Colombia – Otavalo, Ecuador; 7-12-2005
….Colombia?! We don’t know what you think Colombia is like, but probably not the way it really is: awesome!!
But let’s start at the beginning: after relaxing for a couple of days after the long sailing trip we walked around in the city of Cartagena. It is quiet a big city with a very pretty historical colonial centre.
In Cartagena (and Bogotá) are lots of foreign tourists compared to the rest of Colombia. Like in all big cities the difference between poor and rich was very obvious again. While the rich eat in the expensive restaurants the poor lie begging in the next corner. We saw a maybe 10-year-old boy who was sniffing a bottle with glue and lying there with red eyes. For the people who lived there it was nothing special, but it made us kind of sad.
Foodwise Cartagena felt a bit like paradise to us. While sitting on a bench in the park, people with pastries, ice cream and Tinto (sweetened coffee) – coffee is the national drink in Colombia – came by. Nice for a lazy day!
From Cartagena we went on a day trip to a 2300m deep mud volcano where we could go bathing. That was really fun and we played like kids!
We spent 5 days in Cartagena, and then we had enough of the Caribbean heat. We heard that there are nice white beaches in the northern part of Colombia, but we wanted to go up in the cooler mountains. We had enough of sea, beach and heat after being 11 days on the sea in the sailboat. Hard to understand, eh!
Our next stop was a motorcycle shop in Medellin where we wanted to do some minor stuff on our bikes. It was a very nice road to Medellin and we enjoyed the cooler climate in 1200m a lot. In Medellin we were a bit stressed by the traffic in the city. They make 6-lane roads out of 2-lane roads, there are many potholes in the streets and passing scooters and cars on both sides make it too dangerous to drive around them. The car drivers do not pay attention to motorcycles at all and we had to stop often if we didn’t want to get hit by a car – and that after being 9 hours on the bikes! In „Ruta 40“, the motorcycle shop, we were warmly welcomed and in the repair shop „Moto Angel“ they just took our bikes and start working on them. They did things we hardly knew you could do! And they did not even want to let us help them! 4 mechanics worked on the bikes from 11a.m. to almost 10p.m., we just had to pay for the new parts that we needed.
Sundays we went on a nice day trip with other motorcycle riders from Medellin. The majority had the Freewind (like Alex does, very popular bike in Colombia); some even had a big BMW, which are very rare in Colombia. Usually you just see motorcycles up to 250ccm, the bigger ones are mostly Freewinds. With a lot of advices and a good road map of Colombia we left our new friends in Medellin and went to the area north of Bogotá. Nice in Colombia is that motorcycles do not have to pay at the pay stations on the roads. We could just pass them on the right side! Very biker-friendly!
On the road we had to get used to the police and military controls, which were every few kilometres. Again there were heavily armed men – sometimes still teenagers – with uniforms, who wanted to see the papers for the bikes. They were all very friendly when they stopped us and pretty curious about the bikes and our journey.
We always asked the officers and the Colombian people if the road that we wanted to take was safe or not. For about 3 or 4 years Colombia has a new president, who spends a lot of money for more security in the country. Of course there are still regions in which the Guerrillas and the Para-Military rule, especially in the higher parts of the Andes and the Amazon region. (We did not go there of course.)
Many Colombian people themselves are still afraid of traveling through certain parts of the country by car, they prefer flying. But we have also talked to people who traveled with motorcycles on less safe roads and said it was like playing the lottery: nothing can happen at all or you can have bad luck. We decided to take the middle: with a good portion of respect we traveled through Colombia and got to know some of the beauty of this country. It probably does help that we speak some Spanish so we can always ask and talk with the people.
But we also heard that it would be a higher risk on the road for US-Americans, since it is always possible to get in a road control by Guerrillas. The American government helps the Colombian government to do something against the production of cocaine and at the same time against the Guerrillas and the much more brutal Para-Military. Since cocaine is their main income of course these groups don’t like that and let their anger out on the people who can defend themselves the least: the farmers who (are forced to) grow the cocaine for these groups. Colombia, being a 3rd World Country has no choice than taking money from the US. For a rich country like the US of course it is easier to give money to the poorer country and say, „…do something…!“ than working against the import and use of drugs in the own country. Especially since the USA have – together with Europe – the highest import of cocaine. Well, this as a little excursion about politics…
We did not go to Bogotá itself, since Medellin was enough of a big city for us. So we went to a cute little colonial village, Villa de Leyva, 200km north of Bogotá.
