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Author: Linus

The Bolivian salt flats!

The Bolivian salt flats!

It was finally time to go ride on the Bolivian salt flats! Although it is rain season and part of the salt flats are covered with water, we had heard from people on the road that a bit further out it is dry and firm. And so we left our heavy luggage at the hostel and took off with unburdened bikes for a day of epic riding!

About halfway out of town Rich managed to ride over an enormous nail that went into his tire and out on the side. Needless to say we made a first stop, pulled his tire off and replaced the tube with my spare. By chance an American dude that Sam had met on his boat from Panama to Colombia walked by and stayed to chat for a bit.

After this slight delay we went on our way back north a few kilometers before turning off the highway towards the salt flats. The initial gravel road was extremely bumpy and full of potholes from all the tours shuttling tourists to the flats, and once we got to the edge of salt the water covering it looked really deep. We decided to do a loop to the south along the rim to where the water looked less deep and quickly ran into a fairly stable but slippery mud field. We decided to move on through and skidded and mud sprayed our way to the salt again where it was only covered by about a centimeter of water. The surface got really firm here though and we drove on out on the massive white endless plains.

The water slowly disappeared and we drove on in different formations on the big flat foreverness faster and faster, loosing all sense of speed. We took aim for the small dot in the horizon that slowly grew to be a round building and the Dakar Bolivia monument. We zoomed in among scattered groups of tourists and parked for some photos in front of the beduin monument. We got help to get some nice group pictures from the other tourists and they in turn could pose with our bikes for some nice pictures.

The gang kneeling by the altar of adventure motorcycling!

We walked around and looked at the little store before taking off again into the whiteness, where we basically picked a direction and just took off at full speed. After riding for about ten fifteen minutes we stopped to take more pictures. Here some of the group decided to let go of all of their earthly burdens and rode around free in body and spirit for a bit.

When we were done fooling around me Drew and Lise decided to drive back to wash our bikes, which were now caked with salt all over the engine and exhaust and god knows where. Sam and Rich went off further into the saltiness and we said to meet up at the car wash.

Vast white salty emptiness!

As we went out of the desert I followed Drew who led us straight through the deep part of the drenched area right to the main entrance. He made it through and so did I, but the water was so deep where I went that my bike died as I rolled out of the water. Lise with her lowered bike almost didn’t make it through and her bike died too, from getting salty water into the engine somehow.

So we rolled up beside another group of adventure bikers who just had arrived, and they nervously asked us how to get through the water. They had fancy bikes, a couple of KTM:s and was probably worried about ruining their expensive bikes. We told them to go around the water the same way we got in and they took off.

Now to mine and Lise’s bike. I had left all my tools in the hostel as I wanted to travel light, so Drew went off back to get them while me and Lise waited by the bike.

After about 15 minutes we tried to start our bikes and they actually fired up! As they did we were joined by Sam and Rich who finally came back. Together we watched as the KTM adventurers slid around in the mud with the heaviest one stuck somewhere in the middle. Lise started riding back towards Uyuni while the rest of us rode back into the mud to see if we could help out. Once out in the chocolate mousse like mud we helped the Australian KTM rider out, rode around for fun for a bit doing huge drifts in the brown slippery mess before driving back to Uyuni for a much needed washing.

A little salt never killed anyone, right? Please hose me down!

We met up with Drew and Lise at the washing place where we used a pressure washer to try to pry off as much salt as possible before using a bucket and a brush to rub off the rest. The salt really was stuck everywhere and we spent almost as long time cleaning the bikes as riding the salt flats, plashing and disassembling the bikes to get into all the little crevices where the salt was hiding.

Salt, salt, everywhere!!

Once done my bike didn’t want to start up, probably more water in the engine, and my battery ran out before I could flush it out. Misery… After disassembling my bike and checking carburetor and spark plug I finally took Lise’s battery and put in my bike, got it started and put the battery back in Lise’s bike. I then sent them all back to the hostel to park Lise’s bike, take the battery out again and drive it back to me so I could drive my bike to the hostel. Quite the operation, but it ended up a success! And we were lucky enough that we had a little bike shop next to the hostel, where the nice shop owner offered to charge my battery for free!

Now to cleaning the clothes and boots, air filters and electric systems. When all was done and fairly clean we were all really done and fairly dirty after a long long but spectacular day. It definitely was one of the high lights of this trip! But with all the aftermath I think doing it once is enough…

 

Salt flats: Done!
Border crossing time, hello Bolivia!

