Day 90 – Buenos Aires, Argentina

I have eaten steak for the past 3 meals in a row.  Supper last night, breakfast this morning, and lunch a little while ago.  When I have another steak for supper tonight, I will have successfully completed the steak trifecta: steak for 3 meals in one day.  I absolutely love the steak in Argentina.  It could quite possibly be the best in the world.  And this is coming from someone who was born and raised in Alberta.

Not only is Argentinian steak second to none, the wine is fantastic as well.  I have already tasted three Malbecs and three Cabernet Sauvignons.  The Mendoza varieties are particularly good.  Once I thought I was ordering a glass because the price was 5 Argentinian pesos (just over $1).  They brought a whole bottle to the table.  Of course I had to finish it.

The modern metropolis of Buenos Aires is a dramatic contrast to the mud-hut villages of Bolivia.  It was a bit of a shock to find myself riding on an 18 lane freeway yesterday.  I had become used to the dusty tracks in Bolivia where you could easily ride for an entire day without encountering another vehicle.

Now that we’re in Buenos Aires, we have officially come to the end of our trip.  With the trip over, it is time to hand out the prizes.  Canada and the US are not included.

Best food: Argentina.  With steaks that melt in your mouth, how could I give it to any other country?  Runner up: Columbia.  The Cuy was delicious, as were the Arepas.

Worst food: Mexico.  I’m sorry, it was just too spicy for me.  Runner up: pretty much any country (most of them) where all you could find to eat was chicken and rice.  For weeks on end.

Best drinks: Guatemala.  The rum was delicious.  Mmmmm Zacapa Centenario.  It also wins for the non-alcoholic fruit licuados and the rice drink hochata.

Most beautiful women: Columbia.  Runner up: Argentina.

Best drivers: Argentina.  People actually stay in their lanes (even when there are 8 of them) and stop at red lights.

Worst drivers: Peru.  Lima was absolute chaos.  But even worse were the smaller cities filled with mototaxis.  There were no rules.

Craziest drivers: Without a doubt it was the truck drivers in Honduras.  Semis would pass each other on blind corners at night.  Multiple times I had to pull the bike off to the side of the road when I rounded a corner on a narrow mountain road only to come face to face with four headlights racing towards me.  It was unbelievable.

Best roads: Argentina

Worst roads: Do there have to actually be roads to qualify for this category?  If not, then Bolivia wins.

Best signage: Argentina.  It seemed like on the corner of every intersection in the country there was a sign pointing the way to Buenos Aires.

Worst signage: Well there were no signs in Bolivia.

Best meal: One morning we stumbled across a bed and breakfast in Costa Rica’s remote Nicoya peninsula.  Officially it was closed, but after talking to the owner about our trip, she offered to cook us breakfast.  It turned out that she was a certified chef from Texas.  She cooked us banana walnut pancakes and omelettes to die for.  Easily the best breakfast, if not meal, of the entire trip.  It didn´t hurt that the setting was absolutely spectacular on top of jungle covered mountain overlooking an idyllic beach.  This Costa Rica breakfast won best meal partly because it was so unexpected and partly because it became part of the lore or our trip.  Weeks later, when we knew damn well that all we were in for was leathery eggs and rice for breakfast (yet again), one of us would inevitably ask the other: do you suppose they serve banana walnut pancakes here? 
Runner up: Argentinian parrilla (barbecue).  Rico!

Worst meal:  Isla Grande, Panama.  We were served overly salted (because there was no refrigeration) deep friend red snapper, skin and head included.  We only choked it down because we did not want to offend the kind woman who had cooked it for us.

Best campsite: Ecuador.  4700 metres high on the slope of volcan Cayambe.  The ground was rocky and it was the coldest, windiest campsite of the entire trip.  But hey, we were camped on the only glacier that exists in the middle of the world.

Worst campsite:  Honduras border.  The temperature was mild and the ground was level, but having to camp at a border crossing was maddening.

Most rain: Guatemala.  We would get hit by a torrential downpour every afternoon, without fail.

Coldest country: Bolivia.  The temperature plunged to minus 20 degrees Celcius every night.  Brrrr.

Best border crossing
: Entering Argentina from Bolivia.  There were no vendors, no helpers, no money changers, and no corrupt officials.  It did not cost us a dime, and was easily the most painless crossing since the Canada-US border (which is excluded from this competition).

Worst border crossing:  Entering Honduras from Guatemala.  How could it possibly take two whole days and require a Honduran to escort us to another office 65 km away (and mucho dinero) to enter a country?  Ridiculous.

Friendliest police: Columbia.  There were so polite and bent over backwards to help us out.