Not just the village but also the surrounding nature was very pretty! From there we went to Zipaquirá, where we visited a very interesting cathedral, which is built inside a salt mine. On the next stage we went on one day from 500m uphill over a pass, which was 3400m high. It was pretty chilly up there, but – again – the nature was incredibly beautiful! The road went in serpentines up and down what was really fun with the bikes. On the other hand we have to be quite careful, because there are many potholes in the curves and the cars on the other side of the road cut the curves very badly! We changed our way of driving quite a bit since we are here in Latin America. But we have no other choice if we don’t want to be stuck behind a truck with an average of 20km/h.
We spent 4 days in the „Valle de Cocora“, a valley that lies in an altitude of 2200m. Again the nature was amazing!! Everything is very green, softly hilled, rough rocks, thick forests, wide grassland and here and there stand about 50m high wax palms, the national tree of Colombia. Awesome!! We went hiking and also on a day trip with rented horses, which was really fun.
It is very fascinating what kind of plants still grow up there in almost 3000m: Forget-me-nots, Geraniums, … In Europe there is just permanent ice and snow in this altitude!
After we left the valley we went to Popayan, again a nice colonial city. But we only stayed there for one night because we just did not like the big cities. Instead we went to a village, Silvia, where still many indigenous people, the Guambianos, live. Men and women wear skirts, a poncho and a black hat. It looks kind of cute, especially when they pass us on a motorcycle!
From Silvia we went to Pasto where we met Camilo, whom we got to know through the Internet. Camilo is our age and also rides a Freewind. We did not do too much in Pasto except a day trip to a pretty Lagoon close to Pasto. We did many little things instead that needed to get done, like washing clothes, burning pictures and Henno wrote his application for a teaching job, which will start in February (sometimes we do have to think about the serious things in life…).
It was very sad to say good-bye to Camilo and his family. That is the bad part about traveling: the farewell of new friends. But it does not have to be a good-bye forever!!
From Pasto it was only 90km to the border to Ecuador. On the way there we took a little detour to the church of Las Lajas, which is built over a canyon. Very impressing!
We always love to taste the typical drinks and food in the different countries! In Colombia they drink a lot of coffee (Colombia is second largest producer of coffee after Brazil), no matter what time of the day, even before bedtime. Henno is a big fan of „Comida Corriente“. This lunch consists out of a soup with veggies and meat and after that a plate with rice, plantain, meat and different vegetables. All for about 1,60$. I am rather a fan of the huge selection of fruits. Besides the „normal“ stuff like pineapple, bananas, passion fruit and papaya they have Lulo, Feijoa, tree tomato, Guayaba, Lispero, Guanábana…. Really yummy! In the hotter regions they have „jugos naturals“ for which they put one kind of fruit with water or milk in the mixer. Very good and refreshing! In the colder regions they drink „Agua de Panela“. They melt a piece of pressed sugarcane in boiling water. Very sweet and very good! It always comes with a piece of cheese. In the area around Pasto guinea pigs are one of the delicatessen, which we did not taste (yet).
Colombia is also the first country in Latin America where is almost no influence of North American food chains like McDonalds, KFC, Burger King.
The people in Colombia are very proud of their beautiful country. But because of its violent history there is not really a big community among the Colombians. To us the people were always very friendly, open and helpful. But more or different than in other countries. We only made good experiences on our trip with the inhabitants of all the countries, but the Colombians seemed to be the warmest and also most curious people. Maybe because they are not used to have many foreign tourists in their country (yet). The Guatemalan people were very nice as well, but they know they can make money with the tourism. That’s a bit different.
Many Colombians asked us what we thought about their country and if it is how we had expected it to be. It was very important to them that we have a good impression of Colombia and see that there is not just permanent war and kidnappings. Of course we got warned a lot that we should NEVER leave the bikes unattended, but it is like that since we entered Mexico. And robbery and pocket thieves are in all big cities – also in Germany and North America. But we have to admit that it is a bit scary when we park in a small town and all the sudden there are 20 people around us and stare.
