The day’s track across the final Peruvian altiplano into Bolivia. It’s going to be a harder day than usual and not because of the riding, which was easy
And the interesting elevation plot
The plan was to cross 245 miles of altiplano, deal with the border issues for Bolivia and get to Copacabana before dark.
Leaving Moquegua. Lousy place
Up out of the sand and into the hills
Leaving the sparse green behind
The climb was rapid. Up to 15,500 feet in less than two hours
Unlike previous crossings the landscape was grim
Somehow unwelcoming. It was bleak in a gloomy way. Cold and breezy
It was missing something. It even lacked awe
A truck has flipped. The only car or truck I’d seen at all. This is a remote corner of Peru
An hour or two later it improved
A lake devoid of Andean geese, ducks or flamingoes
A dead lake
A village. I needed one of the three towns ahead to have gas. This didn’t
A large lake that steamed. If I had more time I would have found a track to it or walked it
Then another lake with a few llama at the shoreline
Further along, our second village. No gas. OK, one more town to go after this and we’ll be fine I say to Lucinda. The road interrupted a procession that led up steps to the road, crossed under a gate and up the mountainside past brightly colored shrines to a cross at the top. Looking to the town
And on the other side. A cross at the very top
Then along maybe 25 miles things changed dramatically. I guess we’d entered a different climatic zone. A green field full of llamas
I was really surprised because we hadn’t lost any altitude. It became fertile and small farms appeared with regularity
Homes in the shadows
And on hillsides
One valley was shot through with these huge slabs. Click to see how huge
Some times huge open plains being farmed
At some kind of a junction locals were trading stuff with each other beside a few empty buildings
Chaotic, but probably they’ve been meeting here for hundreds of years
Half of the business was happening out of the back of cars and vans. I hung around to watch for a while. Mistake
Like Peru, not many motos
Larger clusters of steel roofed homes
Then another uplifting sight
This was the third and final village before the stretch to Yunguyo. My heart sank as I realized there was no gas opp here. Lucinda was telling me she had 30 miles of gas left and my GPS was telling me 40 to go. Well there’s the back-up plan: ride into the village a buy it out of a can from whoever will listen. Tried and true by many a long distance rider. I thought I’d press on and see what happened
Now we had two problems, the other being on a stopwatch for the border on, let alone dealing with it. Some how I’ve been mostly lucky with these riskier days but leaving the border until last was a big roll of the dice. Anyway we were entertained by beautiful landscapes. Stop the bike, shoot while idling, 20 seconds, no problem
We started stumbling. Stop the bike, roll it from side to side, keep going. That got us to Desaguadero which we hadn’t even noticed on the map. I bought thirty seconds worth of gas and charged on.
Imagine running out of gas with two empty Rotopax’s. Idiot scenario. But not really because so far 200 miles has been a safe distance with a little planning. I know that at some point that it’s no longer possible. It’s just a question of finding out where the distances stretch out – it’s here.
Past the border crossing south into Bolivia, not mine though
Through the border dive of Yunguyo
Rip to the border another 45 minutes down the road past Titicaca
To the second border option, to Copacabana
Look how long the shadows are. Sunset shortly. Into Peru immigration to be stamped out. I’m at the mercy of personalities now and can’t speed things up so take photos. She’s great, on to the next one
Aduana – the tough one
This guy is the best guy who ever worked a Latin border. He not only processed me fast but even went out to the photocopy place to get copies for me
Then immigration and aduana for Bolivia. No pics as the Bolivians were intense and uniformed for war. Immigration was no problem. Aduana was slow but ok. Then a crazy thing happened. Normally you head off and get insurance (seguro) afterwards, if it’s optional, or before aduana if it’s not. Well I’ve been industrious and bought Insurance for the next three countries through a reputable broker in Buenos Aires on-line (for following riders Google Robert Speiser Insurance, Buenos Aires)
As I leave aduana a policemen, as is not uncommon, asks me for a document check before letting me through. He checks my passport, my customs certificate and my insurance. He rejects my insurance. I’m ushered into an office and another cop looks at my insurance.They leave me in the room for a few minutes and come back and say it’s no good. And that the seguro office is closed. I’ll have to come back the next day they say. They smile hugely and ask if we can cooperate. Uh oh, a shake down. Now the thing I hate about this is that it’s possible to walk into a trap. If you offer a bribe and it’s a set-up you can be hauled off for attempt to bribe. So the thing is to find out if they’re just legitimate crooks, or something more complicated. In a moment of inspiration I ask the guy in front of a computer what the number is on the screen in front of him. He looks at me strangely. I’m covered – it’s a meaningless question that determines the next move. He then throws me into confusion by blurting out ‘six’. Wtf? Why not five or ten something? Did he panic? Six what , anyway? Not six hundred, not sixty, not six Bolivianos. Nothing with ‘six’ in it makes bribe-size sense. After eliminating all currency variations of six in my head it occurs to me he means a random six dollars, solamente. The smallest bribe request yet. I gave him ten, the smallest I had, looked at him intently to make sure I’m on the right thread, he smiled like a demon and I walked out.
