Peru

Note: Photos are by Todd Dionne. I’m not a real writer but he’s a real photographer as you will be able to tell.

December 29

Fresh off three hours of sleep and gnawing coca leaves, the crew did a bit of wandering today and found our way over to the mototaxi testing grounds. The warning about the bikes being horrible was no exaggeration. Many wouldn’t start and most stalled often. Steering is a joke and we learned the brakes are garbage the hard way – with a collision with another bike. Todd got a little over zealous on a corner while I (Toebee) was riding on back, the bike was on two wheels, I bailed just in time to dodge another mototaxi that was behind us and see Todd jump the curb. I feared for my friend as he disappeared into a blur of trees and brush and crushing mototaxi parts. Doubled over, blind from my tears from laughing so hard I managed to take a quick photo as Todd emerged, miraculously unscathed. Honestly we dodged a bullet, and our bravado has been taken down a necessary notch or two. Off to search for bike parts. Cheers!

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December 31

We spent the morning buying parts. Matt is in his glory, negotiating with the locals, buying enough parts to assemble a new bike. Every item we buy he thinks of two more we need. I accuse him of ruining the trip by being too prepared. In private Todd and I agree we are lucky he is with us. As I write this Matt is explaining to Todd that he needs to get another pair of gloves because the ones he brought will not be suitable for turning bolts. I didn’t bring gloves. Or a hat. Or a jacket. Time will tell if Matt is over prepared or I am under prepared. I am confident that it doesn’t matter because if I need something I’m sure Matt will have at least two. Preparedness by association.

We arrive at the test drive and find out “test drive” means “assemble a mototaxi from a pile of garbage.” Neither bike will start. One doesn’t even have a seat. Another team admits that they had scavenged parts from our bike because they thought it was junk. Our morale is not affected, we are dizzy and confused with altitude sickness. It is impossible to tell if this is real, common sense says it is not. Matt kicks into action. Todd and I putter about and then wander off to find a bar.

We bring Matt back a water. We need our boy hydrated. At this point we are leaning on him pretty heavy.

Six hours pass by. The scenery is nice but the outlook is bleak. We’ve traveled less than a mile in a circle, had two accidents and have two bikes that don’t run. At one point Todd and I took some initiative and tried to install a chain guard. I fell on top him. Matt told us we did it wrong.

Tomorrow we are heading to Machu Picchu. If I don’t post tomorrow please pray for us and happy New Year.

January 1

Today was the official start of the mototaxi junket. We arrived to find our bikes in more or less working order. One of them, we’ll call it David, hates to start and will not idle. The minute you stop it stalls. The choke has to be used every time but it’s broken, so you have to choke it manually at the engine. This proves difficult at a stop light, but we have developed a system. It looks like this: Todd gets off the back of the bike and turns on the choke, I start the engine and rev it to 6000rpms or so, I put it into first and Todd starts to push. Now we’re moving. I pop the clutch, Todd jumps in and we’re off.  You should see us do it going up a hill in heavy traffic.

The official launch was scheduled for noon, and began with a pistol shot promptly at two thirty. By three we had traveled 5k or so and stalled probably 15 times. I will never forget the journey from the launch site out of Cuzco. Even a police escort could not protect us. I drove a bike with Todd as the passenger and the spare gas cans, Matt rode solo with the luggage. We honked our little horns and the locals laughed as we drove by, asking us where we were going and laughing harder when we told them. It was complete chaos, thirty some odd mototaxis crashing through the streets of Cuzco, stalling, failing, and being pushed up the hills by their would be passengers. The smell of dust and flooded engines filled our noses, the coughing labors of inadequate motors filled our ears and the thrill of the open road and unknown dangers pushed us forward, onward and upward, out of the dirty city and into the wondrous mountains that lay beyond.

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We stopped for gas outside the city. It was a chance to catch our breath and recover from the frenzy of the start. We filled our motors and our spare jugs and 87 sols later we were on our way. Matt’s mirror fell off and he ran it over, smashing it to bits as we left the parking lot. No one looked back. An hour later we stopped because the bike Matt was on was acting up. When we left again my rpm gauge no longer worked. We are picking up bits of spanish, and saw a muerte perro.