They were very interested in how fast the bikes are, how many gears they have and what they cost. We always make them a bit cheaper, but for the people here in Latin America it is not a difference if they cost 3000$ or 1500$. Both is just „mucho“ for them. Some even „know“ a lot about the bikes and tell us that Henno’s BMW is an Automatic, because it does not have a chain. And BMW is from England…?!
But we also had one not so nice experience in Colombia: when we drove through a village we saw a dog lying in the middle of the street, which is nothing unusual at all. But when we got closer we saw that a car just had hit it. The head was flat while the rest of the body was still moved by the nerves like it tried to get up and run away… A few kilometres farther I realized that all my muscles were tensed and I had not paid attention to what I was doing at all. Henno had kind of the same feeling. It is a big difference if you see a dead animal on the side of the road or like that! But it is definitely the dogs‘ fault! We had to brake hard so many times because they just run around on the road or enjoy lying on the warm asphalt and do not move when we get closer. They just don’t care!
The 30 days we spent in Colombia were sure not enough; we easily could have spent some more weeks there! We loved the variety of the beautiful nature. They kind of have everything: ocean (Caribbean and Pacific), mountains, snow, glaciers, forests, canyons, the Amazon region, deserts… Unfortunately we only got to see a small part of all that, because some parts are just not accessible because of Guerrillas and Para-Military. But we are really glad that we decided to travel through Colombia although we were not sure if we should at the beginning of our journey. We also loved the Colombian people. No matter where we were, we were always warmly welcomed and when we left it felt like saying goodbye to old friends. They would never let us go without giving us a „good luck and god bless you“ on our way. That is a nice feeling!
The border crossing to Ecuador on the 8th of July 2005 was easy. It just took a few hours because we got there during their siesta and the people who could have helped us were having lunch. But the border crossing and the entrance were – like Colombia – for free. At the border we also met Heiko, one of the German motorcyclists, whom we had also met in Colombia several times. Just 150km behind the border we stayed for a couple of days and visited the pretty market in Otavalo. We really liked the colourful stands with fruits and handicrafts, which reminded us a lot of Guatemala.
Interesting but less pretty was the animal market where the Indios sold screaming little pigs for 25-30$.
We were a bit shocked by the huge number of tourists on this market. That was quite a bit different in Colombia where are hardly any tourists from other countries (except in Cartagena and Bogotá). But we probably have to get used to that again! But we can still visit different places since we don’t depend on a bus like most of the tourists.
Otavalo is about 2500m high and because we will not get to any lower altitudes within the next weeks it is a good place to get adapted to the height. From Otavalo we will cross the equator to go to Quito. From there we will keep going on the southern half of the earth farther south….
Well, that was enough for you guys for now. You all take care! Sunny greetings from Ecuador, this time a bit more „traditional“.
Henno und Alex
Quito – Chachapoyas, Peru, 7-30-2005
After leaving the huge crowd of tourists in Otavalo we crossed the Equator and entered Quito. But there was neither a line nor a sign, so we did not even realize when we crossed „the“ line and our trip onto the southern Hemisphere was not very special. In Quito we stayed with Ricardo a little bit out of the center of the capital. Ricardo is motorcyclist as well and has been traveling through South America a couple of times so he could give us some good suggestions for our trip! (if anyone of you is thinking about traveling by motorcycle through Quito, you should stop by at Ricardo’s: http://www.andesmotos-tours.com.) With Camilo, a friend of Ricardo, we had the opportunity to do some offroad training in a desert-like area. First we practiced with a Chinese dirt bike, a 350ccm Montesa from 1981. Because this bike was a lot lighter and more sensitive on the sandy ground we got to know the reactions of the bike very well. Afterwards riding our own bikes in the sand seemed to be much easier. We had a lot of fun although it was pretty exhausting!
If you are in Ecuador of course you have to go to the Equator. Se we went on a day trip to the „Mitad del Mundo“, a monument which – like the ancient people said – is supposed to be the middle point of the world. At the entrance we said we worked as journalists for a German newspaper so we could take our bikes up with us to the monument to take some pictures.