Border crossing time, hello Bolivia!

Our first mission today after breakfast was to follow up on some rumors on iOverlander and other forums that you’d have to buy insurance for the motorcycles for Bolivia in Peru, as they wouldn’t let you in to Bolivia without insurance but they won’t sell it at the border.

The receptionist had provided Drew with a map where he had marked a few insurance offices for us, and so we took off. Like on many other occasions things quickly got complicated. We could not find any office where the marks were and after asking some locals they said that yes, there is an office there, but it is closed. Around the corner we found another insurance office but they only sold Peruvian insurances and looked at us like we were aliens (the green ones) for asking about getting Bolivia coverage.

We then went to a last insurance office we found on a map but here the office worker had run out of his office to get something and the office was closed. After waiting ten minutes we decided to just go to the border and chance it.

We rode out of Puno and towards the border just by the Bolivian town of Copacabana. The ride was nice and we followed the south coast of the big lake for about 80 miles or so before stopping at the little town of Yunguyo for lunch. We also filled our bikes up to get as far as possible in Bolivia before having to visit a gas station. Bolivia has weird laws for foreigners to fill up their vehicles with different prices for locals and foreigners and paperwork that has to be don when refilling. This leads to foreigners sometimes being turned away from petrol stations because of the extra hassle.

Excited about driving into a new country!

Anyway, after lunch we went to the border and parked our bikes. We got our exit stamps after standing in a long line of backpackers. I had lost my immigration form that you were supposed to carry from entering Peru somewhere in rainy Machu Picchu but luckily the officer let me through after some angry glances and remarks. Then I went off to cancel my Peruvian vehicle permit at the Aduana office. The official there told me my Peruvian vehicle insurance had expired a day ago and that I had to get a new one. I said it is only by one day and I don’t want to buy a whole month more which is the minimum. He said I would have to pay and I said ok so where do I do that. He shrugged and looked at me. Then he said I could pay him right there. How much I asked and he just hummed. I said just tell me how much you want to ignore this but he just hummed so I gave him 20 soles and he laughed a bit. I added up to 50 soles and he said ”ok, I didn’t see that insurance paper”, and signed my permit.

Luckily he was decent enough not to ask for more bribes as I followed Lise in to do her papers. Her insurance had expired the same day as mine, but the official just asked if she was my wife and then stamped the papers without even checking them.

We were then done with Peru and went on to the Bolivian side. Here the Americans had to get a Visa to get through which included paying a guy in a little copy store next to the immigration to print a fake hotel booking, getting passport photos and copies and finally paying $160. For the rest of us this part was easy as pie.

Waiting for the grumpy customs official…

The official who were supposed to inspect and make the import permits got really grumpy when he knew he had to inspect five whole bikes and promptly refused to do anything until we all were ready for inspection so he could do all at once. He also didn’t want to fill out the papers and made us go back to the copy shop where the guy did it for us online somehow for a few coins.

After the papers were done the grumpy official finally walked out to inspect our bikes while telling us how he was an old man and didn’t like to work, he liked sleeping. He also told us he didn’t like motorbikes, foreigners and tall people in general. In the end he still checked our bikes and gave us the right stamps so we could pass on into Bolivia. The final step was to lower the rope that hung across the road so we could pass. I asked some police officers where they guy was that were supposed to let us pass and they told me to just untie it myself. So I did and we all rolled into Bolivia.

“Happy journey” from the Bolivian customs. I don’t know what kind of journey that guy is on, but I want in!

Just a few miles later we rolled into Copacabana and quickly found a nice place to stay, Hotel Sonia. After unloading our stuff and carrying it up three sets of stairs (pretty exhausting at 4000m) we went out to look for food. Copacabana is a nice little city bustling with tourists and we saw myriads of gringo backpackers coming off from boats or buses and walking with their heavy loads through the market streets.

We found a nice little indian restaurant and had a good cheap dinner. After dinner we walked around a bit looking at the local markets before returning to the Hotel. As we came back inside it started raining and soon we were having a little thunderstorm, eventually cutting the power. Not having much else to do we decided to rest early. Tomorrow we will get up early and aim for the city of La Paz!

Towards Titikaka

Towards Titikaka

Today we rode out of Arequipa as a trio. Sam and Rich had taken off yesterday to check out Canyon del Coca while me Drew and Lise farted around in the big city in futile attempts to find parts for the bike.

