Saturday, December 1 – Mindo to San Clemente – 350 km
We enjoyed our time in Mindo Valley, truly a remarkably beautiful spot. If it was a bit more accessible, we’d look at buying a place there.
We are enjoying the fellow travelers we are meeting along the way. We met an interesting couple at our lodge in Mindo. They are from Switzerland and have been traveling for 3 years. They sold everything, bought and retrofitted a HUGE Swiss army truck-van and are touring in comfort. They left the big white cross on the front of the red truck so are often asked about medical issues! They are heading north, so we invited them to check in with us if they pass thru Edmonton at some point.
It felt like a long ride from Mindo to San Clemente, partly because much of the road along the coast goes through areas that have been recently deforested and look completely brown/dead. Very sad to see, especially knowing about the ensuing problems of erosion as well as carbon release from disturbed soils. So many huge shrimp farms along the coast too. Although we’re enjoying the shrimp, I’m not sure what the environmental costs are. Having gotten used to the verdant greens, this route seemed very dull by comparison.
We checked into a motel in San Clemente that is owned by a woman, Kim, from Oakville. She bought it 5 years ago, had to get major renos done and now has a very comfy property. She retired at 45 or so and loves living here. Says $1500 a month is more than she needs to live comfortably.
We will have a lazy day tomorrow before hitting the road again on Sunday.
It is very hard to believe it is December now and that we are half way through our travel time. In some ways it feels we have just left and have so much yet to see. And at other times it feels we’ve been traveling for a long time.
Sunday, December 2
A quiet day on the beach. We enjoyed our time at Cottages by the Sea, owned by a Canadian expat, Kim. We slept in, didn’t ride anywhere, walked in the beach and explored the nearby town of San Jacinte, did some laundry, had a quiet and unremarkable day. It felt good to just delve into R&R!
San Clemente joins neighbouring communities and stretches out along the coast and has a great beach. However at high tide, the breakwater of huge boulders (when were they placed for miles along the beach!?!?) are pretty important in keeping huge waves of seawater from crossing the road. When tide is not high, the beach is great with miles of fine sand.
Monday, December 3 San Clemente to Quevedo – 175 km
A bit of a late start, just puttering around getting packed up. Headed out on Highway E15, 39 and E30 towards Quevedo where we will spend the night. I found the ride a bit on the difficult side of things. As we headed inland, a bit southeast, the haze and smoke continued to be prevalent. Areas of forest and farmland are being burned and the smoke is hard to handle. Add to this the unexpected amounts of trash along the roadsides and it wasn’t a really enjoyable ride. When we rode past the pick-up truck stopped on the side of the road with the driver tossing bags of garbage into a gully, I really wanted to stop and yell at him. But I’m, sure my lack of Spanish and his lack of care wouldn’t have made it a productive conversation. We simply hadn’t expected this kind of blatant environmental disregard.
We finally arrived in the busy city of Quevedo and found our way to our downtown hotel. A nice enough place (Hotel St Andres Inn), but severely lacking in hot water. But they have secure parking about a block away … we’re just hoping the chickens living in the parking area don’t crap on our bikes! I’m not sure what they find to eat, but they are certainly an active group of birds as one rolls one’s bike in!
Tony was in need of an oil change and we lucked out with our hotel location. A small shop across the street from our hotel, Master Moto was happy to do the oil change. Tony bought the oil next door at a Yamaha shop and took it to Master Moto. When the change was done they wouldn’t let him pay for the work. Perhaps this was the bike from the furthest distance that they’ve worked on, but whatever the rationale, it was very kind. They also provided a bolt to replace one on my hand guards that had fallen out earlier in the day. Again, no charge. Gracias to everyone at Master Moto!
Later that evening we walked around the neighbourhood for a bit, looking for a place for dinner. We were starting to wonder if we’d find any place open on a Monday night. There are lots of restaurants, but none seem to open on Monday. We finally lucked out and found a place a few blocks away that was fabulous. Los Moros de Luis Steak House on Calle Bolivar was a find. We had a great meal and enjoyed our beer and wine as well. We were starting to despair of finding anywhere licensed and ending up at the KFC, but Los Moros de Luis was a gem.
Heading towards Volcano Alley and Cotapaxi tomorrow.
Tuesday, December 4 – Quevedo to Latacunga via Quilotoa – 230 km
Not the best weather today for riding, but we made it to our destination.
This morning we left Quevedo about 8 AM. Traffic wasn’t as bad as we expected, although Google maps tried to send us down a one way road the wrong way. But we managed to get out of the city and onto the highway 30 heading east and inland. The road was very twisty and seemed to climb unendingly. As we continued to gain elevation, we rode into clouds so it was damp but not quite raining. Visibility was certainly poor though. We cleared the clouds and continued to climb and climb as we traversed the mountains along the way. I was sorry the skies from horizon to horizon were so dark and grey. Even the glimpses of the landscapes great promise of stunning beauty.
We had expected to drop some elevation as we rode into Zumbahua, a town a bit south of Quilotoa Crater Lake. However we didn’t seem to loose much and the town itself has some very steep roads we hadn’t expected. The residents here must have great lung capacity as well as incredible leg muscles!
We found our way north towards Quilotoa and traveled through small Quechua communities, primarily made up of aboriginal groups who practice labour-intensive farming on slopes that would challenge heavy equipment. The slope on some fields was amazingly steep and shows the fields are cultivated by hand as no wheeled machine would stay steady on such slopes.
There is obviously a great amount of work being done to build the community of Quilotoa as a tourist destination. There is a surprising amount of construction in the works. There is a mix of finished and under-construction buildings that will provide all sorts of tourist services from restaurants, hostels, hotels, what looks like a zip line installation, and heaps of shops selling weaving, textiles and indigenous crafts. It appears that in a few years the town will look like Jasper or Banff …. I’m not sure if that will be a good thing or not.
Despite the cloudy skies it was interesting to see the Laguna, although the water didn’t show any remarkable colours. It did have drifting areas of distinctive green shades from minerals in the water. For a 600 year old volcanic crater, it seems quite young in geologic scale.
We enjoyed our visit to the Crater, and stopped for an odd lunch in Zumbahua. What we thought would be two bowls of soup (we were cold!) was actually two bowls of boiled beans, tiny potatoes and queso. The vendor we stopped at didn’t speak much Spanish or any English, so we did our best with gestures and smiles. Perhaps it wasn’t the most flavourful meal we’ve had, but we got our fibre for the day, and certainly didn’t leave feeling hungry! For $2.00, we can’t really complain.
We headed into Latacunga where we had booked a stay at Hotel Endamo, mostly because Booking.com assured us they have hot water! We were happy to find the hotel, despite a major highway into the city being closed for work. No signs warned of ‘road closed ahead’, nor ‘detour this way’. Nope, we just arrived at a spot where the pavement ended, heavy equipment was all over the roadbed, and all we could do was turn around. On a cold, wet afternoon this wasn’t ideal, but thankfully we were able to find another route on which Google Maps eventually came on board to help.
The hotel is lovely, and yes, hot water is available. After two hotels where this was promised but not delivered, we appreciated the chance to warm up given the cold and rainy conditions we’d ridden in this afternoon.
Dinner was a few blocks away. The area is quite central, and at 6:00 the streets are very busy with traffic. By 8:00 the traffic is reduced greatly, but the people traffic is very heavy. University students abound here too, so we enjoyed a walk after dinner, people watching in the area.
It was a very cloudy evening, so we’re hoping for clearing overnight as we hope to visit Cotopaxi tomorrow.
Wednesday, December 5 – introduction to Cotopaxi- 70 km
We decided this morning to spend another night in Latacunga, so booked another night at Endamo Hotel. The place is very comfortable with great parking and very helpful staff. An excellent place to stay.
We headed out on Highway E35 towards Cotopaxi National Park a little after 8:00. The skies are more clear than they were yesterday, however there are certainly clouds around the volcano peaks. I suspect they will only build as the day goes on.
When we turned off of E35 onto the park entrance, we were stopped by a park ranger who explained foreign visitors could not drive the road up to Cotopaxi. He hooked us up with a guide, Tomas, who drove ahead of us for about 5 km to the actual park gate where we parked our bikes, bought some water and cocoa, and spent an hour driving with Tomas up a steep, very switchback-y, very washboard-y, pothole-y road. Not a comfortable ride, but an interesting trek. We stopped at Laguna de Limpiopungo,
a spot where all visitors stop for a few minutes to acclimatize to the elevation. After observing the lake, birds and ducks, and cattle (!) for about 15 minutes we carried on in Tomas’ truck, up, up and up. The road is in very poor shape, yet buses, vans, and trucks drive this road every day. And many very energetic hikers use it too. I felt a bit guilty as we passed some people loaded down with packs, front and back.
After about an hour of a rattling, teeth-jarring ride, we arrived at a parking lot where all the vehicles have to stop. The views were incredible, but we just know none of the photos can capture the incredible scale of the valleys surrounded by mountains with clear tracks of lava flows from the 1877 eruption of Cotopaxi that sent lava 45 km to decimate Quito in something like 20 minutes. In 2015 the mountain grumbled a bit and sent up lots of ash, but did not erupt with lava. The views even on a somewhat cloudy day are amazing and demonstrate the power housed in the earth. Truly awe-inspiring.
