Our motorcycles were beaten down after riding the wrong way down Peru. In every city, when we asked if they had parts for the bikes, people would tell us we had to go to Lima.
Now that we were in Lima, we figured it’d be easy to sort this stuff out.
The first thing we realized, while riding into the city, was that the traffic was unlike any other we’d ever experienced in our lives.
I learned to ride a motorcycle in Hanoi, Vietnam, where yellow lights are always green lights and red lights are, if you’re the cautious sort of person, places where you check for police. In a traffic jam, I’ve been claustrophobically shoulder to shoulder with other scooter riders and unable to move in any direction. And then, when things are moving on the streets of Hanoi, for the most part, it’s nonstop.
But I felt safer in Hanoi than I did in Lima. The main reason for this is speed and size of vehicles. In Hanoi, the vast majority of the vehicles are 100cc scooters or something smaller (although this is starting to change these days). These scooters don’t generally go all that fast on the city roads. The buses in Hanoi are, of course, terrifying unfeeling beasts that won’t think twice before plowing you over, but there aren’t that many of them and you can usually avoid them fairly easily.
Lima’s roads are filled with cars and larger vehicles. I saw a minibus driver turn the steering wheel with a possessed ferocity I hope to never see again. In addition to vehicles of more perilous mass, the speed that they were going was also worrying.
To conclude the topic with an aspect of similarity between the two chaotic traffic situations, in both cities they expect people to drive poorly. In the USA, people expect other people to obey the law. Lots of accidents are caused by someone simply having faith that the oncoming vehicle will stop or yield as they are legally obligated to do. When the oncoming vehicle does not act predictably, the victim in the accident can claim that it’s the other person’s fault.
But, if they had simply not trusted the other person in the first place, the accident could have been avoided.
So, in both cities, people are looking for other people to be changing lanes erratically and disregarding traffic laws. One time in Lima, while I was on the back of Aaron’s motorcycle, he didn’t see the change of direction indicated by arrows on the street and we were heading straight into oncoming traffic. Those people just honked at us and moved out of our way and Aaron was able to get back to the right side of the road by riding over a median. Similar things have happened countless times to me in Hanoi.
Is this actually a safer method of conducting traffic? No, statistically, I’d have to say it isn’t. But, if you’re very aware of your surroundings, it’s generally faster and you probably wont get hurt.
We rode through Lima for a while without really having a game plan. We came to the conclusion earlier that every city has a Plaza de Armas, though, and main roads often lead there. These Plazas are also usually cool.
Once we started seeing colonial-styled buildings, we decided to look for a hotel. I think we looked for a very long time and it was late by the time we agreed on a place. Lima was a lot more expensive than we were used to. We eventually found a place that seemed nice enough, but we had to park the motorcycles in a guarded lot nearby.
There was a parade in the morning celebrating the holiday Inti Raymi, which is about the Incan god of the Sun. Accidentally arriving in a city just in time for a holiday is great. The noise of the procession outside our window woke me up, I think Aaron had been awake for a while already, and we grabbed cameras and went outside to see what was going on.
Costumes, dancers, and marching bands went by. We were a little confused by a group that carried dead baby llamas and whips. When we asked what that was about, we were told they were stuffed animals and were representations for the traditional sacrifices. Some might have been stuffed animals, but others… I’ll just say they were very convincing.
We followed the parade down the colonial streets to a huge square where a stage was set up on the steps of an old courthouse looking building. We watched for a while before turning back towards our hotel.
Once everything settled down, we needed to find a mechanic that could fix the many problems we were having with the motorcycles. I think we spent a whole day just walking around the plaza and relaxing, though, because we were exhausted from the days of riding and wrenching on the bikes that it took to get there.
We eventually made our way to the south part of Lima and found Endurance Motos. We walked in and introduced ourselves to the owner who was just about to head out for lunch. Cristian, that’s his name, invited us to go with him and we quickly became friends.
He was realistic about what things we could and couldn’t get our hands on to fix the bikes in Lima and we felt confident that his shop was the best place for the KLR and DR.
Suspension, clutch parts, some levers, rectifiers, and a few other things needed fixing or replacing. He knew that I was already past my budget, so he worked to find creative solutions to keep the price low.
He installed old friction plates that he had taken off a KLR a couple weeks prior, which I appreciated. He said that they came off his friend’s KLR, but that they were replaced for aftermarket parts and not because they were bad.
