Peru: Cusco (28 to 29th August)

We arrived into Cusco at 3pm and the support truck and the two inured riders arrived at 10pm, tough ride for them in the dark but fortunately they are okay.

I was starving when we arrived so Jules and I went to grab a bite and wow once again were rewarded with great food. I’m enjoying the food in S America it suits me. In Abancaya, since I don’t read Spanish, I decided not to even try figure out the menu or order chicken / pollo again so just opened the menu pointed at a dish and ordered it. What a great choice the meal was similar to Chinese fried rice full of vegetables with medallions of beef which had been marinade, totally delicious.

After dinner we coincidentally came across a ceremony of some sorts with some kind of shaman blessing food and lots of dancing and singing, it was fascinating but I wished I knew what it was all about.

Today, the group went off to see Machu Pichu however I did not join them. The last time I was in Peru I hiked the Inca trail to Machu Pichu plus I will be back here with Joern in November. So today was my ”me” day J I like me days. I chilled, did my laundry, blogged, wrote emails while sitting in Nortons pub, skyped for 2 hours with Joern and walked Cusco flat.

What an awesome day. There was a big police parade in the centre of town which was fantastic, all the department we represented, the police, the dog unit, the horse units, the bike units and all of the rescue units, it was simply fantastic. I asked one police lady what the parade was for and as far as I can understand it is a big annual important police day for the police that have graduated (not sure if I understood it correctly but I think that was the just of it)

 This policeman was so nice, he was guarding the roads keeping the crowds back from the parade. Those two little boys crossed right in front of the parade and the small one stopped and burst into tears. The police went and picked him up and shushed him to calm him down, took the other boys and walked them across the street to behind where the crowds were standing. Just so nice…. Policemen rock

 

  Part of the parade were some demos from the swat team. They staged a couple of hijackings and the swat team swooped in guns blazing to save the day, it was actually super cool.

I felt so sorry for these guys they must have been burning up in those wetsuits in the sun, I was sweltering just watching them.

 

 The dog squad was my favourite they had some of the most gorgeous dogs.

Peru: Huanchaco, Lima, Nazca, Abancay (24 to 27th August)

After Manaco we headed down to Huanchaco, the road was long, boring and dusty so the pool was especially welcoming. In Huanchaco we also celebrated Rands birthday the second birthday on the trip.

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Then back on the long Pan Am highway for another dusty hot boring day but finally we made it to Lima, fortunately in the light as no one wants to ride into Lima in the dark. We didn’t get to see much of Lima though but from what I saw it was very modern, but I believe there is a small old city that is worth seeing. I’m looking forward to exploring more of it when I come back to meet up with Joern.

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From Lima we had a shortish ride to Nazca where the guys were hoping to hop a plane to see the Nazca lines but sadly there was a sandstorm so the planes were grounded.

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After Nazca we were in for a real treat. The road out of Nazca is stunning by far the best landscape we have seen so far.  We started off in a chilly overcast day but soon broke through the clouds to mountains that seemed to go on forever. At the top were some crystal clear lakes and many lamas and alpacas. The roads were pristine and there was no traffic. I really got into the twisties this time and enjoyed them more than any other day, this is all due to them being traffic less :)

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There are a few tiny flea bitten towns along the way and I cannot figure out what the people in them do. The very remote settlements are farms which is evident from the amount of Lamas and Alpacas and the herdsmen that you see watching over them. However in these tiny towns life seems quite dismal… but who am I to judge. I do know that I would hate to spend a winter up there

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Heading out of Abancaya we another story. The group got split in two amongst the windy confusing roads. So Roberto decided to carry on, after trying to find the missing 4 riders,  as he knew Rick (the 2nd sweeper guide plus the support vehicle were still in town) There is only one road out of Abancaya to Cusco so we thought we’d meet the other riders on the road. When we stopped for a break,  Rand rode up to us to let Roberto know that the reason the second group was not there was because 2 of the riders had had an accident. They were stopped at a red light and a 16 seated white taxi van had simply ploughed straight into them.  Steve was hit by the van and hurt his foot as well as getting a few nasty bruises. His bike then hit Robert who also suffered a few bruises. Fortunately both riders are okay and can carry on riding and the bikes received a lot of superficial damage so are okay to carry on. A very close call and 100% the drivers fault, what can you say the drivers in Peru suck, nothing like in Colombia.

