Friday, October 19, 2012

Back to the sierra...again

Following Neil's advice, we went south out of Lima along the Panamericana (yeccchhh) until we hit San Vicente del Cañete where we turned east towards Huancayo. The ride turned out to be beautiful, as promised.

On the way to Huancayo
(winding 1-ish lane road much of the way)

On the way to Huancayo
(huge canyon walls)

On the way to Huancayo
(crazy canyon walls)

On the way to Huancayo
(interesting small towns along the way with tire eating troughs in the middle of the road)

On the way to Huancayo
("killer boots, man!")

On the way to Huancayo
(up to the high plains)

On the way to Ayacucho
(some stretches were more green)

On the way to Ayacucho
(this town right on the railroad tracks felt a bit like the Peruvian wild west)

On the way to Ayacucho
(we let the goats have the right of way)

On the way to Ayacucho
(the road ended up back at lower elevations with some dry desert scenery)

Leaving Huancayo for Ayacucho we passed a bicyclist from Minnesota who we had met in passing just crossing Huascarán the last time. The crazy part is that he had been riding hard everday to get through Huancayo, while we had dropped down to Lima from La Oroya, hung out for a few days, then worked our way back up to the mountains. Those bikers certainly have their work cut out for them!

Christopher from Minnesota on the way to Ayacucho
(Christopher on the road. It's nice to catch bicyclists with a smile on their face...sometimes they look a little more, uh, taxed)

Following the Inca Trail on the way to Ayacucho
(on the right path)

On the way to Ayacucho

We ended up going through a major construction zone before hitting Ayacucho, as well as after. It dramatically changed the course of some of our days...

Being stared at by the school kids in Ocros
(in the little town of Ocros we stopped for lunch, where we provided some entertainment for the school kids)

Waiting for construction in Ocros
(at the edge of town there was a roadblock for construction, which closed back down at 1:30. We, of course, arrived there at 1:45. The next time to pass was at 5:30. Shoot. We had even been asking about the road to Ayacucho and noone mentioned the blockage. So we were stuck)

The main plaza in Ocros
(we ended up staring at this tree for much of the 4 hour delay)

On the way to Ayacucho
(sun setting after our 5:30 departure from Ocros)

We stopped short of our planned destination, which would have been about 4 hours of riding, finding a small town just 2 hours down the road. But it still required lots of dark dirt riding through a construction zone. Un-fun. The next day was a nice day as we continued towards Ayacucho, where we stayed the night. Leaving Ayacucho started off with replacing 2 completely thrashed front wheel bearings. Not so bad except for having to weld a piece onto one of the outer races to get it out of the wheel. But ready to go after about an hour. We then proceeded to take nearly an hour and a half to find our way out of town on the correct highway. It should not have been that hard, but between the poor GPS map, a huge ravine with no way to cross, and Latin directions, it was just one of those mornings. To be followed by:

Mike in the Zone of Boom on the way to Abancay
(the zona de BOOM that kept us in one spot for 2 hours on our way to Abancay. I guess 2 is better than 4.)

Waiting for more construction on the way to Abancay
(And we got some entertainment by a municipality driver who tried to pull rank on the nice lady working the closure. What an asshole. But quite common for some of these small town officials (which may even be a stretch in this case) in Latin America. Poor construction worker lady shown here)

We finally started to feel like we were making progress to Cusco, though. After finally arriving in Abancay (we could see the town for what felt like hours as we worked our way down switchbacks on the other side of the valley) we found out we'd be back on autopista (=paved) to Cusco, after hundreds of km of carretera (= dirt) and unexpected construction.

On the way to Abancay
(some of the relentless switchbacks into Abancay)

On the way to Cusco
(the ride from Abancay to Cusco is about 4 hours and an absolute blast)

We rolled into Cusco as night set in, extremely happy to arrive at a location where we would stay for a few days. But of course, it was a bit of a challenge navigating the busy one way streets to find the hostel we planned on staying at, La Estrellita. Even so, it served as a good introductory tour of Cusco.

the Dakar is still in Lima

Although we are not too hot on big cities, they are a good place to get some errands done, which is exactly what we did in Lima.  Lima is notorious for having horrendous traffic, and it didn't disappoint, although it wasn't as bad as expected. We had a couple of hostel addresses written down, and were actually able to find them, but both ended up being booked up, so we settled for the Flying Dog hostel located on the main park in Miraflores, Parque Kennedy (Miraflores is the nice part of Lima that all the tourists go to). It was a fine place to park the bike (although we managed to piss the bartender off pretty bad for having the nerve to work on the bike in his outdoor area, despite the fact than no one ever used the space). We thought the hostel was a bit overpriced at 30 soles per person for a dorm bed, but at least they had hot water and wifi. We also had a strange man from the US who stayed in our room who liked to stay out late, wake up early, and nap all day in only his boxer briefs with no sheet on. This man also happened to be older and overweight, making for a pretty embarrassing scene for everyone (but somehow maybe not for him?). There were also two cats in the hostel that liked to spray, making for some pretty weird smells in some areas.

