Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 49 - Trujillo to Huaráz, Peru

Today we headed south and inland to the famous Cañón del Pato (Duck Canyon), but we were trying to get more information on the condition of the road, since we had seen some pictures of very rough road conditions from our friend Hank.  We got everything from bad to partially paved.  The first part of the trip was 80km on the PanAmerican Highway until our turn off which, if it wasn't on the GPS, we would have driven right past it.  As soon as we got onto the gravel we encountered a gate blocking our way into the  desertr hills. A guard came out of a shack at the roadside and stated that the road was closed to private traffic, but he decided to let us through anyway.  We asked about the road and he said it was fine.  This was a short cut to the canyon since we didn't want to head further south to the town of Santa at the mouth of the Santa river and then go north again

At the guard shack.

The road was quite good  - packed gravel.

RobC fixing his bent pannier (aluminum Jessie side bag) with a rock, of which there were many in all sizes.In the process he tipped over his bike. We are now 9 (RobC) to 7 (Rob T) in bike tip-overs and falls. At this rate we will be at about 30 each at the end of the trip, unless we get better at keeping the bikes upright.  :-)

Lowland rice fields in the valley.(RobC edit: I had only ever seen upland rice in Peru.)

Dry desert mountains.

After an hour we managed to meet up with pavement which lasted all of 5 km before we were into some rough roads again.

Only 84 octane available.

Lunch ... canned tuna, soda crackers and Inca Kola. The Kola tastes like Cream Soda.

The `restaurant``

We met a couple, Dean (Australian) and Renata (Brazilian) on a Ural motorcycle with sidecar .  Dean bought the bike and sidecar in Ushuaia, Argentina, from a southbound Alaska to Tierra del Fuego rider. They were headed north traveling together.  The bike looked like something out of an Indiana Jones type movie.


Dean and Renata with their Ural machine.

One of the better bridges.

The dot on the road is RobC.

Yup, that's a road on the left and water below.

We finally reached the start of the Cañón del Pato, which has 35 tunnels in 35 km from what I have read.  It was originally designed and built as a railroad bed, but it was never completed and they converted it to a regular road. We did start counting tunnels,but we soon lost track because of  concentrating on the road and the stunning views!!  The road followed the Santa river and was barely one lane wide in spots.  There was the odd token guard rail to prevent you from hurtling down a sheer cliff into the raging river below.  Tunnels were dark and varied in length from 10 m to several hundred where you had to honk to make your presence known and if you met another vehicle in the tunnel, one would have to back out of the tunnel. Fortunately, we never met another vehicle in a tunnel.

RobC exiting a series of tunnels.

RobC riding the Cañón del Pato road.

Painted desert landscape.

Start of the Cañón del Pato, which runs between Huallanca and Caráz.

Where are the guard rails?!

That's a tunnel on the upper left. 

A closer look at the tunnel.

A look inside one of the tunnels. One lane for two-way traffic and a sandy, rutted floor. We feel sorry for the folks who do this on bicycles.

Hydroelectric plant run-off.

We decided we could make Huaráz but not before stopping for a refreshment.  RobC ordered some Pisco (distilled grape drink) from a young girl running a restaurant of sorts to warm our bodies, as it was cold and rainy. The store consisted of  a square room with piles of crates filled with Coke, Inca Kola and other beverages.  There were a couple of makeshift tables in the room as well.  She gave her 11 year old companion 50 cents and sent her down the street to procure our desired potion.  A few minutes later she was back with a small clear plastic bag 1/4 full of clear liquid.  The kind of thing you would bring home a goldfish in, but this one lacked the fish.  We poured half in each of two glasses and toasted the ride.  OUCH!  This was moonshine (aguardiente in Spanish)... sugar cane alcohol ... and it burned!

After dodging potholes for 45 min, we arrived at Huaráz in the dark with cold, rainy and muddy conditions.

Video of Cañón del Pato.  WHAT A RIDE!!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 48 - Mancora to Trujillo, Peru

RobT:  We reluctantly left our beach front "home" and headed down he coast.  The road was nice and smooth for the first few hundred kilometers until we got to the coastal desert, where the wind howled across the road at such a fierce strength that my neck, as well as RobC`s, was getting quite the workout ... to the point where it hurt.  We both joked about it afterwards when we found out that each of us had been pointing our helmets to the one o`clock position and looking out the corners of our eyes just to alleviate some of the fierce tugging and pulling.  The wind was blowing sand across the road, so you did not dare raise your helmet visor for fear of getting your face sandblasted.  On top of that, as dusk was setting, the oncoming traffic, i.e. trucks and buses, apparently forgot where their bright headlight switches were.