We had decided to meet up with them again in the city of Puno by the great lake Titicaca, and to get there we had to backtrack about 100km the same way we had taken to Arequipa a few days ago.

It took us quite some time to get out of the city as our maps and GPS sent us through the usual interesting parts of town. It has become quite the exciting routine to ride out of cities through Google maps as it has an interesting way of making road choices to make the trip as short as possible, many times routing through small dirt roads and sometimes through impassable two wheel tracks in the outskirts of the city. Eventually we left Arequipa behind and ascended into the higher mountains. Here it started to rain and it got really foggy and chilly for a while before we busted out of the clouds onto the highlands once again.

The daily shower

We went through the miles in a quick tempo and stopped for a short rest in the town of Imata. After parking our bikes Sam and Rich came flying down the road and joined up a bit earlier than planned. Apparently you needed to pay about $20 each to get into the canyon and the guys thought it was to expensive so they found a camping spot in the vicinity, stayed the night and got up early to catch up with us. On the way they had a few adventures, including one with a muddy road ending in a lake.

So after our short break we rode off as the full gang again, and moved quickly on the straight roads over the altiplano. The landscape changed at points from the rolling green mountains to more rocky formations and lakes and it was a very pleasant ride.

The landscape kept changing between rolling hills and craggy mountains

After taking a shortcut through some dusty half paved roads we finally reached Puno and got a first look at the great lake. Soon we were in the city and the roads got very narrow and busy with traffic. We found a hostel a bit outside the city center called Pacha hostel with a secure parking, negotiated the price down a bit and unloaded our dusty bikes.

A first glimpse of Lake Titicaca

After this we were very hungry but it was only five o’clock and most restaurants in our part of town were closed for another couple of hours so we jumped on to one of the little local buses and rode into the center. Here we found a Chinese Peruvian Chifa restaurant and had a good fusion meal. After a good walk back to the hostel everyone were really tired and we decided to have and early night.

Linus in Cusco

Linus in Cusco

While Lise went for her Volunteer adventure I relocated to a cheap bike hostel to meet up with the rest of the new motorcycle gang and do some maintenance on the bikes. The hostel had a big courtyard and the owners didn’t mind us working there. And work we did. Rich, the Australian needed new fork seals, Geert the Belgian needed new seals for his shaft drive on his BMW, I needed new brake pads and to fix my broken choke cable and we all needed an oil change.
After asking around a bit we found what was to be named the Moto Street, a road for a block or so full with knock off motorcycle brand stores, where most repairs were done in the street or in a hole in the wall closet sized workshop. What they didn’t have in tools they made up with creativity to different degrees of success. Sometimes the parts being repaired were not treated with care. At one time the inside of Rich’s front fork was rolling around on the floor and stepped on by the shop assistant and the mechanic while we were watching. We ended up going here at least once a day to buy parts, fluids, repair something or just going back to re-repair something that they repaired badly the day before.
We pretty much turned the courtyard of the hostel into a motorcycle workshop full of old tires, cables, break parts and old oil in containers of all sizes and shapes. From time to time it turned into a real circus as someone tried to find home made solutions to his problems while the rest of the gang stood around giving bad and good advice leading to success and failure. And yes, a few beers were consumed.
The change of fork seals on Rich’s bike turned into a multi day repair with a Colombian mechanic on Moto Street failing badly to put them together properly and Rich finally finding a motorcycle tour company with a skilled mechanic that finally put everything back in order. All the while Geert was running around the whole city looking for seals and bearings for his BMW, visiting machine shops and numerous little workshops that all offered home made solutions.

Backyard mechanics at their best
Backyard mechanics at their best

I was looking for a choke cable but failed miserably and had to make a home made solution cutting the cable off and re-routing it out on the side of the bike near the carburetor. To engage the choke I now have to pull the wire by hand. Not a perfect solution but at least a working one. What I did manage to find was brake pads for my back brake that almost fit. They were for some other model of motorcycle but I could fit them to my brake caliper, the only problem being that the two pads do not really align themselves exactly opposite of each other. The brake seems to work with them, though, and for $3 I am hoping it can work as a temporary solution. I will just have to keep an eye on how they wear. Oh, and Lise’s bike got a new spark plug so hopefully she will have more power at higher elevations and speed.