Then a short ride to Copacabana. What a day – a long ride, nearly ran out of gas then a close timing call at the border followed by a mini-shakedown. This never happens to us this way. I’d better think about it.
Before we leave Peru we want to cross the altiplano once more. To do this we have to head south and look for the last entry point east.
But first, to Moquegua. The days track
And because the ride turns out to be so interesting, even though it’s down a highway before the real ride begins the next day, the google earth that matches
And because we haven’t been close to sea-level for a while, the elevation profile
We start through a broken landscape. A straw ghetto in the valley
The mountains ahead are brown and white
We pass the last settlement for a long while
The brown and white contrast becomes more interesting
When you ride to the margin you see strange things
As white as snow, as fine as dust
There’s a 50 mile plain between the brown-and-white. A long abandoned rest-stop on pink sand
The brown and white mountains fade away and we ride through low grey hills following a lazy road that’s in no hurry to head anyplace
Then, just in time, a tiny village with 3 or 4 lunch spots just waiting for judgement and selection
I got a couple of emails about the lunch-stop post a while ago, so here’s the selection. Option A
Option B, the winner
Then back onto the highway. This is the road riders doing the PanAmerican take into Chile. They get nice sections too, like this
Then suddenly into Moquegua. Nothing here at all except a half hour of riding around looking for somewhere to stay and to keep Lucinda safe. The green surrounds a small river and it’s not somewhere to be
The handling of Lucinda’s two major problems by BMW Lima wasn’t the greatest. Repeated fails have caused them embarrassment and me frustration. So they’re coming down to Arequipa to fix her once and for all at their cost. We hope it’s the end of the issues.
Alvaro stays another day to watch what’s going on and to help with the more advanced Spanish bike discussions. Not only this but Alvaro has set up plan B with an outstanding mechanic that he knows in Antofagasta , Chili, which is just down the road a bit. After a few hours he heads off back to Lima. We’ll be riding together soon. We have a great deal in common, share similar visions and are both solo riders. He swears he’s going to join me for a leg. The one that appeals to him most is Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq. But maybe something sooner. Anyway amigo, thanks for everything.
Soon she’s in pieces
For the next two days they work for a few hours, then I test ride her for a few hours. One time I take her for a tour of one of the many huge mining operations around here. As big as a city and surrounded by whorehouses
Tour the burbs
And after a few days we’re 50% confident that things are well. I won’t go into the details because there’s still some controversy. I’m doubting a coincidence that needs to be overlooked for this to be over. Lucinda is not convinced either. I like it that she always agrees with me. So we’re going to cast off knowing that there’s someone excellent not so far away. But it will change the plan. Let’s see how it goes.
On the track you’ll see an upper leg. That was me sending us off in the wrong direction. I had used the ‘go to’ function on the GPS and it picked a goat track. I should have checked the path on the unit before we left.
Anyway, off we go in the right direction on the wrong road. We cross a river first
There’s a great footbridge
Back through a small town. All the towns in the valley have a similar feel. Some of this
And some of this
Then we’re off into the valley headed west on good if sometimes sandy or rocky dirt. Sometimes it does the Peruvian cliff-edge thing which is always fun. If you want to watch a good video of what riding around these villages and roads is like, it’s to the left. Me in front, Alvaro filming (click, enlarge and click HD). Alvaro’s testing his GoPro but it keeps getting dusted up here.
