We crossed the border from Ecuador to Peru at Macara, a small border crossing in the mountains. It was funny how the scenery was repeating as we moved through the continent. The scenery around this border was very similar to the Sonoran desert in Arizona and northern Mexico, very dry with little vegetation.
There was a harsh atmosphere at this border crossing. It seemed to be a place where the locals farmers were at the mercy of the border officials and where justice was for the lucky ones in uniforms. It was a place where adults came with children that wasn’t theirs, and there were no trust or happiness in the eyes of these children, just fear. The food stall were swarming with flies and there was garbage all over and too many young men hanging out with too little to do.
The entire process took us less than 2 hours. There were no fixers and we had to look for the money changers. It was a nice and easy experience but we also had an unsafe feeling. I don’t know why. Maybe it was just the unknown and the fact that everything was so different from what we know. Maybe it was the belief that people living in such ugly and dirty places can only be affected negatively by their surroundings. Or that a place like this offers so few opportunities in life, that 2 travelers with a purse potentially full of dollars become and easy subject of further investigation.
The immigration official milked us for $30 to enter the country and irritated made a funny looking receipt when I insisted on one.
Getting some Peruvian soles at Mamma Gambia’s fly infested stall.
“Smile for the camera, and now let’s get the h*** out of here!”
People waved as usual but somehow we felt that it was a different attention than we got in Colombia. I got air kisses and “Olala” something I hadn’t experienced so far. Fortunately the road was wide, straight and perfect, so we tried to make some distance to the place.
We passed through several towns consisting of sheds and clay houses. There was very little vegetation and the cows on the roads we replaced by goats who seemed to be able to survive on dirt. The plastic garbage had no rainforest to hide in, so it flouts around freely. This was not a pretty place. It’s a place where you don’t blame people if they seek comfort in either the church or the bottle.
Little except garbage to live of for this little piggy!
After 80 km we arrive at something similar to a town in Tambo Grande . It seems to be a fruit factory central and not a real town, but we found a hotel behind tall walls with fantastic houses and lousy service for $25. More than we expected to pay here, but we were happy not to spend the night in a shed.
The further we got into Peru, the drier it got. Not exactly what we expected. We thought green hills and snow clad mountains much like in Colombia were waiting for us, but we quickly realized that we were 100% understudied.
We had entered the Sechura desert which is massive and stretches from the very northern part of Peru 2000 km along the Pacific coast to Chile, where the Atacama desert begins ans stretches 1000 km along the Chilean coast. We were up for a lot of sand.
The next morning we took of towards the coast driving through small towns and settlements not really suitable for human beings. It’s really the lack of water and vegetation that made it so miserable. In Central America at least there were lush surroundings with plenty of fruit trees and water wherever you looked. In comparison this seemed to be such an unforgiving environment to raise a family.
We stopped at a little cafe for breakfast. The meat was already hanging on a wire ready to be cooked. We asked for beans and rice, but they didn’t have it. We got meat fried to a shoe sole and banana chips. Everything was cooked on an old firewood stove – which was amazing since we were in the desert and there were hardly any trees here just sand and rocks.
This little poor puppy was so unaccustomed to positive interaction with people that he didn’t know what to do with himself. He got overly excited when he realized that there was both treats and belly scratches for him.
Transport by donkey is common here.
We thought we had seen the worst in Central America, but in Peru there’s a whole new type of vegetation: plastic trees. The garbage is everywhere and since it’s mostly a desert, the garbage flies freely around and gets stuck in the bushes and trees.
Traffic is pretty light, but the cars get very crowded in Peru.
And walls! Everywhere there’s high walls which adds to the unattractiveness of this place. Most of the walls are painted with political messages from the recent election in Peru.
As we got closer to the sea, the wind got stronger blowing the sand across the road. This was a warm-up to the challenges we are about to experience when we make it to Tierra Del Fuego.
Water break – and still almost 600 miles to Lima
Miles after miles of nothingness.
Large political messages promising improved living conditions – well they really need that here!