After staying for three days at the hostel we had almost not seen anything of the city, but we had been a hundred times between the hostel, the Moto street and a local pastry shop that sold fantastic empanadas and a superb chocolate cake. I think we devoured two or three whole cakes in three days. Slowly our bikes started to be back in shape, except for poor Geert who was still running around ordering parts that didn’t fit for his BMW. And so we started planning a trip to the mystic ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu!

Day of mountain madness

Day of mountain madness

When we pulled out of the hotel garage this morning we realized why people were driving like idiots on the wrong side of the road yesterday night when we pulled in: It was a one way road! Not that we saw any signs indicating that, but in daylight it was obvious that no one was driving in the direction we had been.
We went by the pizza place from yesterday on the way out of town, where the waiter had told us they serve breakfast from 7.30. It was closed up at 08.00… We decided to press on and eat something along the road, as the morning traffic in the city was pretty insane.
Pretty soon we were out of the city and immediately started climbing the hills into the highlands again. No sign of any breakfast, so we had no other choice but to continue through rainy and misty high plateaus on an empty stomach. And here I had my second dog encounter, which turned out to be a more fatal one than the one I had in Colombia. A long haired golden lab looking dog was trotting out across the road from the left. As I approached it saw me and slowed its pace. I anticipated it would turn around and go back the way it had come so I aimed in front of it and slowed my speed. The dog then stopped and I sped up as I passed it. At the last second it, for some reason, decided to move on despite me coming at it and so I caught its head on my left side metal pannier at about 45 mph. I could just hear a metallic thud and saw the dog spin up in the air in my rear mirror before landing at the road side, trying to run for a second while lying down before suddenly turning completely still. Lise and Sam who were riding after me said it was still barking when they passed it seconds later but doubt it could walk away from that hit. The image of the dog in my mirror was hard to get rid of the rest of the day.
Around 10-10.30 we descended into a valley and the town of Las Pampas, and we decided to stop to look for something to eat. We drove up to the central square and parked outside a small panedera (bread store). Almost immediately we were surrounded by a group of kids carrying shoe polish blocks wanting to polish our boots. They were a little disappointed when we turned them down but they stayed around checking out our bikes and equipment and asking questions about this and that. Lise went to buy some bread in the bread shop while I went across the square to buy some fruits and things from a little supermarket. Overall people were staring and pointing a lot and we were a bit surprised that we would be the cause of so much interest from the locals. The only fruit looking good in the little dark hole-in-the-wall was a couple of apples, everything else looked kind of old and sad, including the attendant. I went back to add my apples and a bottle of water to what ever Lise had found in the bread store. She had managed to score some 4 days old bread and three cold papa rellenas ( a ball of fried mashed potato with mystery meat and small things in the middle). She had also been approached by three different groups of girls and women wanting to take pictures of her and them. We felt quite like celebrities.