Most corrupt police:  Peru.  Twice we had to bribe the police after being stopped for completely bogus violations.  The first time we were stopped because we didn’t go around a traffic circle properly.  It was such a scam.  The highway went right by the traffic circle.  You had to pull off the highway to go around it “properly”.  The police of course knew it was confusing to anyone not from that particular area and were parked just on the other side, waiting.  Now I know why the locals pointed off to the side of the road as we passed by: they were trying to save us a ticket.  The fine was 640 soles for both of us (320 soles each).  We would have to pay this fine in a nearby town.  Of course the police made no move to actually start writing up this ticket.  They were waiting for the inevitable: “Can we pay it here instead?”  Yes of course we could.  Out came my international student card, which had already been useful in reducing the amount I’ve had to bribe the police in the past (see runner up).  I explained that we were both students and did not have much money.  They asked how much I had.  I said 50 soles.  The officer nodded.  I was just about to hand him the money when he said that the total would be 100 soles in total because there were two of us.  I actually lost it at this point.  I angrily said no, turned my back on the officer, and walked away from the police car.  I was planning on sitting on my bike for the next 5 hours if need be.  Perhaps sensing my resolution, the officer called me back and said that 50 soles was good.  I paid him and we were on our way.

The second time we were stopped in Peru it was for speeding in a “school zone”.  Apparently the posted limit was 30 km/h.  It was a four lane divided highway.  There was no school in sight.  I’m not sure how fast I was going, but Ted said he was going about 40 km/h.  It didn´t matter.  The police had no radar gun. The whole thing was a scam.

Luckily we had in our possession a counterfeit bill.  We had paid for laundry service in advance in the town
of Chimbote.  When we picked up our laundry seven hours later, we were told that we had originally paid with a fake 20 sole bill.  They asked us for another one.  This was suspect in itself, but what could we do?  Ted had the brilliant idea of saving the fake 20 for the police (we had already had to bribe them once and he correctly figured that we would have to do it again).  I put it in my front pocket for just such an occurrence.  What a feeling of satisfaction it was to bribe the police with a counterfeit bill.

Runner up: Costa Rica.  I got pulled over for a bogus speeding ticket.  Apparently I was going 90 in a 50 zone.  There was no 50 zone.  It was an open stretch of highway with nothing but jungle on either side.  While we were stopped, truck after truck whizzed by at easily 110 km/h.  The officer just thought he could get more money from me than the locals.  Originally the officer’s bribe rate was 10,000 colones (about $20).  After I showed him my international student card, he was willing to accept 5,000 colones.

Cheapest country:  Bolivia.  We paid just over two dollars (for both of us) for a hotel that included breakfast.  Runner Up: Honduras.  I challenge anyone to eat $5 worth of food in Honduras.

Most expensive country: Costa Rica.

Hardest place to get a ticket:  Columbia.  We tried everything.  We split lanes against oncoming traffic.  We passed lines of trucks in the emergency lane, right in front of the police.  We went 130 km/h in 30 km/h zones.  Everybody else was doing it, so why not do as the locals?  Early on I developed the theory that it was impossible to get a ticket in Columbia.  When we finally got stopped by some cops with a shiny new radar gun for going 130 in an 80 zone, we just pretended we didn´t understand a word of Spanish.  The officer that stopped us called his partner over for a conference.  He asked how could he explain the violation to us if we didn´t understand Spanish?  The other officer shrugged and they waved us on. 

Friendliest people: Colombians.  Everywhere we stopped we made instant friends.  Sometimes before we even got off our bikes someone would see us looking confused at an intersection and come up to help us.  We were invited into people’s homes.  We ate many a meal with people we had just met that day.  Columbians were so friendly that even Ted made friends.

Most generous people: Peruvians.  We experienced the generosity of the Peruvian people over and over again.  Even people with so little to give gave us so much.  I was touched.


Day 86 – Santiago Del Estero, Argentina

We crossed into Argentina from Bolivia three days ago at La Quiaca.  We left a land of dusty unmarked tracks, mud huts, frigid temperatures, and empty desert.  We entered a land of smooth four lane highways, mouth-watering steak, cabernet sauvignon, white linen, and hot showers.  When we finally hit asphalt at the Argentinian border, I had had forgotten what it was like not to struggle through sand and rock.  I had started to think that jarring washboard was a relief, if only because I didn´t have to worry about dumping the bike at any moment.  And dump the bike I did a lot in Bolivia.

Bolivia was tough.  Every day was a physical and mental challenge.  I am glad that it came as late as it did in our trip.  If I had hit Bolivia with the same timidness as I did my first gravel road back in Missouri (I believe), I’m not sure I would have made it through.  At any rate I would have dropped the bike every 20 metres.  All the training I went through previously on the trip, from riding on the sandy beaches of Mexico to the rocky slopes of Volcan Cayambe, was put to the test in the frigid Bolivian desert.

We rode through sand deep enough that the rear wheel would easily dig itself in past the chain.  When this happened, the only way to get the bike out was to push it over and then pick it back up after sand had filled in the hole where the rear wheel was.  Even then I needed Ted pushing to budge her at all.

We rode between the rails of train tracks for miles.  It was either that or ride across the rocky desert.  Sometimes, we would have to ride over bridges with foot-long gaps between the splintering railway ties.  What if one were to give way…

There are no fences in Bolivia.  Many times we set off across the open untracked desert in what we thought was the right direction.  Sometimes we were right, more often we were wrong.  Even with a compass, it was easy to get hopelessly lost.  This is because even if you know that there is a town due west of where you begin, usually a geographical feature like a mountain range or a canyon will stand in your way.  Sometimes you get so far off track that when you finally stumble into a village and ask where you are, the locals have to unfold your map to find it.  That’s if you’re lucky enough to find someone that speaks Spanish.  Many villages are populated entirely by Amerindians who do not speak Spanish.  Our map was worse than useless. More than once it showed tracks connecting places that in reality were not connected at all, forcing lengthly backtracks. 