Tomas shared with us the symptoms of altitude sickness as we prepped to hike to the Jose Rivas Refuge located part way up the slope of Cotopaxi. This is the point where serious hikers will spend some time acclimatizing to the altitude before attempting to hike higher. Since 2015 people are not allowed to climb to the very summit, but many still want to climb as high as they are allowed.
Tony and I were just happy to reach the Refuge in about an hour – the average climbing time for most visitors. The switchbacks on the trail ensure people gain elevation slowly, but the last little bit was a slog. It just seemed we’d never get to the Refuge despite plodding along steadily. Finally we arrived, and just in time as heavy cloud was starting to roll in. We were lucky to have had some views of the valley and surrounding peaks, one of which looks like a condor with head stretched forward and wings outstretched.
The Refuge was built in 1972, and is a welcome spot to stop for a rest, have some coffee or cocoa tea, and see all of the other folks who have hiked up too! We spent about 20 minutes here, then headed down the slope. This is a different track, much softer with fine, loose gravel, a 20-minute descent, which was okay by us! We chatted with some fellow Canadians on the way down.
Just as we left the Refuge it started to snow. Pellets of snow were coming down hard and just as we got back to the parking lot, it changed to rain. We certainly lucked out in our timing since neither of us had packed rain gear for this trek. We climbed into the truck just as the showers started, and rain fell off and on for the trip back to the entrance. The ride in Tomas’ truck back to the entrance was just as rattling this road is in serious need of a grader!
Given the exertion of today’s climb to 14,764 feet (call it 4500 meters!) I suspect we won’t have any problem sleeping tonight. And we might be very appreciative of our stop tomorrow in Banos where the hot springs are the main attraction.
Thursday, December 6 – Latacunga to Banos via Saquisilí – 405 km
We checked out of the Hotel Endamo this morning knowing we would return if we had the chance. The staff were great, the water was hot, the parking secure, and our room was very comfortable. After a good breakfast at the hotel we headed north of the city to Saquisilí where there is a huge market every Thursday. Out of curiosity we went to check it out. We knew it was aimed at locals more than tourists, and the amount and variety of produce available was astounding! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many tomatoes in one place!
The fruit and veg looked amazing, we could have had a sample of fresh squeezed goat milk if we had wanted to try it before buying a few litres (!), and the chickens were trussed, ready for purchase. I’m not sure if the vendors would have done them in and plucked them or if that is up to the purchaser! We didn’t buy anything, just enjoyed wandering through the plazas and seeing all of the activity. I think one would need a large family to actually shop for anything here. Some of the bundles of produce being loaded onto people’s backs were huge.
After leaving the market and Saquisilí, we headed south past Latacunga and on towards Banos. The drive was a bit boring while on the E30, then got more interesting as we got closer to Banos. The town is seriously touristy and has an incredible number of hostels and hotels. There is a strong move to market outdoor activities like mountain climbing and spelunking to youth, so the hostel scene here is an active one. We were happy to check into our hotel, Agua Fuego where we squeezed the bikes into a locked garage patrolled by two Siberian huskies.
We headed up to one of the more upscale hot pools in the late afternoon, Luna Volcan Spa. Our cab driver agreed to pick us up in a couple of hours, so off we went to experience some hot pools. We were a bit surprised that even the hottest pool could have been a few degrees warmer, but perhaps we should have got here earlier in the day. But the site is absolutely lovely, beautifully landscaped with tons of flowering shrubs everywhere. The hotel on this site is lovely too, but a fair bit pricier than we were interested in, so we were happy to make the 18 km trip from and back to Banos. The views of the valley in which Banos is located were fabulous as we twisted our way upwards to the spa.
After a relaxing soak and return to town, we grabbed a bite at a Mexican restaurant and had a quiet evening.
Friday, December 7 – Banos to Guachapala – 405 km
We didn’t have a particularly restful night given the nice looking but horribly amplifying design of the hotel we stayed in. The centre staircase is open so light and noise from one floor is seen and heard from all floors. Not fun when loud guests check in late and their conversations echo through and are amplified too. Sigh. So morning came to find us both on the tired side. But we have some miles to trek, so after breakfast we headed out towards Cuenca. Today we didn’t have accommodations booked as we thought we would see how the day went and would book something mid-day when we had a better idea of what kind of time we would make.
Our route today was through the high Andes, took us over three passes and down into deep valleys covered in trees, crops, shrubs, greenery. It felt at times almost overwhelming for our eyes. The lushness of this country is astounding.
We took the E30 Rio Pastaza through Shell and Puyo. In Puyo, junction put us onto E45 where we left the river below and began to climb. We climbed into the clouds (we are getting used to doing this!) and descended into another stunning, narrow valley. We remained on the E45 through small towns of Macas and Santiago de Mendez. It seemed there was not much along this route between Mendez and Cuenca, but it was only mid-afternoon when we got to Mendez, so we decided to carry on, hoping we would make it to Cuenca before dark.
Perhaps this was not the wisest decision we’ve made on this trip, but everything worked out in the end …. today’s ride through the mountains was incredibly beautiful, we again saw so much basic farming going on, so many people working in fields or carrying bundles of crops to barter or trade, so many cows and horses tethered on roadsides to graze. Today brought both awe at the beauty and increased knowledge that so many people find joy in their lives with so much less than we think we need.
But we didn’t do a lot of sightseeing as the road was very twisty and required a lot of attention. Once we left Banos the road surface deteriorated in many places. Stretches of great pavement were interrupted with areas where part of the road had dropped away, or the pavement had been removed to repair, but there was no evidence of current work being done. Or in areas, long stretches were flagged as one lane only. One stretch was more than 18 km long with the curvy road surface was completely chewed up in preparation for repaving but no safety crew stopping traffic in each direction. Nope, just drive along and squeeze by whatever might be coming towards you. This isn’t too difficult on a motorbike, but I’m glad I wasn’t driving a bus or a gravel truck here! The construction and general road condition meant we were not making the distance we thought we would. I suspect we averaged about 45 km per hour which means a 400 km day is a long one.
We made a somewhat desperate stop in the tiny town of Guachapala. About 7:30 PM. We had ridden gorgeous roads all day but Cuenca never seemed to get any closer. Finally after dark and according to Google Maps we were still more than an hour from Cuenca (just 40 km!). So we inquired in the town whether there was a hotel nearby. One woman walked two blocks to show us exactly where the hotel is, although not a single light was on. Then three other ladies roused the hotel owner from her home to come and let us, the only guests, in. It was very weird staying in an empty building, but better than riding the super twisty roads in the dark after 10 hours on the bikes. Oh, and the promise of hot water was an outright lie. Not surprising, but this morning there was NO water. Barking dogs and crowing roosters all night long added to the rustic atmosphere….at least there was secure parking for the bikes. Again, not a restful night, but better than riding mountain roads in the rain and dark when feeling very tired.
We’ve learned that motels don’t exist on the outskirts of towns and very few businesses of any sort have lit signs. This makes finding a place a huge challenge after dark. Hotels tend to be in the town centre and given the fact this is low season, in small towns not much, if anything, is available. This is a lesson we will take to heart! It was only with the help of some very kind and people we found a place to stay. Had the hotel manager not shown up, the first woman I had asked for directions (the one who walked me to the hotel since I couldn’t see it given the lack of lighting!) told us we could stay with her and her family if we couldn’t connect with the hotel manager. Great kindness to strangers!
Saturday, December 8 – Guachapala to Cuenca – 45 km
In Guachapala there is no hope of sleeping in. The local roosters crow all night, but by 6 AM they are in full competition for loudest bird. I had several ideas of what could be done with these creatures, but that wouldn’t have made me popular. In addition to roosters, there are dozens of dogs in this town (and every town) who bark unendingly. So given the noise, we were up by 7:00 and were the first people in a small restaurant for breakfast just before 8:00. Not an ideal morning, but not a terrible one either.
We were on our way by 9:00 and in Cuenca a bit before 11:00. It seems a lovely old city and we were very glad to get here! We stopped at a bakery for a bite while we talked about plans for our time here as well as starting to plan for Cusco.
We found a place to stay in downtown Cuenca (Hotel El Presidente), got the bikes washed and headed towards downtown. Even at mid day the traffic seems very slow moving. Thankfully we found the hotel and our parking garage in good time and settled in. We walked around the very interesting neighbourhood, dropped off laundry, stopped for a mid-afternoon drink and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon.
Dinner was at a restaurant that fellow motorcyclists had recommended, El Confesionario. As we arrived at the restaurant, the roads around the adjacent square were being closed for some sort of religious procession – a big statue of Mary, a large number of monks and nuns walking along surrounding the flower-covered wagon the statue was on. I have no idea what this was, but it was interesting to watch from the second-floor window seat, as was the rest of the evening activity. The area is very vibrant, there are all sorts of street vendors, entrepreneurs, people out enjoying the beautiful square and surrounding area. Very interesting area that we’re looking forward to learning about on a tour we’ve booked for tomorrow.
Today we learned that Saturdays seem to be ‘pig roasting’ day in this part of Ecuador. Every town we rode through had a piggy (or two) on a spit, roasting for (I assume) a feast tonight. Haven’t seen this here in Cuenca, so I’m not sure when I will satisfy my recently acquired craving for roast pig.
