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To Tocache, Rocking Out
We woke early in Tarapoto. The street outside was fairly quiet.
A view from our balcony:
Across from our hotel was a new office building with a “for rent” sign:
Ben, on the hotel’s beautiful wooden staircase:
The breakfast café opened onto the street, and we enjoyed watching all of the moto-riders pass on their way to work and school:
By the time we finished breakfast, the street was much more active:
Our route today would take us south, traveling 320 kilometers on mostly dirt roads through many small jungle villages. Our destination was the small city of Tocache.
The skies promised to rain on and off today. Before leaving Tarapoto, we stopped at the local motorcycle shop so that Ben could buy a rain jacket.
The main sales clerk was very friendly and helpful.
The shop didn’t carry a rain slicker jacket, but they had a lightweight windbreaker that we hoped would be a bit waterproof. Ben and I each bought one.
Across the street, a new high-rise was being constructed.
The first 30 kilometers today were on a paved road that wound along next to a wide sluggish river, Rio Huallaga.
Rice fields stretched out on both sides of us. One field had a large scattering of white birds:
Here is Ben with his new jacket—it really did keep most of the rain off today.
The taller trees nearby were full of coconuts:
We passed many trucks today with people riding in the back.
We only saw a handful of motorcycles, and almost no one wore a helmet.
A rice processing facility:
A typical house:
We passed through a few small towns. Here is an older building, with an open-air upper floor that looks as if it might actually be "finished."
The next three photos are fuzzy, but they provide the essence of what we saw along the way.
Some schoolgirls in uniform, carrying red flowers:
A man carrying a stack of boxes on his head:
Another man pushing a wheelbarrow of bananas:
Occasionally, we would stop in a town and ask some local people if we were heading in the right direction. This town was reworking the medians and traffic circle on the main street. We asked directions from the construction workers, and they pointed at the road ahead.
Near the end of the pavement, we stopped for gas in a fairly big town. The gas station was not on the main road, and we had to wind our way through the side streets and ask directions several times.
Our gas was served by a woman in skimpy spandex:
Across the street from the gas station was a modern building with a café on the bottom and apartments on top.
The streets were full of moto-trikes.
We crossed a suspension bridge, the first of many today:
Then the narrow dirt roads began—full of potholes and all kinds of excitement around every corner.
We had to watch out for buses and large trucks, which often took up most of the road.
We passed a brightly painted school:
Many of the wooden homes, such as the one on the right side in the photo below, had a large gap between the side walls and the rooftops to allow the air to circulate.
An appealing roadside café almost enticed us to stop, but it was too early for lunch:
The rain came and went throughout the day. There was some mud on the road, but it didn’t cause any problems.
Here is Guy crossing a sketchy bridge:
We came to a barrier across the road, with a sign indicating that the bridge ahead had “collapsed” (“puente colapsado”). An arrow directed us down a side road that wound to the bottom of a hill and ended at a river. Some small boats with ramps were lined up to take vehicles across the river. Here is a view of the road and boats from the other side of the river:
We stopped and were looking at the boats, accessing the situation. We could see the large orange bridge stretched across the river, and we noticed that a bicyclist was pedaling across. Ben said, “If a bicyclist can get across, then the bridge must be passable by motorcycle. I’m going up to find out if we can ride across.” Guy said that we needed to take the boats across. Ben said that he was going up to the bridge. Guy shook his head and said the bridge was unpassable. He seemed determined to stay. Ben said that Guy could wait by the river if he wanted, and we would signal him by waving from the middle of the bridge if we could get across. Off we went.
As we were going back up the winding road, a man came running out of his house toward Ben. I was about 20 feet behind Ben and watched as the man rushed up to the side of Ben’s bike. Ben didn't know what the man's intentions were, and he didn't intend to stop and find out--he didn't want any trouble. He threw up his arm to fend the man off and skirted around him. The man then swung his arm around to pound Ben on the back, but Ben had zipped past. As Ben rounded the corner, the man turned to me. I had just witnessed him trying to hit Ben, and my adrenaline was pumping—I was in survival mode. We locked eyes, and I screamed at him, “Stop it!!! Stop it!!!” The man froze. He may have been surprised to hear a woman’s voice, but I have no idea what was going through his head. In any event, he didn’t budge, and I rode safely past.
Ben had stopped around the corner and was waiting for me. We zipped up the rest of the hill, and turned toward the bridge.