After riding through the dry scenery and miserable little towns with goats, pigs and dogs desperately scratching the dirt for food, it was a relief to arrive in Pacasmayo, a this nice little fishing town with a beautiful water front and an old pier. We loved the summing activity in the streets at night with all the small street stalls on the corners selling grilled chicken hearts on sticks and women with large baskets of bread and cookies.
The hostal owner didn’t hesitate to let us park inside his reception / restaurant, which we highly appreciated.
The following 2 days we rode through the never ending desert only interrupted by small towns and tiny sheds placed all over. We wondered what purpose these sheds would have. Most of them seemed to be empty.
Our destination was Lima. We were going to stock up on knobby tires and meet Coffinbaby the founder of Toxic City Roller Derby who had invited us to come and stay at her place.
Amazing roads through the Peruvian desert.
Just before Barranca we got pulled over by the police for overtaking on solid lines. Bummer! They were parked in a perfect place just after a long straight bridge with miles of visibility – but you are not allowed to overtake on a bridge!!! They told us that overtaking like that was serious and it would cost us $300 each.
We had given them our fake drivers license and didn’t intend to pay anything. But after a long talk about the traffic rules in Peru, they suggested we pay them $50 instead of the 2 x $300. They presented it as an offer, since it meant we didn’t have to go to the police station the following day, to pick up our drivers licenses. I found $10, which was the only money I had on me and asked if that would be enough. They accepted it and we gladly took of.
For sure we shouldn’t have paid the $10 but after all we did break the law and have done so a million times – at least, so I really didn’t feel bad about it.
Another stray perro in much need of love!
Inca Kola, our new addiction!
Back on perfect desert roads along the coast. Far from civilization the scenery is beautiful and free from garbage. In general it was a pleasure to finally be able to make so much progress on the perfect roads. No road work, no potholes, no traffic, no rain, no flats. Just the open roads in front of us.
Lima is located in the middle of the desert. Before arriving to the city we rode through miles and miles of suburbs covered with a patchwork settlements of tiny houses or sheds. This was just as all the small poor towns we had ridden through before, just in a much larger scale and we began to fear that we were going to spend the night in a place like that.
We knew that riding in Lima would become somewhat a challenge and we had prepared ourselves mentally to put aside any kind of good manners and politeness and had exercised the horn button thumb. It turned out to be useful. Traffic was extremely intense and you had to fight for your space. If you left just a tiny bit of room in front of you, someone would squeeze himself in there. And not only did we have to ride in this crazy traffic but also navigate and make sure that we didn’t get away from each other.
Good thing that we have been riding together for so long now and know each others riding pattern so extremely well. That really helps in a place like Lima. If we need to change lane, the one in front would squeeze himself in front of a car and then slow down and force the car to slow down – hereby making enough space for the other bike to enter besides or in front.
We would take over on all sides, honk at everybody to ensure they had seen us, use the pedestrian path to get in front at crossings and generally ride in a way we would never do back home. Guess the journey through Mexico, Central America, Colombia and Ecuador has been a brilliant preparation for riding in Lima. The real hard part will be to get rid of the bad riding habits when we get to orderly Chile!
It turned out Coffinbaby and her boyfriend Mauricio had summer vacation and were prepared to spend all day with us. They were amazingly sweet and took us everywhere we needed to go.
They drove us to the KTM dealer to get tires. I had made a reservation a few days before but they were a bit confused when we arrived and didn’t seem to have total control of their stock. We wanted tube tires, but they only had tubeless. We finally agreed to take the tubeless even if they are a mess to put on by hand, but when they got the tires from the warehouse they turned out to be tube tires after all. So we ended up with 4 new TKC80’s which would do the trick when we got to Bolivia.
Later Coffin and Mauricio took us to a cafe that served the most amazing ceviche: a really delicious dish of raw fish and seafood cooked only in the acid from lime juice and spiced with chili and coriander. It is served with sweet potatoes and corn. Mmmm!
We got introduced to Mauricio’s family and took part of the Birthday celebration of his mom. Mauricio’s father and his uncles were all dirt bike enthusiasts and told crazy stories about their constant injuries.
Paloma Coffinbaby from ToxicLima Roller Derby showing her Derby gear.