Sunday, December 9 – Cuenca
Today was a lovely day in a very interesting small city. We met our tour guide, Sebastian, this morning at 9:00 and really enjoyed the next four hours. We walked through some of the areas we had been in yesterday, but learned much more about the history of many of the stunning colonial buildings.
The official name of the city is Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca. Four rivers flow through the city. The architecture is part of the reason it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Some amazing buildings include what is currently the city’s municipal offices. Originally known as the Banco de Azuay (name of the state in which Cuenca is located) was the first bank in the city. Built in 1913 in a neoclassical style the building was a bank until 1999. Relatively recent restoration have ensured its beauty and style have been maintained, at least from the exterior.
Across the square from the bank is the New Cathedral. We can see the three towers and domes of blue from our hotel. When we stopped by today we saw the remarkable interior too. For one thing, the cathedral was full of worshippers. Sebastian explained the strong influence of Catholicism (not surprising) as well as the unique level of devotion demonstrated by many Cuencans. The more than 50 churches and cathedrals in this city have large congregations, contrary to what is seen in most other areas of the world. He also talked proudly of the way Catholics and other groups such as indigenous people cooperate to share celebrations and feasts without excluding people.
Back to the New Cathedral, it took almost 100 years to build and was officially opened in 1975. Despite a few cracks from earth quakes through the years (or perhaps less-than-ideal design as the architect was a priest and made a few big errors in his original plans!) it is a gorgeous building – red and orange brick, marble and alabaster, fabulous stained glass, ornate wood carvings, gilt altars and the feeling of great space. Although we didn’t opt to see the crypt or ascend the viewing platform in one of the towers, the church itself was very impressive. With an amazing nativity installation (included scale scenes from many bible stories I think) as well as hundreds of moving parts, this is a huge scene, much more than the main participants and a few shepherds and wise men! Because we were there during a service, it wasn’t operating so none of the hundreds of animals or humans moved …. quite stunning though even without moving parts, even for a couple of heathens!
On our tour with Sebastián we enjoyed a stop at some of the artisan markets (wonderful wool from alpacas!) as well as a fabulous food market, the Mercado 10 de Agosto. If I lived in this city, I’d be here regularly as the selection of fruits and vegetables as well as meats, fish, seafood, and traditional prepared foods was amazing. We walked through and enjoyed the visit, then after our tour Tony and I returned to find some lunch. This is where I satisfied my craving for roast pork as several vendors had it available. It was delicious and we both had fun deciding which of the many options to choose.
Our last stop on this tour was a visit to a lookout point over the city. The views were wonderful but we enjoyed even more a quick stop by ceramicist Eduardo Vega’s studio near the mirador. He has some amazing work for sale – if only we had space and certainty of gentle transport, I’m sure we would have bought a few pieces. But perhaps we will look on line once we are home!
We spent the rest of the afternoon planning our trip from here to Peru. With Christmas on the horizon we wanted to sketch out some routes and possible destinations as we head towards Machu Picchu where we hope to be a few days before Christmas.
After dark we walked to the river to see the lights (recommended by Sebastián) then enjoyed dinner at Don Colon’s. He’s a Quito born entrepreneur who spent much of his career in the US in the hospitality business and built a few properties that are now franchised. He retired to return to Ecuador, visited Cuenca and decided this would be home instead of Quito. He’s a charming and gracious host and we enjoyed our time chatting with him as we had our meal.
Monday, December 10 – Cuenca to Loja – 220 km
We had a lovely slow start to the day as we knew our ride to Loja wouldn’t be a long one and we had agreed to return to a few places in Cuenca before heading out. We enjoyed a walk through the central square and surrounding area again, picked up a few things, stopped for some wonderful hot chocolate (good to have low blood sugar at an opportune time!) and in the late morning loaded up our bikes and hit the road.
The scenery again was stunning in the valleys and mountains and was very changeable too. We went from forests such as we would see in ‘our’ Rockies to semi arid landscapes with completely different plants, rocks and stunning vistas. The one thing that was consistent was the very twisty road as we again climbed and descended varying elevations along our way.
The skies varied from cloudy to a mix of sun and cloud and we enjoyed some views of clouds completely filling the space between mountainsides. We only realized with these views of surrounding valleys how high we had climbed.
Pulled off into small town of Ona where we strolled around the central square and stopped for a bite at the ‘Cafeteria’ where we had the best cheese empanadas of this trip. Three was enough for us to share for lunch, they were fabulous, and the tab was $1.75. How does anyone manage!?!.? The owner was delighted with our feedback and our interest in taking a photo of her and her shop. So if you ever find yourself in Ona, do stop by the Cafeteria, which doesn’t pre-make food I can assure you. Instead, they dish up fresh and yummy empanadas and other foods too!
We got to Loja in the late afternoon and enjoyed a stroll around the city centre followed by a fast paced walk to an electronics repair shop as Tony’s helmet has a broken wire in the communication system. We decided at the last minute to see if we could get it repaired. It has been hard for him to hear directions from Siri when driving in strange towns and cities! So 10 blocks and about 90 stairs going up a steep embankment and we arrived at 5:59, just in time to get confirmation (thank you google translate!) that they could fix this by noon tomorrow. It will slow down our planned departure, but that’s okay.
Dinner was in the hotel as there are very few – if any – restaurants open in the evening nearby.
Tuesday, December 11 – Loja to Macara – 190 km
Another slow start to our morning getting a bit of bike maintenance done (thanks, Tony), taking time to make some changes to our sketched out travel plans. With our late departure from here, we won’t make it to Piura, Peru tonight which throws a wrench into our well laid plans.
Tony walked back to the electronics repair shop about 11:30 and was told his helmet wasn’t ready and to check back in an hour. He hadn’t realized they close for lunch from 1:00 to 2:00. We checked out of our hotel and grabbed a quick bite then got all geared up and rode to the shop, up what I thought were some steep and scary cobbled roads with weird intersections and no one with a clear right of way, only to arrive at 1:02 to find the store closed. Crap! With a 3 hour ride ahead of us to the border town of Macara and a rainy afternoon ahead, I just hope the shop does open at 2:00 and that we can be on our way out of town very shortly after that.
As we sit on the sidewalk outside Electronica del Austro I’m dreading the downhill ride to get out of town ….
Thankfully the technician in the shop saw us sitting and came out with the now repaired battery and wire. Yay! So by 1:30 we were on our way out of town, thankfully not on any weird steep roads with slick brick cobbles. We climbed again leaving the city for another day of mountain elevation riding.
Again, we didn’t ride a lot of kilometres but it took a long time to cover the ground. Today’s ride took us along a ridge with incredible mountain views on both sides. It was a challenge watching the road and trying to catch glimpses of incredible vistas in every direction. This afternoon was fairly hazy so we couldn’t see clearly, but we could see rows and rows of mountains, each one taller than the last and filling the horizons. This was a beautiful and challenging ride from lush forested sloped into more desert like areas, still steep slopes, but with completely different vegetation.
In some areas with curves hugging the mountain walls parts of the road have collapsed so some spots were one lane only with minimal warning signs about closed lanes, narrow roads, or non existent bits of road. All in the spirit of adventure, right? We were happy to not have met any big trucks or buses coming towards us in these sections.
Signage is something we’ve noticed is not really in existence here. Whether street names in towns where I guess people just know what different streets are called, or road signs to share information – danger, road closed, one lane ahead, beware, caution – none of these seem to be posted until seconds before you need to know. Just in time signage? Sometimes we really wish things were shared sooner!
We arrived in Macara about 5:30, checked into our very, very basic $15 per night hotel. At least it had secure parking, even if there was no hot water or air conditioning. As the evening was hot, we didn’t find it comfortable but it seemed the only place on town that we could reserve. We found a small bbq place for dinner, shared a beer on the deck at the hotel, and did our best to fall asleep despite the less than comfortable room.
Wednesday, December 12 – Macara to Chiclayo – 390 km
Today we left Ecuador and entered Peru. The ride was perhaps the least inspiring one of this trip.
Thankfully we zipped through Ecuador’s exit process without any trouble, rode across a bridge and stopped to begin the process for entering Peru and importing our vehicles. The only wrench was the requirement that we buy insurance. It is surprising to us that border insurance agencies seem so incredibly unprofessional. For Peru the company that seems to have a monopoly at the border is La Positiva Seguros. Their office, for want of a better word, is a small space at one end of a restaurant that didn’t even appear open. However the insurance is sold by the same person running the restaurant. She wrenched a palate away from the door that had blocked entry once she understood we wanted insurance. We walked through the empty restaurant to s tiny space with a small counter. The woman didn’t seem to know what she was doing, there were no rates posted anywhere, and the whole required process does not inspire confidence. Although we completed a form by hand, there was no evidence of a computer to send details of our new policies to the company. We were given a copy of what we had filled out, but nowhere did the form indicate that we each paid $32 USD for a one-month policy. We both felt this number had been pulled out of the air. But we can’t get our vehicle import permits without insurance, so how can we argue? When I asked for a receipt in my best beginners Spanish I was obviously understood, but my request was vehemently refused as she walked back into her empty restaurant. Not a confidence building experience!
