some of the way to Nazca before switching it off again, and it usually starts ok when warm...

So I rode off with Aaron and Simon and when Aaron stopped for fuel at the end of town Simon and I continued on our way. Yet more desert roads and long boring straights followed on the way to Lima, but for once I'd connected up my MP3 player and so rode along to the usual eclectic mix of hard rock and folky songs that result from selecting shuffle mode... At the outskirts of Lima we met up with Nick and Al, and the four of us rode into the chaos of the Lima ring road at rush hour. And chaos it was, with 3 or 4 lanes of traffic all jostling for position and largely getting nowhere. Several times we were completely stationary in the traffic for a good 10 minutes, chatting to each other and being asked the inevitable questions by the car drivers on either side (like, “where are you from?” and “where are you going?”).


Nick and Simon in the Lima traffic...


Finally we escaped the smog and traffic of Lima and back onto the Pan Am proper, the road smooth dual carriageway with little traffic once clear of the city. We stopped for breakfast having covered around 130 miles... in 3 hours... Hungry, I ate a hearty meal of chicken noodles accompanied by a drink of hot chocolate, then bought some fuel injector cleaner to stick in my tank in a vain attempt to improve the starting situation. Only my problem had returned with a vengeance, the bike turning over as usual but failing to fire up. Just as I was starting to get concerned, Jeff turned up in the van and parked right in front of me, then started removing bags from the back ready to load my bike in. But this must have scared El Monstro, because she fired up immediately to much cheering and a one-fingered salute for Jeff... (and then I thanked him for scaring it back into life). Once back on the open road, I realised I needed to get cracking and make up some distance as we were now near the back of the pack, so I increased my speed to a steady 80-ish. That left Nick, Al and Simon some way back, and before long I'd overtaken most of the group, then passed Kevin's lead group whilst they were in a restaurant, meaning I was now out front (and would have time to try and start the bike if I had any more trouble). And so passed the next few hours, riding constantly and quickly down the Pan Am, slowing for the villages and overtaking the trucks and other traffic at the first opportunity. I did stop once for a pee-break, leaving the engine running whilst I dashed behind a tree, not wanting to turn the engine off for fear of it not starting again...


Short rest break in the desert...


As the road got closer to Nazca, I realised my fuel situation would not allow me to complete the journey without stopping, so I reluctantly pulled into a petrol station, where I was forced to turn the engine off. I I put in just enough fuel to get me there, knowing the tank would have to come off tomorrow during the attempts to try and fix the problem and also trying to reduce the time I was stopped for. Then I thumbed the starter and... it took an age to fire up, but thankfully it did and I was on my way again. Crossing the desert mountains that surround the plain on which Nazca (and the famous Nazca lines) sit, the view was stunning, the mountains scorched brown rock with the black tarmac road winding its way downhill in a series of lovely bends...


There's a road down there somewhere... on the way to Nazca


Finally I made it to the hotel and parked up, relieved to have got here even if it meant I'd not been able to stop at the tower that overlooks a couple of the Nazca lines. I met Alan, the support driver for the Patagonia trip who's joining us here for the trip to Santiago and we chatted for a while about the trip and my bike problem. Then I showered and changed and sat outside my room surfing the web for a while (looking for answers to the bike's problem) before the rest of the group started arriving. That evening we were also joined by Peiter, the German guide running the Patagonia trip (who speaks excellent English and Spanish as well as being an off-road instructor for BMW in Germany). Dinner was relatively subdued, as after the long day's ride (428 miles according to my speedo, so more like 400), but was good enough, even if the 2nd bottle of wine was Peruvian and bottled this year (and tasted like paint stripper).

So it was a relatively early night, as I hope to go fly over the Nazca lines in the morning before getting my bike sorted out so I can continue the journey south and not have to ride in that damn van...

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The Nazca Lines and the bike in intensive care...

For the 2nd day in a row I was woken before 5am by Jim's damned computer which has developed a life of its own and insists on beeping like crazy in the wee small hours... once again I was unable to go back to sleep, so got up and showered before dropping my laundry off at reception (I'd tried yesterday and been told to bring it in the morning before 7am). With breakfast due at 7am and then a pick-up to take us across the road to the airport for the flight over the Nazca lines at 7.30am, I didn't have much time to kill. Breakfast eventually started around 7.15, and consisted of a couple of bread rolls with butter and strawberry jam and a cup of what passes for coffee here in Peru (a cup of warm water into which you put a spoonful of powdered Nescafe and some evaporated milk). But the bread and jam was a good idea, given the plane ride we were due to take in an hour or so's time...

I left my bike keys with Jeff so he could start the investigations into the starting problem and boarded the minibus with the rest of the group to the airport. Where we checked in and waited for an hour or so until it was time to board. The group got put into several different planes, the first group including Chris and Gerald landed as we arrived, and they didn't look at all well. Gerald had been sick in the plane and Chris was decidedly white. Fortunately I was in the larger plane, the 12-seater Cessna C208 and managed to get a seat near the front so at least I could see the horizon. Which was just as well as no sooner had we taken off than we were banking incredibly steeply so that those on the left side of the plane could see the first of the lines – markings made by removing the top surface of red rock to reveal the white rock underneath. The first one was the whale, and once those on the left side had seen it, the pilot banked the plane into a really sharp turn so those on the right, including me, could see it... and here it is, the photo has been adjusted to enhance the contrast so the image appears more clearly (it was clear to the naked eye)...


The whale...


The flight continued for around half an hour, the plane banking steeply this way and that so that first the left, then the right, side of the plane could see the lines etched on the ground below. The lines date from around 200-700BC, their precise meaning uncertain but one theory is that they were made by a civilisation that lived on the plain to try and appease the gods who were turning their land into desert. There are a number of drawings including an astronaut (think its name may be a bit modern), a dog, a monkey (my favourite), a condor, a tree, some hands, a hummingbird, a spider and a parrot. I took loads of pictures, but none of them are good enough to allow you to make out the images without tweaking, and even then, they're still not very good. This is the “astronaut”...


The astronaut


After the flight was over we were waiting for the minibus when I found the answer to my motorcycle problems...


It's called a Wanxin ...how appropriate...


Finally we caught the minibus back to the hotel, where my bike was waiting for me, the problem diagnosed as a loss of voltage causing the electronic brain to fail to send the right signal to the injectors to get them to fire properly. The question remained as to what was causing the loss of voltage, suspicion pointing to my fog lights, which I'd had to hard-wire into my auxiliary fuse box meaning they were on all the time, including when trying to start the bike. Removing the fuse failed to solve the problem, so further investigations were needed, which eventually concluded with the starter motor being suspect, despite it turning the engine over pretty well. Jeff removed the starter and stripped it, revealing a very gunky inside and a worn washer that would have meant the starter would have needed a lot of power to turn it over. Jeff cleaned the starter and re-assembled it, then refitted it to the bike, assisted by Peiter and Alan, whilst I cleaned up the fuel tank electrical connectors and reconnected the battery...


Jeff works his magic on my bike...


Then we thumbed the starter and...





it fired up first time...

With the bike seemingly working properly again (tomorrow morning will be the real acid test), I spent a happy couple of hours cleaning and refitting the light bar (a bolt had been shaken loose on canyon del pato). Restoring my baby to her former glory, ready to complete the Trans Am... although I will be ordering a new starter and trying to get it brought out to Santiago as the existing one is pretty much shot.