Fishing village of Mancora.

Sign stating that the land near the fishing wharf was not for sale and that it belonged to the fishermen.

The old PanAmerican road that led to our hotel.

Lunch along the main PanAmerica highway. The chicken soup was quite good, but the piece of chicken in the soup had seen too many flight hours and could be compared to the consistency of a motorcycle tire.

The red bowl with water was for washing hands before lunch.

Sore neck!

Coastal desert formations.

Desolate land.

trucks coming at us and not leaving us much room.  Double yellow lines?  No problem in Peru.

Fixing a mototaxi.

RobT: 400km later with 100 km to go we were flagged down by the police.  Little side note:  Peruvian police are notorious, or have been, for handing out fines for any little infraction.  RobC spoke to them.  After the conversation, he quickly took off in front of some traffic. I got stranded, but when I managed to get onto the road I could still see him and I raced around some vehicles to gain some ground, puzzled as to the urgency of his departure.  Ahead was a 'Y' in the road and I thought I saw RobC veer right into the town, but I couldn`t figure out why, as we needed to go to Trujillo which was the other way.  Our intercoms were out of battery, so he couldn`t tell me where he was.  I approached the 'Y', looked to the right into town and didn't see him, so I figured he went left as I suspected so I needed to do some serious catching up.  I accelerated and did my best to make up some ground figuring I`d catch up in a few minutes.  I passed the next town without seeing him so, puzzled, I decided he must have turned right at the 'Y', so back I went.  I rode through town but to no avail. Turned around and pulled over at the junction of the 'Y' figuring he would realize I wasn't behind him and back track.  It was now 5:30 and as I waited I figured there was an hour left before sundown, no hotels that I saw in the current town and it was 100 km to our destination which I knew had hotels.  I knew I may have to find a place on my own and then e-mail Rob with my whereabouts.  I decided to back track further to where RobC had spoken to the police.  You never know, right?   One last shot.  Sped back, talked to the police and didn't understand a thing. As I was getting nowhere with the one officer the other officer motioned to me as if he had something important to say, but how would I understand?  He was on his cell phone and motioning for me to go back down the road and off to the left in one of those famous South American hand gestures that are suppose to help you understand which way you should go.  He motioned to the right but shook his head no, then motioned to the left again and flung his arms in that direction.  Off I went at full speed thinking I knew what he said but also realizing if I misunderstood, I still needed to get to Trujillo and find a place before dark.  120 kph ripping along the desert highway battling high winds and overtaking traffic.  The winds make it a little unnerving as your balance against the wind is upset when you pass a huge semi truck.  I passed a couple of other police check points where I noticed they were also on their cell phones and waving me on as I sped past at over triple the speed limit.  (35 kph was the limit for a good stretch, 80 was max on the rest of the road).  I was surprised none of them tried to flag me down.  20 minutes later an officer at yet another check point flags me down and as I slowed down I noticed, to my relief, that RobC was parked at the side of the road.  What just happened?!  ¿Qué pasó?

RobC:  Here is my side of the story. The police officers who initially pulled us over told me excitedly that there were bandits on the highway who use a device called a "tiburón" (a shark) with sharp prongs sticking out, which they throw in front of vehicles, puncture their tires and rob the people at gun point. The cops told me that we should plan to arrive before sundown in Trujillo, and since there was little time they told me to drive as fast as possible.

I rapidly took off, planning to tell Rob later what the cops had told me, and saw his motorcycle lights behind a few cars in back. He is a good, and fast, driver, so I thought he would soon catch up with me. At that point I made a wrong turn into a small town and away from the PanAmerican highway. After asking someone how to get back to the highway, I maneuvered my way through the little town and onto the highway and figured that by that time RobT was now well ahead of me, so I drove at high speed trying to catch up with him. Then I was stopped by yet another policeman, who also proceeded to warn me about robbers. I asked him if he had seen a big yellow motorcycle pass, and he said yes. At that point I thought Rob had gone ahead to Trujillo and I would try to catch up with him.

To make a long story a little shorter, he was behind me and I was getting further and further ahead of him. Finally a policemen jumped into the middle of the road, waving his arms frantically. I stopped and he said that he had received a call from a colleague that my partner was behind me and that he was trying to catch up. Great, I turned the bike off and waited. About every 5 minutes the cop would come with another message from other policemen along the road, stating that my partner was getting closer. And finally Rob showed up (surprised and not very happy).

We learned a good lesson and this will not happen again, but it also drives home the importance of language and communication. Rob is at a distinct disadvantage by not knowing sufficient Spanish and I have to take  more time to explain things. The other lesson is about the Peruvian police. One the one hand, they terrorized me by telling me about the supposed robbers, but on the other hand they went into action to bring us back together through the efficient use of their cell phones.