It feels a bit like Italy
At one we round a corner and there’s a van stuck. It takes about 30 minutes for him to get started again
We hang out and talk to a local. The valley is a network of aquifers and troughs moving water around in concrete or stone. Where we’re waiting water comes down a ramp beside us
Under the road. You have to watch for these as you’re riding – some are much bigger
And off to a field on the other side. It’s all very nice
Great country riding
It’s not long, an hour or so, before I figure out we’re on the wrong road. They take small tour buses up the Colca and it’s fairly obvious they’re not coming this way. So we reverse
I see the other road and we head there. It’s dirt too. We pass another bullfighting ring. Now I’m looking for them, they’re everywhere
We ride along a ridge road that looks over the valley. If you click to enlarge this you’ll see literally thousands of terraces built over many centuries by the Incans that recede to the far mountains. It’s the biggest terrace display I’ve seen in two months of Peru
The road gradually winds towards a canyon
In this pic you can see the road in the ridge cut to the left and a big fire on a valley wall to the right
A screen shot on this road (from an Alvaro video) showing the typical Peruvian epic drop-offs that are so much fun
A couple for hours later we turn a corner and we’re in the Colca Canyon. You need a different lens to show the truth of this staggering place. It’s the home of the great Andean Condor.
The condor viewing platforms
Giant walls opposite
It’s 13,650 feet deep. This photo is most of that. We’re late for the condors. An indigenous woman says it’s too hot. We wait for an hour, enjoying the views. Then empty-handed but not unhappy we head back. We stop at this village
We have a cactus juice at one of the four our five stalls in the market
A llama and a peregrine tied to a post
An old bird man is walking through the market with another peregrine.
For a few solas Alvaro poses with it. A beautiful bird, in pristine condition.
We met some German riders in the village. We’d seen them before up at the viewpoint. They’d rented bikes in Arequipa and were on a guided tour riding Peru for three weeks.
They’d seen the condors. Arrggh. Oh well, next time. We headed back to our hotel on the river and talked business over beers
The next morning we resumed our business chat until the days’ ride back to Arequipa was going to have to be a very fast one. We started off with construction delays. Bikes to the front, as always
Then back through the burbs into Arequipa. It had been a very fast ride.
The first day’s track of three to Colca Canyon and back
We’re headed over a high corner of the altiplano. This will be my fourth time. The elevation profile – we top at nearly 16,000 feet
It’s a late start because of the military parade. We climb the cactus covered hills out of Arequipa. Alvaro’s bike is the all-new 2014 1200GS, watercooled and packing 135hp. He painted it a metallic brown before taking delivery, it’s sharp. A twenty-mile surround of Arequipa is dust and dirt – climbing out of it is a relief
As the chart shows we’re climbing constantly
Past 20,000 foot peaks
At about 14,000 feet vicuna are grazing on tough alpine plants. They’re extremely beautiful animals. Leaner and more athletic than llama or alpaca
An exotic landscape that can change rapidly. But the consistent thing is how vivid the color and definition is in the clear air at this altitude
We round a corner and incredibly, there’s a huge marsh and a small pond
It’s very cold
Up against a small hill there are ancient walls. Everywhere we’ve been in Peru there are ancient abandoned settlements at high altitude, and always near water with the exception of outside Nazca. A flock of long-beaked birds patrol the shore for whatever passes for food up here
I disturb them with as little fuss as possible to see them in flight. Oh well, it’s worth the shot
Ducks with huge blood-red feet chasing each other
Further along are more of the giant Andean geese
A huge escarpment with hoodoos stands alone. You see a unique feature here for a few minutes and then everything changes. The constant is the intensity of the sunlight
With a small village at its base. Being a sea-level city boy I really haven’t given a damn about UV or other hocus-pocus radiation talk but everything up here is fried
Nearing the top
The landscapes are huge. Those cliffs are miles away
At the summit are huge clumps of Raoulia and little else
In no book have I seen such gigantic specimens. They must love the baking. Alvaro and I talk about the effects of being at 16,000 feet. The climbers I know of following this blog will laugh at the relative lowness of this but you do feel it. I bring it up now because I wandered off to get the below picture through the soft sand aways and by the time I was back I was noticeably shorter of air when I climbed back on the bike