After he'd finished fixing my bike (and bashing lots of other people's panniers back into shape), Jeff sat an enjoyed his lunch, with a new friend on his lap...


Jeff, with a friendly giant tortoise...


With the bike cleaned and working again, it was time to update Tracy on events before a meeting to discuss the next few days, which will see us ride higher into the Andes towards Cuzco... centre of the Inca Empire... but first, it was dinner time, so we caught a taxi to town. By which I mean that Nick and I crammed in a car smaller than a bubble car which was already occupied by one of the hotel workers for the 10 minute journey to town, which cost all of 3 soles (1 dollar), and which nearly killed us several times as the driver dodged other erratic road users. We then went in search of an ATM before concluding that the restaurant recommended by Kevin was little more than a fast-food fried chicken place and so we chose a nicer looking one on the main street. Which turned out to be a great idea, as we got a free Pisco Sour on entry (as they competed with the restaurant next door that had offered us one), and then had some great food (mixed salad starter with hot spicy salsa dressing, followed by a pizza and then the most delicious crepe with chocolate sauce and a piece of chocolate cake with ice-cream) and some good wine (a 148 sole bottle of Argentinian Malbec) and the best Mojitos this side of the US (according to Aaron... I had to try one as they were so good). But it was a mild celebration really, considering the intense relief I felt as a result of having the problems with my bike diagnosed and (hopefully) rectified....

and so on to tomorrow, and the prospect of a 300-mile ride into the mountains... I just can't wait...

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Across the Andes by Bike...

As usual I woke early, but this morning in very good spirits as I was looking forward to my bike starting without trouble for the first time in ages. Breakfast was quickly dispensed with and just after 7.20am I was ready to hit the starter and see what happened... and the bike fired first time, just like a new one. Boy, was I in a good mood!

My mood just got better too as soon as Aaron, Nick, Al and I rode out of the hotel grounds and onto the road before everyone else was even ready. There's something pretty cool about being out in the early morning, first to experience what the road has to offer. We rode out of town with me leading (Aaron having missed the first turn) and before long were heading up into the mountains again on perfectly smooth tarmac... bliss...


Early morning and a perfect mountain road...


The road didn't stay perfect for long, though, as no sooner had we re-started having stopped to admire the view than it turned into another pot-holed mess, with sand swept to the inside corners of the bends adding a new challenge. Turning the bike in the tight hairpins was hard work as the wheels skitted over the potholes and slid on the sand. But nothing was going to dampen my mood, not even the huge truck that came down one hairpin and almost completely filled the entire road, just as I was entering the bend – I had to take serious evasive action to avoid getting crushed, but it wasn't a drama, just another of the challenges we face regularly when riding these roads...

The road climbed quickly high into the Andes, eventually reaching a fairly flat plateau where the roadsigns warned of animal crossings. Having heard the horror stories from previous trips, including Tony Mac who joined us in Bogotá and was brought down by a vicuna (a camelid similar to an alpaca only smaller) during the High Andes trip and had to be repatriated as a result, we took it steady, stopping regularly to photograph the wildlife and scenery...


A small group of vicuna...


Photographing the alpacas on the high plateau...


The plateau seemed to go on for ages, and we noticed we were breathless whenever we stopped. That's not surprising, though, as most of it was over 4,000 metres, and the high point I saw on my GPS was 4,574m (just over 15,000 ft). The bike behaved perfectly, albeit a little down on power. But that didn't stop us pressing on, really enjoying the mountain roads as we crossed the Andes and started descending into the valley below. Some of the roads bore a passing resemblance to some of the Alpine passes, one section in particular very similar to the Grimsel Pass, winding down the hill in a series of hairpins connected by short straights, then opening out into wide sweeping bends. After a good 5 hours riding we arrived in the small village of Chalhuanca and spotted a restaurant where we could have some lunch. By now Aaron and I were quite some way ahead of the others, a result of them slowing down and taking photos, rather than us speeding up. We went inside and ordered some chicken, and whilst we waited chatted to a couple of young lads who had come to see the bikes...

Aaron chatting to the locals...


Since we'd left the desert of the coast, the people have become noticeably more friendly, waving and chatting to us as soon as we stop (not that we can understand much of what they're saying!). Whilst we ate our delicious lunch of fried chicken in spicy sauce and rice and chips, one old gent came up to us and doffed his cap, saying “salut a' Peru” or something like that, welcoming us to Peru. Sat in this little wooden restaurant, just the two of us, knowing that none of the rest of the group had already been through to break the newness spell, was quite special. Soon Nick, Al and Simon joined us, Nick not looking too well, his stomach once again giving him some problems. He left just after ordering his lunch, feeling like he might be sick if he didn't. After we'd finished eating, Aaron and I paid our bill and left Al and Simon still scoffing their lunch, just as Max & Christine and Chris & Danielle arrived... by now the locals had seen enough strangers on bikes and paid them little attention, leaving Aaron and I to savour our memories and continue on our way, waving to the locals as we left the village. I really like this aspect of travelling, catching fleeting glimpses into complete stranger's lives and sharing a single moment of connection, an exchanged smile, an exchanged wave...

The road then followed the river through the valley to our destination of Abancay, the tarmac once again smooth and flowing, our pace brisk and enjoyable. With the sun still shining all was very well with the world indeed, the stresses of the past few days worrying about whether my bike would ever work again all gone, and my love affair with this lump of metal restored. Just before arriving in Abancay we came upon a big truck carrying huge logs, atop which sat a group of young women, who proceeded to wave frantically at us, then started blowing us kisses... I could get a hero complex if this carries on much longer ;-)

When we finally reached town, we filled up with fuel and then rode down the main street towards the hotel, only to find the road blocked by some youngsters who were busy creating artwork that span almost from kerb to kerb, beautiful patterns of yellow and red petals (I think that's what they were). We had to ride just to the side of them in order to avoid disturbing their work, squeezing between the artwork and the kerb. Then we arrived and rode into the hotel car park, Nick's bike already parked up but no sign of him (he'd gone to his room, understandably!). We checked in and I showered and changed before typing up some of the day's events, still buzzing from the ride and the encounters with strangers...


Street art in Abancay, Peru


When all the bikes had arrived and been parked in the little courtyard at the hotel they made quite a sight, but it does look like I won't be getting away first in the morning, as I seem to be blocked-in!


The bikes filling the courtyard...


Whilst I was hanging around waiting to go for dinner, a small parade made its way slowly and noisily along the street outside the hotel, carrying a strange stage-like thing with a picture of Jesus on and letting off fire-crackers. I've absolutely no idea what it was all about, and my pictures are rubbish, so suffice to say it was.... odd...

Dinner was a pizza in a local restaurant, which was “interesting” as they use local Peruvian cheese which tastes nothing like mozzarella, washed down with a bottle of the best Peruvian red wine we could find, which tasted nothing like red wine... and so to bed, the end of a very good day indeed....

Monday, 19 October 2009

Via Sacred Valley to Cusco and English Ale...