When they took a look at my engine to see why I was burning through oil at an alarming rate, he noticed that the top end had been altered to not have a pressurizing component to it. This is why, after being ‘fixed’ in Mexico, the KLR could not be push started. If ever battery problems came up, which was almost all the time then, I needed to get jumper cables out and hook up to Aaron’s DR. He offered me the piece out of his own KLR, because he knew it would take too long to order it.
We spent a lot of time hanging out at Endurance Motos with Cristian. We moved to a hotel just down the street from the shop so that we could check in regularly.
After a while, though, we realized that we’d been in Lima for a long time. It was about two week in when we decided we had to get moving fast or risk the worst of winter weather in Chile and Argentina. Beyond that, our timeline didn’t allow for that much longer in South America. We’d been in Peru for over two months already, which was longer than we ever intended.
When everything is going well, or even when things are going terribly, if Aaron and I have tangible things that we can keep busy with, whether it be riding or fixing something or whatever, we’re usually alright. During a time of waiting for parts to arrive and watching work that we couldn’t personally do, there can be friction.
It didn’t help that the nice hotel we were in was a matrimonial. The bed was huge, but still, we were a little too close to each other.
Budget issues, especially upon recognizing about how much all the repairs were going to cost, became something of a catalyst for arguments and some days we tried not to see each other too much. Frustration and being practically useless made for some bad times.
What was holding us up at that point was the fabricating of a new sleeve for my cylinder, which was going to fix my oil problem. Ordering the part was going to take over two weeks. Fabricating it could take as little as four days. The installation would take a bit longer in either case, but the shorter option is what we went with.
Cristian, noticing that we were getting tired of hotel life and spending money, offered to let us sleep in his living room for a few nights as we were nearing the end of our Lima time. One of us took a couch and the other slept on the floor, which was an appreciated change from the one bed deal. A nice TV and Netflix also helped lighten our moods.
Not long after that, we got the go-ahead from Cristian and were finally set to leave Lima.
We left with an urgency to finish the ride to Tierra del Fuego as soon as possible and with confidence that our motorcycles were up to the task.
My KLR wasn’t hemorrhaging oil like it was before Lima, or at least it wasn’t for about 60 miles. After that, it was actually worse than before. This meant that after about every hour and a half I had to check my oil level and add a bit more.
This was obviously depressing, but it was what it was and we didn’t think we could spend any more time, or money, trying to fix this.
We made it to Paracas, which is like the Peruvian Galapagos Islands. The penguins aren’t quite as cool and the birds aren’t quite as colorful, but it’s still neat. We took a boat that swung around the islands to show us ancient symbols carved into hillsides, sea lions, and penguins. We were hoping for dolphins, but didn’t see any that day.
Then, having learned from the first trip that it’s important to stop and see cool things, even if there’s no time to do it, we stopped at Huacachina. Huacachina is a small oasis town of 100 permanent residents, but tens of thousands of tourists visit yearly. We found a nice hotel and went for a day of riding in a dune buggy and sand boarding. The buggy was lots of fun and the boards had broken Velcro straps, so most people switched to sledding. After a couple falls, I could comfortably say that I’d never been sandier in my life.
From there, we had a long ride down the coast. It’s 440 miles from Huacachina to Arequipa and only the last stretch of it cuts away from the Pacific Ocean.
Arequipa is a very cool city. Areas of it reminded us of Cusco, but without the same level of tourism and people trying to get you into their restaurants with promises of three for one pisco sours. I mostly remember old colonial plazas and good food. We stayed at a hostel where we met with other travelers. We were hoping to ride Death Road in Bolivia later. One of the travelers told me about a motorcyclist he met just a week before who had fallen off Death Road, but survived. Locals were even able to tie ropes to his motorcycle and pull it back up out of some brush, too.
Sounded terrifying, but we still wanted to make it there.
We tried to use dirt roads while leaving Arequipa, because we felt like we were sticking too close to the asphalt. The road climbed up to the mountains nearby and gave a good view of the city. We abandoned the off road plan after we weren’t 100% sure we were taking the right paths and cut back out to the largest nearby road.
From Arequipa, the next major spot was Colca Canyon. Colca Canyon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Peru. It is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, at over 10,000ft deep. And you get a great view of snow-capped mountains surrounding this deep canyon.