The Peruvian customs people were much more helpful once we returned to their office with evidence of our insurance policies, they were great about keying in details from our passports and vehicle registration paperwork. Although the computers are on the old side, at least I feel like they were somewhat official! However I wondered if they were part of the insurance scam and share the proceeds!
We were glad to get the process wrapped up and to head down the highway towards Piura and our destination of Chiclayo. It seemed the landscape changed almost immediately from semi arid but still attractive views in southern Ecuador to complete desert in Northern Peru. And we had been warned by others about things that aren’t ideal about this stretch of the PanAmerican Highway. Namely there is a lot of trash along the roadside. The rocky, dun coloured desert could still be visually interesting, except the bags and bags of garbage, some ripped open, some not, but roadsides are just covered. It is really unattractive and disturbing.
At least our pace picked up as the road straightened, and the speed limit rose to 90 or 100 km per hour – except in the multitude of small towns where huge topes are installed much more often than necessary, it seems. These wide and high concrete traffic-slowing measures mean every semi and bus slows to a crawl as they go over them and every car or motorcycle tries to pass them as they crawl along in the middle of towns – or what might have once been towns, but now they look deserted but the topes are still in clear evidence.
We got to the city of Piura in the mid afternoon and this experience just reinforced what we had been exposed to on the highway and towns we’d already ridden through – drivers in Peru are the most aggressive, obnoxious, and often just plain bad of any we’ve driven with so far. Roads don’t have lines painted on them and even when it seems there are two lanes heading the same direction, cars try to lane split, tuk-tuks swarm madly in great numbers, there are rarely any indication of who has the right of way, and it seems whoever barges into an intersection first is the winner. Winner of what, I’m not sure!
Piura may be the ugliest city we’ve passed through. The heaps of trash everywhere are just awful. I hope all cities in Peru aren’t like this, but there seems no logic for all of the trash everywhere.
We found our way to a gas station that accepts credit cards and filled up the bikes. We had stopped at a gas station earlier and we told it was cash only. Which is difficult when there are no bank machines anywhere. Happily we had enough fuel to get to Piura without any issues. Then off to a shopping mall to find a bank machine and new SIM card. It was roasting hot out, very desert like (!) and not a fun stop, but we got the things done we needed to and hit the road again. We got out of the city only fearing for our lives half a dozen times or so.
In addition to the drivers, another challenge is wildlife and domestic creatures too. Goats are along the roadsides in large groups and small ones, they are often hard to see until very close. Thankfully they seem to stay off the road itself, but they certainly make us ride with caution. The same can be said for cows. We saw several herds being moved along the highway. Caballeros and their dogs use the highway, as do tuk-tuks, bicyclists, pedestrians, fellows moving wheel barrows, burros hauling carts, and almost any other conveyance you can imagine. Combined with big trucks, cars, and yes, motorcycles, doing 90 km or more, all types of traffic require attention!
As we moved towards Chiclayo, the wind picked up greatly. Although we could feel it blowing hard, at least it was a bit cooler with the Pacific being not too far away. But one more thing that requires attention while motoring along are the strong gusts.
We got to Chiclayo in time for rush hour traffic. Piura multiplied several times in terms of traffic volume, craziness of drivers, and poor quality roads – huge potholes, stretches of loose sand and gravel, no stop signs or yield signs, and again, thousands of tuk-tuks and taxis doing whatever they like, stopping anywhere, or racing around other vehicles with no regard for anyone else on the road. By the time we got to our Hampton hotel downtown, I was more than ready for a Pisco sour or two! If this is any indication of Peruvian drivers, I’m going to do my best to avoid a visit to Lima as the stress wouldn’t be worth it.
Happy to get bikes parked, get ourselves cleaned up and relax with a few badly needed drinks and dinner!
Thursday, December 13 – Chiclayo to Huanchaco – 180 km
Today was another less-than-enjoyable ride. We managed to get out of downtown Chiclayo without any issues, other than stress, and continued our route south towards the city of Trujillo. We won’t stay in Trujillo tonight, but booked a place at a nearby beach town, surf town, Huanchaco.
Today’s ride was through desert, although different areas do look different. The colour of sand and rock, the height of sand dunes and hills, even the types of vegetation vary greatly. But one thing remained constant. The roadsides were covered in trash, in broken rock and concrete rubble, in mounds of waste that is very unattractive.
About 60 km south of Chiclayo it is easy to see where irrigation is being done. Suddenly there were orchards and fields along the highway for quite a long way. Mangoes, asparagus, corn, and rice were to crops I recognized and there were many others I didn’t recognize.
The rice was most surprising. People were working in fields, wading up to their knees in water as they harvested (or maybe they were planting? Please excuse our ignorance!). But there are a lot of areas with large fields of rice in various stages of growth.
Then about 60 Kim north of Trujillo everything goes back to desert. I’m not sure what the water source is for irrigation or the source of soil, but it seems a wall was built between productive fields lined with trees and shrubs and miles of sand dunes without anything except low growing ground covers in various colours.
The entry to the outskirts of Trujillo was unimpressive – the same litany of trash, rubble, waste. We skirted west of the town and arrived in a fairly undeveloped beach town of Huanchaco. It is easy to see though that development is beginning here. Lots of new hotels and hostels, even more restaurants along the main road that parallels the beach, small shops and kiosks selling beach-related supplies and a lot of businesses offering surf lessons. The waves are big and it was interesting to watch students and experts along various stretches of the beach.
It was great to unload the bikes, cool off and walk along the beach in the late afternoon. Lovely dinner later in the evening in an area where tons of people were out enjoying the warm evening. I suspect a more pleasant evening than we would have had in Trujillo
Friday, December 14 – Huanchaco to Chimbote via ChanChan – 140 km.
Not a lot of miles today because we spent most of the morning visiting ChanChan, a huge archaeological site between Trujillo and Huanchaco. Conquered by Incas in the 15th century, the original residents of the area for almost six centuries were the Chimu people. Huge walled compounds built by generations of kings (patriarchy, who can avoid it?!?) have been excavated and restored since the late 1960’s and although now everything looks sand-coloured and monochromatic it is easy to imagine the various murals and graphics embedded into walls in bright colours.
An interesting tour, and we can only imagine what this place would look like with its 10 or 12 meter high protective walls in place protecting the site from winds and erosion.
Following our tour we headed south on a very hot afternoon. High winds, lots of truck traffic as we barreled south on the Pan America highway. One thing we’ve noticed so far about Peru is that the air isn’t very fresh. Even though we were riding just a few miles from the Pacific for much of the day, a lot of areas smell bad …. trash, shrimp farming, areas of big crops that smell of chemicals, acrid smoke from areas where fires are burning in fields, we miss plain old fresh air!
The highway ranges from single lane in each direction to separated highway with two lanes each way. The landscape today was definite desert – big sand dunes, high hills of rock where we could see sand piled up over the years, deep gorges where sand has been eroded by water, and some flat stretches where the sand blows across the road. For most of the day the sky was pale blue and the horizons were hazy. I couldn’t tell if this was cloud or sand making views less than clear.
Then again there a huge area of irrigated fields, lush green for many kilometres. It makes us wonder about the water sources and their long-term availability.
Got to Chombote where again traffic was just crazy. Intersections do not have signs – no stops signs, no yield signs, nothing. So if you’re trying to make a left turn across a 4 lane busy road apparently you have to just push into traffic, forcing a way through herds of cars . Very disconcerting. As we were naively waiting to make this left turn, one car and then a bus that had been behind us pulled up on our left sides and went past us making their left turns. They weren’t waiting for us to wait for a break in traffic, they were creating their own. It is really weird, especially on bikes!
Happy to get to our hotel, although we discovered the building is on a road being reconstructed. To access the parkade we had to squeeze down packed sand where the sidewalk will go, then Tony took both bikes onto the place where the road bed will be, but isn’t in place yet, turned around so he could ride straight across the non-existent road bed and soon-to-be sidewalk, over bricks and a pallet that had been put into place to fill the gap between the parkade ramp and sidewalk. I’m glad he did this successfully with both bikes! A little off-road riding to cap off our travels today!
Was a hot day, so was good to get into an air conditioned hotel for the night.
Saturday, December 15 – Chimbote to Lima – 420 km
We had not intended to ride to Lima today but circumstances pushed us there …. today was another hot day of desert riding on the PanAmerican Highway. There are some potentially amazing views of the coast as the road climbs and switches back and forth through valleys that open onto the Pacific. However today was another hazy day so views weren’t clear. In the morning we enjoyed lots of stretches of road that had warning signs about ‘zonas de curvas’ in several places. These are great sweeping curves usually climbing or dropping and at this point the highway is 4 lanes wide with beautiful pavement. Even though truck traffic was heavy we were still able to make good time.
The scenery today was interesting, but all desert and irrigated sections. The sand dunes have amazing variety of shapes and the rock cuts along the road show great sections of rock layers that are under all of the sand. But after a few hours, it got a bit tedious and hot.
We had planned on stopping for the night in the town of Chancay, a bit north of Lima. Arrived about 3:00 pm, ready to cool off. But we checked into our hostel (it looked good on booking.com and is brand new), and hauled our stuff up to our room. I guess we should have asked a question when the elephant went past into the courtyard where the lovely pool is. A golden oriental-style sculpture, not a real elephant. Then we noticed the cart overloaded with huge speakers… this was when we asked what was being planned and learned a birthday party is being held here tonight. And it will run late. Doesn’t sound like a restful place to stop. So we talked with the manager about our need for a quiet night and he agreed cancel our booking and refund our payment. So we loaded up again and headed into northern Lima to find a place to stay.