With all the bikes crammed in to the courtyard and only a relatively short ride ahead (200 miles) there was no rush this morning, so I went about my usual chores in a very leisurely way. When done there was only Simon and Late Guy apart from me left to depart – and Jim, who's bike was being worked on as it had cut out several times during the ride to Abancay yesterday. They both needed fuel, so I decided to ride alone for a while and see who I met en-route. The first challenge was getting out of town as the route notes said to go up the hill then turn left, when in fact they should have said right, but I soon realised and found the right road (checking with some road-workers to ensure I was right). I saw Max & Christine and Ozzy Andy and Nigel ahead, so they must have found it too, but I was in no hurry so hung back so I had some road-space to myself. The road itself wound its way high up into the mountains again, but the surface was slippery and at first I thought I'd a puncture in my front tyre, as it kept slipping in the corners. When I stopped to take a picture of the fantastic view over to the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the others all stopped too (I'd passed them as they stopped to take pictures further down) and confirmed they too were finding the surface slippery. But it wasn't a problem and the views were stunning...


Yet more stunning scenery...


I rode on alone for quite a while, as the road wound its way high up and over the mountains, regularly over 3,000 metres, passed small villages and fields of crops, waving to smiling children and past old ladies bent double under the weight of large bags they were carrying up the mountain. Past what looked like wooden storage sheds in small allotments of crops but turned out to be home to a family of happy but poor looking indigenous people, surviving with nothing but a one-roomed “home” and a small patch of land. Images of lives so different to my own flickered by my eyes as I struggled to take it all in whilst at the same time concentrating on the road ahead. I simply love travelling this way, but the downside is the images so often remain in my head rather than in my camera, as stopping to capture them would be impossible, the very act of trying would destroy the moment...

After a couple of hours riding I reached the junction in the road that leads up to Urubamba and the Sacred Valley, a deviation from the original route recommended as it only adds 80 miles and provides a good spot for lunch. Kevin, Julia, Nick and Al were in the petrol station, so I pulled over for a chat and to see if Nick was feeling any better, as he'd been ill again the previous day. He was still suffering, so Julia and he were taking the direct route to Cusco. I hooked up with Kevin and Al and we rode as a threesome up another mountain where we got a spectacular view over the town of Urubamba, before heading into the town and onto the valley road up to Ollantaytambo (or Olly as its affectionately known).


Looking down over Urubamba...


Ollantaytambo had been recommended for a lunch stop as it has a beautiful square and a large Manco Inca fortress, it being a stronghold in the resistance against the Spanish conquistadors. But on arriving, we found the square was a building site, with rubble everywhere as they were obviously in the process of rebuilding it. We had to ride over the rubble to get to where we could park, and then went and sat outside a café for a bite of lunch whilst watching the fun and games going on in the square. These involved a large truck, laden with pallets and large wooden boxes, which was trying to negotiate its way into a narrow street at the side of the square, but had got stuck as there was a large trench, some 3ft wide and 6ft deep right where its driving wheels needed to go. After much standing around, the large group of builders eventually put some large logs in the trench and the truck driver managed to manoeuvre his vehicle into the small alley, a process that took as long as it took us to order and eat our coffee, soup and chocolate cake... We did get sight of the fortress on the outskirts of town, but dressed in full motorcycle gear I was in no mood to go hiking up to take a closer look...


The fortress at Ollantaytambo from the building site...


After lunch we rode out of town, our little group joined by Pertti, Tony and Phil, and we rode all the way up the Sacred Valley to Pisac. The valley was named Sacred Valley by the Inca, who lived all along the valley right up to Machu Picchu at the head of the valley, where we're going tomorrow. Pisac itself is also the site of Inca ruins, as here was the entrance to the valley and the citadel stood on the top of the hill overlooking the town – just visible in this photo as a line of terraces on the mountainside...


The town of Pisac, Peru...


From here we road over another mountain and past the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, or “Sexy Woman” as its known, riding down the hill into Cusco. We rode directly into the main square and parked up right in front of the main building, where Karen to take some photos (we'd lost Tony and Phil en-route as they dropped off the back of the group). This caused quite a stir, the square full of tourists and backpackers here for the trip to Machu Picchu and locals trying to sell them stuff...


Kevin, Pertti, Al, Richard and me cause a stir in Cusco...


Then it was off to the hotel just off the main square to drop off our bags before taking the bikes to the secure parking area a couple of blocks away. Returning to the hotel I showered and changed, then sat downstairs on the Internet trying to find a likely cause for Jim's bike problems. His Suzuki V-Strom (the only none-BMW on the trip) had cut out again on the run over from Abancay and this time wouldn't restart, so was in the van (the first bike to go in the van as a result of a breakdown). Jeff, Peiter and Alan were all trying to find a solution, and with a couple of days off in Cusco, hopefully they'll succeed.

Later that evening I went out and walked round the square, before going to the “Norton Rats Pub”, run by an American called Jeff and a place frequented by all adventure motorcyclists travelling through Peru. It's a strange place, just off the square, with flags of many nations on the ceiling, dartboards, pool table and … English ale on draught!


Green King IPA, Norton Rats Pub, Cusco, Peru...


Suffice to say that the Globebusters Trans Am pub crawl continued well that night, with a pint of Green King IPA being followed by a couple of Old Speckled Hens (on draught), a cheeseburger (very tasty) with fries and then off to the Kamikase bar near the hotel for a couple of Pisco Sours. The beer was cold and not exactly as good as it is in the UK, but a little taste of home was most welcome. The Pisco Sours were strong and not as good as the silly night in Chiclayo, and when the live band started it was time to retire to the hotel and my bed, especially as I need to be up at 5am in the morning to go to Machu Picchu, and have been nominated by Julia as the “responsible person” to look after the group for the day... (no sniggering at the back, please...).

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Visiting Machu Picchu... and being a tour guide for the day...

Happy Birthday, Mum... 80... wow!

Was woken just before 5am by the sound of the town hall bells ringing. As usual when hearing bells, the natural instinct is to count them so you can tell the time, especially as it was still pitch black outside... when I got to 50, I gave up... As we're due to be picked up at 6.15am (at least, according to Julia...) I got up anyway and showered and went in search of breakfast. The hotel is used to catering for tours heading off to Machu Picchu and so lays on breakfast from 5am, so I was able to start the day with cereal and a cup of coffee, my guts churning from last night's beer (not used to English Ale any more, hope it's only temporary!). Then the group assembled in the foyer around 6am, and I started the first of many of the day's headcounts, whilst they tried their hardest to wind me up, changing places and asking daft questions like “are we nearly there yet”. How amusing...

When 6.15am came and went, the group started to get agitated, so I reminded them that the original pick-up time had been 6.45am and perhaps that was when the minibus would arrive. When it wasn't there by then I went to phone to find out, only Nigel had already beaten me to it and been told that our actual pick-up time was 6.50, not 6.15... Julia's likely to be nominated for the hat for that one... At 6.50, the local tour coordinator turned up and handed me an envelope with lots of tickets, train out, train back, bus and entry for everyone in, and then we waited for the minibus to arrive. Once it did, we boarded and enjoyed an entertaining ride up the mountain to Poroy where we'd board the train up the valley. Once on the train we settled in for the expected 4 hour journey (it was only 3 hours in the end) and chatted, snoozed and generally passed the time any way we could. The scenery from the train window was beautiful, as it would its way along the side of the river, past what must be the Peruvian equivalent of smallholdings (giving me plenty to daydream about), the houses topped with little pottery pigs on their roofs to signify that they were pig-farmers (wonder if we can get some little pottery chickens for the roof of our house when we move?).


On board the train to Machu Picchu...