It was very special to get to know Coffinbaby. Not only is she one of the most beautiful girls we have ever seen, she is also extremely intelligent and knowledgeable and she has some very strong opinions about her society and the Latin American gender roles – and she’s just 22 years old.
She told us a lot about the recent history of Peru and the violence of the revolutionary group Sendero Luminoso and the government between 1980 and 2000. The Sendero Luminos group was allowed to use its extremely violent methods and killed a high number of people with no interference from the government until the violence moved into Lima and affected the wealthy people, then action was taken. But as seen in so many other countries, the government ended up using equally horrible methods and civilians and in particular the peasants in the rural areas ended up in the middle of the conflict.
Sendero Luminoso in one hand, closed rural markets, not allowing the peasants to sell their produce, in order to shut down small scale capitalism, and in the other hand, the group financed its activities by producing and selling drugs, something that is pure capitalistic. The movement was especially suspicious towards women’s movement and in 1992 they machine-gunned Maria Elena Moyano Delgado in front of her kids. Maria Elena was born in the shantytown in Lima and spend all her life working to improve the living conditions and education for the women and children in the poor areas of Lima.
As in Colombia the government legalized paramilitary groups and trained them to fight the rebels, which for sure escalated the violence and the violation of human rights. It is believed that about 70.000 people were killed or disappeared in Peru between 1980 and 2000. About half of them are believed to have been killed by the Sendero Luminoso and the rest is the responsibility of the government. The rebel group still exist in Peru however in a much smaller scale and as recently as last year the rebels killed 3 people.
It is a sad and violent story and as in Colombia. It is chocking that this all happened so recent and yet we have heard so little about these massive killings in the European medias.
We spend the night at Coffins amazing house on a hill overlooking the city.
Coffins cute but enormous puppy “Bill Gates” – or in short, “Billy” !
From Lima we headed south to the city Ica. Coffin had put us in contact with a Derby lady Kasey who invited us to come and stay in her house.
Passing the thousands of chicken farms surrounding Lima in the desert.
On the way we met Erlo from Colombia, who was riding solo on his Yamaha Tenere. He was heading for Brasil. Erlo was a super nice guy. Unfortunately he didn’t have as much time as we did, so even if we were all going the same way, we separated again, after a single beer.
Kasey is originally from Washington but had moved to Peru less than a year ago. She has an incredible story and told us how she and her husband had been stuck in an American lifestyle where work, stuff, and medication was the focus of their lifes. Everyday she would consume a high number of pills to make it through the day, and she was never happy.
After a vacation in Ica, Peru, they decided to take the step and move there. For sure they “ran away”. They simply realized that it was impossible to change their patterns if they didn’t change the setting they were living in. Such an extremely brave and wise decision, even if it has been at great personal costs. Few people dare to take such a big step to change their lives and even fewer couples can agree to make such a radical change.
She told us that after moving she saw clearly how she was always stressed and never really enjoyed having a family, but spent all her energy on superficial matters. Now things were much less hectic. They were living in a totally different pace and she spend all her time with her lovely kids and their sweet pets and were happier than ever.
Hanging out on the roof top with Kasey and her son Bailey.
Kasey was the perfect adventure hostess. We had our own room, fresh towels (2 for me! Thank you Kasey, you know a woman’s needs) And she offered us to use the laundry machine, which I desperately needed. My rain liner had been wet when I tucked them away into the tank pannier in Ecuador and now they were completely molded and the stench was horrible. Kasey added some vinegar to the wash which got rid of the stench.
Lars and Brownie!
Buddy the cat making a sound track for our ride report!
Don’t think Buddy knows he’s a cat! And Brownie didn’t mind the rough cat tongue.
From Ica we rode south to Nazca and then east towards Cuzco on amazing mountain roads taking us up, up, up. We went from 406 meters (1332 ft) to 4500 meters in a very short time.
Desert as far as the eye can see.
The higher we got the colder and harder the wind. Finally the bikes showed sign of the high elevation and struggled and coughed. There simply wasn’t enough oxygen up here and we had to be real gentle on the throttle. But the scenery was fantastic and some of the most beautiful we have seen.