The next few hours went by like a dream. The mountains of Peru are not something I can describe, we took it in as the reality of our journey sunk into our minds. We covered somewhere around 80k today and arrived in Limatombo(sp?) around six thirty as the sun set. We found a room for 10soles each and had an incredible dinner of roasted chicken and fries.

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As I lie here in our room, with two wood mattresses and no lock on the door I am thankful for two things. The first, that Matt has his own room and won’t keep us up snoring tonight, and the second, that the idea of barreling across Peru with no help, plan, or adequate transportation is something that I’m fortunate enough to experience. I’m out, I need to put a chair in front of the door.

January 2

Monday started with roosters crowing and a cold shower. Not actually as bad as it sounds. A rock hard bed and a cold shower is not what I’d describe as my best case wake up, but to be honest it was the best of the trip so far. The three days of preparation in Cuzco were killing me. I hate waiting and I hate getting ready. Being on the road is so much better, today is a new adventure. Something about having no idea what’s around the corner is refreshing. No cell phone, no gps, just a horrible bike and some good amigos.

We left town at 6:30am. Around nine we stopped for breakfast, ham omelets all around. There was a group of Scandinavians driving across South America on Volvos. The morning went by like a dream. The weather was amazing, we played cat and mouse with the Volvo crowd, and made excellent time. Around noon we went through Abancay, which was our destination for the previous day. We chose to drive through. We turned off toward?????? And met the dirt road. Things were a bit sketchy, but ok. Picture a camp road, but outfit it with a sheer cliff on one side and a drop of a few hundred feet on the other. Do away with the shoulder and throw in some blind hairpin turns and some traffic. The only thing that saved us is that the roads are so bad that people go slow in both directions. I can honestly say that death is not the thing that scares me the most, but the last thing I want in my obituary is “drove a mototaxi off a cliff in Peru.” even being cautious it was legit death defying. Heading up the mountain my chain popped off, bummer of the day number one. A short pit stop and we were back in business. Interestingly, the gas gauge, speedometer, and odometer stopped working on Henry around the same time. On our combined two bikes we don’t have one working instrument panel combined.

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Hairpin turn – barely suitable for driving but cows fornicating.

Had a collision going downhill, I’m cruising along minding my own business and I hear Allison yell, and there’s a smash and my rear light explodes and flies in front of me. The look on Andrews face is priceless. Nothing to do but laugh. One light and one mirror down.

Hail in the mountains. Todd and I do not have jackets. We think we might die but admit it to no one, Matt is wearing four different types of pants and a rain suit. He lends me a poncho, preparedness by association.

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Bad gas in Aussies tank, had to turn back 20 minutes.

Found a hotel, dirt floor but enough beds for our nine person entourage. Todd wrapped himself in a tarp because of the strange bites he woke up with. This is by far the sketchiest place I’ve ever slept. I don’t feel like I’m in danger, it’s just dirty. Room is $5.00 US each. We are living third world, someone above us in the hotel stamped their feet and dirt from their shoes fell on Todd’s bed.

Incredible dinner, $3.50 us. Chicken, rice, soup, sweet tea.

Still alive.

January 3

Was a few days ago now. A few bits:

Twice we’ve wound up exactly where we didn’t want to be: on a muddy jungle road after dark in a section that we were warned about bandits. Luckily we have only been attacked once, by a bull, and he could barely get himself untangled from a tree branch. We got away easily. Also Matt has offered his services in both a knife fight or mountain lion attack. We are all sure that he will die, but will take him up on the offer if it gives us time to escape in a pinch.

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The ample fresh road kill reminds us to keep our senses sharp. I’ve learned that motorcycles are dangerous and that I don’t want to die on one.

The people of Peru are wonderful. Aside from Todd almost getting mugged and two of us getting hit by rocks thrown by people in passing trucks I couldn’t ask for better hospitality. We point and gesture and grunt and say “amigo” a lot and they try their hardest to help. I wonder if we’d be good enough to do the same?