The train eventually arrived at the town of Machu Picchu (now called Aguas Calientes, or hot water after the springs nearby), at the head of the valley, and we met up with our tour guide for the day, who was also called Paul. He guided us to the waiting bus to take us up to the historical site itself, whilst I herded the group, trying to keep them all together. Chris was a particular concern, as he wasn't well, feeling all flu-like and shivering violently when sat at the train station before we headed off for the bus. Once all 19 had been counted on we started the climb up the hills on a dirt road, the bus passing several others coming down the hill, as they ferried tourists up to Machu Picchu. Some 400,000 people visit the site every year, and most arrive by bus up the dirt highway (the Hiram Bingham highway after the man responsible for re-discovering the city in 1911). This brings you out into a bus depot high on the mountain, from where you pass through a security turnstile to hand in your ticket and then a short walk brings you to a vantage point on the terraces overlooking the city itself. And what a view it is. The mountains here are high and steep, dropping dramatically down into the valley below, but they are also relatively narrow, almost pointed. Machu Picchu city sits atop one of these mountains, the city surrounded by a wall and the nearby mountainside covered in terraces. The terraced area, where we were now stood, was used for crops, whilst the city was used for dwelling and keeping animals, clearly separating the working life of the Incas in the fields from their other activities in the city.


Machu Picchu, Peru...


The city's history was explained by our guide thus... it was founded around 1450AD as a governed city, the Inca king living in Cusco and the city under the control of one of his officials. It was home to somewhere between 700 and 800 people, although it would have taken many more to build it. When the Spanish conquests began, they sacked Cusco, replacing many of the Inca temples and buildings with their own colonial ones (usually built on the Inca foundations as the Inca stone-work was of very high quality). The Spanish came up the valley below around 100 years later, the Incas abandoned the city in fear, heading off into the jungle – the Spanish though never found the city, as from the valley it is completely hidden from view by the forest and the line of the mountainside. There are other theories about why the city was abandoned, but the fact that it was, just 100 years after being founded, is universally accepted and quite astonishing. The city was then reclaimed by the jungle, until it was re-discovered by an American historian, Hiram Bingham in 1911, when looking for the lost Inca city of Vilcapampa. He was led to the site by an 11-year old local boy Pablito Alvarez, and named his first book about the city the “Lost City of the Incas”. Over the next 4 or 5 years the city was gradually cleared of forest to reveal an almost intact city, by far the best preserved Inca city in Peru. Of the current site, some 70% is totally original. And it is very impressive, too, the stone-work clearly demonstrating how good the Incas were in getting the stones to fit together perfectly, shaping them using hematite stone, which is very heavy and high in iron content, and ideal for working the natural granite of the mountains, out of which the city is built. Some pictures, to help bring this to life. Hover over them with you mouse for a brief description...


Temple of the 3 Windows, Machu Picchu, Peru...


The terraces for growing crops, Machu Picchu, Peru...


One of the astronomical buildings, designed to throw sunlight onto the altar at the summer and winter solstices


A stone monument, shaped to resemble the mountain behind


We then wandered round the city, following our guide, trying to avoid the other tour groups being herded like sheep from location to location learning about the city and the various buildings and stones and their meaning. In the centre of the city, grazing on the grass in the main plaza, were a small group of llamas, quite oblivious to (or unconcerned about) the groups wandering past taking their photos. One decided it wanted to investigate me, and sidled up gave me a toothy grin and then started eating the grass at my feet. Cute or what...


Smile for the camera...


Whilst we were still wandering round the site, the thunderstorm that had been raging on the mountains in the distance reached us, the rain thundering down in great big drops and drenching the ground in seconds. Unlike several in the group, I'd brought my waterproof jacket and so stayed relatively dry, whilst they got soaked. We sheltered by one of the walls waiting for the storm to abate a little, and within minutes muddy water was pouring through the drainage channels in the walls and running in a small river down the terraces below. Not only did the Incas understand how to build stone buildings to survive earthquakes (the area around Cusco is prone to them), but they also understood the need for good drainage...

With our guided tour over it was time to be shepherded back to the bus station for the ride down back the valley to lunch before catching the train back to Poroy and then the bus back to the hotel. Saying goodbye to Paul, who had been excellent and very enthusiastic in his explanations of the site, I counted the group back onto the bus, then herded them to the restaurant where our buffet lunch was waiting. And it was excellent, with a great salad bar (see, I do eat healthily occasionally) and a selection of meat dishes including alpaca (similar to beef but lighter in texture). Desserts were excellent too, undoing all my good work with the salad... After lunch we explored the market, which is much like any other in this part of the world, all the stalls seemingly selling the same range of locally made goods, including some beautiful alpaca wool jumpers I'd loved to have been able to buy Tracy, but can't as I've no way to transport them (I'll just have to bring her here and buy her one then). Finally, I herded the cats, sorry, group, onto the train and we headed back up the valley into the night...

Which gave me plenty of time to reflect on the difference between today's visit to Machu Picchu and the other visits we've made, when we've arrived by motorcycle as independent travellers, and not like sheep herded around by a tour leader (either Paul or me). Looking at the other groups being herded around the site, many of them overweight tourists who didn't seem really interested in what their guide was saying, just wanting their photo taken with Machu Picchu in the background so they can tick that box, it reminded me how privileged I am to be able to travel to most places on my own, advised where to go by the experts, but able to experience arriving their independently, to experience contact with the environment and the locals without it being staged for me as part of an organised tour... I appreciate that not everyone is able to travel this way, and I've taken my fair share of guided trips before (and thoroughly enjoyed them), but there is a much deeper sense of involvement when arriving somewhere under your own steam, and being able to enjoy the reaction of those we meet when off the beaten track...

The train journey took longer than it should thanks to a prolonged stop at Ollantaytambo, but we all got back to the hotel safely around 9pm. A small group ventured out as far as the restaurant next door for a bite of supper (tagliatelle bolognese and sprite for me, this being a “dry day”), before calling it a night, the end of another long and enjoyable day...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Relaxing in Cusco...

What does an Adventure Motorcyclist do on his day off? Answer: not a lot...

Today is a rest-day and another day in Cusco. So I decided to do very little, apart from sorting out my laundry (again), updating the blog (again), ringing Tracy (and having a nice long chat for a change), getting some shopping (deodorant, toothpaste and shampoo, and a replacement head-torch as mine broke). Such exciting stuff, but it's good to just get things sorted out and to spend the day relaxing. I did also wander around Cusco city centre, well, at least the main square and the streets off it, just wandering round admiring the architecture and trying to avoid getting a massage... actually, that's fairly tricky as every 5 steps I seem to be approached by a young Peruvian woman (and on one occasion, a young Peruvian man) offering me a leaflet for a massage. Now in other places I've been that would qualify as “soliciting” but here they seem to be genuine massage parlors, complete with pictures of people being massaged. But. Despite my shoulders aching from all the riding and carrying my camelbak full of water, I can't bring myself to be massaged by a stranger in a strange land... guess I'm not that adventurous after all (and besides, I'll just wait to get my massage from my personal masseuse when I get home).

I did have a quick look at the tourist's city guide to Cusco before my ramblings, and so had one particular sight that I just had to see. It's a 12-sided stone in an old Inca wall that exemplifies their abilities in wall building. It is part of the old wall of a temple destroyed during the Spanish conquest on which was built a new building... just look at how the surrounding stones have been shaped to fit perfectly, and remember, there's no mortar here and this wall has survived many an earthquake...


