Mac Daddy Robertson put together this video that includes most of the highlights from the trip from Colombia to Peru.
AFTER SEEING EVERYTHING ONE COULD APPRECIATE BEHIND THE HANDLEBARS OF A MOTORCYCLE, WE ACCEPTED HANDSOME OFFERS TO SELL OUR MOTORCYCLES AND SEE THE REST OF PERU BY HORSEBACK AND ON SMELLY PERUVIAN BUSES BEFORE HEADING HOME.
MONDAY, AUGUST 5TH – DAY 61 – HUANUCO, PERU – HUANCAYO, PERU
We woke up the next morning slowly. Around 10am we were back on the road towards the next major city about 210 miles south. The road went to 13,500 feet and stayed there for about two hours and then ever so slowly descended to Huancayo (10,500 feet).
At some point during the ride I looked down and saw my left boot covered in dark liquid. Not good. It turned out that the fork seal on my left front suspension had failed. It wasn’t incredibly urgent but I’d have to take care of it when we arrived in the next city.
Arriving in Huancayo. A new development. Mac’s motorcycle randomly died twice while idling at a stoplight. We stopped at the first legit looking motorcycle dealership we saw to ask about my fork seal. I got some good leads about good motorcycle shops in the area and when we got back on our motorcycles, Mac’s wouldn’t even turn over. We pulled the spark plugs, and to our horror, the rear cylinder was completely full of radiator fluid. Meaning, most likely, a head gasket had failed and it would have to be replaced…That’s a BIG problem. After consulting our shop manual briefly to see how feasible it would be for us to take off the top end ourselves, we realized it would require the entire engine to be removed from the motorcycle. Not a good idea without access to more tools, space and some mechanical help. Definitely need to find a shop now.
I left Mac and Chase to find a shop and by the time I got back the motorcycle dealership helped Mac get the motorcycle started…good news. The problem obviously wasn’t fixed though, but we did manage to get Mac’s motorcycle the 6 blocks further down the street to a well-recommended mechanic. Within 2 hours of arriving at the shop, Edward (our new mechanic) had removed the engine from the motorcycle, and had removed the head and the gaskets from the motor. Incredible. In the meantime, Chase was feeling extremely terrible and went to a cheap hotel next door to rest. We’re blaming the dirty fat meat man and his rice.
Tomorrow we’d have to go find the right fork seals for my bike and get a new head gasket fabricated. But for now we were just in awe of the fact that Mac’s motorcycle decided to fail while we were in a city AND in front of a motorcycle dealership nonetheless. The odds were 1 in 100. But we’d been beating the odds since this trip started. 🙂
TUESDAY, AUGUST 6TH – DAY 62 – HUANCAYO, PERU
The next morning Chase was totally out of commission with stomach/intestine problems and I woke up feeling pretty terrible as well. Luckily, Mac was pretty much unscathed. During the course of the day I pulled my front left suspension fork and we managed to get a new fork seal and the new head gasket for Mac’s bike fabricated. And then something else interesting happened.
Two customers from the shop saw the motorcycles and asked about buying them. At this point Chase only had about 10 days left before he had to be back home. This could be a good option, considering Chase was also on his deathbed thanks to the dirty-fat-meat-man. With a little bit of price negotiation we settled on $2200 ($100 more than what Chase paid for it 4 months and 9,000+ miles earlier). Within 1 hour Juan (the buyer) came back with $2200 in crisp United States tender. Success.
Both customers were practically begging me to sell my bike but I wasn’t ready to end the trip. Not Yet! But then, Jose (customer #2) offered me and Mac $4800 for our bikes. And with the condition that we wouldn’t sell them until the 22nd of August after we’d finished journeying through Peru and Bolivia. He gave us a $75 deposit and we bought our plane tickets home out of Lima, Peru. Satisfied with the price for the bikes, the savings we’d get from flying out of Lima instead of further south, and the reliability of the sale/seller ($75 deposit) we went to bed content. Little did we know, our situation would soon improve.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 7TH – DAY 63 – HUANCAYO, PERU
Edward, our incredible mechanic, stayed up all night putting the motorcycle back together and fabricating several parts that had reached their limit so we could get on the road that day. By 11 am both motorcycles were road worthy. As we were packing up our stuff we were surprised by more visitors – Juan (the guy who bought Chase’s bike) and his father, Raul. Raul immediately said he wanted to buy both mine and Mac’s bike. Our conversation went like this…
Raul – I want to buy both motorcycles.