The weather in Bolivia is as harsh as the riding surfaces.  During the mid afternoon sun you could be lulled into complacency.  But nightfall tells a different story.  The temperature plummets to -20 degrees Celcius.  It is dangerous to be lost with the sun setting and no shelter in sight.  This happened to us more than once.  If we had stopped and camped, we would certainly have been at risk of hypothermia.  We were not equipped for winter camping.  Luckily each time we found shelter.

The most amazing stroke of good luck came at the end of a particularly hard day of riding.  We had been trying to enter the Salar de Uyuni from the north.  Early on Ted had snapped his clutch cable, requiring repairs in the field.  (Why on earth didn’t we pack spare cables?).  We had set out early in the morning from the town of Rio Mulatos.  We had been lost most of the day, but just as the sun was setting, we had found a village that was actually on our map. 

I had already dropped my bike three times in deep sand.  Ted had crashed twice as well, each time aggravating his injured wrist.  He was in a lot of pain.  The last time he had dropped his bike, I found him sitting in the darkness where he had fallen, making no effort to even stand up.  He later said he was ready to give up and spend the night right where he was beside his fallen bike.  I helped him get his bike up and told him we needed to find shelter.  Hypothermia wasn´t nice. 

We had been told that the town of Uyuni was 2 hours away.  That was 5 hours ago.  We were both exhausted.  It was after 10 PM.  It felt as cold as the dark side of the moon.  We did not even know if we were following the right track across the uninhabited wasteland.  The more tired we got, the more the sand seemed to grab at our tires.  The back end would fishtail and we´d be forced to put our feet down to keep the bikes from going over.  It was exhausting.

Just when I was starting to think we’d be forced to spend the night out in the frozen desert, I saw some lights in the distance.  Civilization!  I led us towards the lights like a moth to flame.  The lights were coming from a building on a rocky island rising from the salt plains.  I immediately thought that it must be a hotel.  I’m not sure why I thought this because it was an odd place for a hotel: in the middle of nowhere with nothing around it.  I rode around the island until I found a way up.  We parked the bikes and walked into the warmth.  It was indeed a hotel.  A hotel made entirely out of salt.  The owners were incredibly friendly and opened up the restaurant just for us.  We were fed a gourmet meal.  The tables, the chairs, everything was made out of salt.  There was even salt in a shaker on the table.

Our room had a hot shower, thick warm blankets, and even a heater.  The beds, of course, we made out of salt.  The surroundings seemed so surreal, and were such a contrast from the frozen wasteland that we had emerged from, that I wondered if I had really crashed out in the desert and was now in a hypothermia-induced coma.  Maybe this was what it was like to die from hypothermia.  

On another day we rolled into a mining town at the bottom of a steep valley just as the sun was setting.  Ted’s front tire had just gone flat and we were again lost.  We were immediately surrounded by dozens of people.  We were probably the most exciting thing to happen to that town in a long time.  When we asked directions, we discovered that our map was wrong (again) and we would have to backtrack.  Luckily there were beds for us in an old building where the miners ate their meals.  We ended up eating meals with the miners between shifts.  In the morning they welded my luggage rack which had broken during one of my falls and helped us change Ted’s tube.  They were thrilled when I gave a couple of them rides on the back of my bike.

Bolivia was the most challenging country of the entire trip by far.  And yet all the hard days of riding, the painful falls, the primitive accommodations, the bone chilling weather were all way more than worth it.  Despite the tough conditions, Bolivia is my favourite country of the trip.  It was pure adventure.  The scenery was so otherwordly, so untouched by the human hand, that it was easy to imagine that I was exploring another planet.  I felt like a character from a Larry Niven novel, exploring a strange new land by motorbike.

I have so many vivid memories of Bolivia.  My bike down again.  So frustrated that I kick sand at it for minutes.  Drinking coke and eating crackers in a mud hut village in the middle of nowhere, kids surrounding our bikes.  The vast blindingly white Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flat in the world, so big that it can easily be seen from Space.  Riding across the white salt at 110 km/h with my eyes closed for what felt like minutes (but was really only about 10 seconds).  Doing a standing airplane.  Riding while squatting on the seat
.  Yers, there was time to play too.  Stands of giant cacti, surreal rock formations.  A volcano towering above the white sea of salt.  Who would have thought that this trip would take me to 13 countries plus another planet?

If Bolivia was the climax of our adventure, then Argentina is the relaxing denouement.  We are only a couple of days away from Buenos Aires and the end of our trip.  I am saddened that it is nearing an end.  More than anything I would like to continue this adventure.  The world is an exciting place full of pleasant surprises.  There is so much to see and never enough time.  The world is much friendlier than I thought when I set out.  People on the whole are kind and decent.  This trip has given me hope for this planet.