But far more interesting than the monument was the museum a couple of hundred meters next to it. That’s where the correct, with GPS calculated, Equator (0°0’0“) is. Since the ancient people missed the real Equator by some hundred meters, the monument is on the „wrong“ spot. In this museum they showed all the things that we heard about when we were little kids. Things like that the water flows anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern hemisphere and straight at the exact Equator! And because the gravity is less at the Equator we could place an egg on the head of a nail!
From Quito we also did a day trip to the volcano Cotopaxi. On a gravel road we went through forest and finally tundra-like landscape and forced our bikes up to 4500m. On this altitude they sure deserved a rest while we hiked the final meters up to a Refugio at 4800m and could touch the snow!
It was a – literally – breathtaking trip and we enjoyed it a lot being in the mountains and the nature! On the way back we got into a very heavy rain and because we hadn’t taken our rain gear with us we got really wet and very cold. In those moments you wish you’d come home and could take a hot bath with a hot chocolate (with baileys)….
We haven’t really seen a lot of downtown Quito. We just went into the city 2 times to meet Simeon and Nadine, some friends from Germany. Bu these meetings were more sitting in a café and chatting…. From Quito we kept going south to Baños, a city with natural hot springs, which is supposed to be very nice. But we were a bit disappointed: to many tourists, the hot springs were overcrowded and during our day hike it rained the whole time so we could not see anything but clouds and not the surrounding volcanoes. So we went on to the next tourist highlight in Alausí. There you can take a train, sit on the roof of it and enjoy one of the most spectacular train rides on earth around the „Nariz del Diablo“ (devil’s nose)!!!
We sat with hundreds of other tourists on the roof while the train slowly descended the mountain in serpentines. We really enjoyed the great view without having to pay attention the road and the traffic.
Along the beautiful and partly unpaved Pan-Americana with hardly any traffic we kept going south to Vilcabamba. In this little town the inhabitants are said to get very old and still work on the fields when they are 120 years old! We did not meet anyone who was that old, but we still liked this pretty and relaxed village. We went on a very nice – sometimes pretty dangerous – hike on a narrow path and had a great view over the valley.
While we were in Vilcabamba we heard that one of our friends (Camilo) in Medellin, Colombia, who has helped us a lot, got killed in a motorcycle race. Hearing about that made us very sad and thinking…!
Vilcabamba is already on the way to a small and quite new (about 4 year old) border crossing to Peru. The road south of Vilcabamba was a pretty good gravel road through – depending on the height – rain or cloud forest.
Again the nature was just beautiful, even though the bad thing about the cloud forest is that you don’t have a good view of the surrounding scenery – because of the clouds. The road got worse the farther south we got: gravel, sand, rocks, creeks and always uphill or downhill. Many landslides had destroyed the road and we had to drive through mud and/or water. We were very glad that we had the cover on the bottom of the bikes to protect the engine!! To make sure we did not get bored on this road here and there was a dog or donkey in our way and just stared at us without moving. The road was a bit like you would expect a road to be in South America. It was a lot of fun, but also pretty exhausting and it took us 7-8 hours for the 140km from Vilcabamba to the border. When we crossed the border to Peru at about 2 p.m. on the 25th of July 2005 we were the first people who crossed the border that day. And number 10 and 11 who crossed the border with vehicle in the month of July. Most people cross the border on foot or by donkey or horse. Everything at the border went well without problems (and money). Although the officers had to check several times what they had to do, stamp or sign next.
The road continued in Peru like it had ended in Ecuador, just a bit rockier and with more potholes. On the side of the road were many houses made out of mud and people were sitting in front of them. Many of them called us „Gringos“ when we passed. „Gringo“ comes from „green go“ what the Mexicans used for the US army when they wanted them to leave their country. It is definitely not a nice word, but depending on the level of education the people in Latin America call all foreign or white persons „Gringos“. If they mean it in a bad way or not, we don’t know. But still we don’t like being called „Gringos“. Especially not, if it is meant as an insult and also because we aren’t US citizens.
When we pass these poor people and wave at them it happens many times that adults and kids don’t wave back, but just look at us very angrily. In those moments we have no idea what these people might think about us. But most of the time the smile at us and wave.