This was the first big accident we have had, other than this we’ve had bikes in ditches on the side of the road 4 times and once in the gravel on the opposite side of the road. We’ve also had 7 flat tires. Let’s hope the bad incidents are behind us as we will soon enter the Amazon 10 days of real challenging roads.

Peru: Mancora (22 to 23rd August)

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The border crossing from Ecuador to Peru was another story. The road to the border had some of the best views so far and far less traffic so I really enjoyed the twisties J I may convert to a twisitie rider yet…not. The border took forever not only did we need to wait in long lines to do the passport control but getting 13 bikes and a truck though customs took 5 hours.  This meant spending half the ride to Mancora in the dark, not fun. There are no street lights and when I say dark I meant dark. I have really bad eyesight at night as I see halos around all the lights. When I could see the back lights of the bikes in front of me it was ok as I just followed them but when they took off at 120km/hr I slowed down to 80 as you literally couldn’t see a thing. If a dog ran across the road or if there was a pot hole there would have been no chance of me seeing it in time to do anything, so I just went slow and tried hard to see how the road twisted in front of me, but finally we arrived in Mancora.

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Mancora is a little back packers super town and quite cute. We have a rest day today and are all enjoying it.  I did my laundry, checked Gadget out thoroughly. For the last 3 days Gadget has not started in the morning or after lunch, the start switch is just dead and the only thing we can think of is that there is a contact issue since it is dead easy to push start and he’ll start within 2 meters . So I took the starter switch off and spraying it with some contact spray. The really strange thing is that Gadget started perfectly today, very unusual, I still took the button off anyway and am hoping the problem will not return as that could indicate something more serious. I hate electrical problems and I hate intermittent problems even more.

Other thank looking over the bike I had ample time to explore Mancora, swim, eat and just relax.

exploring the local market with Rand and Henry  fresh fruit for lunch

 this is what I looked like for most of the day

Tonight we’re all going out to dinner and will be celebrating Leigh’s 71st birthday.  Leigh and Cathy, who also rides but is riding pillion this trip have been married for 51 years and ridden all over  the world.  They are the most awesome couple I have ever met, they are Cleary still in love but also just seem to get on flawlessly and are good friends. I hope  Joern and I are the same when we are in our 70s (I suspect we will be)

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Ecuador: Quito and Cuenca (20 to 21st August)

The border crossing from Peru to Ecuador was so simple. These things take time but wow how easy, NOTHING like border crossings in Russia.

We made a brief stop at the equator for some pictures, it was cool as I’ve crossed the equator many times but never been on the equator :) The scenery through Colombia and Ecuador has been breathtaking, unfortunately I blinked and missed Ecuador due to the speed we rode through it.  We only spent 2 nights in Ecuador but I will be  coming back anyway on my way down to meet Joern in Peru.

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On the road down to the Peru border

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Colombia: Medellin, Salento, Popayan and Pasto ( 16 to 19 August)

From Medellin to Salento: The 250km ride from Medellin to Salento was interesting to say the least. This group is FAST OMG not only am I not used to riding in a group like this but the entire group ride the same speed and it’s all or nothing. As Leigh commented ‘’usually on a tour like this there is a natural split in the group fast, medium and slow riders, but not on this tour’’ The main thing I am not used to is a tour where all the riders ride together behind a guide and with a sweeper rider at the back (this is like trail riding off-road) The adventure bike tours I have done were run different, each rider was given a GPS with all the routes and waypoints. During the morning briefing we were told at which waypoint we’d meet up, the final waypoint being the hotel. If the route was easy and not complicated we’d only meet at one or two waypoints. If the route was more complicated like Mongolia we’d meet frequently at waypoints. This way everyone rode their own speed stopped for breaks, coffee or pictures at will. Interestingly enough even the really fast biker often arrived last due to stopping for pictures etc. I really like this way of travelling in a tour. It’s taken some getting used to the way Motolombia organise their tour, where you ride and stop as a group. This is not a complaint it is simply different and I am sure suits a lot of people.