Me – Oh sorry, we already sold them and received a deposit for them.
Raul – What if I pay you more?
Me – No, I don’t really care. We already settled $4800 for both bikes. It’s already done.
Raul – I’ll pay you $6000 for both today.
Me – Oh…. Let me talk to Mac…
It was an offer nearly impossible to refuse. I paid only $1950 for my bike and Mac paid $2500. $1050 and $500 gains respectively. This could mean money for motorcycles when we got back home and for me that was a THIRD of the cost of the entire trip… Both of us were super conflicted but it just made sense to take the offer and hit our last great destination (Machu Picchu) in bus. Again, within just an hour Juan’s Dad returned with $6000 in crisp United States tender. It was an extremely sad moment for us, but Juan and his father sweetened it for us. They offered to host us in their friend’s hacienda in the city that night and take us to their hacienda out in the mountains the next day to ride horses and shoot guns. Can’t turn that down either.
We paid our beloved mechanic, Edward, about $100 with a small tip for everything he had done for us and we removed our personal belongings from our motorcycles. Just a couple hours earlier we were within 5 minutes of leaving Huancayo to continue the journey south. Now we were selling our motorcycles. A dramatic change of plans.
We left Jose (original buyer) his $75 deposit with an apology and then Father and son (Juan and Raul) treated us to lunch and then took us back to their hacienda.
This was pretty much the first time I had eaten in 40 hours (due to stomach problems) and it didn’t sit well. It was a constant downer for the rest of the day. Everyone in Latin America always has his or her own remedy for stomach problems. Juan’s father gave me a “cane drink”. I assumed that was just a way of saying something with sugar. After the first big gulp, the intense, hot burning in my throat was an immediate indication that I had understood wrong. Haha.
At the hacienda we got to meet all the family and friends. We watched some of their off-road videos they had filmed out in the jungle and we got the whole tour of the horse stables and the house. We were put in our own fur-coat-decorated guesthouse.
For half a second it occurred to us maybe they had given us the $6000 just to take us back to their home, kill us and then take their money back with our motorcycles too. I think for Americans it’s harder to comprehend BUT, this is Latin America. Here, hospitality is such a ridiculously well-refined art that it just looks suspicious to us. But I DO love it!
THURSDAY, AUGUST 8TH – DAY 64 – HUANCAYO, PERU – TAYACAJA, PERU
The next day we woke up at sunrise and then Raul and one of his ranch hands (Tony) were there ready to take us to the family Hacienda in the mountains. For some reason, I ended up driving their 4×4 decked-out Toyota Landcruiser (still don’t know why, but i’m not complaining haha). The road to their Hacienda was insane. Almost 6 hours long along a dirt 2-track road hugging a sheer wall on one side and a cliff on the other. 80% of the ride was switchbacks up and down the Andes mountainside. The route was littered with construction stops, racing semis and a couple rock slides that we had to navigate across.
We arrived at the Hacienda before dark with time to go visit some nearby hot springs. We came back, ate dinner prepared by Raul’s wife on a wood stove, and then Raul showed us into his prized horseback saddle room. We each picked our favorite silver-plated saddle for the next day’s activities and went to bed.
SIDE NOTE: THE ROAD TO THE HACIENDA & THE KENNEDYS OF HUANCAYO
Raul’s family was given a HUGE parcel of land (Hacienda) several generations back as a gift from the government. The family used the land to mine silver and lead in the mountains and through their mining have made their family fortune. The 6-hour dirt road was made by none other than Raul himself from 1980 to 1993. Until then, all traveling to this area had to be done on horseback. The road opened up a lot of opportunities not just for Raul and his family but all the villages he connected with the road. During our trip, we had to stop several times for random errands and to say hello to people. Every time we stopped anywhere, everybody knew Raul and called him ‘uncle’. Unsurprisingly, Raul’s family is very well integrated in the government system in Huancayo (380,000 people). Two of his brothers were Mayors and another brother is currently a congressman.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 9TH – DAY 65 – TAYACAJA, PERU – HUANCAYO, PERU
The next morning we woke up before 6am and headed up the mountain to mount our horses: Rondon, Blanca Nieves and Chui (AKA Seabiscuit, Shadowfax and Black Beauty). Raul dropped us off with Reuben, one of the native farmers of the area, and his family for what he promised would be a great morning ride. Reuben’s wife prepared us a breakfast of GIANT corn, rice and lentils over a wood stove and then we got on our way further up the mountain. It was a 4-hour round trip to the top of the mountain to see some ancient ruins perched right at the tallest point (13,000 feet).
