Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Welcome to the Jungle
..............................................................we got fun 'n' games,
We got everything you want, honey we know the names
We are the people that can find whatever you may need
If you got the money honey, we got your disease.............

And so the song goes.

Indeed there is fun and games but unlike the jungle in G´n´R´s version, it´s a bit hot and sticky, and there´s only one decent restaurant in Tena but its run by mad people with a flipping sloth hanging off the ceiling.
We came to Tena to arrange a trip to the jungle and after much searching, ended up getting something arranged at the Hostal Limoncocha who do tours from Coca, a town about 4hours north. We did try looking at tours from Tena but to be frank, they all sounded rubbish. The one from Coca sounds a bit more like it and will last 3 days.

But before all that, it turns out this is Carnival weekend where this lot go a bit bonkers. We ended up going to two beach partys in places by rivers. One was in Shandia, about 1/2 hr away by bus and was pretty much just the locals, a canadian volunteer bloke and us. I ended up getting roped in to a inner tube race down the river, what a blast and I somehoew even managed to come 3rd.

3rd place ain´t so bad

Kids pelting the bus

The other party the following day was held in Misahuali, again about 1/2 hr away on the bus. This was different though as it was packed and there were a few gringos about too. It was basically the biggest water fight I´ve ever seen, we were totaly drenched but at least we´d thought to wear our swimmers to the party. It was a brilliant laugh though and there a few bands who we could salsa away to and then came the Pilsener ´Lovely Girl´competition (just like in Father Ted) which basically involved some rather under-dressed young ladies getting beer poured over them. It was really all so sexist and I´m sure very degrading for the ladies in question so it was just as well yours truly was there to report.

I´m not really sure this is what the
missioneries intended when they came here

Beach party

Ha ha!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Go with the flow

We bumped in to Mark and Daisy from the UK on an Africa Twin (www.markincyberspace.com) en-route to Riobamba who were coming the other way. It was great fun to meet up with them but a shame we were headed in different directions as it would have been great to go for a piss up with them. Some other time guys!

Mark and Daisy!

After staying in a nice Riobamba hostel with slightly strange owners (recommended by M&D), we were heading off to Baños, not the toilet but a spa town about 65kms north, about an hour or so´s drive away. All was going well until we came across a bit of a landslide which had taken the road with it. Now I tried for about half an hour trying to get the KLR over it but had to admit defeat in the end. While we were turning around, what did we see but a Catapillar earth mover coming our direction and it turned out they were just going to clear the road. And about an hour or so later, it was clear enough for us to ride across, cheers lads! Very bizzare that it had happened in August last year and they turned up to fix it while we were there.




Don´t look down

So that was the end of the problems or so we thought. It was actually just the beginning. Rounding the bend, I came across a totally impassable section caused by a rather lava flow. Again thinking that we´d need to turn back, I started turning around when 3 locals (yep 3) on a 200cc bike waved us onwards. We followed them to the edge of the flow and I watched the driver manouever the little bike down into a steep gulley and up the other side via a really narrow section of loose volcanic rock. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Baños is on the other side of a rather active volcano. And when it says that the road is closed, it probably really means it.

Gritting my teeth, I went down the same route but became quickly aparent that my large bike was really going to struggle here. Luckily the locals assisted and I got the lardy beast through. Going back to do the same with the KLR, Michelle asked the locals if that was it and it turned out there were several more of these before hitting Baños- great.