So I had a really shell shocked day. I’m not a huge fan of fast mountain twisties but try doing them in Colombia with a group of riders all of who have min 30 years biking experience and do twisties at 80 – 90 kms/hr, then add a myriad of huge Colombian trucks to the mix. I think I ended the day with post traumatic stress disorder. However there were some great views along the way.


Salento, Popayan and Pasto: My first overnight stop with the group was in Salento, what a lovely town. The day we arrived was a holiday and the town was in full celebrations, full of people, music and festivities.

 This lady is making a caramel sweet similar to marshmallow, quite tasty but SWEET

 On the hill overlooking Salento
The next morning we went to a coffee plantation for a tour which I can highly recommend.

ready to get picking

11895996_793453834055967_1753675381199142877_n Brian grinding the coffee
I spent the day riding with the sweeper guide, Roberto. He walked me step by step through twisties, gearing, breaking and watching my line. I also spent a lot of the day following him to get the line right. It was a great day and has done wonder to help me improve my technique and speed. I will never do twisties at 100km/hr or overtake on a blind rises but I am not no more than 5 mins behind the group. I have had to just live with being slower since my justification is that if I wipe out no helicopter it going to arrive in 5 mind and take me to a hospital in 15, plus it means the end of the my 8 month trip. I am just not comfortable going at the same speed as the group and also not willing to take the risks, but then again I don’t have the experience they do so they can handle it.

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Amazon Challenge

In Medellin I joined up with the Amazon Challenge group, a great bunch of people and will be spending the next 45 days with them. We’ll be travelling through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela and back to Colombia.

17 people, 13 bikes and a support truck. I don’t have much time to blog right now so will need to catch up when we have a rest day. Cheers for now

image1 Somewhere in Colombia

11891017_1079043738792107_1514113130718770588_n The group

Colombia: Medellin

Yesterday I had an easy trip to Medellin less than 100kms, but it still took 2.45hrs, and it was nice to be back on the bike.  When you plot a route in Europe Google maps will roughly indicate that 200kms will take 2hrs. In Colombia Google maps will estimate twice that so 200kms will be estimated as 4 hrs and it is not wrong. Google maps estimated the trip from Guadape to Medellin 84kms at 2 hrs. It took me longer due to getting very lost in Medellin :) as some of the GPS roads were closed to motorbikes.

 Graffiti in Medellin

 View from the hotel room

Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia and it sure is huge and has even worse traffic than Bogota. The roads are in good condition though and it is a nice city. I am not a fan of huge cities but when travelling they are worth seeing just to get a feel of the country you are visiting, you need to see both cities and countryside to really feel a country. One thing I have noticed is the amount of police. Not a day has gone by that I have not seen at least 8 to 10 police on motorbikes. I’ve only seen about 2 or 3 police cars as most police are on KLRs or DR650s. I’ve also seen at least 1 to 2  police check points on the roads between cities. I have only been stopped once and that was on the way into Guatape. The policeman was very friendly as asked where I was from and where I am going and wished me luck.

 (I still haven’t had a chance to get a pic of the police so had to borrow this off the internet so you could see the luminous bikes)

So far besides the beauty of Colombia the two things that have struck me is how colourful it is and how friendly the people are.  After arriving I went for a walk and met a local lady in a little coffee shop. She asked me where I was from and what I thought of Medellin. She told me how dangerous Colombia and Medellin were 20 years ago, that it used to be the murder capital of the world at one point. She explained that the government put a lot of money into education, building libraries and schools in some poor areas. She said this has done a lot to raise the prospects of children in those areas so they can now get jobs. The government also put a lot of effort into stopping crime, increasing the police presence. She went on to explain that Medellin is now safe, there are some slums outside the city and she told me not to go there alone, and also to be careful of pick pockets. However this is the same in all big cities, overall Medellin is a safe and nice city. The lady told me that there are still some areas in Colombia close to the border that are dangerous due to the drug cartels but most rural areas are very safe and the people very helpful. She ended by saying Colombia may not be perfect but it is perfect compared to what it used to be like. Wow what insight into this wonderful county in a short conversation, and it goes to show that countries can change.