Making new friends
Making new friends

Lise and Sam had already finished their papas rellenas and I dug into mine. Being a bit curious about the filling I took some small bites, and suddenly a piece of hairy flesh fell out of my potato. It looked like a piece of skin with inch long black thick pubic hair on it. After fighting for a moment not to throw up I quickly spit my bite out and dumped it in the trash. I was tempted to take a picture but I really didn’t want to take a closer look at the vile thing, so in the trash it went. And suddenly I wasn’t hungry at all anymore.
After saying bye to our friends the shoe polish kids, we set off again out of this little god forsaken town, and the road instantly turned into a little dirt road. We stopped and checked the map, and found out that the google map had sent us off on a detour, suggesting that we should take a little road that almost disappears instead of the main highway. The turnoff to the main highway that we wanted to be on was about 14 miles back on the way we had ridden on, and we had missed it partly because the rain had made us tuck the GPS away. This also explained why people were acting like they had never seen foreigners before. This might actually be the case, as this little town of Pampas was at the very end of the road.
An appropriate amount of cursing later we turned our bikes around and ascended back into the cold rainy mountains and backtracked for around forty minutes until we hit the right turnoff to highway 3S.
The road then took us down along the bottom of a canyon on winding roads, and the roads quickly dried up and the temperature rose. We soon drove through a little town on the cliffside along a railroad track. Here we saw some small stores and Lise and I decided to stop to see if we could find some snacks to eat. Sam was up ahead but we figured he’d wait for us up the road. The first little store I went into was full of flies and old fruit and an even older lady behind a dirty counter on mud floors. I quickly went outside and across the street to a cleaner looking shop. I heard some splash of water and figured someone threw their dirty water out on the street, luckily it missed me. In the other shop we found some crackers and chocolate cakes, the only trouble was finding the shop owners, as they were back in the restaurant part and not really in the hurry to sell us anything. Eventually they came around and soon we had a little stash of snacks to make up for our failed Pampas brunch. On the way back to the bikes I heard the splashing sound again twice, and realized that it was not someone cleaning or doing their dishes. Someone was throwing water balloons at us!! My suspicions were soon confirmed as we saw a couple of heads pop up and down from cover on a rooftop up on the steep hill beside the roads. Some kids with nothing better to do had made their hobby to throw water balloons at cars and travelers coming through this little village, and now they had found the perfect targets. They didn’t dare to show themselves while I looked at them though, so I kept my eyes on the little culprits until we were safely on our bikes and taking off down the narrow road. We pretty much directly ran into Sam who had turned around to look for us. Together gain we rode along the bottom of this canyon, and the road kept getting smaller and smaller. Soon we were riding on a paved single lane road hugging the cliff side with a drop off directly at the edge of the lane. Soon hair pin curves were added to the mix combined with traffic varying in size between compact cars and 18 wheel semi trucks. The correct way of conducting seemed to be honking before a blind turn and then hoping the cars around the bend would just evaporate into thin air. At numerous occasions we heard a honk and had to quickly find a little pocket of the road to dodge the oncoming traffic. The landscape was beautiful, though, and it was easy to get lost looking at the blue green river and cliff sides on the other side, until a honk quickly brought you back to reality.

Along the longest canyon
Along the longest canyon

At one point we had to pull off the road to let an 18 wheeler past. It was towing a small SUV that had obviously been flipped of the road. Behind the wheel in the smashed car was a man with his face torn up and bleeding, and in the backseat were a couple of kids. That’s enough to get your head spinning about what the story behind could be…

Someone had a bad day...
Someone had a bad day…

This road went on for about 140km (85 miles) and it literally felt like forever had passed when we finally landed on solid ground on both sides. The police blockade soon after felt like a breeze, the officers being very nice and just checking Sam’s papers as he was riding first.
Towards the end of the day we climbed up from the canyon onto the hill where the city of Ayacucho is located. Again, through the magic app of iOverlander, we managed to navigate through the dense chaotic traffic to a little hostel at the end of a narrow alley way. They had no garage but assured us that the bikes would be safe parked directly outside the hostel entrance, as they had cameras and a portiere keeping his eyes on them through the night.
We unpacked and walked downtown in search for something more food like than snacks to finally stuff our stomachs with. By chance we ran into a wood-fired oven pizza restaurant, like a sign from above. It turned out to be an excellent rustic looking little place, serving only pizzas and pasta dishes. We tried a few pizzas and a home made ravioli, and were very delighted! We then stumbled home and promptly passed out, exhausted from a very eventful and long day. Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit shorter and easier…

Back in the Saddle!

Back in the Saddle!

During our stay in Huaraz both Lise and Sam had been sick and so it was my turn the last night. After battling fever and migraine under six blankets I woke up weak but okay. And so we packed up and got going planning to be in Cusco for New Year, the daily goal being Huanuco. The first stretch we had already ridden on our way to the glacier a few days ago, a winding road along a river slowly climbing up towards the high plateau. Soon we were riding on a great paved road along mountain sides with the high plains beneath us and stunning snow clad mountains in the distance. We then made a turn and rode across the valley into another mountain chain. Here for every turn the road got just a little smaller, and eventually we ended up in the town of La Union. The busy main street in this provincial capital was concrete but the side streets quickly turned to sandy mud. We decided to stay for lunch at a local comederia and got ourselves a huge soup and chicken lunch for almost nothing. On the way out of town we made a few circles before finding the one way out over a newly built bridge. From here and on we finally found ourselves on dirt roads. Or it was actually rather part dirt road and part paved road covered with potholes. The potholes were not big like in Honduras but they were plentiful and impossible to avoid.

Potholes and gravel, shake it like a polaroid picture
Potholes and gravel, shake it like a polaroid picture

And so we shook ourselves and our bikes through hours and hours of this turning gravely mess surrounded by a beautiful landscape with deep river gorges and mountains that we could barely see, as we had to concentrate on driving in order to reach a place to stay before dark. As we got closer to Huanuco and dusk we ran into roadwork. The workers happily told us we’d have to wait around half hour before they let us continue. We finally got waved through and drove through the “improved” road which was basically deep sandy dirt for another couple of miles before we got back on somewhat better roads taking us through small villages and a random police control.