The people don’t laugh at us anymore when we tell them where we’re going. We have traveled too far and are too road worn to be joking when we tell people our destination. We have a mix of ill fitting and inappropriate gear we’ve picked up along the way. Todd is wearing welding gloves, Matt looks like he belongs on a ski slope. We are too bizarre and beaten up to be anything but dead serious. People’s eyes get big and they nod. We’re looking a bit like we’ve stepped through the space time continuum from Mad Max into modern day Peru.

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January 4

We woke up early and made the push to Ayacucho. I felt like death but at least had managed a good nights sleep. I was a passenger for the first time on the trip. Todd drove to our highest altitude yet as I froze in the back. Pot holes and a long stretch of cold, high altitude mountain road was miserable. Around eleven one of our casualty blankets (glorified tarp, don’t bother) blew out of the mototaxi. I yelled for Todd to stop, he did and I jumped out. As I headed back to the blanket Andrew and Allison approached, and in slow motion their left back wheel disappeared into the ditch and they flipped over. They disappeared into the ditch and my heart dropped. This is a horrible place for even a minor injury. The other thing – they weren’t going fast, they were paying attention, not being reckless or gong around a bend, and here they are – flipped. Things got very real for me on the run to see if they were ok. Luckily they were, though understandably shaken. I thought about other roads we’ve been on and the drop we’d have taken if the road gave way like it did at this spot. We did hear of a team who managed to jump out of their mototaxi just as it went off a cliff and into the river 600 feet below. Bad day. We are being overly careful.

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Back up – we are convoyed up with an Australian couple. Andrew is a whiz with the bikes and has bailed us out over and over. Were he not with us we would probably have broke down, hired a truck, and be sitting on a beach sipping margaritas and working on our tans. Bastard. I’m not sure why they’re sticking with us aside possible entertainment value and that they’ve been traveling together a while and might be bored of each other.

Matt has been demoted to junior mechanic, and Todd has been promoted to junior mechanic. I will explain: obviously Andrew is killing it so he is head mechanic, period. Todd has stepped his game up, he hates being dirty but is just handling it, did a chain repair yesterday. Matt was head mechanic, but on one high and cold mountain pass, he took his hands off the bars for a wardrobe adjustment, as is typical with horrible bikes the front tire started wobbling dangerously fast. He slammed his hands back down on the bars and regained control of the bike. It stalled and he pulled over. Having no idea why the bike wouldn’t start, he changed the spark plug, fuel filter, and was taking off the air filter when I circled back. He coasted the bike down to the rest of the group so we could get a few more eyes on the problem and discovered that when he’d slammed his hands down on the bars he’d hit the kill switch. We had been just about to drain the gas tank assuming we had gotten bad gas. This is not meant to cast Matt in a bad light, quite the opposite, it could have happened to anyone in the group. We are not living Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, we are living Chaos and the Art of Motorcycle Repair. It’s a very different game. There’s a lesson in there, but I can’t quite grasp, it at the moment. It was also on this pass, while waiting for Matt, that we met Puppy Wolf. Puppy Wolf is a lone wolf cub who lives at a high altitude. He is fearless, living off whatever he can find or anything small enough for him to kill. He was however, reduced to a howling panic when he found himself stranded on the wrong side of a six inch deep, one foot wide ravine. I wish him the best.

Some trips are meant to refresh you from the grind of daily life, others are meant to remind you that your grind is posh, pleasant and perfect. Obviously this is the second type.

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We pushed on and decided to give the bikes a spa day. We stayed in a hotel with warm water (the first of the trip) and sent the bikes to the mechanic. They fixed the two tail lights on Henry, the one that we lost in the collision and the other that must’ve bounced off along the way, also fixed chains and other problems too numerous to mention. We relaxed, bought some warmer clothes, and checked our email and Facebook.

