Friday, April 10, 2009

This is Getting Beyond a Joke

Remember that tyre man I was supposed to remember to visit? Well, I forgot. Or at least I based my decision not to visit one on the way out of Huancayo on the fact that the last repair lasted 5000km, more than enough to get to Trujillo and do it there. So I passed all the llanterias and vulcanizadoras by with barely a glance, as I motored the totally tarmac route to Hunaco. Until, that is that my rear end started feeling squishy again. Its no laughing matter, let me tell you, when your rear end starts to feel squishy! I pulled over, peered backwards at my tyre and, lo and behold, it was flat again.

Luckily, a mere 1km at walking-pace-on-a-flat-tyre up the road, was a vulcanizadora who sorted me right out for S/.5 , including fixing the bodged patch on my spare tube as well. Crisis averted, and in only an hour too. Great what you can do quickly when you spend your life doing it, eh?

The rest of the day passed relatively uneventfully, just racking up the miles and getting to Huanaco by evening no worries. Next morning at 0805 I set off again, on what was looking to be a long day of 350km, the first bit all off road. As it turned out it was persisting down, but despite this I decided to give it a go, not least because Hunaco is not a very inspiring place.

The road out of town was bad, the river running alongside was in full flood, and as the road got steeper, it also got pot-holier, muddier and lumpier. The temptation to turn back and sod it was great, but on I soldiered at the remarkably swift rate of 20km/h for the next 6 1/2 hours. Yes, it took me that long to get to La Union, the almost-but-not-quite half-way point, and the only other place to stop for the night before Huaraz. And so I stopped, given that it was at least 4 more hours at best, in the rain, and no guarantee of getting there anyway. Reckon I'll finish it off tomorrow. And this too.

I'm mildly aware, incidentally, that I don't want this to turn into a dull and repetitive day by day acount of me driving places (I hope it hasn't so far). I'll work on it. In the meantime, back straight, shoulders back, head up, take a deep breath and hold iiiitt.......

....Aaaaand relax! Bloody lying hostal owner. It was far closer and nearly all on tarmac from La Union to Huaraz, not gravel and stuff like he said. Still, he probably just needed someone, anyone, to stay in his hostal. It still took about 4 hours as well, so not something I'd have wanted to do yeseterday afternoon in the rain. Huaraz strikes me as a very Quessnstown-y place as far as scenery goes (big mountians with snow on, pine trees and rivers etc), but the town is once again typically run down. It is, however, aware of its potential as a tourist honeypot, and is working on its image. Well done Huaraz! Stayed one night, during which it rained almost continually, and delayed the decision as to whether I go on to Trujillo tomorrow until the morning.

Wow. I've said that before about other things, but wow. Double wow, in fact. Almost a triple wow, come to think about it. Its only not a triple wow because the off road section was only 70km or so, otherwise it would be triple wow for sure. Given that I'm drawing to an end of the motorbiking section of the trip, this was one hell of a way to go out.

Out of Huaraz there is a road. Its a road that begins with tarmac, albeit tarmac with surprise pot-holes around cormers and sections of mud where the cliff collapsed across it one evening having been unable to withstand the rain just a little bit longer. It was raining last night as it happens, so some of these slips were still in the "little man with a spade trying to move several tonnes of mud and tapir-sized rocks off the road" stage (apologies for the similie there, I've worked with a tapir, you see, so I know for a fact the rocks were the same size as one. Go to the zoo if you want a better mental picture). This less-than-pristine tarmac continues for about 100km, maybe a little less, then becomes a gravel-and-other-substances road for 70-odd km, before returning to actually very good tarmac indeed. Its the 70-odd km that deserve a mention here. That's 70-odd km that go by the name of......Duck Canyon (Dah dah daaaahh!!!!).