DCIM100GOPRO

As we trudged on the sun went down and soon we were snailing our way down the hills in darkness. Eventually the road broadened and the pavement improved and we rolled in to Huanuco after driving for ten hours. We quickly found a hostel with a garage through the great iOverlander app, got a $1 dinner each at a chicken place next door and basically passed out in our rooms. I actually had to fix a few things on mine and Lise’s bike as the roads had shaken things off. Some screws and fasteners on her bike and blinkers that stopped working on mine.


 

Finally riding out of the desert

Finally riding out of the desert

We tried to get out of our hostel around 9 this morning, and after collecting our things and buying some food for an eventual nights camping we were on our bikes arount 11.30…
Happy to get out of this sandy flatlands we made some good miles down the highway towards Chimbote. The only thing that stood out on this strech beside the usual crazy traffic was a road toll where we were shooed of, had to turn around and ride back against the traffic and around a fence and ride outside the road on the sand past the toll. Not very well organized in my opinion.

Passing the road toll
Passing the road toll

About 30km before Chimbote we turned east on road 123, a dirt road to get up in the mountains and the renowned Calleyon de Huaylas and the Cañon del Pato, a beautiful strech of road in the canyons between high mountains.

Team riding through the desert
Team riding through the desert

The dirt road took us out to another very authentic post nuclear part of the world with craggy desert mountains and desolate plains, and then a green oasis around a riverbed down in a little valley before spitting us out on the asphalt main road 12. From there we rode through spectacular rocky landscapes with high mountains surrounding us and single lane tunnels leading to rickety bridges in an otherworldly fashion.

DCIM100GOPRO
There were plenty of signs encourageing you to use your horn before the many narrow curves and tunnels to alert oncoming traffic of your presence, and for understandable reasons. We watched a few times how cars and trucks had to reverse out of tunnels to let other cars through.

DCIM100GOPRO

And then suddenly we met a semitruck by a little waterfall. I was in the lead and decided to get off the road to give him a little extra space as it looked solid enough. Unfortunately it wasn’t, and my bike sank down in deep mud. And I couldn’t get out. I could hardly even walk away from the bike as the mud was so thick that my legs got stuck really bad as well. It was also so deep that I managed to sink down to my knees and was still sinking slowly when i managed to get my legs out.

Muddy workout
Muddy workout

Sam came over and we started working on getting th bike out of the mud, resulting in him discovering the sucking mud as well. After a few fruitless attempts we had to get som big rocks and put around the bike to stand on and we managed to lift the front wheel out of the mud. Once the front wheel was out we pulled and pushed while running the bike, and so finally we managed to get the bike out. And there was much mud covered rejoicing!
After scraping of the worst of the mud we continued on our road. Around five oclock we arrived in a little town called Huallanca.

Huallanca
Huallanca

We decided to stay the night in one of their little hostels as we hadn’t found any camping spots yet and didn’t want to be stuck in the dark. We found a nice room with three beds, had some streetfood, bought a few beers and went back to the room to play cards. Here we decided to start a Shithead (Spansk skitgubbe) League, that would keep going until the end of the trip. Three ponts for a win, one for second place and zero for the Shithead (third). The score after the first night was Sam 10, Lise 4 and Linus 3 (Humpf!).

Into the lowland desert

Into the lowland desert

Woke up after a pretty noisy night. Things were banging and honking outside at different times of the night. Busy town for a Sunday night.
Anyways we had more important things on our minds, we needed insurance for our bikes!
Luckily I had found an insurance or SOAT office in Jaén through the iOverlander app, and after breakfast we headed over there.
We were number three in line and waited for about twenty minutes while the two young ladies behind the desks took care of the first customers. Once it was our turn things went pretty smooth, a month third party coverage insurance ended up costing a little less than $30.
With all the legalities on the bikes finally in order we took off out of Jaén and towards the city of Chiclayo. The road took us along a river valley with a partly dried up riverbed surrounded by mountains for the first hour or two.img_2016-12-12_22-35-16

Then we started climbing up the mountain sides and the sandy mountains switched to a reddish hue. After we passed the summit at 2300m the air changed. The wind was suddenly chiller and it smelled a bit like a wooden sauna. A grayish layer of smoke was hanging around down in the valleys, and as we stopped to have a quick break we discussed if it was sand, fires or pollution creating it. As we descended further we could see the smoke pillars across the mountain sides revealing that it was caused by the farmers burning the land to sow their crops.
As we got down further the landscape slowly turned into desert flatlands, and soon we were riding on completely straight roads through sandy surroundings, occasionally driving through a crowded town with narrow streets.