I hadn’t wanted to stop in Lima as I’d heard horrible tales of traffic madness. Now I can confirm they hold true. Combine all the other cities and towns we’ve been horrified at, multiply by millions, and you have Lima. Add in roads lined with trash everywhere you look, and the experience wasn’t positive.
Happily, we found our hotel, checked in, and learned the restaurant they advertise on booking.com is not open as there is a big event in the restaurant and courtyard tonight. No elephants, but we should have known what would happen… we walked a ways in the sketchy neighbourhood then found an area with newer, nicer condo developments. We caught a tuk-tuk and asked the driver to take us to a good restaurant. He dropped us at a very busy Chinese place where we had some seriously mediocre food. Sigh. We had heard so much about fabulous Peruvian food, but haven’t yet seen evidence of it.
Returned to our hotel and caught up on email. We could hear speeches from the event , but assumed they would wrap up ‘soon’. They did, about 10 PM. And that’s when the music started. As our room overlooked the courtyard, it was as if the amplifiers were pointing straight at us. So I went to the desk to ask how late this party would go (3 AM), and asked to move to a room overlooking the street. Quieter, despite traffic. But the noise from the party could still be heard quite clearly and the bass reverberated through the concrete block building. Even with the AC cranked up to turbo and ‘rain sounds’ playing on my tablet, it was hard to fall asleep. Not a good night for us. I’d strongly recommend not staying at the Hacienda Lima Norte if you have another option!
Sunday, December 16 – Lima to Nasca – 480 hard kilometers
Tony and I had agreed we wanted to be on the road early this morning as we have a long ride today. And we were up by 6:30 (early for us!). The promised free breakfast was not available until 8:00, although the front desk staff arranged for us to be served at 7:30. This would have been appreciated, except breakfast consisted of a glass of juice, a cup of instant coffee, and 2 crusty rolls each. No eggs or other protein, no fruit, no traditional things like chicharrones, sweet potatoes, nothing but white bread and butter. Not exactly a breakfast to stick to your ribs and provide energy for the day!
We headed out at 8 AM, hoping traffic on a Sunday morning wouldn’t be too bad. We were wrong! High volume, narrow lanes, buses and taxis that stop anywhere to pick up or drop off passengers – it might be the middle lanes on a 4-lane road as no one pulls over to do this. I’ve used the term mayhem before, and this was exacerbated.
At one point there were signs pointing towards a new toll road and expressway. Yay! We scooted across a few lanes of traffic to access this road. But we were stopped by a transit officer who was then joined by a police officer – both were vehement that motorcycles are not allowed on the expressway. Nope, doesn’t matter that these are bigger bikes than the usual 125 cc machines, doesn’t matter that we can go faster than most other vehicles on the road. No way. And how do we get out of here? Well, we were told to ride against traffic on the lane we had just ridden in on. This expressway has multiple lanes merging onto it, and we had to ride the wrong way for a kilometer so we could make a sharp turn back onto the road we had tried to get off of – the one with all the traffic. We’re still wondering WTF about the expressway, as well as the fact not a single sign anywhere said ‘no motos’ as we approached the expressway. Not a positive experience, except we did get back on the 1N, heading south, and managed to leave Lima behind eventually. Thank heavens. This is not a city we will return to.
The rest of the day was a long and very hot ride. The wind picked up just after noon (after a brief stop for a bite at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere!) as we rushed towards Nasca. The afternoon was long, not much fun, and not very scenic either. All desert, and once the highway narrowed to just a two lane road it required a lot of attention. Passing trucks (yes, sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right shoulder) and buses, keeping track of the cars flying past us, and watching out for rocks, sharp curves and the occasional cow, dog, tuk-tuk, tractor, slow moving carts, it was a hard afternoon. Several water stops along the way and we got to Nasca about 5 PM. Checked into our hotel and I collapsed for an hour. Maybe a bit of heat exhaustion as it was over 30 degrees this afternoon or maybe just exhaustion from a sleepless night. Regardless, we will have a quiet day tomorrow and hopefully a quiet night tonight. Will make plans tomorrow to see the Nasca Lines on Tuesday morning after we’ve recovered from today’s ride.
P.S. Happy Birthday Vanessa and belated to Mom.
Monday, December 17 – day off
A quiet day in the happening little town of Nasca. There is a lot going on here! Tourism, agriculture and gold mining are the big industries here now. That was in evidence riding into town and seeing the John Deere, Caterpillar and other brands of Ag and industrial equipment dealers here.
We stayed at a lovely hotel in the downtown core. Staff were wonderfully helpful, property was quiet and clean, Tony enjoyed the pool, and we were happy to have the bikes parked safely. Hotel Alegria is definitely a good place to stop. It is close to restaurants and shops, as well as the city’s central square. It was a great location for us.
I must admit I wasn’t very functional today. I felt very tired so appreciated the chance to indulge in a few naps. We also got a few key things done such as laundry, oil changes on the bikes as well as a new rear sprocket and chain on mine and new brake pads on Tony’s. In addition we got our flight booked for tomorrow to see the Nazca Lines before we leave tomorrow. So a quiet but productive and restful day in a more energetic town than we had expected.
Tuesday, December 18 – Nazca to Puquio plus Nazca Lines- 165 km
Up early to catch a ride to the Nazca airport for 7:30 AM. This didn’t take long, but it felt odd waiting for a plane without having had breakfast. We had booked a small plane for our flight. It reminded me of the planes that Integra Air used to fly – every seat is a window seat! Which was what everyone on board (6 guests, two pilots) wanted. Although the wait for departure was a bit longer than expected, once we were in the air, the AirBrag pilots did a good job of swooping over different figures several times to give everyone a view from their side of the plane. Very interesting flight but far too short!
In addition to the Nazca Lines we got a good view of the desert in general. Wow, this place is big! And the hills and mountains that surround the rocks and sand dunes are dry and parched as well. Very few bits of green except where irrigation is taking place, and the dry parts stretching to the horizon and beyond.
After our flight we were given a ride back to our hotel, we grabbed a late breakfast and got ready to put a few miles on. Today’s destination is small town of Puquio en route for Abancay and Ollantaytambo. It is a bit more than three hours away and leaving at noon means we will be riding through some hot areas. There just doesn’t seem anywhere else a relatively short ride away that has accommodations available. Thankfully the front desk staff at Hotel Algegria helped us get a reservation made for tonight.
It was a hot ride, at least for the first while. Finally we started to gain some elevation, but we didn’t move into forested areas or anything like that. No, we just climbed switchbacks up and up and up. The views were amazing since the sky was clear, and despite the frequent signs warning that we were entering areas of cloud, we didn’t run into any today. We could see for miles, the desert, irrigated farmland, a few small treed areas, many old tumbledown houses, stone built fences along the roads, and the seeming never-ending switchbacks. I can’t believe how many miles of road needed to be built to cover what I’m sure would be relatively small distances from Point A to B.
The road was in great shape and there wasn’t a lot of traffic on it. It was easy to pass big trucks whenever we came upon them labouring up the sides of mountains. There were times I would look ahead at a slope and I’d see a big truck above us and I’d wonder how it had gotten up so high. Then we’d carry on, back and forth, climbing and climbing and find ourselves on a windswept mountain top with only one way forward. There were times as we rode along this narrow road with a minimal amount of guard rails that I was reminded that I really don’t like heights!
We got to Puquio in the late afternoon, parked and unloaded the bikes, then walked around the town a bit. An energetic place, at least today! There are so many vendors on the streets selling everything from fried dough to fresh fruit, it was an interesting walk.
A while later we went out for dinner and hurried back to our hotel to discover the promise of hot water actually held true. Since this town is quite high and the temperatures will drop into the low teens tonight, it’s going to be hard getting up in the morning. Hot water, yes, but no heat in the building. This could be an interesting start to the day. And we hope to be up and at ‘em a bit early as our ride tomorrow will be a longer one. Reminds me of camping of some of these very refreshing mornings!
Wednesday, December 19 Puquio to Abancay – 310 km
This morning wasn’t as cold as I feared when we curled up under multiple blankets last night. Cool yes, but not too terrible. Today looks like it will be sunnier than yesterday so that is encouraging. We went out to grab a bite of breakfast as the hotel didn’t offer any. Tony had gone for a walk before I was up and he came back to report that many of the businesses in town seem to open at 6:00 AM. But not restaurants serving breakfast; those wait until 7:30 or 8:00.
We were on our way right after breakfast, hoping to cover some miles this morning. Google estimates the 300 km we have to travel on Highway 30A will take 5 hours or so, plus time added in for short breaks, blood tests, and hopefully some scenery admiration.
The road was very twisty, as usual, it gained a lot of elevation over a series of sharp switchbacks and the scale of the land we were riding through was immense. Hugh plains (I guess that’s why this is the Altiplano of the Andes) and valleys surrounded by mountains on all sides. The colours in the soil and rock varied from sand coloured to shades of green, brown, black and red in areas. With sunshine in the morning, it was a lovely clear day to ride.