I knew Colombia was safer than a lot of people would have me believe. I cannot count how many people told me not to visit Colombia as it is so dangerous and that I must be very careful I don’t get kidnapped etc etc, but it is even better than I imagined. It is a pity that it still suffers from the old stigma.

Today I went to explore a little more but it is hot, so I didn’t spend all day walking around just a few hours, downtown and to the Botanical Garden.  In Medellin there are even more police and at least 4 in every metro station, which I very modern, clean and extremely cheap. Sadly at the Botanical gardens the butterfly house was closed for renovations (I love butterflies J ) but I was rewarded by seeing a huge big iguana in a tree. Another good day in Colombia, and tonight the Motolombia tour arrives and I head off on the Amazon Challenge trip for the next 6 weeks. We are going to Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela and back to Colombia.

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Colombia: She’s back from outta space don’t look around now she’s gotta giggle on her face

The town of Puerto Salgar put on a parade in my honour this morning … well in my miiiind

I have no idea what the parade was about but it seemed to have something to do with school kids as they were part of the parade, perhaps it was the first day of school parade. No matter what is was it was a lovely sight to see while riding out of Puerto Salgar.

The road out of town and half the way to Guatape is a perfect motorway. This was great just what I needed the feeling that I was really getting somewhere. The other half of the road was very twisty mountain passes however this time with far far fewer trucks, so I really got to enjoy myself.  I enjoyed every bit of the ride to Guadape and the scenery got even better as did the quaint little roadside cafes. I enjoyed making conversion with the really friendly café owner where I stopped for a coke, she spoke all of 2 words of English but that plus my 3 words of Spanish worked wonders. I’m back, the adventure biker is finally back, this is what I love doing. Just me and my bike against the road, watching the world as we pass by riding through roads that are enclosed by tall trees smelling the earthy smell of damp forest floor or road kill whatever comes first. There was one stretch of road where I spotted 5 dead dogs in about 2kms and smelt a whole lot more, I don’t think Colombian dogs have learned the rules of the road. There are however enough buzzards to make short work of them. I saw hundreds circling overhead all over and thought, well at least if I died on this road my body will go to feed something not a wholly unpleasant thought. but on a more wholesome note I did see some strange things on the road …

 yup .. no idea.

 (I downloaded this off google maps just so you could get an idea of what I saw today riding into Guatape, when I could not stop to take a picture)

Our enjoyable ride was rewarded by an even more enjoyable sight once we entered Guatape.  After finding the hotel and being told must park my bike in the reception I went about trying to get my bike into the reception. This was not as easy as it sounds. The small cobbled street had a step down on a sunken sidewalk which was quite narrow and the entrance to the hotel had a step up. I could not ride my bike along the sidewalk and turn it into the hotel as the turn was too tight and I was worried my panniers would bash the narrow door, it was a VERY tight fit. So I had to enlist the help of the butcher next door much to the amusement of his wife and daughter the two of us struggled with no co-ordination between us (due to lack of using the same language) to push and pull my bike into the hotel. A small crowed had gathered and we all just ended up in tears of laugher. Who needs communication when you have sign language :)

This must be the cutest most colourful town I have ever seen. It is a small touristy town on the edge of a large lake. I spent the afternoon eating empanadas (what else) and drinking a coke while people watching and it was good :) tomorrow I will spend the day in Guatape relaxing, reading, walking, eating and people watching.

Colombia: A Shaky start. Wed 13th and Thu 15th August

After a hair raising ride through downtown Bogota on the back of Labardo bike, not he isn’t a good rider because he is very good. However the Bogota traffic is something out and the hundreds of motorbikes lane split left right and centre. So constantly weaving through the busy stream of traffic is normal for him … but not me. However after arriving at the bonded warehouse I felt like a kid at Christmas opening the biggest present ever … my bike. It seemed to take forever to get gadget out of the crate but Lobardo and I finally got all the screws undone and the plastic pulled off and there was my baby in perfect working order. After all the paperwork was done, petrol and SATO insurance purchased I was ready for a good night sleep and eager to head off to Puerto Salgar in the morning. I abstained from my usual dinner of empanadas to indulge in the biggest avocado I have ever eaten, it was extremely delicious and filling.