Agent T (Mission: Machu Picchu)

One Dr Matthew Haserbrough boarded the 7:00am train for Machu Picchu on the 16th of August, 2007. Our hero had assumed an alias to complete a mission that everyone had told him was impossible. Several backpackers along the way said that there was not enough time on the trip to go to Machu Picchu, wonder of the world. Travel agents insisted that trains were completely full for the next several weeks. There was no way… for ordinary folk.
As it was, Agent T was patiently sitting on the train that would take him to the pride city of the Inca. The ticket had been purchased under a false id. It was the best way to get things done. And, all seemed to be going according to plan. However, some irate lady demanded the seat in which our hero was sitting.
¨Seat 5, that´s mine! And 6 too!¨ griped the lady.
T made the error, a very rare event in his career, of assuming the agency had not messed up and given him a good ticket. He gave a look of dubiety before moving to an adjacent empty seat. This look was enough to alert officials.
¨Uh, yes, Dr. Matthew Haas…¨
¨Dr. Hay-sir-bro. This is he. What seems to be the problem?¨
¨Your ticket is no good. You must leave.¨ With this our hero was escorted off the train by two suspiciously buff train officials.
T had exactly 4 minutes before the train would depart. He acted quickly and calmly. To the front desk. ¨I need this ticket changed. I want today´s train, but the people I bought it from made a mistake and put the 18th as the date instead of the 16th¨
¨This ticket is no good,¨pointed out the offical.
¨Right, hence me wanting to change it.¨
¨Can´t. The train is full¨
¨No it isn´t. There are plenty of open seats. ¨
¨But this ticket is no good.¨
¨arrrgh. Can I stand on the train if I purchase another ticket?¨
¨No. Your ticket is no good. The train is full.¨
Our hero had encountered a professional putts. His powers of evil were too great for T to overcome in such a short time. So, T took off from the incorrectly titled HELP DESK for the train platform with the intention of jumping onto the back and hitching a ride. An armed guard and a bulletproof glass wall stood in T´s way. T reached for his tranquiller gun/watch but found the agency had not installed that feature as they said they would. T´s trustful nature had again caused problems.
Agent T hired a taxi to take him to the main station. Evil plots were out to foil T; the computer system was down. The offical said that there was nothing he could do. The agency had purchased the ticket and would they would have to request changes. Off to the agency.
At the drop off point, the cabby asked for 15 soles. T gave the man a 20. The cabby fumbled in his pockets and could not produce change. This was ok. The cabby had been too prying so T had given him a bill bomb to keep information secret.
The agency was closed. It was only 8am. T went for breakfast at a quaint bakery.
¨This crossiant was excellent!¨exclaimed T. BOOOOM!!!
¨What was that?¨asked the baker.
¨I said the crossiant was excellent.¨
¨No. It sounded like a taxi just exploded¨
¨Oh I didn´t hear anything,¨stated T as he paid and left.

8:50am The agnecy had just opened and T walked in. The ladies working the officepaid him no attention because offical hours started at 9. T ripped a phone booth off the wall and chucked it in the general direction of the workers. ¨You guys fouled up! I could have been killed!¨ he said as he gave an icy blue eyed stare that would cause readers remarkable pain should it be described in detail.
¨oh, sorry.¨
¨Get me a ticket for today.¨
¨That is impossible. How is 2 days from now?¨
¨I said TODAY! Even the rookie got on today successfully.¨ It was true, Rookie Bone had managed to get on the 7am train using the alias of Victor.
¨OK Agent T. Will will do our best.¨ With that 3 ladies began to arrange for travel to make the mission possible.
T left for a cool down walk.

9:31am: ¨Agent T?¨ asked a cab driver.
¨Get in.¨

11:13am: Agent T assumed another alias: Tedy Miycher. He checked the tickets closely before sending the driver away. These tickets were good for the 12:10pm train. This was acceptable.

12:11pm T was being challenged to overcome the torture of utter boredom of the Backpacker train half full of senior citizens. The other half of the train was empty. The torture would last another 2 hours.

2:45pm At the gates of Machu Picchu our hero is met by his inside man, posing as a tour guide. ¨We have been looking everywhere for you. The rookie has been crying all day. Where have you been?¨
¨The agency messed up… big time.¨

The inside man showed T around for a bit and gave up some valuable information. Then T was left on his own to complete his mission in only 28 minutes.
He took a piece of artifact to sell to informants for information for future missions. Stole some sacred coca leaves. Took recon photos of the area. Then T ran down the many many steps of the city to catch the train the rookie would board.
The distraught Agentwannabe Bone was found just where T knew he would be: The nearest internet place that served coffee.
¨Where have you been?¨
¨Nevermind. I need to change my ticket.¨

4:50pm At the ticket booth T was trying to get a ticket changed from 8:30 to 5:00. Just ahead of him a young lady was in a panic because she had lost her wallet and needed time to find it. She wanted the 8:30 train.
¨sorry Tedy, the 5 train is full. Sorry miss. The 8:30 train is full.¨
¨Just change our tickets,¨ T suggested.
¨Can´t the trains are full¨
¨You moron. She isn´t on the train, thus a seat is open.¨
Seeing this flawless logic the offical could do nothing other than… walk away into a secured area until the 5 train rolled away.

