<< Day 13: To Tarma, I Did It My Way | Day 15: Lima, Pomp and Circumstance >>
To Lima, Just Believe
In the morning sun, we could fully appreciate the beauty of our hotel, Los Portales.
Our breakfast waiter was Christian, who had served us at dinner last night. As we were strapping on our luggage in front of the hotel, he came out to admire the bikes.
He rides a 125cc bike, so we talked about the joy of motorcycles. He said that he would love to travel to the United States one day, and his eyes lit up when he talked of the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Our route today would lead us east to Lima, which was our final destination on the motorcycles. We hadn’t needed the extra “cushion” day that we had built into our itinerary for emergencies, and our flight did not leave Lima until close to midnight tomorrow. If we had had a different relationship with Guy, perhaps we might have chosen to ride to another town today and return to Lima tomorrow. But Ben and I were satisfied with all of the incredible territory that we had covered, and we were ready for some time to ourselves.
Guy was very careful this morning to pull out his map and go over our intended roads in detail. We would be connecting with a main thoroughfare shortly after leaving Tarma. I wanted to minimize the time that we shared the road with big trucks, so we would be branching off on a small dirt road shortly after we crested the Anticona mountain pass (at almost 16,000 feet).
On the way out of Tarma, we marveled as a “man” emerged (or disappeared) in this set of sculptural reliefs:
On the outskirts of the city, Guy realized that he hadn’t checked the oil in the bikes. We stopped and discovered that Ben’s bike needed some oil.
Guy rode the bike back to town to search for oil, while Ben and I hung out next to a small market.
The store appeared to be open, but the metal gates were locked across the front door. We called, “¡Hola! ¡Hola!” (Hello!) Eventually a woman came to the door. Despite her low enthusiasm for making a sale, we bought some water to fill up our camelbacks (handed to us through the open spaces in the locked gates). Our empty bottles can be seen on the front step in the above photo.
We also watched the local people load into yellow taxi-vans that would shuttle them into town.
Guy returned in about half an hour, and we continued on our way.
Along the road were agricultural fields:
A pretty blue church:
On the left side were some sturdy stone walls supporting terraced crop fields:
The canyon walls got closer and closer.
Then the road did a low-lying U-turn, and we started winding up the side of a mountain. Looking back down at the road below:
As we climbed higher in altitude, the mountaintops became more barren:
The roads were not designed with pedestrian safety in mind; however, there were quite a few people walking, including this small family (with a baby on the woman’s back):
The high white rocks almost looked like snow:
A view across the valley:
A tire repair shop and some small homes:
We rounded a curve and caught sight of some stark mountains with large white rocks. As we approached, and then rode along side, I could barely keep my eyes on the road. The white rocks were so captivating. I even yelled, “Wow!!!” inside my helmet several times.
Little did I know that these mountains were once green. The white color was not from natural rocks; it was created from decades of toxic discharge from the nearby copper smelter in the city of La Oroya. The smelting complex, which has been operated for the past 12 years by the U.S. company Doe Run, discharges 1.5 tons of lead and 810 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air every day. This amount is much higher than allowed under the environmental laws in Peru; however, Doe Run has continued to delay any significant attempts to clean up or reduce the pollution—claiming “financial hardship”, even though in a recent year it paid $130 million in purported “commissions and consulting fees” to its headquarters in St. Louis. In the meantime, virtually all the children (97%!) in the city and nearby communities suffer from chronic lead poisoning and other health issues.
At a nearby junction of two major roads, we stopped after turning right towards Lima.
We were on the edge of La Oroya, and some fenced-off grassy areas contained a few mining figures and objects related to the mining industry.
We then threaded our way through the heavy traffic along the main street of La Oroya. (We were too busy dodging big trucks and negotiating the traffic to take photos. It was intense.) Soon we left the city behind.
La Oroya is more than 12,000 feet high, and we continued to climb in elevation. We passed this beautiful blue lake:
The two-lane paved road was the main highway through the Andes Mountains to and from Lima, and it was jam-packed with big trucks. The road was curvy, and passing was tricky. Sometimes I would start a curve and be surprised (shocked, horrified!) to find a big truck coming towards me in my lane, trying to pass another big truck on a blind corner. Passing the trucks, one and then another and then another and then another, required riding extremely close to many large, potentially bike-crushing wheels. At times, it seemed completely insane to me. I cast quite a few prayers up to the skies on this road. If I had come around a corner and seen THE most beautiful sight I had ever seen in my entire life, I would not have stopped to take a photo--there was no way that I was going to risk having to re-pass any of those trucks that I had worked to get around.
A crumpled truck on the side of the road was a somber reminder of how things can go wrong:
This small reservoir and group of buildings appeared to some type of processing facility.
The peak at the top:
Ben had pulled off the road several miles back, so Guy and I waited at the pass (Abra Anticona), elevation 15,807 feet.
A man came over offering a tall bag of pistachios for sale, but I declined.