The horses were short and stout but for the most part were totally fine climbing up rocky 45-degree angle mountainside even at 13,000 feet. Our journey back down the mountain did include one exciting moment. Chase fell over the handlebars (reigns) for the second time since leaving California. In an attempt to beat Mac in a little race, his horse hit the brakes before tumbling down a little ledge and Chase ended up doing a front flip onto the ground and into a bush. Good thing we weren’t on a cliff… Me and Mac were cracking up.
When we came back, Reuben’s wife fed us chicken soup and Raul showed up to take us back to Huancayo so we could catch our bus to Cusco, Peru. During our conversation they chuckled at us, saying we were the “first tourists.” I have a hard time believing that we were the first tourists to visit the ruins but it very well could be true..
We then got back in the Toyota and headed back to Huancayo. At the bottom of the canyon I checked our altitude. 6500 feet. In other words from the river at the bottom to the top of the canyon/mountaintop it was 6600 feet and so steep you wouldn’t be able to walk down it straight (I think that beats the grand canyon, right?). It’s difficult to really show in pictures or describe how gnarly the whole canyon was. If this were in the US, it’d be a national park before you could say “taco.”
Our trip to Huancayo got a little more exciting when we ran out of gas away from any civilization and had to coast down the hill for 15 minutes before we could get help. We arrived in hauncayo around 8 but there were no more buses leaving so we spent the night with Raul at his home one more night.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10TH – SATURDAY, AUGUST 17th – DAY 66-73 – HUANCAYO, PERU – MACHU PICCHU – HOME
At this point on our trip we no longer had motorcycles and I’m afraid the trip got a lot less exciting so I’ll be brief.
We only had one more place we really wanted to get to. Machu Picchu. We were a couple days of bus rides away and at first we were somewhat excited to “relax” on a bus for the first time on the trip.
For about 5-10% of my riding time (since leaving California) I’d say I was slightly jealous of all the comfortable passengers on board the buses we passed. No rain, no cold, no stress of mechanical failure, no diesel smoke in my face, less threat of crashing and dying. BUT after an hour on bus I no longer felt any jealousy whatsoever. Traveling in bus was terrible, winding bumpy roads made us all extremely uncomfortable the entire time. Loud obnoxious Peruvian music was blaring. We drove slower and we stopped more. I felt like I was on the “island fever” again crossing the Caribbean. And for some reason we all felt more exhausted traveling on bus than on motorcycle. I feel both sorry for people that have only traveled around South America on buses and sorry for myself because I will never be able to get on a bus again without miserably contemplating how much better it is on a motorcycle.
After a couple days of misery on bus and taxi we made it to within 6 miles of Machu Picchu. Everything in and around Machu Picchu is designed to steal money from rich people. We aren’t rich people so we had to take the long, cheap and more adventurous way to Machu Picchu. It was 9pm and we found ourselves at the base of Machu Picchu along a river and some railroad tracks. We were 6 miles away from the nearest civilization but lucky for us we were able to get a couple guides: 2 dogs. When the taxi dude dropped us off he pointed at some dogs and said, “give them some bread or something and they’ll take you to Machu Picchu.” haha ok… So there we were for 2 1/2 hours in the middle of the night, guided by 2 dogs, walking under the southern hemisphere stars and a huge black abyss that we knew was the mountain where Machu Picchu is perched (Wayna Picchu). We ended up getting into Aguas Calientes (the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu) around midnight.
The next day we took the bus up 50 switchbacks of dirt road to Machu Picchu and checked out the ruins. Very cool stuff. BUT, in my opinion a little too heavily regulated and touristy. We no longer felt like explorers but fellow disneyland goers. Mac got the whistle blown on him a bunch for walking where he wasn’t supposed to. We spent a few hours checking out the ruins, took the postcard photo and then headed…HOME.
One 6-mile hike, two 20-minute taxi rides, one 5-hour van ride, a 22-hour bus ride, and 18 hours of flights later we arrived safe and sound in San Diego airport. It had been 73 days and more than 10,000 miles since Chase and I had left California.
It feels pretty good to be home.
TRIP STATS/SUMMARY/THOUGHTS TO FOLLOW…
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!