January 5

Off we go at 6am, our convoy grew the night before to six, though by nine in the morning we were back to three. A muddy mountain road was the hardest 100k of the trip so far. Slippery, terrifying, barely wide enough for one vehicle let alone two. Fun fact: the road was crowned. The mototaxis have a chain driven rear left wheel, the other two wheels just coast along. On this particular road, you’re trying to stay to the right which puts your weight on that side of the bike, road is slippery, no weight on the driving wheel, spin out, chain pop. Over and over again. Worlds most dangerous road to have a break down on and we’re breaking down every 500 yards. It was a nightmare. The only upside were the frequent washed out roads. It’s the rainy season and we’re driving along the river, naturally there are loads of places where the road is mostly gone and there’s two feet or so of rushing water instead. At first these were scary, we’d been warned of these scenarios washing cars away, then they were awesome, splash (!), then they were tedious. As things got tedious we arrived art one particularly big wash out. I banged across on Henry, almost making it and stalling out on the bank, mostly out of the water. The Aussies were next, and avoiding the deeper part I happened on, made it across with no issue. Matt jumped out to video and Todd followed the Aussies to safety. We pulled my mototaxi onto the road but wait, where’s Matt? There he is – just realizing his error: he got off the bike on the wrong side of the water. Todd tells him to take off his shoes and run for it. Matt would not dare ask one of us to go back for him, it is an unspoken fact that the safety of the mototaxi is paramount, after all, no mototaxi, no get to civilization. He searches for a place to cross, nothing. The irony is hilarious: The guy who brought two of everything is trapped forty feet from all his stuff. Unpreparedness by getting too psyched to get a video for Facebook.

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January 6

From Hotel San Martin, in the smelting town of Oroyo.

It is from the depths of despair that I write this report. Having traveled two hours in traffic, in the dark, in the cold, and in the rain, on the worlds worst vehicle to find wi-fi and agua caliente, I sit here with neither. It was a treacherous trip from Huancayo to here, one I would soon forget were it not for my cold feet and hands.

We spent last night in a hostel in the mountains, in a town that sounds like “ketchua.” The hostel was nice, warm beds and lights, though no flushing toilets and obviously none of that holy grail: agua caliente. We found a welder who re-attached the left side of the canopy on the bike we call Henry, and after a dinner of rice and potatoes we learned some Australian slang and went to bed. I will never think of a fanny pack the same way again.

Early this morning our convoy was on our way, bumping uncomfortably along the mountain road toward our destination. As is the way, canopy broke again, just on the other side from where it was repaired last night. The motor also started idling very high and we stopped by a mecanico. He rebuilt the carburetor for $5 while Todd tortured his kids by taking pictures of them.

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We arrived in Huancayo and found another mecanico. We had bad front and rear shocks on David, the broken weld as well as a stripped axle on Henry, and the Aussies bike had a jacked exhaust. We went and had some food, pasta if you can believe it. Well, all of us except Matt, who is now living solely on cookies and ice cream. Though he does not fear bandits or mountain lions, his fear of fruit has now grown to all food not pre-packaged. I’m mocking him here, but he’s the only one who hasn’t been sick. Two hours later we paid the mechanics and they wanted us to pose for pictures with them. I’m not sure if anyone else has taken their vehicle to a mechanic and then had the mechanic want to have his picture taken with them, but my guess is that it was a sign we paid too much. Off we went. Nearly 5 kilometers to the next breakdown, and we congratulated ourselves on the improvement. We have popped a chain off a mototaxi probably 300 times in the last week and have become masters at putting them back on. Nothing motivates like a ten foot wide mountain road with a cliff on one side and rock face on the other with rain and mud and the sound of an approaching truck. Any one of us rivals a NASCAR pit crew. Chain pops, brake, off the bike, fuel off, rock the bike – once – twice, on it’s side, put it in neutral, front sprocket first, hold with the left, back sprocket with the right, spin, double check the back break, back on three wheels, gas on, on the bike, start, go, travel 500 yards, repeat. We can do it in like 30 seconds in nearly any condition. Our nerves are steel.