The same thing with the dogs: we never know if the will run towards our bikes barking (and biting?) when we pass them or if they will just lay there without paying any attention to us at all. The dogs seem to be more aggressive since Ecuador. When they start barking and running towards us we never know if we should accelerate or slow down. Because of the reflex we slow down most of the times and the dogs get scared and run away. Well, luckily so far we did not get bitten…
Once we entered Peru all cars that passed us blinked at us with their fog lights. Later we heard that they did so because we had our lights on. We always turn them on for more safety. But it seems to work if they all see us. One little boy also asked why we wore a helmet. When we explained that it is also for more safety they understood. Otherwise we would get all the flies in our face…
In the first little town, San Ignacio, where we spent the night in Peru we were welcomed very nicely by the kids of the village. They stood curiously around the bikes and asked and asked and asked…
On old man came and gave us a bag full of bananas to welcome us. Because you will always remember the first impression of a country this kind of welcome was very special for us. After half the village tried to think where we could pitch up our tent, they showed us a nice place. Unfortunately it had rained all night, a huge spider visited us, many big bugs crossed the roof of our tent and big snails were glued onto our tent. But the nice thing about being in a tent is that all these animals are outside!!
Well, the next day we continued our way on that road which consisted more out of potholes than anything else. After 3 days it got pretty annoying to drive around these holes with an average speed of 15-20kmh and you start asking yourself more often „…WHY…???“. But all the sudden there appeared a newly paved asphalt road in front of us like a Fata Morgana. The very good asphalt only lasted for a few kilometers, but still… Although our trip just starts to get more exciting again and we get into regions which we were looking forward to for months, we (ok, rather I) start to get a bit tired of traveling. Most of the time it is really amazing what we experience, but it is also quite exhausting to see something new every day and to have new foreign people around you. Also not seeing family and friends for over a year now is pretty hard, especially for me (Alex). Well, we will see what the next weeks will be like…
Our next stop was Chachapoyas where we got after a great ride through a beautiful canyon.
Here in Chachapoyas we met our friends Freddi and Daniela from our hometown Cologne with whom we will spend the next 2 weeks in Peru. 😉
Well, since you had something to read from us not too long ago this should be enough for now! Best greetings and enjoy the summer!
Henno und Alex
Chachapoyas – Huaraz – Lima – Arequipa – Cusco; 9-9-2005
It’s just 4 weeks ago since we are traveling alone again, but it already seems like it’s been months! After we spent the first days a bit lazy with our friends from Germany, we got to know the region in the Northern Andes of Peru a bit. We went in little steps and while Freddi and Daniela took the bus or „colectivo“ (mini bus) we went with our bikes and always met at certain points. Close to Chachapoyas we visited the Pre-Inca ruins of Kuelap, which are pretty big and impressing. Being still covered by plants and trees gives them kind of a mysterious touch. Even more so because these ruins are not very easily accessible and not many tourists go there.
In Leymebamba we visited an archaeological museum, which exhibited – beside the „normal“ things like pots, weapons,… from the Inca time – also real mummies. These were all in a fetal position, because the people believed in reincarnation and this was supposed to be easier this way. In this area were over 300 mummies found and there are said to be some regions where you can still find bones lying in caves. Fascinating!
The road from Chachapoyas to the next bigger town Cajamarca again winded through beautiful landscape with mountains, waterfalls, canyons, desert while going up to 3700m, down to 900m and again up to over 3000m. But the road was really an experience itself: loose stones, rocks, sand and buses and cars, which were cutting the curves and made it hard for us to enjoy the scenery. I was grumbling under my helmet and even Henno didn’t have too much fun with that road. But surprisingly we made the 260km stretch in 15 hours on 2 days without having a flat tire or other technical problems. Once in Cajamarca, which is famous for its dairy products we spoiled ourselves with a big, well deserved ice cream. The other motorcyclists who were on the sailboat from Panama to Colombia with us had went on the same road. Roland (and Thea) had a little accident and Heiko had two flat tires and a broken shock… In Cajamarca we also visited an Inca cemetery, which was interesting. But since we are not too interested in archaeology we don’t appreciate the culture and everything around it as much as we maybe should. We also had one of the „nicest“ hotel rooms of our trip in Cajamarca. The room had no windows and was empty except for one bed. We shared the bathroom in the hallway with 9 other rooms. Toilet and shower were in different rooms, but there was only one light bulb that you had to change depending on where you needed it. One day there was no water in the whole town and the hotel did not have a water tank. Maybe you can imagine what the bathroom looked (and smelled) like after about 12 people have used it on a day without running water…?!