And so it went for the rest of the journey. The small bike going first dumping its 2 passengers before tackling the obstacle, nervously followed by me on the GS. We´d have to take my panniers off as some of the tracks were just way too narrow. At one point, my rear wheel started slipping downhill, luckily I had some very useful assistance before it disapeared for good. Then I´d come back to take the KLR over which luckily is a fair chunk lighter but not much. I ended up using two tips given to us by mad Timmy, the Canadian from Cusco. One was to have someone (Michelle) turn and pull the front wheel when trying to get over boulders when the bike just wouldn´t budge. The other for really really steep parts was to flick the engine kill switch off and keep the bike in first gear, that way you use the clutch as you´re brake and your feet can stay on the ground. Finally after much sweat and very nearly tears (as I kept hitting a bruise on my shin), we made it but not before giving those 3 locals a $10 beer tip for their help. Thanks lads!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hey hey hey, we´re in Ecuador!
After a relatively painless border crossing, we were now in our 5th country. And you know what that means? Yes its time to go shopping for another sticker for my panniers.
But before all that, I notice a few differences between Peru and Ecuador. Firstly its very green and hill which I find rather agreeable however it seems to rain rather a lot here. Also, they seem to actually paint their roadhumps unlike Peru so you don´t trash your suspension or God forbid, forkseals. The folk out in the country seem to have pretty large houses, of the size that would cost 3-4ook in the UK while driving some rather new and shiny pickup trucks so it can´t be too bad. The people even wave and smileat us, something that seemed to fizzle out in Peru so its a nice change.
We pull in to Cuenca and immediately notice that it feels slightly Americanised with custom car shops and even flower shops. Its a lovely city and we find ourselve a great hostel with a beautiful garden area. I say its lovely, but the kids are little ba$tards. Its warming up to Carnival time and they´re getting their practice in at throwing water bombs at pedestrians, namely us. We first get hit from a car at traffic lights, Michelle is not happy as she´s wearing her new jeans she just bought. Later, as we are recovering from a near hit from 3 water balloons from a balcony, we walk round a corner and Michelle gets hit in the stomach with another one thanks to a drive-by. Its just not her day really. If we see any little kid with a water gun, they get met with an icy ´don´t even f&cking think about it´sort of look. Doesn´t work though.
Bang Bang Bang! It´s a puncture
So following on from our encounter with seeing dead people, drving in to Sallinas, I hear a repetative noise coming from my bike. Thinking its a bit of rubbish, I pull over tothe side of the road to have a look and find to my horror a bloody 6" nail sticking out from my brand new rear tire- Bollocks! As I´m thinking how best to tackle this, a guy in a car on the other side of the road starts shouting ´peligro´(danger) and waving his hands about like a madman. As I´m not actually on the road but to the side of it, I just shrug and get on with worrying about my rear tire as he speeds off.
A few seconds later, a guy on a little motorbike stops next to me and starts repeating the same hysterical warnings, however this time he makes his right hand into pistol shape and adds a few ´bang bang bangs´as an interesting sound effect. Hmmm. I´m now thinking that there´s maybe something in this ´danger´malarky after all, however as I attempt to point out the bloody 6" nail sticking out of my tire, he dissapears in a cloud of dust. I look around for the dangerous bandits that will shoot me and steel my bike but I just see locals getting on with their daily business.
I look at the nail and know I need to pull it out, and as I do, the resultant hiss of my tire going very quickly flat also slightly depresses me. As Captain Mannering used to say, ´don´t panic´ but just at that moment a knight in shining armour turns up, a copper on a motorbike! But even HE starts with exactly the same charade ending in the now all too familiar ´bang bang bang´sound effect, however I have to stop him right there and point out that actually, he´s got a bloody gun to which he responds with a sort of spanish ´oh yeah, so I do´.
So as I rather quickly start reading the back of my tire repair kit (which was thankfully included with my MotoPump as I´d used my only other tubeless repair back in Valdez), my new armed guard, well er, stands guard keeping watch for any baddies and restoring my faith in justice and all that while I get on with fixing the tire. Thankfully the hole is a breeze to plug and I immediately get the electric pump going. I´m trying to get the tire up to a nice 36psi and am regularly checking the pressure but my new armed friend is getting rather twitchy and has other ideas and more or less suggests I pack up now and finish this somewhere else. He actually waits while I get all my paraphanalia put away and get on my bike but no sooner have I turned the ignition, he´s also off like a shot (no pun intended) in a cloud of dust.
Anyway, nobody gets shot and we make it to the border and all live happily ever after. The End

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A different kind of roadkill. Northern Peru

Riding through Chiclayo, I somehow managed to get us a bit lost in rice paddy fields. You see, I no longer have great GPS maps for this area and they tend to miss out rather a lot of detail. The road should have gone straight through the town to Piura but instead, we found ourselves riding between waterlogged paddy fields for what seemed like miles. Of course I knew where we were, it´s just that the road I was aiming for happened to be on the other side of the rice fields. We certainly got a few interesting looks from the rice workers as we wobbled along the narrow ridges. Somehow, we did eventually find the correct road and rode on to Piura for the night before getting to the Ecuador border.

After a really bad breakfast (cold distilled coffee like treacle and stale crispbreads anyone?) we were on our way north again to the border. After about an hour, just before Sullana, there was a bit of traffic stopped on the road. When the bus in front of me pulled out to pass the obstacle, I saw a crowd of people and a couple of policemen standing next to a truck on the side of the road. In front of them was someone´s dead body under a some rags though their bare feet were stickng out from the bottom. Just beside the body was a few bits of pink stuff which was quite clearly that persons brains. I´m getting used to seeing various different types of roadkill from dogs, cattle, donkeys and even horses which are left to rot on the roads but this one certainly shocked me.