Inca 12-sided stone in Cusco...


After more wandering and admiring the architecture, and people-watching, and avoiding the picture-sellers and massage touts, I met up with Max and Christine, who had also been approached by a tout with a leaflet. This one was different, though, as it was for a place called “The Real McCoy” and which offered “a taste of home”... in the form of pie and chips or mash with real Heinz beans... as it was lunchtime, we simply had to explore. And so it was that I ended up eating a chicken and bacon (no chicken and mushroom, sadly) pie and mash with Heinz baked beans whilst watching the football (Manchester United winning in the Champions League) on telly and drinking a pint of the house brew (which wasn't actually very good)...


Pie, Mash and Beans...in Peru...


I think getting excited about this stuff is perhaps an indication of just how long I've been away for...

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and trying to catch up on some lost sleep, before heading out for a drink prior to the weekly group meal. This week it was a rather good buffet in a local restaurant with some traditional Peruvian music (pan pipe band) and some dancers in traditional costumes...


The pan-pipe band...


Dancing girls...


Strange costume...


Needless to say most of the group were thoroughly enjoying the show, helped by copious quantities of Peruvian red wine or beer. The dancing girls in particular caught one of the group's eye, so much that their video recording exploits extended to trying to capture them in all their glory, which clearly required a lot of attention...


Nick, film-maker extraordinaire...


As the evening wore on, the band played some classics, including “Hey Jude” which allowed the group to once again exercise their singing voices, before dancing with some other tourists. This was another excellent opportunity for “Gay Dad” to demonstrate his now infamous “Dad Dancing” as last seen in the square in Antigua Guatemala and captured here on video for your delectation...



After the excitement of the show was over we retired to the Norton Rats Pub for another beer or mojito-like substance, and whilst their signed the Adventure Motorcyclists Guest Book. This rather special book dates back to 2004 and is signed by a great many of the motorcyclists and groups that have travelled through Cusco and frequented this particular watering hole. There are entries from both the previous Trans-Am groups and the High Andes trips, and now there are some drunken scrawls from our group, including my very own... quite an honour...

A final nightcap in the Kamikase bar before finally retiring to bed around 12.30am ready for getting back on our bikes again tomorrow for the ride to Puno...

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Crossing the Altiplano...

Once again I was woken by the Cusco bells chiming at 5am, but snoozed for a while before finally getting up and updating the blog. Whilst the video clip of “Gay Dad Dancing” was uploading, I walked the couple of blocks to the parking area and brought the bike round to the hotel, parking it with the others out front. Then went to breakfast, taking my laptop with me so I could show a few of the others the video. Nick wasn't there, so I'm still alive...

With the bike loaded we set off, Nick and I riding together despite my blogging, finding our way out of the one-way system without any issues. The road from town started very busy, with lots of traffic and smog, but soon cleared as we left the outskirts and headed into the countryside. Here were lots of fields of crops, being worked on by people bent double or stood knee-deep in soil and mud, sometimes with oxen to help them plough the land. We only saw 2 tractors the whole day, the rest of the farming being done by hand and by beasts of burden. As the road climbed higher towards the altiplano, the scenery became more barren and the crops were replaced with herds of alpaca, llama and sheep. Some of the alpaca had been recently shorn so their wool could be turned into the beautiful jumpers and blankets that fill the market stalls, leaving the poor animals shivering in the cold and looking very forlorn...


Alpaca on the altiplano...


We rode up and onto the altiplano, the temperature dropping sufficiently for us to stop and put on some warmer layers. Just before the most barren section of the altiplano we stopped on the outskirts of a small town for a coffee and a cheese and tomato sandwich, made with local cheese. We decided to avoid the pork, having seen how it was transported to the café...


This little piggy went by bike...


Back on the road we entered pure Mamba country (Mile And Miles of Bugger All), the road cutting across a flat, desolate area of scrubland with mountains on the horizon. We were at over 3,900m for most of the day, the high plateau the highest on earth outside that in Tibet. I'd had to resort to playing music in order to alleviate the tedium from riding on seemingly endless straights through scenery so barren and unchanging. Sometimes the tunes coincided well with the ride (particularly the Pink Floyd tracks) and other times they were at odds with it (Black Sabbath and AC/DC) but they helped pass the time and keep me awake. Eventually we reached the town of Juliaca and once again entered the chaos or Peruvian town-life. From the isolated emptyness of the altiplano we were instantly surrounded by vehicles of all shapes and sizes, from pedal-powered tuk-tuks through to large dumper trucks, all intent on having the piece of road we were inhabiting. The road itself also took on the characteristics of many of these towns, being pot-holed and rutted and sometimes just plain old dirt. The dust and fumes had me coughing, in between the bouts of laughing at the antics of some of the other road-users, including the guy pushing a hand-cart right out across Richard's path, seemingly oblivious to the damage a large motorcycle could do to him and his wares. We managed to negotiate the chaos successfully, no longer phased by it, and found our way out to the main road to Puno. This was much better, a wider, well-surfaced highway along which we could progress without constantly looking round for the next hazard.

We turned off the road to visit the pre-Inca burial ground and funeral towers at Sullistani on the banks of Lake Umayo. Perched high on the hill above the lake are a large number of round stone towers, once again built without the aid of mortar and with stones that fitted perfectly together. These chulpas are the tombs of the Colla peoples, who were conquered by the Inca in the 1400s. Most have been dynamited by grave-robbers, but some remain remarkably intact.


Stone tombs at Sullistani...


Glad to be off the altiplano and back under a warm sun, we sat for a while looking out over the lake before heading back down the hill for an ice-cream. Retracing our steps back towards the road to Pnuo we stopped outside one of the many llama-farmers dwellings for a picture, the proprietor more than happy to wave for the camera, as she had waved when we passed on the way up.... if you look closely, you can see the little stone pigs on the tops of the roofs...


Llama farmer, Peru...


Riding back to the main road we had a close encounter with a cow and a sheep, both of whom decided that as soon as one of the three motorcycles was passed that it would be safe to cross the road, ignoring the other two... just one of the many hazards that you have to deal with when riding a bike in South America... another was the road into Puno itself, which went from being pristine tarmac to wet dirt just as it descended down into town. With that safely negotiated, we got lost in the maze of one-way systems and new pedestrianised areas in the centre of town whilst trying to find the hotel. We asked 3 different people for directions and got 3 different answers before we eventually spotted it tucked away down a one-way dead-end street, the end of which had been recently pedestrianised rendering the route-notes useless. Checked in and with the bags dropped off we rode the 3 blocks (1st right, 2nd left, 3rd left, 1st left and it's on your right) to the car park and walked back to the hotel. A shower and online chat with Tracy (always the highlight of my day!) and then out to wander round town. I forgot my camera, so there are no pictures, which is probably just as well as we walked round the streets which seem to be organised around a particular type of shop/business. For example, there was a street full of shops where you could get copies made or print off documents, another full of dentists, one full of shoe shops and finally the pedestrianised area full of pizza places and a bar... The “rock and reggae” bar to be precise, which served cold beer and great music – Pink Floyd, The Who, etc. After a couple of beers we went and grabbed a chinese (not fancying pizza again) before walking back to the hotel, stopping at another “rock and reggae” bar for a nightcap and some more great tunes... after all, don't they say “tunes help you sleep more easily”... (I'm sorry, couldn't resist!)