We did have to pay attention and keep on the look out for creatures, wild and domestic. We’re now in areas where guanacos are common as are llamas and alpacas. Then add in a few herds of goats, cows, horses, dogs, sheep, and the occasional pig and we did need to take care and yield the right of way or ride cautiously past groups of the aforementioned animals grazing on the roadsides.
We appreciated the relatively light traffic and good quality road surface. The lanes may have been narrow at times, but considering the remoteness of this road, it was in excellent shape. We crossed several mountain passes and we suspect the highest was about 15,000 feet above sea level. Our bikes take this in their stride, but I’m glad not to be driving a large diesel truck with a big load on the trailer up these slopes. They are working very hard!
We were glad to arrive at Abancay after what felt like a day filled with switchbacks and tight turns. Fun to ride, but a bit wearing after hours and hours. Abancay, like so many mountain towns has lots of steep streets, seeming few options for safe motorbike parking, and lots of traffic. But Tony navigated our way to our hotel and got us safely parked for the night.
We wandered the neighbourhood and found a place for dinner later in the evening. It would have been a lovely spot, except just after we ordered someone decided to crank up the music playing on the patio. I have definitely not gotten used to noise levels in South America! And I hate having to shout to be heard over dinner. Put a damper on what would have been a nice evening. But that was nothing compared to what the dogs did later…..
Thursday, December 20 – 0 km, day in Abancay
We had been looking forward to a good sleep and then a sleep-in to start our day, but that did not happen. There are a huge number of dogs in this town ranging in size from
smaller than cats to huge big hounds. Our 6th floor hotel room with single pane windows that don’t quite close overlooks several homes with yards filled with dogs. Big dogs, loud dogs, easily disturbed dogs. The damn things barked all night long. The occasional bark might irritate me a bit since I’m a pretty light sleeper but this group of dogs seemed to inspire each other to ever increasing barking frenzies. Neither Tony nor I slept much at all … not a pleasant night.
Because the damn dogs continued barking all morning, and the place that seems to be a doggie day-care for an additional six big dogs welcomed its dogs about 7 AM, we were up much earlier than we had expected. Immediately after breakfast we moved rooms, although I’m not certain how effective this will be. The bigger windows in our new suite are even leas soundproof than our previous room! But hopefully it is just traffic that we hear, not dogs barking their heads off.
After settling into our new room, we spent time researching travel plans for the rest of this trip. Well, I did the research, Tony had a nap! We went for a walk in the neighbourhood, did some more research and pre-planning, then caught a cab up to the local mirador (lookout) over the town. It was a nice view, but the area also includes a small zoo that I was sad to see. Chain link fences separate small compounds for pumas, wild pigs, foxes, monkeys. There are several areas for birds too – parrots, huge grey owls, condors, vultures. All of these spaces seemed smaller than they should for the creatures they housed. Sigh.
We had caught a taxi up to the Mirador, but came back to the city in a taxi-van. For $2 each the price was right, but wow, people sure get packed into these vehicles! At one point there were more than 15 people, including two mothers holding babies crammed in. Happily we all got back into downtown safe and sound. Even getting out is an adventure, as this vehicle doesn’t actually stop to let people on and off. It slows down, the sliding door opens, and people tumble out, or jump on board and it seems the vehicle is still moving. An experience, that’s for sure.
The rest of the day was uneventful, just mapping out travels over the next little while. Tomorrow we will scoot into Cusco for one night then head up to Ollantaytambo for a few days before our tour of Machu Picchu on Christmas Eve.
Friday, December 21 – Abancay to Cusco – 185 km
Last night was another night of disturbed sleep because of dogs barking loudly and for long periods of time. Although we were a bit further from the pack that barked madly last night, there were several others on our side of the hotel that barked and barked. Every time a car or pedestrian went down the street one dog would start, then two or three others would join in and carry on for 10 or 15 minutes. I got up this morning feeling I hadn’t had a wink of sleep. Tony was exhausted from the previous night’s horrible sleep so he actually fell asleep and slept through the worst of the noise. I guess it is a good thing that one of us has a bit of energy.
The ride to Cusco took us through some beautiful areas. Two gorgeous passes, valleys and mountains on all sides, stunning views of terraced fields marching up the sides of mountains, and wonderful pavement. Most of the ride was on twisty, curvy switchbacks that climbed and descended mountain sides. Beautiful to ride, lovely to stop a few times and admire the views.
We got to Cusco in the early afternoon and found our way to our hotel near the historic center of Cusco. I spent most of the ride just concentrating on navigating roads under construction, stretches partly ripped up but still being used as a road with lots of big and deep potholes to navigate, then stretches of steep slopes, narrow streets, and cobblestones. None of this makes for great riding in my opinion. I was very glad when we got to our hotel as the area seems much more friendly for walkers rather than riders.
Our hotel was lovely. The Cusco Jungle which sounded a little odd, is a lovely spot with a courtyard in which we parked as well as very helpful staff too. Best of all it seems a quiet place which holds great promise for sleep tonight!
Once we unloaded we went for a walk. We are about 10 minutes from the Plaza de Armas and we enjoyed people watching while strolling around the area. We stopped at one narrow gallery to look at some of the paintings and ended up in a long conversation with artist Rony Condori Quispe with the help of a friend and interpreter. Bottom line is we found ourselves the owners of a painting of the plaza. Rony was great about rolling the work, fitting it into a tube and then using packing tape to entirely wrap and seal the tube. We hope this will keep it dry and safe inside one of our waterproof bags!
We worked so hard at the conversation we had to go for dinner to recharge! Then walking back to the hotel was fun with the volume of foot and vehicle traffic on the streets. The Plaza was filled with people, many there listening to a concert featuring a youth band playing Christmas tunes. Much work is being done to set up tents around the periphery of the plaza for something going on in the next day or two.
We enjoyed our afternoon and evening in Cusco very much.
Saturday, December 22 – Cusco to Ollantaytambo – 85 km
We had a great lazy morning getting ourselves packed up for our ride to Ollantaytambo later today. The hotel is letting us leave our bikes there for a few hours while we go exploring Cusco before our departure.
We started with a two-hour walking tour which was interesting. I suspect that we could take any number of walking tours and get very different perspectives on history as well as current events with each guide. We enjoyed a stop at a market where we tried some ‘weird fruits’ to quote our guide – pacay, which looks like a giant green bean and is very sweet, dragon fruit (pitahaya), lucuma which was sweet but had a weird texture and is apparently much better in ice cream, granadilla, and a few others I don’t remember names of. We ended the tour with a small Pisco sour and then walked back to the Plaza de Armas. We grabbed a bite of lunch, then walked back to our hotel to get geared up for our ride to Ollantaytambo.
We timed things right and just as we started to get our gear out and on it started to rain. Not a heavy downpour but a brief shower, just enough to make the cobblestones wet and slick! We had scoped out the route to Ollantaytambo and ignored some of Siri’s early directions as she wanted to send us in directions we were sure weren’t correct. So with a bit of effort, we managed to find our way back to the highway through the construction zone and heavy traffic. It was good to finally leave the industrial looking outskirts of Cusco behind.
The drive to Ollantaytambo was very pretty, although we didn’t gain as much elevation as we thought we would. But the looming mountains, terraced fields, and twisty road were enjoyable. At one scenic lookout we chatted briefly with a fellow from Scarborough. He was pleased to meet fellow Canadians on the road and was surprised to learn we have ridden all the way.
Arriving in Ollantaytambo was a challenge. The roads are cobblestones and are also twisty and somewhat off-camber which makes for very challenging riding. At one point, not far from our hotel water was running over a narrow cobbled road that drops off on one side and I slipped – over I went. No damage done, thankfully, but it really ticked me off. I’m already fretting about the ride out of town! Our hotel parking for motorcycles is a bit of a misnomer. Tony brought both bikes in, up a gravel path that has a 180 degree turn, then through a gate barely wider than the bike, down a lane between two 10 foot concrete walls, again, barely wider than the bike. Finally a 90 degree turn into a yard where the bikes can stay. But getting them out again will be interesting, especially given the 3 foot drop at the end of the path , just through the gate, where we will need to make a sharp turn with no room for error…..
The hotel is lovely, beautiful garden, very nice room. And quiet – something I very much appreciate! A good night’s sleep is always a great thing to have!
Sunday, December 23 – Ollantaytambo- 0 miles
We had another non-rushed morning. Tony did a bit of work done on the bikes, I caught up on email and did some research on the ruins right outside the town of Ollantaytambo. One hears so much about Machu Picchu that the many other sites are overlooked.
We walked through the town to the ticket office for the Ollantaytambo ruins. These are an amazing series of terraces as well as a fortress that served as the Incas last stronghold against the Spanish when they invaded Cusco in the 15th century. The engineering of the terraces that were used for agricultural production, the water management, and sheer magnitude of the huge stones that were moved from a quarry 6 km away are quite overwhelming. And the views as one climbs further up the mountain are breathtaking. If this is preparation for our visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow, it is well worth it.
Thankfully neither of us have experienced problems with altitude here. We returned to town, enjoyed a very late lunch, a quiet afternoon and then a great dinner in the main town square. There was incredibly positive energy here as a stage had been set up and kids were performing during the evening. Lots of people were in the square enjoying the evening and lots of Christmas celebrations are obviously underway.
