Continuing north from Huascarán National Park took us to the imposingly rugged Canon del Pato (Duck Canon)—a busy narrow asphalt road featuring a perilously sheer drop, where catastrophic landslides after heavy rain are not exactly uncommon. Treacherous as it sometimes is, it’s the main transport route for big trucks, buses by the coach load and a glut of cars. The sporadically tunnelled highway penetrates the Cordillera Negra, descends westward and continues to the Pacific Ocean port city of Chimbote, providing vehicle access to the coast from the Callejón de Huaylas. It made riding Bolivia’s Road of Death feel like a day at the beach. Still, during the brief sections that weren’t choked with whizzing traffic, my neck craned up to the top of the towering canon as Pearl’s tyres sang on the vista-terrific turns.
The ripio—gravel thereafter was a splintered mishmash of sharp, pointed rocks bound haphazardly in the hard compacted dirt. It was no wonder we stopped to greet a pair of teens stranded with a back tyre flat. Having handed over a patch repair kit and harnessed our compressor to send them on their way, we rode through various flyspeck settlements home to makeshift shacks set back in the trees, with chewed-up screen doors revealing the gaping tombs of freezers.
Through one village, a herd of skittish bulls loathed the sound and sight of our motorcycles; body language left little and less to be desired. One bucked up on his hind legs right in front of me in preparation to for fight or flight, I couldn’t discern which. I stopped immediately, held my breath and exhaled hard when the beast and its don’t-mess-with-me horns scarpered. Around the next corner, a brace of Alsatians charged me. The sound of galloping, the earth trembling, and there they were, leaping at my throat—but midair they hit the ends of their chains and were hurled into the dust as though stricken down by lightning. Mutts of serious misdemeanor.
Misdeeds of the mongrel aside, Pearl seemed to be grumbling—having a harder time of it than usual. Her back end was flailing, bouncing around more than normal although I naively kept those feelings to myself so as not to appear ‘mardy’ on the rough stuff. It was only a hunch after all, even if I was careening all over the shop and uncomfortably feeling every jarring lump and bump. Bobbling over the road, I assumed I was still cream crackered after conquering the boisterous Cordillera Blanca.
There’s only so many times you can thwack over terrain before your poor motorcycle is utterly thrashed. Pearl seemed to be waning under the hammer. Why was I thinking such thoughts? She can admirably ride ripio and—Suddenly a terrible crash broke into my reverie. It came from the direction of Pearl’s underside. At 20 miles per hour, I whacked a rock for the umpteenth time and my bike simply couldn’t cope; it was the straw that broke Pearl’s back. After a hard turn, and 20 more ragged yards, she abruptly skidded to a crunching stop. The sound of an irreparable snap and grinding to a holt pierced my ears as my factory-lowered bike dropped to the ground—giving me the ground clearance of a piece of paper.
Ignoring my instincts took me—remarkably—to the outskirts of an in-the-middle-of-nowhere settlement. A mere two miles away. “What the…!” Jason yelled from behind and raced towards me; somehow having stayed upright astride Pearl. He started scrutinising the impairment and damage limitation duly required. “The rear shock linkage has broken, Lise. Snapped clean in half.”
“Whaaat?!” I verbalised fearing the next response.
“Your suspension is to-tal-ly ruined”, he exclaimed rather matter-of-factly. At least a diagnosis to that effect—perhaps not as polite.
“You’re joking!” In a state of grudging acceptance, I couldn’t even wheel Pearl over to the roadside. My happiness soon soured when I dialled into the fact that she was going nowhere; Pearl’s ability to move, let alone ride was cut off like a faucet.
It made sense for Jason to blast into the settlement down the road and seek assistance. A trucky pulled over shortly after, had the best of intentions in trying to help a moto-damsel-in-distress although wasn’t able to transport a motorcycle being a full on freighter.
The heat was insufferable, which settled like a suffocating blanket on my soul. An unquenchable thirst surfaced as my tongue clove to the roof of my parched mouth like a choking root, while the kindly truck driver kept returning from his box of tricks with various tools and parts to attempt a temporary fix. Alas, he was journeying the opposite way, time was ticking in his working day so deferentially shrugged in reluctant acknowledgement; there was little and less he could do to improve my situation. I disagreed with that wholeheartedly when he shared his juicy watermelon. What a chivalrous chap nevertheless for stopping. As Charlie Chaplin once said, “Nothing is permanent in this wicked world—not even our troubles.”
Cars hurtled past, blowing dust in my face. I sat marooned beside the road, overcome by inertia. I opened a book in an effort to damp down my simmering awareness of unknown timescales. Some time had passed with the lorry driver and just as the whiff of worry started to pirouette around my head—at least I could gnaw on a watermelon while deserted—Jason returned. Peruvian police swiftly followed suit and it took all four of the strapping officers plus Jason to lift hefty old Pearl, and edge her onto the back of the police truck. I was utterly indebted to Pearl that we weren’t 200 miles away from help, even if she could have been 100 kilograms lighter in an ideal world.
After a chunk of clock trying to flag down an elusive vehicle capable of carrying Pearl, and one that was travelling in our desired destination 50 miles down the road, we returned from our abortive hunt. I’d eyeballed only a handful of trucks packed to the gunwales with watermelons. Within minutes, Damian, an Argentinean rocked up on a Honda Tornado with his girlfriend on the back. What a fabulous ensemble; ‘two up’ touring for months on a nifty and nimble 250cc bike. It does have to be said, less is always more and size does matter!