On the descent we see huge herds of llamas in the valleys. The higher we get the more we see. Click to see them
Giant black bluffs on the western slopes. The road ahead cuts across the lower flank
Down much further villagers wait for rides. Alvaro talks with them while I take photos. It’s interesting watching a Peruvian businessman from Lima chatting with his countrymen from the extreme opposite social environment
Then we can see the first village in the valley below, thirty miles away from the Colca Canyon
The good fast road down
Under a stone arch announcing the village of Chivay. We pass through three villages with these arches in this valley
We stop for lunch snacks
And head into one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever seen (better pictures taken the next day)
And around the river becomes oasis-like
Terraces everywhere built by centuries of Incans
The road turns to dirt and we head down the valley to the town of Yanque. It’s still the volcanic base rock that turns to dust instantly
And park the bikes for the night. Lucinda is not well
Arequipa is in the southwestern corner of Peru. It has a population of about 1M people and my friend Alvaro tells me that the people are the subject of cruel jokes by the rest of Peru – the equivalent of Newfies in Canada. But as it happens I really like the Arequipans and I love their city.
The Plaza de Armas is one of the most beautiful in Peru
The Plaza has large covered walkways on three sides
The sun is intense here and the shade is appreciated
The atmosphere in the park is constantly festive. You can always see kids taking photos of themselves. I don’t think it’s my imagination but after a couple of months in Peru I think the Arequipans are more extrovert than elsewhere. They appear to be homogenous and local. Although Arequipa is on the visitor’s trail you don’t see many tourists
And on the weekend there can be several couples taking pre-wedding shots. It’s a wonderful place to hang out and people watch
It’s called the White City. Nearly all the structures are cut out of the light grey volcanic rock
Which looks like this close up
Fabulous architecture everywhere. This happens to be a great restaurant where your food comes out roasting on a hot stone, like in many places
Houses over the river
We go to a couple of museums. This museum, Museo Santuario, houses perhaps the most famous mummy in Peru. Except she’s not a mummy because she isn’t embalmed, but I don’t know the correct word
We’re not allowed to take photographs. I stole this pic off the web. Her name is Juanita and her story is both hugely inspiring and tragic.
Then we go off to Museo Arqueologico. Again no photo’s allowed. This houses a large collection of textiles. Fabulous
One of the reasons I’m hanging out in Arequipa is to receive a front brake pump which is being shipped here, together with a mechanic from BMW Lima. They’ve not done a great job previously so they’re re-doing it here at no cost.
While I’m waiting I get an email from Alvaro in Lima. I met him at the Touratech dealer in Lima and rode down the coast with him a few weeks ago. He’s in his mid-thirties and’s a successful businessman in Lima.
He wants to know if I’m in Arequipa and if so he wants to know if I want to go exploring while Lucinda and I wait. We decide he’s going to ride the 1000K down and we’ll head off to the Colca Canyon. Great idea.
Talking about businessmen, I was searching for BMW Motorrad bike service earlier and here’s what the BMW cars pages look like here in Peru. Fully armoured, and as they emphasize, AK47 proof. In this ad they emphasize how they’ve dealt with traditional vulnerable spots
3cm bullet-proof glass comes standard. Nice
We go out on the town the night Alvaro arrives and are set to leave the next morning. But the hotel is a block off the Plaza de Armas where there’s a military ceremony, so we watch for awhile. Two sides of the square are filled with hundreds of soldiers
They represent the three districts of the Army – jungle, altiplano and ocean. Jungle
The altiplano troops are more indigenous than the others, and thus shorter, and much younger. Some of them don’t look like soldiers at all. But I’m assured that not only are they skilled, but they’re fully able to support the government no matter what uprising occurs
Finally and separately are the police. I’m told they’re 90% corrupt and that in a pinch money reliably talks. And not much money
There’s an inspection of the troops by the Chiefs. Airforce, Army and Navy
And in case you don’t think they’re equipped, the papers today announced more MIGs
The marching style of the forces is strident and impressive. See the video to the left.