At 4500 meters elevation in the middle of nowhere 3 kids flag us down with a little dance. We were freezing at this altitude, but they were there without gloves or thick clothes.
We were so surprised we had to join in the dance.
All of them got on the Bunny bike and were allowed to start it and yank the throttle. They wanted everything on the bike and we had to watch our stuff.
They were probably placed there by their parent’s to dance and make money for the family, but it was awesome how they were all smiles and had lively eyes and still seemed to have their childish innocence and playfulness intact.
The further we got away from the desert the more green and wet it became. This was after all the rain season in Peru and we were about to pay for the many months of awesome weather in North America.
The mountain roads gets busy around dinner time.
We spend the night in a small town Puquio in the mountain in a hostal. Not exactly Hilton, but we were glad we didn’t have to camp in the freezing cold.
Met a few cute teenagers, who were very interested and giggling over our presence in their town. They had glitter in their hair and were preparing for a school parade the same evening.
The 23rd we had a looong day in the mountains. We rode about 500 km from Puquio to Cusco through the Andes on beautiful roads through hundreds of turns and when we arrived in Cusco we were extremely tired. The height, the rain, the cold and the long day on the bike was especially getting to me. I was simply exhausted. We rode in to Cusco and got the first and best (read: worse) hotel we could find. I was also struggling with some stomach problems and couldn’t keep liquid in me. Which worsened the height symptoms, since drinking more water is important.
The next day (the 24th) we changed hotel to Quinoa Villa Boutique B&B. This was gonna be our Christmas treat and compensation for being away from family back home in Denmark. And the place was no less than fantastic. We didn’t just get a room but a whole apartment with a fireplace and kitchen – much more than we needed. And the location was beautiful with a view from the balcony over the entire old town of Cuzco. The owner Christiano and the staff were incredibly sweet and helpful and made sure we had everything we needed.
The old colonial part of Cuzco is very pretty and well maintained and at Christmas time there’s an enormous market on the plaza.
There’s many ways to make a living. These two pretty ladies dressed up in traditional clothes and gave the tourists what they wanted – the perfect photo for a few soles.
It might all seem very picturesque and pretty, but the streets were floating with families living on the streets and malnourished kids. It’s so easy to point your camera in the right direction and oversee the poverty, the homeless people and the extreme difference between the wealthy tourists like ourselves and the poorest of the locals.
In Cusco we met Christina and Christian a couple from Denmark. It turned out they were spending Christmas evening at the same restaurant “El Soleil” as we, and we decided to share a table. It was a wonderful evening.
Back in our little home for the night, we enjoyed the view over the city and the fireplace.
In Peru Christmas is celebrated with fireworks at midnight.- just like new years eve.
Almost as good as a campfire under the stars!
Quinoa Villa Butique B&B in Cusco was the most amazing place we ever stayed (before and during this trip). The breakfast served at our own dining table says it all!
On the 25th we continued toward Machu Picchu. Leaving Cusco was a nightmare. it was pouring down and we were in the old part of town with steep cobblestoned streets. Fortunately the hotel owner Christiano got in his car and drove in front of us through the maze, to the edge of the city.
Outside Cusco the rain was doing a lot of damage to the hills.
Don’t think our helmets would have gotten us through this one!
We were gonna spend the next 2 nights in Ollantaytambo and take the train to Machu Picchu from there.
And once again we found a nice hotel who didn’t mind that we brought our big dirty bikes through their reception.
As everywhere else in Peru, there’s flocks of stray dogs on the streets and they all have that same spot on the middle of their backs where they can’t reach and scratch 🙂
“Ewwwwnnn, a little higher, a little higher!!!!!”
The train to Machu Picchu was very expensive, but today it’s the only way to get there. Waiting for the train, the local venders make sure you have everything you need from sunscreen to mosquito repellant and sunhats.
The tourist trap!
The train rides along the Urumbamba river, past farmers fields and many other ruins.
The train stops in a little tourist town Aqua Caliente where you either walk or take a bus up the hair-pinned road to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spaniard. Even if the locals knew about its existence it wasn’t until 1911 that Hiram Bingham discovered the site.