The place where we wanted to meet Freddi and Daniela was 2 days later Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca, a mountain chain in the Peruvian Andes. To get there we had to leave the northern Andes to get to the coast on the Pan-American Highway – the first real paved road in Peru that we went on! The closer we got to the coast the foggier and colder it got. A condition, which is normal for this region because of the differences of temperature between sea and land from April to December. The Pan-American Highway went through a kind of bizarre looking desert with huge sand dunes. The sand that got blown across the road and the fog made it altogether look a bit spooky! In one part they had a water supply system where they grow sugar cane and wine, which was a total contrast to the monotone desert. South of Trujillo a city at the ocean, which just seemed very dusty to us, we gave a security man a small tip to be able to take a short cut on a private road to get to the Cordillera Blanca. The first part kept going through this unreal looking landscape. This time without any other traffic on a good gravel road.
The farther we got away from the coast the thinner became the costal fog. Once we got back on the public road the way got worse again: rocks, sand, gravel,… You should think we were used to that by now, but still it is always tiring and you have to concentrate the whole time so you don’t slip, drive in one of the big holes in the street, hit a rock or fall off the road in the canyon right next to the road. Even though the way was pretty annoying we had another great view and for the first time we saw some 6000m high mountains with snow tops!
In Huaraz the 4 of us went on a 8 hour horse riding tour through the mountains. It was really nice!
But although we had some awesome views, our butts hurt pretty much after sitting for a couple of hours on these poor horses! One day the Henno and Freddi decided to spend the night in the nature in 3800m with temperatures below freezing point while Daniela and I had a nice evening with red wine. The next morning we left the hotel to see the guys up there and after the taxi had some engine problems and a flat tire we finally got there. It was really picturesque: turquoise blue mountain creeks and lagoons with snow glacier covered mountaintops in the background. Unfortunately our digital camera didn’t work for a while so you have to come and see the slide show to see the pictures we took up there. After we spent 2 more days in Huaraz and visited the huge colorful market several times it was time to take Daniela and Freddi to the bus station to get to Lima and finally back to Germany.
So Henno and I „had to“ travel on our own again. We really loved the region around Huaraz so we stayed a bit longer and did some day trips. The first one was to a pass that was 4890m high. The road to get up there was one of the worst and not much more than a dry riverbed. We were really glad that we had left our entire luggage on the campsite we were staying at! When we reached the pass we were a bit disappointed that we were still not high enough to be able to touch the snow or the glacier. Crazy, eh!
Another day trip went through super nice scenery with lagoons, warm fizzing springs and a very interesting plant. The „Puya-Raimondi“ grows up to 4m high and gets about 60-100 years old before it blooms and finally dies.
At the end we were again about 5000m high and the snow level was still 200m higher! The bikes ran well up there and we had no problems with them. After Henno took a day off because he had some stomach problems (probably the cold beer or something…) we finally left this gorgeous area.
The closer we got back to the coast the thicker became the fog and it was a lot colder than in 3000m! We wanted to avoid Lima, but the back shock of the BMW started leaking a bit so we thought it would be better to get that checked in Lima. Entering Lima was an experience itself: we saw mud and tin roofed houses that were almost built in the desert and huge modern skyscrapers with mirror windows. Quiet a contrast! The mechanic in Lima wasn’t able to help us so we thought about getting the shock fixed in Cusco. Since it was kind of late we decided to spend one night in Lima. We were lucky and found a very nice hostal in the touristy area of Miraflores. (Also a good place for the motorcyclists among you guys. It has a little parking area right in front of the house, http://www.lacasanostraperu.com).