5:02 pm ¨Can I help you?¨asked the smirking offical.
¨Yes, give this lady a ticket for the 8:30¨
The offical changed the ticket, but refused to change the lady´s ticket for travel from the end station to her hotel.
¨Here¨T said as he handed the lady a 20soles bill. ¨This will get you a cab from the station to your hotel¨
¨And here is a tip for you sir,¨T said as he handed over an odd looking 10 bill to the offical and walked away quickly.

¨You didn´t have to do that¨ the lady stated.
¨It was nothing¨ BOOOOM!
¨What was that?¨
¨I said, It was nothing.¨
¨No, it sounded like a train offical just exploded in the comfort of his own office!¨
¨oh, I didn´t hear anything¨ T then left for a quiet supper.

Our hero would board the train and arrive at his latest hotel having accomplished what many thought to be impossible or at least highly improbable. Those people can be forgiven though; They did not realize that our main character, the much beloved Agent T, is a pro among the pros.

Stay tuned for future stories from the current country, Bolivia.

(Stolen from Agent T’s diary)

Day 79 – La Paz, Bolivia

We finally left Peru yesterday after 18 days – the longest we have spent in any country on this trip.  Even still I would have gladly stayed longer if I had the time.  The ever changing landscape was always spectacular, and the people were incredibly friendly everywhere we went.

How many places can you ride from one inca ruin to the next while being treated to some of the most stunning scenery on this planet?  We ended up staying 4 nights in Cusco, which is the longest we’ve stayed in any place the entire trip.  This is because we wanted to go to Machu Picchu, and we had to wait a few days to get train tickets.  This gave us time to explore the sacred valley and to spend a day white-water rafting on the Rio Urubamba.

On the bus on the way to the rafting launching point, I said to Ted that I hoped we got the crazy guide.  It seems there is always at least one, whether it is the cloud forest of Monteverde or a boat in Panama.  My wish was granted.  We lucked out and got the craziest guide there.  There were only 4 of us on the raft designed for 6.  Ted, myself, and a young couple from Holland.  The woman seemed like she didn´t want to be there, and this amused our guide who took every opportunity to crash us into boulders and send us sideways over rapids (I fell off the high side into the bottom of the boat).  At one point, he positioned the raft so that the front was continually submerged under a giant rapid.  I was right at the front, and despite my wetsuit, the water was shockingly cold.  I was underwater for so long that by the time he finally pulled the raft out, I was short of breath.  A little further downstream, he stopped the raft so that we could jump 10 metres off a suspension bridge into the frothy current below.  What a rush.  Later that night when Peru was rocked by an earthquake, my first thought was that I was back on that raft.

The next day, we took the train to Machu Picchu.  Or rather, I took the train.  There was an incident with Ted’s ticket, which apparently was not valid, and he was taken off the train minutes before departure.  I didn´t see this because we were on different cars.  At Agua Calientes (the village at the end of the line at the base of Machu Picchu), I couldn´t find Ted.  The good news is that after going through quite a gong show involving taxis and buses and another train, he finally made it.  For a detailed account of the debacle, check out the entry entitled “Agent T”.  I stole Ted’s diary long enough to copy it out.  I hope I put it back in the right place…

Machu Picchu was recently elected one of the new 7 wonders of the world (although no great pyramids at Giza? Bollox).  Machu Picchu.  What can I say?  Go see it.  The pictures don´t do it justice.  You have to walk through the city to get a sense of it’s immense size and to appreciate it’s supernatural quality.  The setting is spectacular – the city sits on the top of a mountain with breathtaking vistas of the Urabamba river valley on two sides.  Machu Picchu was definitely a highlight of the trip.

The ride from Cusco to the Bolivian border was yet another spectacular ride through a desolate valley framed by snow capped mountains.  I could tell the road went over 4,000 metres based on the performance (or rather lack thereof) of my bike.  That and the frigid wind.  Emerging from the mountains, we rode along the shore of the brilliant blue lago titicaca.

We took an 85 km wrong turn near the Bolivian border and did not think we would have enough gas to get back.  There was nothing but mountains, grassland, and llamas.  We stopped in a village a few kms off the highway and bought gas out of a barrel to get us back.  A group of locals, all of whom were adding to the collection of empty beer bottles growing outside the town store, wanted us to join their festivities.  In the end, they settled for my autograph.  Yup, I guess I am famous.

The Bolivian border crossing involved a lot of demands for money.  As a verteran border crosser who had already been through the mill in Central America, I have become adept at smelling the bullshit.  Before leaving Peru, a man stopped us on the bridge (getting right in front of Ted’s bike).  He asked for 5 soles per bike to cross.  He had an official looking book of tickets for some sort of road tax.  A customs official standing there nodded in agreement with the self-proclaimed toll collector.  But he said we had to pay 10 soles per bike.  I told to Ted to just keep driving.  We did just that.  The Peruvian police immediately stopped us and I was whisked inside the police station.

