<< Day 3: The Wonders of Machu Picchu | Day 5: To Caraz, Winding Along the Cordillera Blanca >>
Lima to Barranca, Off to a Sizzling Start on the Bikes
Another early day—we were up at 5:00 a.m. to catch a taxi to the airport. We would be flying back to Lima this morning to start the motorcycle portion of this trip.
During the initial planning stages of our motorcycle journey, I had identified several key cities that I wanted to visit in both the Andes and the Amazon jungle; then I had created a lengthy route by connecting the towns on my map. Ben and I had then researched the possibility of renting motorcycles and traveling on our own throughout the northern area. However, we couldn’t find a company in Lima that would rent us bikes. We had the option of renting bikes in other towns further south (Cusco and Arequipa), but that meant we wouldn’t be able to travel as far north as we would like.
In the end, we found a company that would provide us bikes in Lima if we allowed a “guide” to come along too. The guide would be the owner of the company; he currently offered tours throughout southern Peru and was looking to expand his market to the northern area, which he called “the mysterious north.” The price was steep—higher even than the cost of our motorcycle tour through Bhutan (which had included a chase truck, mechanics, all lunches/dinners, and gas—none of which were included on this trip). However, we decided that the adventure would be worth the cost.
About a month before we left for Peru, our guide emailed us to explain that he hadn’t yet been able to travel northward along our proposed route (due to some violent clashes between locals and the army during the summer). He offered us an option under which we could ride the bikes on our own, without him, and he would reduce our cost by a relatively small amount.
Ben and I debated what to do. In the end, we decided to have the guide along for a combination of reasons (none of which seem compelling in hindsight)--the roads in Peru were reputed to be not well marked (similar to Bolivia), we would be traveling through many remote areas, we didn’t know how well the bikes had been maintained or if we would be able to fix a mechanical failure miles (or days) from a big town, our guide spoke fluent Spanish (he was from Europe but had lived in Peru for the last eight years), he had a general knowledge of Peru, he seemed to be a pleasant and professional person (through his emails), the discount he was offering us to go without him was not that significant, and the fact that he hadn’t seen the places we would be visiting meant that we would be experiencing the adventure together, which we viewed as a plus.
On the way to the Cusco airport, the sun was just starting to peek over the top of the surrounding hills.
The early morning air was brisk. We saw many women carrying heavy loads wrapped in brightly colored shawls on their backs.
The flight from Cusco to Lima was about 1 ½ hours.
Leaving Cusco behind:
Flying above the Andes Mountains, I could see the ridges from where the tectonic plates had been pushed upwards and sideways.
As we neared Lima, which is located along the Pacific Ocean, I caught the first sight of the ever-present layer of coastal fog, sneaking its way into the mountain crevices.
Our guide had arranged for a taxi to meet us at the airport. The man behind the wheel drove fast and furious, whipping us in and out of lanes. I felt as if I were a participant in one of my son’s Nintendo DS racing games. Perhaps I might have felt better if my seatbelt hadn’t been broken. I tried to avert my eyes from the road ahead, while simultaneously squelching visions of my body flying through the windshield; and I tossed out a few prayers for good measure.
We met our guide at the hotel, changed into our motorcycle gear, and set to work strapping our luggage onto our bikes.
Ben and I had initially requested to ride Honda XR650-L bikes, one of the two choices offered. A month before our trip, our guide had emailed to say that I would be riding an XR-400 Falcon instead, but raved that it would be “brand new with 0 miles.” (He had a large southern tour scheduled at the same time as our ride, and my XR650 had apparently been given to one of those riders.)
I was surprised to see that the bike waiting for me in the hotel courtyard was not “brand new”—it had over 11,000 miles on it. Our guide offered no explanation for the change, and his silence bothered me more than the switcheroo did. The bike seemed fine, so I didn’t complain. We would be spending the next 10 days together, and I wanted to have a lot of fun; I didn’t want to start the relationship off on anything resembling a “confrontational” note.
I must say, however, that this was just one of a long line of “small” things over the course of our trip that made Ben and I wish that we had traveled on our own, without a guide.
(In writing this story, Ben and I discussed at length the issue of how we would handle the description of our experiences with our guide. He has some good qualities, as everyone does, and we don't want to disparage him personally. However, the reality was that our overall experience with him leaned toward the negative. We finally decided that we would be honest in telling what happened, from our perspective, but that we would change his name to “Guy”--a short version of “guide”, but also a nice French name to reflect his European heritage, although he was not from France.)
Before getting on our bikes, Guy made it very clear that this was “your ride.” He said that he was just along to accompany us and that we were “the boss”--whatever we wanted was fine with him, even if we chose to spend our entire 10 days riding around Lima.
Lima is a huge city--it has almost 8 million residents, almost 1/3 of the country’s population. We rode for 20 miles amidst buses, big trucks, minivans and cars, all weaving through the lanes and tooting their horns. I only saw one other motorcyclist the entire time. It took about an hour before we finally left the last crazy traffic circle behind.