Speaking of cats, Kennedy Park is home to hundreds of cats.  We saw some signs in the park asking people not to abandon their cats in the park and also asking that if you want to adopt (= take) a cat that you bring a cage to put it in.  Apparently it has become popular to leave your unwanted cat in the park.  Many of them have been painted by a mysterious cat painter (favorite color = purple).

The major reason we came to Lima was to pick up a box mailed to us from the states to a very nice ADVrider. The box contained Jill's warmer riding jacket that she had sent home in Arizona and that she needs now. It also had two more CDI's for the bike, since we had to replace the last two we had in Brazil. Not only did we contact Neil, the ADVrider, unsolicited, but he also had to wait in line for several hours at customs to pick up the box. Then when we met him to pick up the box, he insisted that he take us out to dinner. A very nice dinner, which we enjoyed very much. Neil has been in Lima for about five years and runs a silver mine in Bolivia. He is originally from South Africa and picked up quite a bit of mining experience in Africa. He is also a crazy dirt bike rider with some intense stories of his crashes and near disasters while riding in Peru. He also recommended our route to Cusco, which turned out to be great advice. We really enjoyed meeting him and hope to run into him again when we visit the mine in Bolivia.

Us with Neil in Lima
(Us with Neil outside of the wonderful restaurant he took us to)

Also in the box were 2 new pilot jets for the carburetor, allowing us to finally get rid of our miss at low engine speeds and poor off-idle performance.  After having cleaned the old jets a few times in the past few months, it made the swap pretty darn easy with so much practice.  The other important errand to run while in Lima was to find some new brake pads.  Even with 3 reputable shops to try, no one had replacements.  One offered to order them online, but at a huge mark-up and with a 30 day delay.  No thanks.  Luckily while at MotoPerformance Peru, some other travelers pulled up - Jordan and Anne on their KLR650 and Will on his new-to-him DR650.  Thanks to their advice I was able to find a shop to refill our old brake pads, which kept us going even if they are pretty crappy.  And better yet, we got to hang out with them a couple of nights later.

Jordan and Anne had just finished up their Peace Corps service in Paraguay, bought a bike from another traveler there, and have spent the past couple of months traveling extensively in Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru. They will be on the road another month or so before selling the bike and moving on to their next phase. Their friend Will had just flown in from the states, bought a bike from someone that works in our hostel, and was planning on traveling with them south (more on that later). We had a really good time hanging out for the night, although at least one of us had a few too many Pisco Sours to be able to travel the next day as planned. We also had some delicious Pollo a la Brasa, which has become a staple for us here in Peru. You can order a 1/4, 1/2 or 1 full chicken and it comes with french fries and salad. A 1/4 order is a huge amount of food, is delicious, and usually costs 6-10 soles (about $2-4) depending on how touristy the town is. Sometimes we eat it on several consecutive days. We love it.

Anne, Will, Jordan and Mike in Lima
(Anne, Will, Jordan and Mike post-Pollos)

Perhaps the best errand that got done though, was for Mike to get some art (i.e. a tattoo). After stopping in a couple of shops, he settled on Dakar Tattoo shop, which turned out to do a great job. He was drawn to the Lanzón design from our visit to the ruins in Chavín de Huántar.  So now it stays with him on his shin.

Mike getting a tattoo in Lima
(in the middle of the three hour process)

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(the final product)

Graffiti art in Lima
(we always like to see good graffiti)

Sunset in Lima
(sunset from Larcomar, the extravagant shopping mall right on the beach)

Shout Out!!!

We would like to send a very appreciative shout out to George, Jono, and Joyce in Suriname.  Thank you so, so, so much!!!!!

Here is why:  As we may have mentioned, to keep the bike in Suriname for six months, we had to pay a deposit of approximately $900 through a customs broker.  It was a complicated, annoying, and at times painful, process.  When we left the country, we had to fill out the appropriate paperwork, mail a copy to the broker, and hope customs did their job.  It took about 4 months, but the deposit finally arrived to the customs broker.

The next step was to get the check deposited into Jill's Surinamese bank account.  That is where George and Jono came in.  George is the Country Director for Peace Corps Suriname and let us store the bike at his house while we were in country.  Jono is a Surinamese national that has worked with Peace Corps from the beginning of the program.  He loves motorcycles and actually bought an Africa Twin while we were there (did you get the fuel pump issue figured out, Jono?).  We had asked George if he could take the check to the bank and deposit it.  The bank acted like it would be no problem.  Jono went along to help if needed and because he is a local he understands how things work much better than Americans can, plus he speaks Dutch.  Turns out it wasn't as easy as the bank originally said it would be, so George and Jono had to spend a considerable amount of time convincing the bank to take the check.  It didn't help that the check had been made out to Michael Wayne and was even spelled incorrectly at that (note, Wayne is Mike's middle name).  Finally, George and Jono were able to get the check deposited.