We started to see more mototaxis like ours today. Most of the ones we’ve seen have small wheels, like pallet jacks with a giant oversized cup on it. Now they’re like ours only people have customized them. The covers are themed: Batman, XXX, The Flash, I think I saw a Scorpion King one but I may be just missing bad American movies. Sorry – Batman wasn’t bad. I think all over the world cabbies do the same thing, find a spot to post up when work is slow. They just stare when our rag tag group drives by, sun burnt, dirty, bikes a disaster. I don’t know what the others in our group do, but I nod at our three wheeled counterparts, no smile, no wave. They solemnly nod back. I fantasize that their looks are part respect for our quest, part fear, part mutual understanding as pilots of the same horrible machines. They are probably just confused about why there are gringos driving junky filthy taxis through their city.

On the road to Oroyo the chain on Henry broke. Naturally it was raining. I got off the bike cursing and planning a mass murder when Todd arrived with a joke and good attitude. That’s one thing you need in a travel companion – someone who is at their best when you’re at your worst. We repaired the garbage and off we went. The next 80k was a new danger. Dark and rainy but well maintained roads. I kept thinking about that Billy Joel song about driving a motorcycle in the rain. We were being dumb and taking a chance but we had no choice. Nothing between Huancayo and Oroyo but road. One near death experience later – a poorly timed pass with oncoming traffic – and here we are. “You told me not to drive, but I made it home alive.” Cow heart for dinner.

One caveat. Matt got us wi-fi after all. He basically tortured the front desk guy until he made it happen. He even said “there’s no way I’m letting this guy go to bed until I have Internet.” that’s kinda his style: he’s a bit pushy. Honestly it makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes, he gets a little aggressive with these folks, and I get nervous that his humor might get lost in our bad Spanish. Like when the cop asked for our registration and Matt handed him a postcard with a picture of an alpaca wearing sunglasses on it. Gutsy! I always try and remember I’m on someone else’s turf, but Matt just charges like he knows the language. I can’t deny though – the guy gets results.

January 7

Great day. Best roads, most mileage. Snow, loads of alpacas, rolling hills, and it only rained on us for like two hours. Now we’re at a hotel with a hot tub and a sauna. Long way from a dirt floor and no bano! Paid our first bribe. $4 US. The guy was waving a brightly colored piece of paper that said “Matas” or something on it. I thought he was handing out fliers for a dance club, but he had a gun. I was so confused. I kept shaking my head and telling him I didn’t want to go to his club and just kept pointing at the flyer and shouting. Todd sorted it – gave him some cash, and off we went. Only broke down once. Bad one though, chain exploded. Todd was sitting in the road fixing it. I’m worried about him, his hands are greasy and he’s fixing stuff. I haven’t seen this side of him in the 27 years we’ve known each other. War does funny things to men. I even fixed something – just so I wouldn’t be the only guy with clean hands. I’m fine that I didn’t pay attention in eighth grade Spanish, I get by – but I wish I’d taken small engine repair. Ate at a restaurant that grows their own food. Guinea pigs all around! They also had coffee, which is more rare than you’d think.

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January 8

At 3am this morning I got up to use the restroom and knocked my iPad off the night stand. Since I was up I opened it and found an email from the adventurists letting us know that there had been an accident and that someone from one of the other teams had died. Suffice to say my blog about the dangerous road out of Auycucho was not an exaggeration. We are all a little shaken, and our thoughts and prayers are with the teams friends and family. We met up with four other teams this morning. There were some tears and many considered not pushing forward. Allison decided to take a flight to the finish and Andrew is going to finish the trip with us. This has been a dangerous and difficult trip for everyone, and our hearts go out to those that dealt with the tragedy first hand.