Friday, 23 October 2009

Lake Titicaca...

I woke for the 5th time that night and decided that I'd get up, even though it was still early and we're not due to be picked up for our trip onto Lake Titicaca until 9am. The effects of the altitude, combined with a severe storm, robbing me of much-needed sleep. Opposite the hotel is the national bank and this morning is the local equivalent of “giro day” where the local women come to the bank to get state aid for their small businesses. There a no men, because the government believes that if they gave the money to the men, they'd simply go down the pub and drink it away. So lined up all along the street are small Peruvian women in bright red (or sometimes green) skirts, traditional blouses and their strange little hats, carrying their belongings or offspring on their backs in brightly coloured shawls... quite a sight...


Peruvian women line up to collect their giros...


Without the benefit of a decent zoom lens to hide behind, I was forced to emerge from the shadows and into the full glare of their stares. This left me feeling decidedly voyeuristic trying to get a photograph without them noticing, as though I was intruding into their world, which was so different from my own I could but stand and stare. Taking photos of people going about their normal daily lives often leaves me with that feeling, and seeing them lining up outside a bank for a handout, hundreds of them all up the road, just made it feel worse. But that's they way they live, and witnessing it (and writing about it) is part of the reason I travel, so I can't allow myself to feel too downbeat...

After breakfast it was time for us to play tourists again, as we boarded a coach outside the hotel, which took us the short journey down to the lake shore (about 15 minutes walk away). Here we boarded a boat that would take us out onto the lake to visit the floating islands of Uros. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, at an altitude of 3,810m, and is 118 miles long and 51 miles wide. It also borders Bolivia, a country I'd love to have visited on this trip, but it's not on the itinerary... maybe some other time... The boat took just half an hour to reach the floating islands, which are made entirely of reeds, as are the houses that the residents of the islands live in. As we were arriving at the checkpoint where the captain had to hand in a ticket for the boat, several young lads on the bank started lobbing chunks of mud at us... hardly a warm welcome!

Approaching the islands it became obvious that this was a honey-trap for tourists, as each island had a tourist boat moored up alongside, or a group of brightly clad islanders waving to us to come and visit their island...


Lake Titicaca islanders try to entice us to visit them...


Once on our chosen island we were invited to sit in a semi-circle and listen as Sylvia, our guide, explained how the islands are constructed. They start with a large block of reed-roots in mud, carefully selected so it's light and will float, then they drive large stakes into them and tie them together to create the base of the island. On top they place layers of reeds in a hatched pattern, building up the 1m base by a further 2m. Then they build their houses, also out of reeds, and these sit on the top. The whole island is anchored using a large stake driven into the reed beds and rope with rocks suspended from it, which are then attached to the island to stop it being blown around.


And this is how we make an island...


We also heard how not only are the islands, houses and boats made of reeds, but they also eat them. Whether this is true or just another ploy to get the tourists to do something silly, like trying to eat reeds, is anyone's guess.. and tasty they're not...


Simon braves eating reeds...


The islanders were very friendly and through our guide explained how they lived. Originally they moved to the lake to escape the Spanish conquistadors, making a living from fishing. Nowadays they make most of their money from tourism, as there is a fairly steady stream of visitors to the islands year round. They buy material in town and make things to sell the tourists, from miniature reed boats through to large beautiful decorated blankets. Needless to say that as I'm travelling by bike I have no room for any souvenirs, so will spare Tracy the llama-patterned rug... They also went on to explain how they still visit local markets where they barter their goods and fish for things they don't have on the islands, like potatoes and corn. This explanation took the form of a little play, with the 4 women each representing a different community, as evidenced by their hats. It was highly entertaining, as they gabbled to each other and exchanged goods...


The islanders pretending to be at the market...


Suitably educated, we wandered round the island looking in the houses and were then serenaded off as we took a raft boat trip to another island, where there were more women selling their goods to another group of tourists. There was also a small flock of flamingos, a fish farm and a small group of ducks on the island, and a small child placed strategically on a reed rug so he could have his photo taken... cynical I may be, but I recognise a photo op when I see one...


Flamingos...


How cute am I?...


The whole trip had a feel of visiting a circus, rather than seeing how people live in a traditional way, but I guess that was inevitable when tourist dollars start to enter a community whose unique selling point is how they live. In contrast to squalor people are living in on the land, especially in the town of Juliaca just up the road, the islanders have something special. So what if it needs to be polished and presented to foreign tourists in order for them to be able to continue to live this way. When we'd all gone home, they could continue with their quiet existence, relaxing in their reed houses on their reed islands, eating reeds and watching their solar-powered TVs...


Circus or a great way to protect a traditional way of life?


Back on dry land I returned to the hotel and had snooze, trying to catch up on my lost sleep, but soon woke again and wandered downstairs to see if anyone else was about. Just then another storm arrived, with thunder and lightning and then heavy hail sending people running for shelter. Within minutes the road outside the hotel was white with hailstones, and a small river was running downhill. Quite spectacular...


A storm in Puno...


We then held the week's Prat Hat ceremony, which had been delayed due to all the other activities we'd had on. The nominations this week were particularly poor I thought, especially mine, which was for my pannier falling off again (and for remarking that I'd rather be on another boat which had some pretty girls on), Nick (again) for his Dad-dancing episode in Chiclaya which resulted in Julia being hurled to the floor and bruising her backside, Richard for some innocuous remark which I won't repeat here, and Julia for 2 things... first was the 6.15 – 6.50 cock-up that robbed us all of sleep before the visit to Machu Picchu, the second was for demonstrating how stable the rocks were in Canyon del Pato by almost pulling the mountain down.... and of course, Julia's nominations won the day... and the hat does suit her don't you think?


The first female recipient of the Prat Hat... Julia...


After the ceremony was over we went back to the Rock and Reggae bar, but were bitterly disappointed to find the music wasn't as good and sat at the bar were 4 chain-smoking backpackers, making the bar not a nice place to be... it's funny how offensive a smoky bar is these days... so we left after just one beer and went in search of food. We found an excellent restaurant where I had some lovely ravioli with bolognese sauce and shared a couple of glasses of decent Argentinian red wine... lovely...

Saturday, 24 October 2009

High altitude, great scenery, rough roads and another breakdown...

Despite last night's hail and rain storm, this morning dawned bright and sunny, but was still cold out of the sun. But the bright sky contrasted sharply with my mood, as I'd had another night of interrupted sleep, waking every hour or so, the thin air clearly affecting me. I've never had a problem sleeping and managed to get off quite quickly despite turning in at 9pm, but woke around 12.30am and then continually through the night. I also woke with a headache, the first real one of the trip, the bright sky causing me to squint badly and making matters worse. There was only one possible cure, and that was to get on the bike and ride...

Which is exactly what I did. First I had to bring it round from the car park to the hotel so I could load it up, and it almost fell over on the steep camber outside as I went to put things in the top-box, which would have been really embarrassing. Once loaded, I followed Aaron out of town, confident that his GPS would help us find the right road, and happy not to have to think too much for myself. We filled up with fuel on the outskirts of town, in the middle of some roadworks which meant the entrance and exit of the petrol station was a mass of deep wet mud, not ideal when on worn road tyres, but we didn't have any drama. We even managed to negotiate the chaos of Juliaca without too much difficulty, emerging at the far end of town before heading back round town to pick up the road towards Arequipa. At this point my headache and the cold were getting to me, so I pulled over to take some paracetamol and to put on my over-jacket. Nick stopped too, so we let Aaron disappear and then rode on alone with me leading and Nick content to follow. The rode rose up into the high mountains once more, the scenery as barren yet stunning as ever. Crossing over one set of mountains and down a valley we crossed a bridge dividing two parts of a lake and had to stop as there were flamingos... I just wish my new camera hadn't broken as the pictures would have been so much better...