An officer took me into a private room and demanded that I pay the bogus road tax.  I kept insisting that motorcycles did not have to pay (which is true in the case of the highway tolls in Peru).  Eventually the policeman gave up and we crossed rode over the bridge without paying.

Once there, the a Bolivian policeman took me into a private room in the police station and wrote out my name, destination, passport number, and license plate number in a log book.  When he was finished, he asked for $20.  I asked “for what?”  He replied that it was for entering my information in a book.  With confidence (real, not faked), I told him that tourists did not have to pay this fee.  He kept trying to get me to pay, and I kept insisting that I did not have to pay.  Eventually he gave up, and I walked out of the police station without having paid a cent.  This whole process was repeated at another police check point about a kilometre down the road.  In the end, we did not pay anything to cross into Bolivia, other than to give out some money to the group of kids who had been our “helpers”.

Day 77 – Earthquake

By now I’m sure you´ve heard about the devastating 8.0 earthquake (the worst to hit Peru in decades) that ravaged the entire south coast of Peru the night before last  The cities of Pisco and Ica were the hardest hit, with over 300 dead in Pisco alone and thousands of homes reduced to rubble.  Many areas are still without power, and the Pan-American highway, the very stretch that Ted and I rode about a week ago, has been badly damaged and traffic has been reduced to one lane, hampering relief efforts.  The San Clemente Cathedral in Pisco, which has withstood dozens of earthquakes in the past, succumbed to this quake, collapsing during the evening mass.  (Ted and I stopped to fill up with gas in Pisco.)  San Clemente was only about an hour’s drive away from the mud brick constructed church where Ted and I slept in the village of Reposo.  I hope our gracious hosts are alright.

Hearing that 510 people have been killed (so far) is not just a number to me.  Ted and I have experienced first hand the generosity and kindness of the Peruvian people, particularly the families living in the mud-brick houses that collapsed by the thousands two nights ago.  These people, although poor, have been kind enough to take two strangers from Canada (and their motorcycles) into their homes.  

Peruvian hospitality has been remarkable.  People have insisted on giving up their beds for those two Canaidan strangers (and won’t take no for an answer until shown inflated thermarests).  Yes, an elderly couple would have gladly slept on the ground. 

These are the kind of people who would serve their Canadians guests two servings of eggs and bread for breakfast, and then eat nothing but bread themselves.  Yes, the two Canadians only realized afterwards that they had eaten the entire family’s supply of eggs.  This theme was repeated throughout Peru.  In another example, two Cuys were cooked for breakfast.  The two Canadians shared one, and six other people shared the other.  This is the generosity of the Peruvian people.

Ted and I were in an internet cafe in Cusco when the earthquake struck.  At first I thought I was feeling the after-affects of a day of white-water rafting on the Rio Urabambe.  I turned to Ted and asked him if the floor was shaking.  My question was answered as frightened people around us dove under desks and raced for the doorframe.  Cusco is hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre, and yet the ground was shaking enough to cause panic.  I can´t imagine what it would have been like with buildings collapsing all around.

One of the effects of going on a trip such as ours is that trajedies like this earthquake take on a much more human scale.  From now on, any news from the countries I’ve travelled through will be coloured by the experiences I had and the friends I made there.

Day 73 – Cusco, Peru

Not much happened today.  We had a short scenic ride (on a paved road!) from Abancay to Cusco.  I tasted Alpaca at dinner tonight for the first time.  Oh, and my bike slid out on a corner sending me sliding down the highway.  Luckily I wasn´t going very fast (at most 60 km/h) and wasn´t injured.  My elbow is slighly skinned, but my riding jacket did its job nicely. 

My bike actually slid farther than I did.  I entered the corner (basically a U-turn to the right) at a conservative speed.  I had entered similiar corners at much greater speeds previously during the trip.  I felt in complete control.  I was certainly in no danger of grinding the foot peg or even going slightly wide.  Then the front tire lost contact with the asphalt.  It happened so fast that there was no time to anticipate losing control.  I was happily riding one minute, thinking of how I hadn´t dropped my bike in Peru yet, and the next minute I was on the ground watching my bike slide forward and clear across to the far side of the highway.

Fortunately, there was no damage to the bike.  After adjusting the right handguard so that my throttle didn´t stick, I was ready for action again.  It bothered my that I couldn´t put my finger on why I had slid out though.  True, the road was slippery, and there were patches of oil and diesel on the curve where I had lost control.  But I had ridden a lot of roads with similiar suface conditions.  What was the difference now?

It wasn´t until I stopped for a photo opportunity of a snowy mountain range about an hour later that I noticed something odd about my front tire.  It was covered in streaks of what looked like oil.  Surely it was water from a puddle.  But I hadn´t driven through any puddles.  The rest of the bike was dry.  It was only the front tire.  I took a closer look and realized that my fork seals had blown.  There was fork oil all over my forks, rim, and tire.  Hmmmm.  A little fork oil between my front tire and the asphalt certainly wouldn´t help my traction, would it?

There was nothing to do but continue to Cusco, riding with the knowledge that there was oil dripping down onto my front tire and that I could slid out again at any moment.  Fun.  Even my boots were covered in fork oil.  When we got to Cusco, I nearly rear-ended a taxi.  You guessed it – fork oil had coated my front rotar.  I locked the rear wheel (despite the fact that my rear brake pads were completely gone).  It was a close call without the front brake.