I have been dreading the stretch of road out of Huanco for the last two days. The map we have shows three colors of roads. Red is good, orange not so much, yellow bad. The road today was the first yellow we were to travel. Fate smiled on us, and the journey we thought might take us two days was done by four o’clock. Considering everyone’s somber mood we had a great day. The road was narrow but paved, and we took our time winding through lush green mountains along the river. Absolutely beautiful. At one point I was cruising up a hill at a slow and comfortable third gear when a crew of four kids, probably around six or seven years old, caught my eye ahead. They saw me and in a flurry of activity got up and scurried around. Being no stranger to the “take out a gringos eye with a rock” game I decided I would take this crowd on at their own game. I dropped it into second, the plan was to stop, dismount the bike, and engage the toddlers in some face to face rock fight warfare. As I neared the gang they lined up, faces set in menacing grimaces. As I got into range (roughly five feet for a six year old) they pulled back, cocking their arms to unleash mayhem on a peaceful and unsuspecting traveler. I stopped the bike right in front of them. Death stare. Let’s do this kiddos. Arms still cocked, they dropped their rocks. Their expressions changed, kids caught being bad. One might have even started to cry. Scary dirty mad max looking bearded American – 1, would be Peruvian mini bandit/terrorists – 0. My work here was done. We found out later that in Peru the boogey man is a white guy. Lots of the more remote villages see white people and get scared that it’s the boogey man. I told a guy who is from the US that lives in Peru this story and he told me I was lucky that older villagers hadn’t seen the scenario and killed me.

We cruised into La Union and found a hotel with hot water. We went to a mechanic to swap some tires, fix the brakes on David, and fix the exhaust on Andrews bike. Every time we’re in a village like this we draw a crowd. Just bizarre gringos I guess. I went for a wander and found a church. I went inside and said a prayer for Peter and his family. I went back and found the boys having a game of soccer with some local kids. I joined in as the sun started to set, a good moment. Happy to be here, happy to be safe and with friends. The bikes were done, we found a good restaurant and called it a day. Tomorrow will be a new adventure.

January 9
Nothing to report. Great day, very few break downs. Paved roads all day, made our goal of Huarez and pushed a few k forward to Monterrey. Replaced the clutch on Henry. Waterfalls everywhere. Peru is a rugged beauty, as cruel as she is enchanting. Had a nice stretch along the river, mountains all around.  Andrew got sick, but we posted up at a really nice hotel early for some good rest ($30 us). Looks like the worst is behind us, mostly primary roads ahead.

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January 10
Todd and I woke up early and walked to the hot springs near the hotel. The water was really brown, but warm, and we left feeling refreshed. Had a good breakfast (decent coffee!!) and made a plan. We could cut back 5k and head straight west to the coast, from there it’s the PanAmerican Highway straight to Piura, or we could head north through some secondary roads. I pushed for the northern route, going coastal seems easy, almost like giving up. The crew agreed and we pushed north on the old 3N. Had a great stretch, averaging 40k per hour for two hours. Stopped for lunch on Caraz, got some ice cream and cruised. The weather is much nicer than in the mountains, we ditched our jackets and drove with smiles on. We hit Canyon De Pato and found gravel. Things got ugly. Slow going, five hours on gravel roads, bumping around between the rock edge and the drop into the river. Heat and wind. Gravel getting whipped around, like the hail storm we were in a few days ago but hot and dirty. The wind rushing through the canyon was so intense, water was being thrown from the river, and if we stopped our bikes would immediately take off backwards. There are places on this earth that are not meant for humans, and this canyon is one of them. No life anywhere, no vegetation, just dirt and rock and nowhere but forward. The road goes along the river, our most faithful companion, between thousands of feet of rugged mountains. We went through over 35 tunnels. Incredible. The photos will be gorgeous but it felt a little ominous in there. The walls of the mountains almost vertical, blocking out the sun. The other road would have been easier, but this is an adventure not a vacation.

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Bumping along the road we saw a walking bridge. It looked like one in a movie where the hero would be running across and it would snap, swinging him to the rocky face of a cliff. As you would expect, Andrew stopped his bike without a word and went straight for the thing. There was a fence with gate and razor wire, as well as those chain link fins to keep you from climbing around the security. Risking life and limb, Andrew set out to get on the bridge, a feat much more dangerous than the actual bridge could ever be. Feeling like a mischievous ten year old, I followed suit. (it wasn’t really that bad mom, I’m editorializing for the story – no one was actually in any danger, promise) We got out on the bridge, it was exactly like we’d hoped, swinging in the wind, rickety and thrilling. We walked about half way across, congratulated each other, and turned around to wave to our less daring friends. Proud as peacocks, we faced our companions just as Matt opened the gate, which had apparently been unlocked the whole time. I skulked off the now mere tourist destination of a bridge turned Facebook profile photo shoot central.
Cops. I told the story about the bribe. What’s haven’t said is we deal with police two or three times a day. They’re always awesome (knock wood). We’re four gringo lunatics driving mototaxis without proper documentation in places we have no business being. They just laugh, give us directions, today we even got a police escort. I guess they figured if we didn’t reach our destination they’d have to deal with us later anyway. Well done.