Those little dots are flamingos...


Riding up the mountains on the other side of the valley brought us high above the lake and the views became even more stunning, reminiscent of the best of the Lake District but on a much, much grander scale... by now my headache had long been forgotten, my mood once again as bright as the sky... it's hard to be anything but positive when the world looks like this...


High in the Peruvian Andes...


It wasn't just the scenery that took my breath away, though, as that photo was taken at 4,426m (over 14,500 ft). And we still had further up to climb, the top of our route being over 4,800m as we rode over to the night's stop at Chivay. Continuing on our way we stopped for a coffee in a little roadside shack, Nick and I arriving before everyone else and so once again experiencing the sensation of being like aliens landing on earth. The local café was little more than a shack with a window through which they sold bottles and other consumables, whilst inside was a single table and bench seat. We sat down and ordered a coffee (for me) and a coca tea (for Nick, it's supposed to help with altitude but I'm not keen). Despite the place smelling of urine, the drinks were good and before long several other bikes pulled up and their riders and pillions entered, filling the café but replacing the feeling of being adventurous with that of just being in a strange place with lots of other english people. So we paid up and left, riding into the wilderness alone. The road immediately changed from tarmac to dirt, rutted and stony with occasional patches of deeper loose dirt. A couple of miles in we came across another café with outside facilities, and as my insides had been shaken about by the rough terrain, I went inside whilst Nick stayed outside and admired the view...


Nick admiring the view...


It was quite a view, but we couldn't admire it too much when on the move as the road required a lot of attention. It went from dirt, which was fairly easy, to severely pot-holed and rutted tarmac, which
proved more challenging, it being impossible to navigate a line through the pot-holes as there were simply too many of them. The pounding was intense, and it wasn't too long before my bike packed in, just stopping dead exactly as it had done in Honduras. I tried to restart it, but no joy, it being obvious that there was once again no fuel getting to the engine. Nick stopped and we pushed the bike to the side of the road, then waved the other riders past, explaining to each one that we though we knew what the problem was, and that when Jeff caught us up we'd get it sorted. I removed all the tank fixings ready for Jeff and then sat and waited... there being many worse places to break down than here, and at least it wasn't raining... Pretty soon Jeff arrived and I told him what was wrong, so we removed the tank and drained the fuel and then he set to work removing the tank fittings again...


Jeff, once again hard at work fixing my bike...


No sooner had he got the fittings out than it was obvious what the problem was, one of the fuel hoses between the filter and the pump was disconnected, meaning no fuel would get through to the engine. It must have been shaken loose by the terrain, just as it had in Honduras. Jeff reattached it and crimped the hose clamp to try and stop it recurring, then re-assembled the tank. We then filled it with fuel and checked for leaks before putting it back on the bike and reconnecting it up again. Hitting the starter the bike fired first time, and less than half an hour after Jeff had arrived I was back on my way across the pot-holed road up the mountain, with Nick closely behind.

Eventually the road became good tarmac again, and I was able to sit back in the saddle and up the pace a little. It was only a little, mind, as at this altitude the bike feels decidedly asthmatic, unable to get the usual quantity of air in to make good power. Rising higher towards the summit it got noticeably colder, and then started snowing. Yes, snowing. It wasn't too heavy, but heavy enough for us to slow down and have to keep wiping our visors every few seconds. With one eye on my sat nav's altitude reading, we finally crossed the high point at 4,870 meters (nearly 16,000ft) and began the descent towards Chivay. As we dropped the snow turned to light rain and then cleared, the road much better for being dry as it twisted and turned down the mountainside. Entering Chivay we stopped and paid the tourist tax (17.50 soles each, about £3.50) and made our way through town, via the petrol station to the hotel. Despite all the hold-ups we still arrived around 3pm, and gratefully accepted a cold beer from Pertti who was celebrating feeling better after a few days with a dicky tummy. With the beer sunk I showered and changed and went in search of an ATM to get some cash. Chivay is a small town with a nice little square, a stopping-off point for tourists entering Colca Canyon in hope of seeing wild condors. In the square is a nice white church, whilst on the hillside behind someone has created a large cross...


The church in Chivay...


Wandering round the streets also meant I could play voyeur again, peering into other people's daily lives and snatching photos when they weren't looking. Down one of the better streets (this one had pavement and the road was concrete, not dirt) an old lady was busy sorting through a large number of what looked like beans, completely oblivious to my passing and staring...


Sorting beans in the street...


Back at the hotel I updated the blog whilst chatting to Tracy, surprised to find her online as by now it was 4pm (11pm in the UK). When done it was time to go back out in search of food, but first a beer in one of the 2 Irish bars in town. We tried the first one, where Tony, Phil, Richard and Max were finishing a game of pool, but it smelt of wee, so we went to the second. This was empty and when we asked about the pool table we were shown into a dark back room, where a young girl was busy watching “Finding Nemo” on the TV (in Spanish, of course). The barmaid then switched on the lights and served us a couple of bottles of Cusquena whilst we racked up the pool balls. Now there's something a little odd about the pool tables in Peru, and that is that the pockets appear to be smaller than the balls. Seriously, I've never played pool on a table with such small pockets before, and it made for a long game. The little girl seemed to be unconcerned by the gringos drinking and playing rubbish pool, as she flicked the channels between Nemo, the Mummy and some kids' cartoon. Where else in the world would you drink beer and play pool whilst watching cartoons with a kid in a pub?

When we'd drained our beers we left to go find some food, only to walk out of the pool room back into the main bar to find a table of fellow riders, so we sat down and ordered a couple of pizzas and a bottle of water (for me) and a glass of wine (for Nick). The pizzas were good, but fatigue had set in by the time we finished them, so we strolled back to the hotel and I went to my room to update the blog and try and get a good night's sleep, knowing I have to be up very early tomorrow to go and see the condors (and ride the 40 miles of dirt road to the canyon and back!).

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Colca Canyon, Condors and more dirt-riding...

At last had a reasonable night's sleep, despite the noise from the wedding in town going on until sometime around 4am. Woke just before 5am and showered, packed and dressed ready for the early ride out to the canyon then went and ate some breakfast. It then transpired that we would not be leaving for the canyon until 6.30am, so I had some time to kill. Several others had ditched their luggage and panniers to lighten their bikes for the canyon, but I decided to ride it as I had been doing all along, fully laden, so I wouldn't have to return to the hotel once back out of the canyon. When the main group was ready to leave, Nick turned up still in his civvies and confused as to why everyone was all togged up and sat on their bikes... he'd missed the whole “ride into the canyon early to see the condors” thing. He said he'd be 5 minutes, so I waited whilst the rest set off. Five minutes later he re-appeared, still in his civvies and said to get off as he'd be another 15 minutes...