No need to pay tolls, but you have to make it through the obstacle course!
No need to pay tolls, but you have to make it through the obstacle course!l

The closer we got to Chiclayo the more dense and aggressive the traffic and as we rolled in to the city we were in a sea of traffic honking, huffing and puffing from all directions. By using our motorcycle elbows we got ourselves downtown, just to discover by the first hostel that finding parking in the central part of the city for the night is a problem. We elbowed our way out of the center a little bit and found a hostel that had a secure parking nearby. Good enough!
The parking was a simple big dirt courtyard run by a grumpy old guy. When I didn’t understand his gruffing at once he immediately lost patience an yelled for another man, who spoke a bit English. We sorted the price out and I went with the grumpy man to get a receipt. He then tried to double the price, but after some negotiations he accepted the first price. On the way out I found a motorcycle part store up a set of narrow steel stairs, where they actually had chain grease! I bought a can of French fancy grease and went on my way back to the hostel.
Tomorrow is the last day of riding for almost a week! We’ll hang out with family for a few days in Trujillo and give ourselves and the bikes a halfway rest and tuneup!

Through the jungle to Peru

Through the jungle to Peru

We woke up to a misty and beautiful morning, and packed our bikes before breakfast. Today we’ll say goodbye to Ecuador by riding through the mountainous jungle down to the less traversed border crossing at La Balza. We had obtained information from one the bus companies that drive the route that the road was in drivable condition despite the heavy rain two days ago.

Lise assessing the misty morning weather
Lise assessing the misty morning weather

After eating breakfast and checking out from our peaceful hostel we mounted our steel horses an galloped into the hills.
In a blog I had red from 2015 it was mentioned that the paved road turned to gravel after about 10km of the 140km from Vilcabamba to the border. We found that improvements had been made and we rode up and down jungle covered mountains with breathtaking views on nice paved roads, with the exception of a few stretches where flash floods and landslides had destroyed the surface. These stretches were cleared up but dirt and sometimes a bumpy single lane or an occasional small stream crossing.

After the flooded streets in Cartagena and Vilcabamba, this wilderness stream is a breeze
After the flooded streets in Cartagena and Vilcabamba, this wilderness stream is a breeze

A little more than halfway to the border the pavement ended and we drove on dirt roads of varying quality. Sometimes the switchbacks up and down the mountainsides were pretty sharp and steep, and we had to move fairly slow.img_2016-12-12_19-19-48

The temperature kept rising too as we slowly descended into lowland jungle full of gnats and other annoyances. In some villages the road split up and we had to ask for directions. Luckily everyone was very nice and helpful and seemed excited to have us driving through. We stopped to top of the gas in the village of Zumba, and shortly after ran into a military checkpoint. They inspected our passports and sent us on our way, pointing us in the right direction through some intersections.
After about five hours driving we finally descended into a Canyon with a bridge over a river at the bottom. This was La Balza. We drove up to where the closed boom separated us from the bridge. A little restaurant, a few houses and the border offices was all that was here. No annoying helpers and no waiting, the immigration officer shook our hands and we quickly sat down in his office, filled some forms and hot our exit stamp. Then next door to the vehicle office where an official collected our Ecuador vehicle permits, opened the boom and sent us over to Peru. Fastest border ever!

The bikes waiting to get through to Perú
The bikes waiting to get through to Perú

On the Peruvian side things would have been real quick too, if it weren’t for us showing up during their lunch break. We walked around the building to wait in the shade and found two overlanders from Australia who were on their way north in a Toyota suv. We chatted for a bit and soon the officials returned from lunch to get us going. The immigration was really fast, the only thing taking about twenty minutes was filling out the info for the bike import papers. But soon it was done and we were let in to Peru!
We got on our bikes and continued south. After about one hours driving, which included some rain and plenty of rocks and stones on the road, we arrived in San Ignacio. This is a little uninteresting and gray town with lots of half finished brick buildings and a not very charming center. It was time to stop for the day though, and we quickly scouted out a few hostels, checked in to the best alternative and got our of our stinky riding gear.
We went to look for dinner around the center square, and chose the only option we could find. As we were in a new country we didn’t recognize many dishes, so we asked for a chicken dish. The waiter said they had a chicken and potatoe dish and we agreed to get a big order to share. As the order came out we found that it was french fries and deep fried chicken. Starving as we were we still ate our fill, hoping our stomachs wouldn’t give us a rough night.
To balance out the dinner we went to buy some fruit and breakfast for the morning before retreating to our hostel for the night.