We maneuvered around some barriers to reach a security guard at the entrance to the bridge. He shook his head when he saw us, saying, “Cerrado, cerrado!” (Closed, closed!) He said that the bridge was unsafe, and made an up and down motion with his hand (indicating instability). We were very respectful and courteous, and mentioned that we had seen a bicyclist cross over. We asked if we could cross over too. He explained that the bridge had holes in it and was dangerous. We suggested that perhaps we could just push our bikes across instead of riding. After talking for a few minutes, he said okay, he would let us cross. We thanked him profusely.
He and Ben lifted a barrier out of the way so that I could cross over first. The guard had indicated that I could ride if I wanted, instead of pushing the bike. I rode over slowly and carefully, noticing that the right side of the bridge had some small gaping holes in the asphalt, where I could peek down and see the river if I felt inclined to scare myself. I stayed to the left.
In the middle of the bridge, I stopped to wave at Guy, far below. “It’s okay! We can cross!” I yelled, although he probably didn’t hear me.
Ben took a photo of me, as I exited the bridge on the far side:
The guard then lifted the barrier for Ben to squeeze underneath.
Ben stopped to take a photo of the river.
Then he exited the other side safely:
A guard was stationed on the other side of the bridge.
He was directing trucks coming in the opposite direction to follow the road down to the river.
The trucks continued on past the boats, however, so there may have been a shallow water crossing, or larger boats, further down the river.
We watched in astonishment as the guard waved a small pickup truck by, allowing the driver to cross over the bridge.
Guy and the pickup truck passed each other.
Guy was not happy when he reached us on the other side. He said that it would have been faster to take the boats, and that we had wasted a lot of time. I was a bit stunned. At first, I tried to reason with him by saying that loading the bikes onto the boats and getting across the river would have taken at least as much time, if not more. Guy's response was curt, and I fell silent.
Ben and I continued onward, leaving Guy room to fume on his own behind us.
As I was riding, I had to remind myself to not dwell on Guy or the prickly thoughts that kept poking up through my pleasure—I was in PERU for pete’s sake, with spectacular scenery and incredible roads. I focused on the moment, and shook off the lingering bits of negativity.
I breathed in the tropical air, and soaked in the view:
Many of the small villages that we passed consisted of only a long row of houses and small businesses on each side of the road. The village of Nuevo Jaén is one example:
We passed a café in Nuevo Jaén, and Ben and I decided to stop here for lunch. Guy pulled up and joined us.
Here is a misty photo of Ben, outside of the café:
(My camera was literally taking a beating on this trip—the digital screen had gotten crushed while strapped to the bike, and the dust and rain were affecting the lens and other mechanical parts.)
During a delicious lunch of chicken and rice, a group of children gathered outside, peeking in at us, and looking away with giggles whenever I waved. I tried to take pictures of them, and was disappointed to discover later that my lens did not open properly during any of the photos. However, I was able to capture the following beautiful faces:
Guy was non-talkative during lunch and did not make much eye contact. I was mulling over the bridge crossing incident, and it finally dawned on me that he might be upset because he didn't get to enjoy the experience of taking the boats across the river.
I said to him, “Did you want to experience a river crossing by boat? Next time, if you really want to take the boats, just tell us.”
He replied that he had already taken his bike on many boats while leading tour groups at Lake Titicaca (in southern Peru). Then he said, “I wanted you to have the experience of the boats.”
I was speechless. Was he really pouting because we hadn’t chosen the option that he thought would be more enjoyable for us?
After lunch, Guy was complaining about how many more hours of riding we had in front of us today.
At this point, I wanted Guy far away from me. I just needed to ride.
We thanked the restaurant owner for the lunch, and we were soon on our way. I took off in front, with Ben following close behind.
There were alternating potholes, gravel, mud puddles, and rocks, and I was focused. I had my "groove" on. I was in that magical place where the rider and bike are one being, flowing beautifully with a speed that’s steady and deliciously fast. It was glorious.
A series of gigantic holes in the road were unexpected, and somehow I managed to keep the bike upright as I bottomed out and then was catapulted into the air. Ben said that he could hear me laughing as I landed upright and continued on my fluid way.
Around the corner from the holes, I thought that we should pull over and wait for Guy. The holes had been camouflaged by the contour and colors of the road, and I wanted to make sure that Guy got through them okay. We waited about ten minutes; then another motorcyclist zoomed up from behind, excitedly exclaiming (in Spanish) that our "friend” had crashed. He made huge somersault motions with his arms. We asked if Guy was okay, and the rider said he thought so.