Huanchaco, Nothern Peru

We stopped off in Huanchaco by the seaside after a recommendation from Andreas & Kristina and stayed in the Hostal Naylamp. Its a nice, quiet little beach town where the local fishermen catch their er fish using reed boats, very similar to those on Titicaca, however these guys surf back in. Trying to get into the swing of things, we booked up a surfing lesson from the place a hundred or so meters north of the pier. Our lesson started with us looking like knobs wearing wetsuits on the beach practicing paddling and getting up on the board on the sand while getting plenty of amusing looks from the locals. Then it was of to sea, so we paddled a good bit out while Eduardo, our instructor, swam out with flippers. He then gave me a gentle push before a good wave came in and I have to try and scramble on to the board and remain sort of upright.

After a few unsucessful attempts, I somehow made it on to the board and did a rather pathetic wobble before falling off. And so it went for the next two hours and I even managed to get up and stay up a few times so I must have learnt something.

Oh, and Eduardo´s family run a little mexican restaurant upstairs so we popped in later that night to sample some of Eduardo´s mum´s cooking. And it was fantastic, best salsa I´ve had I reckon. It´s a shame though as he´d like to go to Australia to surf but to do that, he needs to work for a year to be able to go for a month. So if you´re in the area, please pop in and get a lesson. If he can teach me, he can teach anyone!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Poor Wee Mikey Boy's not a well little boy (warning- not for the faint hearted)

Actually, for the last few days I've been on the Slimfast 'Shit yourself thin diet'. Getting a cold last week (which I still have) was bearable I guess, but when you can't stay off the loo for more than a few minutes at a time, it's really not that entertaining, especially when you're in a hostel without 'banos privados'.

I know you don't need to hear this but sorry, I have to 'share'. Last night, after climbing from the heat of Lima and the desert back up to 4000m again made me quickly regret having just packed away all my cold weather gear the previous night so it all had to come out again to stop my shivering. We had to drive very slowly through thick, cold mist with 10m visibility (I even nearly ran into a cow) and relentless rain. But having to stop at disgusting roadside toilets that look like they've never been cleaned (with no seats naturally) and finding suitable spots on the hillside for all those unexpected 'calls of nature' without locals magically appearing is all quite depressing, not to mention getting ripped off by corrupt cops (see below). And all this when I'm already feeling lousy. My cold has been such that in order to breathe while riding, I have developed the rather disgusting habbit of having to blow my nose into my left glove and somehow getting rid of it on the tank- Sorry Bertie! I feel a bike wash coming on...

When you're feeling low like this, you start dreaming of home comforts when you're riding, like 'wouldn't it be nice to have just one night in my flat, with the bath running, the fire on and a fridge full of nice fresh food'. While riding last night, I kept dreaming of Heinz tomato soup for some reason, don't ask why. A lot of the time, the food here isn't that great and you come away feeling like you wish you hadn't just eaten whatever it was. Or it was so bland, it was basically just 'fuel'. However, in Lima, I did have the best chinese I've had since the start of the trip which helped somewhat. I haven't been able to weigh myself so far but after the last few days, I doubt I'm anywhere near the 13st I was when I left Scotland.

Anyway, instead of moving on today as origionally planned, I have decided to have a quiet day off kicking around here in Huaraz, trying various internet cafes until I find one that actually works, and taking as many imodiums, rehydration sachets, lem-sips, antibiotics and painkillers as my body can stand. Its anoying feeling so crap here as there appears to be some fantastic mountainbike riding here. Oh well, there's always Whistler. However last night, we did manage to find a nice clean (and I can't overstate that) hostal with private bathroom and an incredibly comfy bed so it's not all bad.

Oh, and for lunch today, I somehow managed to get some really great tomato soup which helped cheer me up, it's the small things you know...
Good Cop Bad Cop, its all the same
Yesterday, after escaping the driving hell that is Lima, we were on the road to Huaraz in the mountains. The guide book said 6 hours, we left at 9.30am and got here at 8pm so that´s a load of bollocks. Anyway, one of the reasons we were late in getting here was all thanks to one of Peru´s finest. Cruising slowly though a small town, the cop in the police car on the other side of the road nearly dropped his coffee and donuts as we rode past. Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw the car pull out, do a U-turn and start to follow us. Bugger thinks I. We get pretty much to the outskirts of the town when the car overtakes Michelle, sits behind me and flashes his lights. Double bugger.