We enjoyed our dinner and headed ‘home’ for an early night as we have to be up very early in the morning…..
Monday, December 24- visit to Machu Picchu
We were up at 4:00 AM (gulp!) so we could be on time for our train to Aguas Calientes where we will catch a bus to Machu Picchu. Boarding at 4:35 for a 5:00 AM departure certainly means an earlier-than-usual start to our day. Thankfully our hotel provided breakfast to go so we grabbed our bag and headed out for a walk to the train station. The town seems pretty lively considering the very early hour! I’m sure this is the usual way of things here.
After boarding and meeting our Serbian seat-mates, we had a quiet ride for 90 minutes to Aguas Calientes, the town that is the staging area for visitors to Machu Picchu. Once disembarked we had to walk a short way into town to buy a bus ticket, then walk past the train station to catch the bus that took us up an incredibly switch-backed road to get to Machu Picchu. It was quite the process, but once through the entry gate, it was all worthwhile. Words cannot describe the size, scale, grandeur of this site.
We had a hard time finding our way to a place we had purchased tickets to climb one of two mountains that provide overviews of Machu Picchu. We had asked one employee on site where to find the entrance to Waynapicchu and he pointed us (as we discovered later) in the completely wrong direction. By the time we found our mistake, made our way to the gate where access to Waynapicchu is controlled, we were late for the scheduled ticket time …. thankfully after talking with the fellow at the gate he agreed to let us in, despite starting our hike later than we had booked. And what a hike!
The trail took us through jungle, up steep Inca-built stairs, through a narrow cave, up and up and up to a height of something close to 2700 meters above sea level. Although the morning was somewhat cloudy, the views were still spectacular. I had no idea how big the walls and terraces at Machu Picchu are, but this overview really made us wonder just how hard all of the builders would have worked to create such a wonder.
We sat at the top of Waynapicchu for a little while, partly to catch our breaths and partly to watch the clouds moving past us while gaining some remarkable views. Then we began the hike down. This was at least as tough as the climb up, although we did appreciate the increased oxygen as we descended.
Once back at the level of Machu Picchu we enjoyed the chance to stroll around the site. We still have much more to learn about the civilization that built this place! When we get back home, I think a book or two on Machu Picchu to learn more about 15th century Inca leader, Pachacútec Inca Yupanqui and the astounding engineering behind the construction will be needed.
Our return to Ollantaytambo was the same combination of bus and train that took us up the mountain. We were exhausted when we arrived and were glad to grab a quick bite on our walk back to our hotel so we could call it an early night to make up for our very early morning and unusual energy expenditure!
Tuesday, December 25 – Merry Christmas! – 145 km
Today has been a very non-traditional Christmas for us. We slept like rocks, recovering from yesterday’s hike and long day. Then a quiet morning at the Casa Blanca Lodge, enjoying breakfast outside in the sunshine while watching hummingbirds zooming in and out of flowering plants. Once loaded up Tony carefully brought both bikes out of the very narrow lane that ended in a steep 90-degree turn then a 180-degree downhill turn to get out onto the cobbled road. I was very glad he was willing to bring both bikes out!
We took a circuitous route to Cusco as we had decided to stop by the ancient Incan agricultural research station at Moray, about 30 km off the main road to Cusco, but still in the general direction we were heading. We had also planned on a stop en route at Maras where salt is ‘mined’ in desalination ponds. Unfortunately we struck out despite our good intentions.
From Urubamba we found our way to a gravel road the took us first to Maras then Moray. As it is Christmas Day, nothing in Maras was open and we didn’t find any information or directions to the areas where the desalination takes place. So our plans to learn about the process and purchase some of the salt came to nothing.
But we carried on down the gravel road to Moray. This location is well signed and even without the signs, one just needs to follow the tour buses. We enjoyed the ride on the gravel road through beautifully productive hilly country. Fields of various colours and crops stretch as far as we could see making a lovely patchwork. Upon our arrival at Moray we went to the ticket booth and discovered tourists can’t buy a ticket to just this site. To enter, we would have had to buy a pass for 4 sites (Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero as well as Moray) that has to be used within 2 days. Apparently this is the rule and there is no accommodation for tourists who might not be taking a pre-planned trip in this area, or who might not make all these stops within 48 hours. We had been able to buy a single entry to Ollantaytambo but could not purchase a single entry for Moray. We were dismayed to say the least, and were unwilling to pay for 4 sites knowing we would only visit this one. So we headed back the way we had come without being able to see Moray. Disappointing to say the least. And somehow the countryside didn’t seem quite as lovely on the ride back towards the highway.
Arriving in Cusco was an interesting ride to our hotel on the east side of the city. There is so much construction here, so many vehicles, so few traffic signals, it makes for a ride requiring great focus. Several times we were ‘merged into’ by drivers who wanted into our lane so being bigger than we are would just move over and leave it up to us to avoid them. We were thankful to arrive at our hotel safely!
Later that afternoon the rain that had threatened all afternoon arrived in buckets. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen rain come down so heavily, nor so much lightning and thunder striking and rumbling so close. Certainly a change from the usual weather we have at Christmas. The rain was heavy enough that we considered canceling our dinner reservation. However, we decided that we would go if we could find a cab, which we did.
Off to Pacchapapa (Marta, thanks for the recommendation!) for a wonderful meal to mark Christmas Day. A wonderful way to celebrate.
Wednesday, December 26 – Cusco to Puno – 380 km
We knew we had a long ride ahead of us today so we were on the road by 8:00. Getting out of Cusco to head southeast on the 3S was a bit challenging. Traffic volume and multi-lane intersections with no lights or indications of who can proceed made for an interesting ride. Once out of Cusco the traffic volume eased considerably but the number of construction zones was surprising. It seems every bridge over the Rio Vilcanota – the highway follows this river – was under construction. This meant lots of single lane traffic, sometimes for short distances, sometimes for many kilometers. It meant more waiting than we had expected at times. But in between the construction zones we were able to make fairly good time. That is until we decided to stop at the small town of Ayaviri for a bite of lunch.
We parked in the central square, stopped in at a busy restaurant that served very mediocre roast chicken. But we felt better having had a bite and were looking forward to getting to Puno within a couple of hours. As we were prepping to leave I was by the bikes, I set my purse down on top of a side case and turned my back I’m sure for mere seconds. In that time someone went by (I imagine) on a bike or motorbike and helped themselves to my purse. Thankfully my passport was not in it, nor was much money, but the inconvenience of reporting the theft in hopes of getting some sort of official document to explain why I don’t have a driver’s license took several hours.
The police were helpful (knowing I’m not likely to get anything back), but preparing a report in a police station that had no power (maybe last night’s storm?) was painfully slow. We were there until after 4:00 when we were finally given a copy of the complaint and told to take it to the tourist police in Puno so they can prepare something that looks more official and will hopefully satisfy officials at border crossings…..
So back on the road after 4:00 with only 140 km to go, except this trip is forecast to take 2.5 hours which means we will arrive after dark. Sigh. We did our best to make good time, although there are so many small towns with a multitude of huge topes on the road that mean all traffic slows to 15 or 20 km per hour to ease over these huge concrete speed bumps. Then a few appeared on the highway outside of towns, again, very effectively slowing traffic.
As we approached Juliaca, about 90 km from Puno we were first impressed with what looked like a great new freeway. This impression quickly changed as the construction began, then a major detour through the center of a very busy town. There are many one-way roads meant to accommodate two lanes of traffic that now seem to have three or four lanes of hurrying, honking vehicles crawling ahead, swerving to avoid tire-eating potholes, barely avoiding each other – and us! We were very glad to have Juliaca in our rearview mirrors.
The final 40 km took more than an hour as traffic volume remained high and many huge trucks hauling loads were crawling up the slopes en route to Puno. Some of these vehicles do 10 or 15 km per hour and long line ups of traffic crawl along behind until it is possible (not safe, just possible!) to pass on the narrow highway. As we rode along this stretch, the black clouds to the west got darker, the sun set behind them, and when we finally arrived in Puno is was dark. Very dark.
This is a city on the shore of Lake Titicaca and has very steep hills sloping down to the lake. It is an old city and the streets are narrow, signage for street names and even indicators of which ones are one ways are absent. With Google Maps we found the main square, parked, and Tony walked to our nearby hotel to check in. Here he discovered the secure parking is 3 blocks away and the street the hotel is on is so narrow we can’t park out front to unload the bikes. So in the pitch black we spent 30 minutes trying to find the parking lot. One wrong turn and we were completely confused. With help several times from pedestrians we finally found the parking lot, unloaded the bikes and hauled our gear back to the hotel.
A nice enough place (Sol Plaza), but we were wiped out by the time we got to our room. It was almost 8:00 PM by this time – it had been a long and stressful day. We grabbed a badly needed drink and dinner at Mojsa, an excellent restaurant near the hotel and then we collapsed in our room.
Thursday, December 27 – Puno – 0 km
We were both surprised to have a hard time breathing while in Puno. We have been at higher elevations on this trip but for some reason we both found it hard to breathe and to sleep. We didn’t get the relaxing night of good sleep that we had hoped for!