At the end we didn’t stay one night but 8 nights. That was mainly because our tires that the company Heidenau had sent us to Ica (300km south of Lima) were stuck in the custom in Lima. Somehow UPS didn’t get it so we had to call UPS in Lima several times for 5 days in a row to find out what the problem was. After 3 days they were able to tell us that they needed a bill from the sender (Heidenau) translated. The faxed us this bill and we had to translate 6 words from English (!!) into Spanish. And we always thought UPS was an international company!? But somehow that still wasn’t what they needed so we went to UPS in Lima in person (where we were welcomed in fluent English…). At the same time Heidenau was discussing with UPS in Germany and tried to help from there. Finally we got the tires after we paid about $145US tax and $25 storage fee (which was ridiculous, since it was the fault of UPS!). We have changed the back tire right away in Lima, but the front tire is still good after about 16.000km so we will carry the new ones with us for a few more Kilometers. With calling UPS so many times Joaquín, the owner of the hostal has helped us a lot! For him it was easieWe haven’t really seen a lot of Lima, which was always misty. But we enjoyed a „culinary“ meal at the first McDonalds we have seen since we were in Costa Rica. Although McDonalds in Latin America is about 4 times as expensive than a typical meal that can fill both of us! Also very attempting are the „Pastelerias“ (bakeries for cakes), which have very tasty looking cakes and sweets we HAVE to try. Yummy!
Lima seems like all big cities very European, especially in the touristy and wealthier part we stayed in. On the one hand it is a bit annoying to see so many tourists and hear only English, also from the Peruvian people. On the other hand it is nice to see something familiar/European once in a while. So the head has time to relax and all the new impressions can settle down a bit. In less touristy towns we stick out a bit more. We were sitting in a small restaurant when the father of a family said to his son „mira, un gringo!“ („look there, a white person!“) and pointed right at Henno. We just had to laugh and with us also other Peruvian people in the restaurant. It is weird when people stare at us as if we were wearing a red clown’s nose! We thought we look just normal!?! In those places the people can hardly imagine that there are more languages than Spanish, Quechua (the traditional mother language in Peru) and maybe English. The simple people are also very impressed when we tell them that we started our travel with the motorbikes in Canada. But when we tell them that we are also going to the next town that is about 100km away with the bikes they stare at us in unbelief. That is rather a distance they can imagine than Canada – South America.
From Lima we went on through the desert on the Pan-American Highway to Ica. Here we stayed in a Hotel where our friends who we met on the Baja California (Brigitte and Hartmut) had paid two nights for us. Maria, the owner of the hotel, knew we were coming and we had a very warm welcome. Something we didn’t feel for quite a while!r to express in Spanish how angry he was.
Close to Ica we visited an oasis surrounded by palm trees, dunes and unfortunately many hotels and restaurants. After we had climbed up the dunes in the heat (45°C/110°F) we had a great view over the sand desert. Very impressive! Downhill we went with some rented sand boards, which was really fun!! But when we fell we burnt our hands on the hot sand!
South of Ica we went to see the Nasca Lines. These are 30 animals or symbols, which are up to 200m long and etched into the ground of the desert. They were made about 2500 years ago – before the Inca Empire. The most known theory by a German mathematician (Maria Reiche) is that these symbols have some astrological meaning and worked as some kind of calendar. We just saw some of the figures from a look out point. It’s a fascinating thinking that these lines that are only 5cm deep still exist!
The next 2 days we kept riding on the Pan-American Highway, most of the time along the cold, misty and windy coast. It got so cold that we actually had to put the inlay of our motorcycle gear on. For the first time since we were in Mexico. When we left the coast it got really stormy and foggy and we couldn’t see farther than about 20m. But starting at an altitude of about 1500m it cleared up and got a lot warmer. In Arequipa (2500m) we spent 2 nights and visited the surprisingly pretty city while we enjoyed the sun and blue sky.
For the 2 nights we paid with our 2 camping chairs, which we bought in Germany and had carried around with us without using them a lot. Now we have less weight to carry around with us and more space for buying stuff!
From Arequipa we went again over a 4800m high mostly paved (!!) pass to Chivay. The road went through monotone, but somehow fascinating landscape, which is called Pampa. In the middle of the Pampa we saw big herds of Lamas, Vicuñas und Alpacas (kind of Lama). While Vicuñas are protected animals the fur of Lamas and especially Alpacas is used to make clothes and carpets. Lamas are more often used as animals to carry stuff and the meat of Alpacas is a typical meal especially in the Andes. Their meat is very tender and is said to be very healthy because it is very low in cholesterol.
