Peru

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I found the KTM dealer in Lima on Facebook and sent them a message at seven o’clock in the morning asking them if they could help with repairing the rear shock absorber. To my surprise they replied five minutes later positively and said I should drop by when we arrive in Lima. We were in Huaraz at that point so we set off for two bouncy days of riding towards Lima. Without the shock absorber working the spring was having a field day bouncing the bike up and down, the only thing I could do to reduce it was to slow down and start off again slowly whenever the bike had a bouncing fit.

Once settled in Lima I contracted a stomach bug so the visit to KTM was postponed for a couple of days. When I finally made it over to them it was top service right from first contact. The guy I spoke to first named Sidyk explained that their workshop is across on the other side of the city and they could fix the suspension there. He even offered to lead me there if I waited five minutes which I was happy to do. Soon we set off towards the workshop, Sidyk in front leading and me bouncing along behind him. I expected a standard small workshop but when we arrived to a large non-descript looking warehouse and went inside I found myself in the largest KTM workshop I have been to yet. The staff there were all extremely friendly and helpful and the best thing was that the run the Peru Dakar team so they had mountains of spare parts for WP suspension. I left the bike with them and I picked it up 24 hours later with the shock absorber fully serviced and functional again. The diagnosis from their suspension mechanic was that when I left the shock absorber in for a service in Guatemala they had installed a wrong sized o-ring on the Schrader valve which was allowing compressed gas to leak out over time. Overall we didn’t do too badly with the suspension problem, it happened on a Thursday and we were back on the road again by the following Wednesday, it was really lucky that they had the repair kit in stock otherwise we could have been waiting weeks for one to arrive from Europe. We’re in Bolivia now with a few thousand kilometres on the new suspension and everything is fine which is a good thing because Bolivia has thrown every type of off road condition at us which you could imagine.

So how was Peru?

Well we entered Peru from Ecuador with an open mind and began riding towards Trujillo via Piura down the 1N. The landscape in north western Peru is desert crossed with rubbish dump or desert dump to be more accurate. You get the feeling that all of the rubbish in Peru is sent to the north and piled up to let the desert winds blow it away to the four corners. We rode the stretch of 550km to Trulijjo leaning at 45 degrees to the right into the wind blowing inland at us from the Pacific while trying to ignore the incredible amount of refuse strewn across the land or piles of it being burned by locals. The road was relatively straight and this was the first time I noticed the luxury double decker tour buses which passed us regularly travelling north. Through the front window of the top deck in each one you could see two feet wearing flip flops sticking up in the air. Their owner, probably a backpacker relaxing on their reclining seat having been served diner now browsing the internet over the wifi provided on board. That’s how backpackers in Peru get around, I must admit I was quite envious as I concentrated on the road again and leaned into the wind.

We stayed in Trujillo a couple of nights to relax after the desert ride and to visit the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon built by the Moche civilisation. Trujillo was also our first formal introduction to Peruvian taxi drivers. There are quite a lot of taxis on the road I would estimate that they make up 40 to 50% of the traffic at any one time. The problem isn’t their numbers it is their constant beeping of the horn. They beep their horn at anything that moves to see if it needs a taxi ride. It borders on harassment. When we were looking for accommodation I waited outside with the bikes as Greg and Franziska checked out the prices of the hotel. I was standing beside two motorbikes with full gear and my helmet on yet every taxi that drove by slowed down swerved over to me and beeped their horn a couple of times to see if I wanted a lift. During this time I observed a lady waiting for a bus at a bus stop not too far away. She was also being hunted by every taxi that drove by, some would even full stop in front of her and beep a few times. She resorted to turning around with her back to the road looking over her shoulder now and then to see if the bus waswpid-20150513_101228_20150531_191259.jpg coming. It must be torture to live and be a pedestrian in that city. It was the same procedure in other cities and I thought Lima would be the worst but to my surprise it was the opposite. Hardly any horn beeping at all. On our second day there I noticed a banner with a picture of a horn with a red line through it and a law quoted below it. I guess there was enough pressure in Lima from residents to have a law passed banning taxi hunting.

Between Trujillo and Lima we visited Huaraz which is situated inland at around 2800m. We rode their via the Canyon del Pato road (which is where the suspension gave out). The scenery through Canyon del Pato and in Huaraz was much more pleasing to the eye than the desert coastal region. Huaraz is situated at the base of the Huascarán mountain range which has snow capped jagged peaks much like you would see in the Alps or the Rockies. Unfortunately due to the suspension problem we never really got to relax and enjoy Huaraz as we were not sure what would happen next and were anxious to get to Lima. If I ever visit Peru again I’ll definitely go back there.

Lima was overshadowed by the organisation of the repair and getting over a stomach bug. I was surprised at first that Lima is situation in more or less the same sort of dry hot desert climate that you find stretching all the way north to the border with Ecuador. For some reason I was expecting something more green, I’m not sure why. As you enter the city from the north you pass through the less affluent areas and pure traffic chaos until towards the city centre you start to find the more affluent areas but still traffic chaos.

