FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TO THE HIMALAYAS, TATOOOINE TO WILLY WONKA’S CHOCOLATE FACTORY…EVERYTHING IN PERU REMINDED US OF SOMETHING OUT OF A MOVIE, A PHOTOGRAPH, OR SOMETHING WE’D SEEN SOMEWHERE AT HOME. WITH A COASTLINE AS LONG AS THE WEST COAST OF THE U.S., PERU IS A COUNTRY OUTRAGEOUSLY DIVERSE AND INCONSISTENT IN EVERY REGARD.
Wednesday July 31st – Day 56 – Cuenca, Ecuador – Tumbes, Peru
Of all the border crossings we’ve done on the trip. This border crossing was the most civilized and organized of all. There were no moneychangers, no crazy border “helpers” and very little crowds. We were even told by a police officer to use the crosswalk to cross the street…It didn’t feel right.
A couple hours and $35 worth of insurance later we were on our way into Peru. The nearest city, Tumbes, was about 16 miles away and unfortunately for me, my headlight had gone out the day before and it was now dark. So for the 20 minute ride I followed Chase’s taillight and Mac’s headlight to the nearest city.
Looking for a place to stay we saw a little cheap sign for a hostel and followed it up a dirt road in a suburb of the city. After following half a mile people came out of their houses trying to get our attention. A car in front of us basically pulled out in front of us and tried to signal us over. This wasn’t completely crazy behavior for one person but this was a ton of people. We stopped and they were almost frantically telling us to turn around because we were in a dangerous area. The guy in the car waved at us so we could follow him out and then unknown to Mac and I, a cop had pulled chase over to tell him the same thing about 100 yards back. So. We followed their advice and turned around. We continued further down the highway and found a hotel in the downtown area for about $8 each and went walking through the streets.
My first impressions of Peru. Not anything like Ecuador, surprisingly. Way more energy, way more chaotic and dirty, way more people walking around, and the people have a different look as well. The people seemed to have a little bit more European blood than in Ecuador (at least in Tumbes). Gas prices were back up to ridiculous prices (almost $5/gallon) and with it came the motorcycle taxis all over the place. Ecuador was almost devoid of motorcycles. The energy was completely different though. I might like Peru a lot.
NOTE ABOUT THE CAMERA: Something happened to the camera in Ecuador but now it has a small black dot that shows up on the pictures. It’s not on the lens. I don’t know what the deal is but please accept our apologies about the black dot in the remainder of the photos.
Thursday August 1st –day 57 – Tumbes, Peru – Lobitos, Peru
The next morning we walked around town and quickly found a replacement headlight and headed for a surf break that some Aussies in Medellin had recommended. It was only about 130 miles south on the Pan-American highway.
This was our first experience with Peru in daylight but it felt like we had come home… kind of. The Ocean, the water, the waves, the temperature, the humidity, the overcast sky, the bluffs along the shore… ALL of it was identical to the scenery you’d see along the Southern California coast. But instead of pristine little beach communities lining the water, we were greeted with straw huts, dirt roads, fishing boats, birds, and the smell of burning garbage and dead fish. My brain was messing with me. At times I think I felt like I had finally come home and then I’d pass a little fishing village and immediately remember I was 8,000 miles from home.
A couple hours later the scenery turned into a more intense desert and some of the Californian similarities faded. After about 6 miles on dirt roads, we made it to the seemingly abandoned surf town of Lobitos. All the streets and houses were practically empty but we managed to rent a couple surfboards and wetsuits for $8 for the next morning. When we tried to get dinner, everything was closed except one little store where a lady said she’d make deep fried fish and bananas for us. When I asked if I could wash my hands before eating I was offered a bucket of water. When I asked for soap I just got “No.” It’s a little concerning to hear that from someone making you a meal in the backroom in a third world country. The food was delicious but I was keeping my fingers crossed for how I’d be feeling the next day.
After dinner we found a nice cove and went camping for the first time since Mexico. For some reason we’ve only ever felt safe camping on the beach. Maybe something about the Pacific…it’s the only geographic landmark (watermark?) that’s stayed with us since leaving home.