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Five reasons not to drive a mototaxi into Chimbote at night:
1. The road just stops. My Spanish isn’t that good, but I didn’t see any signs indicating “road will disappear for no reason for 60 feet of viciously bumpy white knuckle hell ride and then go back to smooth pavement right before your front wheel vibrates apart” signs anywhere.
2. Bugs. I don’t know if they had anything to do with the night, but they were not delicious and it’s the first time we’ve dealt with them. Just a swarm all of a sudden.
3. Police. Check points everywhere. Stopping kills the k’s per hour average.
4. Ghost cat. Either that or the least skittish kitty on earth. I swear the thing didn’t even move, just sat there in the middle of the road as we thundered past. A mototaxi sounds like a weed wacker in a clothes dryer, you’d think kitty would scoot.
5. Horse chilling. See above, only a horse.

 

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January 11 & 12

The Pan American highway cuts north along the coast through the desert between Chimbote and Chao like a razor blade, straight and flat. We pounded north, our mototaxis humming along at 50k or so. If you’re planning on driving the Pano, I would not suggest a mototaxi as your means of transportation. The traffic is mostly trucks and it’s mostly two lanes, so if you’re slow you’re constantly being run off the road by a truck. They seem to pass whenever they want, and move back over whenever there’s oncoming traffic. You are expected to get out of the way or be run over. Our hostess Peru seems to find new and different ways to put us in danger every day. We stopped for some chicken and fries. There were chickens wandering around eating chicken bones. Not sure why that seems so wrong… Matt didn’t eat – he’s been telling us how long the human body can go without eating before you die. After Chao things get a little greener and we hit Trujillo around 2pm. We drove aimlessly around the no mototaxis allowed downtown, asking everyone where the grande agua was. You would think an ocean wouldn’t be too hard to find in a beach town. We finally found it, took a look, Andrew did some donuts on the beach and we grabbed a cerveza to make a plan. No breakdowns all day. (!) Just a quick stop at a mechanic to repair the exhaust from the day before. Drove north 12k to the “forgotten surf town of Huanchaco.” that is if “forgotten” means gringos everywhere. We found rooms with an ocean view, around $30us each a night. Rented some surfboards, Andrew is preternaturally good at surfing being of Aussie blood, Todd and I tried not to drown. Matt snoozed on the beach. The idea of surfing is a lot cooler than the practicality of it, but we got up enough times (2) to say we’ve surfed in Peru and went for dinner. We’ve surfed in Peru. We’re only about 400k of highway travel from our destination of Piura, so we’ve decided to stay another night. Got up today, had some breakfast with good coffee, and went for another drowning – I mean surf.

Sitting on the balcony in a wet suit it strikes me just how varied and bizarre this trip has been. I’ve been hit with torrential rain, hail in the mountains, sandstorm in the desert, a rock, and now waves on the beach.

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January 13
Morrope Peru. We’re probably just getting tired, but I’m kind of over getting stared at everywhere we go. This is the last town before 200k of desert before we reach our final destination of Piura. Kind of a rough day, left our beach paradise around 8am, no one was really feeling the drive. We stopped and had the canopy welded on Henry for the final time, and a few miles down the road the tarp part of it flew off, leaving me driving blind with the canopy wrapped around my head for a few seconds. Not my proudest moment. We stopped and fixed it up – for the last time. Stopped rice to have Andrews exhaust welded – for the last time, and popped one chain in Chiclayo – hopefully for the last time. The highway miles are the worst by far, we covered like 240 k or something, but the scenery was bland and the traffic was tough. Just pounding it out on good roads, but with bad traffic and heavy wind. A lot of teams headed straight for the Pano from the jump off, and I can tell you their junket was easier than ours, but less fun. We are all tired, the two days at the beach should have refreshed us but somehow they didn’t. One member of our team (who will remain nameless to protect the overtired and under-nourished) managed to run into a parked truck, a member of our team, a motorcycle, a parked mototaxi, and rear end another mototaxi in traffic. Needless to say, it was a tough day getting back in the saddle for all of us. We considered pressing to the finish but I lobbied against it, we are in bad shape and a half days drive from the finish, why bother getting there early but exhausted? The good news is that there’s one more day to stay sharp, then it’s a day or two in Piura, and safely home.