Next, we needed the bank to transfer the money into Jill's US bank account.  She had been to the bank several times while we were still in Suriname to attempt to make the process easier, had given them a signed letter in advance, and had a solid contact there.  But, it was almost 5 months since she last had contact with the bank, so we hoped everything would work out.  That is where Joyce, the contact at the bank, came in.  Within a week of receiving the email from Jill asking her to transfer the money, it was in her US bank account.  This may not seem like that big of a deal, but Surinamese customer service is usually pretty primitive, to say the least, so to have someone follow through with no problems or hassles is nothing short of a miracle.

So, after never really expecting to receive the deposit back, we now (effectively) have an extra $900 to spend on the trip, which helps us out a lot.  (At least that's what we tell ourselves...)  Without George, Jono and Joyce's help, we would have never gotten the deposit back and that would have been a bummer.

Thanks again, guys!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Crisscrossing Huascarán

Riding back and forth through Huascarán National Park was an absolute highlight! The scenery was amazing and the riding itself a lot of fun. From Yungay, we went straight up to the Llanganuco Lakes on our way over to San Luis.

Outside of Huascaran National Park

Huascaran National Park

Huascaran National Park

Huascaran National Park

Huascaran National Park

Huascaran National Park

Huascaran National Park

Huascaran National Park

Outside of Huascaran National Park

Outside of Huascaran National Park

Jill outside of Huascaran National Park

San Luis, Peru
(San Luis, where we stayed. We got there for a fiesta, which translates to drunk men talking to us while literally drooling in our soup. Really drunk men.  Lots of drool.  Not much more soup eating after that.  Fiesta!)

(this young man was proud to pull his weight, even if it was taller than him)

The next day we visited Chavín de Huántar, a pre-Incan spiritual site, occupied from ca. 1200-200 BC (with some evidence of occupation as early as 3000 BC!). The temples were built in phases throughout that period. Later on in that time, the Mosna river was actually diverted in order to create the main plaza. This location was obviously very important to the Chavín culture. The temples and pyramids have a complex network of tunnels, water channels, acoustic openings, and passageways that are still being investigated today. Exploring some of those tunnels was quite an experience.

(Jill walking into the plaza at Chavín de Huántar)

(the Lanzón is considered to be the supreme deity of the Chavín culture. this lance-shaped monolith is the only carving from its era to remain standing in its original location. (Mike felt drawn to this place and this carving in particular, so he decided to make a souvenir out of it. More on that soon...))

(exploring the tunnels)

(a Lanzón look alike)

(the town Chavín de Huántar was a nice small town that has a good, modern museum with free admission)

Leaving Chavín de Huántar took us back across Huascarán NP towards Catac, once again through stunning scenery.

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(high plains near Catac)

From Catac, we turned back east again to head past Pastoruri towards Huallanta and La Unión.

(the road towards Pastoruri)

(the official greeter at the park entrance. This was the second time we had to pay the 5 soles each fee (1st time was up to Llangonuco).)

(we picked up a sheepskin near San Luis, washed it for a couple of hours in Chavín de Huántar, and continued drying it on the back of the bike. The lady offered it to us for 5 soles, but Jill is a sucker (with a big heart) and gave her 20 for it (she did have a lot of kids, and 20 soles still ain't that much). We provided some entertainment, and maybe earned some respect, for the hostel owners in Chavín de Huántar when we washed it and didn't know the drying process. They helped us nail it to their adobe wall to allow it to dry for a full day (less than the prescribed 3) before strapping it to the TA as shown here)

(all of Peru is an archeological site)

(the TA at 4900 meters (= 16000 ft))

(back to highway, but still beautiful)

The ride to La Oroya was cold. Once again we found ourselves in a sleet storm above 4000 m while passing near/through Junín. And then arriving into La Oroya was not a very sweet way to finish the day. that town is a shithole. It's a mining/metallurgical capital of Peru, and has the feel that you would expect to go along with it. Hostels that were reasonable were sketchy at best, parking non existant. Near the hospital there were nice hostels (but nothing fancy) with parking that cost 70 soles and up. So we kept going. At one hostel that had a garage we found a room for a reasonable rate, 30 soles. Instead of staying in the hostel, though, the guy led us next door to this fine establishment:

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The room was fair, sheets seemed clean, and bathroom was as good as any. So we stayed. To top it all off, the small door is all you got to enter through, and it remained locked even while we were inside. There was a buzzer to ring to get the employees over to let us out. Classy.

(bus shelter outside of La Oroya shows what the area is proud of. We saw lots of pro-mining graffiti in this town which was quite a contrast to what we had seen further north)

After the beautiful days of riding around Huascarán, followed by a cold and crappy arrival into La Oroya, it was time to get to Lima for some errands.