Trying to navigate my way through the Bogota traffic on a bike that felt unbelievable too heavy was another story. I was honestly quite shaky and just not all together with it. My luggage pannier sand pannier racks included comes to 55kg. Panniers and racks 10kg, 8kgs in each pannier and my bag 23kgs with extra rear tire (which will stay in Medellin for my return after the Amazon challenge tour) This all weighs less than a person and I’ve lifted people who easily weight 70kgs, but this dead top heavy weight really took some getting used to. The relay bonus is that the panniers will stay in Medellin, and my bag will go on the support truck during the tour. Thereafter things will get lighter as I start using up my supplies … and ditching those things I never should have brought in the first place :) (you always find something you don’t need)

The road to Puerto Salgar is not too bad, not pristine but not bad at all. It is a very windy mountain road though with a plethora of large trucks each intent on killing each other by overtaking on double yellow lines ignoring both the no overtaking and 30km/h speed limit signs. I felt way out of my depth trying to fight for road space with these monsters. I struggled to bring myself to overtake on double yellow lines so spent most of the trip at 30 to 40km/h behind the trucks.  On the odd occasion steeling my nerves to cross those yellow markers of doom.  I was narrowly missed a number of times when trucks over taking each other in both directs had to swerve back onto my side of the road.

The trip however was not bad but the 200kms did take 5 hours, which did give me time to check out the scenery  Stunning to say the least,  the buzzards and road kill, and the very many strange road signs. Coming from South Africa I am quite used to seeing road signs for wild animals, but these were quit amusing signs for snakes, tortoises, foxes, porcupines (well I think it looked like porcupines) and anteaters I did you not J This one of the best things about travelling in a foreign country are the little idiosyncrasies.

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Colombia Bogota

I think I’ll live on empanadas. The highlight of my day today was finding a little street café which sold the larges scrummiest empanadas ever. But let me go back a step.

I arrived in Bogotá on Sunday without my travelling head on my shoulders, so got TOTALLY ripped off by a taxi. I walked out of the airport with my heavy bag and wanted to catch a taxi to the B&B. I saw a group of people with badges and yellow vests with taxi written on them so I asked them where I get a taxi to the B&B and gave them the B&B address. They got on a radio and there were a load of people milling around shouting and saying this B&B is too far and too expensive they have a better one… ja right I’ve heard that before … I insisted I need to go to this B&B and eventually they agreed and bundled me into a minivan saying the taxi is usd15. I argued that that was too much but they said no that is the fee take it or leave it. I stupidly took it. As the tax minivan pulled out of the airport I saw a long line of yellow small cabs. I asked the driver and he said ‘’oh no small cheap cabs not good, different company’’ uuggghhh I bet they didn’t cost usd 15. I get to the hotel which is 6 mins from the airport. Well stupid me, I should have taken 5 mins at the airport to get my travel bearings.

I was meant to collect my bike today but the stupid airline would not move it to the bonded warehouse on a Saturday. It arrived last Thursday but Friday was a public holiday. Then today they only moved it this afternoon so we can only get an appointment with the customs inspector tomorrow.  What a waste of a day as we (the agent and I) were hoping to get it out today and I had to stay at the hotel to wait for the agent to fetch me. I did however go for a long walk in the area. It was interesting, as always, to see buildings in a different country.  And the empanadas were worth it  J

I am also getting my travel head back on, having ‘’conversations’’ with the lady who runs the B&B who does not speak a single word of English, but she is so friendly and keeps feeding me coffee I don’t think I’ll sleep for a week  8)

I have been planning this trip for almost 3 years and kept promising myself that I would learn Spanish and got a couple of really good CDs. The problem is when you work 12 hour days you are just to damn exhausted to do much else, even my weekends were a bust as I was so tired I just wanted to chill, or I had a bike to fix or needed to spend time with Joern … excuses excuses but the bottom line is I never did learn Spanish and now I am sorry I didn’t. I do have a small intro course with me and have started working on that, I hope it helps.

Let’s hope tomorrow brings me good news on the bike and I can head off on Wednesday.