To Vilcabamba through pressure changes and flash floods

To Vilcabamba through pressure changes and flash floods

Today’s first mission was to find chain grease for the bikes. There are thousands of bikes around and so, by logic, there should also be basic maintenance products around. Right? Turns out it isn’t that easy. The nice old man at the hostel pointed me towards a bike shop a couple of blocks away. I walked over and asked for chain grease. Turns out they only have generic spray lubricant/rust loosener a la wd-40. Bought some extra light bulbs and walked back to the hostel. Found a shop on Google maps and decided to pop by on the way out of town. It was a clean and nice looking motorcycle repair and sale shop, but they could only offer motor oil. Got new directions to a lubricant shop a few blocks away. Didn’t find the place and asked some motorcyclists on the street. They gave directions to another place. It wasn’t there but found two nice looking bike shops further down the street. Walked in and asked for chain lubricant. The guy behind the counter told me that sadly they don’t sell that kind of products. He then tried to come up with a store that could possibly have this rare thing. After pondering a bit he suddenly brightened up and gave me directions to an oil and lubricant shop at the next traffic circle. We went there, no shop. Defeat…
At this point I decided we can live on wd-40 for now, and so we rolled out of town after spending about an hour and a half chasing a goose. The way people give directions and the feeling of running around in circles looking for something specific reminded me a lot about China. And what people grease their shiny motorcycle chains with in this place is still a mystery.

So we went out of Cuenca and continued south on E-35 towards Loja. The elevation differences are really noticeable here. In the first twenty minutes we gained about 1000m, from 2800 to 3700 meters over the sea. Then we dropped down to 2000 meters so quick you could feel the pressure change in your teeth and bones. And so it continued, the landscape changing from green and lush in the valleys and gray brown barren hills up in the mountain plateaus.
After three hours of fairly empty roads we decended into Loja. It is a fairly big town with the feeling of being a bit more simple and remote over it. Still there were plenty of signs along the roads there encouraging people to protect the water, regrow the forest and respect nature, giving the impression that the area wanted to make a difference.
We had a short lunch snack break and gas refill, and Lise went to a little restaurant to buy some coffee to go. She came back with a surprised look on her face and two plastic bags with coffee. Luckily we have our mess kits or it would have been a real challenge to drink.

Two coffees to go, please.
Two coffees to go, please.

On the way out of Loja and towards Vilcabamba, our goal, it started raining. About one hour later when we were getting close it really rained. I needed to stop to get our bearings and thought I found a good spot on a side road. The road turned out to be full of water, about knee deep or so. I managed to wade through the water to a shelter where I could check my maps. After this we had to turn around plowing through the brown liquid. Further up the main road towards Vilcabamba water was sprouting up from the sewers and running in rivers down the streets. At times the road was littered with stones and rocks the size of footballs (yes I meant soccer balls) that had rolled down from the surrounding hills. Our bikes did a great job getting us through the mess and we finally rolled up, half drowned, to Hostel Izhcayluma, a neat hostel perched on top of a ridge overlooking the jungle. Of course I realized that my gopro camera had been stowed away the whole time, and I cursed myself for being so task oriented. Next time I WILL get some cool photos!
At the hostel one of the German owners told us that this year had been very dry, and that this was the first day of rain they’ve had. Usually it rains in October and November so this was very unusual. We felt very happy for the locals getting their rain of course, but even happier for the opportunity to get out of our rain drenched clothes and order some food and hot drinks in the nice and busy hostel restaurant.

Rainy mountain view from hostel izhcayluma
Rainy mountain view from hostel izhcayluma

After the food we decided to use our deck of cards for the first time, and we had a good time playing Spanish Skitgubbe, one of my favorite card games. Lise learned quickly, and even beat me once!
A long hot shower later we were ready for bed.