I am sure that we only waited a few minutes for Ben, who is a highly skilled rider. However, my mind drifted to his safety in light of all those big truck wheels and how challenging it had been at times to make a clean pass. The minutes ticked away with excruciating slowness. As his bike rounded the bend, I closed my eyes and offered up some thanks. All was right with the world again.
We curved down the other side for a short while.
Then we reached a dirt road turnoff in the middle of a curve. Was this our exit? Guy checked his map and confirmed that it was. What a relief to leave those trucks behind!
The dirt road wiggled up and down, never quite reaching 16,000 feet, but hovering close to that elevation for many miles.
Here is a nearby mountaintop:
Ben started getting a bad headache, which he thought could be from the high altitude. I was feeling fine, albeit a little lightheaded.
The vistas were breathtaking, and the air seemed very crisp and clean.
Down in the valley crevice, we could see a small stream:
Another beautiful view:
We began climbing upward along a staircase of switchbacks. Here is a view looking back down:
Here I am:
Horses and llamas were grazing in a large open field:
The road stretched far ahead:
During this section, we reached an elevation of 15,960 feet--the highest on this trip.
Occasionally, the switchbacks would have “short-cut” routes that would just cut down the mountain instead of looping back and forth. Ben and I always took advantage of those. Here I am coming down one wide short-cut:
The surrounding tundra had grass, moss and other plants:
The sunlight reflecting off of the glaciers was brilliant.
We exchanged curious gazes with this llama:
My heart quickened when this pack of beautiful wild horses came into sight:
Here I am, riding below a set of stacked stones that looked like the remnants of someone’s home:
We squiggled along the side of this dam and reservoir:
At the far end of the reservoir was a separate pool of water that was a vivid green:
These llamas had colorful ribbons attached to their ears:
Additional views as we continued onward:
On the far side of the river were two stone corrals with a grass-roofed house next to each one. The grassy areas around the corrals had scars of what appeared to have been previous corrals and houses—perhaps this had once been a larger community, now reduced to two homes:
The road narrowed and cut along the side of a hill. Here I am:
October is springtime in Peru, and this cactus plant had small red blossoms:
A view of the surrounding rocks:
We stopped at a junction beside a small dam and a few houses.
An old sign contained the names of towns that did not appear on our maps.
The road forked, and we weren’t sure which way to go—to the left, or uphill to the right. We chose the uphill route, but realized quickly that it was taking us away from the direction we wanted to go. We backtracked and took the other road.
Near the dam, a short older woman in traditional clothing was walking slowly with her donkey. As Guy roared past, her donkey jumped and took off a short distance up a hill. Ben and I stopped, not wanting to scare her donkey any further. The woman looked at us and, in a gesture that clearly indicated her severe irritation, waved us by with violent sweeps of her arm. We motored by as slowly and quietly as we could.
A waterfall next to the road:
(I inadvertently switched the camera settings again, so this next batch of photos unfortunately has a blue tint.)
The road ahead was carved into the mountainside:
After another hour of riding, we came to an old junction that had the remnants of a prosperous past. Ben and I stopped to marvel at the view.
A faded sign at the entrance to a small bridge welcomed us to San Pedro de Casta and the ecological district of Marcahuasi.
After returning home, I discovered that Marcahuasi is a sacred group of rock formations on a nearby plateau; there are so many human faces and figurative shapes in the stones that many people believe the rocks were carved by ancient people.
The sign was next to the foundations of some buildings that had once stood near the bridge.
With our eyes, we followed the narrow road across the bridge and along the next mountain. A huge grey swath of rocks now covered what used to be a portion of the road.
A faint line indicated that a switchback now cuts sharply upwards, to the right, at the edge of the landslide.
Looking down, we saw that the landslide path ended next to a small house that had crops growing in the backyard.
I guess we all take the risks that we are comfortable with, . . . but I wouldn’t choose to live with those giant rocks looming over my head.
We lingered a while, soaking in all the beauty. I would have liked to have had more time to explore that switchback (and to discover the delights of San Pedro de Casta and Marcahuasi). However, Guy was up ahead somewhere, and Ben and I decided to keep going.
A view of the road behind us:
Near the junction, we passed a row of severely dilapidated huts clinging to the edge of the road. It looked like they had been abandoned years ago. However, I glanced in several doors that were partially open as I rode by and was startled to see some very old faces peering back at me.
Looking back, across the chasm, at the junction and the bridge where we had stopped:
Here is a close-up showing the bridge on the right and the small houses on the left—the rock peak in between is sometimes referred to as the “Cabeza de King Kong” (King Kong’s head):
The road was very narrow in parts, and the drop off deadly. We entered a tunnel that was cut into the rock. The interior was very dark, but I could see the light at the far end, so I remained focused on that. The channel was skinny and long, however, and (I must admit) a bit freaky.
Back in the light, I continued happily on my way. Then I noticed that my front tire was a bit off. I looked down—it was flat. Up ahead, I could see the tiny figure of Ben, stopped on the other side of a large sweeping “U” cut into the mountain. I waved at him. He gave a casual wave back. (Howdy!) I gave a bigger wave, with both arms, so that he wouldn't think that I was just being "friendly." He gave another casual wave back. I made large gestures towards my front tire, yelling, “I have a flat tire!” After more shouting (and much pantomiming), the wind finally carried the word “flat” to his ears. He zoomed off to get Guy, who was riding out in front.