In addition to the unique landscape, there are also some endangered species that live there, like
the Andean condor, which can have up to a nine-foot wingspan. We saw at least a dozen of them circling overheard at different points in time.
It also has a rich, pre-Incan history.
We got near the canyon and stayed a night at a hotel in Chivay. We ate at an Irish pub and went to bed. The next morning, we took a ride through the canyon, which was amazing. We then ate some pizza at a town further down the way and had a great conversation with some other travelers who had just finished hiking the last bit of the canyon. We decided we weren’t going to hike, because we didn’t feel like we had time and because Aaron wasn’t feeling too great – probably from the Irish place and the pizza he just ate.
We went back to the hotel where Aaron then got into the bed and didn’t really move much for about a day and a half. For an extra couple dollars, we were given a space heater for the room and Aaron spent a dangerous amount of time just hugging that thing.
I went and bought a thermometer in the morning and some medicine for him from the local pharmacy and learned that he had a fever of something like 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It was probably higher during the night. I then dropped the thermometer and it broke, which was an accident, but, of course, Aaron didn’t think it was.
Once you know you’re really sick and have confirmation, though, you really don’t need to keep checking on it, right? Aaron wanted to have the thermometer in case things got worse and he needed to get to a hospital. I tried to tell him that if he needed the hospital, we’d just go to the hospital… also, I had no idea where the nearest hospital was.
Luckily, Aaron started feeling a little better the next day, so finding a hospital was no longer a problem. Looking back, he blamed the lettuce on the hamburger he ate that first night in Chivay.
From Chivay we went on to the next major spot, which was Puno on Lake Titicaca. It’s about three hours from the border of Bolivia and the last place we were going to stay before finally leaving Peru.
The road, even though it was under construction, was a good one. We generally made good time. It was very cold, though, and we were pushing into night riding, even though we wanted to avoid doing so. Time was becoming an increasingly imposing presence in our journey and, if we could make an extra hundred miles by riding into the dark, we were going to do it.
After we made that declaration, after about two hours of riding after sunset, it was just way too cold to keep going. Aaron was also still feeling sick and just wanted to get warm.
We asked a couple women where a hotel was and they offered for us to stay in a workers’ refuge for free. This, normally, would have been exactly what we wanted. The reason we couldn’t take these nice women up on their hospitality was because we really wanted hot showers. We said we’d be back if we couldn’t find just that.
We went to a hotel on the other side of the town and we asked if they had hot water. The man said, “Of course”. We’ve been told this many times, however, and it’s not uncommon for there to not actually be any hot water. Plenty of places will tell you they have everything. It’s also an annoying standard for them to ask for payment for the room in advance, so there’s no leverage for us to hold over the owners when there’s no heat, wifi, or whatever amenity had been requested.
So Aaron decided to offer a deal: we would pay full asking price if there is hot water, but half if there was not. The man said that there was hot water, so that was unnecessary.
So then we asked to check on the hot water.
He then told us that the hot water wasn’t available just then, but that it would be later.
This was exactly the situation we were expecting. At least a dozen times on the trip we’d been burned by this kind of logic. Aaron tried his best to make the deal, but the man would have nothing to do with it. Eventually, we just took the room and were pleasantly surprised that, at some point in the night, the water did get reasonably warm.
The rest of the ride to Lake Titicaca went well. I was checking oil about every 80 miles and I always needed to add. The ride was cold, but it wasn’t that bad.
Juliaca is a large city with a population over 225,000. Riding into the city was unpleasant, because there were walls of trash next to the highway. To be precise, not all of the trash was next to the highway, some of it was on the highway and being pushed around by bulldozers. I’m not sure exactly why, but judging by the quantity, the only thing that made sense to me was that they were just dumping trash right on the road just outside city limits and pushing it around. Not the best of first impressions.
We stopped, briefly, to look at a market in hopes of finding something that, for the life of me, I can’t remember. I distinctly remember not finding it and being disappointed, though. So we went straight on to Puno.
Puno is a much more touristy town than Juliaca. It has a population of about 150,000. Tourists go there for the man-made islands called the Uros Floating Islands. There’s a scattering of about 30 of these islands and the Uru people still live on them. When we visited one of the islands, they told us that they chose to leave land when the Incans came to conquer them. They said something along the lines of, “Okay, you can have the land. We live on the lake now.”
The islands are constructed of reeds that slowly rot and deteriorate. Because of this, they are constantly adding new layers of reeds to replace the old.