Ok, its a crap name. Its name is actually Canyon del Pato, and pato in Spanish translates to duck, so I guessed it meant Canyon of the Duck, or Duck Canyon, if you will. I'm hoping, none too secretly as it happens, that "pato" in Quechuan, the local Indian dialect, translates as something like "road that all but the bravest warriors fear to tread" or somesuch, but "pato" just seems a little too short of a word to mean all that.

Anyhow, back to the road, and don't let the name lull you into a false sense of security. Its lucky, I think its fair to say, that I had taken the road less travelled in the preceeding few days, because it was, as it turns out, great training for Duck Canyon. Because of where I had been recently, I had seen nearly everything Duck Canyon had to offer.There was less deep mud in the canyon, and it didn't climb as high as I had expected it to, but that was all that was missing. But its not what was missing that was the significant part; its what it had extra that's important.

Imagine, if you will, a raging torrent, fuelled by heavy rains and a catchment area the size of NZ (OK, that might be an exageration a bit, but it was big and raging, for sure, and it had been raining). Now alongside the river, 'pon a high path barely wide enough for a truck with ne'er a protective barrier to be seen, throw in a cocktail of big rocks, potholes, landslips, loose shale, streams, tunnels chipped from the very rock faces themsleves, a drop to near certain death should even a slight mistake be made...but no, I better stop there, lest you have nightmares for a week, and Mother has kittens.

It was not the best surfaced road in Peru, I'll give it that, and the drop-off was genuine, as were the tunnels and other stuff, and speed was once again limited by these factors to a still fairly hairy feeling 30km/h. I tried, I really did, to take video footage as I went along, and I hope it comes out well enough to make Richard even more sorry he stuffed up his bike visa (sorry mate, but you would have loved this road!).

It was a fine parting shot for the Crazy Roads Tour. Utterly appropriate and, combined with the previous few days, a suitable tribute and swansong for the whole journey. During the days ride, I notched up kilometre number 30,000, dropped the bike a number of times, almost entirely due to overbalancing on the treacherous surface while at a standstill (an old favourite of mine, that), bent the handle bars a little picking the bike up, the chain started to stretch like a rubber band that only stretches one way, probably due to my neglecting it over the last week when it got dusty and wet and muddy many, many times. Serves me right. Oh, and the luggage rack appears to have broken again, in an altogether new and more serious place than ever before. Givi have a lot to answer for, let me tell you.

So, on my arrival in Trujillo where I had a couple of days to gather my wits, a monumental decsion was made. I would leave the bike in Trujillo (where Bruce Peru can keep half an eye on it and my ramaining luggage) and I would take a small bag and a...I can barely bring myself to say it....a Ecuador and sort out a trip over to the Galapagos Islands for the last couple of weeks left to me before I have to get to Lima for the rather tedious, and no doubt highly complicated, process of crating and shipping the bike back to NZ.

It makes sense really. Why drive an extra 2 - 3000km up long, straight, dusty, tedious desert roads, seeing nothing that I haven't seen before, just to turn around and come back pretty much the same way, with no real certainty of having a safe place to leave my stuff, of getting a flight to the islands or even a tour when I got there? This way, I can save time and money travelling, get longer on the islands, and get back to Trujillo in time for tea and scones, hurrah! Although I won't get to Columbia, which sucks a bit but probably eases the olds' minds a bit. They've had a lot to put up with over the last 10 months or so, bless them.

And that's exactly what has happened. I sit here before you (well, before this computer screen writing to you) in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, having just visited a small town park crawling with iguanas that try to steal packed lunches, awaiting my flight in the morning to the island of Santa Cruz, from whence I shall book some scuba diving and day trips as I await my vessel to set sail in Darwin's footprints (oh, you know what I mean) on a 4 day voyage of re-discovery, before docking on the island of San Cristobal in order to return to Guayquil and thence Trujillo, where I shall collect my bike and luggage and delicately, so as not to further damage the rack, proceed to Lima and the last stop on the Crazy Roads Tour. I fully expect to be able to write a little more from the Islands (they have all sorts of modern contraptions you know, including, I believe, a horseless cart that moves under its own power!! Amazing!) so fear ye not (can someone please explain why this entry seems to have gone all medievel in its language?), I shall be in touch before too long. Now, go and powder you codpieces ready for tomorrows jousting, you blaggards.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Flying without my Rear-gunner. So to Speak.