My bike is in the shop (overnight) right now.  It was impossible to find fork seals in Cusco for my bike.  One of the mechanics rode his motorcycle around the city for about an hour and a half looking for some, but to no avail.  He ended up taking the O-rings out of a couple of other seals he had lying around and making them fit in my old seals.  Hopefully it will work.  Tomorrow the mechanic is going to try to find some brake pads (front and rear) for me.  Things that I wish I had packed: 1) fork seals; and 2) brake pads.

Ted and I had previously had a conversation about how easy/difficult it would be to grind the footpeg while cornering.  We started joking about how we wanted to see sparks when we took action shots of each other blasting around a corner.  After I had picked my bike up off the road, we noticed a scratch line in the pavement tracking the movement of my bike while it was on its side.  Ted remarked that I had finally grinded my peg on a turn.

Day 72 – Abancay, Peru

averaged about 30 km in an hour of riding).  But the scenery was fantastic.  It felt like I was taking a helicopter tour through the Andes.  The heights were mind blowing.  The vertical dimension is like nothing I have seen in North America.

We have been getting a hero´s welcome in every village that we pass through.  Now I have a taste for what it would be like to be famous.  The kids all lin the road to wave at us and shout greetings.  Even the adults get in on the fun once in awhile.  Every time we are about to make a wrong turn, someone comes up to us and points us in the right direction. 

Today when we stopped in a village for lunch, we drew a crowd.  People were fascinated by our bikes and our gear.  Soon the kids were trying on our helmets and gloves.  As usual, people expressed surprise and delight when they learned that we had ridden the bikes all the way to their village from Canada.  When I couldn’t get my zipper to close on my duffel bag, I had half the village trying to help me (and once a pair of plyers were produced, they somehow fixed it too).

Peru is a much vaster country than I imagined.  I knew that it covered a lot of territory, but what I wasn´t prepared for was the 3rd dimension: altitude.  At times, it can take hours to get from point A to point B despite the fact that the two points are in visual range of each other.  This is because the road has to swithback down the side of one mountain and then back the other.  The change in elevation can be thousands of metres. 

We have been traveling on gravity defying dirt roads for days now.  Yesterday we made it less than 100 km (from Ayacucho to the village of Ocros).  Our accomodation in Ocros cost us a grand total of 10 soles (about $3).  Today’s ride from the small town of Ocros to Abancay was among the most spectacular rides of the entire trip.  It was slow going because the road was narrow (often with nothing but abyss on one side) and there were many sharp switchbacks.
I have been sick since we arrived in Lima 5 days ago.  It started with the digestive problems I´ve already mentioned.  When the fury of that subsided, I was left with a nasty cold.  Yesterday was the most miserable.  My nose was running non-stop.  Worse, my middle ear was unable to equilibrate pressures, so everytime we changed altitude (which we did non-stop), my ear felt like it was going to burst.  To add to my discomfort, the road from Ayachucho (when we finally found it) was filled with giant potholes.  There were so many and they were so big that they were impossible to avoid.  This did not help my aching muscles.  Did I mention that it was damn cold too?  Ah it feels good to complain.

Day 70 – Ayacucho, Peru

Yesterday afternoon we were finally able to leave Lima.  Ted and I now suspect that the cause of my recent health troubles stemmed from the restaurant in Chimbote where we had eaten supper before heading to Lima.  We ordered parillas (they bring a BBQ full of meat right to your table).  The meat was probably fine, but the half a dozen sauces were most likely not.  Ted had noticed them scooping the leftover sauce back into containers after a group at another table had finished their meal.  Needless to say I did not witness this unsanitary behaviour.  Nor was I informed of its occurrence.  Hmmmm, I wonder if Ted was getting me back for something…I can´t imagine what though.  If I had known I certainly would not have lathered my meat with the sauces.  I have been paying for it for three days.

Near Pisco we turned inland, and quickly emerged from the coastal fog which descends in April and doesn´t lift until December.  That´s right, Lima doesn´t see the sun for 9 months of the year.  That´s even worse than Vancouver.  I think the lack of sunlight was starting to affect Ted.  At breakfast, he felt that his Papaya juice wasn´t coming fast enough.  Normally the calmest most patient guy on the planet, it seemed out of character when he angrily stood up, tracked down the waitress, and demanded his Papaya juice.  Don´t keep Ted waiting for Papaya juice first thing in the morning. 

On the way out of Lima, we had to fight the normal crush of traffic going every which way and ignoring lanes and traffic signals.  Worst drivers on the planet?  In any case, Ted thought that a taxi got a little too close to his motorbike, so he kicked the side of it.  The driver was not impressed.  But I guess Ted can be excused for having issues with taxis…I think it would be a good conversation starter if you asked Ted what he thinks of Peruvian drivers.