Our plan for the trip was to ride as far as we could each day and to stay the night at places we found along the way. I had based our route on the lines and dots of a map, with seemingly realistic mileage on paper. But we had no way to know what the true road conditions were, or if we would have any delays along the way. The uncertainty of what each day would hold greatly enhanced the “adventure” element, and Ben and I were both excited.
We headed north, tracking along beside the Pacific Ocean. All around us was barren land, with giant sand dunes on both sides of the road. We were moving fast, and didn't take any photos.
The bleak landscape had an occasional stretch of bushes. In comparison, the New Mexico desert we had seen this past summer looked like an oasis.
We rode through a scattering of small towns. The dominant architecture featured small, rectangular, 1-story, adobe buildings with flat roofs.
Guy was in front, scoping out a place for lunch. We passed through a couple of small towns with (to me) some enticing-looking local restaurants. Near the town of Chancay, we passed a gas station that had a “touristy” café attached. Guy pulled over to the side of the road and indicated that we should turn around. That was our first lunch spot. I realized that Guy was still getting to know us and our preferences. As we were getting off our bikes, I mentioned that Ben and I generally like to eat at places where the locals eat, not places that cater to tourists. Here we are at the lunch stop:
We sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine. The food actually was pretty good. Ben and I ordered a new (to us) dish called arroz chaufas—it was very similar to the Chinese dish of chicken fried rice in the U.S.
As we continued northward through the outskirts of Chancay, some boys next to the side of the road were waving to Guy. He didn’t wave back. As I reached my hand up to wave, I saw one of the boys pull his arm back and then throw some brown lumpy objects directly at me. Yikes! I swerved to the inside of the lane, missing the impact.
We traveled up and over a long rise. To our right was a vast stretch of green, with sprinklings of yellow and lavender flowers.
Near the city of Barranca, Guy pulled over to discuss whether we should stop for the night or cut inland to start our ascent into the Andes. Ben noticed that his bike was smoking from the tailpipe side. When he had secured his bags to the bike, the tightened strap had pushed the side plastic onto the tailpipe. The heat had melted through the side plastic, the bag, and a good portion of the bag’s contents (extra GPS, rain gear, satellite phone charger, a stash of batteries, and other things).
Ben spent some time sorting out what was lost, seeing what could still be saved, and trying to figure out where he could pack the saved items now that one of his saddlebags was useless.
We were packing light, with only two small saddlebags and a tailbag each. Given the scarcity of space, each item that we had packed had been deemed “indispensible.” Throughout this trip, we came to realize that we had still carried “too much stuff” and left a variety of items behind in hotel rooms along the way.
While Ben repacked, I took some photos of our surroundings. Looking back from where we had traveled:
To our right were agricultural fields:
We decided to stay in Barranca tonight. Guy was not sure if we would be able to find accommodations easily over the next 50 miles or so into the Andes Mountains.
The streets of Barranca were packed with cars. It was a fairly big town (almost 50,000 people) but was not included in my Moon Peru guidebook. Barranca appeared to be several steps removed from the tourist trail, which pleased us immensely.
One important concern when selecting a hotel throughout Peru was whether our bikes would be "safe" overnight. Guy stopped beside a police truck at a stoplight and asked for the location of a hotel with secure parking. The police officers directed us to Hotel Chavin, a high-rise hotel (perhaps 8 stories) on a busy street. The police then followed us to the hotel and then honked their horn long, loud, and repeatedly in front of the hotel—we could only presume that this was to let the hotel owner know that the police officers had referred us here.
The parking lot in the back of the hotel had a friendly and very talkative security guard, who voluntarily assured us he would watch our bikes carefully. The guard had a good sense of humor, and he and Ben talked at length about motorcycles and other things.
Ben and I were given an upper-floor room with a sweeping view of the town and the ocean in the distance.
The hotel had a pool, which looked clean—but the air was a bit too nippy for a dip.
Ben continued to work on how to best reconfigure his bags.
I had forgotten to pack a hair-tie (which would keep my hair from whipping around and getting tangled while riding). We asked at the front desk where we might find one—we didn’t know how to say “ponytail”, so we used charades, resulting in a lot of laughter all around. The desk clerks directed us to the local market around the corner. There, we found a series of stalls spread out in an indoor maze. We wandered until we spied some hair ties hanging on a small stand. The merchant was very helpful and friendly, and I purchased two different kinds for an extremely cheap price (I didn’t bargain).
For dinner, Guy asked the hotel owner for a restaurant recommendation. Surprise! He directed us to the hotel’s restaurant on the second floor, which we hadn’t discovered ourselves. The restaurant was large and empty. We hesitated a bit, unsure how to politely decline. The owner assured us repeatedly that the food was delicious, adding (in Spanish), “If you don’t like it, you don’t pay.” We ordered fish, and it was indeed very tasty. Peru has proved to have excellent cuisine!
We went to bed immediately after dinner. With all of our early morning rises over the past few days, we were still trying to catch up on our sleep.
<< Day 3: The Wonders of Machu Picchu | Day 5: To Caraz, Winding Along the Cordillera Blanca >>
Back to Index Page
Back to Home Page