There are security forces carefully watching the crowds. See the other video for a serious badass on the alert. A drunk older but otherwise presentable man forces his way to the front of the crowd, right beside me, and starts yelling something about how they lost their last war with Chile. The crowd around us isn’t uncomfortable. The security badass gently and very respectfully escorts him away.
I had to think about this for awhile – then it came to me, another Peruvian penny drops – the family extends to all here.
In the side streets school kids are practicing their marching too. They’re enjoying themselves. The girls
The boys are just goofing around because the girls are watching and it’s clearly not cool to be too into this
City officials wait with the beautiful Peruvian flag. Although it shares much with the Canadian flag their flag’s proportions and red intensity are different and the result is bolder
Our Ottawa boys figuring it out. I love this photo. If I’m in a grumpy mood I can look at it and laugh for hours
The night before we’ve bribed the parking lot attendant to come and unlock the armoured gate on a Sunday, telling him to be here at exactly 10:00 am but there’s a glitch. A truck pulls up and dumps troops that line up right in front of our parking lot
But it all works out, as it always does, until it doesn’t
First, we have to reverse course and get through Juliaca again before heading west. Not any noticeably poorer than anywhere else, just completely hyper and lawless. I had a bit of difficulty finding a way through for a few minutes, due to GPS map shortcomings. Which brings me to a point that’s well illustrated here.
Garmin is the world’s largest provider of consumer GPS systems and supplier to virtually 100% of the long distance riding community. Not only is the hardware not sufficiently stable but the maps are a problem. For instance, their South America map ($99) is incomplete. You have to dig down beyond the sales pitch to find this out. But it’s there
You can see that when you cross from Colombia to Ecuador, the Garmin goes dark. From Ecuador into Peru you get ‘partial’, then into Bolivia dark again. So what everyone does is download open source maps. This isn’t difficult but neither is it easy. And open source maps are far from perfect. So going into Juliaca here’s Garmin’s ‘partial’ coverage (I’m the light green line getting tangled up). Three versions of the same area
OK, we know that there’s poor Garmin coverage. So we’ve been using an open source map, and the newest version available. That was just for illustrative purposes. The open source map:
You can see as I came up from the bottom right I couldn’t find a way through if I followed the recommended route. Which brings me to my main point. Here’s the same area on Google maps. You can see there’s a road just south that could have taken me through, but I couldn’t see on my device.
Complete, sexy, up to date. But you can’t run it on a GPS device, such as a Garmin. You can run it on a smart phone but that doesn’t help. Of course these things never stay unresolved. Someone will give us Google maps on a travel device, hopefully Google themselves, and Garmin can escape consumer product and concentrate on probably higher margin Marine and Avionics. At least that’s my prediction. Lucinda agrees. In the interim it’s a curious situation.
However, earlier long distance riders would laugh at all this. They remind us that in their day they only had a compass with a broken needle, a pencil stub, the stars and hand-signals from cannibal tribes to go on. In fact my friend Helge’s book Ten Years on Two Wheels might have been titled Three Weeks on Two Wheels if he had the tools we do.
Anyway, through Juliaca again. Everyone’s in the process of stealing something
At one point we went along an affluent road, so here’s the flip
We get stopped at a roadblock for the first time in Peru. But they just want to talk about Lucinda. She doesn’t mind
The gradual climb from 12 to 14,000 feet
A virtually empty town
Next to the park a very nice armoured vehicle with a machine gun platform. No one around it
A few villagers sit unmovingly in the sun
This is extraordinarily beautiful and we struggle for description. But it’s the most perfect place
This is Laguna Lagunillas at 13,600 feet, 1000 feet above Lake Titicaca (which gets all the press because it’s navigable by ship)
And at last. The most amazing thing
An Andean goose flies across the flats
After the laguna we climb further to around 14,500 feet and all hell breaks loose. There’s a crosswind of at least 50 mph and we’re having difficulty staying on the road. Hard work for over an hour
A rapid descent into Arequipa. The city is built on a volcanic rock called sillar that rapidly erodes into various grades of rock, sand and dust
If you live in Arequipa you’re subject to the highest levels of solar radiation in South America