We rushed back down the road, expecting to find Guy beside the giant holes, but he wasn’t there. Another mile down the road, we saw him standing near his bike. A young local couple on a small motorcycle had also stopped to help. Guy explained that he had been practicing standing up on the footpegs while riding (something that he doesn’t do a lot), and he had entered a corner and couldn’t find his rear brake; he had grabbed the front brake only, and the bike had slammed him to the ground. His elbow and his leg hurt, but nothing was broken. Ben gave him some ibuprofen to help keep the swelling down. I felt relieved that he was okay.
We continued on our way, riding much slower to accommodate Guy’s post-crash pace. (Guy said later that he hadn’t crashed in about three years, and that he now understands how some of the riders feel on his tours after crashing. He used to tell them, “Come on, you wussy!” [rhyming language substituted here to remain family-friendly] He stated that he will now have more compassion for what they are going through both mentally and physically.)
We passed one small community that was reachable only by a narrow bridge, with a sign that prohibited motorcycles and mototaxis from crossing.
Some other houses that we passed had moto-trikes parked outside:
We reached one busy town with another bridge. A large sign indicated that the bridge was closed ahead. Guy stopped to ask a local man how to get over the river, and the man said that motorcycles could cross over on the bridge. When we asked if there was another way around, he insisted that the bridge would be fine. Ben arrived at the bridge first, and a man near the entrance jumped up and yelled something at him as he rode by. The man then turned and reached for me, saying something that I didn’t understand. I slipped by him, determined to follow Ben across.
When we reached the other side, the guard there told us that we weren’t allowed to cross. Ben pointed back to the town and explained that a man on the other side had told us it was okay. As the guard was looking across the bridge with a puzzled expression, we scooted by.
Guy wasn’t so lucky and was stopped before he could enter onto the bridge. I don’t know what he said to the first guard, but he joined us a few minutes later. Onward we went.
The next section of road consisted of rocks, rocks and more rocks—big ones, pointy ones, small ones, round ones, slippery ones, loose ones, stuck-in-the-earth ones—all making for a bumpity good time! Miles and miles of rocks. There were a few almost rock-free dirt sections, and the small bridges had asphalt. But two seconds after we would emit a big, “Whew!”, the rocks would start again.
There were also potholes and mud just to keep things lively.
Here I am crossing the last bridge of the day:
The road flattened and smoothed out as we approached the city of Tocache:
We found a hotel along the main street:
Our room was comfortable and clean, with tiled floors and a private bathroom. There was no hot water, but the weather was warm, and the cold shower wasn’t too unpleasant.
Our room had a small balcony that overlooked a home with rows of laundry hanging on the open top floor.
(My mom used to hang our laundry outside when I was a kid—perhaps that is why I love the sight of colorful clothing hanging from a line.)
From our balcony, we watched these men unload a motorcycle that they had been transporting.
Ben and I walked about five blocks to the main plaza. We didn't see any other obvious tourists, and no one was speaking English. (Tocache is not even listed in my guidebook.) Everyone was very friendly to us, saying hello and smiling.
We passed a boy, about 5 years old, playing with a small cup and 7 or 8 humongous beetles (I thought they were cockroaches at first) on the steps next to the sidewalk.
The main plaza had a large stone sculpture in the center:
Ben and I sat on one of the benches, held hands, and watched the moon emerge more clearly above us.
We dined without Guy tonight. We found a beautiful new polloria (chicken restaurant) on the second floor of a building near our hotel. There were only a few customers in the large, bright dining room. We had tasty meals of chicken and steak.
After dinner, we visited the bakery down the street. One of the items looked like it had egg custard in it, so I asked the woman behind the counter. She told me it was “manjar”, a word I had never heard before. Then she went back into the next room and came out with a big smile and a spoon filled with the creamy substance—it was made with sugar and milk and was very tasty. We bought a few pastries to munch as we strolled along the street.
Back at our hotel room, we opened our door and immediately noticed an odor. We laughed when we realized that it was us! Our clothes and boots reeked from the intense riding we had done today!
Tonight, we slept peacefully under the watch of this angel (who was holding a staff and a piece of string, instead of weapons or a fish).
<< Day 10: To Tarapoto, It’s Raining It’s Pouring | Day 12: To Huánuco, Receipt of Blessings >>
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