We spent a good part of the morning seeing parts of Puno I’m sure most visitors don’t see. We were on a hunt for a glucose meter – I still have one but it needs to be calibrated against another fairly regularly. So that was our morning’s quest.
Pharmacies in Peru tend to be small, independent shops. We stopped into about half a dozen hoping to find the same brand of meter I was using, and for which I still have test strips. I was told that a nearby hospital has a pharmacy and they sell the brand we were looking for. So off we went to a very, very busy hospital, found our way to the pharmacy where we were told they don’t sell glucometers and we were pointed in the direction of a bunch of independent pharmacies across the street. So I decided to buy a brand of glucose meter I’d never heard of that measures in a scale different than what I’m used to. But I can find a conversion chart and will just use this one for calibration. Hopefully that will get me home to Canada with some measure of blood glucose control!
We saw some amazing topiary on our walk to the hospital, through a public square and other neighbourhoods. It seems there is a great enthusiasm for this art form here. From animals of all sorts of geometric shapes, it was interesting.
We stopped for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Plaza de Armas then stopped by the local tourist police office to report yesterday’s purse theft. This is all in an effort to get a ‘certified’ report explaining my missing driver’s license. Happily this didn’t take long to work through and they agreed to have a report ready later in the day.
We walked down (literally – very steep descent) to the shores of Lake Titicaca, snooped through a local market where I bought an alpaca sweater (it is cold here – I might need it!) then caught a tuk-tuk back to the central square. These little three wheeled vehicles are amazing and kind of scary. The way they merge into and out of lanes, push their way through traffic jams, start and stop with about 1/8 of an inch to spare is amazing. We had to check it out! We also didn’t want to make the long walk back to our hotel, up the hill from the lakeshore to be honest.
Grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant and called it an early night.
Friday , December 28 – Puno to Moquegua – 287 km
Struggled again to sleep, so were up fairly early and were happy to be leaving the city. The walk with all of our gear for three blocks uphill to our bikes was a bit of a challenge! We stopped along the way to pick up some empanadas (we learned later that they were excellent!) to take with us for lunch as there doesn’t seem to be much along the highway between here and Moquegua.
We took the 36B leaving Puno and then turned onto the 36A a ways out of town. Today’s ride was one of the most beautiful we’ve had. We gained elevation leaving Puno, into beautiful country – the geology of the desert changed dramatically many times during today’s ride. From sage brush mountainsides to flat sandy desert surrounded by mountains, then rocky hills with fascinating outcrops, switchbacks leading up into mountain passes, amazing colour changes in sand and rocks from pinks, reds, oranges to shades of greens like mint ice cream, browns of all shades, a few ivories and whites. It makes me want to study geology to learn how all of these colours and formations were created.
The final stage was true desert – hills with nothing growing anywhere – not even cacti. Miles of wide-open, fairly flat roadway, finally arriving in Torata and then a twisty descent into Moquegua where we happily checked into the very comfortable Casa Andina Moquegua, cleaned up, enjoyed a surprisingly good dinner at the hotel and called it a night.
Saturday, December 29 – Moquegua to Arequipa via locations we don’t know – 397 km.
We left Moquegua at 9:00 AM, heading, we thought, towards Chivay via a less-commonly used road, the 109. Well, what a screw up our plans were. We made great time in the morning on the 1S, cruised past La Joya before noon, then headed towards the 109 which we thought would take us to Chivay by late afternoon. Well, we didn’t make it to Chivay, and we hadn’t researched this route very deeply. My paper map of Peru showed the 109 as a ‘secondary highway- hard surfaced’. That was a crock of something.
We ended up on a gravel road that Google assured us would take us past the Colca Canyon and into Chivay. Except the gravel was hard riding with lots and lots of washboard, many switchbacks, and no communities at all along the route. Truly the middle of nowhere.
We rode for about 30 km before deciding to turn around and head to Arequipa while we still had some daylight. This gravel road would have been hell in the dark. Hard enough in daylight with the potholes, washboard, sections of soft sand and many switchbacks. So it took us all afternoon to get to Arequipa – only 200 km from our morning starting point.
But we were glad to get here, delighted to check into the Dreams Hotel Boutique and wash the dust off from this afternoon’s very dusty, gravelly ride. Had an excellent dinner, too many pisco sours (why not!?!), and a good night’s sleep! Tomorrow we will figure out if we will take a different route to see Colca Canyon, or head south from here. We’re too tired to sort out details tonight!
Sunday, December 30 – Arequipa to Chivay and Mirador Cruz del Condor – 312 km
Had a great sleep at our hotel in Arequipa. Breakfast at 7:30, bikes loaded and carefully moved out of the very cozy parking spots by about 8:30, then into Arequipa traffic. A slow crawl for an hour took us from the south side of the city north towards Highway 34A. For this first hour I’m sure our average speed was less than 20 km per hour. Finally we made it out of town and past the industrial part of the city, however the highway (only one lane each direction) was very busy. Many semis were heading both north and south to a mine somewhere, crawling up steep grades and slowing traffic considerably.
The views of the desert were fabulous, the surrounding mountains, including several volcanic peaks sending up plumes of smoke were interesting. Much of the land close to Arequipa is hilly, rocky, with little plant life, so quite monochromatic. It is the views of the horizon that kept our interest, as well as focusing on when we could scoot around trucks and other vehicles. For the first 70 km or so, there were probably 10 semi trailers on the road for every car or SUV. It seemed at least as much traffic was heading into the city as was heading out.
About an hour out of the city we pulled over for some bike maintenance. I had lost a bolt from my windshield, another was loose on my hand covers, so it seemed a good idea to get things tightened up before anything else came loose. I suspect yesterday’s washboard and rough road shook things loose that I hadn’t noticed until this morning. Happily Tony got things fixed up as all the vehicles we had passed earlier went zipping past us!
Back on the road we continued to gain elevation into the gorgeous Andes. After we turned off the main road to Cusco onto the 1S things became even more enjoyable. With lighter traffic and improving scenery, the last 90 kilometres were great fun. We climbed into an area where volcanic mountains line the horizons in all directions. At one lookout point – Mirador de Los Andes – we were at almost 16,000 feet above sea level, in an area where hundreds, or maybe thousands of people have built inukshuk-style figures. The height of the various volcanoes are marked on different signs and made for an interesting stop.
The ride along this stretch of road had lots of wildlife and livestock along the edges. Vicunas, guanacos, alpacas, sheep, cows, dogs.
As we continued to climb we caught glimpses of Chivay in a valley that was miles and miles below us. The ride down was great and was incredibly scenic. The scale of the mountains, valleys, landscape in general is awe inspiring. We enjoyed the curvy ride into Chivay where we grabbed a bite of lunch and headed up to the Mirador Cruz del Condor. As it was mid afternoon, we weren’t surprised we didn’t see many condors, but the views of the Colca Canyon were astounding. Looking into terraced farm land that was used by the Inkas (and was terraced by them) the number of terraces that line the river, climbing up the canyon walls is amazing. These terraced fields lined the canyon for the 43 km that we rode, and probably continue along the river for great distances.
While seeing the fields, we had to be careful of the livestock along the roadside. Cows, burros, horses were common and frequently cross the road or amble along it, so attention is needed!
Views from the Mirador were wonderful, although the afternoon was quite cloudy and rain was threatening. The positive side of this is that there was no one else at the lookout! One other couple was there when we arrived, but left shortly after we got there. It was a lovely spot to stop. The wind had eased up a bit, although it was cool, it was nice to just sit and look around for awhile. We saw a couple of condors floating along on the thermals. They are huge, even when seen from a distance.
After about an hour there we headed back to Chivay, checked into our hotel and went out for a good dinner at Vinos Pizza. Back home for the evening and an early night. We hope to get back to Moquegua tomorrow night and that will be a long ride. But will discuss once we get to Arequipa to see how long it takes to get there, and how much energy we have for the ride.
Monday, December 31- Chivay to Moquegua – 422 km
New Year’s Eve and we were on the road fairly early heading back to Arequipa. Google told us it is a 4 hour ride, but thankfully this was not correct. Leaving Chivay we enjoyed the climb up out of the valley on beautifully paved, twisty roads with little traffic. We again enjoyed the mountainous scenery as we had riding in yesterday. Surrounded by volcanic mountains on the horizons this is a really stunning road.
We had to be cautious again – guanacos, vicunas, alpacas, dogs, cows, horses all use the road as well as vehicles. We got to Arequipa about 11 AM and the city was again a traffic madhouse. Markets set up on roadsides, including on the edges of the main highway with people crossing through rows of traffic, buses picking up and dropping off passengers without pulling off the road, and the usual aggressive Peruvian drivers mixed with heavy volumes of pedestrians and vehicles. We were very glad to get out of the city again after a short break to enjoy ice cream, illegally parked in a rare shady spot!
From Arequipa it was a 3-hour ride back to Moquegua through some interesting and very desert-like landscapes. The 115 leaving Arequipa and the 1S that connects and heads to Moquegua are both in good condition, with lots of sweeping curves, elevation changes, wonderful scenery. A good ride!
Being NY Eve, the hotel is prepping for a party this evening. We didn’t think we would be awake that late so we had dinner in the early evening and made it an early night. We did hear the cheers and fireworks at midnight, but will officially greet the New Year in the morning with a cup of coffee in hand!