There was no safe place to pull over and change a flat, so I coasted downhill around quite a few twists and turns before I found an area where the road widened and had a small pullout area. I found a big rock, good for balancing the bike, and waited for Ben and Guy (who had the axle wrench).
The tire change went smoothly.
During the process, these two vehicles came by with people on the top of them—woo hoo!
As he was putting his tools away, Guy remarked to me, “This is the only flat tire on the trip that wasn’t caused by a nail.” Hmmm . . . had he forgotten that he had awoken to a flat tire in Pampas? I mentioned the Pampas flat tire, and he said, “That one doesn’t count.” Ahhh, yes, I remembered his claim at the time that sometimes tires just go flat overnight for no reason. I smiled and said, “Oh, I think it does.”
We continued winding down the mountain until we reached a series of small towns, each one more populated than the next. Dogs were often crouched by the side of the road, ready to spring themselves at my bike as I rode by. Yikes! What an obstacle course!
As we descended in elevation, we gradually sank into a heavy, dark, grey/brown smog.
We merged with the highway before reaching the city of Chosica. From that point on, the road was a weaving mass of trucks, buses, minivans, taxis and cars (very few motorcycles) all of which seemed determined to go as fast as possible from one stop light to the next. The minibuses were the worst and would sometimes end up over the crosswalk when screeching to a stop because the drivers didn’t brake until two seconds past the “last possible minute.” In the meantime, there were buses pulling over at massive bus stop areas (with 10 or more buses), and then reentering quickly without an apparent care for who might be in the next lane. Then there were the trucks/buses/cars that were crossing the road and blocking the middle when our light turned green.
When we came to a stoplight, Guy would zig zag his way through the mish-mash of vehicles to be first in line, leaving Ben and I to squeeze through after him. Sometimes the cars/buses would squish over into the next lane or swerve diagonally to block us after Guy had eeked by. We had numerous close calls. Guy didn’t seem concerned about whether we could or would follow him, as he often chose very creative paths that didn’t allow for another bike through.
When the light turned green, our goal was to quickly maneuver around any vehicles in front of us and catch up with Guy, throttles wide open (and senses on full alert), only to start the whole process again at the next light.
It was crazy. Worse than anything I have ever seen ANYwhere—and I have ridden (and driven) in numerous places throughout the world.
After over ½ hour of this madness (and I am being mild-mannered in that description), I started thinking, “I don’t have to participate in this.” (This thought was very freeing!) I inched up to Ben at the next stoplight and yelled, “This is insane! We’re going to get killed! I’m not doing this anymore!” Ben yelled back, “We have to keep up with Guy! It’s more dangerous if we lose him and don’t know where to go!” I did not have the same opinion.
When the light turned green, I decided to just follow the path that I thought was the safest. Ben chose a different line and ended up getting blocked off, so I wound up ahead, but I stayed to the right and slowed down to a brisk but much safer pace. Taking myself out of that pack was such a release, and I started feeling sane again. After a few miles, I pulled over to wait for Ben. Then we both connected with Guy a few blocks down.
The craziness continued, but I was in a different mindset now—almost one step removed. The stoplights and street-racer buses/trucks seemed to go on and on. I kept thinking, “Surely we must be in Lima now.” We finally stopped at a gas station, but we didn’t gas up—Guy was just getting directions. Another block, and we had arrived . . . at a freight company. Guy was shipping the bikes back to southern Peru from Lima. Although he never informed us of his intent, he had apparently been hell-bent on arriving at the shipping area before it closed for the day.
Ben and I removed our luggage from the bikes and then waited. Guy filled out paperwork and negotiated the shipping with the freight crew, all of whom were very nice.
We left the bikes behind and took a taxi to our Lima hotel, where we soaked under hot showers and rested before dinner.
Guy suggested that we all go out for a nice dinner together and recommended a dinner show that had traditional dance performances from nine different areas around Peru. The restaurant, Junius, was located in the up-scale neighborhood of Miraflores. The dinner was fairly expensive, but I was glad that we went. The food and service were very good, and the dances were beautifully performed. The show was aimed at “tourists” to Peru, but the other guests in the restaurant appeared to be from South America and Europe—we seemed to be the only ones from the U.S., so the atmosphere didn't seem "touristy" to us. The dancers performed with a lot of passion and energy--they were a joy to watch.
These performers represented the Inca people:
Ben and I got a chuckle out of these women’s white boots and short skirts—both items seemed so “modern” and in stark contrast to the other types of traditional clothing we had seen during our journey through Peru:
This man wore a horse to represent his equestrian culture:
Finally, this couple performed two dances, and they had a chemistry that was just magical:
We returned to the hotel after dinner. Although today marked the end of our motorcycle journey, we were happy. We were looking forward to wandering through the streets of Lima tomorrow, just the two of us.
<< Day 13: To Tarma, I Did It My Way | Day 15: Lima, Pomp and Circumstance >>
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