Blimey. I can tell already that I have lots of long days with short distances ahead of me. I figured I might, but its looking worse than I thought. Or better, come to think of it.

Yesterday was Cusco - Andahuaylas (a name I had enormous trouble remembering for some reason, every time I stopped to ask if this was the road to A...), and I knew before I started that the bit to Abancay would take 3 hours minimum, followed by a second 130km odd stretch that took about 3 1/2 hours.

The first bit was as good as I knew it would be, having ridden it the other way just a week or so before. The second bit was almost entirely gravel, and just as steep and curving as the first bit. Some amazing scenery that left me thinking how much Rich would be enjoying it, and feeling that for almost the first time I was seeing the Peru that I had imagined. Huge, sharp-edged mountains, erupting out of lush, cultivated valleys, in the middle of nowhere. Fantastic.

And today (Sunday) was about the same. 260km in 8 1/2 hours form Andahuaylas to Ayacucho, over every type of off-road you could hope to get (keeping in mind there are some sorts - sand, mud, snow, deep gravel etc - you don't want to get). It started as normal, stoney gravel, became extremely pot-holed, all of which were filled with water, requiring much 1st and 2nd gear dodging in and out (I'm getting very good at potholes - I manage to hit nearly everyone!), immaculate smooth hard pack with light gravel, turning to light sand (bearable) and becoming extremely lumpy without being pothole-y, also requiring 1st and 2nd gear (I'm good at lumps, too). The apparently final stretch was immaculate hard-pack (got a little worried when it showered, as it could have become slippery), and then finished with a lumpy flourish. It was a fantastic day to ride, and perfect training for the road between Ayacucho and Huancayo, which has a reputation, and I'll say no more until afterwards. It was tiring though, and when I got to Ayacucho, I experienced the first major issue of journeying alone. Security.

Normally, one of us would stay with the bikes while the other arranged barracks. Today, even though I parked in sight of the reception desk and was gone barely 5 minutes, when I came out to collect my stuff, one of the front bags had been emptied. I think they only really got a bunch of long johns and shorts etc, but also my English-Spanish dictionary and my bendy tripod, thus making self-photos harder. And to think it was not only a Sunday, but the first day of their holy week Easter celebrations. Godless heathens.

Ok, we're 2 days later, and I'm in Huancayo. 280kmin 11 hours, door to door. All very exciting, and one of the most satisfying days yet. I left Ayacuchu as early as possible, about 0750, not wanting to stay in a town that robbed me, besides which it didn't seem like a welcoming place. every on seemed in a hurry, which is not typical of anywhere in South AMerica really, except some of the major cities.

A quick blat up some tarmac took me about 90km into the day in an hour and a half, and then the good stuff started (Rich maybe slightly surprised and hopefully a little proud to hear me refer to off-road as "good stuff"). Up the curvy roads I went, climbing all the while, checking my progress with nearly every bemused looking local I passed, as road signs wre non-existant, and despite the fact there was only one road marked on my map, there were many more out in the real world.

I was planning to take the high road to Huancayo, rather than the one that followed the river, and in Mayocc where the road split, I checked which was the right one with the local police. After firmly recommending the river road, he conceded and directed me to the mountain road, warning me of the altitude and cold and potholes (hah! he had no idea who he was talking to!) and off I went. It was shaping up to be as good as I'd hoped (video does exist - if the camera was set up OK), and when my back end went spongy, even a puncture didn't dampen my spirits. It ws 1125.