January 14

Pano sucks. Diesel fuel and burning garbage. 200 k to go. If I don’t do a post tonight it’s because I opened a victory beer to celebrate and then fell asleep in it.

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January 15

The boys and I finished our mototaxi junket yesterday around noon. We napped and went for a celebration. Todd and I weren’t too keen, feels a little weird to celebrate… Like you were doing the whole thing for attention or recognition. I’ve been fortunate to travel a fair bit and the reward is always in the experience not in the story telling, so it’s a new thing to share day by day. The fundraising part of this adventure added a little more attention than what I might have been entirely comfortable with, but it was for a good cause and totally worth it. I hope people enjoyed the posts – I’m not much of a writer but I felt like there were so many people who donated money to Practical Action on our behalf that they were a part of the trip. The least we could do was share the peaks and valleys (both literally and figuratively). I admit I got a kick out of writing these blogs and appreciated the comments and “likes” they got. Thanks sincerely for that. It’s always good to put yourself in unfamiliar situations, every new experience teaches you something about yourself. This trip was no exception. I’m sounding preachy, so I’ll let someone else’s words say it better: “The greatest adventures make you ask the questions you never thought to ask in the beginning.” That’s probably not exact, but it’s close. I learned a lot on this trip.

Todd and I have been friends for 27 years. We’ve got a friendship that is earned only by physical altercations that end in an exhausting double tap-out and lying to your parents about the bruises after. We’ve done a good job reading each others moods, giving space when required and support when needed. I was miserable and sick on one day of this trip. Todd was driving, and pulled over after looking at me in the rear view mirror. “I don’t care what you think about it, I’m wrapping you in these blankets. My mom would kill me if I didn’t.” It was not our manliest moment, but it’s a good friend who looks out for you better than you know how to look out for yourself. We travel quite well together, mostly because we don’t have any of the politeness that comes with unfamiliarity. If I’m being an idiot Todd will tell me, and (much less frequently) vice versa.

At the beginning of this trip I did not know Matt very well. We run together once or twice a week, and have drinks together here and there. We consider each other friends, but we did not punch each other when we were six. I had no idea how he would fit in with Todd and I, or how he would react in a stressful situation. This trip was not a sit on the beach and have cocktails vacation, where the toughest part of the day is deciding when and where to have dinner. We dealt with dangerous situations every day, and in a state of physical and mental exhaustion. 15 hours a day on a motorcycle and sleeping in places that seem like horse stalls that the horse moved out because it was too gross is tough on even the most seasoned traveler. Add in the rapidly varying temperatures, the questionable food, the perilous roads, endless breakdowns, etc. etc. etc., and you’ve got all the makings of a serious friendship ruining blow out. I am happy to report that this did not happen. We had our moments, but Matt travels well, he was in good spirits, didn’t complain, pitched in, and did some great negotiating on our behalf. I don’t think I’m out of line saying that this trip answered a lot of questions that Matt had not thought to ask. I don’t mean to sound like the wise old man (there is 8 years between us, but I’ve got s long way to go) who knows everything, I’m just saying that I think this was a great experience for him, and that he handled the hardships in stride and with class. I’m happy to call him a much better friend than before, and I’m happy that he’s as solid and genuine person as he seems. Matt’s a real student of himself, and he never misses a chance to get better, I can’t think of a better quality.

That’s it and that’s all (most of it anyway). We will do another one. There’s a rickshaw run across southeast Asia, a marathon on the Great Wall of China, also a bike ride from London to Paris in 24 hours all on the table, so we’ll see how it goes. That’s again everyone for donating to Practical Action.

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