Chivay is a village at 3650m and lies on the Colca Canyon, which is arguably the deepest Canyon in the world. After a pretty chilly night (-5°C/25°F) in the tent we got up at 5 o’clock to drive to a view point from where we could see Condors flying over the Canyon. It was definitely worth it! We sat there for about 2 hours with many other tourists and were fascinated by these animals. Their wings measure up to 3m and they were able to use the conditions of the weather to sail in the wind for minutes without moving!
During the day it was too hot in the sun – nothing compared to the temperatures during the night! In the afternoon we relaxed in the nearby hot springs, which was very relaxing! After a second pretty cold night we left Chivay to head to Cusco. To save about 300km we decided to take a shortcut over a partly pretty bad dirt road. The road went through beautiful landscape over a 4000-4500m high plateau with blue lagoons, turquoise colored creeks and passing many herds of Alpacas and Lamas. Especially their babies are so cute that you feel like taking them with you just to cuddle them! If they just wouldn’t spit…
On our way we passed some little villages where cows are milked by hand, donkeys and lamas are used for transportation and cows pull the plow to fix the field. The people in these villages wear their colorful traditional clothes, have red cheeks and because of sun, cold and dry air their skin looks almost like leather. All that seems to be very peaceful! But we also had our first little fall on this road. On a hard but dusty part of the gravel road I wanted to pass a truck. Because of the dust and the facing sun I could not see that I got into deep gravel. The bike started drifting pretty bad and I got into the ditch on the left side. The bike and me are fine, but the kitchen (the right aluminum box of the Suzuki) is quite deformed and one of the pins that hold the box broke. After this long day we spent the night in a small town at a height of about 4500m where it got pretty chilly at night. Even inside our room it went down to 5°C (38°F) and we did not have water in the morning because the water pipe was frozen. Something that is normal in this town…
Well, you might have realized that I could keep telling more little stories from here… We really love Peru and it is definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far! For us motorcyclists it is very convenient that we may pass the many toll stations without having to pay. On the other hand the gasoline is pretty expensive here: we pay about 3,60 US Dollar for 1 Gallon of the cheapest gas (84 Octane). That’s quite a lot for being in a 3rd world country! It is always pretty amusing when the guys at the gas stations have to stand on their tip toes to be able to see if the tank is full or not. Our bikes are just too tall for the mostly shorter Latinos.
In the meantime we are in Cusco where we first went to a motorcycle mechanic. There we got the aluminum box fixed, Henno replaced a broken spoke on the BMW and the Suzuki got new brake pads. We still had some for the front brake that we brought from Germany. Since it wasn’t possible to get the ones for the rear brake, the mechanic replaced the worn down pads with new ones, which he glued onto the holder. Afterwards he filed everything so it fit correctly. So now I have handmade brake pads! Because Henno’s back shock kind of stopped leaking oil and because it would have been too hard to get spare parts we decided to leave it like it is.
Cusco is another pretty colonial city from which we have seen quite a lot now. Rather annoying are the people who try to get us into the expensive restaurants. It is hard to just walk through the city without being followed by those people. We prefer places where you pay 60US cent for a simple and good 3-course meal! We decided not to visit Machu Picchu, the big Inca ruins. We just don’t feel like paying at least 75 (or up to 250!!) Dollar per person and wait in line to enter the ruins at 6 o’clock in the morning.
We visited some smaller and less touristy ruins close to Cusco instead so we did see some Inca buildings.
Our next plan was to go northeast to the Brazilian jungle from here, but the road to get to Brazil is in bad condition especially because the rainy season is starting. Kind of interesting is that they are starting to build a new paved road to the Brazilian border. Yesterday they laid the first symbolic stone for the new „Interoceanica“. Next time… So we decided to go south to the Titicaca Lake now and then enter Bolivia soon.
Well, I think you are all up to date about our trip now and probably have squared eyes from reading the long journal. I’ll try to shorten the next one again… 😉
Muchos saludos from Cusco!
Alex and Henno
Further in Bolivia/Chile/Argentina