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6-11 Mar 2015 – Oh Peru, I’m gonna miss you
With Pearl perky and raring to go—now a “shocker-rejuvenated GS” as Johnny Bravo so aptly put it—life became peachy again. Even at 4am when peeling our sleep-sapped bodies out of bed: the prospect of avoiding the unforgiving pandemonium of exiting Lima in its 24/7 rush hour was enough to self-catapult out of bed. But with one thing and another nine, I managed to hit the sack just after midnight the night previous—making my early start about as rude as it can get. Drunk on sleep starvation, I found myself donning my motorcycle boots in just my underwear and all but dropping Pearl in turning her around on a scarred section of road near a bitten kerb, feeling far from sober. I’d not consumed a morsel of anything exciting, I was just beastly tired making it more than disconcerting that my reaction times were less than tickety boo. Another lesson learned.
Freedom flooded my veins having escaped the clutches of Lima—in less than an hour—for the second occasion. Two too many times. Having received an invitation to meet bikers Julio and Ricardo in Trujillo, it made sense to keep tootling all 350 miles on the Pan American to meet their acquaintance. Whether I was feeling it more than usual or the freighters were simply out in full force, the day seemed riddled with the non-stop, won’t-stop blighters.
Big US-style trucks from the old and grizzly to the modern and gleaming, strained and grunted their way with the rest of the traffic. On a dual carriageway that hummed with old sedans, brand new 4x4s and swarms of white estate taxis—caused long convoys and invited the kind of overtaking which is best done with eyes closed. One oncoming curveball chose to pass another on my blind corner—the pair of them adjacent and unwavering in each lane. Both within a hair’s breadth of braking distance for me to swerve onto the hard shoulder in retreat, I decided to ride on there for some time. Out of harm’s heinous way.
We’d been on the road since stupid o’clock and by late morning, the day was beginning to take its toll. Frazzled by lack of sleep, a tangle of traffic and the heat penetrating my damnable motorcycle clothing, we pulled up to a roadside restaurant ‘La Balsa’. Given the warmest of receptions, I was handed a guestbook to sign; a priceless keepsake bursting with memories, photos, small trinkets and home currency of the odd motorcyclist, a colossal number of cyclists, and even an unassisted walker embarking upon a journey from the southernmost tip of South America to England, eventually making it into an around the world ramble. Over 14 years! Imagine how that experience would define you for the rest of your life. Phenomenal man.
After devouring a couple of fruit-filled pancakes and freshly squeezed juice, I thought it was a little strange that the same round of food and beverage was served again. Jason hadn’t blinked before he’d breathed in the second helping. We ordered la quenta but told there was no charge. “Lo siento, itere por favor.” Sorry, repeat that please? That’s right, two-wheeled travellers are given a meal on the house. A stunning service.
Being able to fight it no longer, I quietly lay my filthy face on my hands at the table and micro-seconds before falling into a deep slumber, was gently squeezed by the hand and shown straight to a back room. Home to a lose-me-forever big, comfy bed over which a cross breeze blew through the 32 degree Celsius air. I had died and slept a heavenly hour. A fortifying mango injection and replenishing kip was more than I could have prayed for in that moment. We weren’t always but that afternoon, we were in a fabulous place at a fortunate time. Perhaps there is a God.
Free from mishap—bikes and bodies—we arrived to the coastal town of Trujillo. Look in the right spots and it’s a hotbed of colonial streets and profusion of churches alongside monied apartments, a show of high-end restaurants, sandy beaches and a respectable surf. A deluge of positive attention from passers-by made our last impression of Lima vaporize into the toxic air from whence it came.
Julio invited us to his Paddock Restaurant, furnishing us with the highlights of his tour company Peru Moto Aventuras while we tucked into some tasty nosh. Ricardo wouldn’t let us leave Trujillo without first paying for Jason and me to visit to the Arqueológico de Chan Chan—the world’s largest adobe city made entirely of earth, dating back to 800 AD. The highlight for me was the following morning’s rideout along the seafront, following Ricardo on his rather delectable Ducati and playing ‘Chase me if you can’ with Julio on his step-through scooter. Even Pearl felt like a speed demon but quickly wound her neck in when Ricardo ‘Bad Boy Gone Biker’ roared past.
We kicked the side stands down by the sea to watch surfers take to the cooler waters while savouring yet another treat on Ricardo, a mixed plate of ceviche. It’s a chilled concoction of fish, shrimp and other seafood marinated in a culinary marriage of lime juice, onions, cilantro and chilli peppers. Despite a lengthy preparation time, it took minutes to devour such tastebud divinity.