Not at lot is known for certain about Machu Picchu, but there’s a lot of theories. The setting with the surrounding mountains and the Urumbamba river below is spectacular. During high season up to 2000 people visit the site every day. We were lucky to be here during low season.
The current inhabitants of Machu Picchu
Back in Ollantaytambo I got a bad stomach flu and was forced to stay in bed for a day. The elevation and the fact that I couldn’t keep any liquid in me made me incredible week. Fortunately we were staying at a very nice hotel in a fantastic quiet and large room with awesome beds.
Blanca, the hotel kitten, was great entertainment while I was in bed. She had 2 modes: 100% attack or 100% gone 🙂
Nothing cures a stomach flu better than a warm kitten on your belly!
We met Jim and Max who are riding their BMW 1150GS and a 640 KTM from Skagway Alaska to Ushuaia. Check out their blog. Unfortunately the KTM had defined their trip in the sense that they had nothing but trouble with it. The bikes were now in Medellin in Colombia and they had flewn to Peru, since they had planned to spend Christmas in Cusco together with Jim’s wife Charlotte.
We also met Alejandro and Daniela from Argentina. They were driving the opposite way, from Argentina to Alaska, in their tiny car. They actually slept in the car, which we thought was amazing. They might have better comfort during the day driving than us, but to sleep in a tiny car 2 people every night in the cold and the heat – that’s tough!
Blanca the hotel kitten came out to say goodbye and we nearly fitted her into one of the side panniers!
From Ollantaytambo we headed towards lake Titicaca and the border to Bolivia. The entire valley seems to be a whole different category than what we have seen so far in Peru. Green fruitful fields, tractors and other machinery working the fields, nice houses and livable towns.
The roads are perfect in Peru, but they do get a bit busy sometimes.
The weather makes the whole difference!
Another cute dog in Peru
At a petrol station we ran into this large group of Brazilians. They were on a tour in 8 cars and were all super happy and all smiles and excited to get a group picture with us in the middle 🙂
We went from Ollantaytambo at 2.792 meters (9.160 feet) to Juliaca at 3.825 meters (12.549 ft) and we are back in the rain and the strong cold winds.
We spend the night in Juliaca which is a very unattractive city. The next morning as we headed out we had problems with the KLR. Lars tried to solve the problem, with no luck.
After a while a nice guy offered us to lead us to a mechanic that he knew. It was about a mile away and Lars had to push the heavy fully loaded bike though the floated muddy streets of Juliaca. At 3.825 meters (12.549 ft) elevation this was hard work.
At one point he slid in the mud and dropped the bike! Right in a stinking pothole!
Uhm! Lars jacket and his armor landed right in the stinking mud. Ewwwww!
The guy took us to a place that at first glance looked like nothing like a good mechanic. But within 10 minutes we had 2 guys dedicated to our bikes. They were extremely efficient and quick and worked methodically to find the problem with the KLR.
They never did find it though, but after going through the electrical parts of the bikes, it suddenly started up again! We guess all the water and humidity had been a little too much.
While one guy worked on Lars’ bike the other fixed a few things on mine. I needed an oil change and my luggage rack was broken one on side – probably as a result of all the times I have dropped the bike. They welded it back together and it is almost as good as new again.
Hanging out with the local pin-up! 🙂
At first when Lars’ bike wouldn’t start, I was extremely annoyed, but spending the day with these cool mechanics and talking to all the locals that came by to see the bikes was really awesome. Juliaca is truly an ugly town, but our memories of the place are great, due to the nice people we interacted with.
Leaving Juliaca – we drive past more garbage floating the streets.
We spend the following night in Puno by Lake Titicaca and visited the famous Uros artificial islands made of reeds. The people living there are Pre-Incan and originally the floating islands were made as a defense.
The families would make a little demonstration of how the islands are made and show us their houses. It was expected that everybody would buy some souvenirs and hereby support their lifestyle. They did not charge anything for the visit.
Our host was a pretty young mother. She offered me to get dressed as a local, but I thought the clothes looked better on her.