Hmmm. Edge of winding mountain road - outside edge, that is - flat tyre, no mate to help, just my raw wits and hard earned experience. Bike chocked up on side box+rock, wheel off no probs, but how to break the seal to take the tyre off, without a second bike with convenient side stand? Just then, as luck would have it, a massive construction truck came past (actually, as I was in the middle of an area of road construction, several came past, but this one stopped) and the driver kindly suggested that maybe if he drove over the tyre, it might break the seal. It didn't. Either time. But nice try. Only one thing for it, I'd need to use the stand on my own bike. So, with much struggling, lifting, balancing and shuffling with foot, I got the tyre under the stand, leaned on it and off she popped. Shuffled tyre out, lifted bike back on to box (harder than it sounds) and got on with the job. Time 1150-ish.

Tyre off rim very easily, tube out, offending nail removed from 3-day old, brand new tyre, patch applied in 2 places (second was precautionary - I might have damaged the tube taking off the tyre), tube stuffed back in and tyre re-fitted with remarkable ease (be proud, Rich, be proud!). Re-inflation underway, time 1220-ish. No holes (a first for me - replacing tyre without digging more holes in the tube, requiring second removal of tyre), pressure up (hand pump only), bead on one side popped out, but not on the other. Damn. Time 1240. Two choices: stick wheel on bike and hop it pops out as I ride along, or deflate and have another go. Option 2 it was, and given breaks for a snack and rest, by 1310-ish, still not right. Option 1 then. Wheel back on bike and boxes reloaded by 1330, and off I went, with about 5 hours of riding and 5 hours of daylight. It was going to be close if I wanted to get to Huancayo before dark. Which I did. The policeman in Mayocc had said there were bandidos in the hills at night!

Fortune favours the brave, though, and before long a check showed the tyre had popped its bead perfectly (Yes!!), and the riding was still superb. Until I got up in the clouds (about 4500m if the choking sound from my bike were to be believed) and it began to drizzle and rain. Road turned...not slippery exactly (thank god) but not totally trustworthy either, so speed much reduced, and time still ticking past rather quickly. Conditions improved though, as did visibility, and before long I was on the down hill side and moving well again. Made it to Pampas, my emergency-plan town by 5pm, and the police there reckoned it'd be easy to get to Huancayo before dark, showed me the road and waved me away. He was right. More up and curves, great surface, and before I knew it I was on the tarmac stetch in to town, and what a treat that was! For the first time in 3 days I was able to get above 70km/h, and hurtled into town just as it got dimpsey. Picked a hotel from my book and moved in, bugger the cost its on Visa, and decided to have a day off. I figure I'd deserved it. Should be in Trujillo by Friday, giving me Easter weekend at the beach. Fingers crossed, eh? Must remember to take the bike to a proper tyre repair man.....

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cusco-ver Again

I was right, you know. It did take 2 days to get back to Cusco.

The first was in 2 parts as far as Abancay. Part one, as far as Puquio, was a bit rough with many inconvenient roadworks and roads with top surface removed in readiness for new asphalt. Can't complain about that I guess, and the scenery was stunning nonetheless, and the road as winding as you could have hoped for. From Puquio onwards, the surface was outstanding, the curves went over a stretch of alti-plano, where a vicuña (part of the llama family) nearly took me out for good by crossing the road at almost exactly the wrong moment (luckily my lightening quick reflexes and suprememly safe riding style kept me safe), and then down to follow a river up a valley into Abancay. A truely lovely ride, I have to say.

Day 2 was a short one from Abancay to Cusco, only 180km, and not gravelly as my map suggested, but quality surface again. Still took 3 hours, mind you, so that gives you some idea of how curvy it actually was. Very enjoyable as well, and I got to Cusco about 12ish on Friday.

I was expecting to be staying until about Wednesday, allowing for urgently needed chiropractic appointments, visits to Machu Picchu and catching up with Rich, but in fact left only today, 8 days later.