Friday August 2nd – Day 58 – Lobitos, Peru – Guadalupe, Peru
At sunrise, Mac and I sprung to life, got our wetsuits on and rode 5 minutes further south to a left point break we scouted out the day before. The shape was perfect but the size was a bit lacking (shoulder high and a little mushy). I would have loved to stick around that place for a while to see a big swell. The locals we talked to gave us the typical, “You should have been here yesterday…”
Getting on the road around 11:00 am, the rest of the day was devoted to riding through the coldest, straightest, dustiest, windiest roads since the trip began two months ago. Our surroundings were completely flat, barren and uninteresting. You might think the pictures look cool, and I’d agree with you. But I’d bet you’d get bored looking at pictures of this place after just one minute.
Around 6:00 pm we pulled into Guadalupe, Peru. We found a cheap little hotel for $3.70/person and dinner for $1.85/person. I’ll take it! Too bad premium gas here goes for about $5.55/gallon. That makes dinner and a hotel as expensive as one gallon of gas…absurd.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 3rd – DAY 59 – GUADALUPE, PERU – YUNGAY, PERU
Waking up in our $3.70/person hotel accommodations we did a quick oil change and then headed south through what we had now deemed the ugliest country we’d seen yet. The desert continued.
At the suggestion of some Brits we met in Quito, AND because we were getting more and more suicidal for every straight desert highway mile…we took the road less traveled by and grabbed a dirt road headed for the Andes Mountains. Adios Pan-American Highway!
The day after the most terrible day of riding since the trip began, this was the most incredible. Our dirt road pulled directly away from Tatooine and the Pan-American Highway into a river gorge that looked like the pictures we’ve all seen of Afghanistan. Around every corner the scenery got more and more unbelievable. The ride only got more absurd when we started riding through a gauntlet of tunnels cut out along the rock cliffs. After 90 miles of incredible dirt roads slowly climbing into the mountains we arrived at the small town of Yungay. It seemed as though we had arrived in a town straight that you’d expect to find inside of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. More than half the people in the small town were decked out in a very colorful and strange fashion. We’d seen funky Andes fashion before but this was more extreme. My very professional opinion is that it looked like the people here had gotten a hold of the Spaniards’ most colorful 16th century thrift store clothes and stuck with them for the last several hundred years. After securing a hotel we found a GIGANTIC fried rice dinner for about $2.25 each and hit the hay.
SUNDAY AUGUST 4TH – DAY 60 – YUNGAY, PERU – HUANUCO, PERU
We woke up the next morning bright and early to some ungodly roosters howling at the moon. We had a lot of ground to cover but, first, we had to make a pit stop at a lake nestled in the mountains above our funky little village. After 45 minutes of dirt roads winding through hilly farmland we reached Huascaran National Park. We had left Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and now entered the Swiss Alps. The scenery was unreal.
After some quick pit stops to check out our surroundings we backtracked down the mountain and got on the paved highway south. Our journey took us higher and higher and higher into the Andes. First through what we referred to as the plains of Rohan and then through the Himalayas. At our highest elevation of 15,300 feet we even managed to drive by some snow. The motorcycles barely puttin’ along.
Descending from 15,300 feet our highway turned into a one-lane half-paved death road. For four hours we rode along a cliff dodging speeding oncoming cars around corners and every farm animal you ever learned about in kindergarten. It was EASILY the craziest/scariest/longest/deadliest road I’ve ever been on. I suppose none of us were extremely surprised when we came around one corner and saw a crowd of people gathered along the cliff staring at a car 300 feet below that had gone tumbling down just an hour before we arrived. (The guy was carried off to the hospital before we arrived, but I doubt anyone would survive something like that).
As we continued, on the now more appropriately named ‘death road,’ it got dark and we were still more than an hour away from real civilization. Just as I was thinking to myself how lucky we’d be for making it to the next city without any accidents, I realized I couldn’t make out Chase or Mckay’s headlights in my rear view mirror. I pulled over. Waited 30 seconds. Then turned around with my heart in my stomach.
In one quick instant while Mckay had attempted to pass a small semi, the road suddenly got thinner, the semi compensated and unknowingly smacked mckay’s handlebars and forced him to the dirt. When I made it back to him he only had a bloodied knee and some scraped fairings to show for the incident. Lucky bugger.
20 minutes later we arrived in Huanuco and splurged on a hotel ($8.50/person).
It had been a long day. 12 hours of riding. 5 of it either on dirt or on a single lane highway trying to stay alive. My brain and my body were done. A slight fever was my body’s way of telling me I had pushed it a little too far. Lesson learned.
Ready for tomorrow!