We were warned by Colombians that we would find bad driving habits in Peru and they were 100% right. It is hard to describe the behavior of the motorists in Peru, the only thing that comes close is apathy, they seem not to care what might happen from their actions behind the wheel. We have had plenty of near collisions due to some crazy maneuver from a local driver and when you stop and try to make eye contact you are met with a blank stare into space. It is totally bizarre and frustrating to be a participant on the Peruvian road network. Once in Lima I stopped at a red light only to witness the drivers in the cars behind me decide to try to skip the red light by driving through the petrol station which was on the corner, one or two got through but then the rest just formed another line of traffic through the petrol station blocking cars from entering on the other side who just wanted to to fill up. The petrol pump attendants weren’t bothered they just pulled out their phones and started texting. On another occasion I was stopped in traffic approaching a four way junction with the left lane of traffic turning left and the right lane continuing straight. When the light turned green cars from the left lane which were far back started racing up the outside in the oncoming lane of traffic to turn left. Within a couple of seconds our two lanes of traffic had been turned into four lanes of cars with three of them trying to turn left. They had taken up the two lanes of oncoming traffic and were preventing them from crossing the junction. In the winding mountain roads we would often come across a slow moving truck with several cars behind it because there had been no opportunity to overtake the truck yet as the bends were blind and too close together. Then all of a sudden you’ll get one vehicle come from the back overtake everybody in one go while in the oncoming lane of traffic and drive blind around oncoming corners not caring at all if a car might be coming in the opposite direction. The worst drivers of all are the ones driving the Toyota HiAce or similar vehicles, they are like taxis picking up and dropping off people wherever they want on a general route which they display on the windscreen. Our hostess in Huaraz informed us that these guys even have a special name in Peru, assassin kombis! They swerve and nudge and bully their way into any sized gap they feel like and displaying total apathy for any wrong doing which might come from their actions. These are but a few example of many which we unfortunately encountered. The motorist’s behavior is really hard to understand because when you meet people face to face they are friendly warm and relaxed. It seems that it is just when they get in a car that a sort of collective bad behavior starts to kick in.

After Lima we visited Pisco where we dropped in to say hello to a local family who my cousin Conor befriended roughly seven years ago when he was volunteering to help with the clean up after an earthquake. They are a lovely bunch but we had to converse in Spanish which was a bit difficult but luckily Greg was there to help with translation. After an hour or two we hit the road again and moved onto Ica. Over the next days we continued to move south along the coast, our goal was Nazca and from there we would say goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and start our journey inland to Cusco and ultimately Buenos Aires. On the day we reached Nazca Greg unfortunately dropped his bike in a corner, there wasn’t much damage just some scratches on the crash bars but we pulled in to the side of the road none the less to check the bike and tighten some screws. We happened to be at a very small town where there wasn’t much going on at all. That was except for the local taxi driver who was cruising around the town square randomly beeping his horn. Whenever he saw someone come out of a shop our house he would speed over and beep a few times at them. All three of us were about ready to throw something heavy at the taxi when all of a sudden school ended and we were surrounded by school kids. Before I could react one of them had put on Franziska’s helmet and was riding an imaginary motorbike with sound effects, another one was reprograming the GPS while the heaviest kid was stomping on my foot to see if I could feel it through the protection of the motorbike boot. Everything calmed down after a minute or two, we took some pictures and we were on the road again. Before reaching the town of Nazca we stopped a couple of times to view the Nazca lines from some look out towers, you don’t see much but enough to get an idea of the scale of the glyphs drawn on the ground. To see all of the glyphs you have to take a sightseeing flight from Nazca. Nazca was also the point where we split ways with Greg, he continued onto Arequipa and we headed towards Cusco.

Beginning our ride to Cusco was the start of our journey to cross the Andes in winter. I had thought about a lot this since Canada when we rode through the Rockies in late September and I had always wondered if it would be possible or not due to the cold. Other than the temperature we would have to deal with altitudes above 3000 metres for several weeks until we crossed Bolivia and descended into Argentina. An hour after leaving Nazca at 600m we were at 3600m, twenty minutes later we were at 4500m and so it stayed for most of that day. After two days of riding in extremely picturesque but cold scenery we arrived in Cusco at 3300m. We were somewhat disappointed with Cusco. I had imagined a very authentic old traditional city but it is just a well kept central tourist area surrounded by dilapidated or half-finished red brick housing where the majority of the city’s population lives. As you walk around you’re berated to join this or that tour or to buy some sort of souvenir. There are a couple of markets where they sell “Alpaca” clothing, I say it like that because they lie straight up to you. They say it is 100% Alpaca but it is more like 30% and 70% synthetic. I got suspicious when we visited a shop specialising in Alpaca and noticed the prices were ten times that of the markets. The owner then duly explained the situation. Cusco is a machine designed to extract maximum amount of money from western tourists passing through it, that’s the impression we got from it anyway. The Inca certainly built some impressive buildings especially towards the end of the empire but it didn’t sit right with me the way that it is all seemingly marketed as ancient when it is not really. Most of the later more impressive stuff was done between 1450 and 1550. To put it in perspective work began on the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in 1163 almost 300 years before Machu Picchu was supposedly constructed. We visited some Inca ruins and gladly left Cusco. We rode towards Lake Titicaca with a couple of stops in between and crossed the border into Bolivia at Copacabana.

We were relieved to leave Peru, mainly because of the erratic and dangerous driving habits we encountered there. I think it had an overall negative effect on us which overshadowed the other experiences we had. The people we met in person were lovely and the scenery is astounding but like I said we were happy to move on.

At the moment we’re in Bolivia and the Bolivia post will be coming soon. In other news we have decided to enter Argentina next from the north and visit Salta after which we will ride east staying inside Argentina until we reach Iguazu Falls then we will cross into Brazil and stay in Brazil for the last weeks of the tour. During the last two weeks we will cross Uruguay and arrive in Buenos Aires where we will ship ourselves and the bike back to Germany.

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