We left Baños feeling a little intrepid and yet a little anxious. Maybe it was because of all the negative concepts we had developed about Peru. The threat of the corrupt police is nerve-wracking and continuous. When we have had bad cops try to harass us into paying a bribe it sticks with us for days. It goes against my nature and I feel a kind of rage which further disturbs me. So heading towards Peru, I think, has been a bit stressful.
It may be that we haven’t crossed any borders for some time and scar tissue left over from Central America is still sore. I can’t be sure but what propels me forward is a desire to ride, see, smell, feel and hear the environment around me. Meditating in my helmet to the song of wind chattering and bugs splattering is a deep need I have. The long periods of thought and contemplation allow me to accept my fate and give me hope. I just wish it wasn’t interrupted by the occasional retarded bus driver in my lane playing chicken.
Our stay in Baños was superb after the first night was over. We were quoted a price and the next morning everything had changed. We almost had to have the police show up due to the miscommunication. Really it boils down to the ‘gringo’ syndrome and people’s attempts to squeeze whatever they can from you. It ended up well enough since we moved to another place that was really nice. We were able to spend time with our friends, cook fantastic dinners with them and play some cards.
We visited a couple of places near Baños when we were there. A place called Puyo which had machetes wielding natives inspecting us, located in the Amazon jungle. We didn’t hang around; it was one of those benign scenes until you thought about it and realized nothing good would come of the situation. The road out was good though and we banged along pretty well. The other spectacle was the Volcano Tungurahua which we motored up a long winding hill to get a look at, we saw the peak but couldn’t get a picture due to the cloud cover. If that sucker ever blows the town is screwed!
Our route out was simply South on the Panamerican Highway. It was nice and we passed some areas over 3600 metres in elevation. One spot was called ‘The Nose of the Devil’ to which I recall my nose being very cold. Not sure if that’s how it got its name or not, I don’t care much, it was a beautiful ride. As we drifted along we came to a fork in the road up in the mountains. A small community called Nabón laid approximately 17 kilometres East of the main road. It was late enough that we were thinking about finding a place so Deya asked a local who was waiting for a bus. He said go to a specific shop in the village and asked for his friend Fabian, he may be able to get us a place to stay.
So with little hesitation we headed into Nabón, stopped and asked Fabian if he knew of any place to stay in town and he said yes. Fabian was one of those outstanding people that you meet and set us up in the old folks home for the night. He took us for dinner introduced us to some people. It’s a beautiful town, quiet and well kept. I felt like we could spend some time there, hanging out with friendly people makes a huge difference and would help us to decide to return on our way back North.
The morning was awesome, we spent some time chatting with the residents of the home and they fed us breakfast. A good experience in general. We learned some things too, to be expected. The people in these homes are often much more advanced in their disabilities that we might see in Canada. They don’t get sent to the ‘home’ the first time they fall on the stairs or get their driver’s license taken away by the state. These people are usually well past the point of helping themselves. The tough part is, in a very rough and untrained assessment, that the training and resources to help them be as productive as possible in these final years doesn’t exist here. It’s not a matter of will, it is simply non existent. I want to say the culture may be different but I think any senior anywhere might feel that they are being put out to pasture when they get dropped off at the orphanage, I cannot blame them.
Nabón has a bunch of cool things to offer so we agreed to come back for a couple of days to tour around on our return trip. We parted with some hugs and photos and a bottle of locally produced Tequila. Believe it or not they make their own fermented Agave and even have an annual festival to celebrate it. You will hear more about this in a few months.
We made it to Vilcabamba in good time, the riding was easy and the Panamerican is an easy and safe route for driving. Not much on the adventure side but simply a well fashioned road. Vilcabamba as you may have (not) heard is where some of the oldest people in the world live. Though we only saw one old ancient feller doing laps in front of the church the idea is that the water in the place has magic. Really though, it would likely be a life time of mild climate, hill climbing, fresh food and a relaxed, low stress environment. I think anyone could live long under these conditions. The funny thing is the people who come here (lots of tourists and expats) who think if they meditate, drink the water, smoke pot and climb a couple of hills moaning some Tibetan omms for 2-4 weeks they will have achieved nirvana. Only to have to return to the paradigm of self delusion in which they cover up the thing they have with the thing they think they are looking for; like seeing a good person in front of you but not accepting that you are standing in front of a mirror.
While near Vilcabamba we tried to visit an organic farm but the conditions were not right so that was abandoned, we did stay for an extra day near the village though, it was that nice. I would recommend the place as a natural and beautiful place to hang out.
We left Vilcabamba via a back road en route to Curiamanga. Since our GPS is toast we quickly got lost, I say lost because we didn’t have spare fuel and really didn’t know where we were going. Locals all give the same directions in Latin America, “Derecho, derecho, derecho.” Swinging their arms wildly from left to right. Derecho means straight ahead and when you come to a T-intersection it apparently still applies, for example. There was one guy who did give some great directions and we both laughed at him, I hope he wasn’t offended but it was funny. He told us where to go, left here, right there then a big left at the road, swinging his whole body left in a dramatic pirouette. He did two of those pirouette tricks and Deya just about fell of her bike and I was charmed by his enthusiasm.
We finally made it to an average town of Curiamanga via back roads and had to wait for cheap (84 octane) gas. The gas is controlled by the military in the South so the Peruvians don’t come in and take it all. Its reduced cost is supplemented by the government so it should remain a benefit to the citizens, I get it. At $2 USD per gallon for 92 octane it is a steal, Peru is about $5.5 USD per gallon. The biggest trouble is actually finding a station with fuel, many don’t have fuel and if they do then only the low octane stuff. The engines hate it and a special warning, they may tell you it is 87 octane but it’s likely 84 or 82 octane, the truth is the attendants don’t even know what octane is, no insult intended.