So I left alone and found the right road out of town and towards Colca Canyon. The road was initially good tarmac twisting up the valley but this didn't last as it then became a dirt road, solid, well-packed dirt with some sections of light gravel and ideal for brisk off-road riding. I was soon enjoying myself, stood up and tramping along at around 35mph when I came across Richard & Karen stopped with Simon. I stopped to discover Simon had suffered his 2nd puncture of the trip and Richard & Karen had stopped with him to try and contact Jeff. With the situation fully under control, I left them to it and continued on my merry way. All the way up the valley I had to catch and overtake a seemingly endless stream of minibuses and coaches ferrying tourists up to the viewpoint at the head of the canyon. The dust clouds they created made this an exciting prospect, as the closer I got to them the less I could see, but they were well disciplined and moved over to let me fly past. Some of them were stopped at viewpoints overlooking the canyon and had disgorged their contents so they could stand near the edge and take pictures, but as soon as I roared into sight trailing a cloud of dust, their cameras turned on me! Who'd have thought that the sight of me riding off-road would warrant complete strangers to take my photo...

About half-way up the canyon road was a long tunnel, which was particularly hazardous as the surface inside was soft and sandy, and the dust from the last vehicle to pass through it hung in the still air, reducing visibility to a few feet. With lights on full and horn constantly blaring I crawled through the tunnel in a state of heightened awareness (read: “fear”). Relieved to emerge the other side without being squashed, I continued to make my way to the end of the road and pulled into the parking area with just Kevin, Ozzy Andy and Nigel already there... and so we made our way to the overlooks, and sat on the wall admiring the view and waiting for the condors...


The beautiful Colca Canyon, Peru...


When the rest of the group had arrived and we'd sat chatting for around 45 minutes, Max & Christine decided that the condor-watching was like the bears in Stewart (remember them? Seems like a lifetime ago...) in that the more we waited the less likely they were to appear, and left. Within 5 minutes of them leaving, we spotted a condor, deep in the valley below, circling and gaining height on the thermals. Even from the distance we were from it, perhaps just over half a mile, it looked impressively large. Gradually it worked its way upwards, circling between the ridges of the canyon and rising on the hot thermals, using the rising hot air to provide lift, never flapping its wings. The subtle movements of its wings allowed it to twist and turn, gaining valuable height without putting in any effort. Sometimes it was only possible to see the bird by its shadow, as it blended perfectly into the brown hillside. After about 15 minutes it had risen from the depths of the canyon to right above the ridge on which the various viewpoints were situated, hundreds of tourist's eyes raised to sky watching this majestic bird soar above out heads. Boy, do I wish I'd still got my new camera as I'm sure I'd have got a half-decent photograph, but all I got was this – cut and pasted and enlarged as much as possible, but still as blurry as hell...


Blurry image of a Condor...


Good job the human eye is better than my camera, as the images in my memory are much clearer... We didn't just see one condor, either, as we saw 4, all starting at the bottom of the canyon and riding the thermals up to the ridge and then high into the sky above before disappearing off into the distance. What a wonderful way to start the day, a great dirt ride and then sat in the relative peace and quiet (it was a lot quieter when the coach party of noisy kids had gone) looking over a fantastic deep canyon and watching the condors fly... days just don't start much better than this...

I also had the joy of riding back out of the canyon, when I'd got my breath back from the short walk back up to the car park, the altitude (about 3,700m) still affecting me. Riding with much greater confidence having successfully ridden in, and upping my pace so the bike floated over the horrible corrugations (small ridges in the dirt making it like riding over a corrugated roof), I was soon racing down the canyon. The bike was much harder to turn on the worn road tyres than previously when we had a knobbly front tyre, necessitating a slight change of technique, pushing the bike over into the turns and pushing hard on the inside footpeg. It was great fun, if a little exhausting, and I was glad when I turned one corner and had my breath taken away by the view, so pulled over to admire it more closely (and to get my breath back).


Colca Canyon, Peru...


I made it out of the canyon in one piece, though my handlebars had worked their way loose and dropped, which meant that when I sat back down again once on the tarmac, they were way too low. Halfway up the mountain working my way back the way we'd ridden in the day before I stopped to adjust them and met up with Kevin, Aaron and Nick. Kevin quickly departed, blasting off in a cloud of dust, and when I'd finished my adjustments, Aaron, Nick and I set off together. On the way in we'd encountered snow on the high mountain pass (over 4,800m) but today was sunny, but cold and windy. We managed once more to avoid the herds of alpaca and llama that decided to cross the road in front of us, and soon were on the long descent back to the main road, the tarmac giving way to the pot-holed mess that had resulted in my fuel pipe becoming dislodged on the way up yesterday. Today we attacked it with more vigour, using the increased speed to allow the bike to float over the worst of the potholes, letting the suspension do its job. These bikes are just incredible at this, for all their weight they just soak up this punishment without complaint. Well, almost without complaint, as my handlebars again dropped with the punishment of me leaning on them to turn the bike, so at one stage they were resting on the tank and I was unable to steer... forced to stop and adjust them once more, I lost sight of Aaron and Nick, but when moving again at least I wasn't in their dust and could up the pace a little more...

At the end of the dirt road was a café, and with Kevin, Aaron and Nick parked up, I stopped and joined them for a coffee and fried-egg sandwich (proper biker breakfast!). Then we rode together as a group across the rest of the altiplano and down the mountain towards Arequipa. The last stretch of mountain road was well surfaced and twisty, with a lot of slow-moving trucks providing some overtaking entertainment, and we made quick progress to the city. Following Kevin meant we didn't have to worry about making sense of the route notes, and with a quick stop to refuel we arrived at the hotel around 2pm. After a quick shower and change, and a nice chat with Tracy on Skype, I wandered round town with Nick and Al, admiring the beautiful white cathedral in the main square, with its backdrop of snow-capped mountains...


The main cathedral, Arequipa, Peru...


As we walked round the square, we were approached by a women in traditional dress promoting a roof-top bar/restaurant and as the beer was only 5-soles (a pound) we went and sat high in the sky overlooking the square and enjoyed a couple of cold ones, which will at least give me another picture for the beer gallery...


Cold Cusquena, Arequipa, Peru...


After a further meandering round town, and checking out the restaurants for that evening, we returned to the hotel. I chatted some more to Tracy before falling asleep, waking at 6.30pm with a start wondering why I was fully dressed. Jim was also asleep, and just as I went into the bathroom the phone rang, Nick wondering why I wasn't in reception as arranged. I asked for 5 minutes and tried to wake myself up before joining the group to head out into town. With Aaron, Simon, Nick, Van Al and Jeff in our little group we walked round to the Zingaro, which had good reviews on the Internet. And it proved an inspired choice, as the food was truly excellent, from the shrimp-stuffed chilli pepper starter through the chicken wrapped in cheese and bacon main course through to the crepe suzette (how 70's!) dessert and the excellent bottle(s) of Argentinian Malbec. Van-Al (50-something, single, looking for someone) has been pestering me to post a picture of him on the website in case it improves his love-life, so here's an appropriate one of him about to stuff his geordie face with crepe suzette...


Van Al, eating again...


If you'd like to meet him, please post a comment to this post, and I'll arrange for the men in white coats to bring you one of those fashionable “fasten round the back” jackets and move you to secure accommodation...

After dinner, whilst the bulk of the group went off in search of nightlife, Van Al and I returned to the hotel, and our respective rooms. For once I was in bed before Jim had even got back to the room, and was fast asleep within seconds, so didn't even hear him come in later that evening. With a rest-day tomorrow, and our last day in Peru, I think a good night's sleep is in order...

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