Another day, another adventure!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 47 - Mancora Beach, Peru

RobT:  We spent the day at the beach - pure hardship.  :)  Went for a swim in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.  We stayed at Mancora Beach and Bungalows resort and we had a great room with an ocean view with a large private terrace, complete with a hammock .  The hotel was situated on the old PanAmerican highway, which at one point was paved but now its all sand.

RobC:  The Mancora Beach and Bungalows belongs to the son of some colleagues from the Peru days. I remember David as he was growing up and studying at the Roosevelt international school in Lima. A polite and intelligent chap, with a keen eye for business. He and his wife now have three hotels: one in Lima, the one where we stayed on the beach in northern Peru, and one in the San Blas Islands, Panama. The last one looks like quite a paradise (see

RobC, suffering ....

RobT enjoying a mouth full of salt water.

RobC rinsing his arm pits.

View of the pool from our balcony.

Laundry on balcony railing.

This boat had been converted into a small lounge near the beach.

The beach ... ahhhhhh.  And it's winter back home ... .right?

Mototaxi to downtown Mancora ... which wasn't much to write home about.

Tomorrow, the long coastal desert road south to Trujillo.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 46 - Alausí, Ecuador, to Máncora, Peru

RobT:  We packed early and decided to see a couple of sites here in Alausí since it is famous for its steam engine, train station and the "Puente Negro" (black bridge).

 Our 12USD a night hotel.

Train station.

Black bridge.

Rails down the main street.

Another shot of the Black Bridge.

On to Cuenca, which was our destination a few days ago, but the white-water rafting was just too good to pass up.  :)  Cuenca is a gorgeous city, very different from anything else we have seen in Ecuador!!  The old part of town was stunning, as were the churches, the parks, the 4 rivers for which Cuenca is famous and the great climate, but we didn't have the time to do it justice as we had to press on towards Peru. 

Pictures of the road on the way to Cuenca.

One of the many ornate balconies in Cuenca.

After leaving Cuenca we were warned about a one-hour detour en route to Machala.  Little did we know it was going to be a road that Rob and I agree was worse than the Death Road in Bolivia for two reasons, the actual road was in worse shape (large rocks, sand and ruts) and the traffic made it quite treacherous!  We encountered buses, semis and dump trucks on a road that in sections was barely wide enough for them and a motorcycle.  At one point I had to snuggle up to the cliff wall to let a bus pass which had about 2 feet on the "drop" side.

After an hour of slipping and sliding on this road we got back on nice blacktop. Out of the mountains and into the coastal jungle where we say banana plantations as far as the eye could see!  We approached Machala and decided to bypass the town, even though darkness was falling, and to press on to the border.  We had a little daylight left and the roads were good.

Immigration, Ecuador.
We had read and RobC had experienced the border crossing in the past.  It was not going to be pleasant.  However, when we got there it was a snap to exit Ecuador and almost as easy to enter Peru.  They had constructed a new border crossing on both sides and it was impressive. Each side is constructing a multi-story observation tower, which, we suppose, is designed to keep an eye on each other. We were the only ones riding along a brand-new 4-lane road and we wondered whether we had made a wrong turn.  We crossed the new  (International Friendship) bridge into Peru and we were motioned over by several soldiers. They greeted us and RobC entered into his public relations mode, as usual, and we were treated very well.  The border was so new it only had make-shift buildings for immigration and customs and, again, we were the only ones there for awhile.  The immigration officer read my passport into the computer and proceeded to notify me that I was in Peru 3 years ago but never checked out.  Oh oh.  Yes, it was sorted out, but not before I had a minor heart attack.

We decided to use our Carnets (Bank guarantee documents furnished by the Canadian Automobile Association) to facilitate our entry, but the customs agent still entered all the data into the computer, one finger at a time, and then by hand into a log book.  I guess the only benefit was that we wouldn't have to carry additional paperwork, but the process was not speedy.

Ninety minutes down the road, riding in pitch dark along the Pacific coast, we were in Máncora, Peru.

RobC:  We chose Máncora as a destination because an old friend (a son of ex-colleagues from my Peru days) has a lovely beach hotel here. The Máncora Beach Bungalows was the resort where my daughter Lisa went for her honeymoon and a couple of the other kids visited there as well. Finally I got to visit the place for myself and it was quite special when I realized that we had gotten here by land. After many flights with kids in diapers and strollers and piles of suitcases and customs searches, here we are, by motorcycle after 6.5 weeks of travel - compared to a 5.5 hour flight from Miami to Lima.