The next day we dashed towards the Border crossing at Macará. This was it, we had to cross into Peru, expecting the Ecuadorian part to be as easy as the entry I wasn’t concerned until we made it across the bridge, then things took a turn as it was about to become a long day. There is no fee for entry into Peru and life can be hard, it’s even harder when you are stupid. Stupidly we had not taken enough money to cover the $70 USD needed for mandatory insurance for both bikes. We were already checked out of Ecuador and had our passports stamped into Peru when we discovered that we needed insurance. I guess it’s possible not to get the insurance but let us be honest: people complain about getting harassed by the police yet they enter without insurance (mandatory) and they speed and do other stuff that draws attention and gives reason for a stop, life is hard but it can be harder.
The choice was easy, we get the insurance. The Ecuadorian Customs said we could go back into town and get cash since there are no facilities at the border. We figured it would be a breeze, it was not. First, finding a bank machine was really tough, “derecho, derecho, derecho” and when we did it didn’t take our cards. This took hours and when we finally found a machine that would take the cards, it wouldn’t go through? Fortunately the Bank Manager was a great guy, he took Deya over to the Peruvian Consulate where they let us use their internet, Deya checked with our bank in Canada via ‘Magic Jack’ and found out that we were good, it was the actual bank that couldn’t take international cards despite the ‘Cirrus’ or ‘Plus’ logos.
Back to the bank, the manager tried to help us but there was little they could do so the bank manager pulled $15 USD from his pocket and said it was for some food or whatever we needed. I want people to understand 15 bucks, in Canada that will get you an average burger and fries for one person, here you get a good sized meal with soup and beer, enough to feed two people for 3 bucks. This is a lot of money for someone to pull out of their pocket like that and he had zero responsibility to help us out. I wouldn’t have accepted but Deya did and it is very much appreciated.
Back to the border to try to get through to the next town. The senior officer of the military in charge of the Customs detail asked me about my Veterans plate. I told him I served in the Canadian military, he wanted to know with which group. He was happy to here I was an Infantryman and told the rest of the guys as they were all infantrymen as well. I don’t know if that helped or if it was all Deya but these guys wouldn’t let us go without insurance stating that if something went wrong they don’t want us in any kind of trouble. They put together the funds to get us insurance and a special bit of advice of importance and value. They also gave us a litre of fruit juice and a load of bread for the journey, this was really something because we hadn’t eaten all day and missed breakfast hoping to get an early start at the border.
I have to admit the generosity can seem a little overwhelming and makes for a really good impression. The irony is the ideas we had coming into this place, the angst we first felt about approaching the border and dealing with officials. It all washes away and you’re left with a perspective of people and situations instead of a general paintbrush view of the entire team. Deya’s language skills play a huge role in these developments, something that I doubt I could manage alone.
That evening we made it to Piura, a big city of about 400 000 people. It wasn’t too bad but was certainly noisy and had some sketchy areas. It is painfully clear that most cities over, say 20 000 people, suck and we end up feeling tired and worn out. In the morning we decided to get some 90 octane gas to get rid of the tin cans dangling from the bottom of the bikes. The problem was we had 2 gallons of spare crap on the back. Deya made the executive decision to give the gas to one of the Moto taxis coming to fill up.
It turns out most of the Moto taxis put about 1/2 litre at a time in their vehicles or about 1 buck. So when the first guy came over and we put 7 more litres in his 8 litre tank a bit of excitement occurred, which resulted in a line up. The next guy got 1 litre and we were out but people kept stopping by, a few pedestrians had come by and were poking and prodding at the bikes and starting to dig into the panniers. I had my tools out trying to tighten and oil the chains, it was hot and there were too many people around. They all seemed well intended but I was pissed off and snapped a bit at some kids who were reaching into my panniers and leaning heavily on the bikes. I know better than that and should have done the maintenance somewhere quieter, sorry guys.
After spending the night in the dirty and unremarkable town of Chiclayo (800 000 people) we realized that we were doing something wrong. The lonely planet guide is helpful except that it often leads us to these kinds of tourist facilities when really we are not tourists, we are travellers and we need to discover places off the road or like Nabón.
We got out of there and headed South through the desert “Desierto de Sechura” on the Panamerican. It’s similar to the Canadian prairies in its flat and straight characteristics but different in that it’s all rock and sand. There is also an overabundance of garbage, a stark reminder, as you spend hours driving past it, that as humans we do a lot for ourselves and little for the earth other than consume and waste. Despite this it was fantastic helmet time and I enjoyed the riding (minus the retarded bus drivers). We were lucky enough to find a group of 4 riders passing us, all on adventure touring bikes, these fellows were heading home to Brazil after doing a counter clockwise loop up through Venezuela and down. We chatted briefly and may even visit them if our timing is good. The short visit was very positive and we were happy to bump into other riders, it’s motivational and there is a bond. It made us re-evaluate our tactical plan and our route, which I’ll mention later on.
Finally we made it somewhere awesome, Huanchaco. It’s a beach town popular for surfing and has a population of less than 20k people and a good place to spend Deya’s 30th Birthday! I call it awesome more because of the feeling of ease here. The feeling comes from the atmosphere, the relaxed people and the food and lodging which are easy and affordable. I can even sit quietly and type without worrying that we’re going broke or the BMW logos are being knifed off the bikes and glued to some 3 wheeled Bajaj 125cc. It is this pace which I enjoy in a place more than anything, I only wish we knew how to find it alone in the tent on a mountain somewhere with our little stove and the sound of the kettle whistling. Maybe we’ll figure that one out before we leave Peru? Until then I’ll enjoy this place, my beautiful wife and beautiful life.