The fat man strides over smiling to where we´ve pulled in, commences with the Buenos Diaz greeting and in reasonable English the usual ´Where are you from/going to/ how long, are you married etc´. Then he starts talking about my bike, pointing to my tank he says ´ooh, its a BMW, how much does it cost?´ At first I think he said how big is the tank and I say 22 Litres. He goes ´ooh, 22 mille dolleres eh?´ Oh no, says I, it´s more like 3,000 if I´m lucky. Generally I don´t like answering this question (which I get asked a hell of a lot here) but thinking he seems harmless enough, I don´t mind in this instance.

Anyway, once the pleasantries were out the way, he next asks for my driving licence so I give him one of my crappily laminated copies, they don´t know the difference anyway. You get stopped all the time here and its not unusual to be asked for your licence, vehicle registration or import document several times a day. On the way to Machu Picchu, a cop stopped me and asked for my Vehicle Registration which actually I´d left at the hotel. Shitting it, I hand him my laminated driving licence which he is happy enough with. Anyway, back to this looser, he pulls out a small book and points to a paragraph, quite evidently relating to speed fines and then to the figure of 170 soles (about 30 quid).

Apparently, if I understood him right, we were doing 45kph in a 35kph zone according to this prick, but he also mentions something about 80kph so who really knows, although there´s no mention of where this dreaded offence took place. I´m then summoned over to the rozzer mobile and am told that it will cost 170 soles. I refuse to pay this as A) he had no evidence to give me of the offence/s ie radar, camera etc, he just pointed to his knackered looking speedometer B) I told him there weren´t any speed signs to no avail C) I asked to go to the police station to deal with this but it turned out this was in Lima (like bollocks it was) and D) I wanted some paperwork like a ticket but I got nothing.

Oh, and his English speaking capabilities had suddenly reduced to a few smiling ´no intiendos´ to all my requests. In the end, he reduced his pathetic demand to 85 soles which I stupidly ended up paying. I won´t next time, I´ll be wasting a lot more of their time than mine I can assure you. Anyway, as I had to give him a 100 soles note, I demanded change. Turning round smiling to his rather silent co-wanker, who I understood him to say ´just tell him we have no change´so wanker no 1 produced an empty ashtray and with a sorrowfull look said, ´look we have no change´. I persisted though and eventually got my change.

This is the first time we´ve had any problems with the police as on the whole, they´ve been very helpful and friendly. So continuing on our merry way to Huaraz, every town, and I mean every town has a cop car at right angles to the road watching the comings and goings. My new trick is to slow down to a total crawl and give the bastards a hearty big wave. As its very vague as to what the speed limits actually are, I reckon we´ll be seeing a lot more of this behaviour on the road ahead...stay tuned.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Nasca and the Lines

The ride to Nasca thankfully involved coming down in altitude to a rather more pleasant 600m, but the price to pay was the heat. Coming through the desert towards Nasca, the temperature soared so when we arrived, I needed to shed most of my bike gear to avoid turning into a puddle of sweat. The ride from Cusco to Nasca is really great though, I quite enjoyed turning into a bike hooligan on the countless bends while my near-bald rear tyre didn't spoil things too much.

We picked Hostal Via Morburg which had secure parking and we booked up a flight over the famous lines for the following morning. I was kind of nervous about this as I'm not a great flyer even though I do fly microlights as bizzare as it sounds- It's a kind of 'backseat' driver sort of thing.

At 8am the following morning, we were picked up from the hotel and taken out to the towns airport where we were met by a very anxious pilot who was keen to throw us into his plane and get moving, always a reassuring thing in a pilot though I'm pleased to note he is wearing an ironed white shirt and sunglasses like the proper pilots. Within a couple of minutes, we were airborn in the little 6 seater Cesna airplane and on a course to the lines at around 120mph. There was quite a difference between this and the microlight, which only cruises at around 55mph but takes off a lot faster.
The lines have been here for well, ages and several theories abound as to what they were used for. Everything from astronomy, agriculture, religious ceremonies, water channel locations (it´s a bloody desert for God´s sake, there just isn´t any) and naturally a landing site for aliens. If you´re interested, the lines were actually made by clearing the rocks away and exposing the gypsum rich soil beneath. The most amazing thing is that they wern´t discovered until about the 1930´s or so and they just can´t be seen properly from ground level. How they made the shapes and lines so perfectly is still a mystery. There was a German woman who devoted most of her life to mapping, restoring and researching the lines and we went to a talk about her and the lines the previous night. Basicaly, about 30% of the lines point to the position of the sun at summer and winter solstice but then we´re pretty near the equator so I´m not sure how much difference that really makes. It might have helped you ín the field´though. Then there´s the water theories which some folk think the lines relate to underground water channels. Again only a few of the lines correspond to those and lets face it, there really is no water here. And then there´s the astronomy angle, but you really need a good imagination to see the relationship between say, the monkey and Orion. And then there´s the possibility that they were used to carry out religious ceremonies which is perfectly plausable I guess as the lines are wide enough to walk along. But to my mind it´s obvious- It´s a big bloody alien landing site and they´re already here so we might as well just get used to it.