Lake Titicaca is also an interesting place in its own right. It’s the largest lake in South America and is considered the world’s highest navigable lake. To be ‘navigable’, large ocean-worthy ships needs to be able to traverse it. It’s up at an elevation of 12,500ft.
Puno isn’t the sort of place that most tourists spend more than a couple days at. You go to see Lake Titicaca and maybe spend a night on one of the reed islands. We weren’t sure about our next move, though, so we took time to sit and think things through next to one of the major landmarks of our southward journey.
Our thinking went back and forth between continuing on into Bolivia or turning back for Lima. Our mission was the southernmost point of South America. Obviously, turning back and leaving the bikes in Lima would not accomplish that goal, but it would open it up to a ‘part three’ to the journey, which would allow us to give the next three countries the time we felt they deserved.
We also had to think about whether or not the KLR would be able to make the rest of the 4,000 (this estimate was way off) or more miles without a major breakdown and/or major mechanic work. A quick projection of oil used per mile also led me to believe that, even if there wasn’t a major breakdown, I’d need to purchase somewhere in excess of $400 worth of oil to complete the trip.
We also had to think about weather. It was winter now in the Southern Hemisphere and it was going to get colder over the next couple weeks and heading further south into it would only add to that. This point was impressed firmly on us as, while we were weighing out the options, we were snowed on in Puno.
We’d heard horror stories of mountain passes between Chile and Argentina that get avalanches or get snowed in, making passage impossible. We started thinking about what could happen if the bike broke down and we got stranded in snow.
And, to top off the other thoughts, an American entering Bolivia must pay $160 for a visa. While this visa allows for entry over the next five years, the financial situation of continuing south also weighed on us.
We were approaching a full three months in Peru. We never expected to reach the end of our Peruvian visas. We thought we’d be there for a month, month and a half maximum.
After a lot of debate, we decided to head back to Lima and leave the motorcycles with Cristian. We didn’t feel great about the decision, but it made sense.
We hate going back the way we came, so we decided to head north to Cusco and then over to Lima from there. Our friend, Paul Opp, was in Cusco at that moment, so it gave us a chance to meet up with him again.
Cusco is one of my favorite cities from the journey. The architecture and food were enough to make me happy we were returning, even if only for a day.
We’d already spent over a week in Cusco and the surrounding area over a month earlier, so we just stopped to say ‘Hello’.
From Cusco to Lima we had the most ridiculously winding roads we’d ever seen. Some of the turns nearly gave me vertigo. I remember thinking, “How are we still turning? Haven’t we already exceeded 360 degrees here?” Exciting and exhilarating at first, leaning one way then the other became a chore and needing pay attention to the road and read turns constantly was exhausting and by the end our necks hurt from the exertion. The scenery was beautiful, though, and if we weren’t trying to make as much distance as possible and had felt comfortable taking more stops, we probably would have had a completely different experience.
We camped a couple times and stayed in some hotels.
We saw some kind of festival while riding one day and went to see what was going on. Before long, we were invited to eat, drink, and dance with the people there. It was a hilarious break from riding.
We also met up with another adventure rider and spent a couple days riding together.
Runoff areas from the mountains went over the roads in a lot a places, instead of under. We got used to how slick they were, but one in particular took me down and, for the first time ever, Aaron was wearing a camera facing backwards and was able to capture a fall.
I hit the ground hard, but the riding gear did its job and I was just a little bruised. We watched that video a lot at the hotel that night.
We reached the coast again and decided to stop in a town about two hours out from Lima. From there, we had just two days to get into Lima, drop the motorcycles off at the shop and make plans for them. Then, we had to leave. Our flights were booked on the same day that our visas expired.
Everything went smoothly and we left the motorcycles in storage. We thought we could get all the way down to southern Argentina, but three months in Peru meant that we only really saw Ecuador for a week and a half and the entire rest of this attempt was Peru. We spent a lot of time on the coast, had spent over a month in the Amazon, and nearly as long in the Andes. With the diversity we experienced in Peru, it didn’t really feel like we’d always been in the same place.
The first time we left the motorcycles in South America with the intent to return, it was because I had badly broken my ankle in Colombia and we didn’t really have a choice. This time, leaving was on our terms (sort of) and, again, we had mixed feelings about it. But we needed more time and more money and the fact that we had successfully put enough of both of those aside twice so far to make it as far as we did helped us in having faith that we’d return for part three.