I got my chiro, visited my badass massage lady (pain like you wouldn't believe. My back's going to take some straightening when I get back to UK/NZ), caught up with everyone I'd met while working in town, got to MP for the day and waited for Rich. And here is where the problem lay. Rich, bless him, asked the customs office in Cusco for an extension on his bike documents as they were about to expire in a couple days. They said "you have to leave the country and come back in to get extensions, but if you ask in the SUNAT office, they'll give you an exemption to give you time to get back to Bolivia". They lied. Well, they didn't lie, exactly, SUNAT wrote a letter for Rich giving him 10 days extra, so he didn't rush to the border, and arrived 3 days after the original documents expired. He showed the customs guys the letter, and then had to wait 10 minutes until they stopped laughing. It turns out SUNAT have no authority to grant extensions, Rich's bike was 3 days over its limit, and was therefore supposed to be impounded, never to be released again, ever. Luckily, the customs people were extremely helpful, gave Rich all sorts of advice about how to avoid impoundage (flee, basically) and actually encouraged him to run the border, by getting his passport stamped and then just driving the bike across and not looking back. Which he did, into Bolivia, then came back to Cusco on the bus to collect his stuff and have an emergency meeting. After much umm-ing and aaah-ing and beer, we came to the difficult decision that I should continue to Ecuador and beyond, and aim for Lima at the end, and he would go back south and explore a bit more in Bolivia and Chile etc, and find an alternative port to ship from. Sad, but true. The team has been disbanded thanks to mis-information, and the final 5 weeks or so will be 2 separate solo missions. On the upside, I can make up all sorts of wild and crazy tales and have no-one to contradict me, but then again, I doubt I'll be needing to make anything up!

But that all aside, I glossed over the Machu Picchu day, which deserves better, quite frankly. I decided, for many reasons, to take the easy option and do MP in a day by train. So, a 7.40 train took me 11okm in 4 hours, to Aguas Calientes, then a bus took me up to the ruins. I did the hard yards then, and went up Wayna Picchu, which, if you've ever seen a photo of MP, is the taller of the 2 mountains usually in the background. Yes, that's right, the hugely, ridiculously, you-can't-be-serious, steep mountain. Its top is about 300m higher than MP, and that's an almost vertical climb up what I guess are the original steps, up to the ruins on the top of the hill. "What were they thinking when they decided to build up here" popped into my head as I huffed and puffed to the top, the huffing and puffing due less to the altitude (which was only 2500m after all) and more to my terrible fitness levels. I made it though, and it was worth the effort. The view was astounding, the ruins were more authentic than in MP on account of looking more aged and less restored, and the satisfaction of a job well done helped with the climb down.

Machu itself was also pretty amazing. Its the sort of place where its possible to wander around for hours getting lost in a kind of time-warp, as long as you can ignore the soudn of the tourist police blowing their whistles if they suspect you of staring at the walls too hard. But, due to my return train, I only had a couple of hours, before jumping on the bus down the hill and hopping the train for the painfully slow trip back to Cusco. Hopefully the photos will paint a better picture than me, when I finally get them on to Flickr, but sadly its one of those over-photograophed places that no matter how hard I try will just seem like all the other photos and postcards out there. Except that I'm in some of them, of course...

The only other occasion of note while back in Cusco was meeting up with David and Judith for dinner one night, which as a huge amount of fun, and we all enjoyed our cholesterol-free alpaca steaks to the max. Looking forward to catching up with them in July.

And that's it for now. I'm in Andahuaylas tonight, but I'll tell you all about that next time. And I guess all that is left to say is something along the lines of "go safely Rich, and thanks for everything. Its time to stand on my own 2 feet. See you in NZ in August". Why do I have all the classic comedy sign offs in my head? Now is the time to say goodbye...its goodbye from me and its goodbye from him...soupy twist...I should probably save them for the last entry at the end of the trip, huh? Sleep tight.