It was quite a touristy experience and we were glad we didn’t come here during high season. But it’s unquestionable a unique culture and lifestyle lived by very few people. When we left the 3 woman sang a few songs in their local language and ended with “Vamos a la Playa” 🙂
Maintaining the islands requires a lot of hard work. The island deteriorate over time causing them to sink and they constantly have to add new reeds on the top. Today the inhabitants spend a lot of their time handling the mass tourism streaming to the islands and have less time to maintain the islands.
From Puno we headed for the border town Desaguadero.
We weren’t able to find a place to stay before the border and ended up in the actual border town. This is normally a no go. Border towns are usually ugly and filled with industrious people with doubtful intentions and this one was no exception. The fact that it rained really hard did not make it any better.
The first few “hotels” we checked out were disgusting places, run by teenage boys who asked for an astronomic amount for a night. Finally we found one with acceptable level of cleanliness and a good safe place for the bikes. No hot water, but the toilet worked and the beds were great, so no complaints.
On the way there, through the dense traffic, I got too close to a taxi and my hand-guard flicked off the back cover of the side mirror. I got of the bike, apologized, picked up the cover and put it back on. No harm done! At first he seemed OK with that, but a few minutes later, he followed us and wanted more. One of the little studs holding the cover was broken and he insisted, I had done it. I insisted that my soft hand-guard couldn’t have done that, and so the conversation kept going on. Lars was away looking for a hotel and I was stuck there with the 2 bikes. He used a lot of words, and I kept saying “No intiendo” I was nervous that he was gonna get aggressive about it, but he never did, and when Lars finally came back I just left, and to my relief he didn’t pursue it further.
The town was basically a line of houses a long the street. On the backside there was the river between Peru and Bolivia. This is the only river that runs from Lake Titicaca and it was a stinking soup of garbage in and around it.
The next morning the sun was out and we went for a stroll in the border town to see where the different offices were.
Mamma money changer.
Crossing the border on the 31st was smooth. It was New Years and there were no trucks crossing the border. Checking ourselves out of Peru was fairly easy since our papers were all in order. The final police check included a sit down at a desk in their office and questioning, which was odd, since we were leaving the country and not entering. I sensed that if they had been able to find anything on us, they would have made us pay big time. But I used all my charm including big smile, handshakes, “Buenos Dios Senores” and a long story about our trip and how we were working as journalists writing stories about every country we passed through – they finally let me go, more handshakes, smiles and “Feliz Ano Nuevo senores!”
Getting the bikes checked before the border crossing to Bolivia.
Outside a senor tried to milk me for 10 soles by telling me I needed to buy a special ticket for going through the county. I just smiled and said “No, no senor. No para salida Peru. Feliz Ano Nuevo”! And he gave up!
We crossed the bridge over the filthy river. Next to all the garbage, pigs and cows were grassing and a girl was washing her hair!
Thoughts on Peru: (Based on our 2 week short ride through the country)
Peru is everything. It is sun and rain. It’s desert for miles and miles, endless green mountains and rain forest. It’s extreme poverty and wealth. It’s modern society and ancient indigenous cultures. It’s pretty polished tourist attractions and ugly dirty towns and garbage spread all over.
The tourists as well as the locals are kidding themselves. They point their camera at the pretty indigenous women with their colorful skirts and their hats and completely ignore that the same women are sleeping on the streets at night and don’t see the disgusting garbage and the polluted lakes and rivers right next to them. The locals ask what we will see in Peru and what we think of their country, and it’s really hard not to be honest and keep yourself from saying “It’s a dump! And if this is how you treat your front yard, I don’t want to see your back yard!”.
The old Spanish Colonial cities like Cusco, the ruins like Machu Picchu and especially the vast nature is beautiful, but everything made in modern times completely lacks esthetics and any concern for the nature. In Peru you will find plastic trees and plastic deserts. The livestock eat of the garbage and the fish live in the polluted lakes and rivers and so the pollution enters the food chain. Any Peruvian product that states it’s bio-dynamic I would very much question.
Peru is a beautiful jewel and fascinating country with vast nature and a lot of resources and rich cultures. But if the mindset of the people and the leaders of the country is not changed, this jewel will soon be completely covered in its own filth.