Shortly after turning inland, we stopped at the Inca ruins called Tambas Colorado.  It was after 5 PM by the time we got there and the gate to the parking lot was closed.  That didn´t stop us from driving our motorcycles around the gate and hiking through the ruins.  I even got up on top of the walls and started jumping from one wall to the next above the ancient city (don´t worry, there were footprints up there so I wasn´t the first to do this).  Because it was closed and we had the place to ourselves, we were able to ride the motorcycles up a footpath and park them right next to the ruins for a photo-opportunity.

The road followed a steep river valley carved out of desert mountains.  Compared to the coast, the route we were following was vitually unpopulated.  We were starting to think maybe we would have to camp.  We decided we would try to find a hotel in the next town, which we thought was about 50 km away.  When we got there, it was pitch black.  It was a tiny pueblo.  I stopped at a store to ask if there was a hotel in town.  A kind old gentlemen offered to lead us to the hotel.  He started walking down the highway, and we followed on our bikes.  After a few paces, he stopped and asked us if we wanted to stay in the house of God.  Why not?  The pastor, Mano Hernandes, got on the back of my bike and we rode into the darkness.  It was a good thing it was too dark to see how rough the road was or I would have been hesitant to ride it, especially with a passenger.  I wouldn´t want to spill an elderly pastor off the back of my bike. 

That was how we came to sleep on the floor of a small church (Casa del Oracion Evangelico de Jesus Cristo) in the village of Reposo.  We were served food and coffee.  There was one awkward moment when I asked where the bano was.  After a brief silence, I was told: “No hay bano.  Campo.”  I was directed to the rocks outside.  The stars were amazingly bright.  The Milky Way (la careterra) shone brighter than I had ever seen it.

After dinner, there was a service in which we were the stars of the show.  We were introduced to the entire congregation (about 20 people).  No one spoke a word of English.  Mano Fernandes´ gave a sermon that included songs, prayers, and blessings.  People would pray out loud, and sing and chant while clapping their hands.  There was a lot energy in the room, which was lit by candlelight because there was no electricity.

Much of Mano Fernandes sermon revolved around us.  He talked about how God would provide a safe place for us to stay and food for us to eat.  He said that when he saw us on our motorbikes he had sensed that we had love in our hearts.  At one point he touched each of our foreheads in turn and asked God to keep us safe on our journey and to help us become good doctors.

We had told him earlier about Ted´s crash with the taxi.  He made much of this story in his sermon.  He said that Ted was there by the grace of God.  I am not one to argue that.


In the morning we watched will our breakfast was killed, drained (I even helped with this, holding the animal upside down for a few minutes after it´s throat had been slit), and fried.  Our breakfast had been living in the corner of the kitchen under a piece of sheet metal sheet waiting for just such a special occaision.  Our breakfast was of course the local delicacy Cuy (Guinea Pig).  Our hosts thought it was hilarious when we told them that Cuys were kept as pets back in Canada. 

After a tour of the river valley, which included a visit to a pedestrian suspension bridge across the river, we said our good byes and final prayers and set off.  Within less than two hours, the highway had climbed from near sea level to a pass 4764 metres high.  Andean highways seem to defy gravity.  The scenery was stunning. 

Day 68 – Lima, Peru

So far we have been pretty lucky with our health on this trip.  There have only been two incidents up until now.  The first was back in Mexico: one of us had to stop his bike to throw up on the side of the road after eating a questionable hamburger.  The second occurred in Nicaragua, where one of us had a bout of diarrhea lasting half a day.

I think that this is a pretty good record considering that before we were even through Mexico we had quit heeding all rules about ice, water, fruit, etc.  I was the first to snap, buying a frappuccino made with ice of an unknown source.  It was so good, that I figured it was worth the risk.  Ted saw my enjoyment and immediately followed suit.  Since then, we have been drinking and eating whatever has been put in front of us, ice and guinea pigs included.

It was liberating not to worry about getting sick.  If it it happens, it happens.  The payoff is much more enjoyment of food and drink on a daily basis.  You can never eliminate your risk anyway.  The sketchiest looking food stand by the side of the road could be just fine, whereas you end up getting sick from a cocktail in a fancy restaurant.

Besides, I have a theory that by brushing my teeth with local water at every place we stop, I can expose myself to a subthreshold dose of bugs and thus build up an immunity without getting sick.  I have no way of knowing whether this is medically valid.  For now I will indulge in this supersition.

I have been sick all day today, having had to stay in close proximity to the hotel bathroom until now.  I´m not sure what caused it.  I started to have an upset stomach yesterday.  Last night I felt feverish.  In the afternoon I had been chilled to the bone after trying to take one for the team and riding Ted´s bike.  Without a windscreen, the cold damp coastal fog went right through two sweaters, my riding jacket, and my GoreTex (Peru is damn cold and windy this time of year).  When we finally stopped (the police pulled us over for yet another bogus ticket but we bribed them with counterfeit money, mwahaha), I had the shakes.  Not to mention a sore back and a sore butt.  Ted must be made of tougher stuff than me.  I can´t even handle the pain of riding his bike for a couple of hours, let alone three months.

Anyway, I am hoping I will be better by the morning, because we would like to get out of foggy Lima and back onto the open road.  Machu Picchu calls.

PS – I have uploaded more pictures at  Use with password klr650 to view them.