After a brief but rapport-building conversation, Damian had convinced Jason to prise the aforementioned faulty parts from Pearl. Was that the solution to an otherwise intractable problem? ‘Surely the nuts and bolts in question would be so tightly screwed on, stubbornly fixed in from years in that position, it’d be nigh on impossible to loosen the bolts and remove the linkage’, Jason surmised. Well you won’t know until we try, will ya?
Post a consensus of the most plausible prognosis, Pearl got stripped of her broken bits and snapped parts. Contrary to initial opinion, it was surprisingly straight forward too. The boys worked tirelessly in an unrelenting heat for the best part of an hour. Smeared in sweat, dirt and oil, Damian insisted on coming with us in sourcing an aluminium welder with translation on tap. What heightened human kindness going the extra mile in our hour of need.
I had no choice but to trade my trusty mode of transportation for the functioning wheels and pillion seat of Jason’s bike. It was my motorcycle’s first unpreventably hindering problem—having pounded the Pearliness out of her for 12 months and nearly 19,000 miles. Hardly surprising she was beyond a little battered having fallen into abeyance and expiring quietly like a campfire at dawn. She screamed out for some emergency first aid although I’d failed to adequately tune into her slow demise. Actively listening to Pearl’s body was something I needed to work on.
I entrusted Pearl in the safety of a local hostel owner, keeping her under lock and key with a promise of a rapid return and short term remedy. Both the Tornado duo alongside Jason and me—also ‘two up’—roared off down the road in convoy. Entering the urban sprawl that was Chimbote was riddled with the usual discombobulating chaos. Hailed to the roadside at random by the local traffic patrol, we soon became acquainted with the big boss man, Igor—and he with our predicament. Namely thanks to Damian’s attentive support.
By police escort complete with flashing lights, we were given the works. Treatment that led us straight to the nearest reputable welders, of whom took one look at the puissant head of our convoy, dropped everything and prioritised my job without delay. My rear shock linkage was fused together to a stronger degree than its original condition, despite my reservations that it’d bear a weak spot after repair. The welder had made a sterling job, charged me £10 pounds and threw in some bits and bobs I’d been needing on top—including making me a bespoke screw I’d lost, which securely attaches my pannier to the bracket. That level of cost my budget could cope with but seemed disproportionately low to the level of service being bestowed.
In the meantime, Damian offered to zip over to another garage a few miles away so as to pick up a specialist nut and bolt for Pearl’s suspension linkage (leagues beyond our survival Spanish). Igor insisted on taking his colleague as pillion beforehand. It’s believed a police officer (wearing no helmet as he’d travelled in the car), is said to bring suerte—good luck wherever you go. On the back he jumped and away they went, rapidly returning with the correctly sized components. All the while, the workshop welders couldn’t do enough for us—and wouldn’t let us leave without a plethora of photos being snapped, delighted at having met us. No seriously guys, the pleasure was all ours! What unprecedented gratitude I had for our entire rescue party in that single moment.
In fading daylight and before wishing us farewell, Igor perceptively determined that we had no real notion of where to get our heads down for the evening. It’d be our usual winging it on spec, which can render a little ‘hit and miss’ sometimes. However, I’d already allowed myself to be governed by the spirit of compassion; I needed zero confirmation that my true faith in humanity still held water. Calling upon his personal friend Jorge, Igor arranged for us to meet him in Chimbote’s bustling plaza. Having an hour to kill before meeting us after work, we sat on a park bench and started processing the random chain of events laced with good fortune post Pearl’s major mishap.
Over walked a couple of local moto-adoring men, full of fondness and praise towards both bikes; particularly Jason’s perhaps because you don’t see bigger motorcycles in Peru that often. We certainly haven’t. One of the Cheshire cat grinning guys asked us, “Would you mind if I treated you all to a coffee? Just over the road there. We would love to welcome you to Peru, or the city of Chimbote at least.” I smiled seraphically—striving for ‘grateful angelic being’ over ‘grubby-rider-with-shabby-chic-helmet-hair’. Wow! Why thank you Sir, that would be quite lovely! “And please, have a sandwich, you must be hungry”, he magnanimously added. We all graciously accepted.
Igor’s friend, Jorge, met and greeted us with a similar welcome—familiarly warm and forthcoming. Being on the receiving end of such a reception is rarely customary with strangers in the UK. It’s practically the norm here in Peru, and most if not parts of all other countries in South America to boot. Jorge unreservedly apologised that he’d be unable to accommodate all four in his home for the night, due to prior arranged family staying, however wouldn’t leave us stranded in a strange town. He accompanied us to another lodging instead, Diamante Hostel.
It wasn’t what you’d call your average hostel. We’re talking sassy red walls, soft red lighting, an unapologetically giant mirror adjacent to the plastic-sheeted bed and a saucy piece of glossy wall art. I’d heard previously that these rooms were good value ‘by the hour’ but incredible bang for your buck when taken for the whole night. Boom! So that’s what we did; slept in our first ‘Love hotel’—well it is a Catholic country after all. Unfortunately, the pair of us zonked before our heads hit the pillow. Doh!
Learning the rather simpler and the most important attributes on the road: patience, confidence and resilience is one thing. However, unquantifiable hospitality and gesture of goodwill to which we’d become acquainted was unexpectedly quite another. Having invested the full emotional spectrum in a place and its people, I think it’s only then you will begin to know that place. On the receiving end of such astute care and proactive concern expressed from strangers, seemed to dislodge an inner emotional logjam in me, and while I didn’t fully understand exactly how to pay it forward—it was good and I’d find a way.
What had I witnessed and absorbed? Something warm, intimate, genuine. That friendships have no linguistic barriers. That’s the fragility of goodness sometimes, which in our case had stemmed from the fellowship of the road: the intertwined, unforeseeable weave of human action. It left me flabbergasted to be a member of such a camaraderie-driven family.