'Spaceman on the left' screams our trusty pilot and throws the little Cesna into a bank of nearly 90 degrees so we on the left side on the plane can get a look at the lines which indeed resemble a spaceman (though it's aparently a man with an owls head- make of that what you will). And so it goes on for the next 40 minutes. I made the mistake of looking at my camera at one point and nearly threw up as sudden motion sickness overcame me. I wasn't alone though as it took the best part of the day for Michelle to overcome hers.

Our chariot for the morning

A spaceman or just a ordinary man with an owl for a head

- you decide...

Some slightly bigger lines for you

And what a day it was. After leaving the hotel, we rode up to Huacachina a couple of hours north and took a sand buggy tour of the dunes and that was just bloody brilliant! Our driver was fantastic, taking us up over blind summits and then dropping us down into the next valley, all the while we were shrieking with delight. As the buggy had no windscreen, our gums got covered in sand because we were grinning so much. The dunes were just beautiful but I'd rather tear around them like a total hooligan anyday.

And then our driver got out the sandboards... Now I've ski'd most of my life but have so far never tried snowboarding. Strapping the board on at the top of a rather large dune, I slowly eased myself over the edge and promptly fell on my arse. And so it went on for the next few attempts but by about the 4th attempt, I'd made it all the way to the bottom without falling, a born natural. Now I've just got to master a few turns! The driver cautiously let me drive the buggy for a bit which was brilliant fun and I didn´t even roll it.

Silver surfer (I´m not actually going anywhere here)

Easy there, steady now...

Driving this was a blast!

Cusco & Machu Picchu

It doesn't really help that I lost and eventually found my diary while in Cusco so you'll need to bear with me. Anyhow, we didn't really do a whole lot in Cusco other than take a couple of Spanish lessons, catch up on internet stuff and carry out the oil change I'd been meaning to to since I bought some oil in Valpariso. I actually carried that bloody oil all the way accross Bolivia for no particular reason, what a numpty!

We were holed up in Casa Grande, a nice central hostal with a courtyard and bike parking, where the staff were more than accommodating with our bike-based mechanical nonsence. We visited the Norton Rats pub on the square which boasts 'real ale' on tap however I was a little dissapointed as the IPA was off the whole time I was there but somehow I beat Michelle at pool three times so I suppose the I suppose Old Speckled Hen must have been ok.

Leaving the KLR at the garage (yet another blocked carb) we rode up to Ollytaytambo via a pleasantly green valley, somehow getting a nice cheep hostal on arrival. They claimed bike parking but in actual fact this involved getting poor Bertie to do a few yoga moves and getting down a few stairs though he got his own back by flattening a bed of their flowers in the process.
The next morning, we took the train up to Aguas Callientes and then the bus up to Machu Picchu. Its an expensive business this travelling lark. The bus snakes up the side of Machu P and you finally arrive at the entry point when you then have to shell out another 120soles (about 20 quid) to actually get in.

As expected, there was an awful lot of tourists about which affects the impact a bit but it was an awesome sight nonetheless. We spent the best part of the day wandering around the site and managed to check out the Inca Bridge but the walk to Huayna Picchu was closed by the time we got to it.

MP does strange things to people!

We'd timed our arrival back at Cusco with a night booked at the Hotel Monasterio, a leaving gift from Michelle's work. This place is probably the most expensive hotel in Cusco costing $500 a night so we were glad we weren't paying! A Snickers bar from the minibar would set you back $4 if you were so tempted. The deal included a 3 course meal so after a soak in the first bath in about 3 months, we scrubbed up as best we could in our oxygen enriched room and joined the rest of Cusco's high society for dinner.

A little bit of $500-a-night luxury

The following day, we sloped back to Casa Grande where we'd left our bikes ($500 a night doesn't acually buy you bike parking) and stayed another night. While the posh hotel was great, it was a little stuffy and it was nice to be welcomed back to Casa Grande, where the staff couldn't believe how much our fancy hotel had cost.