From Trujillo we took the 10A east and picked up the 3N north to Cajamarca where I pretended to not have seen the policia hailing me to the roadside for a random spot check. Sorry fellas but I didn’t see you, nor had I any Peru-specific SOAT insurance to show them. Onto Celendin for the night. We zipped over the 08B for 90 ‘S’ shaped miles, skirting the contours of the hillside like the hem on a rah rah skirt. This, according to the guidebook is known as Peru’s Road of Death equivalent, whose description requires travellers of this route to have “nerves of steel to brave the hopelessly nerve-wracking” 90 mile mountain route between Celendin and Leymebamba. Mmn.
We set off on a Monday morning expecting the worst and got nothing more than the odd car and minibus or two, having an entire landscape of swashbuckling peaks practically to ourselves. You’d probably need a Valium if you were being transported in a bus along some of the two metre wide roads but on two wheels? It’s dreamy—carving up into the hills, ears popping as you wend up through wispy clouds that drift in from empty space and tease the asphalt. We continued to climb through cloud forests and countryside swathed in a lush quilt of greens.
But this is Peru in the rainy season. And ‘unpredictable’ is Peru’s middle name. The cruisey ride soon turned sour on the exposed approach to the summit; driving rain and gusting wind veered us precariously close to the sheer drop, nerves teetering on the edge around every hairpin. We peaked Abra de Barro Negro (Black Mud Pass) at 3,678 metres, which would have offered us the highest viewing point over the river—were it not for being engulfed in opaque cloud clinging to the hillside. Easy to understand why the road is still accident-prone but then Peru thrives on an element of risk to reward you with an exponentially satisfying thrill. When the clouds parted their prow, there was more than 3.5 vertical kilometres below. Now that’s worth seeing…if it’s not too cloudy!
Leymebamba, a gorgeous little convivial town had an endearingly rustic allure from its cobblestones and legendary friendliness from locals. I coasted through its historic centre at milk wagon speed, smiling at a clutch of juice vendors tending their trolleys of stacked papaya, mango and oranges. I could only admire its frock-like prettiness against a backdrop of mammoth mountains.
A charming, well-mannered woman—owner of La Casona hostel—was receptive to our arrival. Being on the frugal end of a finite budget, she allowed me to bargain a beaut of a rate for her four-star, tastefully decorated lodging; the only place in Leymebamba able to accommodate the bikes. It wasn’t iciness I felt from her, but a kind of steady imperial radiance. At half price, we were duly indebted to this lady. She smiled, and the softness of it built a warmth under my heart.
Lunching at Kenticafe to the humbling sight and distinct thrumming sound of hummingbirds, we spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Mummy Museo oppositie. The mummies were discovered at Laguna de los Cóndores, dating back to the 6th century and are now wrapped in preserving bundles. Well almost—parts of adult, children and newborn skeletons were still exposed for our gruesome viewing pleasure. Those along with their artefacts, including a near-pristine array of elaborate necklaces adorned with lines of knotted strings. Little is known about these artefacts except many were burned by the Incas in fear of them, however, it’s thought that they were actually books as a way of communication amongst those peoples.
Cruising through Chachapoyas, a cloud-forested land belonging to the ‘People of the Clouds’, we wended over the asphalt by a hypnotising mist, moving like dry ice. Stopping at the Marvelous Spatuletail Ecological site took us into a remote forest in northern Peru. It’s the only place on the planet you’ll get to stare at the delicate little Marvellous Spatuletail fluttering from feeder to feeder. In and amongst other species too, such as the: Gould’s Jewelfront, Sparkling Violetear and Golden-tailed Sapphire. A treasure trove of gems and jewels. It’s also a prime site for the viewing of the rare Many-spotted hummingbird and discovery of new species like the Metaltail. An exquisite experience.
Peru is a country with some fairly serious terrain. The place is locked in beauty for the most part and despite its curveballs, which seem only to add to the chase or the thrill, I can’t decide—or mayhaps we’ve just become desensitised—I will forever remain fond of its high highs and all-part-of-the-fun low lows. Alas, it was time to squeeze past a double snafu of a two part landslide at Pedro Ruiz and another, more serious one at San Ignacio crushing four people, haul ourselves out of the wet chocolate cake mix and end Peru with something of a smudged punctuation mark.
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